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Bringing Up the Rear

October 13, 2012

Few of us want to be thought of as the tail — the one who’s always bringing up the rear. But in the sky, tail stars are pretty common. More than a half-dozen of them have names that include the Arab word “Deneb,” which means “the tail.”

The most famous of these tail stars is Deneb itself — the tail of Cygnus, the swan. It’s directly overhead as night falls right now. It’s the most impressive of all the tail stars because it’s a supergiant — one of the biggest, heaviest, and brightest stars in all the galaxy. And it’s fated to explode as a supernova — singeing the swan’s tail feathers.

The next-best known tail star is Denebola, the tail of the lion. It’s quite low in the east at first light, bringing up the rear as the lion springs across the sky.

Several other constellations also have tail stars. There’s Deneb Dulfim, the tail of the dolphin, for example, and Deneb Kaitos, the tail of Cetus, the whale or sea monster.

And one constellation has two tail stars. Aquila, the eagle, has two bright stars at the eagle’s end. Together, they’re known as Deneb al Okab.

Another tail star puts in its best showing during the nights of autumn. Deneb Algedi is the tail of the “kid,” part of the constellation Capricornus, the sea-goat. The constellation is low in the southern sky at nightfall. It looks like a wide triangle, with Deneb Algedi at the left point — bringing up the rear of the sea-goat. More about Deneb Algedi tomorrow.


Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2012

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