25. Cassiopeia

Written by probationideadlyi on December 30th, 2015. Posted in 88



. . look but aside a little,
Just by the first coil of the crooked Dragon
There rolls unhappy, not conspicuous
When the full moon is shining, Cassiopeia

The Lady in the Chair

Cassiopeia is one of the oldest and most popular of the constellations. Popular because many are able to see in the arrangement of its stars the resemblance to a chair, and hence the familiar name for the constellation is "Cassiopeia's Chair."
Such stress has been laid on the throne, that the presence of the Queen seated upon it is lost sight of. Because of the circumpolar motion of the stars, the Queen often suffers the humiliating position of standing on her head. She was placed, so the legend runs, in this cruel position in the heavens by her enemies the sea nymphs, as she had boasted that her beauty surpassed theirs.
Desiring to teach her humility they imposed this punishment.

Milton in Penseroso thus refers to Cassiopeia:
that starred Ethiop's queen that strove
To set her beauty's praise above
The sea nymphs and their power offended

Cassiopeia is sometimes called "heaven troubled queen" and "unhappy Cassiopeia" and in view of the giddy whirl she is subjected to, such appellations are appropriate to say the least. Aratos mentions her uncertain position in the heavens:
She head foremost like a tumbler sits.

The Arabs called Cassiopeia "the Lady in the Chair," but curiously enough the early Arabs had in this place a very different figure in no way connected with the figure known to us. They called this star group "the large hand stained with henna" or "the tinted hand," the bright stars marking the finger tips.  

Cassiopeia has been variously portrayed throughout her history as a constellation. In Persia, she was drawn by al-Sufi as a queen holding a staff with a crescent moon in her right hand, wearing a crown, as well as a two-humped camel. In France, she was portrayed as having a marble throne and a palm leaf in her left hand, holding her robe in her right hand. This depiction is from Augustin Royer's 1679 atlas 

A figure called the "Tinted Hand" also appeared in the stars of Cassiopeia in some Arab atlases. This is variously said to represent a woman's hand dyed red with henna, as well as the bloodied hand of Muhammad's daughter Fatima. The hand is made up of the stars α Casβ Casγ Casδ Casε Cas, and η Cas. The arm is made up of the stars α Perγ Perδ Perε Perη Per, and ν Per

They also made out of the constellations Cepheus and Cassiopeia, two dogs, and some times referred to Cassiopeia as "the kneeling camel."

In this constellation we have, therefore, an example of the fertile imagination of the early Oriental star-gazers, and a curious combination of objects assigned to a group of stars that is not especially conspicuous,—a lady in a chair, a tinted hand, a dog, and a kneeling camel.

As the stars of this constellation revolve about the Pole, they form when below it a slightly distorted capital "M."
This is reversed when Cassiopeia is above the Pole, and we have a celestial letter "W" that enables many to identify the constellation.

In Greece at one time this constellation was known as "the Laconian Key," from its fancied resemblance to that article, and Aratos makes the following reference to this title:
Not many are the stars nor thickly set that, ranged in line, mark her whole figure out.
But like a key that forces back the bolts Which kept the double door secured within So shaped her stars you singly trace along.
Renouf identified Cassiopeia with the Egyptian star  group known as "the Leg," and thus mentioned in the "Book of the Dead," the Bible of Egypt, that most ancient ritual four thousand years old or more:

"Hail, leg of the northern sky in the large visible basin."

Cassiopeia belonged to the so-called "Royal Family"  of Starland, and in Greek mythology is connected with the well-known story of Perseus and Andromeda.
Burritt gives the following concise account of the part Cassiopeia played in this drama:

"Cassiopeia was the wife of Cepheus, king of Ethiopia, and mother of Andromeda. She was a queen of matchless beauty, and seemed to be sensible of it, for she even boasted herself fairer than Juno, the sister of Jupiter, or the Nereides, a name given to the sea nymphs. This so provoked the ladies of the sea that they complained to Neptune of the insult, who sent a frightful monster to ravage her coast as a punishment for her insolence. In addition, Neptune demanded a sacrifice of Cassiopeia's daughter Andromeda." The sequel to this sad tale is related in the mythological references to the constellations Perseus and Andromeda.

Brown thinks that this whole story of the sacrifice of Andromeda is Phoenician. He tells us that Cassiopeia was known as "Eurynome" or " Quassiu-peaer," meaning "beauty" or "rosy faced." In the cuneiform inscriptions we meet with the goddess "Kasseba," probably an ancient form of Cassiopeia. On the Assyrian tablets Cassiopeia was "the Lady of Corn," and the Alphonsine tables described the figure as holding the consecrated palm.

