No Celestial Role Model Here
The strained relationship of Cepheus and his daughter Andromeda
When we look to the night sky for father figures, we’re hard-pressed. There are heroes and rogues, serpents and dragons, birds and beasts, fish and fishermen, harps and chariots. But there is only one father among the constellations, and not a good role model at that.
King Cepheus ruled a seaside kingdom and was father of the great beauty Andromeda. But when his wife Cassiopeia bragged that she was more beautiful than the sea nymphs of Poseidon, the enraged god sent a fearsome sea monster, Cetus, to ravage the kingdom. To appease this beast — and the gods — Cepheus chained his daughter to the seaside cliffs. Gee, thanks, Dad.
While the great hero Perseus rescued the princess and they lived happily ever after, father and mother were not so lucky. Both were turned to stone along with the sea monster when Perseus held aloft the severed head of Medusa. That’s one way to break the familial knot.
Cepheus looks like a crown, or maybe a Bishop’s miter, and for us along Chesapeake Bay is a circumpolar constellation, visible year-round. Look for the crown above the north-northeast horizon just after sunset and high in the north as dawn approaches. His queen, Cassiopeia, is also visible year-round, the familiar M- or W-shaped constellation circling the north pole. Andromeda rises in the northeast around midnight and is home to the Andromeda Galaxy, the only object outside our own Milky Way Galaxy visible to the unaided eye. At 2.5 million light-years away, it is one of the most distant objects we can see, shining at magnitude 4.4 like a hazy patch on the princess’s right side.
Aside from teaching us not to sacrifice a daughter to a sea monster, Cepheus, Andromeda and the other 86 major constellations offer countless lessons and ample opportunities for fathers to bond with their daughters and sons.