Maximilian Hell (1720–1792), the Hungarian-born director of the Vienna observatory, introduced this constellation in 1789 under the name Psalterium Georgianum, i.e. George’s Psaltery (a psaltery is an ancient form of harp). He depicted it dangling from a ribbon beneath the hooves of Taurus on a chart published in 1789 in the annual Ephemerides astronomicae for 1790.

The constellation honoured King George III of England, patron of William Herschel, the discoverer of the planet Uranus (which, incidentally, Herschel had tried to name after the King). Both Herschel and King George were of German extraction. Bode, another German, changed the name of Hell’s new constellation to Harpa Georgii on his Uranographia atlas of 1801. He depicted it as a more modern form of harp, dispensed with the suspending ribbon, and angled the harp to fit better between the surrounding constellations (below). This was the representation that became best-known.

The harp’s brightest star, labelled Gamma by Hell and E by Bode, was the present-day 10 Tauri, magnitude 4.3, lying almost on the celestial equator. Its other main stars are now part of northern Eridanus.


Harpa Georgii squeezed between the left hoof of Taurus (above), the mouth of Cetus (upper right), and the river Eridanus (below) on Chart XII of the Uranographia of Johann Bode (1801).

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