Cassiopeia and Perseus

The night sky is a vast and ancient collection of mythological stories and superstition. In fact, one of the most famous legends is known as the Royal Family of Constellations in which six patches of sky take part in this nightly play. To sum up the story, King Cepheus and Queen Cassiopeia sacrificed their daughter Andromeda to the sea monster Cetus to appease the gods. Perseus – our northern hero was on his way back from slaying the Medusa with her severed head in a potato bag. Hearing Andromeda’s cry for help, Perseus arrived not a moment too soon. Quickly thinking, Perseus showed the head of snakes to Cetus and the monster immediately turned to stone. Our hero and his damsel in distress fly off on Pegasus– the winged horse.  As seen from 45 degrees north latitude, half of Perseus is circumpolar, meaning that our hero will not dip below the northern horizon. Buried within its borders are many fine celestial objects with the most famous being, the Double Cluster. These jewels are catalogued as NGC 884 and 869 which reside around 7,000 light-years (ly) from us. This duo is spectacular in binoculars and very low power binoculars.

I once viewed the Double Cluster many years ago at the annual Stellafane convention near Springfield, Vermont with a homemade 17.5-inch f/3.8 telescope on display. At this low F/ setting, coma would surely turn stars at the edge of the field of view into seagulls. Coma is a direct result of a very deep mirror with focal lengths shorter than f/5.4. The owner attached a Paracorr coma corrector and the image was flawless and very bright. It was like looking at dozens of miniature headlights. The Double Cluster seems to have a number of M-type red supergiant stars. Seen by Hipparchus and Ptolemy back in the year 150 BC, the Double Cluster is a treat even to the naked eye. 

Parked just over three degrees east from the famous duo is a widely scatter association of somewhat bright suns known as NGC 744. Since this area is close to the Milky Way, you might have a bit of a problem discerning the cluster’s members which shine at magnitude 7.9. This cluster lies some 4,900 ly away and is estimated to be about 39 million old. 

Continuing in the same easterly direction, look for M76 most commonly referred to as the Little Dumbbell Nebula aka the Butterfly, Corkor Barbell nebula. Just like its larger cousin (M27), this planetary is the result of a star’s death. The celestial corpse measures a faint magnitude 16.6and still radiates at some 60,000 degrees Kelvin. The Little Dumbbell is listed at about 3,400 ly away and glows at just over 10th magnitude. The shell of expanding gas is about one ly in length.

NGC 1275 is a very interesting object for sure. In fact, it is not one but two objects in one. What I mean is there are two galaxies in collision. This face-on object glows at magnitude 11.5 and is an estimated 230 million ly from us. It will take about 100 million years for this slow-motion collision to complete.


Chart of Perseus


Our next stop will be the bright open cluster of M34. It is situated a little north of the imaginary line between Algol and Almach in Andromeda. M34 is located a mere 1,400 ly away and contains some 100 stars scattered across the width of the full moon. At magnitude 5.5, you should easily pick it up. Now more your scope south about two degrees till you uncover the elongated galaxy – NGC1003. The disk runs from east to west but you will probably need to use averted vision to pick up this magnitude 11.5 smudge.

One the easiest and most viewed variable star in the entire sky has to be Algol – the Demon Star. In fact, the mythological story mentioned above, Algol plays the part of the Medusa (head of the snake) and was the weapon that defeated the monster Cetus. This host star varies like clockwork every 2.87 days fluctuating from magnitude 2.3 to 3.4. With such a bright object and quick cycle, anyone can see two full cycles per week. Sliding further south try to locate a loose cluster called NGC 1342. At magnitude 6.7, this group takes up half the moon’s width. Another dense open cluster is NGC1528. At a brightness of magnitude 6.4, this gem takes up about three-quarters of the full moon. 

Comet Swan is putting on a great show. During the last week of October, the comet fractured, thus exposing new material. This allowed the comet to suddenly climb to naked eye status. I viewed our interstellar visitor on Oct 30th, easily picking it up in 7 X 35 binoculars even with a near gibbous Moon. Although I did not catch evidence of a tail, it was bright green. Don’t miss this amazing sight, who knows when the next bright one may knock on our celestial doors.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    












IC 1805


Open cluster




2h 33m


61d 28m


IC 1848


Open cluster




2h 52m


60d 27m


M 34


Open cluster




2h 42m


42d 48m


NGC 744


Open cluster




1h 59m


55d 31m


NGC 746


Elongated galaxy




1h 58m


44d 58m


NGC 846


Round galaxy




2h 13m


44d 36m


NGC 956


Open cluster




2h 33m


44d 41m


NGC 957


Open cluster




2h 34m


57d 34m


NGC 1003


Elongated galaxy




2h 40m


40d 54m


NGC 1130


Round galaxy




2h 55m


41d 38m


NGC 1160


Elongated galaxy




3h 02m


45d 00m


NGC 1169


Elongated galaxy




3h 04m


46d 25m


NGC 1245


Open cluster




3h 15m


47d 17m


NGC 1275


Elongated galaxy




3h 20m


41d 33m


NGC 1342


Open cluster




3h 32m


37d 21m


NGC 1348


Open cluster




3h 34m


51d 27m


NGC 1444


Open cluster




3h 50m


52d 41m


NGC 1496


Open cluster




4h 05m


52d 38m


NGC 1513


Open cluster




4h 11m


49d 32m

On November 8th, the closest planet to the Sun will perform a rare transit across the Sun’s face. The entire event will be witnessed from about till sunset (Eastern Time). Remember NEVER try to glimpse the sun with the naked eye. There are a few true solar filters on the market. One of the new types is called Baader film.

A few years ago it was called the great meteor storm but since then has fizzled. The Leonids (kids of Leo), maxis out on the night of Nov 18 at (eastern). In fact, the radiant only rises between and . European observers will have the best view of this year’s display. We on the east coast will only see about 25 meteors per hour. There might be a short outburst at the peak of around 100 per hour. This is only a prediction.

Until next month, clear skies everyone.

Gary Boyle

eNews date: 
Wednesday, November 1, 2006