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The enigma of Cassiopeia

Roughly 550 light-years away in the constellation of Cassiopeia lies IC 63, a stunning and slightly eerie nebula. Also known as the ghost of Cassiopeia, IC 63 is being molded by radiation from a nearby unpredictably variable star, Gamma Cassiopeiae, which is slowly wearing away the ghostly cloud of dust and gas. The constellation of Cassiopeia (constellation)], named after a vain queen in Greek mythology, forms the easily recognizable "W" shape in the night sky.

The incredible Gamma Cassiopeiae is a blue-white subgiant that is surrounded by a gaseous disc. This star is 19 times more massive and 65,000 times brighter than our Sun. It also rotates at the incredible speed of 1.6 million kilometers per hour, which is more than 200 times faster than the Sun. This wild rotation gives it a compacted look. The fast rotation causes eruptions of mass from the star into a surrounding disk. This mass loss is related to the observed brightness deviations.

The radiation of Gamma Cassiopeiae is so dominant that it even affects IC 63, occasionally nicknamed the Ghost Nebula, which lies several light years away from the star.


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