Cepheus – the king

October 22, 2017

Astronomy

The constellation Cepheus represents the King of Aethiopia in the Cassiopeia-Andromeda-Perseus story. The myth mostly revolves around the ongoing struggle of religious discord that always comes with liberal upstarts challenging conservative church dogma.

It happens that the old gods feel they aren’t getting the respect they are used to and send monsters to put the little people in their place. Long story short, it doesn’t go well for the monsters. That’s mostly thanks to Perseus and even more so to political factionalism among the gods themselves. Perhaps the whole point of the tale is a diminishing role for the gods to play in the affairs of humanity. In most accounts Cepheus also has a diminished role in spite of being the king. One might say the queen, Cassiopeia, wears the pants in the family except this was before pants were invented and guys wore mini-skirts even in battle.

Cepheus was also part of the crew of the good ship Argo which is another constellation. He has a diminished role of that story as well.

Mu Cephei is a red star known as Herschel’s Garnet Star. More often it’s just called the Garnet Star. It’s red, I mean it is really red. You can’t miss it. Because it’s red.

Cepheus has the hyperluminous quasar S5 0014+81 which hosts an ultra-super-mega-massive black hole in its core. Best guess is that it weighs in at 40 billion solar masses. That’s a lot of billions of solar masses, even for a hole. Having that much space warpage leads to whole stars being torn to pieces and sold for parts. The area where the energy is being released is brighter than entire galaxies. Fortunately it happened “a long time ago” which is an astronomer’s way of saying “way far away.”

RW Cephei is an orange hypergiant. Astronomer’s figure it is 1,535 times bigger than our sun. That means if you replaced our sun with RW Cephei the surface would extend out beyond Jupiter. That would suck, especially for the fine people of Earth. The not-so-fine people of Earth would just get what’s coming to them I suppose.

Delta Cephei is the prototype of an important class of star known as a Cepheid variable. These are very important stars. We know that thanks to Henrietta Leavitt. In the late 1800’s she figured out that we can determine how bright they really are, not just how bright they look from planet earth. These stars vary in brightness and Henrietta discovered that the rate at which they vary is directly related to their intrinsic brightness.

Comparing a star’s real-life brightness to how it looks from earth lets you calculate how far away it is because distance and brightness are well-behaved quantities. Henrietta’s discovery led to the realization that the Milky Way is just one of many galaxies. People like Edwin Hubble were able to leapfrog us to a grand vista of the cosmos thanks to Henrietta Leavitt. We definitely should name something big and important after her.

IC 1396 is a star-forming region in Cepheus and it is called the Elephant’s Trunk Nebula even though it doesn’t even remotely look like an elephant’s trunk. Naming stuff is hard.

In the TV sitcom 3rd Rock from the Sun, the aliens’ home planet is stated to be located in a barred spiral galaxy on the Cepheus-Draco border.

Carpe Noctem

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