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Cassiopeia (constellation)

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Title: Cassiopeia (constellation)  
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Subject: Herschel 400 Catalogue, Perseus (constellation), Caldwell catalogue, Lacerta, Gamma Cassiopeiae
Collection: Cassiopeia (Constellation), Constellations, Constellations Listed by Ptolemy, Northern Constellations
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Cassiopeia (constellation)

Abbreviation Cas
Genitive Cassiopeiae
Pronunciation Cássiopéia,
colloquially Cássiópeia;
Symbolism the Seated Queen
Right ascension 22h 57m 04.5897s–03h 41m 14.0997s[1]
Declination 77.6923447°–48.6632690°[1]
Family Perseus
Area 598 sq. deg. (25th)
Main stars 5
Stars with planets 7
Stars brighter than 3.00m 4
Stars within 10.00 pc (32.62 ly) 7
Brightest star α Cas (Schedar) (2.15m)
Nearest star η Cas (Achird)
(19.42 ly, 5.95 pc)
Messier objects 2
Meteor showers Perseids
Visible at latitudes between +90° and −20°.
Best visible at 21:00 (9 p.m.) during the month of November.
Photographed Oct. 1st, 2004 from near N41° W73°
Sky image centered in Cassiopeia taken from a dark site. Some deep sky objects are visible, including the Andromeda Galaxy.

Cassiopeia is a constellation in the northern sky, named after the vain queen Cassiopeia in Greek mythology, who boasted about her unrivalled beauty. Cassiopeia was one of the 48 constellations listed by the 2nd-century Greek astronomer Ptolemy, and it remains one of the 88 modern constellations today. It is easily recognizable due to its distinctive 'M' shape when in upper culmination but in higher northern locations when near lower culminations in spring and summer it has a 'W' shape, formed by five bright stars. It is bordered by Andromeda to the south, Perseus to the southeast, and Cepheus to the north. It is opposite the Big Dipper. In northern locations above 34ºN latitude it is visible year-round and in the (sub)tropics it can be seen at its clearest from September to early November in its characteristic 'M' shape. Even in low southern latitudes below 25ºS is can be seen low in the North.


  • Notable features 1
    • Deep-sky objects 1.1
    • Pattern from Alpha Centauri 1.2
    • Meteor showers 1.3
  • Mythology 2
  • In non-Western astronomy 3
  • In popular culture 4
  • Namesakes 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8

Notable features

The constellation Cassiopeia as it can be seen by the naked eye.
Cassiopeia in her chair, as depicted in Urania's Mirror, a set of constellation cards published in London c. 1825.

The four brightest stars of Cassiopeia are all brighter than the third magnitude.

  • Alpha Cassiopeiae, traditionally called Shedir (from the Arabic Al Sadr, "the breast"), is a double star. The primary is an orange-hued giant of magnitude 2.2, 229 light-years from Earth. The secondary is widely separated from the primary and is of magnitude 8.9.
  • Beta Cassiopeiae, or Caph (meaning "hand"), is a white-hued star of magnitude 2.3, 54 light-years from Earth. 16th-century Arabian astronomer Al Tizini gave this star the name Al Sanam al Nakah, (The Camel's Hump), referring to the contemporaneous Persian figure.[2]
  • The two other notably bright stars in Cassiopeia are both variable stars. Gamma Cassiopeiae is a shell star, a type of variable star that has a very high rate of rotation. This causes the star to be somewhat unstable and periodically eject rings of material. Gamma Cassiopeiae has a minimum magnitude of 3.0 and a maximum magnitude of 1.6; it is currently approximately magnitude 2.2.
  • Delta Cassiopeiae, also known as "Ruchbah" or "Rukbat," meaning "knee," is an Algol-type eclipsing variable star. It varies by 0.1 magnitudes around magnitude 2.7; its period is 2 years and 1 month. Ruchbah appears to have a blue-white hue and it is 99 light-years from Earth.[3]

