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January 3, 2011

January Starline: More eclipses on the way

(Continued)

ST PETER —

       January brings us the brilliant winter sky. By the time it gets nice and dark the big, bright, beautiful constellation Orion the hunter is seen rising on his side in the east. Orion is a huge stick figure man. He is instantly recognizable by the three equally bright belt stars in a tilted line. Above the belt stars are two bright stars representing Orion’s arms and below the belt are two bright stars representing Orion’s feet. 

Following Orion into the sky at Orion’s heels is his hunting dog, Canis Major. Canis Major doesn’t show a   clear pattern of stars but it does contain the brightest star in the night sky, Sirius, appropriately called the “dog star.” If the name “Sirius” sounds familiar remember that Harry Potter’s godfather was Sirius Black.

Sirius was long suspected to have a faint companion star. That companion, Sirius B, was first observed by Alvin Clark January 31, 1862. Sirius B turned out to be a white dwarf, a stellar corpse made of super-dense material. Sirius B is the size of the Earth but it has the mass of the sun!  Because Sirius A—the bright star we see in the sky—is the “dog star,” Sirius B is sometimes known as the “pup.”

Send comments and questions to Steve Kipp, at steven.kipp@mnsu.edu

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