Astronomy Picture of the Day
APOD: 1999 June 5 - Betelgeuse, Betelgeuse, Betelgeuse
Explanation: Betelgeuse (sounds a lot like "beetle juice"), a red supergiant star about 600 light years distant, is seen in this Hubble Space Telescope image - the first direct picture of the surface of a star other than the Sun. While Betelgeuse is cooler than the Sun, it is more massive and over 1000 times larger. If placed at the center of our Solar System, it would extend past the orbit of Jupiter. Betelgeuse is also known as Alpha Orionis, one of the brightest stars in the familiar constellation of Orion, the Hunter. The name Betelgeuse is Arabic in origin. As a massive red supergiant, it is nearing the end of its life and will soon become a supernova. In this historic image, a bright hotspot is revealed on the star's surface.
APOD: 2000 June 11 - Sirius: The Brightest Star in the Night
Explanation: Sirius is the brightest star in the night sky. Sirius is visible on the far left of the above photograph, to the left of the constellation of Orion and Comet Hale-Bopp. Intrinsically, Sirius is over 20 times brighter than our Sun and over twice as massive. As Sirius is 8.7 light years distant, it is not the closest star system - the Alpha Centauri system holds this distinction. Sirius is called the Dog Star because of its prominence in the constellation of Canis Majoris (Big Dog). In 1862, Sirius was discovered to be a binary star system with a companion star, Sirius B, 10,000 times dimmer than the bright primary, Sirius A. Sirius B was the first white dwarf star discovered, a type of star first understood by Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar in 1930. While studying Sirius in 1718, Edmond Halley discovered that stars move with respect to each other. There is conflicting evidence that Sirius appeared more red only 2000 years ago.
APOD: 1996 May 26 - Alpha Centauri: The Closest Star System
Explanation: The closest star system to the Sun is the Alpha Centauri system. Of the three stars in the system, the dimmest -- called Proxima Centauri -- is actually the nearest star. The bright stars Alpha Centauri A and B form a close binary as they are separated by only 23 times the Earth- Sun distance - slightly greater than the distance between Uranus and the Sun. In the above picture, the brightness of the stars overwhelm the photograph causing an illusion of great size, even though the stars are really just small points of light. The Alpha Centauri system is not visible in much of the northern hemisphere. Alpha Centauri A, also known as Rigil Kentaurus, is the brightest star in the constellation of Centaurus and is the fourth brightest star in the night sky. Sirius is the brightest even thought it is more than twice as far away. By an exciting coincidence, Alpha Centauri A is the same type of star as our Sun, causing many to speculate that it might contain planets that harbor life.
APOD: 1998 August 23 - Vega
Explanation: Vega is a bright blue star 25 light years away. Vega is the brightest star in the Summer Triangle, a group of stars easily visible summer evenings in the northern hemisphere. The name Vega derives from Arabic origins, and means "stone eagle." 4,000 years ago, however, Vega was known by some as "Ma'at" - one example of ancient human astronomical knowledge and language. 14,000 years ago, Vega, not Polaris, was the north star. Vega is the fifth brightest star in the night sky, and has a diameter almost three times that of our Sun. Life bearing planets, rich in liquid water, could possibly exist around Vega. The above picture, taken in January 1997, finds Vega, the Summer Triangle, and Comet Hale-Bopp high above Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.
Authors & editors:
& Jerry Bonnell (USRA)
NASA Technical Rep.: Jay Norris. Specific rights apply.
A service of: LHEA at NASA/ GSFC
& Michigan Tech. U.