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For three centuries, an insect buzzed around the backside of Aries. But the ram got rid of the pest a century ago, claiming the stars as its own.
The buzzer was created in 1612, by Dutch astronomer Petrus Plancius. He took some faint stars from an empty region near Aries. He named his new constellation Apis — Latin for “bee.”
But there was already a celestial bee. So in 1687, German astronomer Johannes Hevelius renamed Apis. He called it Musca — the fly. And in 1822, it was adjusted to Musca Borealis, the northern fly, because there was already a fly in the southern hemisphere.
A century later, though, astronomers replotted the skies. They got rid of several constellations and gave their stars to others. Musca Borealis was one of the victims. Its stars were incorporated into the ram.
The northern fly was never much to look at. Its brightest star is too faint to see from a modern city. It’s known as 41 Arietis. It’s actually a triple system — three stars bound by their mutual gravity. Two stars form a tight pair, with a third star a good distance away from them. The leading member of the system is bigger than the Sun. It’s also about 160 times brighter, which is why the system is visible at all from its distance of 166 light-years.
The ghost of the northern fly flutters near the ram, which is half way up the eastern sky at nightfall. You need dark skies to see any of the fly’s faint stars.
Script by Damond Benningfield