Astro Tale : Chiron the Centaur

12Jul07

If you are living in the souther hemisphere, these days will be a good time to spot the closest star to our sun, Alpha Centauri. Being the fourth brightest star in the night sky, and in it’s constellation Centaurus, Alpha Centauri can be easily spotted with naked eyes, even in mildly lit surroundings like in cities. Go outside just after sunset, and look towards southern sky. If you do not know where south is, just place the setting sun (or where you think it might be) to your right. Usually, in early dusk you can see it accompanied by Hadar, the second brightest star in Centaurus, and if you pull a straight line from Alpha Centauri and Hadar, you will arrive at the infamous souther constellation of Crux (souther cross). Chances are Acrux and Mimosa is also visible. These four stars are probably the easiest to spot in the southern sky.

Constellation Centaurus

Alpha centauri is also known by the name Rigil Kent, from arabic Rijl al Kentauruus, the foot of kentaurus. The location of Alpha centauri does marks the fore legs of the constellation Centaurus. Centaurus is a Greek mythical creature with human head and torso and horse body. Centaurus were notorious drinker. And when they got drunk they were violent and unruly. Legend has it that one centaur rose as their king and prophet. His name is Chiron, descendant of Cronos the god of creation. Having deity lineage, Chiron was gifted by wisdom and immortality. He learn from Appolo the art of healing. The heroes Heracles, Achilles, and Jason were his disciples. Legend has it that when Zeus was punishing Prometheus for stealing from the gods, the wisdom of fire for mankind, Chiron made a final sacrifice by offering his immortality in exchange for Prometheus freedom. Zeus, firm as he was, was moved by this sacrifice and honored Chiron by placing his image in the sky.

Now back to the facts. Alpha Centauri is actually not a single star, it is a system of three stars. One of which, the brightest, is very similar to our sun. With the ‘mere’ distance 4.37 lightyears away, Alpha Centauri has been the source of ideas of many SciFi writers. Scientists have indicate the possibilities of earth-like exoplanet orbiting the star system. And if they do exists, they might be able to harbor life as we know it. To me this fact is quite tantalizing.

In the universe this big, anything can happen.

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