February Stars

VenusNo school today, so I could stay up and watch Algol reach minimum light last evening. The time was right, the skies were clear, no moon, perfect.
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Algol is a star in Perseus; it represents one of the eyes in the decapitated head of the Gorgon Medusa. It’s also called Beta Persei and Gorgonea Prima. It is a binary star, and the small brighter companion is eclipsed on a regular basis by its large dimmer companion. This causes a drop in brightness of over a magnitude; suggesting for the ancients the still-dangerous eye of the Medusa. This occurs about every 2.8 days.
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Algol is Arabic, al-gul, “the ghoul.” It’s the origin of the English word “ghoul” and Algol is reputed to be the evillest star in the sky. But last night I watched it dim rapidly and realized it was just a binary star, and that I was lucky enough to be in the shadow of a faraway eclipse. The mythology made me feel closer to many generations who have looked upward in wonder; making me feel not spooky but very safe.
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Other things on last night’s tour of the heavens… M44 (the Beehive Cluster) and faint M67, both in Cancer. Iota Cancri, a pretty binary, one yellow-white and the other bright blue. The Double Cluster near Perseus–in the next-outer arm of our galaxy from us. Kemble’s Cascade and NGC1502, both in Camelopardalis. Tonight will try for a faint glimpse of comet 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdusakova. IF my other work is finished by then!

About Jon

Organist, sacred musician, teacher, writer, working in New York City and parts north. Amateur genealogist, astronomer, etc.
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