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Constellations: Columba 'the Dove'

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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
Camelopardalis | Cancer | Canes Venatici | Canis Major | Canis Minor | Capricornus | Carina | Cassiopeia | Centaurus
Cepheus | Cetus | Chamæleon | Circinus | Columba | Coma Berenices | Corona Australis | Corona Borealis | Corvus
Crater | Crux | Cygnus | Delphinus | Dorado | Draco | Equuleus | Eridanus | Fornax | Gemini | Grus | Hercules | Horologium
Hydra | Hydrus | Indus | Lacerta | Leo | Leo Minor | Lepus | Libra | Lupus | Lynx | Lyra | Mensa | Microscopium | Monoceros
Musca | Norma | Octans | Ophiuchus | Orion | Pavo | Pegasus | Perseus | Phoenix | Pictor | Pisces | Piscis Austrinus
Puppis | Pyxis | Reticulum | Sagitta | Sagittarius | Scorpius | Sculptor | Scutum | Serpens | Sextans | Taurus
Telescopium | Triangulum | Triangulum Australe | Tucana | Ursa Major | Ursa Minor | Vela | Virgo | Volans | Vulpecula
Peace dove.
Take time for your pleasure
And laugh with love
Take the hand of another
And sing for the wings of a dove.

– 'Wings Of A Dove' Madness

Name:Columba ('dove')
Short form:Col
Area:270 sq deg
Co-ordinates1:Right Ascension 06h, Declination −35°
Origin:Modern (17th Century)

First appearing as Columba Noachi in Johann Bayer's Uranometria (star catalogue) of 1603, it's safe to assume Columba was drawn to honour the Biblical dove sent out by Noah after the Great Flood. It returned to the Ark with an olive branch as proof that the water was dissipating.

Columba is a small southern constellation situated beneath mighty Orion's prey, Lepus, 'the Hare'. Also sharing Columba's borders are Caelum, Pictor, Puppis and Canis Major. Columba is not a very distinct star grouping, but there is a 'runaway' star with an intriguing history. For the deep-sky enthusiast there are three galaxies and a globular star cluster to seek out.

Mythology: Dove of the Argonauts

The constellation Columba did not exist in the time of the ancient Greeks, but there are plenty of stories regarding the fabled Argonauts, one of which involved a dove. Argo Navis was one of the ancient 48 constellations of Ptolemy's time; it represented the famous vessel which transported Jason and his men in their search for the Golden Fleece. According to the legend, when the mariners of the ship Argo were approaching the Clashing Rocks, they launched a dove to precede them.

History: Breaking up the Argo

In the 18th Century the massive group of stars which was Argo Navis was split into three separate 'modern' constellations by Nicolas Louis de Lacaille (1713 - 62). His posthumous catalogue Coelum Australe Stelliferum described 14 new constellations and 42 nebulous objects among almost 10,000 southern stars from information garnered on a 1751 – 54 expedition to the Cape of Good Hope.

Vela 'the Sail', Carina 'the Keel' (or 'Hull'), and Puppis 'the Stern' probably commemorate the broken up vessel of the Argonauts' adventure. Columba is situated above Carina and to the above-right of Puppis, as if the dove had just taken off on its mission to save the Argonauts from a watery grave.

Setting the Borders

By the 19th Century there were over 100 constellations in existence, honouring some weird and wacky objects that were in vogue at the time. In 1922, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) eliminated all but the now officially recognised 88. In 1930, the IAU formed official 'borders' between each constellation.


All stars have a scientific name to identify them. Some have a letter from the Greek alphabet combined with the genitive name of the constellation, known as the 'Bayer designation'. Other stars have numbers plus genitive, and yet more have English capital letters plus genitive. The brightest stars of the constellation usually have proper names, for example, Phact is the common name of alpha Columbae.

Stars of Columba

Alpha Columbae, Phact, meaning 'ring dove', is the brightest star of the constellation even though it is only 3rd magnitude. Phact is a blue-white subgiant around five times the mass of our Sun.

