March 2015 - Double Star of the Month

With Cancer now moving inexorably towards the western horizon, its stars are becoming more comfortably accessible to the classical refractor user and one of its finest doubles is 57 Cnc (08 54 14.70 +30 34 45.0).

According to Webb, it is a pair of crocus-yellow stars which are not quite equal in brightness (magnitudes 6.1 and 6.4). There has been little motion of any kind save a small increase in both position angle and separation with the result that the separation is now well over 1".

It is an ideal test for a 7.5-cm refractor. Webb was able to divide it at x144 on his 3.7-inch Tulley OG, and the writer found 1".55 with the Cambridge 8-inch in 2006.

The pair is almost certainly binary in nature as the proper motion of the system would have separated them a long time ago. A faint component can be found at 55" and PA 202° which appears fixed. The WDS gives its magnitude as 9.2.

57 Cnc is about 2.5 degrees north following the spectacular wide pair iota Cnc.

Gamma Sextantis, also called 8 Sextantis (09 53 30.47 -08 06 17.7) was discovered on 1852 Apr 7 by Alvan Clark with a 12-cm aperture. As it happens he observed the star at a suitable part of its orbit but this discovery is a good indication of the quality of Clark's telescopes.

He said, reporting his finds in Monthly Notices for 1857, Notwthstanding the moderate meridional altitude of of 8 Sextantis at Dorpat (about 24°), it may reasonably be doubted whether its duplicity would have been left to be discovered with a 4 3/4-inch object-glass, however perfect, if no change had occurred in its appearance since Struve's scrutiny of that part of the heavens.

The separation of this close pair is never wider than 0".6. It reached maximum separation in its 77.8 year cycle in 2002 and is now closing again. By Spring 2015 it will be at 44°, 0".54 and the low declination means that it will be a significant test for 20-cm and its more likely that a good, steady air will be essential to resolve it, especially as there is a considerable difference in brightness between the components - A is 5.4 and B is 6.4. Hipparcos places the system at 278 light years distance and the primary is an A1 dwarf.

To find gamma Sextantis, locate alpha Hya and move 5 degrees east.

Bob Argyle - Double Star Section Director