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A small, faint constellation of the far southern sky invented by the French astronomer Nicolas Louis de Lacaille to commemorate Table Mountain near Cape Town, South Africa, from where he catalogued the southern stars in 1751–52. Lacaille originally gave it the French name Montagne de la Table on the first version of his planisphere published in 1756 but this was Latinized to Mons Mensae on the second edition of 1763. In 1844 the English astronomer John Herschel proposed shortening it to Mensa. Francis Baily adopted this suggestion in his British Association Catalogue of 1845, and it has been known as Mensa ever since.

Mensa contains part of the Large Magellanic Cloud, a neighbour galaxy to our Milky Way, which gives Mensa the appearance of being capped by a white cloud, like the so-called “tablecloth” cloud sometimes seen over the real Table Mountain “when the violent south-easter blows”, as Lacaille put it. Mensa’s brightest stars are of only fifth magnitude.

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Mensa, introduced by Lacaille under the name Mons Mensae, as illustrated in the Uranographia of Johann Bode (1801). Nubecula Major is the Large Magellanic Cloud, representing the cloud that caps the real Table Mountain.



© Ian Ridpath. All rights reserved


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