Pegasus – the winged horse

January 1, 2017

Astronomy

tattoo_win2One of the bigger autumn constellations is in the Perseus group, Pegasus. It’s just the front half of a horse, and the wings of course. These figures in the sky are not always the whole figure, sometimes it’s half. It’s good that they chose to use the front half of the horse because if they used the back half it might be confused with presidential politics.

There are various accounts on how Pegasus was born. One of the more common tales is that when Perseus chopped off the head of Medusa, two winged horses came flying from her neck, Pegasus, and Chrysaor. So you see, technically it’s not that a winged horse is a pegasus, It’s that there was a winged horse named Pegasus. He was white and his brother Chrysaor was black. They are considered rather beautiful but so was their mother before her hair turned to snakes and she killed all her boyfriends. Their father of record was Poseidon, the god of oceans and horses because screw logic.

Some say Pegasus’ brother Chrysaor was a warrior guy instead of a winged horse. Some actually say he was a giant winged pig. People say a lot of things. I wouldn’t put too much stock in any of it.
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Pegasus knew some neat tricks. Like he could stomp the ground and a spring of fresh water would form there. Anyone who drank the water would be good at writing poetry. Pretty handy stuff.

creepy_horseOne account of the story of Pegasus has him being rather wild at first until he was finally tamed by Bellerophone. One day Bellerophone tried to reach Mount Olympus, home of the gods, by riding on Pegasus’ back. To stop him, Zeus sent a horsefly to sting Pegasus. The horse bucked and threw Bellerophone off. Pegasus then continued on alone to Olympus because why not?

Zeus sent Pegasus back down to find Perseus and help speed him along his journey. Half of the gods were always trying to slow Perseus down and the other half were trying to help him out because let’s face it, human politics is really what having gods is all about. It’s no different now.

To find the constellation, just look for the great square of Pegasus, which astronomers call The Great Square of Pegasus. One of the stars of the square, named Alpheratz (belly button), or sometimes Sirrah (mare), is the fourth brightest star in Pegasus and also the first brightest star in Andromeda. It lives on the border and has dual citizenship. It has two names because together they mean “belly button of the mare.” It’s just as well they dropped the mare part because Pegasus is a stallion. Come to think of it, he might not even have had a belly button since he spewed forth from a severed neck.
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M15M15 is a globular cluster in Pegasus and it has all the glory one expects from a globular. To find it, think of the great square as a baseball diamond. If Alpheratz/Sirrah is home plate, then M15 is in center field, spitting and scratching himself and whatnot.

NGC 7331 is one of your better galaxies that didn’t make the Messier list. It’s a beauty. Sometimes it is referred to as the “Milky Way’s Twin” because we think our own galaxy is a lot like it and hopefully we are just as satisfying for beings 40 million light years away to look at.

Stephans QuintetStephan’s Quintet is the most famous of the galaxy pile-ups. It’s the sort of thing the Milky Way Galaxy has to look forward to in about 3 or 4 billion years from now. The Andromeda Galaxy is speeding towards us, we’re speeding towards Andromeda, and how’s this for oversight, galaxies don’t have brakes. Meanwhile the government is totally ignoring the issue.

al_03The Einstein Cross is in Pegasus and it’s a hell of a deal. It looks like four little blobs surrounding a bigger blob. But it’s actually four images of the same distant quasar whose light is being refracted and projected by the warping of space-time due to an intervening galaxy. Albert Einstein warned us this might happen, while he wasn’t busy fleeing from Nazi schweinhunde.

Carpe Noctem

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