What’s That Star? Fomalhaut

The lonely star of autumn

During late October, at around 9:00 pm Central time, look to the south, fairly low in the sky. You will see a bright, white star–and pretty much nothing else in the area. This is Fomalhaut (often pronounced FOAM-al-ought), sometimes known as the “lonely star of autumn.” Why so lonely? You can see for yourself that there are no bright stars anywhere near it, and it is also too far south to be visited by any of the planets.

Although it is one of the brightest stars in the sky, like that familiar character actor you see in small parts in many movies, it isn’t well known. It can only be seen for a few weeks in the fall  in the Northern Hemisphere, and in Chicago, it never gets very far above the horizon. If you lived in the Southern Hemisphere, however, it would be much more prominent, and visible almost year-round–“A-list” in Australia or Argentina.

It is one of the more interesting stars to astronomers, though. The Hubble telescope imaged it and gave evidence that it is surrounded by a significant disk of debris. And recently, astronomers reported that it is a triple star system (it was previously assumed to be a double star system).

Look for it this fall, just above the trees and buildings in the south.

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