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October 24, 2011

Andromeda is a fairly large constellation — it rates 19th out of 88. It’s also ancient — it was first drawn several thousand years ago. And it’s fairly famous, too — its namesake was featured in plays by the ancient Greeks, and in more recent times in movies and TV shows.

Yet it’s a bit disappointing to look at. Andromeda’s main figure is two streamers of stars that form a long, skinny V. But it’s not an attention grabber — it takes some patience to find it. Right now, it’s high in the east and northeast at nightfall, and climbs directly overhead by midnight.

The constellation represents a princess from the mythical land of Ethiopia.

Andromeda was chained at the shore as a sacrifice to a sea monster. The monster was sent to punish the country after Andromeda’s mother, Cassiopeia, boasted that she was more beautiful than the sea nymphs. But the young maiden was rescued at the last moment by Perseus, and the gods placed all of them in the stars.

Andromeda’s brightest star, Alpha Andromeda, forms the bottom of the V, with Beta Andromeda, which is only slightly fainter, to its upper left during the early evening hours.

The constellation’s real stars, though, are its galaxies. Three of them are easy targets for small telescopes, and one is visible to the unaided eye. In fact, it’s the farthest object you can see without any optical aid: M31, which is two-and-a-half million light-years away. We’ll have more about M31 tomorrow.


Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2011


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