Located in the southern sky, the constellation Musca which is Latin for “the fly” is a small constellation. It was one of 12 constellations created by Petrus Plancius from the observations of Pieter Dirkszoon Keyser and Frederick de Houtman, and it first appeared on a celestial globe 35 cm in diameter published in 1597 in Amsterdam by Plancius and Jodocus Hondius. The first depiction of this constellation in a celestial atlas was in Johann Bayer’s Uranometria of 1603. There was a period of 200 years where Musca was known as Apis, which is Latin for “the bee”.
Many of the constellation’s brighter stars are members of the Scorpius–Centaurus Association, a loose group of hot blue-white stars that appears to share a common origin and motion across the Milky Way. 2 star systems have been found to have planets in the constellation. There are 2 cepheid variables visible to the naked eye. Theta Muscae is a triple star system, the brightest member of which is a Wolf–Rayet star.
Musca covers 138 square degrees in the sky, which corresponds to 0.335% of the area. This ranks the constellation as the 77th of the 88 constellations in terms of size size. The whole constellation is visible to observers south of latitude 14°N and remains below the horizon for most Northern Hemisphere observers.
|Visibility In Pacific Northwest||Never visible in PNW|
|Best Times To View||Never visible in PNW|
|Right Ascension||11h 19.3m to 13h 51.1m|
|Declination||64.64° to −75.68°|
|Area||138 square degrees|
|Brightest Object||α Mus|
|Neighboring Constellations||Apus, Carina, Centaurus, Chamaeleon, Circinus, Crux|
Musca was one of the 12 constellations established by the Dutch astronomer Petrus Plancius from the observations of the southern sky by the Dutch explorers Pieter Dirkszoon Keyser and Frederick de Houtman. They had sailed the on the first Dutch Trading expedition to the East Indies when they performed their observations, which would result in Musca included in the 1598 star catalogue. When catalogued in 1598, Musca had the Dutch name De Vlieghe, “The Fly” and had 4 stars in the constellation. These 4 stars would become known as Alphaa, Beta, Gamma, and Delta Muscae. The first depiction of this constellation in a celestial atlas was in the German cartographer Johann Bayer’s Uranometria of 1603, though Bayer gave the constellation the name of Apis or Bee, which would become the name of the constellation for the next 2 centuries.
The Kalapalo people of the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso state called Alpha and Beta Muscae Kutsu anangagï in their native language, which translates in English to “Ornate Hawk-Eagle’s double flutes”.
The Wardaman people of the Northern Territory in Australia perceived the main stars of Musca as a ceremonial boomerang, part of the Central Arena. The Central Arena is a sacred area surrounding Crux that depicts the lightning creation beings and where the Wardaman people teach Wardaman customs. The stars Alpha and Beta also signified a ceremonial headband, while Gamma and Delta represented two armbands.
In central Australia, the Arrernte and Luritja peoples living in on a mission in Hermannsburg viewed the sky as divided between them, east of the Milky Way representing Arrernte camps and west denoting Luritja camps. The stars of Musca, along with the stars of Fomalhaut, Alpha Pavonis, and Alpha and Beta Gruis, were all claimed by the Arrernte.
Lacaille charted and designated 10 stars with the Bayer designations Alpha to Kappa in 1756. Other stars were later given Bayer designations by future observers. There are 62 stars brighter than magnitude 6.5 in the constellation.
Located on the border with Circinus is the unusual planetary nebula NGC 5189, estimated to be around 1750 light-years away from Earth. Its complex structure is due to multiple ejections of material from the ageing central star, which are distorted by the presence of a likely binary companion. Located 2.4° east of Eta Muscae is the magnitude-12.9 Engraved Hourglass Nebula (MyCn 18), which lies about 8000 light-years distant from Earth. To Eta’s west lies IC 4191, a compact bluish planetary nebula of magnitude 10.6, thought to lie around 10,750 light-years away from Earth. West of Epsilon Muscae is NGC 4071, a large, diffuse planetary nebula of magnitude 12.7 with a magnitude 12 central star, thought to lie around 4000 light-years away from Earth. The Coalsack Nebula is a dark nebula located mainly in neighbouring Crux that intrudes into Musca. NGC 4463 is an open cluster located on its southwestern border. Around five light-years across, it is located around 3400 light-years away.
The comparatively old globular cluster NGC 4833 near Delta Muscae was catalogued by Lacaille in 1755. It is 21,200 light-years distant and somewhat obscured by dust clouds near the galactic plane. The globular cluster NGC 4372 near Gamma Muscae is fainter and likewise partially obscured by dust, but spans more arc minutes. It is 18,900 light-years away from Earth and 23,000 light-years distant from the centre of the Milky Way. Its extremely low metallicity indicates it is very old—one of the oldest clusters in the Milky Way. Extending south from it is the Dark Doodad Nebula, resembling a dark L-shaped river through a bright field of stars. Another dark nebula in the constellation is BHR 71.