Canopus // is the brightest star in the southern constellation of Carina, and is located near the western edge of the constellation around 310 light-years from the Sun. Its proper name is generally considered to originate from the mythological Canopus, who was a navigator for Menelaus, king of Sparta. Canopus has the Bayer designation α Carinae, which is Latinised to Alpha Carinae and abbreviated Alpha Car or α Car. It is the second-brightest star in the night sky, after Sirius. Canopus' visual apparent magnitude is −0.74, and it has an absolute magnitude of −5.71.
An image of Canopus by Expedition 6
Epoch J2000 Equinox J2000
|Right ascension||06h 23m 57.10988s|
|Declination||−52° 41′ 44.3810″|
|Apparent magnitude (V)||−0.74|
|Spectral type||A9 II|
|U−B color index||+0.10|
|B−V color index||+0.15|
|Radial velocity (Rv)||20.3 km/s|
|Proper motion (μ)|| RA: 19.93 mas/yr |
Dec.: 23.24 mas/yr
|Parallax (π)||10.55 ± 0.56 mas|
|Distance||310 ± 20 ly |
(95 ± 5 pc)
|Absolute magnitude (MV)||–5.71|
|Surface gravity (log g)||1.64±0.05 cgs|
|Metallicity [Fe/H]||–0.07 dex|
|Rotational velocity (v sin i)||8.0 km/s|
Canopus is an ageing bright giant of spectral type A9 or F0, so it is essentially white when seen with the naked eye. Canopus is undergoing core helium burning and is currently in the so-called blue loop phase of its evolution, having already passed through the red-giant branch after exhausting the hydrogen in its core. Canopus has eight times the mass of the Sun and has expanded to 71 times the Sun's radius. It is radiating over 10,000 times the luminosity of the Sun from its enlarged photosphere at an effective temperature of around 7,000 K. Canopus is an X-ray source, which is likely being emitted from its corona.
The prominent appearance of Canopus means it has been the subject of mythological lore among many ancient peoples. The acronychal rising marked the date of the Ptolemaia festival in Egypt. In Hinduism, it was named Agastya after the revered Vedic sage. For Chinese astronomers, it was known as the Old Man of the South Pole.
In the Southern Hemisphere, Canopus and Sirius are both visible high in the sky simultaneously, and reach a meridian just 21 minutes apart. Brighter than first magnitude, Canopus can be seen by naked eye in the early twilight. Most visible in summer in the Southern Hemisphere, Canopus culminates at midnight on December 27, and at 9 PM on February 11.
It is a circumpolar star when seen from points with latitude south of 37°18' S; for example, Victoria and Tasmania, Australia; Auckland and south of it, New Zealand; Bahía Blanca, Argentina; and Valdivia, Chile, and south of these cities in South America. Since Canopus is so far south in the sky, it never rises in mid- to far-northern latitudes; in theory the northern limit of visibility is latitude 37°18' north. This is just south of Athens, Richmond, Virginia (USA), and San Francisco, and very close to Seville and Agrigento. It is almost exactly the latitude of Lick Observatory on Mt. Hamilton, California, from which it is readily visible because of the effects of elevation and atmospheric refraction, which add another degree to its apparent altitude. Under ideal conditions, it can be spotted as far north as latitude 37°31' from the Pacific coast. Another northernmost record of visibility came from Mount Nemrut in Turkey, latitude 37°59'. It is more easily visible in places such as the Gulf Coast and Florida, and the island of Crete (Greece) where the best season for viewing it around 9 p.m. is during late January and early February.
Canopus has a B–V color index of +0.15 where 0 is a blue-white, indicating it is essentially white, although it has been described as yellow-white. Canopus' spectral type has been given as F0 and more recently A9. It is less yellow than Altair or Procyon, with indices measured as 0.22 and 0.42, respectively. It may be that some observers have perceived Canopus as yellow-tinged because it is low in the sky and hence subject to atmospheric effects. Patrick Moore said that it never appeared anything but white to him.
