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Another Look at Eta (η) Persei, in which we return . . . . . .

Lured like a moth again, I am;
.              attracted to it in unconscious obedience,
.              drawn by its magnetic scarlet orange radiance,
.              overcome by the sheer pulse and shimmer of its magnificence,
.              in high hopes of lingering forever under its luminous orange influence.


Perseus, captured in repose. (Stellarium screen image with labels added, click on the chart for a larger view).

It’s been almost two years to the day since I first laid eyes on a focused image of Eta Persei in an inexpensive Orion 90mm f/10 achromatic refractor.  Since then, I’ve returned to Eta repeatedly — many, many, many more times than any other star that circles the vault of sky above me.  I know its  remarkable scarlet orange radiance has something to do with that, but there’s more to it than that — much more — and most of it well beyond reach of the descriptive limits of language.  That repeated return — again and again and again — to Eta, is in response to an urge to satisfy a primeval craving, an ancient nutritional hunger, that can never quite be satisfied, and certainly never satiated.

Stargazing can be a rough and tumble-ous kind of  life . . . . . . but somebody’s gotta do it.  😉

And anyway, I’ve learned some things.

Of all the many things I’ve learned from Eta, one of the most surprising was how to look at a close double star with a wide range of magnitudes between its components.  Two years ago, I thought my averted vision was reasonably well developed, having honed it on the faint photons of dim galaxies brought to focus in the mirror of an eleven inch SCT.  But it seems that averted galaxial vision and averted double-stellar vision are two different things.  Or maybe I just wasn’t as far along as I thought I was — or should have been.

At any rate, it all came into a sort of blurred averted focus on one component of Eta, the inimitable 11.61 magnitude “C”.

Eta (η) Persei    (Miram)   (Σ 307)           HIP: 13268   SAO: 23655
(AB is H IV 4, AC is H VI 21)
RA: 02h 50.7m   Dec:+55° 54′
Identifier    Magnitudes   Separation  Position Angle WDS
STF 307     AB:     3.76,   8.50        31.40″          295° 2012
STF 307     AC:     3.76, 11.61        64.00″          269° 2014
SHJ 34       AE:     3.76,   9.24      242.90″          297° 2012
WAL 19      AF:     3.76, 11.44        57.40″            24° 2012
WAR 1       CD:   11.61, 12.70          5.10″          116° 2012
Distance: 1331 Light Years
Spectral Classification:   A: M3 or K3     B: A0       C: B        E: A2

(WDS data updated as of 10/5/2014)

Two years ago, I looked and I looked and I looked, but “C” was not to be seen.  Not in the 90mm Orion, not in a 127mm Meade AR-5, and not in a six inch f/10 refractor.  Not there, not at all, not anywhere.  In fact, I was just about convinced the “C” I was looking for was a variable star that had varied itself right into a dim state beyond the reach of my vision.

On one of those many return trips, somehow I suddenly saw it — and what amazed me most,  it was in an 80mm short focal length refractor.  Staring right back at me, and laughing like an hysterical hyena just escaped from a big city zoo.   But then I may have imagined that laugh out of sheer embarrassment over how easy it was to see “C.”

Whatever the case, there it was — very distinct, very obvious, even in the glowing circles of light thrown into the surrounding damp air by both “A” and “B.”

It was a stellar revelation.

. . . . . magnetic . . . . scarlet . . . . . orange . . . . . radiant . . . . . Missing from the sketch is the glare from “A” and “B” that can make “C” so hard to see. (East & west reversed to match the refractor view, click on the sketch for a larger image).

And it wasn’t simply that atmospheric conditions had combined in such a way to make it possible — because since that night, every time I’ve been urged back to Eta for another lingering view of it, “C” has been there every single time.

And after I learned how to see “C,” I was introduced to “D” — which you can see in the inset of the sketch above.  That was no easy assignment on the first few attempts, but eventually, as I sharpened my averted vision technique, I broke out of the mediocre middle of the class and found my way to the photon-rich front.   I couldn’t quite believe my eyes the first time “D” emerged from the glare of all the glow thrown out by the three senior members of the Eta entourage — it was every bit as thrilling as my first sighting of  “C.”

