Pavo is a faint constellation in our southern sky approximately 16 degrees north of the South Celestial Pole in Octans. It is circumpolar so always visible in our southern skies. It covers an area of 378 square degrees, the 44th largest constellation.
The constellation was introduced by Johann Bayer in his star atlas of 1603. In Greek mythology the Peacock was sacred to Hera, goddess of the heavens.
The brightest star Alpha Pavonis The “Peacock Star” is a magnitude 1.9 blue-white star 183 ly away on the northern edge of the constellation.
To locate the constellation I use as a guide the wide bright pair of 2.8 and 3.3 magnitude, Beta (β) and Gamma (γ) in the constellation ARA just to the west of Pavo ( Locate these on the map). Next make a line east to Eta (ή) Pavonis and you have located Pavo.
There are two objects worth observing in the constellation with our amateur telescopes: The beautiful spiralling globular cluster NGC 6752 and the barred spiral galaxy NGC 6744.
To locate these (without Goto aids) follow the stars π and ξ north from Eta (ή) and then east to λ (Lambda), they are faint at 4.3 magnitude.
NGC 6752 is approximately 3° 9’ north of Lambda, NGC 6744 2° 35’ east of Lambda. With binoculars or your finderscope you will locate a group of 5 stars (3 of these are visible on your map near θ. They form a small rectangle with the fifth star in the centre. These are 2° 49′ southwest of the galaxy 6744. With this group of stars on the edge of your field of view in your finderscope the galaxy will be in the centre and should now be visible in your eyepiece.
NGC 6752 ( Caldwell 93), also known as Kim’s “Starfish Cluster” is a spectacular and unusual globular cluster in a small telescope. I found it more stunning with my 128 mm refractor than in Digital Sky Survey photos (see insert of DSS image on map). The fainter stars on the DSS image are not visible in a small telescope allowing the brighter stars to stand out. A multitude of pinpoint stars form spiralling arms extending out from a condensed hazy centre. These reminded me of a starfish.
The cluster is visible in binoculars (at magnitude 6) and easily resolved in my telescope with a 12 mm eyepiece giving 86 x magnification.
NGC 6744 (Caldwell 101) is one of the largest barred spiral galaxies known, approximately 21’ x 15’. It is a 9th magnitude 25 million ly away. In small telescopes only the brightest central portion is seen. AT 86 x magnification it appears as a faint fuzzy streak. Increasing the magnification to 130 x the centre is more condensed with a faint haze surrounding it.
Sources: Hartung’s, D. Malin & D. Frew 1995; Collins Pocket Guide – Stars & Planets 1993; Burnham’s Celestial Handbook 1966; Star Atlas Pro V6.2; Photos from Digital Sky Survey www.ngcic.org/dss.