History of the Constellations

Stars and Constellations

Perseus

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Contents of this page: | Description | Skylore | Modern Culture | Origin and History | Asterisms | Special Stars | Star Clusters | Nebulae | Submit new info... |

Images (at bottom of page): | Perseus Chart: (Figure 1) | Hyginus, 1482, page 1v: (Figure 2) | Hyginus, 1482, page 2r: (Figure 3) | Ptolemy, 1541-const, page Perseus: (Figure 4) | Bayer, 1661, page L: (Figure 5) | Bayer, 1697, page E3r: (Figure 6) | Bayer, 1697, page E3v: (Figure 7) | Bayer, 1697, page E4r: (Figure 8) | Bode, 1801, page l: (Figure 9) | Aspin, 1825, page Perseus: (Figure 10) | Images digitized by Hannah Magruder.

Constellation Data

Description

Resembles a backward lambda. Located in the Milky Way, between Andromeda/Cassiopeia and Auriga/Taurus. Perseus contains no first-magnitude star, but a pair of beautiful binocular star clusters, known as the Double Cluster. Look for the Perseid meteor shower on August 12.

Skylore and Literature

Usually depicted carrying the detached head of the demon-woman Medusa, or Gorgon, who grew snakes for hair. Perseus married Andromeda after saving her from Cetus with the aid of Pegasus (see Andromeda).

Modern Culture

Origin and History

Perseus is included in the ancient star catalogs of Eudoxos of Knidos, Aratos of Soli, and Ptolemy.

Asterisms

Caput Medusae, the Head of the Medusa or Gorgon’s Head.

Special Stars

Mirphak (alpha-Persei). Magnitude: 1.8. Distance: 620 LY.

Algol (beta-Persei), the demon star, the Medusa’s eye. Distance: 95 LY. Magnitude: 2.1 usually, fading every 2.9 days; in four hours it falls to magnitude 3.4; after 20 minutes it brightens. This exact regularity was discovered by G. Montanari in 1669. In 1782 the astronomer John Goodricke correctly suggested that Algol is a binary, with a faint companion that passes in front of Algol periodically making it wink. Following the changes of Algol makes for an interesting night with binoculars or even the unaided eye; check Sky and Telescope for the times of its dimming.

Star Clusters

M34 (Galactic cluster), mag. 5.8.

Nebulae

M76, Little Bumbbell or Cork Nebula (Planetary nebula), mag. 11.4.

Submit new info...

Many excellent websites provide a variety of information about constellations for amateur astronomers and telescope users (see sidebar links for a few of these). These constellation pages are not intended to duplicate those efforts, but are devoted to two aims: First, they are intended to assist the beginning skywatcher, including students in history of science survey courses, in becoming familiar with Basic Celestial Phenomena (BCP). Second, these pages are devoted to the history of the constellations and the history of astronomy. They are intended to serve as a repository for collaborative use and reference. Do you have additional historical information about the stars or constellation described on this page? Please submit additional information to kmagruder@ou.edu. Submissions will be attributed. Editors for historical information are Kerry Magruder, JoAnn Palmeri, Peter Barker, and Laura Gibbs.

Oklahoma History of Science exhibits: http://hos.ou.edu/exhibits/. Page revised 4/15/04

Bad links, misplaced images, or questions? Contact Kerry Magruder. Thank you.

"If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore, and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God which had been shown. But every night come out these envoys of beauty, and light the universe with their admonishing smile." R. W. Emerson, Nature

Images

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Per Chart
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Hyginus, 1482

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Hyginus, 1482

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Ptolemy, 1541-const

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Bayer, 1661

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Bayer, 1697

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Bayer, 1697

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Bayer, 1697

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Bode, 1801

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Aspin, 1825

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Exhibit credit: Kerry Magruder.

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These teaching resources provided by the History of Science Department at the University of Oklahoma.

Unless otherwise indicated, all images courtesy History of Science Collections, University of Oklahoma Libraries. Image Terms of Use.

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