Of all the northern circumpolar constellations, Camelopardalis is the least distinct. It was created by the German astronomer Jakob Bartsch in 1624 to represent a camel, but was later reidentified as a giraffe. Although Camelopardalis is the 18th largest constellation, none of its stars shine brighter than 4th magnitude and amateur astronomers tend to shy away from a wide variety of deep sky objects found within. Yet the Giraffe has some lovely surprises for the deep sky enthusiast.

Kemble's Cascade
Kemble’s Cascade is an asterism of about 20 stars nearly in a row, stretching over six times the width of a Full Moon. Greg Parker and Noel Carboni

Step outside on a clear night and aim your binoculars at a point halfway between Polaris and Capella, then shift about one binocular field (7°) toward Alpha Persei. You should see a long string of stars measuring about 3° in extent, popularly known as Kemble’s Cascade.

Lucian Kemble, a Franciscan monk from Alberta, Canada, chanced upon this cluster in the late 1970s while observing with 7×35 binoculars. He described it as “a beautiful cascade of faint stars tumbling from the northwest down to the open cluster NGC 1502”. This striking stellar arrangement is composed of about 20 stars, mostly 9th-magnitude, with a lone 5th-magnitude sun about midway. The southeast end of Kemble’s Cascade splits into two parts – one heads northeast toward NGC 1502, the other to the south in a straggling line of seven more stars.

Astronomers designate distinctive patterns formed by a group of stars as asterisms. Stars composing asterisms catch the eye but are not physically related; in contrast, stars born together have similar ages and move with one another through space. If gravity only loosely binds the stars, these groups are called stellar associations.

Perhaps the most famous asterism in the night sky is the Plough (Big Dipper), a shape formed by seven stars in Ursa Major. Other famous asterisms within individual constellations include the Sickle of Leo and the Teapot in Sagittarius. The Square of Pegasus is an example of an asterism that is composed of stars from two constellations (in this case, Andromeda and Pegasus); another is the Summer Triangle.

Finder map – field width 15°, stars to magnitude +9.