Vega

Dennis Mammana: Make friends with Vega and prepare to be starstruck | Outside

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Vega is the brightest star in the tiny constellation of Lyra, the Harp, and is one of three bright stars in the group known as the Summer Triangle. (IllustrationCreators.com)

Of all the books I’ve read in my nearly six decades of stargazing – and there have been many – my favorite is not a technical tome as you might imagine. It’s actually the inspirational and romantic autobiography of the late amateur astronomer and comet-discoverer extraordinaire Leslie Peltier.

In this wonderful 1985 book starry nightsPeltier writes very eloquently about his passion for stargazing and how, as a wide-eyed child one spring evening long ago, he read – and encountered – his very first star. :Vega.

He describes his meeting as follows:

“Vega, at this very time in May, would rise in the northeast sky. I took the open book outside, walked around the east side of the house, peered once more at the diagram by the light streaming through the east window of the kitchen, I looked up northeast and there, just above the plum blossom by the well, was Vega. And she had been there all the springs of my life, circling around the pole with her accompanying five stars, begging for attention, and I had never seen her.

“Now I knew a star!” »

That same star that fired young Peltier’s imagination is still in the skies, waiting to inspire us as well. This week, we can see it shining low in our northeastern sky after dark, just as Peltier discovered. All we have to do is go outside and watch.

Vega is the brightest star in the tiny constellation of Lyra, the Harp, and is one of three bright stars in the group known as the Summer Triangle.

Even the most casual astronomer will notice Vega’s shimmer and flicker against the dark sky. This dramatic twinkle is not due to the star itself but to the turbulent air through which its light must travel to reach our eyes.

Look at Vega and you’ll be looking roughly in the direction our sun and our entire solar system is racing at about 12 miles per second. No need to worry about a collision, though. Vega is about 25 light years away – about 150 trillion miles – so nearly 4,000 centuries will pass on our journey.

This bright white star is more than twice as large and massive – and produces about 40 times more luminosity – than our sun. As a result, it will run out of fuel in only a tenth of the time, making its expected lifespan only about 1 billion years.

While it now seems to rise in the northeast, Vega will one day be found in our north. In fact, one day it will replace Polaris as the North Star. This will happen because our Earth oscillates like a tilting top with a period of about 25,800 years. Due to this effect, the star Vega will be located within six degrees of the north celestial pole between 13,000 and 14,000 AD.

Vega is such an amazing and beautiful star in so many ways. If you’ve found one excuse after another to put off your trips outside to see the stars, take a page from Peltier’s wonderful book.

Go out tonight and make friends with Vega!

— Dennis Mammana is an astronomy writer, author, speaker, and photographer working under the clear, dark skies of the Anza-Borrego Desert in the San Diego County Outback. Contact him at [email protected] and connect with him on Facebook: @dennismammana. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.