August 2015 - Double Star of the Month

Lambda Cygni (20 47 24.563 +36 29 26.7) is easily found. Just move 3 degrees due north from epsilon Cygni, the left-hand star in the cross. One of Otto Struve's discoveries from Pulkova the seeing needs to be good to get a measure of the companion. The stars are magnitudes 4.7 and 6.3 but have always been separated by less than 1" although the angular distance between the stars is now roughly double that at discovery. Since 1990 the writer has observed the pair in 12 seasons and in that time the position angle has decreased by about 10 degrees. The current orbit has a period of 391 years but this is complicated by the fact that Hal McAlister and colleagues found the primary to be an interferometric binary with a period of 11 years and maximum separation of 0".05. There is some evidence that one of the three stars is also a single-lined spectroscopic binary. Lambda Cyg has a spectral type of B5Ve and is a rapid rotator surrounded by a circumstellar disk. Sir James South adds a faint companion, mag 9.7, at 106° and 83".

The sprawling constellation of Capricornus sits near the meridian on a northern summer night but locating stars in it apart from the third magnitude alpha and beta needs the help of a star atlas. However, starting with the brightest star of all, beta, by moving 3 degrees south and slightly east a trio of stars is encountered, all enclosed by a 1 degree field. Each of these is a visual double star and the subject of this column is omicron Cap = SHJ 324 (20 29 53.91 -18 34 59.4) the most southerly of the three. Smyth calls it omicron2 and notes that both components are to be found in Piazzi's catalogue. The WDS gives magnitudes of 5.9 and 6.7 and the separation is currently 21".9, down from 25" when found by William Herschel with a small decrease in the position angle, currently 238°. The Hipparcos catalogue gives the distance as 216 light years but with a formal error of 27% this is an indicator that there could possibly be another star nestling in the system.

Smyth calls both stars bluish, and whilst Sissy Haas regards them as almost equal, the report by Hartung notes that they are an 'unequal white pair'.

Bob Argyle - Double Star Section Director