There’s a full moon Friday, perfect for Valentine’s night. And there are several good romantic constellation stories including one that involves the constellations Cassiopeia the Queen and Cepheus the King.
Cassiopeia, a bright W this time of the year in the early evening high in the northwestern sky. The W is supposed to outline the upside down throne of Queen Cassiopeia.
Cepheus the King is just to the lower right of Cassiopeia in north to northwest sky. It’s a larger constellation than Cassiopeia, but its stars aren’t nearly as bright. It looks like a house with a steep roof leaning to the right.
Astronomically, these two royal constellations don’t have much to offer. There are some nice star clusters sprinkled around the pair, especially in Cassiopeia.
Cepheus and Cassiopeia were the king and queen of ancient Ethiopia who were very much in love with each other. King Cepheus was easy going and didn’t take himself or his power and authority as king all that seriously. Queen Cassiopeia, however, was anything but mellow. She was a ruthless and intense ruler. Even though she loved her kingly husband she wanted to be top dog of the land, but that was difficult to do with her good-natured husband around.
To get her way Cassiopeia had to find a way to rid of him, at least during the day, so Cassiopeia capitalized on his passion for golf, urging him to play all day long.
While he was gone the queen paraded around, demanding her subjects to adore her or she would have them tossed into a pit of hungry dragons.
Her ego grew and grew over the years until one day she proclaimed she was even more beautiful than Hera, the queen of the gods of Mount Olympus. Upon hearing Cassiopeia’s proclamation, Hera charged down from Mount Olympus, riding on thunderbolts.
The confrontation between the two queens was truly ugly. Cassiopeia wouldn’t back down, so Hera tied Cassiopeia up in her throne and with all her godly strength heaved her into the heavens. Cassiopeia has been stuck in her heavenly exile ever since. As she revolves around P the North Star, Polaris, every 24 hours in the northern sky, there are times when she is hanging upside down.
So how did Cepheus get up there? Well the story goes that he was overcome with grief and could not bear to go on without his beloved queen, so he begged Zeus, the King of the Greek gods, to throw him up into the sky as well. Zeus obliged, and to this day and night the lovers have been together in their celestial home.
Celestial hugging this week: It’s not quite a full moon, but it’s close to full, and passes by bright planet Jupiter and the constellation Gemini on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Mike Lynch is a broadcast meteorologist for WCCO Radio in Minneapolis and the author of “Stars, a Month by Month Tour of the Constellations.” Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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