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Coma Berenices

Coma Berenices is a northern constellation and the only constellation named for a real person: Queen Berenice II of Egypt, the wife of Ptolemy III. Although it is relatively faint, under a dark sky many of its stars are visible as pretty streamers that look like strands of hair.

Berenice married Ptolemy, who was her cousin, in 246 B.C. As king, Ptolemy later went to war. The tale of Berenice says that to protect her husband, she promised to cut her beautiful hair and offer it to the gods if Ptolemy returned safely. He did, so she did. She placed her locks in a temple, dedicated either to the goddess Aphrodite, or to all the gods, depending on the version of the story. The hair soon disappeared. The court astronomer told the king that the locks had been taken by the gods and placed in the sky — streamers of stars near Leo, the lion. The story might be true, or might have been created — or at least embellished — to raise the king’s profile.

Coma Berenices didn’t become a constellation until 1536. And it didn’t enter wide-spread use until 1602, when it was included in an atlas published by Tycho Brahe.

It is best known for the Coma Cluster, a collection of thousands of galaxies centered within the constellation's borders.

 

 

Radio Programs

Black-Eye Galaxy Giving a galaxy a black eye May 13, 2018

Close Clusters Two star clusters that stick together May 12, 2018

Coma Galaxies Gluing together clusters of galaxies May 11, 2018

Coma Star Cluster Counting up a stellar family May 10, 2018

Coma Berenices Sparkly tresses near the lion May 9, 2018

Featured Images

Hubble Space Telescope view of spiral galaxy M64, the Black-Eye Galaxy

Galactic Black Eye May 13, 2018

Melotte 111 star cluster from international space station

Counting Stars May 10, 2018