March 01, 2021

Pigafetta on Crossing the Pacific, the Magellanic Clouds and Southern Cross

The Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC).


Antonio Pigafetta on Magellan's Pacific crossing (1521): When we left that strait, if we had sailed continuously westward we would have circumnavigated the world without finding other land than the Cape of the Eleven Thousand Virgins.1 

The latter is a cape of that strait at the Ocean Sea, straight east and west with Cape Deseado of the Pacific Sea. Both of those capes lie in a latitude of exactly fifty-two degrees toward the Antarctic Pole.

The Antarctic Pole is not so starry as the Arctic. 

The Magellanic Clouds.
Many small stars clustered together are seen, which have the appearance of two clouds of mist. There is but little distance between them, and they are somewhat dim. In the midst of them are two large and not very luminous stars, which move only slightly.

Those two stars are the Antarctic Pole. Our loadstone, although it moved hither and thither, always pointed toward its own Arctic Pole, although it did not have so much strength as on its own side. 

And on that account when we were in that open expanse, the captain-general, asking all the pilots whether they were always sailing forward in the course which we had laid down on the maps, all replied: “By your course exactly as laid down.” 

The Southern Cross.
He answered them that they were pointing wrongly—which was a fact—and that it would be fitting to adjust the needle of navigation, for it was not receiving so much force from its side. 

When we were in the midst of that open expanse, we saw a cross with five extremely bright stars straight toward the west, those stars being exactly placed with regard to one another.





Notes:

1. Magellan's fleet found the entrance to the strait they had sought on the feast day of the Eleven Thousand Virgins (Oct. 21). They thus named the entry point Cape of Eleven Thousand Virgins. It has been noted that Pigafetta was likely correct in is figuring here, that had they sailed due west, they would have encountered no other land before arriving at the entry to the strait they had just exited.

2. He did not know it, but here, Pigafetta was recording a historic observation, of two dwarf galaxies that later became known as the Magellanic Clouds. It was likely because of Pigafetta, Magellan's chronicler, that the galaxies were given Magellan's name. (Writers are important.)

3. The Southern Cross (also Crux) resembles a lute rather than a cross. It was first made a constellation by Royer in 1679, although was often spoken of before as a cross.

Images:
* Large Magellanic Cloud: By NASA/Ames Research Center.
* By Kevinmloch - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php.
* Southern Cross: By Naskies at en.wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0.


(C) 2021, Targets in English.