Friday 4 September 2020

Astrognome 100 Great Stars No 21 Canopus



One of the loveliest stars in the sky which sadly cannot be seen from Britain. It is the second brightest star in the sky after Sirius. It is also a rather strange fact that the three brightest stars in the sky Sirius, Canopus and Alpha Centauri are all in the southern sky while the next three brightest ones Arcturus, Vega and Capella are in the North.

The fact that it could be seen from Alexandria but not Athens was one of the arguments put forward by Greek astronomers that the Earth must be round.

Canopus or alpha Carinae is the brightest star in the constellation of Carina the Keel. Canopus traditionally marked the rudder of the ship, which used to be part of the massive constellation of Argo Navis the ship that Jason used to look for the Golden Fleece. The constellation of Argo has now been broken up into four smaller groups.

The legendary Canopus was a character in the saga of the Trojan war, he was the pilot of the ship which carried King Menelaus home after the fall of Troy.

Canopus lies at a distance of 310 light years and is an A9 giant star with a surface temperature of around 7,300 degrees.

Canopus is used as a star tracker for space craft and was used in 1964 by Mariner 4 which was the first space craft to successfully fly by the planet Mars. Incidentally it also changed scientists’ views of what Mars might look like from close up.

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