Pavo (“the peacock”) is one of 12 southern sky constellations devised by Petrus Plancius in the 16th century based upon the observations of Dutch explorers visiting the East Indies . Fortunately, it is neither as small or faint as many other southern constellations, making it a good jumping-off point for locating other constellations in the vicinity. The brightest star in Pavo, called Alpha Pavonis, is a blue-white subgiant found 179 light years from our solar system with an apparent visual magnitude of 1.94.
Pavo is the 44th largest constellation, taking up an area of 378 square degrees of the southern celestial sphere. It can be seen by observers located between +30° and -90° of latitude, with the best time to look for the constellation being from August to October. Bordering Pavo is Indus to its east, Apus and Ara to its west, Telescopium to its north, and Octans to its south.
Johann Bayer Family
Pavo is a part of the Johann Bayer family of constellations, along with Apus, Chamaeleon, Dorado, Grus, Hydrus, Indus, Musca, Phoenix, Tucana and Volans.
Dutch astronomer Petrus Plancius invented 12 new southern sky constellations based upon the observations made by Dutch explorers Pieter Dirkszoon Keyser and Frederick de Houtman during their journey to the East Indies (Southeast Asia) in the 16th century. Plancius subsequently named many of his constellations after exotic animals, including Grus (“the Crane”), Tucana (“the toucan”), Phoenix, and Pavo (“the peacock”), with this particular group collectively known as the “Southern Birds”.
According to Greek legend, the goddess Hera, suspicious of her husband’s philandering ways with the nymph Io, ordered her servant, the hundred-eyed giant Argus Panoptes, to keep his watchful eyes upon her. After Zeus dispatched Hermes to slay the giant, Hera honored him by transformed his 100 eyes into the pattern on the tail of her sacred bird, the peacock.
There are two annual meteor showers associated with Pavo, namely the August Pavonids, which peaks around August 31st and is believed to be linked to Comet Levy (P/1991 L3).; and the Delta Pavonids, which occur between 21st March and 8th April, with a peak on 5/6th April when up to 7 meteors per hour may be seen. This Southern Hemisphere only shower was discovered by Australian scientist Michael Buhagiar, and is linked to the Comet Grigg-Mellish.
– Beta Pavonis, the second brightest star in Pavo, is a white subgiant (A5IV) found 135 light years away of magnitude 3.42. This 60 million years old star is around 3.8 times bigger than the Sun, with 2.4 times its mass, and 58 times its luminosity. The equatorial rotation speed of Beta Pavonis is 81 km/s, giving it a rotation period of up to 2.3 days.
– Delta Pavonis, the constellation’s third brightest star, is a yellow subgiant (G8 IV) located a mere 19.92 light-years away that shines with a visual magnitude of 3.56. It is around 7 billion years old, and has roughly the same size, mass and luminosity as our sun. Together with a slow rotational velocity of just 1 km/s, and large quantities of iron in its atmosphere, indicative of a planet in its orbit, Delta Pavonis has been identified as an excellent star for further research by the SETI Institute (search for extraterrestrial intelligence).
Other stars of interest in the constellation includes the blue star Pi Pavonis; the blue-white giant Lambda Pavonis; the white dwarf Epsilon Pavonis; the yellow-white dwarf Gamma Pavonis; the orange giant Eta Pavonis and Xi Pavonis; and the Cepheid variable star Kappa Pavonis, whose magnitude varies from 3.8 to 5.2 over a 9.0908 day period.
Notable Deep-Sky Objects
Pavo is located in a rather starless area of the night sky, and contains no Messier objects, and only a few notable deep sky targets for stargazers.
– IC 4686, IC 4689 and IC 4687 are a triplet of interacting galaxies found around 250 million light-years away which in the distant future will ultimately merge into one huge galaxy. In the meantime, their interactions have resulted in starburst regions in which millions of young blue stars are being created at a faster rate than usually observed.
Other objects of interest in Pavo includes the barred spiral galaxy NGC 6782, the intermediate spiral galaxy NGC 6744, and the dwarf galaxy IC 4662.