Constellations: Pavo 'the Peacock' Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Constellations: Pavo 'the Peacock'

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The shield of the Science, Mathematics and Engineering faculty of the h2g2 University.Constellations: Overview | Andromeda | Antlia | Apus | Aquarius | Aquila | Ara | Aries | Auriga | Boötes | Caelum
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A peacock spreads its tail.
If ever the birds voted for president, king, whatever, it'd have to be the peacock.
– An h2g2 Researcher

Name:Pavo (Latin: 'peacock')
Short form:Pav
Area:378 sq deg
Co-ordinates1:Right Ascension 20h, Declination −65°

Pavo is a small southern constellation which made its debut in the 1603 Uranometria of Johann Bayer. Bordered by Telescopium, Ara, Apus, Octans and Indus, it has only one bright star, but there are several objects of interest to the reader — then there's the Elvis connection (see 'Elvis' section below).

The peacock is one of a dozen constellations delineated by Dutch astronomers Pieter Dirkszoon Keyser and Frederick de Houtman during their voyage to the southern seas between 1595 and 1597 on board the Hollandia. They drew up five2 star patterns to represent birds: Pavo; Apus (bird of paradise); Grus (the crane); Phoenix (the legendary firebird) and Tucana (the toucan). The colourful peacock and its glorious tail is revered in many cultures around the world. Early Christians would say that the hundred 'eyes' of the peacock symbolically represented the stars, the Universe, the Sun, the Moon and the vault of Heaven.


Although the constellation itself is classed 'modern' (not one of the 48 'ancients' listed by the Greek astronomer Ptolemy), there is some mythology attached to the peacock itself. One story concerns Hera, queen of the gods and chief wife of Zeus. Hera was constantly on the lookout from Mount Olympus because Zeus was an unfaithful husband who had many lovers and even fathered children with some of them. Of course this kind of behaviour was humiliating for the queen so when she discovered new liaisons her wrath ensured the scattering of hordes. Even Zeus was known to skedaddle until enough time had passed for her to have cooled off. When Hera discovered her husband's latest dalliance with the beautiful mortal maiden Io3, Zeus morphed Io into a gorgeous white cow then retreated to a safe distance. Hera commanded multi-eyed Argus to guard Io the cow while she pursued her errant husband. The story of Io and Argus has its own Edited Guide Entry but the outcome was that after Argus had been killed, Hera placed his eyes in the tail feathers of her pet bird — the awesome peacock.


The scientific star names, known as 'Bayer designations', are simple to understand (if you know your Greek alphabet). For example: the 'alpha' star normally means that it is the brightest star in that constellation. Some stars have proper names as well, while others are known by their catalogue numbers.

StarDesignationName or
catalogue number
Brightness (m)Distance
(light years4)
Spectral classification
and/or comments
α Pavalpha PavonisPeacock+1.9 var190Blue giant
β Pavbeta PavonisHR 7913+3.4134White dwarf
γ Pavgamma PavonisHR 8181+4.2 var30Yellow-white dwarf
δ Pavdelta PavonisHR 7665+3.5 var20Yellow dwarf
ε Pavepsilon PavonisHR 7590+3.9100White giant
ζ Pavzeta PavonisHR 6982+4 var200Orange subgiant
η Paveta PavonisHR 6582+3.6360Orange giant
θ Pavtheta PavonisHR 7036+5.7220White dwarf
ι Paviota PavonisHR 6761+5.560Yellow giant
κ Pavkappa PavonisHR 7107+4 var540White supergiant
μ Pavmu PavonisHR 7603+7612+5 var220Binary
φ Pavphi PavonisHR 7848+7875+4.780Binary

Alpha Pavonis is the only named star of this constellation. Peacock, or Eye of the Peacock, is a 2nd-magnitude blue giant star and the brightest in that region.

Delta Pavonis is less than 20 light years away from our Solar System, and of a similar construction to our own Sun. This makes it a target for the NASA TPF (Terrestrial Planet Finder) mission planned for launch between 2014 and 20205.

Kappa Pavonis is a white supergiant variable ranging between +3.9 mag and +4.8 mag over a nine day period.

Mu Pavonis is a binary system comprising an orange giant (mu1) and an orange main sequence star (mu2).

