Coma Berenices

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Coma Berenices
Coma Berenices
Abbreviation Com
Genitive Comae Berenices
Pronunciation /ˈkmə bɛrəˈnsz/,
genitive /ˈkm/
Symbolism Berenice's hair
Right ascension 11h 58m 25.0885s–13h 36m 06.9433s[1]
Declination 33.3074303°–13.3040485°[1]
Family Ursa Major
Area 386 sq. deg. (42nd)
Main stars 3
Stars with planets 5
Stars brighter than 3.00m 0
Stars within 10.00 pc (32.62 ly) 1
Brightest star β Com (4.26m)
Nearest star β Com
(29.96 ly, 9.18 pc)
Messier objects 8
Meteor showers Coma Berenicids
Canes Venatici
Ursa Major
Visible at latitudes between +90° and −70°.
Best visible at 21:00 (9 p.m.) during the month of May.

Coma Berenices is an ancient asterism in the northern sky that has since been defined as one of the 88 modern constellations. It is located in the fourth galactic quadrant, between Leo and Bootes, and is visible in both hemispheres. Introduced to the Western astronomy in the 3rd century BC by Conon of Samos, its name means "Berenice's Hair" (in Greek, via Latin), referring to Queen Berenice II of Egypt, who sacrificed her long hair as a votive offering. It is the only modern constellation named after a historical person.

Three major stars of Coma Berenices visible to the naked eye, Alpha Comae Berenices, Beta Comae Berenices and Gamma Comae Berenices, form a 45-degree triangle from which the imaginary tresses of Berenice hang. The constellation's brightest star is Beta Comae Berenices, a 4.26-magnitude main sequence star, similar to Sun. Coma Berenices contains the North Galactic Pole and one of the richest known galaxy clusters, the Coma Cluster, part of the Coma Supercluster. Galaxy Malin 1 in Coma Berenices is the first known giant low-surface-brightness galaxy. Supernova SN 2005ap discovered in Coma Berenices is the brightest known to date, while SN 1940B was the first observed example of type II supernova. The star FK Comae Berenices is the prototype of the eponymous class of variable stars. The constellation is the radiant of one meteor shower, Coma Berenicids which has one of the fastest meteor speeds, up to 65 km/s (40 mps).


A fragment of Mercator's celestial globe showing Coma Berenices, 1551.

Coma Berenices has been recognized as a distinct asterism since the Hellenistic period[2] (according to some authors, much earlier) and is the only modern constellation named after a historical person. It was introduced to the Western astronomy in the 3rd century BC by Conon of Samos, court astronomer to Egyptian ruler Ptolemy III Euergetes, to honour Ptolemy's consort, Berenice II.[3] Berenice vowed to sacrifice her long hair in a votive offering, if Ptolemy returned safely from a battle during the Third Syrian War.[4] Modern scholars are uncertain whether Berenice made the sacrifice before or after Ptolemy's return; it was suggested that it happened after Ptolemy's return around March–June 245 BC when Conon presented the asterism jointly with scholar and poet Callimachus.[5] In Callimachus' poem Aetia, composed around that time, Berenice dedicated her tresses "to all the gods", while in the Latin translation of the poem by Roman poet Catullus and in Hyginus' De astronomica she dedicated the tresses to Aphrodite, placing them in the temple of Arsinoe II (identified, after her death, with Aphrodite) at Zephyrium. According to De astronomica, by the next morning the tresses have disappeared. Conon proposed that Aphrodite had interceded to place the tresses in the sky as an acknowledgement of Berenice's sacrifice.[4] Callimachus called the asterism plokamos Berenikēs or bostrukhon Berenikēs in Greek, which was later rendered in Latin as Coma Berenices by Catullus. The asterism was also recognized in its own right by Greek astronomer Geminus.[6] Eratosthenes called it "Berenice's Hair" and "Ariadne's Hair", but considered it a part of Leo.[7] Ptolemy also considered it a part of Leo,[2] referring to it as Plokamos.[8]

