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Editorial Office, E. Circinus. Encyclopedia. Available online: (accessed on 14 April 2024).
Editorial Office E. Circinus. Encyclopedia. Available at: Accessed April 14, 2024.
Editorial Office, Encyclopedia. "Circinus" Encyclopedia, (accessed April 14, 2024).
Editorial Office, E. (2024, March 08). Circinus. In Encyclopedia.
Editorial Office, Encyclopedia. "Circinus." Encyclopedia. Web. 08 March, 2024.

Circinus is a small, faint constellation located in the southern sky. Named after the Latin word for compass, it was first introduced in the 18th century by the French astronomer Nicolas Louis de Lacaille during his observations of the southern hemisphere. Despite its modest size, Circinus harbors several intriguing celestial objects, including a notable planetary nebula and multiple star systems of scientific interest.

astronomy constellation IAU

1. Introduction

Circinus, derived from the Latin word for compass, is a modest yet compelling constellation residing in the southern celestial hemisphere. Situated between the constellations Triangulum Australe and Centaurus, Circinus occupies an area of approximately 93 square degrees. This constellation is notable for its relative dimness, requiring dark, unpolluted skies for optimal observation. First introduced by the French astronomer Nicolas Louis de Lacaille in the 18th century during his comprehensive survey of the southern sky, Circinus features several noteworthy celestial objects despite its unassuming appearance. Its primary celestial coordinates lie approximately between right ascension 14h 30m to 15h 30m and declination -55° to -65° (Figure 1).

Figure 1. IAU chart of Circinus. Source: Credit: IAU and Sky & Telescope. Reproduced under CC BY 4.0 license.

At the heart of Circinus lies a prominent planetary nebula known as NGC 5315. This nebula, approximately 3,000 light-years distant, showcases the remnants of a dying star's outer layers, illuminated by the intense ultraviolet radiation emitted by its central star. Circinus also hosts a collection of intriguing star systems, including multiple binary and multiple star systems that offer valuable insights into stellar evolution and dynamics. Among these systems is α Circini, a binary star located at a distance of about 53 light-years from Earth. Comprising two main sequence stars, α Circini provides astronomers with valuable data for understanding the interactions and characteristics of stellar companions.

2. Historical Background and Mythology

The historical background and mythology surrounding the constellation Circinus are not as extensively documented as those of some other constellations. Given its relatively recent introduction in the 18th century by the French astronomer Nicolas Louis de Lacaille, Circinus lacks deep-rooted mythological narratives associated with ancient civilizations. However, its inclusion in the celestial sphere and its naming do hold significance within the context of astronomical history.

Circinus owes its name to its resemblance to a compass, an instrument used for navigation and measurement. The Latin word "circinus" translates to "compass" in English, reflecting Lacaille's choice of nomenclature. Lacaille, renowned for his comprehensive survey of the southern skies, created several new constellations during his expeditions to the southern hemisphere. These constellations were primarily named after scientific instruments and tools, reflecting the spirit of the Age of Enlightenment and the advancements in scientific understanding during the 18th century.

While Circinus lacks mythological associations from ancient cultures, its introduction and naming are intertwined with the broader historical context of astronomical exploration and discovery. Lacaille's cataloging of previously uncharted regions of the southern celestial sphere contributed significantly to the expansion of human knowledge about the cosmos. His meticulous observations and classification of celestial objects laid the groundwork for future astronomers and facilitated a deeper understanding of the universe.

3. Notable Stars

Circinus, while not as prominent as some other constellations, hosts several notable stars that contribute to its astronomical significance. Among these stars, α Circini stands out as the brightest member of the constellation, offering valuable insights into stellar properties and dynamics.

α Circini, also known as Alpha Circini, is a binary star system located approximately 53 light-years from Earth. This system consists of two main sequence stars, designated α Circini A and α Circini B, orbiting around their common center of mass. α Circini A, the primary component, is a yellow-white dwarf star with a spectral classification of F5V. It shines with a visual magnitude of about 3.19, making it easily observable to the naked eye under favorable viewing conditions. α Circini B, the secondary component, is a fainter star with a spectral classification of G1V. The α Circini system provides astronomers with valuable data for studying stellar evolution and dynamics. Binary star systems offer opportunities to investigate various astrophysical phenomena, including stellar mass transfer, tidal interactions, and orbital dynamics. By analyzing the properties and behaviors of α Circini A and α Circini B, astronomers can gain insights into the formation and evolution of binary star systems, contributing to our broader understanding of stellar astrophysics.

In addition to α Circini, Circinus hosts other interesting stars worth noting. For example, β Circini is a binary star system comprising two main sequence stars that orbit each other over a period of about 80 years. This system exhibits variability in its brightness due to eclipses between the two stars as seen from Earth. Observations of β Circini contribute to studies of stellar variability and binary star dynamics.

4. Deep-Sky Objects

NGC 5315 (Planetary Nebula): NGC 5315 stands out as the most prominent deep-sky object within Circinus. This planetary nebula, located approximately 3,000 light-years away, showcases the remnants of a dying star's outer layers. As the central star sheds its outer layers into space, it illuminates the surrounding gas, creating a striking visual display. The intricate structure of NGC 5315, characterized by delicate filaments and faint outer shells, makes it a captivating subject for both visual observation and astrophotography. Studying planetary nebulae like NGC 5315 offers astronomers valuable insights into the late stages of stellar evolution and the processes governing the dispersal of heavy elements into the interstellar medium.

Circinus Galaxy (ESO 97-G13): The Circinus Galaxy, designated ESO 97-G13, is a barred spiral galaxy located approximately 13 million light-years from Earth. This galaxy is notable for its proximity to the Milky Way's South Celestial Pole and its relatively high inclination, which grants astronomers a unique perspective of its structure. The Circinus Galaxy harbors an active galactic nucleus (AGN), characterized by intense emissions across the electromagnetic spectrum, including X-rays and radio waves. Studying galaxies like the Circinus Galaxy provides valuable insights into the processes driving galactic evolution, including star formation, black hole accretion, and interactions with neighboring galaxies.

Open Star Cluster NGC 5823: NGC 5823 is an open star cluster situated within the boundaries of Circinus. This relatively young cluster, estimated to be around 40 million years old, contains a diverse population of stars, ranging from massive, luminous members to smaller, fainter ones. Open clusters like NGC 5823 offer astronomers valuable opportunities to study stellar evolution and dynamics within a common gravitational environment. By analyzing the properties and distribution of stars within NGC 5823, astronomers can gain insights into the formation mechanisms of star clusters and the underlying processes shaping the stellar populations within them.

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Update Date: 08 Mar 2024