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Cassiopeia (The Price of Vanity)

Many of the constellations have heroic or tragic tales associated with them. Cassiopeia is one of those constellations but differs from most of the constellations for one reason; vanity, plain and simple, is what earned Cassiopeia a place in the heavens. An interesting bit of trivia: the only husband-and-wife constellations couple in the sky are Cassiopeia and her husband Cepheus.

Queen Cassiopeia was an extremely beautiful woman. She was the mother of Andromeda, who was equally beautiful. Cassiopeia boasted that both she and Andromeda were more beautiful than even the Nereids. The Nereids were the sea-nymph daughters of Nereus, the Old Man of the Sea. Amphitrite, one of the Nereids, was the wife of the sea-god Poseidon.

The sisters implored Poseidon to punish Cassiopeia for her vanity. Poseidon released his sea monster Cetus to demolish the coast of King Cepheus’ country Aethiopia (not to be confused with modern-day Ethiopia). To stop this attack by Cetus, Cepheus and Cassiopeia chained their virgin daughter Andromeda to a rock to be given as a sacrifice. The hero Perseus rescued, and later married, Andromeda.

As punishment for her vanity, Cassiopeia was chained to her throne and sent to the heavens to revolve around the Pole Star. Because the circumference around the Pole Star is such a short distance, Cassiopeia is one of the few constellations that is visible year-round. And because of the path it follows, Cassiopeia is “upside-down” part of the year. Very unbecoming for the vain woman, who took great pride in her hair.

Cassiopeia is positioned between Perseus and Cepheus in the Northern sky. The constellation is identifiable by its “W” shape. The 5 stars making the constellation easily identifiable are; Caph (for the elbow or palm), Schedar (the breast), Cih (the girdle), Rucha (the thigh) and Segin (the right knee). When these stars are viewed in their order, Queen Cassiopeia is seen as sitting up, with the elbow or palm held in the air because of the chain binding the Queen to her throne.

Within Cassiopeia are two Messier objects, Messier 52 (NGC 7654) and Messier 103 (NGC 581). Both of these open clusters are easily seen using binoculars. Messier 103 is pictured here.

Author Resource: Written by Starr Hendon


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