There are several dimmer single stars in Cassiopeia. Epsilon Cassiopeiae is a blue-white hued star of magnitude 3.3, 442 light-years from Earth. Rho Cassiopeiae is a semi-regular pulsating variable yellow-hued supergiant star, among the most luminous stars in the galaxy with a luminosity of approximately 500,000 solar luminosities. It has a minimum magnitude of 6.2 and a maximum magnitude of 4.1; its period is approximately 320 days. Rho Cassiopeiae is about 10,000 light-years from Earth.[3]

Cassiopeia possesses several dimmer double stars and binary stars. Eta Cassiopeiae is a binary star with a period of 480 years. The primary is a yellow-hued star of magnitude 3.5 and the secondary is a red-hued star of magnitude 7.5. The system is 19 light-years from Earth. Iota Cassiopeiae is a triple star 142 light-years from Earth. The primary is a white-hued star of magnitude 4.5, the secondary is a yellow-hued star of magnitude 6.9, and the tertiary is a star of magnitude 8.4. The primary and secondary are close together but the primary and tertiary are widely separated. Sigma Cassiopeiae is a binary star 1500 light-years from Earth. It has a green-hued primary of magnitude 5.0 and a blue-hued secondary of magnitude 7.3. Psi Cassiopeiae is a triple star 193 light-years from Earth. The primary is an orange-hued giant star of magnitude 4.7 and the secondary is a close pair of stars that appears to be of magnitude 9.0.[3]

Deep-sky objects

The Sun would appear close to Cassiopeia from Alpha Centauri

Because it lies in rich Milky Way star fields, Cassiopeia contains many deep sky objects, including open clusters and nebulae.

Two Messier objects, M52 (NGC 7654) and M103 (NGC 581), are located in Cassiopeia; both are open clusters. M52, once described as a "kidney-shaped" cluster, contains approximately 100 stars and is 5200 light-years from Earth. Its most prominent member is an orange-hued star of magnitude 8.0 near the cluster's edge. M103 is far poorer than M52, with only about 25 stars included. It is also more distant, at 8200 light-years from Earth. Its most prominent member is actually a closer, superimposed double star; it consists of a 7th-magnitude primary and 10th-magnitude secondary.[3]

The other prominent open clusters in Cassiopeia are NGC 457 and NGC 663, both of which have about 80 stars. NGC 457 is looser, and its brightest member is Phi Cassiopeiae, a white-hued supergiant star of magnitude 5.0. The stars of NGC 457, arrayed in chains, are approximately 10,000 light-years from Earth. NGC 663 is both closer, at 8200 light-years from Earth, and larger, at 0.25 degrees in diameter.[3]

Planetary nebula IC 289 is a cloud of ionised gas being pushed out into space by the remnants of the star’s core.[4]

There are two supernova remnants in Cassiopeia. The first, which is unnamed, is the aftermath of the supernova called Tycho's Star. It was observed in 1572 by Tycho Brahe and now exists as a bright object in the radio spectrum.[3] Within the 'W' asterism formed by Cassiopeia’s five major stars lies Cassiopeia A (Cas A). It is the remnant of a supernova that took place approximately 300 years ago (as observed now from Earth; it is 10,000 light-years away),[5] and has the distinction of being the strongest radio source observable outside our solar system. It was perhaps observed as a faint star in 1680 by John Flamsteed. It was also the subject of the first image returned by the Chandra X-Ray Observatory in the late 1990s. The shell of matter expelled from the star is moving at 4,000 kilometres (2,500 mi) per second; it has a temperature of 30,000 kelvin on average.[5]

Cassiopeia photographed from Wrightsville Beach, NC by Zach Rudisin.

