Stargazing 101: Cassiopeia the Queen

My mother loved to tell me the story of Cassiopeia the Queen. She shared with me the following version, the story her mother told her.

The Mythology

Cassiopeia was a famous queen who was very proud of her beauty. She constantly boasted that she and her daughter, Andromeda, were more beautiful than all the sea-nymphs. The nymphs didn’t like hearing this so they complained to Poseidon, god of the sea, who told Cassiopeia if she kept up with her ways that he would punish her and her land.

He threatened to create a monster to destroy them both. Her king took Poseidon at his word and sought out an oracle to tell him what to do. The oracle advised him to extend Andromeda as an offering to the monster. Only this act would appease the sea god, the oracle warned. The king took his daughter to the cliffs and chained her up. The gods favored Andromeda that day because traveling along the coast at that moment was Perseus. He spotted the princess and immediately fell in love. He told the king that he would slay the beast in return for Andromeda’s hand in marriage. The king agreed and Perseus kept his word. He defeated the monster and married the princess. Poseidon was not happy that Cassiopeia didn’t learn her lesson so he took her, and placed her in the stars as punishment for her pretentiousness. The constellation in the sky looks like an upside-down chair and it is said that she hangs from her throne for dear life.


The Facts

You might recognize this name from a 2001 movie starring John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale, Serendipity. It’s definitely a chick flick, one of my favorites actually, so you may or may not have actually seen it. For whatever reason, the small scene between the two discussing her Cassiopeia shaped freckles became very popular. You can see the queen at night against a backdrop of the Milky Way. The middle star of the “w” shape of the stars is known as Gamma Cassiopeia and it is about 15 times the size of the Sun. This star, along with another of the constellation, Rho Cassiopeia, is destined to become a supernova eventually. Cassiopeia has produced two of these in the past. She is also home to one of the largest collection of young stars in the galaxy, right behind Orion’s in size.


What little girl doesn’t love a good old fashion love story with a happy ending for the princess? Growing up, I would always make my mom tell me the one about Cassiopeia. We’d go out in our front yard where she had made a pallet of blankets and she’d point out the constellation to me while telling me the story. This was a thing we did often with my mother. This is how we heard all the different stories. What’s your favorite constellation? Tell me below!


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