Leaping Gazelle

StarDate: June 15, 2014

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There’s more than one way to see the stars — or at least the patterns of stars. In western culture, for example, the stars of the Big Dipper and those around it form the great bear, Ursa Major. The dipper forms his body and tail, while three faint pairs of stars represent his feet.

In ancient Arabia, though, those pairs of stars represented the leaps of a gazelle, and they’re named accordingly. The first pair is known as Alula Borealis and Alula Australis — the northern and southern halves of the first leap. The second pair is Tania Borealis and Australis — the second leap. And the third pair is known by the name of its brighter star, Talitha — the third leap.

The stars in the three pairs are unrelated — they’re all at different distances from Earth, but they just happen to line up in such a way that they form close pairs.

Perhaps the most impressive of all the “leaping” stars is Alula Borealis. It’s a red giant — a star that’s puffed up at the end of its life. It’s about 70 times wider than the Sun, and more than a thousand times brighter — bright enough that it’s visible across more than 400 light-years of space.

The gazelle leaps across the western sky as night falls. The first leap is well to the left of the outer edge of the bowl of the Big Dipper. The second leap is to the lower right of the first, with the final leap farther to its lower right — the leaps of a gazelle in the footprints of the great bear.

Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2014

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