The binary system phi Pavonis features a white giant and a white dwarf pairing.

New General Catalogue (NGC)

The NGC catalogue was compiled by John Louis Emil Dreyer (the director of the Armagh Observatory from 1882 to 1916).

CatalogueNameTypeBrightness (m)Distance
(light years)
NGC 6752Dunlop 295Globular cluster+5.413,000100,000+ stars
NGC 6872NGC 6872Galaxy+12300mInteracting
NGC 6782NGC 6782Galaxy+12183mDouble-barred spiral
NGC 6744Bennett 120Galaxy+9.125mBarred spiral
NGC 6684UnnamedGalaxy+10.550mBarred spiral
NGC 6753UnnamedGalaxy+11.942mSupernova 2000cj

Globular cluster NGC 6752 was discovered by James Dunlop on 28 July, 1826. It contains over 100,000 stars.

NGC 6872 is a stretched spiral galaxy measuring around three quarters of a million light years from the end of one arm to the extreme tip of the other. The elongation is highly unusual, and possibly due to a previous encounter of the galactic kind with its neighbour, the much smaller galaxy IC 4970.

Spiral galaxy NGC 6782 has a ring (called a circumnuclear ring) around its double-barred central core. The inner arms have joined to form an outer almond-shaped layer, giving an overall impression of an eye in space. The wispy trailing outer arms are barely distinguishable except on close inspection.

NGC 6744 is a beautiful barred spiral galaxy, similar to our own Milky Way. NGC 6744A is a nearby companion galaxy, somewhat distorted from previous interaction.

NGC 6684 is another barred spiral, but this is unusual in that it has an elliptical inner ring aligned with the bar. It was mistakenly catalogued as a globular cluster in 1947.

NGC 6753 is a spiral galaxy situated just inside the border with Telescopium. Supernova SN2000cj was discovered in May 2000 by Australian amateur astronomer Rev Robert Evans, a member of the International Astronomical Union and the Astronomical Society of Australia. Rev Evans co-discovered non-periodic Comet Evans Drinkwater in 1996. He has been awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia and the Centenary Medal of the Société Astronomique de France. As of September 2007, Rev Evans had chalked up 41 supernovae on his scoreboard. Being so close to the magic number 42 called for direct contact with Rev Evans who confirmed his 42nd supernova (SN2008aw in NGC 4939) was in March 2008, independent of the Lick Observatory team who discovered it just hours before.

Meteor Showers

The space debris which creates a meteor shower comes from the tail of a comet, as the Earth crosses the point where the comet has passed previously on its own orbit. Imagine a trail of breadcrumbs, or sawdust like that used in hashing.

The meteor shower connected with this constellation is called the Delta Pavonids. As the gradient is so far south, the shower is only viewable in the Southern Hemisphere. The shower begins around 3 April and lasts until 8 April, reaching a maximum on 6 April. Although the highest recorded ZHR (Zenithal Hourly Rate) was seven in 1987, more recent observations produced only a tally of (on average) three.

Extrasolar Planets in Pavo

There have been some extrasolar planetary systems detected in the constellation Pavo. The table below shows the length of the planet's orbital period around its parent star, which we know of as a year. The mass of the extrasolar planet is compared to that of Jupiter, our Solar System's largest planet, known by astronomers as the 'Jovian scale'.

Extrasolar Planets Table

Star name or
catalogue number
catalogue number
Planet mass
(Jovian scale)
Orbital period
(Earth days)
Year of discoveryComments
HD 196050HD 196050 b31,2892002Superjovian
HD 181433HD 181433 b0.02389.3752008Hot super-Earth
HD 181433HD 181433 c0.649622008Gas giant
HD 181433HD 181433 d0.542,1722008Gas giant
HD 190984HD 190984 b3.14,8852009Superjovian
HD 175167HD 175167 b7.81,2902010Superjovian
HD 189567HD 189567 b0.031614.272011Hot gas giant
HD 175607HD 175607 b9×Earth9.52015Hot super-Earth
HD 175607HD 175607 c0.1113372015Sub-Neptunian

Peacock Paraphernalia

While this Entry is mainly about the peacock constellation, the author thought you might like to read about some more research of interest to peacock fans.

