The double in a double

Mar 19

Written by:
3/19/2013 5:50 PM  RssIcon

The Winter Milky Way is setting towards the west, and as it does, we lose our cold weather deep sky friends.

  • Messier 42
  • Messier 41
  • Messier 35
  • The Pleiades
  • The Hyades

Okay, okay... I know, they're not gone just yet.  But many of those objects are nice and bright.  True, what awaits us in the spring skies are the Virgo galaxies, but this can be a challenging area for beginners, and without a medium size scope and somewhat better skies, it is also difficult even for experienced observers.  The globulars of spring are still rising.  So what' s left, besides "looking out into space" beyond our Milky Way?

A double star!  And not just any double star, but a double, that has a double.  That's not the same as Epsilon Lyrae, which is a "double/double" - two stars that can each be split into four.  No, this one is different.

27 Hya is a 5th magnitude star just 2 degrees away from Alphard, a 2nd magnitude star that is the brightest star in Hydra, a long, winding constellation that is the largest constellation by area in the entire sky.  But much of it is dim - except Alphard, which at 2nd magnitude sticks out like a sore thumb in the southern sky during late evening of early spring, much like Fomalhaut does in the autumn.  If you're not entirely familiar with where to find it, that's easy: It's below - and between - Regulus and Procyon.  And by lifting binoculars to it, you can find 27 Hya right nearby - just pan 2 degrees west (to the right), and "Voila!" - in the same field of view as Alphard is this double star of a 5th and 7th magnitude star that are 229 arc second apart.  True, 7th magnitude may be a challenge from city locations; you'll want to dark adapt as best you can and block extraneous light.  But take your time, and try using averted vision - you just may pick this one off.

But there's more here: That 7th magnitude star is itself a double star - hence the "Double in a double" designation.  That 7th magnitude star can be split into a 7th magnitude primary and 9th magnitude secondary - just 9.6 arc seconds apart.  Those two will require a telescope, but not necessarily a large one (114mm and larger should do it, but a smaller one will suffice under dark skies), given that the separation isn't all that tight.  Give it a try sometime over the next couple of weeks - you can find it somewhere near the meridian several hours past sunset.

While you're in the area, you may want to star hop to Messier 67 and Messier 44 in Cancer the Crab, which are both nearby.

For more information on what you can find and see in the night sky every week, see the homepage of Eyes on the Sky.  Light pollution reduction begins with you, and you can take simple steps to reduce night sky glow without compromising safety.  

Find 27 Hya in Hydra near Alphard

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The Nightlight

This blog includes what to see in the night and daytime skies, thoughts on telescopes, binoculars, and other astronomy observing accessories and equipment, plus my own occasional notes on objects I've seen and observed. Oh, and the random theater or other "my take on life" post. In other words, there is always something interesting. Check it out.