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December 10, 2015

The constellation Sculptor is a bit like a well in the middle of a forest. If you look around you, you see trees. But if you look into the well, all you see is darkness. And that’s the way with Sculptor. If you look at many of the other constellations around us, you see lots of stars. But in Sculptor, there are no bright stars at all.

That’s because the constellation is home to the south pole of the Milky Way galaxy. So when you look in that direction, you’re looking away from the star-studded disk of the Milky Way and into the vastness of intergalactic space beyond.

Because of all that emptiness, the constellation wasn’t even created until the early 1750s. French astronomer Nicolas Louis de la Caille drew it after a star-mapping expedition to the southern hemisphere. He originally called it the Sculptor’s Studio. His maps depicted a carved head sitting on a table, with a sculptor’s tools on a block of marble. Later astronomers shortened the name and rearranged the constellation’s depiction.

Sculptor’s brightest star is Alpha Sculptoris. It’s a big, bright star, but it’s so far away that it looks quite pale. In fact, you need dark skies to see it at all. This is a pretty good night to try it, because there’s no moonlight. First find Fomalhaut, the lonely bright star low in the south at nightfall. Sculptor spreads out to the lower left — a dark “window” to intergalactic space.

We’ll have more about Sculptor tomorrow.


Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2015

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