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Wellington Daily News - Wellington, KS
  • Looking Up: Antares, the ruby of the summer night

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  • One of the jewels of the summer night shines like a fiery red ruby, glowing in the steam of a teapot and keeping alive a great scorpion. This is Antares, one of the brightest stars of the night.
    Antares, also known as Alpha Scorpii, is approximately 0 magnitude, listed as the 15th brightest in the entire night sky. Appropriately known as the "Heart of the Scorpion," it is the brightest star in the constellation Scorpius. You may see it due south - southwest just after darkness falls, during mid-summer.
    If you live in mid-northern latitudes, such as I do, in Wayne County, Pennsylvania, at around 42 degrees north of the equator, you should look fairly low, no more than a quarter of the way up in the sky.
    Antares is a red supergiant star with a diameter approximately 800 times that of our Sun. If the Sun were replaced with Antares, its outer surface would lie between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter and the cinders of Earth would be deep inside. The star is 600 light years away. The starlight you see tonight left Antares in about 1400 A.D.
    A companion star orbits Antares, which appears greenish. Not quite the Christmas Star (Christmas in July?), the colors of this double star can lead to festive thoughts. Unfortunately you need a fairly large backyard telescope and a night of very steady air, to see the companion. Known as Antares-B, the companion is magnitude +5.5 and thus bright enough to be seen with unaided eyes, if the star were not normally lost in the glare of brilliant Antares. Users of small telescopes, however, can see Antares-B when the Moon passes in front of Antares. For a brief moment, it is possible to see only the companion on the very edge of the moon.
    The Greeks named Antares, for "Rival of Mars" due to its reddish hue.
    The lunar module that took astronauts Alan Shepard and Joseph Engle to the moon aboard Apollo 14 in February 1971 was named Antares.
    The region of sky just east of Antares (to your left) contains the hub of the Milky Way Galaxy. Here, you are looking right towards the middle of our grand spiral cosmic home. The Milky Way Band is widest and brightest in this area. The constellation Sagittarius the Archer lies in front of the Milky Way’s hub, and the constellation’s brighter stars easily resemble a tea pot. The billowing Milky Way Band rises from this tea pot, which you can picture as steam. You need to be at a rural location to witness this.
    New moon is on July 26. The writer may be contacted at news@neagle.com.
    Keep looking up!

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