|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 Cephus Cetus Lacerta Delphinus Equuleus Capricornus Aquarius Pisces Aries|
|Southern Skies: Centaurus Crux Lupus Corona Australis Piscis Australis Sculptor Tucana Fornax Dorado Columba Puppis Carina Vela|
Berenice was the queen of Egypt in 245 BC. Her name meant bringer of victory, and she was renown for her striking beauty, and the loveliness of her long golden hair. When her husband, King Ptolemy III, left to lead his armies to war against the Syrians, Berenice prayed every day at the alter of Aphrodite (Venus), for his safe return. When news came that the war was going badly, she cut off her beautiful long golden tresses, and laid them on the alter as an offering, in the hopes that it might please the goddess, and she would protect her husband.
Ptolemy returned safe and victorious the next day. When he learned of his wife's sacrifice, he went to the alter of Aphrodite himself to thank the goddess for her protection, only to find the alter empty, and the queen's hair stolen. In a rage, he vowed to kill all the priests who tended the alter. But that night, the royal astronomer, Conon, came to the king's court, and announced that the missing hair had been found. He stepped outside and pointed at an area of the sky between the herdsman (Bootes), and the lion (Leo), announcing that Aphrodite was so impressed with the queen's offering, she took the long golden locks herself, and placed them in the sky, to honour the queen. And sure enough, there was a group of sparkling stars right where Conon was pointing, the perfect celestial image of the queen's long flowing locks, described by the Roman poet Catullus as "the consecrated offering of Berenice's golden hair, which the divine Venus placed, a new constellation among the ancient ones, preceding the slow Bootes, who sinks late and reluctantly into the deep ocean..."
The mystery of the missing hair was solved, and the grouping of stars became known as the constellation Coma Berenices (Berenice's hair).
Coma Berenices may be a small constellation, but it is full of treasures. The most obvious of these, visible to the naked eye, and a wonderful sight through binoculars or a low power, large field telescope, is the beautiful cascading cluster of stars that undoubtedly first inspired the image of Queen Berenice's sparkling golden tresses, and is now known as the Coma Star Cluster. It is also known as Mel 111, after the the astronomer Melotte, who was the first to include it in an astronomical catalogue. The NASA image below was captured from the International Space Station.
Coma Berenices is also home to a different kind of cluster, a spherical cluster of galaxies over 20 million light years in diameter. It is one of the densest groupings of galaxies ever found, containing over 1000 identified galaxies. It is known as the Coma Galaxy Cluster, or Abell 1656.
Deep within the Coma Galaxy Cluster, 320 million light years away, is the magnificent spiral galaxy NGC 4911. At magnitude 12.8, it can be a challenge for a small scope, But the Hubble photo below shows its true glory.
Coma Berenices contains no less than six Messier objects, starting numerically with the bright globular cluster, M53, 58,000 light years away, discovered in 1775 by Johann Elert Bode. Next in line is the Black Eye Galaxy, M64, shown in the Hubble Space Telescope image below. M64 is 24 million light years away with a magnitude of 9.36, and is a good target for a small telescope.
M85 is a lenticular galaxy about 60 million light years away. It has a high surface brightness which makes it difficult to see any detail in its structure. M88 on the other hand has just the right amount of brightness, exposing magnificent detail, as shown in the Adam Block photo below. M88 is about 50 million light years away, with a magnitude of 10.4.
M100 is an example of a grand design spiral galaxy, with prominent, well defined spiral arms. It is 50 million light years away, with an apparent magnitude of 10.1.