Size ranking: 77th
Origin: The 12 southern constellations of Keyser and de Houtman
A small constellation to the south of Crux, the Southern Cross. Musca was one of the 12 southern constellations introduced at the end of the 16th century by Pieter Dirkszoon Keyser and Frederick de Houtman from the stars they observed during the first Dutch expeditions to the East Indies. It was first depicted by their fellow Dutchman Petrus Plancius on his globe of 1598, but for some reason he left it unnamed. In de Houtman’s catalogue of 1603, completed after Keyser’s death, it is called De Vlieghe, Dutch for fly.
Johann Bayer, also in 1603, showed the insect on his plate of the 12 new southern constellations in Uranometria but called it Apis, the Bee, an alternative title that was widely used for two centuries. The Dutch historian Elly Dekker believes that this alternative identification arose because Bayer copied his southern constellations from globes produced by Jodocus Hondius in 1600 and 1601, on which the figure was left unnamed. Not knowing what it was meant to depict, Bayer wrongly identified it as a bee (apis), not a fly (musca).
The first known use of the Latin name Musca for this constellation was in 1602 on a globe by Willem Janszoon Blaeu, another Dutch cartographer and rival to Plancius. Plancius himself did not adopt a name for the constellation until 1612, when he called it Muia, the Greek for fly, on a globe produced that year. For a time it was known as Musca Australis, when there was also a northern fly, Musca Borealis, in the sky.
The constellation’s brightest star, Alpha Muscae, is of third magnitude. None of its stars are named, and there are no legends about the fly.
Musca, shown under its sometime alternative name of Apis, the bee (but looking more like a wasp), on Chart XX of the Uranographia of Johann Bode (1801).
© Ian Ridpath. All rights reserved