Skip to main content

The Andromeda constellation: Facts, myth and location

The Andromeda constellation with all Bayer-designated stars marked and the IAU figure drawn in.
The Andromeda constellation with all Bayer-designated stars marked and the IAU figure drawn in. (Image credit: Wikimedia Commons/Keilana/Roberto Mura)

The Andromeda constellation consists of 16 stars visible in the northern sky. Named by ancient Greeks after the mythological Andromeda princess, the constellation contains the Andromeda Galaxy, the nearest full-fledged galaxy to our own Milky Way.

Andromeda is one of 48 constellations described by the Ancient Greek astronomer Claudius Ptolemy in 150 AD in his famous work "The Almagest."

Ptolemy's list was the first official description of constellations, although these stellar groupings had been known to ancient Greeks, Babylonians, Egyptians and other cultures, who frequently saw them as embodiments of their mythical figures. 

Andromeda is one of the largest of Ptolemy's constellations. 

Another 40 constellations were added to Ptolemy's tally over the centuries. Many of these additions reside in the southern sky, which was not visible to Ptolemy, who spent most of his life in Egypt.

Today, Andromeda is the 19th largest of the 88 constellations (opens in new tab) recognized by the International Astronomical Union.

Related: Constellations of the western zodiac

When to observe the Andromeda constellation

The Andromeda constellation can be best viewed from the Northern Hemisphere, as it moves lower toward the horizon the farther south you stand. At about 40 degrees south latitude it disappears completely, according to EarthSky (opens in new tab). (The 40th parallel south lies just below the southern tips of Africa and Australia and crosses the southernmost part of South America).

In the Northern Hemisphere, Andromeda is best observed from August to February, while in the Southern Hemisphere, the visibility period is much shorter, from October to December, according to PlanetGuide (opens in new tab).

From August to September, in the Northern Hemisphere, Andromeda emerges on the north-eastern horizon at about 10 p.m. local time, then gradually rises overhead. From October to November, it emerges in the eastern sky at around 8 p.m. From December to January, Andromeda rises at around 6 p.m. and moves along the northwestern horizon, according to Planet Guide. 

The position of the Andromeda constellation among the other constellations named after characters related to the Perseus myth. (Image credit: IAU)
(opens in new tab)

How to find the Andromeda constellation

Andromeda is part of a big prominent group of constellations named after mythological figures related to the Perseus and Andromeda myth. The pronounced W-shaped Cassiopeia constellation points directly at Andromeda. 

With a bit of imagination, you can see the constellation as a sprawled figure with its arms extended. The figure's feet point in the direction of the Perseus constellation, right next to Cassiopeia. The figure's "head" connects the constellation to the neighboring square of Pegasus

The Andromeda myth

In ancient Greek mythology, Andromeda was a beautiful daughter of the king Cepheus and queen Cassiopeia. When her mother bragged that Andromeda was better-looking than the famously beautiful Nereid sea nymphs, the sea god Poseidon sent his pet sea monster Cetus to destroy Cepheus' kingdom. 

It was said, however, that sacrificing Andromeda could save the country and its people. So, the loving parents had their daughter chained to a rock by the sea, so that the sea monster could get her easily. Fortunately, the charming prince Perseus flew past on his winged horse Pegasus and fell in love with Andromeda's beauty. He killed Cetus and married Andromeda. The two lived happily ever after. 

Mirach is one of the brightest stars of the Andromeda constellation. (Image credit: Stub Mandrel)
(opens in new tab)

Stars of the Andromeda constellation

The Andromeda Constellation contains nine main named stars, according to Constellation Guide (opens in new tab). Three of these stars are brighter than magnitude 3.00, which puts them into the top 100 brightest stars in the sky. 

In addition to the visible stars, one can find many intriguing objects within the Andromeda constellation that are only visible with telescopes or binoculars. The most famous one of these is the Andromeda Galaxy, the closest full-fledged galaxy to the Milky Way. Andromeda is currently about 2.5 million light-years from the Milky Way, and the two galaxies are on a collision course; a few billion years from now, they will smash into each other.

