For this year’s A-Z Challenge, I am looking at “heavenly bodies.” Today, we’re looking up at a babe in the sky: the constellation Andromeda. These stars are best spotted in the evening during the fall in the northeast sky (assuming you are in the northern hemisphere or not too far below the equator. The constellation is nestled in just below the constellation Cassiopeia (the W in the sky) and to the west of the winged horse, Pegasus (the giant square). The constellation may pale in comparison to Cassiopeia, Cepheus and Pegasus. Yet, many of the stars within the constellation are bright and come off the corner of the great square and run out in a line above Cassiopeia. Another noble feature is that our neighboring galaxy (only 2.4 million light years away), also named Andromeda (often in sky charts as m31), can be found adjacent to constellation. The galaxy which, in a dark sky, appears like a hazy star with the naked eye, can best be viewed with the aid of binoculars or a telescope.
|Andromeda (m31) galaxy|
It takes some imagination to make Andromeda out of the line of stars which make up the constellation. In ancient drawings, the constellation features an attractive women with flowing hair dressed in a gown, with cuffs and dangling chains on her wrist and/or a chain around her waist. She's the original damsel in distress and many artists have depicted her story.
According to legend, Andromeda was the daughter of King Cepheus and Queen Cassiopeia of Ethiopia. She was beautiful, but vain. And her mother was even vainer as she bragged how her daughter was even more beautiful than the Nereids. This upset Poseidon, who sent the sea monster Cetus to wreak havoc on the people of Ethiopia. Learning that the only way to satisfy the monster’s appetite was the sacrifice Andromeda, the princess was chained by the sea. With the sea monster licking its chops, Perseus, who has just killed Medusa, happens by (some say riding on the winged horses Pegasus). Seeing the beautiful woman chained was too much. He saves her, marries her, and they lived happily ever after in the winter sky… Perseus is next to Andromeda, on the opposite side of her mother, Cassiopeia.
The Andromeda story is ancient. There are some rocks outside of the ancient city of Joppa (now Tel Aviv, Israel) in which ancient writers indicated at the site of Andromeda’s bondage. I don’t understand why the site is so far from Ethiopia, but in this world of monsters and flying horses, all is possible.