So what else have I learned from Eta  . . . . . . . . . . . .

Much of what I’ve learned just cannot be translated or forced or tortured into words without losing the full effect.  If you’ve ever sat under the stars on a quiet black night and lost complete touch with where you are and what you’re doing, you have some idea of what I mean.  You almost literally disappear into another world, and what happens at that point depends entirely on what you’re looking at.  In that sense, the experience is unique, it can’t quite be duplicated on another object — which is not to be taken as meaning the experience can be turned on and off like a light switch, either.  It can’t — it happens when it happens.

I remember one post-midnight night . . . . . . . . . . . .
.      when I attached a pair of bino-viewers to my six inch f/10 refractor and pointed it at Eta.   A yellow-gold almost-full moon was peering over my shoulder, the Pacific Ocean was humming serenely away half a mile off in the distance, and I was looking into a pair of old Celestron 26mm Plössls (59x) —– and lost touch entirely with the solid surfaces around me.

The immersive three-dimensional view that bino-viewers do such an exquisite job of providing transported me right out of my chair and onto an invisible scenic observation platform in interstellar space.  I felt myself drifting above the complex of stars that surround Eta, hovering over them in complete silence.  The stars I was staring at seemed insubstantial and fragile, mere flickering candles whose light could be extinguished forever with one huge exhalation from an omnipotent observer.  I remember thinking, this must be what it’s like in the depths of space, staring into a limitless black void populated with only these scattered pinpoints of starlight.

Eta and its companions shimmered and wavered slightly, as if in a dream.  That remarkable radiant scarlet orange was hypnotic, firing laser-like beams of its rich light right at me.  It’s boon companion, the 8.5 magnitude secondary, bristled turquoisedly with what Admiral William Henry Smyth described as “smalt blue”.  It always amazes me how full and overflowing with color that 8.5 magnitude star is –- I have yet to see another star of that magnitude in possession of so much color.  And “C” –- in the bino-viewers, I had to look closely to pick it out of brother “B’s” glow, but it was there, smiling back at me, grinning cheerfully, as if to say –— see, I’m still here!

And there was a moonless night . . . . . . . . . . . .
.      when my six inch f/10 refractor and I were camped out under the stars, soaking up the mysterious whatever-it-is that I absorb from Eta, when I decided to swap out the 18mm Radian (84x) I was using for an old 20mm HM eyepiece (76x) of the .965 variety.  The view came as something of a jolt to my eyes.

Gone was the relatively wide sparkling and gleaming field of stars I had been entranced with, and in its place was a shrunken version of the same view — but possessed now of an alluringly attractive neatness.  That last word tends to get over-used, but it fits in this particular case –- the view was just very neat, very tidy, very orderly –- as if it had been laid carefully and deliberately in measured place by a highly skilled stellar hand.

Eta “A” had lost a bit of its radiance – not much, though – and Eta “B” was still just as blue as smalt blue can be.  “C” was a mere whispered point of barely there light –- but the finishing touch was that line of three stars stretched across the western quadrant of the view.  I think of them as forming the top of a “T”, with Eta “A” and “B” occupying the base.  Those three stars form one of the straightest interstellar lines I’ve ever seen –- not that there aren’t others (Alrescha sports a similar trio), but these are special because they were the first I saw.

As many hours and as many nights as I’ve whiled away with Eta, I suppose I could be forgiven if some night I skipped right over it quickly and moved onto the siren-like attraction of another celestial sight.  But I wouldn’t dare . . . . . . . and I couldn’t . . . . . . . not now, anyway.  I had a vision one night of what would happen if I was to take Eta for granted in that way . . . . . . . .

There I stood, with one hand on the back of my scope, just beginning a well-planned slough in search of another source of starry-eyed inspiration, when there was a lens-shattering crash behind me —– and the smoking fragment of a fractured meteorite bounced and rolled up to a luminescent halt just inches from my right foot.  And when I looked back to the not-yet-sloughed scope, I could see Eta’s angry scarlet-orange glow filling the entire eyepiece – even though I was standing a couple of feet above it.