NGC 457 is another open cluster in Cassiopeia, also called the E.T. Cluster, the Owl Cluster, and Caldwell 13. The cluster was discovered in 1787 by William Herschel. It has an overall magnitude of 6.4 and is approximately 10,000 light-years from Earth, lying in the Perseus arm of the Milky Way. However, its most prominent member, the double star Phi Cassiopeiae, is far closer - between 1000 and 4000 light-years away. NGC 457 is fairly rich; it is a Shapley class e and Trumpler class I 3 r cluster. It is concentrated towards its center and detached from the star field. It contains more than 100 stars, which vary widely in brightness.[6]

Two members of the Local Group of galaxies are in Cassiopeia. NGC 185 is a magnitude 9.2 elliptical galaxy of type E0, 2 million light-years away. Slightly dimmer and more distant NGC 147 is a magnitude 9.3 elliptical galaxy, like NGC 185 it is an elliptical of type E0; it is 2.3 million light-years from Earth. Though they do not appear in Andromeda, both dwarf galaxies are gravitationally bound to the far larger Andromeda Galaxy.[7]

Pattern from Alpha Centauri

If one were able to observe Earth's Sun from Alpha Centauri, the closest star to our solar system, it would appear in Cassiopeia as a yellow-white 0.5 magnitude star. The famous W of Cassiopeia would become a zig-zag pattern with the Sun at the leftmost end, closest to ε Cas.

Meteor showers

The December Phi Cassiopeiids are a recently discovered early December meteor shower that radiates from Cassiopeia. Phi Cassiopeiids are very slow, with an entry velocity of approximately 16.7 kilometers per second. The shower's parent body is a Jupiter family comet, though its specific identity is unknown.[8]


The constellation is named after Cassiopeia, the queen of Aethiopia. Cassiopeia was the wife of Cepheus, King of Aethiopia and mother of Princess Andromeda. Cepheus and Cassiopeia were placed next to each other among the stars, along with Andromeda. She was placed in the sky as a punishment for her boast that her daughter Andromeda was more beautiful than the Nereids or, alternatively, that she herself was more beautiful than the sea nymphs.[9] As punishment, she was forced to wheel around the North Celestial Pole on her throne, spending half of her time clinging to it so she does not fall off, and Poseidon decreed that Andromeda should be bound to a rock as prey for the monster Cetus, who was ravishing the Ethiopian coast. Andromeda was then rescued by the hero Perseus, whom she later married.[10][11]

Cassiopeia has been variously portrayed throughout her history as a constellation. In Persia, she was drawn by al-Sufi as a queen holding a staff with a crescent moon in her right hand, wearing a crown, as well as a two-humped camel. In France, she was portrayed as having a marble throne and a palm leaf in her left hand, holding her robe in her right hand. This depiction is from Augustin Royer's 1679 atlas.[10]

In the ancient Celtic world Anu was the mother goddess and considered to be the mother of all the gods; the Tuatha de Danann. Other references say that she is the mother earth goddess or the Goddess of fertility. On the Cork Kerry border are two mountains called the Paps of Anu (pap is another word for breast.) On the top of each mountain are stone structures or cairns that when viewed from a distance make the two mountains look like a pair of breasts. Anu was known, in the Celtic World, by several similar names: Danu or Don being the most popular alternatives. She was a Mother-Goddess, the wife of the Sun God, Belenos, and considered to be the ancestor of all the Gods, the Tuatha dé Danann, who found themselves obliged to reside in the Otherworld when Miled brought the Celts to the British Isles. She still looks down on us from the night's sky where she appears as Llys Don, better known as the constellation of Casseopeia.

In non-Western astronomy

In Chinese astronomy, the stars forming the constellation Cassiopeia are found among three areas: the Purple Forbidden enclosure (紫微垣, Zǐ Wēi Yuán), the Black Tortoise of the North (北方玄武, Běi Fāng Xuán Wǔ), and the White Tiger of the West (西方白虎, Xī Fāng Bái Hǔ).