There seems to be a decided resemblance between Cassiopeia and the constellation Virgo, which may be nothing more than a coincidence. Virgo we find was called "the Maiden of the Harvest," and was represented as holding a sheaf of wheat or an ear of corn in her hand, and Cassiopeia as we have seen was called "The Lady of Corn."

Again Virgo was represented as a sunburned damsel, while Cassiopeia was called "Ethiop's Queen," clearly indicating her dusky complexion. The Arabs associated dogs with both constellations.

Cassiopeia is represented on some old maps as holding a palm in her left hand. Virgo is invariably represented as carrying a branch in her left hand.

As "the Lady of Corn," Cassiopeia was also designated as "the Creatress of Seed." We also find that the Peruvians identified Virgo with the Earth Mother, and Maunder tells us that the ear of corn in the Virgin's hand may well be interpreted as referring to the "Seed of the Woman" who was born of the Virgin.
Prof. Young has given us a mnemonic word, "Begdi," to assist in recalling the Greek-letter names of the stars in both constellations. In these ways, therefore, there seems to be a distinct similarity between these two female figures widely separated from each other in the starry skies.

In the 1600s, various Biblical figures were depicted in the stars of Cassiopeia. These included Bathsheba, Solomon's mother; Deborah, an Old Testament prophet; and Mary Magdalene. a disciple of Jesus.
Plunket suggests 3500 B.C. as the date, and 23 degrees north as the latitude of the invention of this constellation. 

In the 17th century, when there was an effort made to attach a religious significance to the constellations, Cassiopeia became Mary Magdalene, or Deborah sitting in judgment under her palm tree in Mount Ephraim, or Bathsheba, the mother of Solomon, worthy to sit on the royal throne.

In Chinese astronomy, the stars forming the constellation Cassiopeia are found among three areas: the Purple Forbidden enclosure (紫微垣, Zǐ Wēi Yuán), the Black Tortoise of the North (北方玄武, Běi Fāng Xuán Wǔ), and the White Tiger of the West (西方白虎, Xī Fāng Bái Hǔ).

The Chinese astronomers saw several figures in what is modern-day Cassiopeia. κ , η (Achird), and μ Cassopeiae formed a constellation called the Bridge of the Kings; when seen along with  α (Schedar) –β (Caph) Cassiopeiae, they formed the great chariot Wang-Liang. The charioteer's whip was represented by γ (Tsih) Cassiopeiae, sometimes called "Tsih", the Chinese word for "whip

Another Arab constellation that incorporated the stars of Cassiopeia was the Camel. Its head was composed of λ  ,κ  , ι , and φ  Andromedae; its hump was β (Caph) Cassiopeiae; its body was the rest of Cassiopeia, and the legs were composed of stars in Perseus and Andromeda.

Other cultures see a hand or moose antlers in the pattern. These include the Lapps, for whom the W of Cassiopeia forms an elk antler.  The Chukchi of Siberia similarly saw the five main stars as five reindeer stags.

The people of the Marshall Islands saw Cassiopeia as part of a great porpoise constellation. The main stars of Cassiopeia make its tail, Andromeda and Triangulum form its body, and Aries makes its head.

In Hawaii,  α (Schedar) –β (Caph) –γ (Tsih)  were named.  α (Schedar) was called Poloahilani, β (Caph) was called Polula, and γ (Tsih)  was called Mulehu. The people of Pukapuka saw the figure of Cassiopeia as a distinct constellation called Na Taki-tolu-a-Mataliki.

The Eskimos imagine that  α (Schedar) –β (Caph) –γ (Tsih)  Cassiopeise, three stars forming an isosceles triangle, represent the three stones supporting a celestial stone lamp. They call the constellation "Ibrosi."

Cassiopeia in its continual circling of the Pole of the heavens makes an excellent illuminated timepiece. Imagine that β (Caph) Cassiopeice is the hour hand. When it is above Polaris it is noon, when it is in the west at right angles to its first position, it is 6 p.m.

At midnight it is on the northern horizon, and at 6 a.m. it is due east. The time kept by this perpetual clock is of course Sidereal Time (star time), which differs from civil time in that the day begins at noon instead of at midnight. By recalling that the sidereal clock agrees with the mean solar clock on March 22d or thereabouts, and gains at the rate of two hours a month, one can easily pass to ordinary solar time. This is the simplest way to tell time by looking at the stars.


Alpha Cassiopeise α (Schedar) was known to the Arabs as  "Schedar" or "Schedir," meaning "the Breast." Burritt tells us that Schedir is from "El Seder," the "Seder tree," a name given to the constellation by Ulugh Beg. Schedir was discovered to be a variable star by Birt in 183 1. It culminates at 9 P.M., Nov. i8th.