No, I wouldn’t dare . . . . . . .

. . . . . . .  I’ve learned some things.


And now, in honor of these very Eta-fying experiences —– a musical metaphor . . . . . . .

 Over to you,  Maestro Zimerman . . . . . . .    😎


6 Responses

  1. Bravo, Der Admiral!

    Chopin for starry nights! Playing in Eccose the noo!

    That’s amazing you saw the C component with a humble ST80 achromat. Actually it reminds me of a night where I detected Delta Cygni with my own ST80 (blue tube Skywatcher) where an 8-inch Newt parked right next to it couldn’t see it!
    One exciting project I’d love to engage in is to see how far you can push these el-cheapo shorttube achros on doubles; not just easy ones but tricky beasts – especially when you add a minus violet filter. I suspect it’s the glass John; even these guys; with their noble crown & flint sometimes do things that leave other ‘scopes in the dark.
    Fantastich !



  2. Very much enjoyed Miram-particularly the faint but definitely blue “B” secondary. Almost all 8/9 mag. secondaries in my ED 80 are whitish. So another treat in an area i can see even under a full moon. Also had some success with the ” T”. The rightmost of the three popped in and out of vision. Used 38x and 100x-hard to choose between them. Thanks, rich.

    • Haven’t heard from you in a while, Rich — hope things are going well in Portugal!

      That right star you refer to in the “T” is definitely the faintest of the three, and it does tend to play hide-and -seek in an 80mm scope.

      Could you see the colors in the the primary and secondary with that scope?


  3. Thanks John; the weather here has been a little iffy inthe last few weeks but with all the grief hitting the USA just now I`m not complaining. Despite La Luna I was able to get good views this evening of Miram, Polaris and Gamma Andromeda. Really tried to nail the colours particularly of Miram. The primary is nowhere near the orange in your sketch. It is yellow/orange in the Finder! In the ED 80 at 38X, 67x and 100x its a mainly white star with a yellowish tinge/tint. Polaris “A” is plain white,and “B” is visible,period. My reference star- Gamma And.- has a deep yellow primary and a skyblue secondary. The real bonus with this session and the two previous views of Miram is the definite blue of the secondary. Its like reducing the size of the secondary of Gamma And. by 100x but the blue is still there. Very nice. Best wishes to you and Greg. Thanks again for the “Look North in November”-all vital stuff for me and many other stargazers. Regards, rich.

  4. I thought that might be the case on Miram’s primary — but that blue in the secondary is really amazing, isn’t it. I suspect the contrast with the primary is what really makes it stand out, as seems to be the case with Almach (Gamma And).

    My six inch f/10 has a Jaeger’s achromatic lens which is corrected toward the red side of the spectrum, so it tends to show noticeably more orange and red than a well-corrected ED lens would. For instance, it shows the Polaris primary as golden-yellow.

    In general, though, even when I’m looking through an ED lens or even an apochromatic triplet, I tend to see more orange and red than most people. I’ve read that some people’s vision tends to the red side of the spectrum and others to the blue side.

    Could be I hailed from the vicinity of Antares or Aldebaran in an earlier life. :mrgreen:


  5. Yes that blue is just beautiful. Reminds me of what i don`t see in a month -old project-still ongoing-of getting INDENTIFIABLE views of Uranus and Neptune. On just one occasion i saw Uranus as a tiny round FAINTLY blue/green planet at 200x. I use a squashed narrow “box” of 4 stars which are just at the end of the “C” in ECLIPTIC in S&K`s Pocket Star Atlas. The eastern two stars point straight down at planet U. At the moment. Trying to tell Neptune from the other candidates is not so easy even at 200x .Especially as the seeing is not normally perfect!
    If you did hail from Antares previously at least you would have seen its blue/green companion. Am saving up for a filter which just might do the trick for me. Regards, rich.

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