Coma Berenices gained new popularity in the 16th century. In 1515, a set of gores made by Johannes Schöner labelled the asterism as "Trica" ("hair"). In 1536 it appeared on a celestial globe by the cartographer Caspar Vopel who is credited with the asterism's elevation to constellation status.[9] In the same year it also appeared on a celestial map of Petrus Apianus, as Crines Berenices. In 1551, Coma Berenices appeared on a celestial globe by Gerardus Mercator under five Latin and Greek names (Cincinnus, caesaries, πλόκαμος, Berenicis crinis and Trica). Mercator's authority as a cartographer ensured the continuous representation of Coma Berenices on Dutch globes from 1589 onwards.[10]

Tycho Brahe, who is also given credit for Coma's promotion to constellation status, listed it in his star catalogue of 1602.[2] Brahe recorded fourteen stars in the constellation, Johannes Hevelius increased this number to twenty-one and John Flamsteed to forty-three. Coma Berenices also appeared in Johann Bayer's Uranometria of 1603, and during the 17th century, a few other celestial maps followed suit. Coma Berenices and the now-obsolete constellation Antinous are considered to be the first post-Ptolemaic constellations to be depicted on a celestial globe.[11] Alongside Antinous, Coma Berenices exemplified a trend in astronomy when globe- and map-makers continued to rely on the ancients for new data. The trend would end at the turn of the 16th century by the explorations of the southern sky and the work of Tycho Brahe.[10]

In English, before the 18th century Coma Berenices was known under different names, such as Berenice's Bush and Berenice's periwig.[12] The earliest known English name, Berenices haire (Berenices Hair) comes from 1601.[13][12] By 1702 the constellation was already called Coma Berenices[14] and was referred to as such in An Universal Etymological English Dictionary from 1731.

Non-Western astronomy[edit]

It was suggested that Coma Berenices was known already to the Akkadians as ḪE2.GAL2.LA.[15] In the Babylonian astronomy, a star called ḪÉ.GÁL-a-a (translated as "which is before it") or MÚL.ḪÉ.GÁL-a-a is putatively considered part of Coma Berenices.[16] It was argued that Coma Berenices also appears in the Egyptian Ramesside star charts as sb3w ꜥš3w, meaning "Many Stars".[17]

In the Arab astronomy, Coma Berenices was known as Al-Du'aba, Al Dafira[8] and Al-Hulba, forming the tuft of the constellation Leo and including most of the Flamsteed-designated stars, particularly 12, 13, 14, 16, 17, 18 and 21 Comae Berenices.[18] As known to Ulugh Beg, Al Dafira consisted of stars 7 and 23 Comae Berenices.[19]

In Chinese astronomy, the stars of Coma Berenices were located in two areas: the Supreme Palace enclosure and the Azure Dragon of the East. Eighteen stars of the constellation were located in an area called Lang wei (Seat of the General), part of the Supreme Palace enclosure.[20] Several stars in the constellation had their own Chinese names.[20]

Indigenous Pawnee people from North America putatively depicted Coma Berenices as ten faint stars on their star map dated to at least 17th century and made from tanned elk skin.[21] The constellation also occupies an important place in the beliefs of South American Kalina people where it was called ombatapo, meaning "face".[22] In the area inhabited by the Kalina, Coma Berenices becomes visible in October.[22]

Coma Berenices was also recognized by several Polynesian peoples. The people of Tonga had three different names for it: Fatana-lua, Fata-olunga (also Fata-lalo) and Kapakau-o-Tafahi.[23] The Boorong people called the constellation Tourt-chinboiong-gherra, seeing it as a small bird flock drinking rainwater from a small puddle in the tree fork.[24] The people of the Pukapuka atoll possibly called it Te Yiku-o-te-kiole, although it is sometimes identified as Ursa Major.[25]


The constellation Coma Berenices as seen by the naked eye.

Coma Berenices is entirely visible north of the 56th parallel south.[26] The constellation culminates on 2 April at midnight.[27] Although it is not a large constellation, it contains one galactic supercluster, two galactic clusters, one star cluster and eight Messier objects, including several globular clusters. These objects can be seen with minimal obscuration from dust because the constellation is not in the direction of the galactic plane. However, because of that, there are few open clusters (except for the Coma Berenices Cluster, which dominates the northern part of the constellation), diffuse nebulae, or planetary nebulae. Coma Berenices also contains the North Galactic Pole, at right ascension 12h 51m 25s and declination +27° 07′ 48″ (epoch J2000.0).


