Looking Up: She Ain’t Heavy, She’s Our Sun

May 27, 2019

Ol' Sol, our friend and astronomical neighbor, provides the light and warmth necessary for life to thrive here on Earth. You might even say our Sun is a rock star. And as we learn on Looking Up this week, when viewed in a different light, it turns out our Sun could even be considered a heavy metal rock star.

Today I want to tell you about a star in the Southern Colorado sky right now, the very boring but incredibly helpful star Al Niyat. Al Niyat is one of the most ‘studied’ stars in the sky. It’s about 430 ly away and is about five times the size of our Sun, and it’s about 18,000 times brighter. And here is where a boring star becomes far more interesting.

When astronomers studied Al Niyat, they naturally used our own Sun as the yardstick to compare it to. This resulted in a finding that Al Niyat was rather low in certain chemicals we thought should be there, especially the low levels of oxygen and iron. And that is a perfectly natural thing to do. Heck, I think we all tend to think of, say, our own height as “normal” and other people are tall or short, relative to us.

In part because of Al Niyat, astronomers took a closer look at our own Sun, and came to the startling conclusion that our Sun has lots more metals, than similar stars do. So, by being so average, Al Niyat helped us understand that our Sun is itself a bit special. Cool!

If you’d like to take a closer look at Al Niyat, or any of the other wonderful and amazing things in the sky, please visit csastro.org for a link to information on our monthly meetings and our free public star parties.