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Cosmic Challenge: Alcor and Mizar

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#1 PhilH

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Posted 01 June 2021 - 05:18 AM

Is there any constellation in the sky more universally known than Ursa Major, the Great Bear? Most of us learned of it as a child, perhaps from a relative or friend, or possibly as a Scout working our way toward a merit badge in astronomy. The seven brightest stars in the group, known in North America as the Big Dipper or in England as the Plough, always draw our attention, especially in the spring when they ride highest in our sky.

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#2 Mr.Furley

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Posted 01 June 2021 - 03:46 PM

An excellent target for people new to astronomy.

I had a couple friends over the other night while I was letting my scope cool down so I decided to show them mizar.

Almost everyone knows what the "dipper" looks like so it was easy to direct them to the middle star in the "handle".

I asked them to look closely and see if they could make it out as a double, they could.

Then they looked through a small refractor at 12x (my finder scope) and they both clearly saw mizar & alcor along with hd116798 making its nice triangle. Then I dropped an EP into my 10" and let them look at 80x, they both said something along the lines of "wow I had no idea you could get so close".

They both had to leave so I didn't go all esoteric and try to split mizar for them, that will have to wait for another day :)

Anyways a great target for showing people the power of a scope and getting people interested. I could be crazy but I could have sworn I saw their 8th magnitude friend between them with my naked eye that night.
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#3 Eclipsed

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Posted 01 June 2021 - 08:02 PM

I must admit to having never been able to easily split these two stars without optical aid. Nowadays my eyes are certainly past their prime, having had retina surgery twice in my right eye (which was my better eye) and then cataract surgery on both eyes a couple of years later. But, this is an interesting challenge and I’ll give it another shot as soon as a good clear evening comes along!
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#4 vrodriguez2324

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Posted 02 June 2021 - 11:01 AM

I do indeed have fond childhood memories of looking up at the night sky many nights and being able to identify the big dipper and the little dipper. Although now I know that what I once thought was the little dipper is actually the Pleiades. I enjoy observing the sky with the naked eye to look for interesting targets. I make a conscious effort to scan slowly and look for faint stars. In my experience the longer I look at a portion of the sky, the more it shows me. From my light polluted backyard I am limited to the brighter stars so naturally the Big Dipper is a target I frequently visit.  I started this hobby last summer after Comet Neowise paid us a visit so this season is the first time I have paid closer attention to the "Plough". Last month as I directed my vision between and around the stars I noticed something in the middle of the handle, a nice naked eye double that I could easily resolve. Mizar and Alcor, how could I have missed you so many times in the past? I then reached for my binoculars to increase the magnification 10 fold. The view was even better. I then aimed my telescope towards the middle of handle at 46x. To my pleasant surprise one of the stars in the pair was actually also a double! A dark velvet sliver of sky separating the bright pair, absolutely beautiful. 


Edited by vrodriguez2324, 03 June 2021 - 10:21 AM.

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#5 piperwhite62

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Posted 02 June 2021 - 12:55 PM

I do indeed have fond childhood memories of looking up at the night sky many nights and being able to identify the big dipper and the little dipper. Although now I know that what I once thought was the little dipper is actually the Pleaides. I enjoy observing the sky with the naked eye to look for interesting targets. I make a conscious effort to scan slowly and look for faint stars. In my experience the longer I look at a portion of the sky, the more it shows me. From my light polluted backyard I am limited to the brighter stars so naturally the Big Dipper is a target I frequently visit.  I started this hobby last summer after Comet Neowise paid us a visit so this season is the first time I have paid closer attention to the "Plough". Last month as I directed my vision between and around the stars I noticed something in the middle of the handle, a nice naked eye double that I could easily resolve. Mizar and Alcor, how could I have missed you so many times in the past? I then reached for my binoculars to increase the magnification 10 fold. The view was even better. I then aimed my telescope towards the middle of handle. To my pleasant surprise one of the stars in the pair was actually also a double! A dark velvet sliver of sky separating the bright pair, absolutely beautiful. 

