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PEGASUS

The Winged Horse

pegasus-jamieson-1822-cr (206K)
Pegasus - Celestial Atlas by Alexander Jamieson - 1822

The great winged horse, Pegasus, is one of the most ancient of astronomical symbols, with coins depicting his image 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 hideous mass of writhing snakes. When Medusa was slain by the hero Perseus, Pegasus, the result of her fateful union with Poseidon, sprang from her body as she died.

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 mortal 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 his hooves thundered across the sky dispensing the lightning bolts of 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 head and upper body. The upper body of the horse is represented by a large square of bright stars known as the Great Square of Pegasus, which has become a landmark of the autumn sky.

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Stars and Planets

Alpheratz

The brightest star in the Great Square of Pegasus doesn't even belong to Pegasus. It used to, and still retains the name Alpheratz, from the Arabic for the navel of the horse, but since it sits right on the Pegasus/Andromeda border, it was ultimately given the designation Alpha Andromedae, and placed in the custody of the princess. It is sometimes nostalgically referred to as Delta Pegasi.

Markab

The second brightest star in the square is Alpha Pegasi, named Markab, Arabic for saddle. Markab is an B9 blue/white main sequence star, 110 light years away, with a magnitude of 2.49.

Scheat

With a very slightly higher magnitude of 2.44 is Beta Pegasi, named Scheat, Arabic for foreleg. It is an M2 red giant, 200 light years away.

Algenib

The final star forming the Great Square of Pegasus is Gamma Pegasi, named 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.

Enif

Moving away from the big square out to the horse's muzzle, we have Epsilon Pegasi, with the name Enif, Arabic for nose,. It is a 5,800 times brighter than our Sun, even at the great distance of 780 light years shining at magnitude 2.31, making it the brightest star in the constellation.

Homan

In the neck of the horse we find Zeta Pegasi, named Homan, taken from the Arabic phrase "Sa'd Al Humam", lucky star of the hero. It is a B8 blue/white main sequence star, 210 light years away, with a magnitude of 3.41.

Matar

Down in the front leg of Pegasus is Eta Pegasi, named Matar, from the Arabic phrase "Al Sa'd al Matar," the fortunate rain. It is a binary system, with a G2 yellow giant and an F0 yellow/white main sequence star in a close 813 day orbit around each other. They are about 215 light years away with a combined magnitude of 2.93.

Baham

On the head of the horse we have the third "lucky star" of Pegasus, Theta Pegasi, with the name of Baham, from the Arabic "Sa'd Al Bahaim," good luck of the beasts. It is an A2 white main sequence star, 92 light years away with a magnitude of 3.52.

Salm

Finally, back inside The Great Square of Pegasus, we have Tau Pegasi, with the name Salm, Arabic for the leathern bucket, going back to a time when the square was thought of as a well. It is a G8 yellow/orange giant, 366 light years away with a magnitude of 3.97.

Exoplanets

Pegasus has the distinction of containing the first exoplanet discovered around a normal, main sequence star. 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, this one in orbit around a normal main sequence star very much like our Sun, in the constellation Pegasus. The star is 51 Pegasi, only 50 light years away, and with a magnitude of 5.49, visible to the naked eye. The planet is named 51 Pegasi b. It is about half the size of Jupiter and orbits very close to its parent star, making it exeedingly hot and hostile to any kind of life as we know it. The planet was unofficially named Bellerophon, after the Greek hero that rode the mighty Pegasus in battle against the monster Chimera.

Since then nineteen more exoplanets have been discovered in Pegasus, orbiting 16 other stars, all gas giants in orbit around far away, faint stars. For the latest information on exoplanets, visit NASA's New Worlds Atlas.

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Deep Sky Objects

M15

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

NGC 7479

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.

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NGC 7479 - Spiral Galaxy - Hubble Space Telescope - June, 2011

NGC 7331

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-Vicent Peris-cr (106K)
NGC 7331 - Spiral Galaxy - Vicent Peris

NGC 7217

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 (89K)
NGC 7217 - Spiral Galaxy - Adam Block/NOAO/AURA/NSF






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Spring: Hydra   Sextans   Crater   Corvus   Leo   Leo Minor   Ursa Major   Ursa Minor   Canes Venatici   Coma Berenices   Virgo   Bootes  
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  
Southern Skies: Centaurus   Crux   Lupus   Corona Australis   Piscis Australis   Sculptor   Tucana   Fornax   Dorado   Columba   Puppis   Carina   Vela  

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