VELA "The Sails" pronounced VEE-lah

Chart showing Vela.

This constellation was formerly part of the very large constellation Argo Narvis - the ship of the Jason and the Argonauts who sort the Golden Fleece, which was broken up in 1877 by Gould. Since Vela is only part of a once-larger constellation, there are no stars labelled α or β.

The stars κ and δ Velorum, in conjunction with ι and ε Carinae, form the "False Cross" that is sometimes mistaken for the real Southern Cross (Crux).

Vela lies in a part of the Milky Way rich in faint nebulosity, visible in long exposure photographs, known as the Gum Nebula, after the Australian astronomer Colin S. Gum, who drew attention to it in 1952. Near the centre of the gigantic Gum nebula lies the Vela Supernova remnant (SNR), which photographs show as a beautiful intricate network of filaments spreading over an area equal to the diameter of nearly 16 Full Moons. Within the remnant is the Vela pulsar, lying about 1500 light years away.

To find Vela look towards the zenith in the late evening sky, and look a little north of a line between the Southern Cross and Canopus.

Chart showing the constellation.

Vela constellation

Constellation Carina Constellation Hydra Constellation Antlia Constellation Pyxis Constellation Puppis Constellation Columba Constellation Pictor Constellation Dorado Constellation Reticulum Constellation Hydrus Constellation Mensa Constellation Volans Constellation Chamaeleon Constellation Musca Constellation Crux Constellation Centaurus

Details of some of the objects shown in the chart.

γ Velorum is an interesting multiple star. Binoculars or a small telescope will show that it consists of two blue-white companions of magnitudes 1.8 and 4.3. The brighter star is by far the brightest Wolf-Rayet (pronounced Volf Ray-eh) star known. These stars are a rare class with very hot surfaces that seem to be ejecting gas. There are also two wider companion stars.

δ Vel is magnitude 2.0 white star 68 light years away with a close magnitude 6.5 companion star.

λ Vel is a magnitude 2.2 yellow supergiant star 490 years away.

μ Vel is a magnitude 2.7 yellow giant star 98 light years away.

κ Vel is a magnitude 2.5 blue-white star 390 light years away.

NGC 2547 is a cluster of about 50 stars just visible to the unaided eye, but best seen in binoculars. Many stars are in chains and loops, and there are many pairs and small groups of stars, including a somewhat skew version of the Southern Cross.

IC 2391 is a bright scattered cluster of 20 stars, 850 light years away, scattered around the 4th magnitude star ο Velorum. It is visible to the unaided eye as a misty patch, but best in binoculars or small wide field telescopes.

IC 2395 is a binocular cluster of about 16 stars, 4,500 light years away. Also visible to the south is the 9th magnitude cluster NGC 2670.

NGC 2736 is a faint long narrow nebular streak in a rich star field. It is an isolated easterly filament of the Vela supernova remnant. An OIII filter helps see this object.

NGC 3132 or "Eight Burst" nebula, is a bright annular planetary nebula estimated as being 2000 light years away. Photographs show an intricate, somewhat concentric structure, as if several outbursts of gaseous material had emerged from the star. The prominent central star, is not the true star exciting the nebulous glow. This hotter star is of magnitude 16 discovered in 1976.

NGC 3201 is a globular cluster, less condensed than most. Some of the stars appear in short curved rays like jets of water from a fountain.

Visibility

The most southerly parts of Vela are circumpolar from all of New Zealand and so are visible all night. From the North Island this applies to only the extreme south of the constellation. From the extreme south of the country most of the constellation remains above the horizon at all times.

The constellation is highest about 10pm (NZDT) or 9pm (NZST) at the end of March and in April. At its highest some part of the constellation passes overhead or almost overhead from all parts of New Zealand south of Hamilton.