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41 Aurigae and a serendipitous bucketfull of Sighs!

Serendipity – don’t you love it? That’s the main reason I enjoy star-hopping so much and have long-since sold my GOTO scopes. In this instance my curiosity was first raised by what I saw in the sky, then really pinged by what I saw on the charts. But first, our subject star:

41 Aurigae
RA:  06h 12m   Dec:  +48° 43′
Magnitudes         A: 6.2    B: 6.9
Separation          7.6
Position Angle    357°
Distance: 310 LY
Spectral Classification: A1V, A6V

Sissy Haas rates this a “showcase pair” in a 60mm. It’s nice, but I couldn’t get that excited about it, perhaps because I was overpowering it with the new 8-inch SCT, a Celestron EdgeHD. But as I said, I enjoyed the prowl in this section of sky. If you picture Auriga as a kite, you can start your journey towards 41 at the top (north end)  of the kite with second magnitude Menkalinan. From there it’s about 6 degrees northeast.

41 Aurigae correct image finder created from Starry Nights Pro screenshot.

The first thing that caught my eye in the finder was Pi – I use a correct image one most of the time, though this time I was using the  straight through finder that came with the EdgeHD.  This finder seems to be particularly good and Pi was so red I thought it might be a carbon star. However, when I got back in the house and looked it up it turned out to be an M-class Bright Giant. Not bad! Very red and quite beautiful from its perch about 800 light years away.  From Pi it was  a simple star trek over to a little trickle of sixth and seventh magnitude stars that took me down to 41.

In the 30mm Tak it split nicely, but it was best in an 18mm. My notes say “blue and pale apricot” – sounds delicious.  However, Sissy Haas says it’s a “pair of yellow-white” stars. Smyth  has them as silvery white and pale violet. Oh boy!  Yes, I was looking at the same star. No doubt. So I have no explanation for my radical color difference. Smyth’s colors seem closest to the spectrum classifications.

That aside, while looking in the finder I became fascinated with a star a bit farther to the east, and when I checked the Chart 3 in the “Cambridge Double Star Atlas” I saw it was labelled “ψ1” – Psi 1. Hmmm. . . wonder if there is a Psi 2? Wait a minute! Off to the east is another Psi – but this one is Psi 6! One and six? What is this?  And as I looked more I saw there was a whole gaggle of them – ψ7, ψ9, ψ2, ψ4 – and no order that I could see. Sigh- a whole bucketfull of Sighs.  I couldn’t remember a similar example anywhere, so what the heck was this?  And that puzzle resulted in some armchair prowling which turned up this little serendipitous discovery – I was looking at  an extinct constellation created to honor one of my favorite astronomers, William Herschel, for his discovery of Uranus! What’s more, it turns out to be a classification of stars I’ve never seen before – a “star system.” As I understand the definition a star system is an open cluster wannabe! It just doesn’t have enough members to be given that more common designation.

Herschel's telescope from the Bode atlas of the time.

But I’m more fond of the old constellation that no longer appears on our charts – Telescopium Herschelii! isn’t that cool.

Maximilian Hell created this imaginative gem in 1789 and squeezed it into the star system  found in a corner where Lynx, Gemini, and Auriga meet.

I doubt I’ll ever be able to form those stars into a telescope, but what the hell 😉  Next chance I get I am taking my binoculars and looking for this “star system” and when I find it I will pause and remember Herschel and how he doubled the size of our solar system. In fact, I had just been writing about Herschel’s “Georgian Star” here, so it is fresh in my mind. As I say – serendipity. It goes hand-in-hand with star hopping. Sigh!

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One Response

  1. Amazing that I’ve missed that large an area of the northern sky. And I’ve poked around Auriga quite a bit, but for some reason I never went far enough east to reach Psi-land.

    I vote for restoring Telescopium Herschelii to this area. It’s too large not to have a designation, and the stars in it are certainly no dimmer or more obscure than those in Camelopardalis.

    Now that I think of it, I’ve ignored that one, too!

    If it would only clear up for a few nights, though, I would be more than glad to correct my wayward wanderings.

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