Alpheratz (Alpha Andromeda)

The brightest star in the Andromeda Constellation is Alpheratz, also called Alpha Andromedae. Alpheratz is essentially Andromeda's head, but it's also part of the neighboring square of Pegasus. 

Astronomers know today that Alpheratz is located 97 light-years from Earth and is, in fact, a binary star, a system of two stars orbiting a common center of mass. The bigger of those two stars has a unique chemical composition and is the brightest known star with high levels of mercury and manganese. A so-called subgiant, this star is 200 times brighter than the sun while being less than four times as massive. 

The smaller star of the Alpheratz binary system is about 10 times as luminous as the sun and orbits the larger star every 97 days, according to the Constellation Guide.

Mirach

Mirach, also known as Beta Andromedae, is nearly as bright as Alpheratz and located about 200 light-years away from Earth. It is a giant star 1,900 times as bright as the sun, according to the Constellation Guide, and three to four times as massive. 

Within the Andromeda Constellation, Mirach forms the chained figure's left hip. Close to Mirach, astronomers can observe two distant dwarf galaxies located some 10 million light-years from Earth. 

Almach

Almach, or Gamma Andramodae, is Andromeda's foot. It is a multi-star system featuring a central giant orbited by a pair of white dwarfs. The third brightest star of the Andromeda Constellation, Almach is about 350 light-years away from Earth. The star's central giant is 2,000 times more luminous than the sun. 

Other stars in the Andromeda Constellation:

Other stars in the Andromeda Constellation are Delta Andromedae, Iota Andromedae, Upsilon Andromedae, Adhil (or Xi Andromedae) and Mu Andromedae. 

The Andromeda Galaxy can be found on the edges of the Andromeda constellation. (Image credit: Alan Dyer /VW PICS/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
(opens in new tab)

Andromeda Galaxy

The Andromeda Galaxy, the Milky Way's nearest major galactic neighbor, can be found within the Andromeda Constellation. The galaxy, located some 2.5 million light-years away from Earth, is barely visible to the naked eye but can be found with binoculars.

The Andromeda Galaxy, also known as M31, can be seen as a misty patch on the edge of the Andromeda Constellation to the right of the sprawled figure's right hip, which is right next to the bright star Mirach. The right V shape of the Cassiopeia constellation points vaguely in the direction of the galaxy.

Andromedids meteor shower

The constellation also appeared to be the source of the Andromedids Meteor shower that used to occur every few years in November. But the stars of the constellation, obviously, had nothing to do with these shooting stars. The actual source of the space rocks was a trail of debris left behind by Comet Biela, and which Earth used to intersect every November. However, in recent decades, the once mesmerizing display nearly ceased, as our planet's orbit moved out of the path of the cometary debris. 

Additional resources

Read more about Andromeda in the Constellation Guide (opens in new tab) or the Planet Guide. (opens in new tab) Universe Today (opens in new tab) also provides a deep dive into this constellation.

Bibliography

IAU, Constellations

https://www.iau.org/public/themes/constellations/

Swinburne University of Technology, Constellation 

https://astronomy.swin.edu.au/cosmos/c/Constellation

Britannica, Andromeda Constellation 

https://www.britannica.com/place/Andromeda-constellation

University of St. Andrews, Claudius Ptolemy  https://mathshistory.st-andrews.ac.uk/Biographies/Ptolemy/

Follow Tereza Pultarova on Twitter @TerezaPultarova. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook

Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at: community@space.com.

Tereza Pultarova
Senior Writer

Tereza is a London-based science and technology journalist, aspiring fiction writer and amateur gymnast. Originally from Prague, the Czech Republic, she spent the first seven years of her career working as a reporter, script-writer and presenter for various TV programmes of the Czech Public Service Television. She later took a career break to pursue further education and added a Master's in Science from the International Space University, France, to her Bachelor's in Journalism and Master's in Cultural Anthropology from Prague's Charles University. She worked as a reporter at the Engineering and Technology magazine, freelanced for a range of publications including Live Science, Space.com, Professional Engineering, Via Satellite and Space News and served as a maternity cover science editor at the European Space Agency.