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The Sculptor, The Sculptor’s Workshop

Constellation of the southern sky

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Constellation FamilyLa Caille
Celestial QuadrantsSQ1, SQ4
Right Ascension23h08 to 01h47
Declination-24.7° to -39.2°
Area (sq deg)475
Brightest StarAlpha Sculptoris
Optimum VisibilityOctober

A faint area of southern sky southward of Cetus and Aquarius, forming a narrow strip of sky running eastwards from Fomalhaut in Piscis Austrinus. This is a region devoid of bright stars: the brightest of Sculptor's stars, Alpha Sculptoris, has magnitude of just +4.29. (If that star was part of one of the more distinctive constellations such as Orion or Ursa Major, it would barely qualify for a Greek letter on the Bayer system.)

Map of Sculptor Map of Sculptor

Historically this region was named Apparatus Sculptoris, 'The Sculptor's Workshop', and though the Latin name was shortened to simply Sculptor, the English translation of its full name is still occasionally seen. One notable feature of this constellation also explains its lack of prominent stars: it contains the Southern Galactic Pole. This marks a point directly perpendicular to the Galactic plane; in other words, an observer viewing Sculptor in the skies of Earth is also looking directly out through the narrowest part the Milky Way Galaxy into extragalactic space.

The stars of Scupltor are so generally faint that it can be difficult to distinguish the shape of the constellation, but Sculptor is bracketed by two brighter stars in neighbouring constellations. To the west (extreme right of this image) is first-magnitude Fomalhaut in Piscis Austrinus, while to the south is the second-magnitude star Ankaa in Phoenix. Imagery provided by Aladin sky atlas

Though lacking in bright stars, Sculptor contains some interesting objects beyond the limits of the Milky Way. NGC 253 near its northern border is a weakly barred spiral galaxy also known as the Sculptor Galaxy or the Silver Dollar Galaxy, and lies at the heart of its own cluster of galaxies (the Sculptor Group) which is the nearest such collection of galaxies beyond the Milky Way's own Local Group. Towards the constellation's southern border is the Whale Galaxy, C72 (not to be confused with a more prominent galaxy of the same name in Canes Venatici). This is an outlying member of the Sculptor Group, drifting in intergalactic space between that group and the Milky Way's own Local Group of galaxies.

The galaxies of the Sculptor Group cluster around a point some eleven million light years from the Milky Way. Far, far beyond them, some five hundred million light years away, is a remarkable object known as the Cartwheel Galaxy. This is a ring galaxy: a central core surrounded by a ring of stellar material, but without the spiral arms usually associated with a structure of this kind. This peculiar configuration is due to an ancient collision between two galaxies.


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