Beta Columbae, Wazn (or Wezn), meaning 'measure': this star marks where the two lines cross when the stars are joined up in the imagination. Romantic souls would call this orange giant the heart of the dove.

Mu Columbae is an intriguing runaway star once paired with AE Aurigae, but they were separated by a collision which occurred 2.7 million years ago. Two sets of double star systems ventured a little too close for comfort, and in the ensuing mayhem, two of the original partners were expelled, resulting in the ultimate wife-swap! Mu Columbae was ejected with some force, condemned to wander the universe at high speed (200 km/s), alone until the next intergalactic encounter.

Star Table

StarDesignationName or
catalogue number
Brightness (m)Distance
(light years2)
Spectral classification
and/or comments
α Colalpha ColumbaePhact+2.6270Blue-white subgiant
β Colbeta ColumbaeWazn/Wezn+3.186Orange giant
γ Colgamma ColumbaeHD 40494+4.36850Blue-white subgiant
δ Coldelta ColumbaeHD 44762+3.8 var238Binary star system
ε Colepsilon ColumbaeHD 36597+3.8 var270Orange giant
η Coleta ColumbaeHD 40808+3.9 var530Orange giant
κ Colkappa ColumbaeHD 43785+4.2 var182Orange giant
λ Collambda ColumbaeHD 39764+4.9340Blue-white dwarf
μ Colmu ColumbaeHD 38666+5.171,300Blue dwarf

New General Catalogue (NGC)

The NGC was compiled by John Louis Emil Dreyer (the director of the Armagh Observatory from 1882 to 1916). NGC 1851 is a globular star cluster, NGC 1792, NGC 1808 and NGC 2090 are all galaxies. All were discovered by Scottish astronomer James Dunlop (1793 - 1848) while he was working at Parramatta Observatory, New South Wales, Australia.

NGC Table

NGC numberDunlop cat noTypeBrightness (m)Distance
(light years)
NGC 1851Dun 508Globular cluster+7.339,500X-ray source
NGC 1792Dun 531Galaxy+10.250mSpiral
NGC 1808Dun 549Galaxy+9.940mStarburst
NGC 2090Dun 594Galaxy+1260mSpiral

Extrasolar Planets in Columba

There is one extrasolar planetary system in the constellation Columba. 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
Star magPlanet
catalogue number
Planet mass
(Jovian scale)
Orbital period
(Earth days)
Year of discoveryComments
WASP-63+11.2 varWASP-63 b0.384.382011Gas giant

Doves in Modern Culture

People have come to look upon doves as symbols of beauty, gracefulness and peace, and as a celebration of joy and thanksgiving. A single dove has been regarded as a peace symbol for some time; Spanish artist Pablo Picasso (1881 - 1973) used one on a poster for the World Peace Congress in 1949. A pair of doves represents lovers or a newly-married couple, with images of doves being a popular choice for engagement announcements and wedding invitations. Sometimes doves3 are released, for example at funerals, to represent the setting free of the soul from its earthly ties. The symbol for St Andrew's Hospice, Grimsby, UK, is a dove superimposed on a white cross against a dark blue circular background.

Related Entries in the Edited Guide

  • The A19032789 is a type of pigeon.

  • There are several 'Dove' varieties of hamster.

  • Dove-tail guppies are very pretty little fish.

  • Columba Cream is a Scottish liqueur concocted from Highland Malt Whisky, honey, cream and fruit.

  • One of the three patron saints of Ireland, St Columba, also known as Colmcille, fled a book-copying scandal in his homeland and founded a monastery on the isle of Iona, in the Scottish Hebrides, in the 6th Century. The monastery went on to produce the Book of Kells, one of the greatest examples of hand-written books ever made.

1Current IAU guidelines use a plus sign (+) for northern constellations and a minus sign (−) for southern ones.2A light year is the distance light travels in one year, roughly 5.88 trillion miles or 9.46 trillion km.3Usually white homing pigeons are used, which look like doves. 'Real' doves would get lost and probably die, having been bred in captivity. The homing pigeons just fly home to be released again another day.

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