Meet the Chamaeleon, a southern constellation

Chamaeleon constellation: Three white dots on black background connected by a line with a faint background image of a lizard.
The constellation Chamaeleon is a Southern Hemisphere target for April evenings.

The constellation of the Chamaeleon lies deep in the Southern Hemisphere sky. You have to be south of the equator to spot it. As a south circumpolar constellation, it circles closely around the south celestial pole and, therefore, does not set. Thus, if you’re in the Southern Hemisphere, you can see it on any evening of the year.

The origin of the Chamaeleon

Pieter Dirkszoon Keyser and Frederick de Houtman created the Chamaeleon, along with 11 other Southern Hemisphere constellations, in the late 1500s. These Dutch navigators explored the Southern Hemisphere and took astronomical observations, naming the new constellations after creatures they met on their travels. The chameleon is a type of lizard, and the northern sky has its own lizard constellation: Lacerta.

Locating the constellation of the Chameleon

You can find the constellation Chamaeleon any time of year in the Southern Hemisphere between the south celestial pole and the flowing river of the Milky Way. Also, if you can find the Southern Hemisphere’s prominent constellation of the Southern Cross, or Crux, and draw a line to the south celestial pole, you’ll pass through Chamaeleon.

Star chart of Chamaeleon constellation with stars in black on white.
The dim stars of the Chamaeleon lie near the south celestial pole. Image via IAU/ Sky and Telescope/ Wikimedia Commons.

The stars of the Chamaeleon

The stars of the Chamaeleon are all 4th magnitude and dimmer. Alpha Chamaeleontis and Theta Chamaeleontis lie a mere 1/2 degree from each other, with Alpha at magnitude 4.06 and Theta at magnitude 4.35. They lie 63 and 154 light-years away, respectively.

Delta Chamaeleontis is a double star near the center of the constellation. Its two components, four arcminutes apart, are magnitude 4.45 and 5.46, averaging 360 light-years distant. Two degrees away is Gamma Chamaeleontis, magnitude 4.12 and 413 light-years away. Lastly is Beta Chamaeleontis at magnitude 4.24 and 271 light-years distant, found at the opposite end of the constellation as Alpha.

Stocky lizard with dark and light green stripes and tail curling around branch.
The constellation Chamaeleon is supposed to represent the type of lizard known as the chameleon. Shown here is the panther chameleon from Madagascar. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Bottom line: The constellation Chamaeleon is a dark patch of sky that lies deep in the Southern Hemisphere and is visible any night of the year.

April 26, 2022

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Kelly Kizer Whitt

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