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Denebola – An Interesting Tail…

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  This week Hal tells us about a relatively close star - Denebola, which marks the tip of the lion's tail in the constellation Leo the Lion.  

You’ve heard the expression, “catch a lion by the tail?” Well, in the southern Colorado and northern New Mexico skies, you can do that right now, at least metaphorically. The constellation Leo the Lion is prominent in our night sky right now. We talked about the very interesting and unusual star, Regulus, located at the head of Leo the Lion, but today let’s talk about the other end, and the equally interesting star Denebola.

Denebola is a shortened form of the Arabic phrase that means, tail of the lion. So it makes perfect sense that Denebola is the fairly bright star that marks the opposite end from Regulus, and is the tip of the lion’s tail.

Denebola is located fairly close to our Sun, at just about 36 light years away. That puts it in our neighborhood, astronomically speaking. It’s not quite twice as large as our Sun, but it burns with a brightness 12 times more luminous, so be glad it’s not our sun or we would need SPF 1 million.

Denebola is interesting for a couple of reasons. First, it’s spinning so fast on its axis, at almost 270,000 mph, that’s managed to flatten itself at the poles, and it bulges out at the equator. Our own Sun only spins at 4500 mph, about 1% as fast as Denebola.

But there’s also something interesting in what we don’t see. Denebola is a fairly rare kind of star. It appears that the star is surrounded by orbiting clouds of cool dust.

These disks of dirt are what you would expect to see in a star system in the process of giving birth to new planets. We haven’t been able to see any baby planets orbiting Denebola right now, but it seems quite possible that we may be watching the beginning birth pangs of a new star system. So the story of Denebola is quite an interesting tale.

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

This is Hal Bidlack for the Colorado Springs Astronomical Society, telling you to keep looking up, Southern Colorado!