University Lowbrow Astronomers

Nandini & Sameer’s Story.

by Nandini Hanagud
Printed in Reflections: July, 2006.

Here’s the story of our telescope:

Our interest in astronomy till date has only extended to reading Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos” and for a while having the SETI—software/screensaver on our PC. But about a week ago or so, we were walking around window-shopping in the mall and we just happened to step into the discovery store.

They had telescopes right there at the front of the store. We had always assumed that telescopes were more expensive than they really are. Sameer and me both kind of looked at each other, and said, “Wow, can you imagine what we might be able to see through this.” So we went back home, did a bit of research, picked up Astronomy for Dummies, to get their take on how to pick a scope. From what we understood it would be easier to use one with an equatorial mount rather than the one with an azimuth one. So we decided on an EQ, and of all the models there this one seemed appropriate for beginners, which is what we are. So here we are with 114 inch, f/8.8 Meade.

On our second attempt at using the scope at home after we bought it, we found Jupiter and four of its moons and thought we were probably seeing some light shine off something, it seemed to too good to be true, only it was true, isn’t that fabulous?!

(I met Nandini and Sameer at an Open House at the end of May, they set up next to me on Peach Mountain. I tried to give them a few helpful hints on set-up and practicing alignment in daylight at home; They were back at the next open house, lets see how they did; Editor)

I wrote a few paragraphs about the double-double. I’m trying to maintain a blog of all that I observe etc., so I have all my notes in one place and this is going to be a part of my blog but I trimmed it a bit and thought I’d send it along to you. I’m very proud of our little scope now I got to see a double-double with it :-).... Anyway here’s the article....

I saw a Double-Double last night:

Just below Vega, in the summer sky, towards the top left corner of a parallelogram shaped pattern of stars, is a binary star system made up of two pairs of binary stars. This is the Epsilon Lyrae—A double-double. It lies at a distance of 160 light years from Earth. So what I saw last evening was an image that was a hundred and sixty years old.

In a binary star system, two stars are gravitationally bound. There are two binary star systems in Epsilon Lyrae—Epsilon 1 and Epsilon 2. I could see the binary systems Epsilon 1 and Epsilon 2 through my scope. Epsilon 1, to the left of my view (Newtonian telescopic view) should have appeared split across horizontally and Epsilon 2 should have appeared split vertically across to reveal each star in this quadruple star system.

These are 5th magnitude stars. A 1st magnitude star is a 100 times brighter than a 6th magnitude star. Magnitude measures relative brightness. The brighter a star appears, the lower the number. Jupiter3 was probably about -2.4 in magnitude last evening. Last night was fairly hazy and the Epsilon system looked like a single faint point of light to my unaided eye.

In a binary star system, two stars revolve around their common center of mass. The center of mass is proportionately closer to the heavier star. The heavier star moves in a smaller but slower orbit. Now, Epsilon 1 has an orbital period of about 1200 years and Epsilon 2 has an orbital period of 585 years, and Epsilon 1 and Epsilon 2 also revolve around their common center of mass and their orbital period is estimated be hundred thousands to a million years2. A really slow cosmic dance!

References:

1. Stephen P Maran (2005). Astronomy for Dummies, 2nd Ed. Wiley Publishing Inc.

2. Bruce McCure. Epsilon Lyrae—The Double Double. <http://www.idialstars.com/el.htm>

3. Amateur Astronomers Association of New York. This Month’s Sky. <http://www.aaa.org/aaawhatsup.htm>

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This page originally appeared in Reflections of the University Lowbrow Astronomers (the club newsletter).
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