Sky & Telescope - May 2024 - 62

Stellar Neighbor
nard's Star is its impressive proper motion. Over the span of a
human lifetime, say 80 years, its movement adds up to about
13.8′ - nearly half the apparent diameter of the Moon.
I first went looking for this star soon after buying the
three-volume set of Burnham's Celestial Handbook in 1983.
Using the chart on page 1,252 in Volume Two, I was able to
find Barnard's Star with my 12.5-inch Dobsonian fairly easily.
I marked its position on the line showing the star's trajectory
from 1880 to 2040. Although I usually make sketches in
my observing notebook, starting in 1983 I primarily marked
each observation on the chart in the Celestial Handbook. That
turned out to be a highly satisfying decision.
After that initial observation, I didn't visit the star again
for another nine years. I thought about doing so from time to
time, though. On August 1, 1992, I finally made it back. (At
the time, I forgot to mark its position on the chart - I took
care of that oversight while writing this article.)
My third observation was in 2003. I sketched the field
and couldn't wait to compare it to my 1983 observation to
see how much the star had moved in 20 years. And then, I
couldn't find my original notes. Argh!
A few days later, I remembered that I'd marked its position
in Burnham's, and finding that little 1983 mark was about as
exciting as an original discovery. It was with surpassing pleasure
that I marked that 2003 observation on the book's chart.
Once I finally found my 1983 notes, I saw that both observations
were made on June 4th of their respective years - so,
exactly 20 years apart. That adds up to 3.45′ of motion and
has made June 4th " Barnard's Star Day " for me ever since.
Even better, that 2003 observation established the human
scale of this endeavor, and I was even more motivated to follow
this star as it slowly cruised northward.
Being able to mark the actual movement of a star through
space over the course of 20 years with only three observations
gave me a sense of the starry sky in motion. I've since added
four more marks to the chart - 2006, 2013, 2016 (the centennial
year of Barnard's discovery), and 2023. That's another
20 years, and an additional 3.45′ of motion. So cool.
When we get to the 2040 mark, I'll be 85 - a not unreasonable
old age. About 12 more years after that the star
will be at the top edge of the chart, but it's less likely I'll be
around to see it get there. Time will tell.
Of course, Barnard's Star will continue on its way for
trillions of years after I'm gone, but for now, in this wink of
cosmic time, I like to think of it as my little star.
But Which Star Is It?
One of the things you probably can't count on to identify
Barnard's red dwarf is its color alone. Barnard noted its " yellowish "
hue as seen through the 40-inch Yerkes refractor.
Even though my 30-inch f/2.73 Newtonian reflector shows
it as orange-red, the color is subdued, so don't look for an
obviously red object as its red-dwarf status - or the photo on
page 61 - might suggest. Subtle color in a 9.5-magnitude star
is obvious only in a fairly large telescope, so in most amateur62
MAY 2024 * SKY & TELESCOPE
size instruments the star will appear nearly as white as all the
field stars around it. That's certainly the case with my 80-mm
finderscope.
However, Barnard's Star is easy to locate if you're prepared
with a proper finder chart. The general area isn't hard to starhop
to, but even with a Go To scope, a good chart is necessary
for identifying it among all the others. As I belatedly found
out in 2023, matching the scale of the finder chart to your
telescope's field of view is crucial.
Of course, Barnard's Star will
continue on its way for trillions of
years after I'm gone, but for now,
in this wink of cosmic time, I like to
think of it as my little star.
Why? Well, there are two " flying-geese " asterisms near
Barnard's Star that help narrow down the search area, but
they're at greatly different scales and brightnesses. Unless you
can see both, or know which is which, you might not be able
to figure out which object in your eyepiece is your target.
To illustrate this, examine the chart at right, on page 63.
Note the pattern of field stars within the circle at top right.
This distinctive asterism points from west to east to the
mid-21st-century location for Barnard's Star and is easily visible
in a small amateur telescope. This is the large and bright
version of the flying-geese pattern.
2
3
4
5
6
66
18h
α
α
κ
Barnard's
Star
γ
λ
0°
η
M14
M10
ε
ν
SERPENS CAUDA
M16
M17
M18
M24
M25
M23
IN NORTHEASTERN OPHIUCHUS For observers at mid-northern
latitudes, Barnard's Star is well-placed from mid-spring through autumn.
Look for it around 3½° east of Beta (β) Ophiuchi. You'll currently find
Barnard's Star at (J2000.0): RA 17h 57.8m, Dec. +4° 46′.
ξ
η
M9
ζ
M107
-10°
M12
δ
β
OPHIUCHUS
+10°
HERCULES
17h
ω
Star magnitudes

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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