09 June 2011

Double Star and Planetary Close Encounter: Porrima and Saturn

Light-polluted skies allow us city dwellers to only see the brighter objects in the night sky. Luckily, there are plenty of bright objects to see, and for the next few weeks Saturn has a close-encounter with a fairly bright double star. It's time to get out your telescope and put it to work, for the reward will be worth it.

The double star, Porrima, is a double star system located about 40 light-years away, relatively close to the Sun in the grand scheme of things. The two stars orbit each other about every 170 years, and as they do so, the apparent distance that separates them changes (from our Earth-bound point of view). Right now, the two are well separated, meaning that with a telescope pointed at Saturn you will see the two stars as distinct objects. Only a few years ago, their alignment was such that you would have needed a very powerful telescope to see the two stars in the Porrima system as individual stars. Right now, if you put Saturn into view in a small to medium telescope, you will also get the Porrima system in your field of view as well.

The diagram (above) illustrates where to find Saturn and Porrima over the next few days, and this article from Space.com also provides insight and additional diagrams to help you see this sight.

So seize the moment and be an amateur astronomer for a night, making a fun discovery for yourself.


Sidewalk Universe said...

This has been a joy to watch over the last few weeks! The excitement was building night after night watching these two lights in our sky draw closer and closer! Urban astro at its best!

System Shock said...

Very cool indeed!