This is “Looking UP! in southern Colorado,” from the Colorado Springs Astronomical Society. I’m Hal Bidlack, and there are lots of reasons to look up!
Did you know there’s a queen in the night sky all year round? The constellation Cassiopeia, or Cassiopeia, depending on how you like to pronounce it, is a circumpolar constellation, a fancy term for constellation far enough north in the sky to be visible all year round. Half the year it appears to be W, and half the year it appears to be an M. In between it looks kind of like a Sigma, as it looks right now, albeit a backwards Sigma.
Cassiopeia, in Greek mythology was a queen renowned for her beauty and her vanity. Her boasts about her own beauty ultimately led to the near – sacrifice of her daughter Andromeda, and her own exile into the stars at the hand of Poseidon.
Cassiopeia is popular, in part because it’s so easy to recognize in the night sky. And it contains one of my absolute favorite stars, the star Navi. During the early days of the Apollo space program, astronaut Gus Grissom was looking for easily recognizable star patterns to use for celestial navigation, if the Apollo spacecraft lost contact with the Earth. He thought the big W, or M, was very easily recognized, and he noticed that the middle star did not have a common name. He promptly named it Navi, N-A-V-I. Now, Navi may not seem like a star name to you, but did I mention that Gus Grissom’s middle name was Ivan?
Cassiopeia was one of the first constellations documented by Ptolemy around 2000 years ago. And if you were standing on a planet orbiting our closest neighbor in space, Alpha Centauri, our sun would appear to be a star in Cassiopeia. The brightest star in the constellation, Schedar, is an orange giant about 230 ly from Earth. It’s four times more massive than the sun but is 40 times larger, it’s a big star.
And Cassiopeia also contains the Pac-Man nebula. This vast cloud of gas takes its name from the fact that looks like a Pac-Man figure chomping on some stars. So it the reset button, put down your game controller, and come outside to see the queen in the sky.
If you’d like to take a closer look at Cassiopeia or any of the other wonderful and amazing things in the sky, please visit KRCC.org or CSASTRO.org for a link to information on our monthly meetings and our free public star parties!
This is Hal Bidlack for the Colorado Springs Astronomical Society, telling you to keep looking up, Southern Colorado!