June 2021 - Double Star of the Month

About three degrees north of zeta UMi (magnitude 4.3) is a group of naked eye stars, the most southerly of which is the binary pi1 UMi = STF 1989.

Image of a finder chart for the double star STF 1972 in Ursa Minor
A finder chart for the double star STF 1972 in Ursa Minor created with Cartes du Ciel.

The brightest star in the group is pi2 (magnitudes 6.6, 7.3) which is also a pretty, wide pair STF 1972 (15 29 11.19 +80 26 55.0). (This pair is listed in the notes of the second edition of the Cambridge Double Star Atlas (CDSA2) but not identified with its Struve number on page 1 of the Atlas). CDSA2 notes doubles 6' south-following and 10' north. William Herschel found the pair in 1782 when the separation was 26", whilst a recent measure in 2018 gives 32".

This is actually a physical quadruple system as both bright stars are 71.1 light-years away and each is also a spectroscopic binary. A recent deep imaging investigation, looking for exoplanets has also noted two twentieth magnitude objects within a few arc-seconds of B but the single epoch of observations does not indicate whether they are co-moving or connected to B. The relatively large proper motions of the bright stars has increased the distance to a 11.4 magnitude field star by 55" since 1911.

The southerly objects chose for this month's column are just south of the celestial equator, in the constellation Virgo. In 1781 William Herschel noted a wide unequal pair which appears as H 6 51 (14 57 29.32 -00 11 05.74) in his second list of double stars, published in 1784. He records the position as in Monte Maeneli Heveliana. In the Hevelius star atlas, Bootes appears to be standing on ground called Mons Maeneli or Mount Maenelus which was a constellation created by Hevelius in 1687.

Image of a finder chart for the double stars H 6 51 and BU 348 in Virgo
A finder chart for the double stars H 6 51 and BU 348 in Virgo created with Cartes du Ciel.

The Washington Double Star Catalog (WDS) catalogue gives V magnitudes of 5.6 and 10.4 with position angle 224 degrees and separation 86". The primary has a strong orange hue, a consequence of its spectral type of K1III. The SIMBAD catalogue calls the bright star 1 Ser and rather surprisingly Gaia EDR3 shows that both stars have the same parallax within the quoted errors, showing that they are 322 light-years away.

Nearby (just over one degree due east) is the much more difficult BU 348 (2 Ser - 15 01 48.92 -00 08 24.9) which requires 30-cm to resolve clearly, although S. W. Burnham discovered it with his 6-inch Clark refractor. Here the stars are magnitudes 6.1 and 7.5 and the current separation is only 0".5. If this is not challenge enough, try and see the 14.5 magnitude star C, 37" distant, which was found by Burnham in 1899. The close pair has a parallax of 3.252 mas corresponding to 1002 light-years.

Bob Argyle - Double Star Section Director