Genitive: Sextantis
Abbreviation: Sex
Size ranking: 47th
Origin: The seven constellations of Johannes Hevelius

A faint constellation south of Leo, introduced by the Polish astronomer Johannes Hevelius in 1687 under the name Sextans Uraniae to commemorate the instrument with which he measured star positions, and which was destroyed along with other instruments in a fire at his observatory in 1679. In his book Machina Coelestis (1673) he provided an engraving of himself displaying his sextant.

Sextans above the coils of Hydra, illustrated in the Atlas Coelestis of John Flamsteed (1729). For the original depiction by Hevelius, see here.

Hevelius had continued to make naked-eye sightings with his sextant throughout his life, even though he used telescopes for observing the Moon and planets; it was perhaps to demonstrate the keenness of his eyes that he formed Sextans out of such faint stars, as he also did with another of his inventions, Lynx. The brightest star in Sextans is of magnitude 4.5 and none of the stars are named.

Chinese associations
Three stars in Sextans formed the Chinese constellation Tianxiang, ‘celestial minister’, symbolizing the prime minister, although sources differ as to which three stars these were.

© Ian Ridpath. All rights reserved