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PEGASUS

The Winged Horse

pegasus-jamieson-1822-cr (219K)
Pegasus - Celestial Atlas by Alexander Jamieson - 1822






The great winged horse, Pegasus, is one of the most ancient of astronomical symbols, with coins depicting a winged horse dating back to 430 BC. In Greek myth, the Pegasus story begins with Poseidon (Neptune), god of the sea, seducing a beautiful princess by the name of Medusa, in the temple of Athena. Outraged by this desecration of her temple, the goddess Athena turned Medusa into a monster, changing her beautiful head of golden hair into a mass of writhing snakes. When Medusa was slain by the hero Perseus, Pegasus, the result of her union with Poseidon, sprang from her body.

After helping Perseus rescue Andromeda, a tale told in the Andromeda story, Pegasus flew to Mount Helicon to live with the Muses. When his hoof struck the ground at Helicon, a spring gushed forth, which was named Hippocrene, the horse's fountain. It is said that it was from this spring the Muses received their inspiration, and the name of Pegasus comes from the Greek pegai, for spring.

He was next tamed by the Greek hero Bellerophon, with the help of a golden bridle given to him by Athena. Together they slew the monster Chimera, and then Bellerophon tried to fly the horse to Mount Olympus, to be with the gods. Angered by his arrogance, Zeus (Jupiter) sent a gadfly to bite Pegasus, who bucked, causing Bellerophon to fall back to Earth, which crippled him for the rest of his life. Pegasus, however, continued on to the home of the gods, where he became a carrier of thunderbolts for Zeus. In honour of his faithful service, his image was placed in the stars.

Like the constellation Hercules, Pegasus is upside down in the sky, and like Taurus, only shows the animal's upper body. The chart below shows the position of Pegasus in relation to the constellations around it.


andromeda (51K)





The constellation can be easily identified by that huge celestial landmark of the autumn sky that denotes the upside down upper body of the horse, known as the Great Square of Pegasus. The brightest star in the square is Markab, from the Arab word for saddle. Markab is 110 light years away, with a magnitude of 2.5.

Also with a magnitude of 2.5 is the star Scheat, Arabic for foreleg. It is a red giant, with a diameter 160 times greater than our Sun, 210 Light years away. At the opposite corner of the great square we find another giant, the star Algenib, Arabic for wing. Although it has a luminosity 1,900 times greater than our Sun, we see it as only magnitude 2.8, because it is 570 light years away.

Moving away from the great square, we have Enif, Arabic for nose, as it indeed depicts the horse's nose. This is a very bright star, 5,800 times brighter than our Sun. But way out a distance of 780 light years, we see it as magnitude 2.31. Then we have the two good luck stars. Homan, located on the neck of Pegasus, is taken from the Arabic phrase Sa'd al Humam, "Lucky Star of the Hero." It is 210 light years away, with a magnitude of 3.5. Matar, located on the front leg of Pegasus, is part of the Arabic phrase Al Sa'd al Matar, "The Fortunate Rain".

pegasus (40K)


Near the horse's nose is the bright globular star cluster, M15. Forty thousand light years away, with a magnitude of 6.2, it is an excellent target for a small telescope.

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M15 - Globular Star Cluster - Hubble Space Telescope - February, 2011






Near the horse's shoulder is the wonderful barred spiral galaxy, NGC 7479. It is 105 million light years away, with an apparent magnitude of 11.6.

ngc7479-hubble-sm (102K)
NGC 7479 - Spiral Galaxy - Hubble Space Telescope - June, 2011



Near the front legs of Pegasus we find the spectacular spiral galaxy NGC 7331. It has an apparent magnitude of 10.4, and is 40 million light years from Earth.

ngc7331-adamblock-cr (90K)
NGC 7331 - Spiral Galaxy - Louis and Jennifer Goldring/Adam Block/NOAO/AURA/NSF



Close by is the even more spectacular galaxy NGC 7217. With an apparent magnitude of 11.0, it is 50 million light years away.

ngc7217-adamblock-cr (87K)
NGC 7217 - Spiral Galaxy - Adam Block/NOAO/AURA/NSF



Exoplanets

The first three exoplanets that were discovered in 1992 and 1993, were in orbit around pulsars, which are very unfriendly stars. A pulsar is a highly compressed, rapidly spinning core remnant of a supernova explosion. The intensity of a pulsar's radiation and magnetic field pretty much precludes the possibility of life developing anywhere near it.

But in 1995 a fourth exoplanet was found, and this one was in orbit around a normal main sequence star very much like our Sun, in the constellation Pegasus. The star is 51 Pegasi, 50 light years away, and with a magnitude of 5.49, it is even visible to the naked eye. The planet is named 51 Pegasi b. It orbits unusually close to its parent star, is about half the size of Jupiter, and has the distinction of being the very first exoplanet discovered around a normal, main sequence star. In this honor, the planet was unofficially named Bellerophon, after the Greek hero that tamed the mighty Pegasus to help him defeat the monster Chimera.

Since then twelve more exoplanets have been discovered in Pegasus. They are all gas giants in orbit around faint stars. For the latest information on exoplanets, visit NASA's New Worlds Atlas.



Winter: Orion   Canis Major   Canis Minor   Monoceros   Lepus   Eridanus   Taurus   Auriga   Camelopardalis   Lynx   Gemini   Cancer  
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Summer: Draco   Corona Borealis   Hercules   Ophiuchus   Serpens   Libra   Scorpius   Sagittarius   Scutum   Aquila   Sagitta   Vulpecula   Lyra   Cygnus  
Autumn: Andromeda   Perseus   Pegasus   Cassiopeia   Cepheus   Cetus   Lacerta   Delphinus   Equuleus   Capricornus   Aquarius   Pisces   Aries   Triangulum  
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