Pasachoff, Jay M. Hopkins Observatory, Williams College, Williamstown, Massachusetts.
Last reviewed:November 2019
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The Centaur, a southern constellation in the Milky Way (see illustration). It is not visible from midnorthern latitudes, but observers in the Southern Hemisphere see two bright stars, Alpha Centauri (Rigel Kentaurus) and Beta Centauri (Hadar), marking the feet of the Centaur, one of the mythological Greek creatures who are half human and half horse. Centaurus honors the wise centaur Chiron, who educated Achilles and Hercules and who was elevated to the heavens by Zeus when he died. In 800 B.C., in the era when this myth was probably told, the constellation was almost completely visible from latitudes up to 40°N. Because of the precession of the equinoxes, only the upper half of the constellation is ever above the horizon at that latitude today. Other myths identify Chiron with the constellation Sagittarius. See also: Precession of equinoxes; Sagittarius
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