Cassiopeia, Queen of Ethiopia
was a woman of supreme beauty, but she was as proud as she was lovely. At first, she boasted that she was the fairest in all of Ethiopia; and then, she claimed to be the most beautiful in all the world. At last, she proclaimed that she was more beautiful even than any goddess above. One day the Nereids, the water nymphs renowned for their grace and beauty, heard her say that she was fairer than any water nymph that ever lived. The Nereids complained to their father, Neptune, who rose in anger, plunged his trident into the sea and created the most evil and ferocious monster, Cetus. This creature he sent off to Cassiopeia's land of Ethiopia with the command to lay waste the country and to terrorize the inhabitants. This Cetus did, and the people begged King Cepheus to save them from further harm. At a loss, Cepheus consulted the oracle, and he was advised that his only recourse was to sacrifice his daughter Andromeda to the appetite of the monster. Well, you know what happened to the princess, and how she was saved by the hero Perseus. All these mythical characters were transformed into constellations and placed in the northern sky. Queen Cassiopeia, bound into her celestial chair, was placed where she swings upside down as she revolves around the Pole Star. Thus, for half of every night the once proud Queen must hang head down in an uncomfortable and humiliating position.
Of course, that is myth; the real story is this:
On a bright autumn day four brothers went out in their canoe to hunt for elk. Their younger brother stayed home along the Quillayute River in what is now the Olympic Peninsula of the State of Washington. A good distance upriver, the eldest of the brothers declared that this was a good location and the group pulled their canoe ashore, packed up what they would need for lunch and for hunting, and set off on foot in search of game.
Soon they met a large man walking toward them. He greeted them and asked of their plans. “We are hunting for elk, Man of the Prairie,” the boys told him. “I can help you with all the elk you want,” the man replied. “Stay here and hide, and I will drive the animals down this ravine for you to shoot.” The Man of the Prairie began to walk away, then called to the boys that he would be willing to trade some special arrows he had for the poor ones of theirs. The brothers agreed and exchanged for the good-looking arrows. The man went off, telling the boys to be ready.
After a time, a huge elk charged down the ravine toward the four brothers. The arrows proved to be of no use, and the elk killed all of the four. Then the elk magically turned back into his form of the Man of the Prairie.
The fifth brother, dismayed when the others did not return, set out in search of them, coming finally to the empty canoe. Following his brothers’ footsteps across the prairie, he too met the Man of the Prairie.
The trickster tried his evil chicanery on the fifth brother, but the youth was a medicine man with magic of his own. So he could see that this was a trick and declared, “I will not trade with you.” When the man turned to leave, the youngest brother hid behind a tree. And when the Man of the Prairie turned himself into an elk and came charging back, the brother was ready with his bow. He shot one arrow into the elk for each of his four brothers, and killed the pretender. When he had skinned the elk he found that the skin stretched larger than the prairie. He threw the elk skin up into the sky. There in the northern sky the elk skin remains. Stars mark the holes where the youngest brother had driven in stakes while stretching the skin to dry.
One of the most distinctive and well-known constellations, Cassiopeia lies along the Milky Way and is rich in telescopic objects, including two from the Messier list, both open clusters. These are M52 and M103. To find M52 in the sky, look first to find the leftmost pair of stars that form the first stroke of the ‘M’, when, as in December's evening sky, Cassiopeia does resemble that letter. These two stars, Schedar above and Caph below and to the left, point nearly directly to the cluster, which is about the distance from Caph as Caph is from Schedar. Nearby, half a degree to the southwest, is the Bubble Nebula, NGC 7635. This object shows a complete spherical shell of gas in large-instrument photographs.
Cassiopeia's position within the Milky Way endows it with a good number of interesting objects. In fact, of the 109 deep-sky targets that astronomer Patrick Moore offers to extend the Messier list (Sky & Telescope, December 1995) six are in this familiar constellation. These six include the Bubble Nebula, open clusters NGC 457, 559, and 663, and galaxies NGC 147 and 185. All these are listed as brighter than magnitude 10, and so should be suited for observation with moderate optics. And if you have a radio telescope, you can look for the brightest object in the whole sky, the supernova remnant Cassiopeia-A.

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