If you are just getting into stargazing, the Andromeda Constellation is one of the more famous ones you should get to know. It has a rich history and is one of our favorites to find in the night sky when RVing.
What is the Andromeda Constellation?
Not to be confused with one of the easiest galaxies to see in the night sky named the Andromeda Galaxy, the princess constellation Andromeda is one of the 88 constellations recognized by the International Astronomical Union (IAU). This constellation was also one of ancient Greek astronomer Ptolemy’s 48 constellations and has been around for thousands of years.
Princess Andromeda from Greek mythology was obviously a popular figure!
If you have ever been stargazing, you might actually have seen this constellation without even knowing. Typically, the constellation Andromeda is best visible in the Northern Hemisphere in the fall and winter, and it is one of the biggest constellations in the sky.
Let’s dive into how you can find it, what’s the historical significance of it, and what important celestial objects are in it. If you want to learn more than what is in this small article, check out the helpful links at the end.
How to Find the Andromeda Constellation in the Night Sky
There are a couple of easy ways to find the Andromeda constellation while stargazing. We feel the simplest way is to look for the W-shaped constellation Cassiopeia and go a bit to the west. There you’ll find one of the brightest central stars of Andromeda called Mirach.
Another way is to look for the constellation Pegasus, which can be used as another aid to find the Andromeda constellation. This flying horse has a body in the shape of a square (well, at least it’s almost a square). This square is an asterism formed by four bright stars, and you can use the brightest one called Alpheratz as a guide. Just follow it north until you get to Mirach again in the center of the constellation.
What’s interesting to know is that Alpheratz is actually a star that has been cataloged in both the Pegasus constellation and also the Andromeda constellation even though it’s now primarily known as Alpha Andromeda.
Mythology Surrounding the Andromeda Constellation
Her most famous moment was when she was offered as a sacrifice to the sea monster Cetus because her mother Cassiopeia was bragging about how she was more beautiful than the Nereids (sea nymphs). So, King Cepheus offered Andromeda as a sacrifice and had her chained to some rocks by the sea in order to save his kingdom. This happened because Poseidon was called by the sea nymphs since they felt that a mortal shouldn’t act like that and needed to be taught a lesson, so they were going to have an entire kingdom destroyed.
Fortunately Andromeda was saved by the hero Perseus and his flying horse Pegasus while she was waiting for her death. That sounds like some pretty harsh punishment for being the daughter of a bragger!
If you’ve ever seen the movie Clash of the Titans, there is a scene loosely based on this mythology to get an idea of what this crazy drama was all about. Alison and I recommend the old version of the movie with all the fun stop motion action even if it’s not completely accurate. It’s just cheesy fun!
The constellation represents Andromeda and the story of her rescue by Perseus and was placed among the stars by Minerva (basically the Roman Athena), who is the goddess of wisdom, justice, and much more.
Astronomical Importance of the Constellation Andromeda
Once you have found the constellation Andromeda, you might want to know if there are any interesting stars and Messier objects.
Like we mentioned earlier, Alpheratz (translated as horse’s navel in Arabic…seriously) is one important star in the constellation Andromeda. Actually, it is a binary star system with a magnitude of 2.06, so it’s pretty easy to find even in the most light-polluted areas. You get two stars for the price of one with Alpheratz located as part of the head of Andromeda.
As for some of the other major, interesting stars in the constellation, you will also find Delta Andromedae on the upper body of the princess where this star is actually a triple star system. Three for the price of one! For the midsection of Andromeda, you will find the bright Mirach (Beta Andromedae), which is around the same magnitude as Alpheratz. Also keep a look out for the fainter Almach (Gamma Andromedae), which was thought to be a triple star system, but fairly recently it was actually noted as a quadruple star system. Our telescope isn’t quite powerful enough to see that, so I’ll take other astronomers’ word for it.
Many astronomers consider Almach to be very beautiful because of its vibrant yellow and blue stars contrasting together. We would have to agree.
The Andromeda Constellation is also home to the Andromeda Galaxy. In the Messier Catalog it is M31 and the nearest large galaxy to our own Milky Way, and is one of the easiest galaxies to see under moderately dark skies since it’s at an apparent magnitude of about 3.44.
Learn More About the Constellation Andromeda
The Andromeda Constellation is a fun one in the night sky to learn about. It’s relatively easy to find using the “W ” of Cassiopeia or “square” of Pegasus, and it includes the amazing Andromeda Galaxy. This constellation is full of fun mythology, so you’ll have plenty to talk about with other stargazers once you learn more about it.
If you are also interested in learning about defunct constellations not recognized by the IAU, we have an article on it too. And, if you are looking for the darkest skies near you to see the all constellations, try our stargazing campground map.
About the Authors
We are avid stargazers Jason and Alison Takacs also known as Roadtrippin’ with Takacs. With our two boys Preston and Grayson, we seek out some of the darkest skies in the country while also going on many incredible hiking and other outdoor adventures. As part-time RVers, we try to see as much of this amazing world as possible in our spare time and hope you will join us through this blog on RWT Adventures and other forms of social media as we explore the night sky and other natural wonders as hardcore astrotourists.