Love is in the Stars!
Love is in the air in February, in the stars, even if city lights mar your starry sky. No matter what shape your night sky is in, take that special someone for a stroll under the celestial sea.
I want to share with you the best love story I know of in the night sky. It's the sappy saga of King Cepheus and Queen Cassiopeia and their never-ending celestial romance. Cassiopeia is one of the brightest constellations in the night sky, and it's easy to spot this time of year. Just look for the diagonally hanging "W" or "M" arrangement of stars in the Butler northwestern sky. Cassiopeia's stars are as bright as the stars in the Big Dipper.
Cepheus the King is a little more challenging to find, but unless you're blitzed with urban light pollution, you should be able to find it. Just look below Cassiopeia for five stars that outline a house with a steep roof leaning slightly to the right. The star at the apex of the roof is pretty close to Polaris, the North Star.
This story certainly doesn't start as a love story, but hang in there. Love is on the way!
According to Greek legend, Cassiopeia and her husband, King Cepheus, were the royalty that ruled ancient Ethiopia. King Cepheus was a nice, easygoing guy who liked a good time. He loved fishing, hunting with his buddies, and hanging out at bars. He just enjoyed life. He could care less about being king!
Queen Cassiopeia was anything but easygoing. She was a totally self-absorbed, type "A" tyrant who single-handedly ran the kingdom with an iron fist! She was also a gorgeous woman with a very high opinion of herself.
Whenever I gaze on Cassiopeia in the heavens, I think of the old Carly Simon song, "You're So Vain." Cassiopeia was like the evil queen in Snow White who did the "mirror, mirror on the wall" thing. She unashamedly paraded along the streets, boasting about her beauty to peasants and the elite alike. She would belt out, "I am the most beautiful woman in the world!" repeatedly. Everyone, of course, had to bow in adoration or wind up in the dungeon for life! Cassiopeia's ego grew exponentially.
There was no reasoning with her. Maybe that's why her husband hung out with his buddies and didn't spend much time in the royal court. Despite her despicable personality, King Cepheus still loved his wife very much, believe it or not.
One day when Cassiopeia was walking along the seashore and her opinion of herself was going off the scale, she got herself and the kingdom in real trouble.
She impulsively blurted out at Poseidon, the god of the sea, that she was more beautiful than Poseidon's wife and all 10 of his daughters combined. Poseidon, like a lot of the gods in Greek mythology, was very thin-skinned and went nuts when he heard this. He drudged up a giant sea monster and sent it on a mission to destroy the entire kingdom of Ethiopia.
Cassiopeia dodged this bullet by unbelievably offering to sacrifice her daughter, Princess Andromeda, to the sea monster to appease him and spare the kingdom. As it turned out, the Greek hero, Perseus, rescued Andromeda and killed the giant sea monster, but that's a story for another day.
Despite this close call, Cassiopeia didn't learn her lesson. She doubled down on her vanity, and one day she really went over the top.
Early one morning, she shook her fist in the direction of Mount Olympus, home of the hierarchy of the Greek gods and goddesses, and screamed at the top of her royal lungs that she was even more beautiful than Hera, the queen of the gods.
Hera possessed a colossal ego that made Cassiopeia's look like kid's stuff! Hera was enraged and shot down from Mount Olympus. Hera got right into Cassiopeia's face with her piercing green eyes and confronted her.
Violently waving her finger, Hera asked Cassiopeia if she really thought she had better looks than Hera's godly self. Cassiopeia was not intimidated. She repeated her claim even louder into Hera's face.
This verbal skirmish quickly turned to physical violence. Hera grabbed some rope and tied up Cassiopeia on her throne. She then launched Cassiopeia, throne and all, so high into the sky that she got stuck in the stars, hanging nearly upside down but held in by the ropes.
Hera then belted back to a shocked and stunned Cassiopeia, "So you think you're so beautiful? Now you can show the entire world how beautiful you are for all you see." We can still see Cassiopeia tied up on her starry throne every night.
Finally, here's the love angle of this long tale. Cepheus came home after a day of chariot racing with his buddies. When he arrived home at the castle, his aides informed him of his wife's fate. Cepheus went crazy with grief. He was heartsick at the prospect of going through the rest of his life without his beloved queen, bloated ego and all.
Cepheus called out to Mount Olympus, home of Zeus, the king of the gods. He begged Zeus to throw him up into the stars, right next to his wife, to share her celestial exile. As much as Zeus wanted to help Cepheus, he feared ticking off his wife, Hera. Do you blame him?
Cepheus, though, wouldn't let up on the king of the gods. The tears gushed out of his eyes. Zeus couldn't take it anymore and flung Cepheus up into the stars. With pinpoint precision, he wound up right next to his wife. Despite their predicament, the love between them exploded. To this night, Cassiopeia and Cepheus still cling to each other in the stars, more in love than ever. Make sure you cling to the one you love!
Celestial Happening this week: Speaking of heavenly love, the bright planet Venus, named after the Roman goddess of love and the bright planet Jupiter are drawing closer and closer to each other in the post twilight low western sky. You can’t miss them. They’re the brightest star-like objects in that part of the sky right now. They’ll reach their closest rendezvous on March 1 when they’ll only be a half degree apart! That’s quite a celestial smooch!
Mike Lynch is an amateur astronomer and retired broadcast meteorologist for WCCO Radio in Minneapolis/St. Paul. He is the author of "Stars: a Month by Month Tour of the Constellations," published by Adventure Publications and available at bookstores and adventurepublications.net. Contact him at email@example.com.