In the summer of 1973, the Watergate scandal dominated American politics. The second crew of astronauts took up residence in Skylab, the first American space station. And little-known director George Lucas released his first hit film: American Graffiti.
The TV and radio broadcasts that reported these events are just reaching one of our stellar neighbors: Arcturus, the brightest star of Bootes, the herdsman, which is high in the east at nightfall.
That's because Arcturus is a bit less than 37 light-years away. In other words, it takes light -- and all forms of electromagnetic energy, including radio and television waves -- 37 years to cross the gulf between Earth and Arcturus.
That doesn't sound like very much, and by astronomical standards, it isn't -- Arcturus is a close neighbor.
On the human scale, though, that distance is almost impossible to comprehend. It's more than 215 million million miles. To put that into perspective, if you could travel to Arcturus at the speed of a typical jetliner -- around 500 miles an hour -- it would take you 50 million years to reach this close stellar neighbor.
Even if we can't get there, we can still enjoy the view of Arcturus, which is the third-brightest star in the night sky. It's high in the east at nightfall, and high in the west at first light tomorrow. The yellow-orange glow that reaches your eye tonight has been traveling for a long time -- since the summer of 1973.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2010
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