I also started around the time of Neowise. Mizar and Alcore was one of the first doubles I looked at. Mizar and Alcore are about 1 light year apart and are both spectroscopic binaries each with their own dwarf star orbiting them, so you're really looking at six stars. Alcor's dwarf star is too close to resolve with a normal telescope but you should be able to see the tiny dwarf star next to Mizar at low magnification.

 

Clear skies


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#6 CowTipton

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Posted 02 June 2021 - 03:25 PM

We finally had some above average seeing and average transparency last night in my suburban Chicago backyard.  Easily split Mizar and Alcor naked eye.  This happens maybe once per season around here.

 

So happy to finally complete one of these challenges.

 

-Mike 


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#7 EdM2

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Posted 03 June 2021 - 05:28 PM

When I grow up I want to be as amateurish as Phil Harrington, the SUPER AMATEUR!

 

    amateur-astronomer-looking-through-a-tel



#8 Dave Mitsky

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Posted 03 June 2021 - 09:33 PM

Additional information on Alcor and Mizar can be found at https://www.astronom...izar-and-alcor/ and https://skyandtelesc...friend03252015/ and https://www.scienced...91210092005.htm



#9 JamesDuffey

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Posted 03 June 2021 - 10:01 PM

I recommend Alcor and Mizar  to beginners as one of the first things to look at. It is easily found and placed in the FOV of the scope, giving the newcomer confidence that they can find stuff. It is a different view of a common object. As one increases magnification, more and more is seen, a good experience in changing eyepieces and seeing old things in a new way.



#10 ChrisCharlesJax

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Posted 04 June 2021 - 12:46 PM

I learned yesterday that this is actually a system of six stars. Pretty cool.



#11 Astro Canuck

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Posted 04 June 2021 - 01:12 PM

In the before time -- when we had observing sessions on the university roof after planetarium shows I would ask people to look at Mizar and what do you see?   never say 2 stars as the psychological factor will play.. some saw the fainter one  - Alcor and some did not .. the age

range was interesting, some not all younger people/students 10-25 years old could not see it, some older people 40-55 saw it in a snap..!     was interesting.. use to tell the Native American version.. Horse and Rider...  will we ever do these sessions again...not for 1-2 years till virus is killed better.  frown.gif  



#12 James R

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Posted 07 June 2021 - 03:05 PM

Mizar and Alcor are one of the favorite targets for our public outreach programs.  I'm a member of the National Capital Astronomers club and we hold our outreach programs in Rock Creek Park in Washington DC.  For anyone who is at all familiar with Washington, you'll quickly realize that this is not a dark sky location by any stretch of the imagination.  At best you can pick out 3rd or 4th magnitude stars.

 

But this is where the people are!

 

As a consequence, we are limited to only the brightest objects.  But people are thrilled to get a peak at the planets, the moon, and some of the easier to find bright objects.  Many have never had a look through an astronomical telescope.

 

With Mizar and Alcor, I usually start by pointing out the Big Dipper and having them look at the center star in the handle.  Many can see that there's a faint companion.  (I haven't kept statistics, but most younger people can see the pair easily.  Many of the older people are aware that it's a binary, so it's hard to tell if they can really pick them apart or not.)

But then we switch to a telescope, usually my 4" Meade semi-APO refractor.  And that catches their attention.  All of a sudden there are Mizar and Alcor on a velvety black background.  And then they realize that Mizar is itself a double star.

 

At this point, we frequently get into comparisons with the fictional double "sun" of the planet Tatooine from Star Wars along with the fact that each of these three stars are in fact doubles themselves.

 

P.S.  Based upon the double dot test, I can resolve somewhere between 2.5 and 3 arc-minutes with one eye, slightly less with the other.  But I have problems with my contact lenses drying out at night and blurring my vision without me noticing it immediately.




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