Cassiopeia and Pegasus

 

 

Perhaps like you, I occasionally like to just gaze up at the nighttime sky and do a little star gazing. And knowing a couple constellations makes the viewing even more interesting.

One of the more easily recognizable constellations in the autumn sky is Cassiopeia. To find Cassiopeia, start with the big dipper where the handle attaches to the bowl. Now visualize a line from that point, straight through the North Star to about the same distance on the other side and you will see you will see a prominent M or W depending on the time of night. That is Cassiopeia, sitting on her throne.

In Greek mythology Cassiopeia bragged about her and her daughter Andromeda’s beauty. Perseus, the nephew of the king of Argos, got permission from Cepheus and Cassiopeia to marry Andromeda if he could rescue her and kill Medusa, which he did. But Cassiopeia sent warriors to attack the wedding party in a failed effort to prevent the marriage. To punish Cassiopeia for her behavior Poseidon set her image in the sky. The constellation is said to represent Cassiopeia chained to her throne. Her constellation is rather peculiar because it is located so close to the North Star she occasionally appears to be upside down, obviously not a queenly presentation.

Pegasus, the winged stallion from Greek mythology is also in the same general area of the sky. To find Pegasus, follow the pointers of the Big Dipper through the North Star and continue the line about twice as far past the North Star. There will be four bright stars forming a large square in that area of the sky. Emphasis on large! This “Great Square” forms the body of Pegasus.

Pegasus is upside down facing to the right or west. Some illustrations show the whole animal with the front and hind legs extended outward, while others depict Pegasus from the abdomen forward. At any rate, if you are trying to find Pegasus for the first time, please note that the Great Square may be larger than you expect.

Pegasus sprang from Medusa when she was beheaded by Perseus. He is now up there in the heavens carrying lightning and thunder for Zeus.

So take a few minutes this next week to look up at the heavens and find Cassiopeia and Pegasus. Once these two constellations become familiar, learning a few more should be a bit easier.

Chuck Lura

Natural North Dakota is supported by NDSU Central Grasslands Research Extension Center and Minot State University-Bottineau, and by the members of Prairie Public. Thanks to Sunny 101.9 in Bottineau for their recording services.

 



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