Around the World

Tawsi Melek (or 'Melekê Taus') is honoured by the Yezidi people of Iraq and Syria. Their highly secretive sect do not believe in the premise of good and evil. Tawsi Melek is their Peacock Angel, and with six other 'Great Angels' they form the seven colours of the rainbow.

The peacock is revered in Chinese culture, being widely regarded as an emblem of immortality, which is thought to stem from the annual regrowth of its feathers. The Feng Wang is a half-peacock, half-pheasant Chinese constellation. Historically, the tail feathers of the peacock have been used to bestow Imperial pleasure and, during the Ming dynasty, to denote official rank. In Feng Shui the symbol of the peacock is 'Endless Love and Eternal Life', personifying dignity and beauty, and possessing the ability to drive away evil and impurities.

The last Shah of Iran, who was displaced by the Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979, sat upon the 'Peacock Throne'. Originally named the 'Sun Throne', it was renamed during the reign of Fathali Shah in honour of his marriage to Tavous Khanoum Tajodoleh. She was known as 'Lady Peacock' because Tavous means peacock in the Persian language. Since 1980 this marvellous throne has been kept in the vault of the Central Bank of the Islamic Republic of Iran, but it is sometimes displayed for the general public along with the rest of the Crown Jewels.

The peacock is considered sacred in Indian culture, and is their national bird. The four-handed Hindu goddess Saraswati is their deity of knowledge, music, literature, creative arts and wisdom. Saraswati's four hands represent the human mind, the intellect, alertness and the ego (self). Saraswati is sometimes depicted with a peacock in attendance, but the bird she rides is a white swan.

In some cultures the 'eye' tail feathers are considered unlucky, or at least, a bad omen. Some superstitious people won't bring a peacock image or a peacock feather into their home for fear of invoking bad karma. However, in Buddhism the peacock symbolises purity, and their feathers are used in purification ceremonies, so it all depends upon personal preference.

People Named Peacock

  • Actor Frank Thornton is perhaps best known as the pompous Grace Brothers floorwalker 'Captain Stephen Peacock' in the TV sitcom Are You Being Served?

  • 'Mrs Peacock' is one of the suspected murderers in the infamous board game for would-be detectives: Cluedo6. She's represented by the blue character piece.

  • One half of the cockney singing duo Chas & Dave is called Dave Peacock. He plays bass guitar and the banjo. Chas & Dave are devotees of Tottenham Hotspur FC and sing about football, rabbits, snooker, rabbits, nagging wives and rabbits.

  • Dr David Peacock was parish priest of Cleethorpes, NE Lincolnshire and vicar of St Peter's Church, St Peter's Avenue in the seaside resort. He was a big fan of Douglas Adams, and the brochures he prepared for couples he counselled in preparation for upcoming nuptials were headed Don't Panic in a nod to his favourite author. He lived at the vicarage, coincidentally numbered 42, with his wife and family. Dr Peacock's death by suicide in July 2004 shocked everyone who had ever met the amiable man, and those who attended a memorial service at his church numbered in the hundreds.

Not Forgetting... Elvis

Elvis fans know that the peacock was the King of Rock'n'Roll's favourite bird. He even commissioned a peacock stained glass window for his Graceland home. During his time on the Vegas stage, he had sequined jumpsuits displaying patterns reflecting his taste on the front, back and legs. Nowadays an Elvis Impersonator worthy of his blue suede shoes would own at least one jumpsuit, and one of the most popular is the sequined peacock. The legend lives on.

And Finally...

If my peacock laid its eggs in my neighbour's garden, who would be the owner of the eggs7?
1Current IAU guidelines use a plus sign (+) for northern constellations and a minus sign (−) for southern ones.2The other seven were Chamæleon; Dorado; Hydrus; Indus; Musca; Triangulum Australe and Volans.3After whom one of the Galilean Moons of Jupiter is named.4A light year is the distance light travels in one year, roughly 5.88 trillion miles or 9.46 trillion km.5The mission will not go to the star; that would take thousands of years. Instead, it will go into orbit above the Earth's atmosphere, where it will get a good clear view.6Cluedo is known as Clue in the US.7This is what is known as a trick question. Peacocks don't lay eggs, it's the female of the species, the peahen, which takes care of the important business of egg-laying.

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