The Mama Cass phenomenon

I could be the only one who’s noticed this phenomenon, but after a quarter of a century of casual-to-serious skygrazing I doubt it.


Every time I look to the heavens, the first constellation I see is Cassiopeia. It doesn’t matter whether I’m facing north or south, or whether I’m scanning the horizon or the celestial zenith. It makes no difference whether I’m in Barrie, Ontario — which at 44 1/2 degrees north latitude is as close to the North Pole as I’ve ever been — or Miami, which at 25 3/4 degrees north latitude is as far south as I’ve stood. (With respect to the latter, the most prominent lights are — thanks to overpopulation and strip-mall-osis — of the automatic-weapons variety anyway.) All that seems to be required is that it’s dark enough to pick out the five stars forming the “W”-shaped constellation that allegedly represents a throne.
Cassiopeia.jpg
Interesting fact: Were one to travel to the Alpha Centauri system, which is 4.4 light-years away, Cassiopeia would look more or less the same, except that our own sun would be a 0.5-magnitude star to the left of the “W” (beside and below Epsilon Cassiopeiae in the picture above), making it more of a…celestial sawtooth? A “/W”? Who knows; if Earthlings are — or were, in pre-soup-ladle times — deranged enough to see a bear in Ursa Major, putative beings on putative planets orbiting any of the three stars we call Alpha Centauri might still call this Cassiopeia-on-steroids a throne, or “Charlie Brown’s shirt,” or Hakeem Olajuwon.
Anyway, at this point I’m surely a victim of my own selection bias: When I look up and see something other than Cassiopeia first, I likely don’t remember looking, but the positives stick in my mind. I’m curious as to whether anyone else has noticed this, be it with the Big C or another constellation.

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  1. #1 by Monte Davis on November 1, 2006 - 4:53 pm

    Orion wins if it’s up; Cass all the rest of the time.

  2. #2 by Jim on November 1, 2006 - 4:54 pm

    When I’m camping I reflexively look for the big dipper in order to spot Polaris. I always like to know where north is (I like to know my orientation). As far as just coming upon the same things all of the time, nope. Depending on the season it will be Cygnus, Cassiopeia, Orion, or the Bears.

  3. #3 by a little night musing on November 1, 2006 - 6:03 pm

    >Orion wins if it’s up
    @Monte Davis
    I was about to say this. I always see Orion, which might just have more to do with the seasons in which I look at the sky than it does with anything else. When I don’t see Orion, I look for him.
    I spent a wonderful few weeks in the high desert out west trying to sort out ALL THE STARS though. . .

  4. #4 by knobody on November 1, 2006 - 8:33 pm

    another vote for orion. maybe it has something to do with it being the first constellation i learned to recognize.

  5. #5 by tng on November 1, 2006 - 9:03 pm

    Wow! I’m Orion-centric too. I always thought there was something wrong with me. :D

  6. #6 by Baratos on November 1, 2006 - 10:57 pm

    Orion is usually the first one I see too! Sometimes during the summer, when Im stargazing, I get kinda sad that I cant see Orion where I live that part of the year.

  7. #7 by csrster on November 2, 2006 - 5:36 am

    It’s not a W and it’s not a Cassiopeia – it’s a giant spider and the Milky Way is its web. Well, that’s one of the native-american myths my wife teaches in her astronomy evening classes and it always goes down well.

  8. #8 by Tanya on November 2, 2006 - 5:18 pm

    I also see Orion. Every morning when I get in my car I look up and there he is. When I was a child, I would always see the Big or Little Dippers, because they were the only ones I knew.

  9. #9 by Bill from Dover on November 3, 2006 - 7:41 pm

    I try to locate Pleiades. When I can make out only two of the sisters I know It’s time for another trip to the eye doc.

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