Constellation Berenice's Hair (Coma Berenices -Com)

Berenice... Who was she?

Let's start the description of this small constellation knowing more closely Queen Berenice: a new entry, the dearest Silvia, also fond of Astronomy, will talk about it. For now it is a small and welcome contribution, but then who knows ...

As I said in the introduction this constellation is not flashy since its stars are all below the fourth magnitude, but already with good binoculars and a dark sky, far from the lights of the city you can start to see several stars and even some weakly bright points of the brightest among the galaxies making up the so-called Cluster of the Hair which consists of about 1000 galaxies located almost 350 million light years from us.

With this photo from the Stellarium program we see that actually in the constellation there aren't very flashy stars, but there's a kind of cascade of bright dots. Among these stars only the three brightest ones have received the classical denomination, also called Diadem, β and γ), while all the other stars have been classified as usual according to the Flamsteed numbering with simple numbers, and then continue with the Hipparcos catalogue numbering.

The name, history and myth of Berenice's Hair

The Hair of Berenice is not an ancient constellation, but despite this it has an associated history.

The name of the constellation refers to the queen of Egypt, Berenice, famous for her hair. Lived around the 3rd century B.C., Berenice, wife of King Ptolemy III Evergete (Lagidi dynasty), was in apprehension for the fate of her husband engaged in war against Seleucus II of Syria. She then made a vow: if her husband returned home safe and sound, she would sacrifice her hair, the greatest symbol of her beauty, to the altar of the Virgin. So it was: Ptolemy returned from the war and Berenice cut her hair by hanging it in the temple of Aphrodite and offering it to the gods, who transformed it into bright stars to show their assent. According to one version a shade is given by the fact that the hair hanging inside the temple, after a few days, disappeared without a trace. It had been stolen. A famous astronomer, Conone, managed to appease the wrath of Berenice with cunning: in the middle of the night he began to scream like a madman, woke the whole city, the king, the queen, and their retinue came running, and as soon as he found himself surrounded by a large audience and had the attention of the court and the royalty, pointing his finger to the sky, he pointed a cluster of stars, and saying that the queen's sacrifice had been so appreciated by the gods, and particularly by Aphrodite, that the hair had been raised to the sky, to be even closer to the gods, and to be admired as a sign of devotion.

The life of the constellation was hard: introduced by Eratosthenes, who refers first to the Crown of Ariadne and then to the Curls of Berenice, even the Arab tradition used to refer to these little stars with the name of Al Dafirah (the curl) even if in ancient times they were seen as a pond in which the Gazelle (our Minor Lion) used to jump to escape to the Lion.

The constellation is also said to represent the lion in the tragic story of Pyramus and Thisbe.

In Ovid's Metamorphoses (43 B.C.- 17 A.D.) he tells of how his parents opposed their union. The two lovers converse secretly through a crack in the wall that separated their houses. One day they devised a plan to meet outside the city, at a mulberry tree with white blackberries. Thisbe was the first to arrive at the meeting, but while waiting for Pyramus she was threatened by a lion dripping with the blood of a recent victim. As she escaped, her veil slipped and the lion gnawed and tore it before leaving.

When he arrived breathless, Pyramus in the place of the appointment, he saw the veil of Thisbe on the ground, torn and bloodied, and believed it had been devoured by the beast, which he knew had been sighted in the surroundings. Unable to warn his beloved, depicted for what had happened, he drew his sword and stabbed himself to death. Running in his footsteps, Thisbe saw the body of Pyramus lying on the ground dying, immediately threw himself upon his body and when he died, drew his sword and stabbed himself with it. The blood of the two lovers coloured the blackberries from white to red, the colour they still have today. According to one version, to remind parents not to hinder the love of young people, Zeus placed the veil of Thisbe in the sky like the hair of Berenice, which floats near the Lion.

In 1515 an astronomer and mathematician, globe-maker Jhoannes Schöner, put the name "Trica" (Greek for "hair") on one of his globes, without adding a figure to it. Subsequently, in another of his globes (1534), two inscriptions appeared next to the group of stars, the already used Trica and Coma Berenices, again without any representation. The similar examples, linked to globes of different workmanship, were different, and all without illustration, until, in 1551, the cartographer Mercator, Gerard de Kremer, depicted the constellation in one of his globes: a crown from which flowing curls fell lightly. It was done. It was made official in a catalogue in 1602 with Tycho Brahe, but only in 1700 was it really seen as a crown, since every now and then ears and roses alternated to represent it.

The name of the rose, or rather the diadem...

As I said, only one star of Berenice's hair has a name.

Diadem (α Com): with clear reference to a diadem that embellished the lock of hair

When can we observe Berenice's hair?

The Hair of Berenice is a Boreal constellation, so it is possible to follow it in a very large span of time. If at the beginning of February we go outdoors at 9 p.m., we can see it rise in the northeast. At that same time we can, evening after evening, see it higher and higher in the sky to reach its peak towards June, but then we will have to wait until it gets darker to observe it, towards the south at more than 70° of . Finally, we will come to see it set at the end of September, looking northwest.

Audio Video Constellation Berenice's Hair (Coma Berenices -Com)
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