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Leo loses his tail. We gain a constellation.

11Apr27_430

Tonight for April 13, 2015

Tonight’s chart shows the sky high to the south around mid-evening. To the upper left of the constellation Leo the Lion are dozens of very faint stars. They make up the constellation Coma Berenices, otherwise known as Berenice’s Hair.

The Greek-Egyptian astronomer Ptolemy and others considered it the tuft at the end of Leo the Lion’s tail. Coma Berenices remained part of Leo until a few hundred years ago, when it was first listed as a separate constellation.

Sky chart of the constellation Coma Berenices

The constellation Coma Berenices. Click here for a larger sky chart

The story goes that an ancient Egyptian queen, Berenice, feared for her husband’s life as he went into battle. She prayed to Aphrodite, promising to cut off her long, luxurious curls if the king returned safely. He did, and Berenice kept her promise and cut off her hair, placing it as a sacrifice on Aphrodite’s altar. But the next day the hair was gone!

The king was enraged that the temple priests had not protected the precious locks. A quick-thinking astronomer saved the day, or rather night, by pointing to the cascading stars at the end of Leo’s tail. He told the king that these were the queen’s tresses placed in the sky by Aphrodite for all to see. The king and queen were appeased, and no priests were beheaded.

Coma Cluster: Galaxies in Coma Berenices

Star-hop from Leo to the Coma star cluster

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