Further information: List of stars in Coma Berenices

Brightest stars[edit]

Major stars in Coma Berenices.

Coma Berenices is not particularly bright, having no stars brighter than fourth magnitude, but in clear, moonless nights there are up to fifty stars visible to the naked eye.[28] Beta Comae Berenices (43 Comae Berenices in Flamsteed designation) is the brightest star in the constellation, at magnitude 4.26 and with a high proper motion. It is located in the northeastern part of the constellation, being 29 light years from Earth. A solar analog, it is a yellow-hued F-type main-sequence star, with a spectral class F9.5V B.[29] It is intrinsically only slightly brighter than the Sun, which gives an idea of how faint the Sun would appear seen from Beta Comae's distance.

The second brightest star in Coma Berenices is 4.3-magnitude bluish Alpha Comae Berenices (42 Comae Berenices), with the proper name Diadem and rarely used Al Dafirah, in the southeastern part of the constellation. Despite its Alpha Bayer designation, the star is almost 10% dimmer than Beta Comae Berenices, being 58 light years away. It is a double star with the spectral class F5V and F6V.[30] Because the orbital plane is so close to the Earth's line of sight, it was long suspected of being an eclipsing binary, but it now appears that the orbital tilt is 0.1° relative to the line of sight, so the stars do not eclipse each other as seen from Earth.

Gamma Comae Berenices (15 Comae Berenices), which is superimposed on the Coma Star Cluster, is an orange-hued giant of magnitude 4.4 and spectral class K1III C, in the southwestern part of the constellation, 170 light years from Earth. It is the brightest star in Coma Star Cluster.[31] Together with Alpha Comae Berenices and Beta Comae Berenices, it forms an isosceles triangle, from which the imaginary tresses of Berenice hang.

Star systems[edit]

The star systems of Coma Berenices include binary, double and triple stars. 21 Comae Berenices with the proper name Kissin is a close binary with almost equal components and a period of 26 years.[32] The Coma Cluster contains at least eight spectroscopic binaries.[33] The constellation has seven eclipsing binaries: CC, DD, EK, RW, RZ, SS and UX Comae Berenices.[34]

There are over thirty double stars in the constellation,[35] such as 24 Comae Berenices with contrasting colors. Its primary is an orange-hued giant star of magnitude 5.0, 610 light years from Earth, and the secondary is a blue-white hued star of magnitude 6.6.

Triple stars include 12 Comae Berenices, 17 Comae Berenices, KR Comae Berenices and Sigma 1639.[36][37]

Variable stars[edit]

Over 200 variable stars are known in Coma Berenices, although many of them are obscure.[38] Alpha Comae Berenices is a possible Algol variable.[39] FK Comae Berenices, which varies between magnitude 8.14 and 8.33 over a period of 2.4 days, is the prototype for the FK Comae Berenices class of variable stars.[38] It is also the star where the so-called flip-flop phenomenon was first discovered.[40] FS Comae Berenices is a semi-regular variable, a red giant with a minimum magnitude of 6.1 and a maximum magnitude of 5.3. It has a period of approximately 2 months and is 572 light years from Earth. R Comae Berenices is a Mira variable whose maximum magnitude can reach almost 7.[41] There are 123 RR Lyrae variables in the constellation.[42] Many of them are located in the galaxy M53.[43] One of these stars, TU Comae Berenices possibly has a binary system.[44] The galaxy M100 in Coma Berenices contains about twenty Cepheid variables which were observed by the Hubble Space Telescope.[45] The constellation also contains Alpha² Canum Venaticorum variables, such as bluish-white 13 Comae Berenices and AI Comae Berenices.[46]


Multiple supernovae have been discovered in Coma Berenices. Four of them (SN 1940B, SN 1969H, SN 1987E and SN 1999gs) were in the galaxy NGC 4725,[47] another four have been discovered in the galaxy M99 (NGC 4254): SN 1967H, SN 1972Q, SN 1986I and SN 2014L.[47] Five were discovered in the galaxy M100 (NGC 4321): SN 1901B, SN 1914A, SN 1959E, SN 1979C and SN 2006X.[47] SN 1940B discovered on May 4, 1940 was the first observed example of type II supernova.[48] SN 2005ap, discovered on March 3, 2005, is the brightest supernova known to date, with a peak absolute magnitude of around −22.7.[49] However, due to great distance (4.7 billion light years from Earth), it was not visible to the naked eye and was discovered telescopically. SN 1979C discovered in 1979 retained its original X-ray brightness for 25 years, despite fading in visible light.[50]

