Dorado the Gold Fish 
Dorado, the gold fish, was added to the sky by Johann Bayer in 1603.  The gold fish it refers to is not the common aquarium variety but to a tropical fish from Hawaii which changes colour as it dies.  Dorado does not stand out to the naked eye, with itís brightest star alpha being only magnitude 3.3 but can be easily located as it contains the northern part of the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC).  Dorado is diving into the LMC and his eye is marked by the south ecliptic pole, which was once also known as the Polus Doradinalis.  This pole marks the southern axis of the ecliptic, or in other words,  the point that the ecliptic is shifting around due to the effect of precession.  

One alternative name for this constellation was Xiphias, the Sword Fish.  You may spot it on older pictorial atlases but the name fell from use in more modern times.  Xiphias was also used as a term to describe comets in the form of a sword in late Roman times, so may have been considered to be confusing.   

Large Magellanic Cloud is named after the seafaring explorer Magellan, who was one of the first Europeans to adventure into the southern oceans.  This "cloud" is the largest satellite galaxy to our Milky Way and lies only 180 000 light years away from us.  To see the LMC clearly you will need to be away from light pollution and have no bright moon about.  In a bright sky you may need to use averted vision to gain a good view but in a truly dark sky you will wonder how you ever missed seeing it before!  Binoculars reveal itís irregular structure and the bright knot of the gigantic Tarantula Nebula (see below).  There are many other nebulae and star clusters in the LMC to explore but you will need good charts and a large aperture telescope to do so.

An excerpt from Johan van Keulen's Boeck zee-kaardt, 1709.
It is a small, faint constellation that lies under
Puppis, the Stern. Despite this it contains the 
South Ecliptic Pole, half of the Large Magellanic Cloud
and several impressive galaxies that can be seen in
medium to large telescopes.

There is a magnificent object within the LMC that has several names: the Tarantula nebula, 30 Doradus, NGC 2070 and once it was also known as the Great Looped Nebula.  In binoculars this massive nebula stands out as a glowing knot to one side of the LMC, giving you a good look at itís full extent - 1000 light years across, larger than anything visible in our own galaxy.  It is an emission nebula and telescopes readily show a tight cluster of newborn stars in itís middle - the eyes of the tarantula.  Telescopes will give you good views of the loops on gas which give the Tarantula Nebula itís modern name.

This article is ©2001 Stargazers Astronomy Shop

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