When Polish astronomer Johannes Hevelius constructed Lynx in the 17th century, he did so using some of the “unformed” stars located near Ursa Major that were first catalogued by Ptolemy in the 2nd century. Although the constellation is said to represent the medium-sized wild cat known as a lynx, the reference to a feline is only because when Hevelius constructed this very faint galaxy, he added the note that an observer needs exceptional eyesight and the visual acuity of a cat in order to see it at all. Hevelius is also credited with creating the constellations Lacerta, Leo Minor, Scutum, Sextans, Vulpecula, and Canes Venatici at about the same time that he created Lynx.
Lynx is the 28th largest constellation, taking up an area of 545 square degrees of the northern sky between latitudes +90° and -55°. It was created for the sole purpose of filling the large gap between the two major constellations of Ursa Major and Auriga, and at first glance somewhat resembles Hydra, since the constellation is strung out almost like beads on a necklace, stretching from Leo in the southwest to Camelopardalis in the northeast. Lynx is best seen from December through to March for observers in mid-northern latitudes, although dark skies and an optical aid are required for the best views.
It is not known if Hevelius had any mythology in mind when he constructed his constellations, but one mythological character, Lynceus, might be linked to the constellation, albeit at a stretch. Lynceus was one of the Argonauts, and it was said that no man before him had eyesight as keen, and that he could even see buried objects.
Lynx has no bright stars above 4th magnitude as seen from the Earth, but it does contain some remarkable stars nevertheless.
– Alpha Lyncis (Elvashak) is about 200 light years away, and has an apparent visual magnitude of 3.13, making it the most luminous star in the constellation. It is a K7 III-class orange giant that has evolved off of the main sequence, and it is currently 55 times as big as the Sun, and at least 673 times as bright.
– 38 Lyncis, the constellation’s second most luminous star, is a binary star located 120 light-years from our solar system with an apparent magnitude of 3.82. Its primary component is a blue-white A3-class hydrogen-fusing dwarf star that is 2.55 times bigger than our sun, and at least 31 times brighter. It also rotates at more than 190 km/sec as measured at its equator, completing one revolution in less than 15 hours. The companion is suspected to be either a class A4 or A6 dwarf star.
– 10 Ursae Majoris, the third brightest star in Lynx, is a binary star situated 52 light years away that shines with a visual magnitude of 3.97. Its consists of two yellow stars separated by 10.6 AU that complete a full orbit once every 21.78 years.
– Alsciaukat (31 Lyncis), the constellation’s fourth brightest star, is an orange giant (K4.5 III) found 390 light years distant of magnitude 4.25. Its apparent visual magnitude varies by about 0.5 over long periods, though, suggesting that it might eventually evolve into a Mira-type variable star. Alsciaukat is 36 times bigger than the Sun, and around 600 times as bright. It also happens to be only star in the constellation that has a proper name, which in this case derives from the Arabic word “aš-šawkat”, meaning “thorn”.
Other stars of interest in Lynx includes the double systems of 12 Lyncis, 15 Lyncis, 19 Lyncis.
Notable Deep Sky Objects
Lynx is not famous for its spectacular deep sky objects, but it does contain a few noteworthy objects, if only for their names:
– Intergalactic Wanderer (NGC 2419, Caldwell 25) is a Shapley-class star cluster containing thousands of separate stars with a combined visual magnitude of 9.06. It was originally thought not to be orbiting the Milky Way, hence its wanderer nickname, but recent studies have shown that the cluster is indeed orbiting our galaxy, taking around three billion years to complete one circuit. The Wanderer is one of the most distant clusters from Earth, being about 300,000 light years away, and only slightly less than that from the galactic center.
– UFO Galaxy (NGC 2683) is an unbarred spiral galaxy situated 25 million light years away that contains at least 300 individual globular clusters. The Astronaut Memorial Planetarium and Observatory thought that this galaxy looked like a typical flying saucer, so they dubbed it the UFO Galaxy. The fact that this galaxy is flying away from us at more than 400 km/sec, and from the galactic center at more than 370 km/sec, seems to do full justice to its nick name.
– The Supernova Factory (NGC 2770) is a 12th magnitude spiral galaxy located about 88 million light years away. Its nickname comes from the fact that three supernovas, SN 1999eh, SN 2007uy, and SN 2008D had been detected in the galaxy in the recent past. One supernova, SN 2008D, is famous because it was the first such event to be detected while it was in the act of happening, and not by “left-over” light emitted during the after-glow.
As of 2016, Lynx has six stars with one planet each.