Sky & Telescope - May 2024 - 36

Stellar History
Sun
Proxima
Centauri
(4.25)
Alpha
Centauri A
(4.34)
Alpha
Centauri B
(4.34)
Barnard's
Star
(5.96)
Luhman
16 A+B
(6.52)
WISE
J08550714
(7.43)
Wolf
359
(7.86)
1
2
3
4
Distance
in Light-Years
NEARBY STARS Within 8 light-years of Earth shine bright stars such as the Sun and Alpha Centauri, plus dim red dwarfs like Wolf 359 as well as
even dimmer brown dwarfs, one of which - WISE J0855-0714 in Hydra - is so cold (about 12°C, or 53° F) that it emits no visible light at all.
North America and named it the America Nebula, describing
it as the " finest nebula of the sky. " American astronomer
Edward Emerson Barnard later renamed the object, writing
" The 'North America Nebula' would perhaps be more definite,
for it is North America to which Dr. Max Wolf intends
the compliment. "
In 1909 Wolf discovered what we now know is a nearby
galaxy in Cetus that belongs to the Local Group, the galactic
gathering that includes the Milky Way and Andromeda. The
new galaxy, a dwarf irregular, the site of active star formation,
bears the name Wolf-Lundmark-Melotte, after Swedish
astronomer Knut Lundmark and English astronomer Philibert
Melotte, both of whom found the galaxy two decades later.
And in 1918, at the age of 54, Wolf made his " star " find.
The Discovery of Wolf 359
The 1910s saw huge advances in the study of nearby stars as
astronomers on three different continents discovered three
red dwarfs in the Sun's immediate neighborhood. In one way
or another, each was a record-breaker.
The first and most famous discovery occurred in 1915,
when Scottish-born astronomer Robert Innes, working in
South Africa, spotted Proxima Centauri, the closest star to
the Sun. The faint star glows just 2° from Alpha Centauri
and lies slightly closer to us, hence its name. Modern measures
put Proxima just 4.25 light-years from Earth, compared
with 4.34 light-years for Alpha Centauri (both the A
and the B components).
The second discovery came the next year. In 1916 Barnard,
working at Yerkes Observatory in Wisconsin, found a fastmoving
star in Ophiuchus. The star had a different position
on photographic plates than it had years earlier, which meant
it had a large proper motion (S&T: June 2022, p. 30; see also
the article on page 60 in this issue). In fact, Barnard's Star
has the largest proper motion ever recorded in a star. It's currently
5.96 light-years from Earth and gets 0.04 light-years
closer each century.
The third and final discovery was Wolf's. Unfortunately,
he doesn't state exactly when he found the star. He
announced the find in a March 23, 1918, article, which
is only five paragraphs long, suggesting it didn't take long
to write. It seems likely that his discovery occurred on or
shortly before that date.
Wolf identified the remarkable star just as he had his
many asteroids: on photographic plates. He utilized a blink
comparator, a device that he and Carl Pulfrich of the Carl
Zeiss company in Germany invented around the turn of the
20th century. A blink comparator allows an astronomer to
A NEBULOUS CONTINENT It took Max Wolf, an astronomer from a
different continent, to see the shape of North America in this interstellar
cloud, which he named the America Nebula. In a 1903 article for the
Astrophysical Journal, Edward Emerson Barnard, who took this photograph,
renamed the cloud the North America Nebula.
36 MAY 2024 * SKY & TELESCOPE
5
6
7
8
STAR DISTANCE DIAGRAM: BEATRIZ INGLESSIS / S&T; NORTH AMERICA NEBULA:
GEORGIA INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY ARCHIVES AND SPECIAL COLLECTIONS

Sky & Telescope - May 2024

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Sky & Telescope - May 2024

Contents
Sky & Telescope - May 2024 - Cover1
Sky & Telescope - May 2024 - Cover2
Sky & Telescope - May 2024 - 1
Sky & Telescope - May 2024 - Contents
Sky & Telescope - May 2024 - 3
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Sky & Telescope - May 2024 - Cover3
Sky & Telescope - May 2024 - Cover4
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