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3.3: Cassiopeia

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  • Cassiopeia was a queen in Greek mythology, and the constellation named for her is shaped like the letter W. Polaris is above the first “V” of this letter. If you draw a line dividing the angle of that “V” in half and continue along it, you will reach the vicinity of Polaris.

    The name of Cassiopeia's husband, King Cepheus, goes with a nearby constellation, above the other “V” (the brighter one), but Cepheus is nowhere as striking as Cassiopeia. Her daughter Andromeda has another constellation, framed by a big undistinguished rectangle of four stars. An unremarkable constellation to the eye --- but it contains a large galaxy, our nearest neighbor in space (not counting two dwarf galaxies in the southern sky), one which seems to resemble ours in size and shape.

    Ursa Minor, the “Small Bear” or “Little Dipper" is a constellation somewhat resembling the Big Dipper, and Polaris is the last star in its tail. The “dipper” itself faces the tail of the Big Dipper, so that the two “tails” (or “handles”) point in opposite directions. The two front stars of the “little dipper” (quite smaller and more square than the big one) are fairly bright, but other stars are rather dim and require good eyes and a dark sky.