Happy Wednesday stargazers and weirdo-enthusiasts!
Tonight we have a side quest that’s a little different. This week we aren’t going to be looking for any bright stars or planets. Instead we’re going to be looking for a constellation in a part of the sky that looks relatively empty. In fact, this constellation is so dim you need “the eyes of a lynx to see it”! This constellation is LYNX.
Why do I have you looking for something you may not be able to see? A few reasons: One is to encourage you to seek out things in the night sky that aren’t obvious. Another is to train you to navigate the night sky and know where things are even if you have a lot of light pollution. By finding Lynx we’ll also be finding a constellation that’s kinda like a blank slate in a metaphorical sense too – there’s no mythology here! Think of this as our first “make your own mythology” side quest!
The constellation Lynx was invented by Johannes Hevelius, a Polish astronomer from the 17th century. Hevelius invented Lynx to basically fill in the seemingly empty space between Ursa Major and Auriga, calling it Lynx because you “need the eyes of a lynx to see it”, naming it after the big cats of North America.
The constellation Lynx has no bright stars, no messier objects, no meteor showers, and no mythology. The brightest star in this constellation, Alpha Lyncis, has a magnitude of about 3.13 which is on the fainter side of stars we’ve looked for in our Side Quests. The rest of the stars are all around magnitude 4. If you have good skies and decent enough vision, you might be able to see a zig-zaggy line of stars in the space above Gemini and between the Big Dipper and Auriga.
When looking for Lynx you can use our Side Quest targets from last week, the bright stars Castor and Pollux in the constellation Gemini, to help you. By tracing a line up from Pollux you can find Alpha Lyncis on one end of the constellation. You can also use the bright star Capella from week 60 to find the last star on the other end of Lynx. If the stars of Lynx are too dim to see from your area, rest assured the constellation is still there in the space above and between Castor, Pollux, and Capella.
Only one star in Lynx has a formal name, Alsciaukat. This name is derived from aš-šawkat, the Arabic word for “thorn”. It is also sometimes called Mabsuthat – another name derived from an Arabic word meaning “the outstretched (paw)”. You can find Alsciaukat by tracing a line up Pollux of Gemini to the star that looks like its dipping down in the zig-zaggy line of Lynx.
While Lynx is lacking in messier objects, it does have a few goodies hidden away. One of these is called NGC 2419 aka the Intergalactic Wanderer. This space-weirdo was once thought to be a star until proven to be a globular cluster. It was also once thought to not even orbit the Milky Way at all! This was proven false as well. The Intergalactic Wanderer does orbit the Milky Way, just very slowly at 3 billion years! This cluster between Castor and Lynx is very faint and requires a telescope to see.
Another fun target in this constellation for those of you with a telescope is the UFO Galaxy! From Earth we get a side view of this galaxy and that’s why it looks especially flying-saucer-shaped. The UFO Galaxy is 30 light years away from us and can be found between the constellations Lynx and Cancer.
Let us know if you find Lynx tonight! Tell us about any stories you come up with to pair with this constellation too. Since there’s no mythology historically associated with this constellation, that means we can make our own! How does Lynx fit in with your personal mythology? With #WUFO’s? Tell us your star stories by hitting us up at @stargazingsidequest and @liminal.earth on IG. We’re also on Mastodon!