The Chinese astronomers saw several figures in what is modern-day Cassiopeia. Kappa, Eta, and Mu Cassopeiae formed a constellation called the Bridge of the Kings; when seen along with Alpha and Beta Cassiopeiae, they formed the great chariot Wang-Liang. The charioteer's whip was represented by Gamma Cassiopeiae, sometimes called "Tsih", the Chinese word for "whip".[10]

In the 1600s, various Biblical figures were depicted in the stars of Cassiopeia. These included Bathsheba, Solomon's mother; Deborah, an Old Testament prophet; and Mary Magdalene. a disciple of Jesus.[10]

A figure called the "Tinted Hand" also appeared in the stars of Cassiopeia in some Arab atlases. This is variously said to represent a woman's hand dyed red with henna, as well as the bloodied hand of Muhammad's daughter Fatima. The hand is made up of the stars α Cas, β Cas, γ Cas, δ Cas, ε Cas, and η Cas. The arm is made up of the stars α Per, γ Per, δ Per, ε Per, η Per, and ν Per.[10]

Another Arab constellation that incorporated the stars of Cassiopeia was the Camel. Its head was composed of Lambda, Kappa, Iota, and Phi Andromedae; its hump was Beta Cassiopeiae; its body was the rest of Cassiopeia, and the legs were composed of stars in Perseus and Andromeda.[10]

Other cultures see a hand or moose antlers in the pattern.[12] These include the Lapps, for whom the W of Cassiopeia forms an elk antler. The Chukchi of Siberia similarly saw the five main stars as five reindeer stags.[10]

The people of the Marshall Islands saw Cassiopeia as part of a great porpoise constellation. The main stars of Cassiopeia make its tail, Andromeda and Triangulum form its body, and Aries makes its head.[10] In Hawaii, Alpha, Beta, and Gamma Cassiopeiae were named. Alpha Cassiopeiae was called Poloahilani, Beta Cassiopeiae was called Polula, and Gamma Cassiopeiae was called Mulehu. The people of Pukapuka saw the figure of Cassiopeia as a distinct constellation called Na Taki-tolu-a-Mataliki.[13]

In popular culture

In the 1997 film Contact starring Jodie Foster and Matthew McConaughey, Foster's character Doctor Arroway has the following line of dialogue: "You see that large W-shaped constellation there? That's Cassiopeia. And Cassiopeia A gives off a whole lot of radio signals. I listen to them a lot. It's a remnant of a supernova."

In the 1998 episode of The X-Files, "Patient X", guest starring Veronica Cartwright, Cartwright's character Cassandra Spender, an alien abductee, leaves fingerprints on a window corresponding to the constellation Cassiopeia, a reference to the character's name (she is confined to a wheelchair) as well as an implied origin for the aliens who abducted her.

In the 2001 movie Serendipity, starring John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale, Cusack tells Beckinsale about the constellation Cassiopeia the night they meet one another after noticing that the freckles on her forearm match the constellation's pattern exactly.

In Sara Bareilles' 2013 album The Blessed Unrest, the 7th track is titled "Cassiopeia" and is lyrically and metaphorically about the stars. During the making of The Blessed Unrest, she was given a book about astronomy. She found herself fascinated reading about the different constellations, especially Cassiopeia, as well as the topic of supernovas, the incredibly bright bursts of light that stars give off when they explode. Inspired, she penned this song imagining Cassiopeia as a human, and falling in love with another star. "I started to think about how that might feel to personify, you know? The idea of being a star and so far away from everything around you," she told "What if a star falls in love? The song is this idea that you give something up to come together."

In the movie The Green Mile, while Michael Clarke Duncan's character John Coffey is being smuggled from prison, Coffey points at the sky at what appears to be Cassiopeia and says to Paul Edgecomb (played by Tom Hanks), "Look boss! It's Cassie, the lady in the rockin' chair!"

