If you find a cluster of stars between one of the bends of the constellation of Eridanus, the river with only faint stars, it is the constellation Fornax. Most easily seen from the southern hemisphere, the original name of the constellation was Fornax Chemica, the chemical furnace. In Latin, it means ‘furnace’ and is hence, depicted as a furnace that chemists use for distillation. Originally, it was named as Fornax Chemica in honour of Antoine Lavoisier, a French scientist and father of modern chemistry. It belongs to the Lacaille family of constellations and can be best seen in the month of December at 9 pm. Let us understand the further aspects of Fornax.

Which stars comprise of the constellation?

The major stars in Fornax are:

  • Dalim (Alpha Fornacis): Dalim is the brightest star in the constellation. It is the only star which is brighter than a magnitude of 4.0. Dalim is basically a sub giant star with a visual magnitude of 3.85 and is about 46 light years away from the solar system.
  • β Fornacis (Beta Fornacis): It is basically a giant star in Fornax. With a visual magnitude of 4.465, it is about 169 light years away. It also has an optical companion with a visual magnitude of 14.0.
  • HD 16417 (Lambda- 2 Fornacis): It is a main sequence star, has a magnitude of about 5.78 and is about 84.1 light years away. It is believed that it is about 300 million years younger than the sun.
  • HD 20781 and HD 20782: They form a wide binary system and were the first binary stars known to have orbiting planets. HD 20781 has a visual magnitude of 8.44 whereas HD 20782 has a visual magnitude of 7.38.
  • HIP 13044: It is basically a red horizontal branch star in a stage of evolution, which will be followed by a red giant stage. HIP 13044 has a magnitude of 9.9 and is about 701 light years away from the earth. It is around seven times the size of the sun and is believed to be nine billion years old.
Does it contain any deep sky objects or galaxies?

Some of the deep sky objects of Fornax include:

  • Fornax Cluster: It is basically a cluster of galaxies, a majority of which are situated in the constellation Fornax. It is comparatively small but still is the richest galaxy cluster within 100 million light years.
  • NGC 1399: It is a large, bright elliptical galaxy with a visual magnitude of 9.9.
  • NGC 1404: It is also an elliptical galaxy with a visual magnitude of 10.3 and is about 66 million light years away from the sun.
  • UDFy–38135539 (HUDF.YD3): It is a galaxy which has been identified as the second most distant object in the Universe. It is about 13.1 billion light years away from the sun.
  • NGC 1097 (Caldwell 67): NGC 1097 is basically a barred spiral galaxy in Fornax. It has a visual magnitude of about 10.2 and is about 45 million light years away. NGC 1097 is also classified as a Seyfert galaxy.
  • NGC 1360: NGC 1360 is a planetary nebula in the constellation Fornax. It has a visual magnitude of 9.4 and is about 700 light years away.
  • Great Barred Spiral Galaxy–NGC 1365: NGC 1365 is also a barred spiral galaxy in the constellation. It has a visual magnitude of about 10.3 and is about 56.2 million light years away. Because of its perfect form and structure, it is usually termed as the Great Barred Spiral Galaxy. 
  • NGC 1398: NGC 1398 is also a barred spiral galaxy, which is about 135,000 light years in diameter. It is about 65 million light years away.
  • NGC 1427: NGC 1427 is basically an elliptical galaxy in Fornax. With a visual magnitude of 12.6, it is about 71 million light years away.

The other notable deep sky objects are NGC 1049, Fornax Dwarf, Fornax A–NGC 1316 and NGC 1350. 

What is its position in the galaxy?

Fornax lies in the first quadrant of the southern hemisphere and can be seen at latitudes between +50° and -900.

How much space does it occupy in the sky?

It occupies an area of 398 square degrees, making it the 41st largest constellation in the sky.

What is the cultural or mythological significance of Fornax?

Fornax represents a chemical furnace. Created by the French astronomer Nicolas–Louis de La Caille, he named it Le Fourneau on his 1756 planisphere. He represented it as a chemist’s furnace used for distillation. This edition was further Latinized in 1763 to Fornax Chimiae and in 1845, it was shortened to Fornax for the British Association Catalogue. It is referred to as Tien Yu, Heaven’s temporary Granary by the Chinese. 

Which are its neighbouring constellations?

Fornax is surrounded by constellations like Cetus, Eridanus, Phoenix and Sculptor.

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