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A small southern constellation introduced at the end of the 16th century by the Dutch navigators Pieter Dirkszoon Keyser and Frederick de Houtman. Dorado was first depicted on a star globe of 1598 by the Dutchman Petrus Plancius and first appeared in print in 1603 on the Uranometria atlas of Johann Bayer.

The constellation represents the colourful dolphinfish (Coryphaena hippurus, also known as Mahi-mahi) found in tropical waters, not the goldfish commonly found in ponds and aquaria. Dutch explorers observed these large predatory fish chasing flying fish and so Dorado was placed in the sky following the constellation of the flying fish, Volans. The constellation has also been known as Xiphias, the Swordfish, a name which first appeared as an alternative to Dorado in the Rudolphine Tables of Johannes Kepler published in 1627. Johann Bode depicted it as Xiphias on his Uranographia star atlas of 1801, as illustrated below.
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Dorado shown in the Uranographia of Johann Bode under the name of Xiphias, the swordfish. Nubecula Major, above it, is better known as the Large Magellanic Cloud.


Dorado’s main claim to fame is that it contains most of the Large Magellanic Cloud, a small neighbour galaxy of our own Milky Way, about 170,000 light years away; this, like the Small Magellanic Cloud in Tucana, was first described by the Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci in an account published in 1503 or 1504. (R. H. Allen, in his book Star Names, Their Lore and Meaning, credits the Arabs with prior knowledge of the Large Magellanic Cloud, but this is a misunderstanding of a reference to some stars in Carina and Vela.)

Within the Large Magellanic Cloud lies the huge nebula NGC 2070, popularly called the Tarantula. It is also known as 30 Doradus or the 30 Doradus Nebula; this is its number in Bode’s catalogue called Allgemeine Beschreibung und Nachweisung der Gestirne, published in 1801 to accompany his Uranographia star atlas.


© Ian Ridpath. All rights reserved


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