Puppis (“the stern”) is one of 14 southern hemisphere constellations created by the French astronomer Nicolas Louis de Lacaille during his South African expedition of 1751–52. Its brightest star is Naos, a blue supergiant found 1,090 light-years away with a magnitude of 2.25.
Puppis is the night sky’s 20th largest constellation, and can be seen by observers located between +40° and -90° of latitude, although best seen from January to May. It can be found just south-east of Canis Major, with its other neighboring constellations including Carina, Columba, Hydra, Monoceros, Pictor, Pyxis and Vela.
From 1751-52, Frenchman Nicolas Louis de Lacaille surveyed the southern skies from an observatory he set up in South Africa. Amongst the 14 new southern constellations he subsequently created were three constructed from Argo Navis, an oversized constellation associated with the ship belonging to Jason and the Argonauts. Lacaille split this ancient constellation into three new ones, namely Carina (“keel”), Vela (“sails”), and Puppis (“stern”).
Heavenly Waters Family
Puppis is a member of the Heavenly Waters family of constellations, together with Carina, Columba, Delphinus, Equuleus, Eridanus, Piscis Austrinus, Pyxis, and Vela.
– Naos (Zeta Puppis, Suhail Hadar), the constellation’s brightest star, is a blue supergiant (O4If) located 1,090 light years distant that shines with a magnitude of 2.21. It has 59 times the Sun’s mass, 20 times its radius, and is 22,000 times more luminous. The star’s traditional name, Naos, means “ship” in Greek, while its alternative name Suhail Hadar comes from the Arabic phrase meaning “the roaring bright one.”
– Pi Puppis (Ahadi), the second brightest star in Puppis, is an orange supergiant (K3Ib) found 810 light years from our solar system with a magnitude of 2.733. It is around 333 times bigger than the Sun, and is 19,200 times more luminous. Its name Ahadi means “having much promise.
– Rho Puppis (Tureis), the constellation’s third brightest star, is a yellow-white giant (F2mF5IIp) situated 63 light-years away with a visual magnitude of 2.78. This 2 billion year old star has 1.85 solar masses, a radius 3.41 times that of the Sun, and is 22 times more luminous.
Other stars of interest in Puppis includes the blue supergiant HD 64760; the blue-white stars Nu Puppis, NV Puppis, MX Puppis, and PU Puppis; the white supergiant HD 68601; the yellow supergiant Asmidiske (Xi Puppis); the orange stars Sigma Puppis, NS Puppis, HD 69830 and HD 63032; and the red giant L2 Puppis and NGC 2423-3.
Notable Deep Sky Objects
Lying in the direction of the Milky Way means Puppis has a wealth of interesting astronomical delights to observe, including three Messier objects, namely the open star clusters of M46, M47 and M93.
– Messier 46 (NGC 2437) is a 300 million years old open cluster situated around 5,500 light years away. It is estimated to contain 500 stars which shine with a combined magnitude of 6.1.
– Messier 47 (NGC 2422) is a 78 million years old open cluster located about 1,600 light years from our solar system. It believed to contains around 50 stars, which together have an apparent visual magnitude of 4.2.
– Messier 93 (NGC 2447) is a 100 million years old open cluster of around 80 stars found 3,600 light years from Earth. It is about 10 light years wide and has a visual magnitude of 6.0.
Other open clusters not included in Messier’s catalogue are NGC 2451, NGC 2477, Pi Puppis Cluster, NGC 2509, NGC 2439, and NGC 2546.
Another notable deep sky objects in Puppis is the Skull and Crossbones Nebula (NGC 2467), shown in the photo opposite, which is a large emission nebula around 17,000 light-years away whose large amounts of hydrogen gas act as a stellar nursery for new stars.