A list of the least observed constellations in northern skies would surely include Lacerta the Lizard, added to the celestial canon by Johannes Hevelius in 1687. Maybe THE least observed? How could that be determined, I wonder? 🤔The above image is a detail from Plate 11 of Alexander Jamieson’s Celestial Atlas published in 1822 (courtesy of Wikimedia). Jamieson’s depiction includes additional stars (now on permanent loan from the constellation Cepheus) but not part of Lacerta as originally depicted in the Firmamentum Sobiescianum, the celestial atlas created by Hevelius, published posthumously in 1690. Hevelius said of the lizard that nothing larger would fit in the space. Additional details and an image of the original constellation conceived by Hevelius can be found on Ian Ridpath’s superb website devoted to celestial atlases.
This striking binocular asterism is on Lacerta’s western border (with Cygnus). I am apt to view it when roaming the skies around the open cluster M 39 in Cygnus. It includes the superb binocular double star HJ 1735, which is wide enough to be resolved with handheld binoculars, though more enjoyable to me with a mounted binocular.
AD 6.73/6.77 sep 110.16″ pa 285.6*
Distance: 921.53 / 982.75 LY
Spectral Type: B9IV / A0
Color Index: -0.037 blue-white / -0.043 blue-white
On Monday evening (9 October 2023) I met a frequent dark sky observing companion, Bill Barlow, at Lewis-Young park in Louisburg, Kansas for an evening of astronomy, which included viewing Lacerta naked-eye. It can’t be seen from my urban yard without binoculars. It is a quite small, as Hevelius stated, but fun nevertheless. It is sometimes called the Little Cassiopeia because part of its main asterism forms a “W” reminiscent of the more prominent Cassiopeia asterism (which is nearby). I’m not sure I have intentionally observed the constellation of Lacerta before. If I have done so, it has been many, many years since. It was fun to view and worth the 30 minute drive, apart from other fine deep sky views I enjoyed during the evening with the Oberwerk 100XL-SD on a Manfrotto 475B tripod along with a bevy of binocular traveling companions. 😉
When I first arrived I was surprised to find dozens of cars where Bill and I set up for observing, a consequence of impromptu overflow soccer fields immediately to the west. The main soccer field in the park, which is lighted(!) 🤨is fortunately well to the northwest, behind a thick line of trees, but rather less fortunately adjacent to the Astronomical Society of Kansas City’s Powell observatory. I wondered if Bill might have decided to set up by the observatory (the building can be used to block the soccer field lights), so I drove over to the observatory and waited for 5 minutes or so. But when Bill, who is quite punctual, did not show up I thought he might be at our customary location wondering where I was so I drove back over, only to find that he had arrived in my absence and was setting up his telescope amidst all of the soccer family cars, with remarkable aplomb. 😁The soccer games concluded in early twilight and the families departed, leaving the field and stars to Bill and me.
More binocular fun and frolic in Lacerta on the way…