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Editorial Office, E. Phoenix. Encyclopedia. Available online: (accessed on 14 April 2024).
Editorial Office E. Phoenix. Encyclopedia. Available at: Accessed April 14, 2024.
Editorial Office, Encyclopedia. "Phoenix" Encyclopedia, (accessed April 14, 2024).
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Editorial Office, Encyclopedia. "Phoenix." Encyclopedia. Web. 15 March, 2024.

Phoenix, a constellation in the southern celestial hemisphere, is named after the mythical bird that cyclically regenerates or is reborn from its own ashes. The constellations Phoenix, Grus, Pavo and Tucana, are known as the Southern Birds.

astronomy constellation IAU star

1. Introduction

Phoenix, a constellation in the southern celestial hemisphere, holds a unique place in the pantheon of astronomical wonders. Named after the mythical bird that cyclically regenerates or is reborn from its own ashes, Phoenix is a constellation rich in celestial lore and captivating objects. Its celestial coordinates place it between 23 and 2 hours of right ascension and -39 and -57 degrees of declination (Figure 1).

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

Despite its modest size, Phoenix is home to several notable celestial objects that have captured the fascination of astronomers for centuries. The constellation is best observed from southern latitudes, where it is visible during the Southern Hemisphere's summer months. Its relatively dim stars may present a challenge for urban observers, but dark-sky locations offer optimal viewing conditions for exploring its celestial treasures. One of the most prominent features of Phoenix is its namesake, the Phoenix Nebula (NGC 6537). This planetary nebula, located near the constellation's border with Sculptor, resembles a bird in flight and serves as a visual representation of the mythical phoenix rising from the ashes. Its ethereal beauty and intricate structure make it a favorite target for astrophotographers and a symbol of the constellation's enduring mythological legacy. Another notable object within Phoenix is the galaxy cluster Abell 3158. Located approximately 530 million light-years away, this cluster contains hundreds of galaxies bound together by gravity, offering astronomers valuable insights into the structure and evolution of the universe on cosmic scales. Studying galaxy clusters like Abell 3158 enhances our understanding of dark matter, dark energy, and the large-scale structure of the cosmos.

Phoenix also boasts a number of deep-sky objects, including galaxies, star clusters, and nebulae, that contribute to its celestial allure. These objects offer astronomers a wealth of opportunities to explore the mysteries of the universe and uncover the secrets of cosmic evolution. In addition to its astronomical significance, Phoenix holds cultural and historical importance as a symbol of rebirth, renewal, and transformation. The mythical phoenix, with its ability to rise from its own ashes, embodies themes of resilience and regeneration that resonate across cultures and civilizations.

2. Historical Background and Mythology

The constellation Phoenix, with its namesake derived from ancient mythology, has captured the imaginations of civilizations throughout history. Across various cultures, the phoenix represents themes of rebirth, renewal, and immortality, making it a symbol of enduring significance. In Greek mythology, the phoenix is described as a magnificent bird with brightly colored plumage and a melodious song. According to legend, the phoenix lived for centuries before eventually perishing in flames. However, from its ashes, a new phoenix would arise, symbolizing the cyclical nature of life and death. This theme of regeneration resonated deeply with the ancient Greeks, who incorporated the phoenix into their folklore and artistic expressions.

The ancient Egyptians also revered the phoenix, known to them as the "bennu bird." In Egyptian mythology, the bennu bird was associated with the sun god Ra and the concept of eternal life. Depicted as a heron or egret, the bennu bird was believed to herald the dawn of a new era and guide souls to the afterlife. Its presence in Egyptian culture underscores its importance as a symbol of spiritual rebirth and divine renewal.

Similarly, in Chinese mythology, the phoenix is known as the "fenghuang" and is regarded as a symbol of virtue, prosperity, and harmony. Unlike its Western counterpart, the fenghuang is often depicted as a composite creature, combining the features of various birds, including the head of a pheasant, the body of a duck, the wings of a peacock, and the tail of a swallow. The fenghuang is associated with the Empress and is believed to appear only during times of peace and prosperity, symbolizing the auspicious arrival of a new era.

In addition to its significance in mythology, the phoenix has also left its mark on various cultural traditions and practices. In alchemy, the phoenix is a symbol of transformation and spiritual enlightenment, representing the journey of the soul towards perfection. Alchemists sought to emulate the phoenix's ability to transcend death and achieve immortality through their pursuit of the Philosopher's Stone. The phoenix's influence extends to literature, art, and popular culture, where it continues to inspire and captivate audiences worldwide. From ancient texts such as Ovid's "Metamorphoses" to modern-day films and novels, the phoenix remains a powerful symbol of hope, resilience, and the enduring cycle of life.

In the realm of astronomy, the constellation Phoenix serves as a celestial homage to this mythical bird, connecting the mysteries of the cosmos with humanity's timeless stories and symbols. As astronomers gaze upon the stars of Phoenix, they are reminded of the rich tapestry of cultural and mythological heritage that shapes our understanding of the universe.

3. Notable Stars

Alpha Phoenicis, also known as Ankaa, is the brightest star in the constellation, boasting an apparent magnitude of approximately 2.4. Located approximately 77 light-years away from Earth, Ankaa is an orange giant star with a spectral classification of K0III. Its distinctive hue and prominence in the night sky make it a recognizable feature of the Phoenix constellation.

Another notable star in Phoenix is Beta Phoenicis, a binary star system consisting of two main-sequence stars orbiting each other. Together, they create the optical illusion of a single star, appearing as a point of light with an apparent magnitude of around 3.3. Beta Phoenicis is approximately 36 light-years away from Earth and serves as a fascinating target for astronomers studying stellar dynamics and binary systems.

Zeta Phoenicis, also known as ζ Phoenicis or Zet Phe, is a fascinating multiple star system nestled within the constellation of Phoenix. Visible to the naked eye, Zeta Phoenicis resides approximately 300 light-years (92 parsecs) away from Earth, as determined by parallax measurements conducted by the Hipparcos spacecraft. The primary component of Zeta Phoenicis, Zeta Phoenicis A, is an Algol-type eclipsing binary star system. Comprising two B-type main sequence stars, Zeta Phoenicis A exhibits a unique behavior where one star periodically passes in front of the other, causing fluctuations in brightness. The larger and brighter star, formally named Wurren, undergoes eclipses with its companion, resulting in an apparent magnitude that varies between 3.9 and 4.4 over a period of approximately 1.67 days—corresponding to its orbital period.

4. Deep-Sky Objects

NGC 625: NGC 625 is a barred spiral galaxy located approximately 90 million light-years away from Earth. This galaxy exhibits a distinct structure characterized by a central bar-shaped region of stars surrounded by spiral arms. With a visual magnitude of around 12.6, NGC 625 is observable with moderate-sized telescopes under favorable viewing conditions.

The Phoenix Cluster (SPT-CLJ2344-4243): The Phoenix Cluster is a massive galaxy cluster located approximately 5.7 billion light-years away from Earth. It is one of the most massive galaxy clusters known, containing hundreds of galaxies bound together by gravity. The Phoenix Cluster serves as a unique laboratory for studying galaxy formation, the interplay between dark matter and ordinary matter, and the evolution of cosmic structures on the largest scales.

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Update Date: 15 Mar 2024