Perseus, the hero, is located in the northern hemisphere in the same area of sky as my favourite constellations of Andromeda and Orion. Perseus is typically a winter constellation and can be seen from anywhere on earth between the latitudes of 90 degrees N and 31 degrees South. this constellation is host to many breathtaking objects in our night sky, from a meteor shower to star clusters. this constellation is one of my favourites as it is has so many objects that can be clearly visible through binoculars or my telescope, and i never get tired of looking at it.
Perseus’ alpha star is called Mirphak and it shines at a magnitude of 1.8. Mirphak is a bright yellow-white star, which has a diameter of 62 times larger than that of the sun. However, Perseus also is home to an interesting star called Algol. Algol is fascinating because it’s brightness can change over the course of one evening. This is due to Algol being an eclipsing binary star which is a type of variable star. Algol is therefore in fact made up of two stars orbiting each other over the course of around three days. this means that each star regularly eclipses each other, meaning that the amount of light that reaches us on earth varies hugely causing the magnitude of Algol to dim from 2.1 to 3.4 for 10 hours every 2 days, 20 hours and 4 minutes.
Perseus also contains many star open star clusters such as M34, NGC 1528 and the famous double star cluster made up of two open star clusters called NGC 869 and NGC 884. The double cluster is bright enough, under dark skies, to be seen via the naked eye as a misty patch in the sky, however I feel the best way to appreciate the beauty of these two clusters is to view them through a small telescope as you can get a really clear view of the two clusters the double star cluster, also known as the sword handle, have an average magnitude of 4.3. M34 is another open star cluster in Perseus that has a magnitude of 5.6 and is located around 1,400 light years away. NGC 1528 is an open star cluster of around 50 stars that has a magnitude of 6.4, which makes it a good target for a small telescope.
Perseus is also the radiant of one of the best meteor showers of the year. the Perseid’s, named after the constellation they appear to radiate from, appear in the middle of August every year. they have an hourly rate of around 80, although this can be a lot higher some years. The Perseid’s is well-known for producing ‘fireball meteor’ which are brighter version of normal meteors. The Perseid’s originate from the comet Swift-Tuttle which last passed through the inner solar system in 1992. The meteors we see every year are the debris left behind from that comet. More information on the Perseid’s meteor shower can be found in another post on my blog, here.
Perseus is definitely a constellation to try to see as it has a wealth of wonders to observe both with the naked eye and with equipment such as binoculars and small telescopes and as winter approaches and Perseus starts to appear again, I recommend you go out and see it.
- information on Perseus sourced from ‘stargazing for beginners’ ISBN: 978-1-4053-6195-8
- information on the Perseid’s meteor shower sourced from: https://vamoswearegolden.wordpress.com/2013/08/06/the-perseids-2013/
- Cygnus the swan (vamoswearegolden.wordpress.com)
- Brian Cox’s Guide To Stargazing (highlife.ba.com)
- Cassiopeia and Perseus in northeast on autumn evenings (sott.net)
- Andromeda, The Chained Princess (englit0399.wordpress.com)