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Monday, September 1, 2014

Sky Tonight—April 27, Leo loses his tail. We gain a constellation.

Courtesy of EarthSky
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phases r 21 Sky Tonight—April 27, Leo loses his tail. We gain a constellation.Apr27 Sky Tonight—April 27, Leo loses his tail. We gain a constellation.Tonight’s chart again shows the evening sky high to the south. To the upper left of the constellation Leo the Lion are dozens of very faint stars. They make up the constellation Coma Berenices, otherwise known as Berenice’s Hair.

The Greek-Egyptian astronomer Ptolemy and others considered it the tuft at the end of Leo the Lion’s tail. Coma Berenices remained part of Leo until a few hundred years ago, when it was first listed as a separate constellation.

The story goes that an ancient Egyptian queen, Berenice, feared for her husband’s life as he went into battle. She prayed to Aphrodite, promising to cut off her long, luxurious curls if the king returned safely. He did, and Berenice kept her promise and cut off her hair, placing it as a sacrifice on Aphrodite’s altar. However, the next day the hair was gone!

The king was enraged that the temple priests had not protected the precious locks. A quick-thinking astronomer saved the day, or rather night, by pointing to the cascading stars at the end of Leo’s tail. He told the king that these were the queen’s tresses placed in the sky by Aphrodite for all to see. The king and queen were appeased, and no priests were beheaded.

Coma Cluster: Galaxies in Coma Berenices

Star-hop from Leo to the Coma star cluster

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By Larry Sessions

 

 


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