The constellation Cassiopeia is home to a few worthy binocular and telescopic targets. The constellation itself is quite bright and average in size. It sits roughly 30 degrees away from the North Star, Polaris.
To find the constellation Cassiopeia, it helps to know where the Andromeda galaxy (M31) sits but if you do not then it is still quite simple. Look for the bright “w” or “m” shape made of quite bright stars close to Polaris. It also sits roughly on the opposite side of the North Star from the Big Dipper (Ursa Majour being the actual constellation). Cassiopeia consists of about 5 main stars ranging in brightness from magnitude 2 (the brightest) to magnitude 3.5 (the faintest) of the main stars that make up the constellation itself.
Most astronomers learn this constellation early on as it can help point you to many very “easy to find” objects such as Polaris, The Double Cluster and the Andromeda Galaxy.
So in order to find Cassiopeia simply look North, and find the fairly bright “m” or “w” constellation. Those 5 main stars make it easy to spot. Even for a novice, in fact most people know the constellation already but just don’t really recognise it. Cassiopeia is among the favourite constellations of many astronomers, as the double cluster and Andromeda galaxy are wonderful treats to observe for any skill level. The distinct “w” of Cassiopeia points the way to multiple deep sky delights and also the central star is a very note worthy planetary nebula which is also a highly targeted x-ray and radio source.
So if you ever have the chance to find this gem of a constellation, do it. It is well worth the effort and will help guide you to many objects and constellations as you continue to explore the wealth of the night sky delights that we have available to us. Many of you will already know it, and others will quite easily find this bright, well defined patch of stars. Under dark skies you may even spot the Double Cluster itself before you even see “w”.
Just remember to look about 30 degrees away from the north star, heading towards the milky way and you will find it. It will guide you North, guide you to the Andromeda Galaxy and the double cluster itself will be readily visible under the right conditions. Weather it is easier for you to remember the “m” or “w” or even remember that sometimes it is a sideways one of those, Cassiopeia, the Queen, will never let you down!