Meet Fomalhaut, the loneliest star

Tonight, look for the loneliest star. Which one is that? Many people would say the answer is Fomalhaut, a bright star in the constellation Piscis Austrinus the Southern Fish. Fomalhaut is a bright star – visible from all but far-northern latitudes – located in a region of the sky that contains only very faint stars. So it appears solitary in the night sky.

From the Northern Hemisphere, at about 8 to 9 p.m., look for a solitary star that’s peeking out at you just above the southeast horizon. See it? No other bright star sits so low in the southeast at this time of year. From this hemisphere, Fomalhaut dances close the southern horizon until well after midnight on these autumn nights. It reaches its highest point for the night in the southern sky at roughly 11 p.m. local time (midnight daylight saving time). At mid-northern latitudes, Fomalhaut sets in the southwest around 2:30 to 3:30 a.m. local time (3:30 to 4:30 a.m. local daylight saving time).

From the Southern Hemisphere, Fomalhaut rises in a southeasterly direction, too, but this star climbs much higher up in the Southern Hemisphere sky and stays out for a longer period of time. Click here to find out precisely when Fomalhaut rises, transits (climbs highest up for the night) and sets in your sky.

Remember … it’s bright and solitary. The coming month or so presents a good time to see this star.

Fomalhaut is a bright white star, the brightest star in an otherwise empty-looking part of the sky. In skylore, you sometimes see it called the Lonely One, or the Solitary One, or sometimes the Autumn Star. Depending on whose list you believe, Fomalhaut is either the 17th or the 18th brightest star in the sky.

Roughly translated from Arabic, the star’s name means mouth of the fish or whale. Its constellation, Piscis Austrinus, represents the Southern Fish.

Besides being one of the brightest stars in the night sky, Fomalhaut has interest to professional astronomers. In 2008, it became the first star with an extrasolar planet candidate (Fomalhaut b) imaged at visible wavelengths. The image was published in the journal Science in November 2008. By the way, Fomalhaut is the third-brightest star (as viewed from Earth) known to have a planetary system, after the star Pollux in the constellation Gemini and our own sun.

View larger. | This image shows the debris ring around Fomalhaut and the location of its first known planet. This is the actual discovery image, published in the journal Science in November 2008. Fomalhaut b was the first planet beyond our solar system visible to the eye in photographic images. Image via Hubble Space Telescope.

Bottom line: Go outside around mid-evening – and learn to keep company with Fomalhaut – brightest star in the constellation Piscis Austrinus, the Southern Fish – also called the loneliest star.

More about Fomalhaut here.

EarthSky’s guide to the bright planets

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Bruce McClure