December 2015 - Double Star of the Month

Epsilon Arietis = STF 333 (02 59 12.73 +21 20 25.6) can be found 17 degrees following beta Arietis. It is in a rather sparse area of sky and for those without setting circles this is probably the easiest way to find it.

It is a splendid binary star with both components of mags 5.2 and 5.6 being white to most eyes although W. H. Smyth fancied that he saw a pale yellow hue to the primary star and the secondary was 'whitish'. Smyth also noted that the Reverend Dawes first saw this pair at his observatory at Bedford.

Struve noted is as being amongst the closest of his discoveries (0".5) and subsequent observations showed it widening with a small increase in position angle. Over the last century there has been little motion of note except that the companion now seems to have reached greatest elongation and is slowly heading back towards the primary star.

In Webb Society Double Star Circular No 17 (2009) Ian Coster produced an orbit for STF 333 with a period of 313 years and three years ago Francisco Rica published one with a period of over 1200 years, so the future motion is almost entirely indeterminate. The pair will certainly remain an excellent test for 10-cm aperture for a few years yet, and the current separation is 1".34. A faint field star of mag 12.7 is 146" distant.

John Herschel swept up the coarse triple HJ 3644 (04 21 31.29 -25 43 42.4) in 1836. It is located in an empty region in Eridanus and can be found by firstly locating the bright pair nu3 and nu4 Eri and moving about 9 degrees due north.

Herschel noted the stars had magnitudes 6, 8 and 14 and only estimated angles and separations. Modern catalogues give the brighnesses as 6.2, 8.2(C) and 13.0(D) and the distances between AC and AD are now 41" and 44". Burnham found the A star to be a close double in 1879 when using his 6-inch refractor on Mount Hamilton in California, fortuitously as it turns out because the pair was then at its widest separation of 0".65.

For a few years after discovery motion appeared rather slow but accelerated considerably in the second decade of the last century and the pair closed up to 0".2 by 1920. Modern computations give orbital period as 81 years and at the present time the stars are slowly widening. The position for 2016.0 is 222°, 0".40 so at least 25-cm is necessary to see the pair divided. The WDS lists the magnitudes of AB as 6.6 and 7.3.

Bob Argyle - Double Star Section Director