Did You Know?
Perseus was one of the 48 constellations which were charted by the Greek astronomer, Ptolemy in the 2nd century.
Perseus is one of the 88 modern constellations recognized by the International Astronomical Union (IAU)―the organization which is authorized to assign designations to celestial objects. Abbreviated as Per., Perseus is located in the Milky Way galaxy in the northern sky. It is named after the Greek hero, Perseus―the son of Zeus and slayer of gorgon Medusa.
Perseus (Constellation) Facts
✦ The constellation of Perseus occupies an area of 615 square degrees, which makes it the 24th largest constellation in terms of size. Its location is not very difficult to determine, as it lies in the main path of the Milky Way. It can be located to the north of Taurus and west of Cassiopeia. Besides Taurus and Cassiopea, it is bordered by Andromeda and Triangulum in the west, Aries in the south, Auriga in the east, and Camelopardalis in the north.
✦ Some of the most famous deep-sky objects located in this constellation include the Little Dumbbell Nebula (M76), California Nebula (NGC 1499), Alpha Persei Cluster (Collinder 39), and two open clusters, NGC 869 and NGC 884, which can be easily seen with the help of binoculars or a small telescope. Additionally, it also has the SN 2006gy supernova―one of the brightest objects to be ever recorded―to its credit.
✦ Of the various stars in Perseus constellation, the most famous star is Algol (Beta Persei). In Arabic, Algol means the Ghoul or Demon Star. While it is not the brightest star in this constellation, it is highly luminous with its apparent visual magnitude fluctuating between 2.12 and 3.39 m. It is believed to be the eye of gorgon Medusa. For medieval astrologers, it was the most unfortunate star in the sky.
✦ An important star in Perseus constellation is Mirfak (Alpha Persei), which means elbow in Arabic. It is 5,000 times brighter and 62 times bigger than the Sun. With a magnitude of 1.8 m, Mirfak―lying at a distance of ca. 590 light-years―is one of the brightest stars in the universe.
✦ Perseus constellation is widely known for the Perseid meteor shower; the annual celestial event takes place in this constellation somewhere between mid-July and August. One of the most famous meteor showers we get to witness, the Perseid makes it easier to locate this constellation during the second week of August, which is when it is at its visual best.
Perseus in Greek Mythology
Perseus was one of the most courageous warriors in the Greek mythology. His claim to fame was slaying gorgon Medusa, one of the three gorgon sisters who could turn anyone into stone by her gaze. Perseus achieved this seemingly impossible feat with a little help from Zeus (who gave him an adamantine sword), Hades (who gave him the Helm of Darkness/Cap of Invisibility), Hermes (who gave him winged sandals), and Athena (who gave him a powerful shield).
While the Helm of Darkness and the winged sandals helped Perseus reach close to Medusa without getting noticed, the shield acted as a mirror in which he saw Medusa―thus, avoiding her gaze―and delivered a lethal blow. This heroic act earned him a place in the stars and thus, came into existence the constellation of Perseus.
Perseus and Andromeda
The Greek mythology also speaks about the love story of Perseus and Andromeda, the Ethiopian princess and daughter of Cassiopeia. He married Andromeda after rescuing her from the clutches of Cetus, the sea monster sent by Poseidon. It is perhaps the testimony to their love for each other that the constellations named after them are located close to each other.