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Saiph Cracking

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A Saiph place
Credit John Gauvreau / nasa.gov
A Saiph place

This week Hal sheds some light on Saiph, a lesser known star in the constellation Orion.

The universe is a remarkable place, filled with remarkable objects that never appear to play it safe. Except, of course, for the star named Saiph.

Saiph is perhaps the most overlooked star in the wonderful constellation Orion. The brilliantly bright Rigel shines in the lower right star in the constellation, while the nearly-as-bright Betelgeuse famously sits as the upper left star in Orion’s shoulder. Across from Betelgeuse, occupying the other shoulder, is Bellatrix, a wonderful star whose name was borrowed for character in Harry Potter.

But poor Saiph, which is spelled S-A-I-P-H...

It is a remarkable star that deserves more attention. Saiph is located about 800 light years from Earth, and likely formed around the same time as many of the other brighter stars in Orion, only about 6 million years ago. That makes Saiph truly a baby star. But it’s a big baby, and it’s throwing quite a temper tantrum.

With the surface temperature of 50,000°F, it’s five times hotter than our Sun. It has exhausted the hydrogen at its core, and is turned into a blue supergiant. Saiph started its life with roughly 32 times the mass of our Sun. But it is blasting material off into space at an almost unimaginable rate. It has already lost the equivalent of our Sun’s mass every million years. Saiph is down to only 28 solar masses left. That still truly huge , but it is a strong hint that things are not going to end well for Saiph. Like its more famous cousin Betelgeuse, Saiph will continue its path toward destruction and will inevitably explode as a supernova, before it even reaches what one might call an adult age for a star. And when it explodes, Saiph may, at least for a while, get some of the attention it has been lacking. It will likely shine nearly as bright as the full moon for a few days.

If you’d like to take a closer look at Saiph, 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!