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A legendary boat sails low across the south at this time of year: the Argo, which carried Jason and the Argonauts on the quest for the golden fleece. You won’t find it on any modern starcharts, though. Instead, you’ll find its parts, which form three constellations: Puppis, the stern; Vela, the sail; and Carina, the keel.
It was a constellation in ancient times, though, known as Argo Navis. It may have been adopted from ancient Egypt, where the stars represented the boat that carried a statue of Osiris, the god of the underworld, during an annual festival.
The Greeks decided to make the boat their own. They associated its stars with the tale of Jason. His uncle stole the throne from him, but promised to give it back if Jason would bring him the fleece of a magical ram.
So Jason had the shipbuilder Argus make him a sturdy boat. And he manned it with 50 heroes, including Hercules and the twins of Gemini. The boat, known as the Argo, carried them safely through many harrowing adventures.
The constellation honoring the boat was named more than 2500 years ago. It was the largest of all the ancient constellations. Astronomers later decided that it was too big. In the 17th century, Nicolas Louis de Lacaille split it into three parts. They weren’t accepted by everyone, though, until 1930, when an international group established the constellation borders that we use today — including those of the dismembered pieces of the Argo.
Script by Damond Benningfield