By Mike P. Usher
It’s autumn in Southwest Florida, even when it doesn’t feel like it, when the irregular “w” of Cassiopeia rises high in the northeastern sky. This particular area of the celestial sphere is the home of one of the most dysfunctional families in Greek mythology. Found here is Cepheus the King, the aforementioned Cassiopeia the Queen, and their daughter Andromeda.
The short version of their story goes like this: Cassiopeia bragged that she was more beautiful than the sea nymphs; who upon hearing this complained to Poseidon, the god of the sea. He sent a giant sea monster, Cetus (also nearby in the sky) to terrorize the kingdom, chew up the navy, sink the fishing fleet and otherwise make a nuisance of himself.
The Oracle at Delphi informed Cepheus to end the menace of the monster he must sacrifice his only daughter to the creature.
The King and Queen chained her naked to a rock on the beach and withdrew a safe distance to await the end. Luckily for Andromeda, the hero Perseus chanced to see her plight and fell in love with her at first sight.
He killed the monster, won the girl and saved the kingdom with the same stroke. As a reward he was later placed in the sky just below his wife Andromeda.
Inside the constellation of Andromeda lies the wonder of the northern skies – the Great Nebula of Andromeda, otherwise known as the Andromeda Galaxy. It’s bright enough to be easily seen in dark skies with the naked eye and an easy target with binoculars even in suburban skies. The whole galaxy is about three times the apparent width of the full Moon in size but only the bright egg-shaped nucleus is readily visible without a wide field telescope.
In the constellation of Cepheus resides Herschel’s Garnet Star, famous for it’s deep red color. It’s too faint for the color to be visible to the naked eye, but stargazers should be able to see the color with binoculars. In the chart it’s located just above and to the right of the “n” in Alderamin.
No description of this part of the sky would be complete without a mention of the Double Cluster; visible as a fuzzy patch to the naked eye a large pair of binoculars will reveal two beautiful clusters of stars nearly touching. In actuality, the clusters are actually quite far from each other, they just happen to lie along the nearly the same line of sight as viewed from Earth.
See you next time!
Mr. Usher is President of the Everglades Astronomical Society which meets the second Tuesday each month at 7 PM in the Norris Center, Cambier Park, Naples.