From Academic Kids

Arcturus in the constellation of Botes.
Arcturus in the constellation of Botes.

This article is about the star. For a musical ensemble, see Arcturus (band).

Arcturus (α Boo / α Botis / Alpha Botis) is the brightest star in the constellation Botes, and the third brightest star in the sky, with a visual magnitude of −0.05, after Sirius and Canopus. It is the second brightest star visible from northern latitudes and the brightest star in the northern celestial hemisphere.

It is a K1.5 IIIpe red giant star — the letters "p" and "e" stand for "peculiar" and "emission", which indicates that the spectrum of light given off by the star is unusual and full of emission lines. This is not too unusual for red giants, but Arcturus has a particularly bad case of the phenomenon. It is 110 times more luminous than the Sun, but this underestimates its strength as much of the "light" it gives off is in the infrared; total power output is about 180 times than of the Sun.

Arcturus is notable for its high proper motion, larger than any first magnitude star other than nearby α Centauri. It is now at its closest point to the Sun, and is moving rapidly relative to the solar system. Arcturus is thought to be an old disk star, and appears to moving with a group of 52 other such stars. Its mass is hard to exactly determine, but may be about the same as the Sun, and is no more than 1.5 solar masses. Arcturus is likely to be considerably older than the Sun, and much like what the Sun will be in its red giant phase.

According to the Hipparcos satellite, Arcturus is 36.7 light years (11.3 parsecs) from Earth, relatively close by in astronomical terms. From this satellite's observations, Arcturus is now known to be slightly variable, by about 0.04 magnitudes over 8.3 days. It is believed that the surface of the star oscillates slightly, a common feature of red giant stars. In the case of Arcturus, this was an interesting discovery as it is known that the redder (more towards or within the M spectral class) a giant gets, the more variable it will be. Extreme cases like Mira undergo large swings over hundreds of days; Arcturus is not very red and is a borderline case between variability and stability with its short period and tiny range.

Hipparcos also suggested that Arcturus is a binary star, with the companion about twenty times dimmer than the primary and orbiting close enough to be at the very limits of our current ability to make it out. The most recent studies of the issue are generally coming down on the side of it being a single star, however.

The name of the star derives from ancient Greek Arktouros and means "Bear Guard". This is a reference to it being the brightest star in the constellation Botes, the Hunter (of which it forms the left foot), which is next to the Big and Little Bears, Ursa Major and Ursa Minor.

Pre-historic Polynesian navigators knew Arcturus as Hokule'a, the "Star of Joy". Arcturus is the zenith star of the Hawaiian Islands. Using Hokule'a and other stars, the Polynesians launched their double-hulled canoes from from Tahiti and the Marquesas Islands. Traveling east and north they eventually crossed the equator and reached the latitude where Arcturus would appear directly overhead in the summer night sky. Knowing they had arrived at the exact latitude of the island chain, they sailed due west on the trade winds until making landfall. If Hokule'a could be kept directly overhead, they landed on the southeastern shores of the Big Island of Hawaii. For a return trip to Tahiti the navigators could use Sirius, the zenith star of that island.

The star achieved fame in 1933 when its light was used to open the World's Fair in Chicago. The star was chosen as that light had started its journey at about the time of the previous Chicago fair in 1893.

An easy way to find Arcturus is to follow the arc of the handle of the Big Dipper. By continuing in this path, one can find SpicaVirginis) as well — leading to the coinage of the popular maxim, "Arc to Arcturus, then speed on to Spica."



Alternative and former names

Alternative catalogue names include HD 124897; HR 5340

In fiction

Quotes from the Bible

"Which maketh Arcturus, Orion, and Pleiades, and the chambers of the south."
Job 9:9, King James Bible
"Canst thou bind the sweet influences of Pleiades, or loose the bands of Orion?
Canst thou bring forth Mazzaroth in his season?
or canst thou guide Arcturus with his sons?"
Job 38:31-32, King James Bible

External links

de:Arcturus es:Arturo (estrella) fi:Arcturus fr:Arcturus (toile) gl:Arcturus it:Arturo (astronomia) ja:アルクトゥルス nl:Arcturus


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