Plancius and the Indus Constellation

NGC 7049, as seen by the Hubble Space Telescope

NGC 7049, as seen by the Hubble Space Telescope

This brilliant photo taken by the Hubble Space Telescope reveals a scattering of dust clouds around the galaxy NGC 7049. The dust clouds are silhouetted by the light of millions of background stars and frame a galaxy that is about 150 000 light years wide. The NGC 7049 galaxy lies within the Indus constellation which was created by Petrus Plancius from the observations of Pieter Dirkszoon Keyser and Frederick de Houtma.

Petrus Plancius

Petrus Plancius

Plancius was born in 1555 with the name Pieter Plaatevoet (lit,”Peter Flatfoot“) in Dranouter in what is now West Flanders. He was a student of theology in England and Germany and became a minister in the Dutch Reformed Church in 1579. Fearing persecution under the Spanish in 1585, he fled from Brussels to Amsterdam where he became interested in cartography, navigation and the making of starcharts.

From Wikipedia:

He was one of the founders of the Dutch East India Company for which he drew over 100 maps.

In 1592 he published his best known world map titled “Nova et exacta Terrarum Tabula geographica et hydrographica”. Apart from maps he published journals and navigational guides and developed a new method for determining longitude. He also introduced the Mercator projection for navigational maps.

Plancius was closely acquainted with Henry Hudson, an explorer of the New World.

On the Mapping of Stars (Uranography)

In 1589 he collaborated with the Amsterdam cartographer Jacob Floris van Langren on a 32.5-cm celestial globe, which, using the sparse information available about southern celestial features, for the first time depicted: Crux the southern cross, Triangulum Australe the southern triangle, and the Magellanic Clouds, Nubecula Major and Minor.

In 1595, he asked Pieter Dirkszoon Keyser, the chief pilot on the Hollandia, to make observations to fill in the blank area around the south celestial pole on European maps of the southern sky. Keyser died in Java the following year – the expedition had many casualties – but his catalogue of 135 stars, probably prepared with the help of explorer-colleague Frederick de Houtman, was delivered to Plancius, who arranged them in 12 new constellations and inscribed them on a 35-cm celestial globe which he prepared in late 1597 (or early 1598) in collaboration with the Amsterdam cartographer Jodocus Hondius the Elder. Plancius’s constellations (mostly referring to animals and subjects described in the natural history books and traveller’s journals of his day) are Apus the Bird of Paradise, Chamaeleon, Dorado the Goldfish (or Swordfish), Grus the Crane, Hydrus the Small Water Snake, Indus the Indian, Musca the Fly, Pavo the Peacock, Phoenix, Triangulum Australe the Southern Triangle, Tucana the Toucan, and Volans the Flying Fish.

Indus Constellation Map

Indus Constellation Map

These constellations, together with the constellation Columba introduced by Plancius on his large wall map of the world of 1592, were then incorporated in 1603 by Johann Bayer in his sky atlas, the Uranometria.

In 1612 (or 1613) Plancius introduced the following eight constellations on a 26.5-cm celestial globe published in Amsterdam by Pieter van der Keere: Apes the Bee, Camelopardalis the Camel (or Giraffe), Cancer Minor the Small Crab, Euphrates Fluvius et Tigris Fluvius the Rivers Euphrates and Tigris, Gallus the Cock, Jordanis Fluvius the River Jordan, Monoceros the Unicorn and Sagitta Australis the Southern Arrow.

Of the latter constellations, most of which have a Biblical origin, only Camelopardalis and Monoceros are still found on modern star charts.

The minor planet 10648 Plancius commemorates his contributions in celestial and terrestrial cartography.

(Image Date: 07 Apr 2009. Satellite: Hubble Space Telescope. Depicts: NGC 7049. Copyright: NASA, ESA and W. Harris (McMaster University, Ontario, Canada)

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