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Friday, November 27, 2015

Earthsky Tonight, February 13, 2010: Cassiopeia is shaped like an ‘M’ or ‘W’

Courtesy of EarthSky
A Clear Voice for Science

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Erick wrote, “Do you have any information on Cassiopeia’s Chair?”

Erick, you have used the lovely old-fashioned name for this constellation. In the 1930s, the International Astronomical Union gave this constellation an official name of Cassiopeia the Queen, but skywatchers still see the chair, and speak of it.

Cassiopeia was a queen in ancient Greek mythology. According to legend, she boasted she was more beautiful than the sea nymphs, called the Nereids. Her boast angered Poseidon, god of the sea, who sent a sea monster (Cetus the Whale) to ravage the kingdom. To pacify the monster, Cassiopeia’s daughter, Princess Andromeda, was left tied to a rock by the sea. Cetus was about to devour her when Perseus the Hero happened by on Pegasus, the Flying Horse. Perseus rescued the Princess, and all lived happily . . . and the gods were pleased, so that all of these characters were elevated to the heavens as stars. Only Cassiopeia suffered an indignity.

Our chart today shows Cassiopeia in the northwest in the hours after sunset. At this time of year – and at this time of night – this constellation has the shape of the letter M, and you might imagine the Queen reclining on her starry throne. At other times of year or night, Cassiopeia’s Chair dips below the celestial pole, and then this constellation appears to us on Earth more in the shape of a W. Then the Lady of the Chair, as she is sometimes called, is said to hang on for dear life. If she lets go, she will drop from the sky into the ocean below, where the Nereids must still be waiting.

Written by Deborah Byrd

Other Links:

Sky and Telescope

National Geographic

Space Com

Amazing Space

The York County Astronomical Society

Scope City

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