In the 2011 episode of The Big Bang Theory, "The Wiggly Finger Catalyst," (Season 5, Episode 4), Rajesh "Raj" Koothrappali (Kunal Nayyar) is out on a date with a deaf woman named Emily (Katie Leclerc). Raj did not know American Sign Language, so Howard Wolowitz (Simon Helberg) assists Raj on the date by translating for him. Howard, however, is upset and bored by the end of the date, so he translates things differently than Raj says them. At one point, as the three were walking out of the restaurant, Raj points to the night sky and says, "It's a little hard to see with the city lights, but that W-shaped constellation is Cassiopeia. And she was the mother of Andromeda, who's over there." Howard, after a moment, translates it, "Look, pretty stars."

In the Japan's first super sentai series, "Himitsu Sentai Gorenger", Cassiopeia is the constellation whose cosmic rays weaken the main enemy Black Cross Fuhrer and thus was incorporated into Gorenger's finisher. Each syllable of Cassiopeia was also spelled out by the first Japanese letter of each ranger's surname spelling Ka-Shi-O-Pe-A.

In the 2010 "Ni No Kuni; Curse of the White Witch", Cassiopeia is the once wise, then turned villain, White Witch, who is set to destroy the world. She is saved by a young wizard named Oliver and her childhood self, Princess Pea.[14]

In the 2013 novel, "The Fifth Wave (novel)", the main character Cassie's real name is Cassiopeia. During a scene in the novel, Cassie sees the constellation with her father.

The French cartoon "Once Upon a Time... Space" has the militaristic, Roman-like republic of Cassiopeia as one of the main antagonists. Their symbol is the "W" formed by the brightest stars of the constellation and in the series are said to control it as well as nearby ones such as Andromeda and Cepheus.


USS Cassiopeia (AK-75) was a United States Navy Crater-class cargo ship named after the constellation.

See also


  1. ^ a b "Cassiopeia, constellation boundary". The Constellations (International Astronomical Union). Retrieved 15 February 2014. 
  2. ^ Richard H. Allen (1889) Star Names, p. 146 (see also
  3. ^ a b c d e f Ridpath & Tirion 2001, pp. 106-108.
  4. ^ "Stars that go out with a whimper". ESA/Hubble Picture of the Week. Retrieved 21 July 2013. 
  5. ^ a b Wilkins, Jamie; Dunn, Robert (2006). 300 Astronomical Objects: A Visual Reference to the Universe (1st ed.). Buffalo, New York: Firefly Books.  
  6. ^ Levy 2005, pp. 92-93.
  7. ^ Levy 2005, pp. 180-181.
  8. ^ Jenniskens, Peter (September 2012). "Mapping Meteoroid Orbits: New Meteor Showers Discovered". Sky & Telescope: 25. 
  9. ^ P.K. Chen, A Constellation Album: Stars and Mythology of the Night Sky, p. 82 (2007, ISBN 978-1-931559-38-6).
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h Staal 1988, pp. 14–18
  11. ^
  12. ^ Ptak, Robert (1998). Sky Stories Ancient and Modern. New York: Nova Science Publishers. p. 104. 
  13. ^ Makemson, Maud Worcester (1941). The Morning Star Rises: an account of Polynesian astronomy. Yale University Press. p. 281. 
  14. ^ Ni no Kuni
  • Krause O; Rieke GH; Birkmann SM; Le Floc'h E; Gordon KD; Egami E; Bieging J; Hughes JP, Young ET, Hinz JL, Quanz SP, Hines DC (2005). "Infrared echoes near the supernova remnant Cassiopeia A".  
  • Levy, David H. (2005), Deep Sky Objects, Prometheus Books,  
  • Ridpath, Ian; Tirion, Wil (2001), Stars and Planets Guide, Princeton University Press,  
  • Ian Ridpath; Wil Tirion (2007). Stars and Planets Guide. London: Collins.  
  • Staal, Julius D. W. (1988). The New Patterns in the Sky: Myths and Legends of the Stars. The McDonald and Woodward Publishing Company.  

External links

  • The Deep Photographic Guide to the Constellations: Cassiopeia
  • The clickable Cassiopeia
  • Star Tales – Cassiopeia
  • Cassiopeia Constellation at Constellation Guide

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