Cassiopeia was the wife of Cepheus, the Ethiopian king of Joppa
(now known as Jaffa, in Israel), and the mother of Andromeda. The queen
was both beautiful and vain, and the story of how her vanity caused great
distress is told in relation to the constellation Andromeda.
After promising her daughter in marriage to Perseus, Cassiopeia had
second thoughts. She convinced one of Poseidon's sons, Agenor, to
disrupt the ceremony by claiming Andromeda for himself. Agenor arrived
with an entire army, and a fierce struggle ensued.
In the battle Cassiopeia is said to have cried "Perseus must die". At any
rate it was Perseus who was victorious, with the help of the Gorgon's head.
A contrite Poseidon put both father and mother in the heavens. But because
of Cassiopeia's vanity, he placed her in a chair which revolves around the
Pole Star, so half the time she's obliged to sit upside down.
Perseus had recently slain Medusa, the Gorgon, and had put its head in a
bed of coral. He retrieved the head and waved it in midst of the
warring wedding party, instantly turning them all to stone. In the
group was both Cepheus and Cassiopeia.
The asterism clearly shows the chair upon which
Cepheus's queen sits. The Bayer stars are
generally third and fourth magnitude, with the exception of the first
four stars which make up the "chair".
Cassiopeia has many fine binaries, a few variables of note, and several
interesting deep sky objects.
Gamma Cassiopeiae has a faint companion, made doubly-difficult to
see because of the brightness of the primary: 2.5, 11; PA 252º and
Eta Cas is a fine binary with colour contrast, yellow and red.
Some observers see them as more gold and purple.
Lambda Cas has two nearly equal stars: 5.5, 6; PA 179º, 0.5".
The companion orbits every 480 years. Present
values are: 3.4, 7.5, PA 315º, separation 12.7".
Iota Cas is a triple system, with AB a visual binary with an orbit of 840 years.
Omicron Cas has a faint companion: 4, 11; 302º, 33.6".
AB: 4.6, 6.9; presently at PA 231º and separation 2.5".
C: 8, PA 114º, 7.3".
Phi Cas is another multiple system, with rather wide components.
The binary lies on the edge of NGC 457 (see below).
Sigma Cas: 5.0, 7.1; 326º, 3".
AB: 5, 12; 208º, separation of 48.6".
C: 7; 231º, 134".
Struve 3062 is a visual binary with
orbit of 106.8 years: 6.4, 7.5; presently 322º and separation 1.5".
Beta Cas is a delta Sct: 2.25-2.31 with period of 0.104 days (2h
Gamma Cas is a prototype of an important class of variable.
Iota Cas is an alpha CVn type variable: 4.45 to 4.53 every 1.74
"Gamma Cas" variables are B stars, very rapidly rotating subgiants or even
dwarfs with emission spectra. The variation in magnitude is typically
The biggest exception is gamma Cas itself, which has a range of 1.5
to 3.0 with a sporadic period, roughly every 0.7 days.
Other stars in this class include zeta Tau and BU Tau ("Pleione"), mu Cen,
lambda Pav, and epsilon Cap.
Omicron Cas is a gamma Cas type variable, ranging from 4.5
R Cas is a Mira type variable with a period of 430.46 days,
ranging from 4.7 to 13.5.
Deep Sky Objects:
Cassiopeia has two Messier objects and several other star clusters of
M52 (NGC 7654) is an open cluster of about 120 stars. It's found
6º NW of rho Cas. Burnham gives the best method of finding the
cluster: draw a line from alpha Cas to beta Cas, then continue this
line, doubling its length. The cluster is just past the end point, about another quarter-length.
M103 (NGC 581) is another open cluster, with about forty stars.
It's 1º NE of delta Cas, or 1.5º due north of chi Cas.
NGC 457 is an open cluster about 4º SE of gamma Cas.
The star phi Cas is considered a part of this cluster. This star is one of the most luminous known, with at least 200,000 times the light of the sun.
NGC 7789 is a rich open cluster of perhaps a thousand stars. It's 3º SW of beta Cas, lying just between rho Cas and sigma Cas.
For a closer appreciation of Cassiopeia, visit the Binocular Section.