Constellations: Camelopardalis 'the Giraffe' Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Constellations: Camelopardalis 'the Giraffe'

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The shield of the Science, Mathematics and Engineering faculty of the h2g2 University.Constellations: Overview | Andromeda | Antlia | Apus | Aquarius | Aquila | Ara | Aries | Auriga | Boötes | Caelum
Camelopardalis | Cancer | Canes Venatici | Canis Major | Canis Minor | Capricornus | Carina | Cassiopeia | Centaurus
Cepheus | Cetus | Chamæleon | Circinus | Columba | Coma Berenices | Corona Australis | Corona Borealis | Corvus
Crater | Crux | Cygnus | Delphinus | Dorado | Draco | Equuleus | Eridanus | Fornax | Gemini | Grus | Hercules | Horologium
Hydra | Hydrus | Indus | Lacerta | Leo | Leo Minor | Lepus | Libra | Lupus | Lynx | Lyra | Mensa | Microscopium | Monoceros
Musca | Norma | Octans | Ophiuchus | Orion | Pavo | Pegasus | Perseus | Phoenix | Pictor | Pisces | Piscis Austrinus
Puppis | Pyxis | Reticulum | Sagitta | Sagittarius | Scorpius | Sculptor | Scutum | Serpens | Sextans | Taurus
Telescopium | Triangulum | Triangulum Australe | Tucana | Ursa Major | Ursa Minor | Vela | Virgo | Volans | Vulpecula
Name:Camelopardalis (Latin: 'Giraffe')
Short form:Cam
Area:757 sq deg
Co-ordinates1:Right Ascension 06h, Declination +70°

Camelopardalis2 is a northern polar constellation. The head and neck of Camelopardalis encroaches into Draco and Ursa Minor's circumpolar constellations, and its body and legs are sandwiched between Ursa Major and Cassiopeia. Southerly borders are with Perseus, Auriga and Lynx.

It has no bright stars, the highest magnitude being the beta star at +4. However, there's a plentiful supply of galaxies to keep the telescope owner happy, due to the positioning away from the spiral arm of our galaxy. Two NGC objects are an open cluster and a planetary nebula, and six stars have extrasolar planets.


The giraffe constellation has no fanciful mythology as its brethren seem to have, but there is some mystery surrounding the history of its origin. Some researchers believe a star map by the Dutch cartographer Petrus Plancius (1552 - 1622) was reprinted in the constellation book by Jakob Bartsch in 1624. Others think Bartsch invented the constellation himself, to honour the camel in the Biblical story of Rebecca and Isaac.

The word 'camelopard' describes the giraffe as being an amalgamation of the camel and the pard. What's a pard? According to Isidore of Seville who wrote Etymologies: 'The pard: a beast of many colours, is very swift, likes blood, and kills with a leap'.


The stars of Camelopardalis don't have proper names because the constellation is a modern one. The Greek letter system (known as the 'Bayer designation') barely applies because some significant stars have only recently been discovered.

Camelopardalis has some interesting variable stars: CS Cam; BE Cam; VZ Cam; 53 Cam; 12 Cam; 11 Cam and 3 Cam. The stars 11 Cam, a blue-white dwarf, and 12 Cam, an orange giant, form a binary star system  — they orbit each other every 80 days.

The body of the giraffe is formed by the stars alpha, beta, gamma and BE Cam. A line from the alpha star to M Cam gives us the famous elongated neck, and the star HD 42818 marks the snout. The giraffe's front leg is formed by tracing a line from beta Cam to 7 Cam and similarly by connecting BE Cam with CS Cam (the hind leg) completes the animal shape.

Star Table

StarDesignationBrightness (m)Distance
(light years3)
Spectral classification
and/or comments
β Cambeta Cam+4.03997Yellow supergiant
α Camalpha Cam+4.26,900Blue supergiant
γ Camgamma Cam+4.6355White subgiant
BE CamBE Cam+4 var1,050Red giant
HD 42818HD 42818+4.7176White dwarf
7 CamHD 31278+4.4350Triple star system
CS CamHD 21291+4 var4,300Binary star system
M CamHD 49878+4.5180Orange giant
VZ CamHD 55966+5 var450Red giant
3 CamHD 29317+5 var500Orange giant
11 CamBV Cam+5 var620Blue-white dwarf; binary with 12 Cam
12 CamBM Cam+6 var625Orange giant; binary with 11 Cam
53 CamAX Cam+6 var320White dwarf

New General Catalogue (NGC)

The NGC was compiled by John Louis Emil Dreyer (the director of the Armagh Observatory from 1882 to 1916).

A stunningly beautiful cascade of stars seems to flow into the open star cluster NGC 1502. This asterism is named 'Kemble's Cascade' after Father Lucian Kemble, a Franciscan monk and amateur astronomer who died in 1999.

NGC Table

CatalogueTypeBrightness (m)Distance
(light years)
NGC 1501Planetary nebula+15.24,890Irregular disc
NGC 1502Open cluster+6.9821+40 stars; situated between
alpha and beta Cam
NGC 1569Starburst galaxy+127mDwarf irregular
NGC 2403Galaxy+8.410mCW spiral

Index Catalogue (IC)

There is a rather lovely spiral galaxy in the IC catalogue, IC 342, a close neighbour at just 10 million light years distance away.

The Lemon Slice Nebula is well-named. IC 3568 is a planetary nebula that is over 4,500 light years from Earth.

Extrasolar Planets in Camelopardalis

There have been some extrasolar planetary systems found in the constellation Camelopardalis up to 2009; the first was discovered in 2003. Figures given in the table below are the length of the planet's orbital period around its parent star, which we know of as a year. The mass of the extrasolar planet is compared to that of Jupiter, our Solar System's largest planet, known by astronomers as the 'Jovian scale'.

The planet HD 33564 b is in that star system's habitable zone but it is a gas giant which has a mass nine times that of Jupiter and the gravitational force would be phenomenal. If the planet were to have any rocky moons with an atmosphere then they are likely candidates for the search for extra-terrestrial life.

HD 104985 b has been designated a proper name, Meztli, by the IAU. Meztli is the goddess of the Moon in Aztec mythology.

Extrasolar Planets Table

Star name or
catalogue number
catalogue number
Planet mass
(Jovian scale)
Orbital period
(Earth days)
Year of discoveryComments
HD 35759HD 35759 b3.7682.52016Superjovian
HD 24064HD 24064 b9.45562015Superjovian
HD 32518HD 32518 b3.04157.52009Superjovian
XO-3XO-3 b11.793.192007Hot superjovian
HD 33564HD 33564 b9.23882005Superjovian; eccentric orbit; habitable zone
HD 104985HD 104985 b/Meztli6.331982003Superjovian

1Current IAU guidelines use a plus sign (+) for northern constellations and a minus sign (−) for southern ones.2Pronounced 'ka-mel-o-PAR-da-lis', camelopardalis is the Latin word for 'giraffe'.3A light year is the distance light travels in one year, roughly 5.88 trillion miles or 9.46 trillion km.

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