Last week’s column highlighted the “diamond in the sky,” Sirius. This time around we will look at another beacon of the winter sky, one that shines more like a ruby: Betelgeuse. In addition, be sure to read the comments in the latter half of this column sent in from a reader who was touched by the column about Sirius.

Last week’s column highlighted the “diamond in the sky,” Sirius. This time around we will look at another beacon of the winter sky, one that shines more like a ruby: Betelgeuse. In addition, be sure to read the comments in the latter half of this column sent in from a reader who was touched by the column about Sirius.


Betelgeuse is one of the luminaries of the constellation Orion, marking the upper left corner of the parallelogram of stars encompassing the famed stellar trio of “Orion’s belt.” You can see Orion in the south on February evenings.


The eighth-brightest star in the night sky, Betelgeuse appears red-orange. Its fiery appearance is striking in a telescope of any size, suggesting a burning ember flaring from the black of space. Betelgeuse varies in brightness by 1.2 magnitude at an irregular rate.


The star is classified as a red giant. Once a star that has at least 10 times the sun’s mass has used up its hydrogen, it is believed to expand into an enormous sphere of gas, as it starts consuming its reservoir of helium. Betelgeuse is so huge, its surface extends possibly as far as the distance from our sun to the orbit of Jupiter.


Betelgeuse is about 640 lights years from your backyard. Being so huge and so close, the star was the first (besides the sun) to be measured in angular diameter, in 1920.


Other bright-red stars include Aldebaran, located to the upper right of Orion, and Antares, which shines in constellation Scorpius and seen in the summer evening sky. Red/orange stars are actually very common, and a slow sweep through a dark night sky with a small telescope will reveal many.


Sirius and 9/11


Sabra P. Flory, a resident of Greentown, Pa., sent the following comments after reading the Looking Up column about the brilliant star Sirius, which was likened to a “diamond in the sky.” She writes:


“There is something about the name 'Sirius' that is not included in this article, but one that I, personally, will never forget.


“Sirius was the only K9 who was killed in the collapse of the twin towers on September 11, 2001. His partner, an officer of the Port Authority, had left him in the basement kennel as he climbed the stairs of the tower to assist in rescue attempts. As he left his bomb detection dog behind, David Lim thought they had somehow missed a bomb being brought into the towers. He told Sirius that ‘one must have gotten past us,’ and that he would return for him. He did not realize the magnitude of the disaster that he, himself, fell victim to until he was rescued some hours after the stairwell fell upon him. It was some days later until the body of his beloved yellow Labrador retriever partner was pulled from the ruins. Sirius received full honor as did all the heroes pulled from the rubble. The great machines were silenced, and the stretcher with his flag-draped body was carried out by men in uniforms and hard hats, including David. Officers and rescue personnel stood at attention in honor of their K9 partner and friend.  


“I had the distinction of meeting David Lim and attending the impressive memorial service for Sirius that was held at Liberty Park. It was an incredible gathering of rescue personnel, police officers, Port Authority officers, emergency medical personnel and the many K9 partners of those men and women. There were bagpipes, flags and heroes. Some dogs lounged in the sunlight while others stood alert and at attention.   The sun shined brightly on the Statue of Liberty that day. Its light also illuminated the spot where the great twin towers once stood, now a vacant hole in the skyline.


“Ever since that fateful day, whenever I turn my head to the night sky I look for Sirius. To me the 'Big Dog' is everything Mr. Becker talked about in his article and more. It is a bright and shining light that reminds me of the tremendous losses of that day. On September 11 you can see Sirius very easily, just as you can now when you know where to find him. As you admire that ‘diamond’ in the sky, remember to say a little word of thanks for all those heroes out there who continue to protect our lives and our freedom on a daily basis, including their K9 partners. Sirius was one of them.”


*****


Last-quarter moon is on Feb. 24. 


Your notes are welcome at news@neagle.com.


Keep looking up!