Brightest and the best

For the last three weeks I have been house, dog and car sitting for some friends of mine who live not too far away. Tonight, after I had taken the dog for a walk, I got talking to the two teenagers who live next door. I was grilled about A-levels, college, university, life and finally astronomy. One of their questions was "how do you get paid for doing astronomy?". Good question; I often wonder how it is that astronomers get paid for trying to understand the universe. Long may it continue!

Anyway, there were only a few clouds around and it was past 10pm so I asked them if they knew how to find the north star (Polaris). James, the eldest of the two, told me that it was the brightest; a mistake that so many people make. I guess this is because everyone knows the north star is important so they assume it is the brightest. I explained that this wasn't the case and that I thought it was something like the 49th brightest star in the sky. Once I got home I checked, and it turns out it is actually 51st on the list of the top 100 brightest stars (hey, a programme idea for Channel 4). The 100 brightest shouldn't be confused with the 100 nearest stars either!

It was great that they were interested and I even ended up explaining about the precession of the equinoxes and the fact that the north star will not always be Polaris - in 14,000 AD it will be Vega.

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Saturday 21st Aug 2004 (23:59 UTC) | Permalink
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