Fomalhaut in Piscis Austrinus is a Royal Star. According to French astronomer Camille Flammarion, the royal stars were the ancient guardians of the sky in ancient Persia. It is believed that the sky was divided into four districts each guarded by one of the four Royal Stars.

Fomalhaut and the Lonely Fish

Nowadays Fomalhaut is the eye of the southern (chocolate) fish although, adding to the confusion, its original Arabic name “Fum al Hut” was translated as the mouth of the fish. However, just to clarify things, it seems that the Arabs’ called it “the first frog” which last time I checked was not a fish. Because it’s the brightest star in a part of the sky that contains mostly faint stars it was used in navigation just like Achernar. A triple system, Fomalhaut is about 25 light-years from Earth and In 2008, it became the first star with an extrasolar planet candidate (Fomalhaut b) imaged at visible wavelengths.

My favourite Royal Star has always been Fomalhaut (Haftorang/Hastorang) the Watcher of South. Back in the Northern Hemisphere, Fomalhaut was the southernmost significant star that I could see and we would always look at it as the secret pointer to the South. The rumours were not far off as Fomalhaut, Achernar and Canopus are almost in a straight line and if you can find Achernar you can always find South easily. The home-constellation of Fomalhaut is Piscis Austrinus, south of Capricornus and Aquarius, which is maybe why one of its names was Piscis Capricorni (Goat’s horn fish). Another name is Piscis Solitarius – the lonely fish. Though here in New Zealand we do have The Chocolate Fish that also comes wrapped individually, I wish we could just rename the constellation to that, for obvious reasons. And just saying, if you never had chocolate fish from New Zealand you never lived!

The lonely fish drinks all the water from Aquarius’s stream, says Richard Allen quoting the poets Virgilius and Ovidius who wrote that in their verses a few thousand years ago. Allen also mentions a translation inscripted in an 1340 manuscript almanach naming the constellation ‘Os Piscis Meridiani’, where meridional means southern of course, so just another synonym of Austrinus. According to Ian Ridpath, Eratosthenes called this the Great Fish and said that it was the parent of the two smaller fish of the zodiacal constellation Pisces (also known as “The Fish”).