“VEGA – 4 1/2 Stars” – says Carl Sagan

June 22, 2015
Vega prototype Credit en.wikipedia.org
Vega prototype

  This is “Looking UP! in southern Colorado,” from the Colorado Springs Astronomical Society. I’m Hal Bidlack, and there are lots of reasons to look up!

There is a very bright star in the southern Colorado skies right now that you may have visited or read about, at least in science fiction stories, the star Vega! 

Vega has been visited by Capt. Kirk in Star Trek, and most famously as the location of an alien civilization’s transportation hub in both the book and the movie Contact.

And if you were driving cars in the 1970s, you may have driven a Vega, as Chevrolet put out a pretty mediocre car by that name.

But there’s nothing mediocre about the star Vega itself. Vega shines with a brilliant blue – white light. Vega is the third brightest star visible to us here in the northern hemisphere. You’ll find Vega rising in East  shortly after sunset. It’s the brightest thing in the Eastern sky. Vega is just under three times bigger than our own sun but burns much hotter, with surface temperatures of 18,000°F, compared to our sun’s more chilly 10,000°F. Vega is a young star, only about 350 million years old, compared our sun at 4.5 billion years old.

Observations of Vega have shown that it appears to be surrounded by a vast disk of dust. It is in these so-called accretion disks that gravity, pulling slowly on uncounted trillions upon trillions of particles, slowly forms planets. There is some evidence to suggest that Vega may already have a planet the size of Jupiter and, perhaps, smaller, rocky inner Earth-sized planets as well.

Vega appears so bright in our sky partly because it’s a pretty bright star and partly because it is fairly close to the Earth, at only 25 light years away. And, because the Earth is wobbling slowly, like a spinning top wobbling as it slows down, in about 12,000 years Earth’s North Pole will eventually point at Vega, which will then be our new North Star for about 12,000 years or so before it wobbles back to Polaris.

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