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The Big Horse of Autumn Takes Flight!

One of the marquee constellations of the autumn sky is Pegasus the winged horse and it's next door neighbor constellation Andromeda the Princess. You can't miss it in the eastern sky. Just look for a giant diamond of four stars about halfway up in the eastern sky. That's called the square of Pegasus and it outlines the body or torso of the great horse.

Now the great thing about constellations is that they're subject to interpretation. There's nothing etched in stone about how you should visualize the creatures and figures in the stars. Traditionally, Pegasus is seen as a celestial horse flying upside down in the heavens with puny little wings. I don't see it like that and I have lots of company. I see the giant horse proudly flying upright in the eastern sky with a giant wingspan. I hope you see Pegasus the same way. If you're a stuffy constellation purist, you'd better check out another part of the Pioneer Press, but if you're ready to fly high with a horsey, read on!
In the stargazing world, a mystical world exists above our real world.

According to Greek and Roman mythology, the great square of Pegasus in the eastern sky is the torso of the big horse that also resembles a giant baseball diamond. Home plate is at the top of the diamond, first base is the left side, third base is on the right corner, and second is on the bottom.

Off of first base or the left corner, you can't help but see a long, curved line of stars that arcs up and to the left. Traditional interpretation has that as the constellation Andromeda the Princess. In my version of Pegasus that long line of stars is the giant wing of the horse, with Princess Andromeda riding on top of the wing.

Off of home plate look for a faint line of stars that depicts his neck and head. Gazing off of third base you'll see a crooked line of four stars that is the front leg of the horse.

According to legend, the great hero Perseus was sent on a mission to rid the countryside of the monster Medusa. He borrowed the winged shoes of Mercury, the messenger of gods, so he could fly around freely and carry out his mission. On his way back toting the severed head of Medusa, Perseus noticed a beautiful Princess Andromeda on the seashore about to be devoured by a sea monster. As he swooped down for a closer look, some drops from Medusa's head fell onto the sea and somehow that magically created the winged horse Pegasus. There must have been some de-hydrated horse in Medusa's blood!

Perseus was quick thinking on his winged feet and sent Pegasus swooping down to shore. Princess Andromeda was within 20 feet of the sea monster's tentacles when the horse suddenly popped down on the shore next to her. With hardly a millisecond to spare Andromeda climbed onto Pegasus' wing and flew off to safety. Andromeda married Perseus as a reward and the coupled lived happily ever after… until Perseus was killed in drunken swordfight at a local bar.

See if you see Pegasus the same way I do. By the way, if you think you've seen a picture of the winged horse before, you have. Mobil gas stations have Pegasus as part of their logo.

One of the coolest celestial goodies in our sky, the Andromeda Galaxy, can be found just above Pegasus's wing and Princess Andromeda. Scan that area of the heavens with your binoculars or a small telescope and look for a ghostly fuzzy patch. If you're out in the countryside and really have dark skies you can see it with your naked eye. That fuzzy little patch is our Milky Way Galaxy's next door neighbor.

Admittedly the Andromeda Galaxy won't make you do back flips when you see it, even in the biggest of telescopes. It's like I said, a fuzzy white patch of light with a brighter center. But just know you're looking at a galaxy of possibly a trillion stars, much larger than our home galaxy. Also let it sink in that you're observing something well over two million light years away, with just one light year equaling almost six trillion miles! That's especially impressive if you spot it with the naked eye! In fact it's the farthest thing away that can be seen with our God given unaided eye. Also since it's over two million light years away, You're not seeing it as it is right now but as it was over two million years ago. It's take the light that long just to get here!

One more thing…. However ever you gaze on the Andromeda Galaxy remember that our Milky Way and Andromeda are on a collision course. In about three to four billion years they'll create a corporate merger of galatic proportions! The two galaxies are forging toward each other at about 50 miles a second!

Diagram of PEGASUS AND ANDROMEDA...Click here