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Sometimes, you can have too much of a good thing. That was the case with a constellation that was created thousands of years ago. It was so big that astronomers eventually split it apart.

Argo Navis represented the Argo — the ship that carried Jason and the Argonauts through many adventures. But the constellation was unwieldy. So, in the 1750s, Nicolaus Louis de la Caille divided it into three constellations: Carina, the keel; Vela, the sail; and Puppis, the deck at the stern of the ship.

Puppis is the easiest to see from northern skies. As night falls this evening, it’s well to the lower left of Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky. The entire constellation is in view if you’re south of about Oklahoma City, but most of it is visible from points farther north as well.

Puppis’s leading star, Zeta Puppis, looks fairly modest. But that’s only because it’s about a thousand light-years away. It’s actually quite impressive — perhaps a hundred thousand times brighter than the Sun.

The star also is more than 50 times as massive as the Sun. Such heavy stars burn through their nuclear fuel at a furious rate. As a result, Zeta Puppis will live only a few million years, versus billions of years for stars like the Sun. And when its time is up, it will go not quietly into that good night. Instead, it will explode as a supernova — briefly making the stern of the Argo one of the most prominent of all constellations.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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