Camelopardalis is one of several constellations created by the Dutch astronomer Petrus Plancius in the 17th century for the sole purpose of filling gaps in the sky left blank by Greek astronomers. The word “Camelopardalis” is a marriage between the Greek words kamelos (camel), and pardalis (leopard), which taken together describes how the ancients saw a giraffe; an animal with a long neck like a camel and spots like a leopard. Although the constellation is generally taken to represent a giraffe, a naked-eye observation of the constellation does not reveal any such creature as most of the stars in the constellation are very faint, and to see anything resembling a giraffe requires an optical aid, or a star chart on which all the relevant dots are connected.
Camelopardalis is located in the northern sky, in a region that was judged to be empty by the ancient Greek astronomers because it contained no stars brighter than 4th magnitude. Out of the 88 recognised constellations, Camelopardalis ranks 18th in terms of size, taking up an area of 757 square degrees of the northern sky between latitudes +90° and -10° . Its nearest neighboring constellations include Ursa Minor to the east, Cassiopeia to the west, and Auriga to its south-east.
Camelopardalis can be seen from the northern hemisphere during the autumn, winter and spring seasons, although the best time to view the constellation is at 9 PM (Local Time) during the month of February. The arrangement of the naked-eye stars that make up the constellation proper somewhat resembles a mirror image of the constellation Ursa Minor some way to the north-east of the constellation. Look for Camelopardalis at about the midway point between Ursa Major to the west, and Perseus to the east.
Ursa Major Constellation Family
Camelopardalis is a member of the Ursa Major family of constellations, together with Boötes, Canes Venatici, Coma Berenices, Corona Borealis, Draco, Leo Minor, Lynx, Ursa Major, and Ursa Minor.
– Beta Camelopardalis, the constellation’s most luminous star, is a binary system located about 1,000 light years away with an apparent visual magnitude of 4.03. The system’s primary component is a 40 million years old G-type, yellow supergiant that has 61 times the Sun‘s diameter, 7 times its mass, and 3,300 times its luminosity.
– CS Camelopardalis, the second most luminous star in the constellation, is a binary system situated 3,000 light years from our solar system that shines with an apparent visual magnitude of 4.21. Its main component, CS Camelopardalis A, is a B-type blue-white supergiant that is a variable star of the Alpha Cygni class. Variable stars of this class display non-radial pulsations that influence the star’s luminosity; in this case, from magnitude 4.19 to magnitude 4.23. The system’s other, smaller component, CS Camelopardalis B, has a visual magnitude of 8.7
– Alpha Camelopardalis, the constellation’s third brightest star, is a blue supergiant found 6,000 light-years from the Sun with a visual magnitude of 4.3. It has 37 times the radius of the Sun, 31 times its mass, and 620,000 times its luminosity.
– Sigma 1694 Camelopardalis (Struve 1694) is a type-A white subgiant that marks the “head” of the giraffe. This is also a binary system in which the component star is too close to the primary to be resolved optically. The combined apparent visual magnitude of the system is 5.3, and it is located about 300 light years away.
Other stars of interest in Camelopardalis includes the binary star Σ 1694; the red giant VZ Camelopardalis; the variable stars U Camelopardalis and VZ Camelopardalis; and the Mira variables T Camelopardalis, X Camelopardalis, and R Camelopardalis
Notable Deep Sky Objects
Although Camelopardalis has no famous deep sky objects, it is located in a part of the sky that faces away from the plane of the Milky Way, which means that many of the galaxies within the constellation’s borders are clearly visible because their light is not absorbed or scattered by the dust and gas clouds of our galaxy’s outer regions. Two notable galaxies in the constellation include:
– NGC 2403 (Caldwell 7) is an intermediate spiral galaxy about 8 million light years away. The northern spiral of this galaxy is connected to a nebulous region (NGC 2404) of a neighboring galaxy, which is an outlying member of the M81 Group of Galaxies that includes M81 and M82. The entire M81 Group of Galaxies is part of the Virgo Supercluster.
– NGC 1569 is an irregular dwarf galaxy located about 11 million light years away, and known for the two star clusters it contains. One cluster, located in the northwestern reaches of the galaxy, contains mostly young stars less than 5 million years old, but curiously, also some very old red stars. The other cluster near the centre of the little galaxy contains old red giants and supergiants, but very few young stars.
Other objects of interest in the constellation includes the open cluster NGC 1502; the irregular galaxy NGC 2366; the dwarf irregular galaxy NGC 1569; and the intermediate spiral galaxy IC 342.
The October Camelopardalids peaks on the night of 5/6 October, with about 15-20 meteors per hour expected right through the night. There is, however, a recently discovered meteor shower called the May Camelopardalids that is associated with the comet 209P/LINEAR. This shower is expected to peak on 24/25 May each year, but how reliable meteor sightings turn out to be in future remains to be seen.
As of 2016, Camelopardalis has four stars with one planet each, with only two of these stars visible.