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Star Lore


The Bird of Paradise

Apus is a small constellation in the southern hemisphere.

It was one of twelve new constellations observed by Dutch navigators Pieter Dirkszoon Keyser and Frederick de Houtman in the East Indies between 1595 and 1597.

For a brief overview of the main stars of the constellation, click the Astronomy icon.

For an alphabetic listing of the constellation's main object in different cultures, click the Index icon.

In 1595, the First Dutch Fleet set sail for the East Indies. Two of the navigators on board these ships would soon be writing their names in the southern skies.

Chief navigator Pieter Dirkszoon Keyser made most of his observations while the ships stayed in Madagascar. Keyser died shortly after the fleet reached Sumatra. His assistant Frederick de Houtman continued the observations and returned records of 196 new southern stars, sorted into twelve new constellations back to Europe. The were first displayed on a globe manufactured by Petrus Plancius in 1598.

Most of the constellations were named after animals the explorers encountered during their travels, such as the Bird of Paradise or the Flying Fish.
On Planicus' globe, Apus appeared as Apis Indica - a misprint of the word apus, that was continuously repeated in several publications throughout the 16 and 1700s.

The first one to use the name Apus was Johannes Kepler, who called it Apus, Avis Indica (Apus, the Indian bird) in the Rudolphine Tables of 1627.

In 1763 French astronomer Nicolas-Louis de Lacaille "cut off" the bird's tail when he introduced the constellation Octans.

Tee faint stars of Apus never drew enough attention for any myth, but the name itself represents a common European misconception of the nature of the bird of paradise. Most species of Paradisaeidae are native to the island of New Guinea. The bird's plums, with their legs and wings removed were traded all across east Asia and in 1522, five such plums were brought to Europe and presented to the court of Emperor Charles V by the survivors of Magellan's expedition.

The lack of feet gave rise to the myth of a magical bird that was forever airborne and was nourished only by dew, rain and and the nectar of sunlight.

Sources: Wikipedia, Ian Ridpath, Natalie Lawrence: Birds of Paradise in Early Modern Europe

The Bird of Paradise is part of the flag of Papua New Guinea, which also shows the stars of the Southern Cross.

Source: Flags of the World

"Apis Indica" in Bayer's Uranometria
Source: Birds of Paradise

Southern Cross and Bird of Paradise
in the flag of Papua New Guinea
Source: Flags of the World

Chinese Astronomy

In Chinese, Apus is written 天燕座.

The stars of Apus are not visible from China and are therefor not part of ancient Chinese mythology.

They are, however, part of the Southern Asterisms, a group of 23 formations around the southern pole that were introduced in the mid 17th century by German Jesuit astronomer Johann Adam Schall von Bell and Chinese astronomer Xu Guangqi.

Exotic birds on a Chinese plate
Source: WorthPoint
In this system, the stars of Apus and some of the stars of Oktans are called Yì Què (異雀) - the Exotic Bird.

Source: Wikipedia

In the 2019 NameExoWorld project, in which each country on earth could name one star and one exoplanet, the first star (and planet) in the constellation Apus received a proper name.

New_Zealand used a plant and a bird native to New Zealand and living in a symbiotic relationships.

Both names were taken from the Māori language.

The star HD 137388 was named Karaka after an evergreen tree endemic to New Zealand.

Planet HD 137388b was named Kererū after large bush pigeon native to New Zealand.

Source: NameExoWorlds Approved Names
Karaka Kererū

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