Week of May 19-25, 2019
Over my 40-year-plus career, I've read a lot of astronomy books. You may be surprised to learn that one of my favorites isn't technically a book about astronomy but rather the inspirational and romantic autobiography of the late amateur astronomer and comet-discoverer extraordinaire Leslie Peltier.
In this marvelous book "Starlight Nights," Peltier writes ever so eloquently of his passion for stargazing and how, as a wide-eyed child many years before, he had learned from a book about his very first star:
"According to the descriptive text, Vega, at that very hour in the month of May, would be rising in the northeastern sky," he writes. "I took the open book outside, walked around to the east side of the house, glanced once more at the diagram by the light that came through the east window of the kitchen, looked up toward the northeast and there, just above the plum tree blooming by the well, was Vega. And there she had been all the springtimes of my life, circling around the pole with her five attendant stars, fairly begging for attention, and I had never seen her.
"Now I knew a star!"
That same star that inspired young Peltier's imagination is still there, glistening in the northeastern sky this week and waiting to inspire us, too. And, just as Peltier discovered, all we've got to do is go outdoors and look up.
Vega is the most brilliant star in the tiny constellation of Lyra, the harp, and one of the three bright stars of the Summer Triangle that will appear in the early evening sky later this summer.
Even a casual stargazer will notice Vega's flickering against the dark sky. This dramatic twinkling is due not to the star itself but to the turbulent air through which its light must travel on its way to our eyes.
Gaze at Vega and you'll be looking roughly in the direction that our sun and our entire solar system is racing at about 12 miles per second. No need to worry about a collision, though. Vega lies some 25 light-years away — about 150 trillion miles — so nearly 4,000 centuries will pass during our journey.
This brilliant white star is about three times larger and more massive and produces some 50 times more power than our sun. As a result, it will exhaust its fuel in only one-tenth of the time, making its expected life span only about one billion years.
While it now appears in our northeastern sky, the star Vega will one day lie in the north. In fact, one day it will replace Polaris as our North Star. This will occur because our Earth wobbles like a tilted spinning top, one full wobble lasting for a period of about 25,800 years. Because of this effect, the star Vega will be located less than 6 degrees from the north celestial pole sometime between 13,000 and 14,000 A.D.
Vega is such an amazing star in many ways. If you've found one excuse after another to put off getting outdoors to learn the stars, take a page out of Peltier's wonderful book this week.
Step outside and make friends with Vega!
Visit Dennis Mammana at dennismammana.com. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.