If Nicolas Louis de Lacaille were still around today, he'd probably be naming constellations for things like particle accelerators and the atomic clock -- tools that allow us to study the universe in more detail than ever before. Since Lacaille lived and worked during the 18th century, though, he named constellations for some of the great scientific instruments of the time, including the telescope and the microscope.
Microscopium is quite low in the south at nightfall, and sets by around midnight. It's one of the smallest and most insignificant of the 88 constellations. Few of its stars are visible to the unaided eye, and you need dark skies and a good starchart to see any of them. We'll talk about one of those stars tomorrow.
Microscopium basically fills the space between some brighter and better-know constellations, such as Capricornus, which is to the north of Microscopium.
Lacaille ventured to the southern hemisphere to chart areas of the sky that couldn't be seen from European latitudes. He not only mapped the stars, though, he grouped many of them into new constellations -- 14 in all.
The names reflect the era's fascination with science and mechanics. So some of the constellations are named for the compass, the pendulum clock, and the air pump, while others are named for the telescope and the microscope. All of these faint little groups of stars fill in the gaps in the patchwork quilt of the constellations.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2009
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