January 2021 - Double Star of the Month

Image of a finder chart for the double stars 32 Ori and delta Ori in Orion
A finder chart for the double stars 32 Ori and delta Ori in Orion created with Cartes du Ciel.

32 Orionis (05 30 47.06 +05 56 53.3) is easily found. It follows, and is slightly south of, Bellatrix (gamma Ori) by about 2 degrees. It was picked up by William Herschel on Jan 20, 1782 and he noted that the stars were Considerably unequal and The distance or black division between the two stars with 278 is about ¼ diameter of L(arge star)…. Herschel noted that the position angle was 232 degrees 10'. During the following century, measurements of 32 Ori showed the stars closing down to a distance of 0".3 before slowly increasing again to the current distance of 1".3.

Thomas Lewis in his 1906 volume on the Struve stars thought the motion was explained by the proper motions of the two stars whilst van den Bosin 1962 also thought that the stars were not associated. The USNO Orbit catalogue gives a period of 614 years and predicts that the stars will widen until about 2100 before closing again. Gaia EDR3, unfortunately, does not help since it contains only an observation of the brighter component. The stars have V magnitudes of 4.4 and 5.8 and should be nicely seen in 10-cm aperture.

Six degrees due south of 32 Ori, and just a little below the celestial equator is Mintaka, or delta Orionis (05 32 00.40 -00 17 56.7, V = 2.4), the most westerly of the three Belt stars.

For the small telescope, the magnitude 6.8 companion (actually component C) located 52" away in PA0 degrees is an easy object to see. This star is itself a spectroscopic binary but it seems to be unassociated with its much brighter neighbour. Gaia EDR3 gives the distance of C as 1245 light-years and whilst the position of the A component is in the catalogue, there is no information on either parallax or proper motion. Hipparcos in 1997, however, found a distance of around 690 light-years, so it seems almost certain the stars are unassociated.

The bright star is a close triple system. In 1978, Wulff Heintz using the 24-inch Sproul refractor, found a close visual companion at a distance of 0".2 which has a visual magnitude of 3.8; a preliminary orbit gives a period of 346 years. These two stars are very bright and hot, late O-type giant stars. In addition A is also an Algol-type eclipsing system. In 1877, Sherburne Burnham found a magnitude 14 companion (B) at 229 degrees and 33".

Bob Argyle - Double Star Section Director