See a Double Star!

While you are out tonight or early tomorrow morning enjoying (or at least looking for) the Camelopardalis meteor shower — you ARE going to look right? — you can see a double star too maybe even at the same time.

The stars, Mizar and Alcor are in the constellation Ursa Major (also The Big Dipper or The Plough). The picture below will help you get your bearings. In the “handle” of the “dipper” the second star is named Mizar. Mizer has a partner  called Alcor. I’ve heard stories the pair was used to as a vision test, if you could resolve the pair you had “normal” eyes. Maybe you have good eyes and can see both, I’ve not had that experience, skies were darker not so many years ago too and that had to help. Still it’s right there get your eyes dark adapted (no lights for about 15 minutes should do it) and have a look.

Note:  The Mizar and Alcor pair are much more than a pair.  Mizar is really part of a four-star system and Alcor is part of another binary system and apparently all are gravitationally bound.  A sextuple system!

Better yet if you have even a small pair of binoculars, take a look at that star and you will see the pair. Click the image to see them resolved.

Ursa Major and Mizar.  Stellarium

Ursa Major and Mizar. Stellarium

Also notice how the end two stars making the “dipper” part sort of point to the star labeled Polaris. Polaris is of course the “North Star. The meteor shower should emanate from the constellation Camelopardalis which is between Polaris and your northern horizon early on. Normally we think of stars moving from East to West, but the stars in Camelopardalis, being “below” Polaris will rotate to the East as the night goes on.

Here’s a picture to help. I would imagine if the meteor shower is anything at all you will find the radiant pretty easily if you just look north.

The radiant for the Camelopardalis meteor shower.

The radiant for the Camelopardalis meteor shower.

But what to do if is cloudy? All is not lost, turns out the forecast for me is rain, naturally. I’ll be watching on SLOOH if nothing else.