Other stars[edit]

Coma Berenices also contains the neutron star RBS 1223 and pulsar PSR B1237+25.[51] RBS 1223 is a member of The Magnificent Seven group of neutron stars characterized by thermal X-ray spectra.[52] In 1975 the first extrasolar source of extreme ultraviolet, the white dwarf HZ 43 was discovered in Coma Berenices.[53] In 1995 there was a very rare outburst of the WZ Sagittae-type dwarf nova, AL Comae Berenices.[54] In June 2003 the outburst of GO Comae Berenices, an SU Ursae Majoris-type dwarf nova, was photometrically observed.[55]

Star clusters[edit]

Coma Star Cluster[edit]

The Coma Star Cluster does not have a Messier or an NGC designation, but it is in the Melotte catalogue of open clusters, where it is designated Melotte 111, and is also catalogued as Abell 1656. It is a large, diffuse open cluster of about 50 stars that range between 5th and 10th magnitudes, including several of the naked eye stars in the constellation. The cluster is spread over a huge region, more than 5 degrees across, near Gamma Comae Berenices. The cluster has such a large apparent size because it is relatively nearby, only 288 light years away.

Globular clusters[edit]

M53 (NGC 5024) is a globular cluster that was discovered by Johann Elert Bode in 1775 and independently by Charles Messier in February 1777, but William Herschel was the first to resolve it into stars.[43] It is of magnitude 7.7 and is 56,000 light years from Earth. Only 1° away is NGC 5053, a globular cluster that is sparser and has a less dense nucleus of stars. Its total luminosity is around 16,000 suns, which is one of the lowest luminosities of any globular cluster. It was discovered by William Herschel in 1784. NGC 4147 is a somewhat dimmer globular cluster with a much smaller apparent size.


Coma Supercluster[edit]

The Coma Supercluster contains the Coma Cluster and the Leo Cluster of galaxies. The Coma Cluster forms the imaginary tresses of Berenice and is around 230–300 million light years away. The cluster is one of the richest known, containing at least 10,000 galaxies, mainly elliptical with a few spiral.[56] Due to the great distance to the cluster, most of the galaxies are only visible in large telescopes. The brightest members are NGC 4889 and NGC 4874, both of which are of thirteenth magnitude, with most of the other members being of fifteenth magnitude or dimmer. NGC 4889 is a giant elliptical galaxy, which also contains one of the largest known black holes, at 21 billion solar masses.[57] NGC 4921 is the brightest spiral galaxy in the cluster.[58] Following his observations of the Coma Cluster, astronomer Fritz Zwicky first predicted the existence of dark matter in the 1930s.[56]

Virgo Cluster[edit]

Coma Berenices contains the northern portion of the Virgo Cluster (also known as the Coma–Virgo Cluster), which is around 60 million light years away. That portion includes five Messier galaxies. M85 (NGC 4382) is regarded as either elliptical or lenticular galaxy and is one of the brighter members of the cluster, at magnitude 9. M85 is interacting with spiral galaxy NGC 4394 and the elliptical galaxy MCG-3-32-38.[51] M88 (NGC 4501) is a multi-arm spiral galaxy, seen about 30° from edge-on. It has a highly regular shape with well-developed, symmetrical arms. M88 is among the first recognized as a spiral galaxy[59] and has a supermassive black hole in its center.[51] M91 (NGC 4548) is a barred spiral galaxy with bright, diffuse nucleus. It is the faintest object in Messier's catalog, at magnitude 10.2.[60] M98 (NGC 4192) is a bright, elongated spiral galaxy that is seen nearly edge-on; it can appear elliptical because of its unusual angle. It is of the 10th magnitude and is a member of the Virgo Cluster. M98 is one of the galaxies without red shift.[61] M99 (NGC 4254) is a spiral galaxy seen face-on. Like M98, it is a 10th-magnitude member of the Virgo Cluster. It has an unusually far-extending arm on the west side. M100 (NGC 4321) is a 9th-magnitude spiral galaxy seen face-on. It is one of the brightest galaxies of the Virgo Cluster.[45] Photographs reveal a brilliant core, two prominent spiral arms and an array of secondary ones, as well as several dust lanes.

