The Australian Wonder Book of Knowledge - [Home]            



Myriads of Blazing Suns

The Southern Cross

How to Tell the Time

An Infallible Direction Indicator

Outstanding Stars

Stars of the Centaur

Strange Aboriginal Folklore

A Glowing Mass of Stars

Super Suns of the Heavens

The False Cross

The Southern Triangle

Ara and The Scorpion

Other Stars



stars of the centaur

That brilliant, wide pair of stars, The Pointers, follow the Cross a little more than the length of the Cross away. On close inspection it is seen that they do not point exactly at it, but just past its head. These are Alpha and Beta of the constellation of the Centaur which partially surrounds the Cross. The one farther away is the brighter of the two and is universally known as Alpha Centauri, though in some circles, notably in New Zealand, it is also given the proper name—Rigel-Kent.

Alpha Centauri has several claims to fame. It is the nearest "bright" star to us—excepting, of course, our own Sun. It may well be the closest star to our solar system, though a faint star—too dim to be seen with the naked eye—is thought to be just a little nearer. This is known as Proxima Centauri, and it is quite close to Alpha, although the terms "near" and "close" are used only in a relative sense.

To the aborigines, the Pointers were known as the "Brothers," redoubtable hunters. Armed with powerful telescopes, astronomers have discovered that each of the "brothers" is really twins—each apparently single star is, in fact two stars. Alpha, particularly, has been studied closely for years, and the two components, each not very different from the Sun, are found to be revolving round one another once in every eighty years.

Sometimes they appear practically in line anti so close that it takes a very powerful telescope to separate them. At other times they appear wide apart, and the two can be seen with the aid of quite a small spy glass.

A large number of those points of light which appear single to the naked eye prove to be made up of two or more stars when examined with a telescope. Alpha Crucis, the "foot" of the cross, contains three stars, two bright stars appearing very close together, with a third, fainter one, some distance away.


Wonder Book of Knowledge