The sky is divided into a patchwork of 88 constellations of all shapes and sizes. Some are some bold and bright, while others are barely visible. And by a curious coincidence, a quarter of them begin with the same letter of the alphabet: the letter C.
Three such constellations are high overhead on autumn evenings. One is bright, one is not so bright, and one is downright dim.
By far the brightest and most distinctive of the three is Cassiopeia, the queen. You'll have no trouble finding her, since her five brightest stars form a letter M or W. Your only challenge will be trying to figure out how those five stars look like a queen.
Right beside Cassiopeia is Cepheus, the king. In chess, the king is weaker than the queen, and it's the same way in the sky: Cepheus is fainter than Cassiopeia. If you're able to make out the king, though, you'll see a faint pentagon of five stars. Cepheus looks as much like a king as Cassiopeia looks like a queen, which is to say, not at all.
And if you think Cepheus is faint, take a look to the other side of Cassiopeia. There you might -- or might not -- see one of the faintest constellations in the sky: Camelopardalis, the giraffe. The stars that make up this constellation are so dim that you'll need a dark sky and a star chart to find it.
Look for the three "Cs" high in the north in mid-evening, with Cassiopeia in the middle, Cepheus to her west, and Camelopardalis to her east.
Script by Ken Croswell, Copyright 2008
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