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El Nath

December 20, 2015

The holiday season is a time of sharing. And in that spirit, we offer up a star that’s shared by two constellations.

El Nath represents the tip of one of the horns of Taurus, the bull. But it also forms part of the classical pattern of the adjoining constellation Auriga, the charioteer.

Until about a century ago, it didn’t really matter if a star performed double duty. But in the early 1900s, the International Astronomical Union drew boundaries for each constellation. So each star had a single constellation to call home.

Under this system, El Nath was assigned to Taurus — an appropriate decision, since its name means “the butting one.”

Like many of the stars that are visible to the unaided eye, El Nath is nearing the end of its life. That’s caused it to grow bigger and brighter — it’s several times the diameter of the Sun, and perhaps 700 times brighter, which makes it easily visible from its distance of about 130 light-years. But over the next few million years, El Nath will get even bigger than it is now, which in turn will make it even brighter — making the “butting one” an even more serious weapon for the bull.

El Nath is low in the eastern sky as night falls right now. It forms a wide, shallow triangle with the brightest stars of its connecting constellations. Aldebaran, the eye of Taurus, is off to its right or upper right, with even brighter Capella, the leading light of Auriga, about the same distance to its upper left.

Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2015

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