Monday, January 21, 2013

Constellation Cassiopeia: the seated woman

When I was a little girl, my favorite book was the Dutch translation of Michaels Ende's (originally German) 'Momo and The Grey Gentlemen'. Together with the main character from comic series 'Yoko Tsuno', my ethical system and basic personality got its foundation from Ende's main character Momo. If you haven't read this book--it's from the writer of 'The Neverending Story', if that helps--please pick up a copy. It was written in 1974, and describes well... exactly our current society.


At any rate, I wasn't going to talk about the book. I was just reminded of it because this constellation shares its name with one of my favorite characters--after Momo, of course--from the book: Cassiopeia, a tortoise which can communicate through writing on her shell and can see exactly thirty minutes into the future. The Casseopeia this constellation was named after, however, has nothing in common with the lovable tortoise; Cassiopeia (Κασσιόπεια) was the wife of Cepheus, king of Aethiopia and mother of Androméda. She was placed in the sky as a punishment for her boast that her daughter was more beautiful than the Nereids; the father of the Nereids, the sea God Nereus, heard Cassiopeia's prideful boast and brought his grievance to Poseidon. Poseidon ruled in favor of Nereus and sent Cetus, a huge sea monster, to ravage the coasts of Aethiopia. Cepheus, desperate, visited the Oracle of Apollon to hear how he could solve the suffering of his people. The Oracle told his that Nereus would only be appeased when he sacrificed his daughter to Cetus.

Eventually, Androméda was rescued from her fate by Perseus, on his way back from defeating Médousa. He took her off and left Cassiopeia and her husband to the fate of Poseidon, who would still have His revenge. As such, He took both Cassiopeia and Cepheus up into the sky and placed them near each other in the heavens. His fate for Cassiopeia was far crueler than the fate He had in store for Cepheus, however, because Cepheus had had nothing to do with Cassiopeia's original declaration, and he had done everything in his power to make things right afterwards. We will get to Cepheus' fate at a later date, but I'll tell you of Cassiopeia's fate today; Poseidon palace her close to the North Celestial Pole on her throne, spending half of her time clinging to it so she does not fall off. In old portraits of the constellation, she is seen as either tied to her throne--which most often resembles a torture device--or desperately clinging to it. Later on, she was depicted as holding a mirror (or palm leaf) to show her vanity.

As it is near the pole star, the constellation Cassiopeia can be seen the whole year from the northern hemisphere, although sometimes upside down. To use latitudes; the constellation of Cassiopeia is visible at latitudes between +90° and −20°, and best visible at 21:00 (9 p.m.) during the month of November.

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