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Cepheus now shining in northern sky

Cepheus now shining in northern sky

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One of the stellar constellations that never goes below our southern horizon is now easy to locate in the northern southwest Iowa skies just to the lower left of Polaris, our north star.

The constellation in mythology represents a king and the stars making up the constellation look like the kind of stick house that children sometimes draw.

Bob Allen

Bob Allen

On these mid-October evenings, see if you can find the constellation that is faint, but its distinctive shape makes it easy to locate.

Cepheus is the 27th largest constellation in the night sky and is one of the circumpolar groupings that remain visible to stargazers in SWI year round.

The “king” among the 88 recognized constellations in the sky is neither the brightest nor the most well known, but its visibility doesn’t need a telescope to appreciate some of the stars in his crown.

This particular constellation is rich in mythological history and Cepheus, as king of Ethiopia was the husband of Queen Cassiopeia, also recognized by the stars in the famous “W” or “M’ pattern also circling the north star just to the left of her husband.

It has also been said that Cepheus was one of the famous band of “Argonauts” who accompanied Jason on his dangerous expedition in quest of the Golden Fleece. It was because of the role Cepheus played he was honored among the stars.

During their life together, Cepheus and his wife suffered greatly during their marriage when their only child, a beautiful daughter named Andromeda, was destined to be chained to a rock and offered as a sacrifice to the terrible sea monster, Cetus, because her mother didn’t know how to keep her mouth shut.

There are five principal stars forming the star pattern, four of which make a rough square and the fifth placed where it makes a nearly isosceles triangle. This fifth star points not quite true north.

One of the amazing stars in Cepheus, is listed as Mu Cephei, nicknamed the Garnet Star by the famed English astronomer William Herschel described the star as a “garnet” because of its vivid red color. Visible to unaided eyes (unless there is too much moonlight or light pollution), Mu varies between magnitudes +3.4 and +5.4 that is visible to the human naked eye. It does, however, require binoculars to see the star’s reddish coloration.

The star is truly massive having a radius about 1,000 times that of our parent Sun. If Mu Cephei were to replace our Sun in our solar system, it would engulf Jupiter and all the inner planets combined.

The Milky Way band passes right through Cepheus and on a moonless night it is possible to view this rich, star-studded area with binoculars and find numerous star clusters and other “Jewels: on King Cepheus” crown.

As an added sidelight to this column, readers may by interested, or surprised, to learn that the U.S. Navy at one time had two of its ships named after Cepheus.

On another subject, tomorrow night marks the peak of the Orionid Meteor Shower. The moon will be just passed its new phase and should not hinder viewing at all.

Looking toward the southeastern sky, observers may see as many as 20 to 30 meteors per hour appear overhead.

This meteor shower, just one of 14 annual displays, is the result of Earth passing through the debris left in the path of Comet 1P/Halley.

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