Coma Berenices – Berenice’s Hair

September 17, 2017

Astronomy

Coma Berenices is a constellation whose name is from an actual historical figure, Queen Berenice II of Egypt, 266 – 221 BC.

Not only was she a real queen, she was the original drama queen. In many ways this was the time of real-life games of thrones. For example, her first husband had an affair with her mother. So one day she had her goons march into mom’s bedroom at an inconvenient moment, and stab him right in the duvet. Meanwhile Bernie yelled through the door to be careful not to accidentally stab mama.

Bernie’s second husband was a nicer guy. One day while he was away on a military adventure in Syria, the queen cut off her hair and placed it on an altar of Aphrodite. Her purpose was to secure a little goddess help with getting her hubby back safely from the war. The locks laid there on the altar for some time and then one night, they were gone. Vanished into thin air.

The queen was furious and demanded her advisers explain the lapse in temple security. Her court astronomer was a quick thinker, as court astronomers often are of course. His name was Conon of Samos and he said “It was carried by the goddess and placed among the stars.” Then he pointed roughly to the sparkly area above Virgo. We got a new constellation and Conon of Samos got a pay raise and a corner office.

Having a group of stars named after a hunk of hair could be worse. Before the 18th century Coma Berenices was known in England by several names, including “Berenice’s Bush.” I’ll let you conjure your own plot line for that one, perhaps with a video that cost $2.99 for the first minute and $1.99 for each additional minute.

Coma Berenices has everything. It has it all. If you want a comprehensive survey of the many topics of astronomy, this is the place to find them. It has quasars, gamma ray bursters, exoplanets, a meteor shower, the Virgo Cluster of galaxies, and the Coma Supercluster which is a cluster of clusters of galaxies.

The Galactic North Pole is located in Coma Berenice. Astronomers who study the Milky Way have constructed a coordinate system to help find ones way about the galaxy. The plane of the disk, which is basically the part that glows in the dark, is like the equator, and straight up out of the disk is north. The south pole extends down through the constellation Sculptor.

There is NGC 4565 which has been nicknamed the Needle Galaxy because it is sideways to us so it looks long and skinny. There are the Mice Galaxies which have long tails and look like they are fighting over the last piece of cheese. Then there is NGC 4414 which has been called a flocculent spiral galaxy. Flocculent means “with clumpy, wooley, tufts of hair” in other words mangy.

Be sure to check out the Black Eye Galaxy, also known as M64. It’s a galaxy that looks like someone gave it a shiner. Maybe it was trying to sneak a peak at Bernie’s Bush.

Carpe Noctem

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