Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Gamma Andromedae

The scope was out, it was a lovely evening. Leslie pointed to a star, a hop and a skip to the left of the Great Square of Pegasus.

"I want to see that."

I sighed, I hope not too loudly. I was still an extremely amateur astronomer, not too sure of what I was doing.

My sighs precede my pontifications. We both know this. We've been together most of our lives.
"Well," I wanted to say, knowing all too well she already knew this, "a star is a point of light. It looks the same in the scope—a point of light."

But I didn't; I swung the scope towards the star, not expecting to see much.

I looked into the eyepiece, and gasped.


Almach, Gamma Andromedae, marks the end of the handle of the Autumn Dipper, visible high in the autumn night sky. Naked eye, it looks like, well, a star, a shimmery point of light, lovely as any other star, but not unusual in a dark moonless sky.

In a telescope, the star splits into two, one deep blue, one gold, as pretty a double star as can be seen in our hemisphere.

The light traveled about 355 years before bouncing off the mirror of the scope, exciting my retina, then my cortex. 17th century light. Photons dancing through nothingness since about the time King Charles I lost his head.

The gold star shines like 2000 suns. Both stars seen in the scope are themselves doubles, and the blue double is itself a double--Gamma Andromedae is at least 5 stars!.

Or say so the experts. Looking through the scope, I could not tell you how far they are. I could tell you there are at least two stars, and that their fiery golden and azure glow defy imagination. On any clear autumn night, you are welcome to come look.

And why did Leslie choose that star? She doesn't know. Just a feeling.

Reflection without constant scrutiny and deconstruction is as close to pure observation as it gets. Or as she said--just a feeling.

Albireo is the more famous lovely double in our hemisphere. Somehow I feel Almach is a gift from my wife, mine to share. And in a way, it is.

The Gamma Andromedae photo is by Jack Schidling, found here. The Pegasus asterism is from Nova Online.


Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora Michael

Double stars are among the most beautiful gems of the night sky. The best scope to use (if you have to use a scope) is a low power one. The open cluster known as the Jewel Box or Kappa Crucis is among the best, easily seen with binocculars or low power scope.

Higher powers tend to dilute the beauty in a number of ways, the chief of which is the faintness of the light which is beautiful in its intensity in a 15 to 30 times astronomical scope, whether reflecting or otherwise.

Then there's the seeing. The atmosphere trembling away between you and beauty is only amplified by magnification - ruins the whole shebang.

Some of the most beautiful double stars can be seen with the naked eye - and there are literally hundreds of them that are visible. You've only got to look.

Catchya later
from Middle-earth

doyle said...

Kia ora Ken

You're absolutely right, especially with the last line--"You've only got to look."

Leslie sees a lot better than I do--the stars she sees are different colors. Mine are mostly white; a few are red enough that after years of disbelief I can actually tell they're red (funny how the brain works--Leslie is a marvelous teacher).

When I catch double stars like Almach in the scope, I deliberately unfocus it a bit to catch more color.

You're also right about magnification. The true power of a scope lies in its abilities to catch photons, not in how big it can make something look.

Your talk of "the seeing" confirms what I suspected--you are an avid stargazer.

If I were ever to rename this blog, I think "You've only got to look" would work just fine.


Dr. Davis said...

Your description of the stars was fascinating, particularly the discussion of Gamma Andromedae.

But what I thought was most fascinating was how your life seems to have mimicked this double star.

"My sighs precede my pontifications. We both know this. We've been together most of our lives." You are together, like the stars in the sky you looked at.

And like the stars in the sky, you are a lovely double. If one only takes the time to look...

doyle said...

Dear Dr. Davis,

Thanks for the words.

And, yep, I'm a lucky man--not sure I could've put up with someone like me for over 30 years. Thankfully, Leslie has a lot more patience than I do.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora Michael.

Yes, just remember, "Some of the most beautiful double stars can be seen with the naked eye ... only got to look." ;-)

Haere rā