The modestly bright star Albireo, the eye or the beak in the constellation Cygnus the Swan, looks like a single point of light to the unaided eye. But look at this star through the telescope sometime. You’ll soon discover why Albireo wins universal praise for being the finest double star for the small scope. Best viewed at 30X, the striking contrast of color bejewels a low power telescope, with the brighter luminary beaming gold and the dimmer radiating blue.
This celebrated double is probably a true binary star – two stars revolving around a common center of mass. Albireo’s two components lie quite far apart, however, and may take as long as 75,000 years to orbit one another. Even though this double appears close together in the telescope, keep in mind that you’re looking at a star that’s 380 light-years away.
Image credit: Jared Smith
To find Albireo, use the brilliant signpost of the summer and autumn sky: the Summer Triangle asterism. Look in between the first-magnitude stars Vega and Altair for the third-magnitude star Albireo. If you are familiar with the clipped version of Cygnus – the Northern Cross – Albireo marks the base of the Cross. Albireo isn’t particularly bright, but it’s the brightest star in this area of the heavens, and is easily visible in a dark country sky.
Once you’ve viewed one of the most majestic double stars that the sky has to offer, let Albireo act as your guide to the Coathanger, a star pattern that rates as a binocular favorite.