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The Horse’s Nose

September 23, 2012

The start of the 1340s was an an unpleasant time. England and France were, as usual, at war. And the Black Death was poised to sweep across Europe, eventually killing millions — including up to a third of the population of England.

But on the star that marks the nose of Pegasus, the flying horse, things appear to have been pretty quiet, as the star began the transition from middle age to old age.

We know about the events here on Earth by reading the history books. But we know about what was happening on Enif because we can see those events playing out right now. The star is about 670 light-years away, so the light we see from it tonight actually left the star around the start of the 1340s.

Enif is well up in the east at nightfall, to the upper right of the Great Square of Pegasus. In fact, it’s the brightest star in the whole constellation, so it’s easily visible to the unaided eye.

That we can see the star at all tells us that it’s extremely big and bright — about 150 times wider than the Sun, and thousands of times brighter. That makes it a supergiant.

Enif is nearing the end of its life, so it’s undergoing a transition that eventually will make it even bigger and brighter. But that impressive phase won’t last for long. Within a few million years, the star will either blast itself to bits as a supernova, or eject its outer layers in a more gentle process. Whatever happens, we’ll see it here on Earth — centuries later.


Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2012

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