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Anytime you hear someone talk about how someone else is such a “Pisces, Gemini, or Virgo”, where exactly do you think they got those names from? Of course, these are all zodiac signs, but did you know they also double up as constellations?
By definition, a constellation is a family of stars, which have been identified and named after certain mythological figures. Because we want our primary focus to be on the scientific and mythological attributes of these stars, we won’t be digging into the astrological aspect.
However, for the sake of clarification, we’d just like you to remember that all zodiacs are constellations, but not all constellations are zodiacs. For the most part, it’s due to the fact that constellations occupy different widths on the ecliptic, hence compelling the Sun to spend varying amounts of time in each celestial sphere.
In other words, your preferred zodiac sign is nothing more than an abstraction from our physical constellations. And now that you know what constellations are, it’s time to talk about our all-time favorite, the Cassiopeia.
Even though these constellations were named after Greek mythological figures, their names are in Latin. It’s abbreviated as Cas and pronounced as Cas-see-o-pee-ah.
As per the International Astronomical Union guidelines, this name is the official name of the constellation.
Rumor has it that Cassiopeia was one of the rulers on the African continent. She reigned over Aethiopia, which was one of the countries located on the northern coast of Africa. For the record, Aethiopia is not our modern Ethiopia. We came to learn that it was one of the inhabited lands on the southern side of Egypt, that started from Elephantine.
Its capital was called Meroe, and the only people who were allowed to worship there were deities. To be specific, Dionysus (Osiris) and Zeus (Amun).
As the story goes, she felt like she was the most beautiful woman on the planet, even surpassing the beauty of Poseidon and Thetis—the former was the sea god, while the latter ruled by his side as the goddess. Anytime she was asked who came close to her level of beauty, she confidently answered, “My daughter, Andromeda”.
We’ve already defined a constellation as a family of stars. But what we haven’t told you is, as a collective, this family always forms a shape of a person, mythical creature, or even an object. In the case of Cassiopeia, it’s the letter W. Well, some people think it’s a W, while others see it as an inverted M. Regardless, we can all agree that it’s a letter.
While measuring the total area occupied by a constellation, we often go with the boundaries set by the International Astronomical Union. And the measurements are always in squared degrees. For example, Hydra is the largest constellation in our night sky simply because it takes up 1,303 square degrees of that space.
Cassiopeia only covers 598.407 square degrees, which is about 1.4% of the total celestial sphere. Thus, making it the 25th largest constellation in the sky. We hope this also answers the question of whether or not these constellations are equally sized.
At the moment, we have a total of 88 constellations known to man. But before that, we only had 48. The originals are also referred to as the ancient constellations as the earlier people talked a lot about them. Historical writings have already confirmed that the Greeks talked about them, but we’re not so sure about the Babylonians—nevertheless, we suspect they knew something about them.
In the beginning, the constellations didn’t have names. They were just treated as patterns in the sky, and the knowledge cascaded down orally from one generation to the next. This was done through fascinating stories and lore.
But in the 3rd century, Aratus drafted a poem called Phaenomena. And it was in this poem that he intricately described all the constellations that the Greeks knew. Two centuries later, Claudius Ptolemy, a well-known astronomer, music theorist, mathematician, and geographer, cataloged all the 48 celestial spheres. The foundation of the 88-constellation system that we now have was built on those 48 constellations.
The shape/pattern we previously mentioned is what’s referred to as asterism and is made up of five different stars. If you view this constellation as W, you’ll be looking at the stars from left to right. Therefore, the first one will be Segin (Epsilon Cassiopeiae), then Ruchbah (Delta Cassiopeiae), followed by Gamma, Schedar (Alpha Cassiopeiae), and finally, Caph (Beta Cassiopeiae).
If you’d like to see this asterism, you’ll have to be in the northern hemisphere during spring or summer. Of the five, the Gamma is more distant, luminous, hotter, and massive. Segin is the faintest and youngest, while the Alpha Cassiopeiae is the brightest.
If you think about it, you’ll realize that a constellation is technically a celestial sphere with boundaries. And within those boundaries, we have the main stars that shape the constellation and the secondary ones. The main stars are the ones that form the patterns we get to see. But the secondaries are hosts to other planets and celestial bodies.
Cassiopeia has a total of 2,324 stars, but you can only spot 188 of them with the naked eye.
Messier objects are astronomical objects named by Charles Messier. He was an astronomer who was only interested in finding comets, but these objects kept on getting in the way. So, to avoid any confusion, he named them Messiers.
The Cassiopeia Messiers are called the M 52 and M 103. Both of them are open source, meaning they originated from the same giant molecular cloud.
An extrasolar planet is also called an exoplanet. This is the term used to describe any celestial body that qualifies to be a planet and is outside our solar system. These planets are similar to ours, in the sense that they orbit other stars. Some are different though, as they are untethered to any star and orbit a galactic center. We call such planets rogue planets.
The 20 extrasolar planets found in Cassiopeia are being hosted by 14 of its known stars.
This star is obviously not part of our solar system, but it’s found in our galaxy—that is the Milky Way Galaxy. It has been classified as a Supergiant since it has a radius that’s 1,064 times our Sun’s radius and 22,900 times brighter. We can’t say for sure if it hosts any exoplanet because it’s so massive that we cannot see what’s on the other side of it.
Commonly abbreviated as SNR, supernova remnants are basically the explosion remains of a supernova. What’s a supernova? The explosion of a star. And it’s usually caused by a drop in the star’s pressure, forcing gravity to take over. This process is usually fast, as the star collapses in a matter of seconds.
Cassiopeia has two remnants: Cassiopeia A and the 3C 10. Experts found out that the Cassiopeia A happens to be the brightest extrasolar radio source, with a frequency that’s above 1 GHz. The other name of the 3C 10 is Tycho’s Supernova Remnant since it originated from Tycho’s star.
Yes, we have the Phi Cassiopeiids, which had an entry velocity of 10.3 miles per second. Our astronomers studied it and discovered it belongs to Jupiter’s family comet. The only question that they haven’t answered yet, is that of its exact identity. We still don’t know which comet it came from.
A deep-sky object is any celestial object that’s outside our solar system. It could be a galaxy, star clusters, or nebulae. Nebulae is plural for nebula, and it’s Latin for clouds. So, when you hear an astronomer talk about nebulae, he/she is referring to a cloud of dust or gas in distant space. Cassiopeia has three nebulae: Pacman, Heart, and Soul.
Quite frankly, this is not all there is to know about the Cassiopeia constellation. There’s more to learn, and more to discover. But we’re going to wrap it up here because we can’t exhaust everything in one session. If you’d like to learn more about the other stars, deep-sky objects, supernova remnants, and meteors, feel free to get in touch.
Featured Image Credit: Artsiom P, Shutterstock
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Robert’s obsession with all things optical started early in life, when his optician father would bring home prototypes for Robert to play with. Nowadays, Robert is dedicated to helping others find the right optics for their needs. His hobbies include astronomy, astrophysics, and model building. Originally from Newark, NJ, he resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the nighttime skies are filled with glittering stars.
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