Other galaxies[edit]

Dwarf irregular galaxy NGC 4789A.[62]
M64, the Black Eye Galaxy.
NGC 4651 with umbrella-shaped stellar streams.

M64 (NGC 4826) is known as the Black Eye Galaxy because of the prominent dark dust lane in front of the galaxy's bright nucleus. Also known as the Sleeping Beauty and Evil Eye galaxy,[63] the galaxy is around 24 million light years away. Recent studies have revealed that the interstellar gas in the outer regions of the galaxy rotates in the opposite direction from that in the inner regions, leading astronomers to believe that at least one satellite galaxy had collided with it less than a billion years ago. All other evidence of the smaller galaxy has been completely assimilated. At the interface between the clockwise- and counterclockwise-rotating regions, there are many new nebulae and young stars.[64]

NGC 4565, the Needle Galaxy.

NGC 4314 is a face-on barred spiral galaxy at a distance of 40 million light years. It is unique for its region of intense star formation that creates a ring around the nucleus, discovered by the Hubble Space Telescope. The prodigious star formation began a short 5 million years ago and is in a region with a diameter of only 1,000 light years. The architecture of the core is further unique because the small ring itself has spiral arms that feed gas into the bar.[64]

NGC 4414 is an unbarred spiral flocculent galaxy located about 62 million light years away. It is one of the closest flocculent spiral galaxies.[65]

NGC 4565 is an edge-on spiral galaxy appearing superimposed on the Virgo Cluster, though it is only 20 million light years from Earth. NGC 4565 has been nicknamed the Needle Galaxy because, when seen in full, it appears as a very narrow streak of light on the sky.[66] Like many edge-on spiral galaxies, it has a prominent dust lane and a central bulge.

NGC 4651 is a galaxy about the size of the Milky Way and features tidal stellar streams gravitationally stripped from a smaller satellite galaxy.[67] NGC 4651 is about 62 million light years away.[67]

NGC 4676, sometimes called the Mice galaxies, is a pair of interacting galaxies at a distance of 300 million light years from Earth. The progenitor galaxies were both spiral galaxies; astronomers estimate that they had their closest approach about 160 million years ago. That close approach caused large regions of star formation in both galaxies, along with long "tails" of dust, stars, and gas. The two progenitor galaxies are predicted to interact significantly at least one more time before completely merging into a larger, probably elliptical galaxy.[64]

Spiral galaxy Malin 1 is the first known giant low-surface-brightness galaxy.[68] Alongside UGC 1382, it is also one of the largest low-surface-brightness galaxies.[68]

In 2006 a dwarf galaxy, also named Coma Berenices, was discovered in the constellation.


HS 1216+5032 is a bright, gravitationally lensed quasar pair.[69] W Comae Berenices (or ON 231), a blazar in the northwestern part of the constellation, was originally identified as a variable star and so given a variable star designation, but later discovered to be a BL Lacertae object.[70] As of 2009, it shows the most intense gamma ray spectrum of all sixty known gamma ray blazars.[70]


Coma Berenices has seven exoplanets.[71] One of them, HD 108874 b has a close Earth-like insolation.[72]

Meteor shower[edit]

The Coma Berenicids meteor shower peaks on or near January 18.[38] Despite slow intensity (one or two meteors per hour on average), its meteors are one of the fastest, with speeds of up to 65 km/s (40 mps).[38]

In culture[edit]

Coma Berenices by Luis Ricardo Falero, 1886

Since Callimachus' poem, Coma Berenices has been occasionally referenced in culture. The similarity of Berenice's name with that of Herodian ruler Berenice has led to the constellation's association with the legend of Saint Veronica, who, according to tradition, lent Jesus her veil to wipe the sweat when he carried his cross.[73] In 1886 Spanish artist Luis Ricardo Falero made a mezzotint print image showing the personification of Coma Berenices alongside Virgo and Leo.[74] In 1999 Irish artist Alice Maher made a series of four oversize drawings titled Coma Berenices which show entwining black hair coils.[75]


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External links[edit]

Coordinates: Sky map 12h 45m 36s, +21° 49′ 48″