Have you ever gone outside on a beautiful night, looked up at the sky and wondered just how many stars that there were? Did you know that about eighty percent of the points of light you are seeing are
actually Binary Star Systems… aka double stars?
Unfortunately, to fully appreciate double stars, a telescope is required, but don’t despair! It doesn’t take the Hubble to see them; even a common set of binoculars can do the trick for many of these gems!
So what is a double star… a Binary System? Well, commonly it is two or more stars in very close proximity to each other… Some double stars just happen to line up in the sky, and appear close together… even touching, but they are so far apart that their travels in the sky have no impact on each other. We call these Visual Doubles. Then we have the binary systems where there are actually two or more stars that are physically close to each other… enough so that they do have an impact on each other. We call these Gravitational Doubles. They circle one another, many times growing closer and closer to each other where over millennia that they may collide and result in super nova… an example of this is star system J0806 where the stars circle each other once every 321 seconds… they are expected to super nova in a mere 340,000 years!
A few very common and easy to find, and see, double stars this time of year include Algieba and Regulus, both found toward the East in the constellation Leo… Almach toward the West in the constellation Andromeda, and toward the North, in our friendly constellation that we call the Big Dipper, aka Ursa Major, we can find Mizar, and Dubhe. When viewing the double stars I’ve mentioned, you’ll notice that many of the stars have hues ranging the full spectrum of the rainbow. For instance, Algieba (In Leo) has green and yellow stars, while Almach (In Andromeda) has golden orange and bluish green stars…
So… what are the colors of the other double stars that I have mentioned? Well, the best bet is to take a peek and check them out on the next clear night! Another great option is to attend one of the many public open houses held by the Popular Astronomy Club or the Quad Cities Astronomical Society, or events put on by St. Ambrose University and held at Menke Observatory… You can also cheat and google them… but the best googling is done with your eyes trained at the skies!