by Chet Raymo
“A sure test of dark skies is the ability to see with the naked eye the nucleus of the Andromeda Galaxy, the nearest large spiral galaxy to our own and the most distant thing - 2 million light-years - you are likely to see without optical aid. On literally hundreds of nights I have stood with a group of companions (of all ages) and unfolded the story illustrated by constellations in that part of the sky. Cassiopeia. Cepheus. Andromeda. Cetus. Perseus. Pegasus. The star Algol. It's a grand story that you can find here, one that has been a theme of artists since the Renaissance.
Did di Cosimo take the story of Perseus and Andromeda literally? Later artists - Poynter and Dore, for example - might draw on mythic themes, but they knew Perseus and Andromeda had no more factual basis than did the crystalline spheres of Renaissance astronomers. Of course, the mythic imagination is alive and well today, No one any longer takes the classic Greco-Roman stories literally, but the equally preposterous stories of the various holy books are considered literal by an astonishing number of us. Many people are willing to kill and maim to uphold the veracity of stories that have no more empirical basis than do flying sandals. Meanwhile, a real Andromeda beckons, a fuzzy blur of light in a dark night sky, which optical aid reveals as a spiraling beauty of hundreds of billions of stars.”