Camelopardalis (also Camelopardus) is a modern constellation, named by Jacob Bartsch in 1624. Something was needed to fill in the space between the queen Cassiopeia, and the great bear, Ursa Major. The area contains only a few dim stars, and it is a testament to Mr. Bartsch's imagination which suggested the figure of a giraffe. He used the Greek name for giraffe, which literally means leopard camel. Camelopardalis hugs the north celestial pole, keeping watch over the north star, Polaris, and harbouring some interesting deep sky objects.
There are no named stars in Camelopardalis, and no stars that exceed fourth magnitude, but its unimpressive visage belies a number of very impressive objects, starting with the star Alpha Camelopardalis. Its magnitude of only 4.26 may seem weak until you consider the star is a staggering 6,523 light years away. We are able to see this star at such a great distance only because it is one of the largest, hottest stars in the sky. It is a rare O9I blue supergiant with a surface temperature of 30,000 degrees K - five times hotter than the Sun, 37 times larger, and 680,000 times brighter.
And there's more. Alpha Camelopardalis is classified as a runaway star, because it travels through the galaxy in a different direction and faster speed than all the other stars. Because of its great distance, its speed is difficult to pin down, but it could be as high as 9 million miles per hour. The energy produced by such a massive object moving so fast creates a shockwave in front of it, called a bow shock, seen in the infrared image below. Alpha Camelopardalis is the bright star in the centre of the NASA image below.
Although nowhere near as large and hot as Alpha Camelopardalis, Beta Camelopardalis is no slouch. From a thousand light years away it still manages a magnitude of 4.03, making it technically the brightest star in the constellation (as seen from Earth). It is a G0I yellow supergiant with a surface temperature about the same as the Sun. That's where the similarity ends however, as the star has seven times the mass of the Sun, and shines 3,300 times brighter.
There are four stars with planetary systems discovered so far in Camelopardalis, one of which, HD 33564, is visible with the naked eye. It is an F7V yellow main sequence star, with a magnitude of 5.08. Situated relatively close at a distance of 64 light years, it has one confirmed planet about nine times larger than Jupiter. For more information on these and other extrasolar planets, visit NASA's New Worlds Atlas, and The Open Exoplanets Catalogue.
Camelopardalis is an example of yet another of the Universe's wonderful ironies, that a constellation so faint and indistinct to the naked eye, when viewed through the lens of a telescope, is found to be virtually overflowing with deep sky treasures.
NGC 1502 is an open star cluster with a magnitude of 5.9, and a fine sight in a small telescope. It contains approximately 45 stars at a distance of 2,700 light years. The star cluster is made even more notable by Kemble's Cascade, a "waterfall" of about twenty magnitude nine stars that cascade down into the sparkling "pool" of NGC 1502. Kemble's Cascade is named for famed Canadian astronomer, Father Lucian Kemble.
Very close by is planetary nebula NGC 1501, a cloud of expelled gas cast off by a dying star. The nebula is quite far, 5,000 light years away, and only manages magnitude 12.0, making it difficult to find. Point the Hubble Space Telescope at it however, and the results are astonishing. The bright core of the dying star is clearly seen in the centre, glittering like a pearl, prompting its nickname, the Oyster Nebula.
Numbered BFS 29 in the Blitz, Fich, and Stark catalogue, this is a reflection/emission nebula about 2,500 light years away. The star in the centre of the nebula is CE-Camelopardalis (HD 21389), the bright pink star in the lower left centre of the image below. The star has a magnitude of 4.55, but the surrounding nebula is quite a bit dimmer.
Camelopardalis U (Cam U or HD 22611) is another dying star that's shedding its outer layers. At a distance of about 3,000 light years, the central star has a magnitude of 6.99, although the surrounding nebula is much fainter.
IC 3568, known also as the Lemon Slice Nebula, has a magnitude of 11.6, and is very far away, at 9,000 light years.
Moving outside our galaxy now, to the very great distance of 12 million light years, we find NGC 2403. It is a large spiral galaxy with a magnitude of 8.5, which puts it within reach of smaller telescopes. The galaxy is 37,000 light years in diameter, less than half the size of our Milky Way.
IC 342 (Caldwell 5) is a spiral galaxy 7 million light years away with a magnitude of 12.0. The big purple spots in the image below are black holes, exposed by high-energy X-ray data collected by NASA's NuSTAR Space Telescope.
NGC 2366 is an irregular dwarf galaxy about 12 million light years away with a magnitude of 11.1. The bright blue area at the top right of the image is NGC 2363, an immense star forming nebula, containing a rare, supergiant Luminous Blue Variable (LBV) star, 30 - 60 times the mass of our Sun.
Jumping out to a distance of 70 million light years, we come to NGC 2146. Slightly smaller than our Milky Way galaxy, it is about 80,000 light years across. Some unknown gravitational force has bent and twisted it out of shape and instigated massive areas of new star formation. NGC 2146 has a magnitude of 10.6.
IC 391 is a spiral galaxy about 80 million light years away. At magnitude 13.0 it is out of range of most small scopes.
Way out at the outrageous distance of 160 million light years, is IC 2184. It is one of the most violent places in the Universe, two galaxies tearing each other apart, hundreds of billions of stars crashing into each other, flinging shockwaves and debris far out into space. With a magnitude of 14, IC 2184 is only visible in large telescopes.
In the same far away neighbourhood, at magnitude 11.9, is NGC 2523, a barred spiral galaxy with a very bright, prominent bar. The smaller, edge on galaxy in the left of the image is NGC 2523B.
Even farther away, at 180 million miles, is NGC 2441, a spiral galaxy with a magnitude of 12.2. The Hubble image below shows the location of an unusual supernova that appeared in 1995.
|Winter: Orion Canis Major Canis Minor Monoceros Lepus Eridanus Taurus Auriga Camelopardalis Lynx Gemini Cancer|
|Spring: Hydra Sextans Crater Corvus Leo Leo Minor Ursa Major Ursa Minor Canes Venatici Coma Berenices Virgo Bootes|
|Summer: Draco Corona Borealis Hercules Ophiuchus Serpens Libra Scorpius Sagittarius Scutum Aquila Sagitta Vulpecula Lyra Cygnus|
|Autumn: Andromeda Perseus Pegasus Cassiopeia Cepheus Cetus Lacerta Delphinus Equuleus Capricornus Aquarius Pisces Aries Triangulum|
|Southern Skies: Centaurus Crux Lupus Corona Australis Piscis Australis Sculptor Tucana Fornax Dorado Columba Puppis Carina Vela|