From ancient times to the middle ages in the Western world, people believed that the heavens were perfect and unchanging, as ordained by God/the gods. However, there was one celestial oddity that so disturbed the people of long ago that it was perceived as a manifestation of the Devil himself.
Algol(the ghoul) in Arabic, or beta Perseus is just that object. So why would a star come to gain a demonic reputation for itself? Answer: it blinks.
Algol is not a single star, but a two star system, as many stars are. However, what sets Algol apart is that, seen from Earth, the dimmer companion eclipses the main, brighter star. The result: a dramatic change in brightness that earned the star the name “the winking demon” because of the very apparent drop in brightness.
Needless to say, the ancients, who held that the stars were unchanging, were greatly disturbed by this observation that went completely contrary to their preconceived notion of how the heavens should work.
Now in 2011, we all know that there is nothing demonic at all about Algol. However, the sight still remains dramatic.
Tonight, Algol will be at minimum at 10:30pm EST (Cleveland time). Live West of here? Subtract an hour for each time zone. As for the star itself, no, it is not going to blink off like a light bulb, but it will gradually dim from magnitude 2.1 to 3.4 over the course of a couple of hours before brightening up once again to its usual brilliance. Good companion stars with which to compare Algol are Gamma Andromeda (magnitude 2.1) to Algol’s right and Mirfak (magnitude 1.8) above and left of Algol. To capture the event from start to finish, somebasic astrophotography tips will come in handy for the photographically-inclined.
Now for the big question: will one be able to see Algol ach ghoulish in Cleveland tonight?
Unfortunately, the Cleveland area weather forecast, which is always looking very iffy for this time of year, is looking downright lousy tonight. So, for an even more up-to date, hour-by-hour forecast (that, as of this writing, does show a brief break tonight, just may show some breakseland Clear Sky Clock to see what the night will bring. Live somewhere else? Find a clock near you./
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