Centaurus – the centaur

October 29, 2017

Astronomy

The constellation Centaurus is usually said to represent a particular man-horse dude named Chiron. He was a wise and helpful centaur, compared to most. He gave fatherly advice to Hercules, for example. But then with typically tragic fashion for Greek mythology, Hercules accidentally shot Chiron with a poisoned arrow. The poor guy was in a lot of pain so the gods let him die even though he was technically immortal. I mean, they could have cured his pain or something but that’s not how gods work. As a consolation after some consternation they made him into a constellation.

Alpha Centauri is the the 3rd brightest star in sky, besides the sun, but more famously it is the closest naked-eye star to earth, besides the sun. The actual closest is Proxima Centauri which is a rather dim star right next to Alpha. Another name for Alpha Centauri is “Toliman” which is Arabic and means “ostriches” because of some early astronomers who sorted the stars of the southern constellations in their own fashion.

In Hawaii, the name for Alpha Centauri is Mele-Mele and the name for Beta Centauri is Pola-Pola. Remember, these are the same folks responsible for putting pineapple on Pizza-Pizza.

Omega Centauri is a famous naked-eye globular cluster which has a diameter of 150 light-years. That’s damn big for a globular. It is by far the biggest globular cluster in the whole galaxy. It’s more than ten times bigger than the next biggest cluster. So astronomers figure it might actually be just the core of some poor dwarf galaxy that got ripped apart and mostly absorbed by the Milky Way.

In the sky Omega Centauri takes up half of a degree in diameter, which is half the width of your finger held at arm’s length. Same as the moon.

There is a white dwarf star in Centaurus called BPM 37093. We think it has a whole lot of carbon and considering the pressure involved the atoms are crystallized, kind of like (but not quite) a giant diamond. The star is often called “Lucy” after the Beatles song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.”

For what it’s worth, “Centaurus” is also the name of a giant mega-mall shopping center in Islamabad, Pakistan.

Carpe Noctem

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