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Beta Coma Berenices

April 26, 2014

Because most of those little lights that sparkle across the night sky are stars, you might expect them all to resemble our own star, the Sun. In reality, though, very few stars in the night sky are close matches to the Sun. Instead, most differ in color, temperature, and brightness. Tonight, though, you can see a star that shows us roughly what the Sun would look like seen from 30 light-years away.

That’s how far it is to a star that’s south of the Big Dipper’s handle in the faint constellation Coma Berenices.

The star is known as Beta Comae Berenices. It’s a bit warmer than the Sun, so it shines with nearly the same yellow color. It emits about 40 percent more light than the Sun does, and it generates energy in the same way, by converting hydrogen into helium at its center. All of these traits make Beta Comae more like our Sun than almost any other star you can see with the unaided eye.

To see this nearby sun, though, you’ll need a star map and a dark sky, away from city lights, because the star is faint. Once you find it, keep in mind that because of its distance, the light you see from Beta Comae tonight actually started its journey toward Earth back in 1984.

Because the star is so much like our own, it could have a planet like Earth. No one has yet found any planets there, but if any are found, they’d make Beta Coma eeven more like the Sun — a rare star that’s much like our own.


Script by Ken Croswell, Copyright 2014

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