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OΣ 461 (STT 461) Cephei, a Quintuple System, and a 4AM Walk in the Moonlight

OΣ 461  (STT 461)               HIP: 108925    SAO: 34016
RA: 22h 03.9m   Dec: 59° 49′
Magnitudes       Separation          PA                               Spectral Classification
AB:    6.7, 11.4        11.10″            297°  (WDS 2011)                      B1
AC:    6.7,10.0        88.90″              49°  (WDS 2011)                      B1, K0
AD:    6.7,  7.8      184.30″              72°   (WDS 2011)                     B9
AE:    6.7,  7.0       237.40″              37°  (WDS 2011)                     B9
DE    7.8,  7.0       136.10″            346°  (WDS 2003)                     A
Distance: 1371 Light Years
(WDS numbers updated 7/28/2013)

2 Am, September 3rd, 2010

After being introduced by Greg to the beautiful double/triple combination of Σ 2816 and Σ 2819 in Cepheus, I’ve gone back several times to take another look at them, as well as Herschel’s Garnet Star, which is a piercing deep red.  Against the background of a very black sky, it’s one of the most stunning objects in the heavens.  I could spend a week of nights in this area of Cepheus and probably still not have enough time to appreciate all there is to see here.

This is where we are this morning. Click on image for a larger view, and then click again when the image comes up on your screen. Screen image from Stellarium with labels added.

About four to five degrees to the east of the Garnet Star is the very rare five star system 461.    (Greg has also covered this system here).  In the eyepiece it looks like an open cluster, but the remarkable thing about it is the colors – all white – and the line of three seventh magnitude stars arrayed at almost equal distances from each other.

But, it takes some effort to pin down the positions of all of the components of this one.

Quintuple system in Cepheus. “B” is almost hidden here in the glare of “A” – click on image to see it more clearly, and then click a second time. STScI photo, labels added.

“A”  is the brightest of the bunch, and it dominates at one end of the system.  “B” requires a decent aperture to be seen because it is relatively close and 5.2 magnitudes dimmer than the primary.  I’ve had no problems picking it out of the glare with 105mm and 152mm refractors, but it does a good job of staying hidden in a 60mm refractor.  “C” is the second dimmest of the stars in this sytem and is easy to identify to the northeast of the primary because it sits out there all by itself.  “D” is east of it at twice the distance from the primary, and again is off in an area by itself.    “E” is the farthest out, just to the north of “D.”  Apparently the last star in the line, to the northeast of “E,” is not related to this system.  And, as the “DE” designation indicates, these two stars are also gravitationally linked.  So we have a quintuple star system with a double system imbedded in it.

By 3 AM  the seeing was deteriorating quickly.  At the same time, though, the transparency was improving rapidly.  I could see the sky had become a bit brighter as a waning crescent moon rose over in the northeast, although it was hidden from my view by the trees.  Even with the additional light, though, the sky was as crisp, clear, and sharp as I’ve seen it.  I swung my 105mm refractor over to M33 and had a splendid view with a 40mm eyepiece. But the real surprise was M33 in the 60mm f/15 scope.  With a 32mm eyepiece, it really stood out well from the background despite the slightly brighter sky.  The oval shape could be clearly seen, a few stars in the center of the galaxy were twinkling, and a nebulous area that is one of the spiral arms could just be seen stretching out to the east.  Never under-estimate what great transparency can do for a small telescope.

Usually when I finish for the night, or morning, I take my four-legged companion for a short walk.  There is an area one block over and to the north of my house that has an almost unobstructed view stretching from west to north to east.  I decided that was a good place to be on this morning, and as I came around the corner into the clearing, the crescent moon stood about twenty degrees above the tree line.  There was magic in this view.

To the right of it, the “V” shape of Taurus was parked in a horizontal position pointing into the heart of Auriga, Aldebaran and Capella twinkling rapidly.  Above the tree line and to the moon’s left, the Gemini twins were stretched out on their side, one foot pointed up into the sky, the other hidden in the trees.  Castor twinkled brilliantly at the head of one of the twins and Pollux could just be seen below it shining through the hemlocks and cedars.

And then there was Orion, truly a majestic sight if ever there is one.  It was up high enough that the belt and the glowing nebula below it could be seen above the trees.  When I see the huge outline of Orion rising above the trees, tilted at a forty-five degree angle, with dark red Betelgeuse shining intently and the three stars in the belt pointing up into the sky, I am always left “rapt in awe” — always.

I stood there for a good thirty minutes in the peace and quiet.  Not a soul anywhere to be seen, not a car to be heard.  The temperature was about 50 degrees, and I could feel a slight breeze on my face – cool, damp, and soothing.  Just me, Klaus, a beautifully transparent sky, a few constellations and twinkling stars, the moon, and that very dark, very deep blue sky.  Words don’t really describe this.  It was something you feel, something that penetrates to your very core, something you don’t want to leave, something you don’t ever want to not be a part of.

As I said, magic.


2 Responses

  1. John,
    I had a chance to observe this system last week and the transparency wouldn’t allow me to split the 11″ AB pair at 652X!!!! I could see a bump on the NW edge of the primary but couldn’t get darkness between them. I sent you the sketch worked up in GIMP. I also happened upon a nice pair to the SSW, Stein 1083 at 10″, 99°. Nice colors, too. Ruby red and lemon yellow…
    Steve McG

    • Hi Steve,

      Poor transparency and 652x don’t work well together given that magnitude difference and separation! It would well be worth going back on a better night and trying again at that magnification.

      There’s something magical about using high magnifications like that when conditions allow. It usually takes some patience and perseverance to find what you came for, but once you see it, the feeling of accomplishment is hard to match. I’ve had experiences like that with several stars, Zeta Herculis being one that really stands out. (There are three sketches of Zeta Her in that post — the last one was done at 608x).


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