What would you do if I strolled out of the shadows, tapped you on the shoulder, and whispered in your ear: Psst…Did you know you can see a double star system with your very own eyes? No optical aid required.
Besides turning around and socking me in the eye for scaring the hell out of you (and for criminal trespassing), I bet you would unleash a verbal riposte that may go a little something like this: You think I know a damn thing about constellations? Guess what? I don’t.
If that sounds like you—my friend—this insightful article is just for you!
Yeah, you see, some constellations can be a pain in the ass to locate. However, there are a few that are easy to find, the Big Dipper so happens to be one of them.
Everyone knows about the Big Dipper!…right? Maybe you happen to own memories of yourself gawking up at this particular asterisk, or maybe you were once an anti-gay boy scout, trained in the mystical art of constellation admiration. I hope you earned a pretty badge, you proud asshole, you!
If you never have become acquainted with Ursa Major, well—what’s wrong with you? Now is your opportunity to amend all that is wrong.
Unfortunately, the Big Dipper is only visible to Homo sapiens, who happen to reside north of the equator. Sorry to the folks who reside in Australia! Wait, I’m not sorry! You guys have the Tarantula Nebula and a variety of other gems that northerners are not privy to. Boo hoo.
Anyway—Alzor and Micor is the first double-star system that I became acquainted with many years ago. These stellar twins shine as the second star in the Big Dipper’s handle.
Hold on a minute, allow me to conjure up some digital wizardry and cast a few spells to visually explain what I’m talking about:
As you can see in this processed-enhanced image (don’t mind the pretty glow), I graciously drawn out the Big Dipper with my masterful photoshop skillz. I also summoned a MASSIVE green arrow that conveniently points to Alzor and Mizar.
If you think locating this particular star system is too easy, then I did my job! Locating this star system is really easy to locate, no matter how much of a greenhorn you happen to be with the night sky.
The only challenge you might face is Earth has a habit of continually being in motion—we call this obscure phenomena—an orbit. As a result of this so-called “orbit”, the stars in the sky will change their relative position against a fixed point: Polaris. Or as some call it, the North Star.
Sometimes, the Big Dipper can appear like this in the sky:
Can you find the Big Dipper? No—I’m not going to summon any more MASSIVE green arrows. I need to rest. And if you can’t find the Big Dipper, then you need the practice. I assure you, it’s there—find it!
Well…did you find Alzor and Mizar?
If so, you earned a self-inflicted pat on the back. If not, shame on you! Look again.
**Interesting Fact** Alzor and Mizar were once used as a visual test by ancient Arabs. Those that could ‘split the star’ were deemed to have excellent eyesight, while those that couldn’t, well—you get the picture.
Personally, I need my glasses to split this star system. I suppose I would have had shitty vision back in the day as well.
** Another Interesting Fact** Alzor and Mizar is a complex system: not only are Alzor and Mizar bound together by gravity, they each have their own stars that orbit them as well! Alcor is a binary system, while Mizar is the ring leader of quadruple system.
Here’s another training session. Feel free to click on any of these images for a larger resolution if you are experiencing technical difficulties. I recommend that you do so! Because the low resolution examples look a little nasty.
If you can’t locate Alzor and Mizar by now then you have not been paying attention!
Since Ursa Major is a circumpolar constellation, it will never set below the horizon, or hibernate for a season. The Stellar Bear changes relative position compared to Polaris as the night progresses, but it won’t fall below the horizon.
You know what that means? You don’t have an excuse to be unable to locate this star system yourself on any given night! Any night of the year offers a chance for training—no matter the season.
Because doing and knowing are two different worlds. Sure, sure, anyone can locate anything in a particular image. The story could change once the whole damn cosmos looms down on you.
Think you have what it takes to discover this double star system for yourself? Go, my friend! Go, and never turn back! Never return until you collect the stellar photons with your very own eyes!
Unless it’s cloudy…
…In which case—there’s always tomorrow night. Remember that.