A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a column dealing with the “Summer Triangle” and one star in particular, Vega. It is one of my favorite stars to write about since it is the fourth brightest star in the skies for northern hemisphere stargazers and it is now very easy to locate in the early August skies since it is directly overhead.
Going by the name of Vega (alpha lyrae) it is located in one of the more diminutive constellations in the summer sky, Lyra, the Lyre, and at this time of year you may have to lean back a little to see it. From Vega it is not at all difficult to view the parallelogram of four stars that make up the constellation.
While the parallelogram of Lyra is easy to see with the naked eye, there is one very interesting Messier object within the constellation but you’ll need a 3-inch telescope to view it. The object is known as the Ring Nebula (M-57). The nebula lies at a distance of 4,000 light years.
This unique object is what astronomers refer to as a planetary nebula and was created when a star was transformed into a nova during which process some of the star’s matter was ejected to form an encircling cloud.
Although the original star is still visible in some of the largest telescopes, smaller telescopes only resolve the cloud as it is illuminated by the electromagnetic radiation being emitted by the host star. Because we “see” the walls of this encircling cloud, it takes on the appearance of a smoke ring, hence the name Ring Nebula.
As mentioned above, Vega ranks as the fourth most brilliant star in the sky, not counting our own Sun and one of the first stars we see as the sky darkens. The only other stars brighter are Sirius, in the constellation of Canis Major; Canopus, in the constellation of Carina, and Alpha Centauri, in the constellation of Centaurus.
The latter two lie in the southern hemisphere and lie below our local horizon.
Vega, along with the stars Altair to the southwest and Deneb to the east, comprises the well-known Summer Triangle, but Vega holds title to being as the “Capital Star” as mentioned in this column’s headline.
This star got that nickname because as the Earth rotates Vega passes over some of the major capitals of the world including Washington, D.C., Lisbon, Portugal, Athens, Greece, Ankara, Turkey and Peking, China. Also in the United States, Vega is the zenith star for St. Louis, Denver and San Francisco and pretty close to Lincoln, NE.
Lying at a distance of 27 light-years from Earth Vega has often been referred to as the sapphire of summer because of the bluish coloration of its light.
In mythology, it is told how Apollo gave his son Orpheus a musical instrument known as a lyre. The story goes on to say that Orpheus learned to play the lyre so exquisitely that wild beasts were enchanted, hence the familiar phrase, “Music hath charm to calm the savage beast.”
On another subject, and one which is a recurring part of this column, is the International Space Station (ISS) that will be making a fairly high pass over the city on Saturday evening shining very, very bright.
First appearing in the West-Northwest sky at 9:58 p.m., the ISS will reach its highest point just to the South at 10:02 p.m. From that point it will continue its journey toward the Southeast disappearing at 10:05 p.m.
The ISS is flying at over 225 miles above Earth and moving at a speed in excess of 17,000 miles per hour.