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See moon, Antares at nightfall August 28

Tonight – August 28, 2017 – let the moon introduce you to Antares, the brightest star in the constellation Scorpius the Scorpion. Look first for the moon and the nearby bright star will be Antares. The other bright starlike object making a triangle with the moon and Antares tonight is Saturn, the 6th planet outward from the sun.

You can distinguish Antares from Saturn by color. Antares, the heart of the Scorpion, glowers red whereas Saturn displays a golden color. If you have difficulty discerning color with the eye alone, try your luck with binoculars.

Any red-looking star that you can see with the unaided eye is either a red giant or red supergiant star. Antares is a red supergiant. This star, which is in the autumn of its years, is expected to explode as a supernova one of these days. No telling when that will be, however. It could happen tomorrow or a million years from now.

Although Antares lies way out there, at some 600 light-years distant, this star easily shines at 1st-magnitude brightness. So this star must be extremely luminous (intrinsically brilliant) to beam so brightly in our sky. Its red color indicates a rather cool surface temperature, and cool stars shine less brilliantly than hot stars (of the same size). However, Antares’ sheer size makes this star more luminous than many stars with higher surface temperatures.

Just how large is this incredible star? It’s not known with absolute certainty, but its radius is thought to be about 3 times the Earth’s distance from the sun (3 astronomical units). That’s about 3/5th the way from the sun to the orbit of Jupiter, the 5th planet outward from the sun. The radius of Antares is the equivalent of approximately 650 solar radii.

Presuming a radius of 650 solar radii and therefore a diameter of 650 solar diameters, that means the surface area of Antares exceeds that of our sun by some 122,500 times (Antares’ surface area = 650 x 650 = 122,500 solar). But Antares’ volume is actually a few hundred million times greater than the sun’s (Antares’ volume = 650 x 650 x 650 = 271,630,000 solar). And just to think that the sun has the volume of 1,300,000 Earths!

Tonight – August 28 – let the moon be your guide to Antares, a red supergiant star whose humongous size is truly difficult to fathom!

Bruce McClure