Observing Project 12G Fast Moving Stars

In addition to their variable nature, there is another reason to keep a close watch on these close red dwarves. They are very close to Earth and are moving in a direction that is tangential to our line of sight, so stars like Wolf 359 and Barnard's Star display a very rapid proper motion. Both of these stars move across the sky at ten arc seconds per year so after a time, the movement of these two stars against the background stars becomes very readily apparent.

Not all the stars in the firmament then sit still. Keep a close watch on these two stars over a period of several years and watch their positions change. Barnard's Star in particular is interesting because it is rapidly moving towards Earth, at a rate of 140 kilometers (87 miles) every second. It will approach as close as 3.7 light years to Earth in the year 11,800. It also has the fastest rate of proper motion of any star in the entire sky, moving at 10.3 arc seconds per year.

The stars are often the most ignored objects in the heavens, seeming to sit stationary and forever unmoving in the firmament of the heavens. But careful observation shows the stars are not so static as they brighten and fade, circle in pairs or even pairs of pairs and even move over time. So when the sky is too hazy or light polluted to find the faint, fuzzy things, spend some time with the stars. You will find your work will be well rewarded.


Faint, Fuzzy - Things. Part I:

Phenomena Galactica

Figure 13.1. M16/ Eagle Nebula. Image by author. 10-min exposure using Meade DSI and Celestron SC8 Plus. Note the slight streaking caused by a slight misalignment of the polar axis.

Figure 13.1. M16/ Eagle Nebula. Image by author. 10-min exposure using Meade DSI and Celestron SC8 Plus. Note the slight streaking caused by a slight misalignment of the polar axis.

As astronomers scanned across the skies with their new telescopes during the seventeenth and eighteenth century, they began to uncover in droves faint wispy patches of light that were obviously not stellar in nature. At first many professional astronomers considered them to be more problematic than interesting because they were potentially easy to mistake for comets. But as our telescopes grew more capable and our observing and photographic techniques grew more refined and sophisticated, we came to realize that these "false comets" as Charles Messier called them were each special types of objects that later on would become crucial to our understanding of the nature of the universe. Some of these patches of light represent stellar tombstones where a star met its end, sometimes in astonishing violence and glory and sometimes with but a puff of gas in an interstellar whimper. Other puffs of light represent stellar nurseries, where newborn stars are emerging from the womb beginning their lives. Some patches of light are loose communities of stars traveling together through space while others are tightly bunched gatherings of hundreds of thousands of stars that travel around our galaxy in a giant halo. Beyond the halo of clusters are the enormous "island universes," the galaxies that are host to uncountable hundreds of billions of stars and other faint fuzzy things of their own. In this chapter, we'll take a look at those objects that are indigenous to our galaxy and in the next; we'll take a look at the distant galaxies. But first, let's take a look at the man who first focused attention on the deep sky and his historic contribution to our science and hobby.

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