Cassiopeia the Queen


We're finally getting some clear nights to look at our beautiful sky. It's been too windy to set up my telescope, but I can still go out and enjoy looking at the Milky Way. What do you see when you look at the northeast? Cassiopeia the Queen, of course. It's currently about halfway up the sky and hard to miss the five-star W or M depending on the time of year you're looking at it. Currently, it's sideways with the bottom of the W pointing to the right.

Cassiopeia never goes out of the sky since it circles around the North Star Polaris. Even though the full moon is on Sept. 20, Cassiopeia is bright enough to be visible even with a bright moon. Although this constellation only looks like a W or M, she has a long history of being a Queen. She was a queen in ancient Greek mythology, and she got into trouble for boasting that she was more beautiful than the Nereids, the daughters of the Sea God Poseidon.

Her boast angered Poseidon who sent a Sea Monster Cetus to ravage the kingdom. To pacify the monster, her daughter Princess Andromeda was left tied to a rock by the sea. Andromeda volunteered to do that to protect her country. Cetus was about to devour her when Perseus the Hero looked down upon her from Pegasus the Flying Horse. Perseus rescued the princess and they lived happily ever after.

The gods were so pleased that all these characters were elevated to the heavens and stars. Only Cassiopeia suffered an indignity. Her vanity caused her to be bound to a chair placed in the heavens so that as she revolves around the north celestial pole (Polaris) she is sometimes upside down.

Perseus is the constellation just below Cassiopeia, and the Andromeda constellation is to the right of Cassiopeia. The Andromeda galaxy sits just at the top of the Andromeda constellation and is wonderful to observe. It's the only galaxy that we can see with the naked eye.

There are several open star clusters in Cassiopeia that can be seen with binoculars. Currently, the upper part of the sideways W is pointing to M 52, which is slightly to the upper left of Cassiopeia. With binoculars, you should be able to see at least eight clusters in Cassiopeia. Then the bottom of the upper part of the W points over to the Andromeda galaxy on the right.

So go out and see what you can find around the Queen. Don't forget to give your eyes about 15 minutes to adapt to the darkness. Then you'll be amazed at how many things you can see. Even just 5 minutes will make many more things visible and the Milky Way will begin to shine brightly.