Double Star of the Month - May 2013

In this series of short articles, a double star in both the northern and southern hemispheres will be highlighted for observation with small telescopes, with new objects being selected for each month.

There are two pairs for the price on one in the northern half of this month's column. In the extreme north-west of Bootes following eta UMa is a coarse group of bright stars. The two closest together are kappa and iota and both are worth seeking out with telescopic aperture. Kappa Bootis (14 13 29.00 +51 47 23.8) is a long period visual binary with both stars possessing the same proper motion and at a similar distance from us (162 light years). There has been little motion over the past 200 years beyond a slight widening of the separation to 13".6 and a small diminution in the position angle. In 1850 T. W. Webb made the stars pale yellow and bluish whilst in 1915 William Franks recorded yellow and purple. B is a spectroscopic binary with a period of about 5 years. More recently Tokovinin has recorded a 16.9 mag comes at 108" to A which appears to have shared proper motion with AB. Some 25 arc mins south following is iota Bootis (STFA 26 - 14 16 10.07 +51 22 01.3) which is a binocular pair which will benefit from telescopic aperture. The stars are mags 4.8 and 7.4 and are 38" apart. The Irish amateur, Isaac Ward, who used a 4.3-inch Wray refractor, found a comes of mag 12.6 at 92". The spectral types are A7 and K0 and Webb found whitish yellow and lilac.

When William Herschel was accumulating his catalogue of double stars he searched every part of the sky and he must have had a good southern horizon. One of the lowest of his finds is Y Cen (13 53 32.75 -35 39 51.2) which at -35 degs could only have been a mere 5 degrees above his horizon even at culmination. He acknowledges that the pair is `too low for accuracy' giving a distance of 54" (currently 68"). The stars are mags 5.5 and 8.7 and it’s not surprising that Herschel missed the duplicity of the primary, later found by Howe. Currently at 1".0 it was nearer 0".7 in the 1780's but as the two components are almost equal it is a fine object for 15-cm at a suitable latitude. The period appears to be 258 years and the position angle is increasing. Burnham and Innes respectively added fainter companions - 12.3 at 28" and 14.8 at 38". Hipparcos puts the system at 167 light years.

Bob Argyle - Double Star Section Director