Beta Cassiopeia, or β (Caph) an Arab title meaning  "the Hand," was also known to the Arabs as "the Camel's Hump." It is one of the so-called "Three Guides," three stars that mark the equinoctial colure, one of the great circles passing through the poles of the heavens. Caph is one of the stars for which a parallax has been found. It is approximately twenty light years from our system, though some authorities say thirty-two light years.

Gamma Cassiopeiae –γ (Tsih), the second magnitude star in the girdle of the "lady in the chair," has a companion of the 11th magnitude 2" distant.

The Chinese called this star "a whip." It is a star of great interest to astronomers, as it was the first star discovered to contain bright lines in its spectrum. This discovery was made by Secchi in 1886. The spectrum is peculiarly variable.

Delta Cassiopeias bears the Arab name  δ (Ruchbah)  meaning "the Knee." It was utilised, says Allen, by Picard in France in 1669 in determining latitudes during his measure of an arc of the meridian, the first use of the telescope for geodetic purposes.

θ and μ  Cassiopeias were known to the Arabs as "Al-Marfik," meaning "the Elbow." The star μ is interesting because of its great proper motion. This is given as 3.7 seconds per year, a velocity in space of one hundred miles a second. It has been estimated that in 3,000,000 years this star will circle the heavens. It is said to be thirty light years distant.

Eta Cassiopeiae η (Achird) is a double star, and one of the finest objects in the sky for a moderate sized telescope. It is probably the nearest star to us of any in the constellation, although authorities differ as to its parallax. This is given as thirteen, twenty-one, and seventeen light years. The weight of authority seems to favour the latter estimate.

No account of the stars in the constellation Cassiopeia would be complete without a reference to the wonderful temporary star that flashed out in this region of the sky in November, 1572, astonishing the world. It was visible in full daylight, and said to be brighter than the planet Venus. It has been long known as "Tycho's Star," and many conclude from this that it was discovered by the celebrated astronomer Tycho Brahe, but as a matter of fact it was discovered by Schuler, at Wittenberg in Prussia, who saw the star faintly Aug. 6, 1572.  Tycho Brahe saw it at its brightest Nov. 11th of the same year, and in 1602 published an account of the star. Other names for this star are "Stranger or Pilgrim Star," "Star in the Chayre," and "New Venus."

The Chinese called it "the Guest Star," and Beza thought it was a comet, or the same luminous appearance that guided the Magi, the so-called "Star of Bethlehem."

In March, 1574, the star disappeared entirely. D'Arrest found a minute star of the lo-iith magnitude near this place in 1865 where Argelander could formerly see none.
There is some idea that a bright star appeared in this place in the years 945 and 1264 a.d. If so says Webb,  we may possibly witness a repetition of this incomprehensible phenomenon.

La Place says: "As to those stars which suddenly shine forth with a very vivid light, and then immediately disappear, it is extremely probable that great conflagrations, produced by extraordinary causes, take place on their surface. This conjecture is confirmed by their change of colour, which is analogous to that presented to us on the earth by those bodies which are set on fire and then gradually extinguished."

Dr. Good thus refers to temporary stars: "Worlds and systems of worlds are not only perpetually creating, but also perpetually disappearing. It is an extraordinary fact, that within the period of the last century, not less than thirteen stars, in different constellations, seem to have totally perished and ten new ones to have been created. "In many instances it is unquestionable that the stars themselves, the supposed habitation of other kinds or orders of intelligent beings, together with the different planets by which it is probable they were surrounded, have utterly vanished, and the spots which they occupied in the heavens have become blanks." 
Burritt thus describes the changes in colour observed in Tycho's star: "At first appearance it was of a dazzling white, then of a reddish yellow, and lastly of an ashy paleness in which its light expired." "It is impossible," says Mrs. Somerville, "to imagine anything more tremendous than a conflagration that could be visible at such a distance."

The collision theory seems the best one to account for such phenomena, but the imagination and senses alike fail in any attempt at a realisation of the heat generated by the impact, or the magnitude of the ensuing conflagration.

How to remember Cassiopeia: Circumpolar, Milky Way– Some see a throne. I see a giant M when above the pole, or W when below. Since the M is more often and easily seen, think of it as the first letter of Cassiopeia’s motto: ME, ME, ME!


Bayer –

  1. α (Schedar)
  2. β (Caph)
  3. γ (Tsih)
  4. δ (Ruchbah)
  5. ε (Segin)
  6. ζ
  7. η (Achird)
  8. θ
  9. ι
  10. κ
  11. λ
  12. μ
  13. ν
  14. ξ
  15. ο
  16. π
  17. ρ
  18. σ
  19. τ
  20. υ1
  21. υ2
  22. φ
  23. χ
  24. ψ
  25. ω


writer writer writer

IP Blocking Protection is enabled by IP Address Blocker from LionScripts.com.