Before the launch of the Hipparcos satellite telescope, distance estimates for Canopus varied widely, from 96 light-years to 1200 light-years. Had the latter distance been correct, Canopus would have been one of the most luminous stars in the Milky Way galaxy. Hipparcos established Canopus as being 310 light-years (96 parsecs) from the Solar System; this is based on its 2007 parallax measurement of 10.43±0.53 mas.
Canopus has an MK spectral type of A9 II, although it has also been classified as F0Ib (Ib referring to "less luminous supergiant") on account of its high luminosity, or F0II. Its position in the H–R diagram indicates that it is a massive giant star currently in the core-helium burning phase. This is an intermediate mass star that has left the red-giant branch and has entered a blue loop with a significantly increased effective temperature, which has been measured to be 6,998 K. Very-long-baseline interferometry has been used to calculate its angular diameter at 6.9 mas. Combined with distance calculated by Hipparcos, this gives it a radius of 71 times that of the Sun. If it were at the centre of the Solar System, it would extend 90% of the way to the orbit of Mercury. It is over ten thousand times more luminous than the Sun.
Canopus is a source of X-rays, which are probably produced by its corona, magnetically heated to several million Kelvin. The temperature has likely been stimulated by fast rotation combined with strong convection percolating through the star's outer layers.
No star closer than Canopus is more luminous than it, and it has been the brightest star in Earth's night sky during three epochs over the past four million years. Other stars appear brighter only during relatively temporary periods, during which they are passing the Solar System much closer than Canopus. About 90,000 years ago, Sirius moved close enough that it became brighter than Canopus, and that will remain so for another 210,000 years. But in 480,000 years, as Sirius moves further away and appears fainter, Canopus will once again be the brightest, and will remain so for a period of about 510,000 years.
Canopus was previously proposed to be a member of the Scorpius–Centaurus Association, however it is not located near the subgroups of that association, and has not been included as a Sco-Cen member in kinematic studies that used Hipparcos astrometric data. At present, Canopus is not thought to be a member of any nearby young stellar groups.
In 2014, astronomer Eric Mamajek reported that an extremely magnetically active M dwarf (having strong coronal X-ray emission), 1.16 degrees south of Canopus, appears to share common proper motion with Canopus. The projected separation of the M dwarf 2MASS J06234738-5351131 ("Canopus B") is approximately 1.9 parsecs, however, despite this large separation, it is still within the estimated tidal radius (2.9 parsecs) for the massive star Canopus.
In Indian Vedic literature, Canopus is associated with the sage Agastya, one of the ancient siddhars and rishis (the others are associated with the stars of the Big Dipper). To Agastya, the star is said to be the 'cleanser of waters', and its rising coincides with the calming of the waters of the Indian Ocean. It is thus considered the son of Pulastya, son of Brahma. Canopus is described by Pliny the Elder and Gaius Julius Solinus as the largest, brightest and only source of starlight for navigators near Tamraparni island (ancient Sri Lanka) during many nights.
Canopus was not visible to the mainland ancient Greeks and Romans; it was, however, visible to the ancient Egyptians. Hence Aratus did not write of the star as it remained below the horizon, while Eratosthenes and Ptolemy—observing from Alexandria—did, calling it Kanōbos.
The Bedouin people of the Negev and Sinai also knew Canopus as Suhayl, and used it and Polaris as the two principal stars for navigation at night. Because it disappears below the horizon in those regions, it became associated with a changeable nature, as opposed to always-visible Polaris, which was circumpolar and hence 'steadfast'. It is also referred to by its Arabic name: سهيل (Suhayl, Soheil in Persian), given by Islamic scientists in the 7th century AD.
Called the Old Man of the South Pole (in Chinese: 南极老人; pinyin: Nanji Lǎorén) in Chinese, Canopus appears (albeit misplaced northwards) on the medieval Chinese manuscript the Dunhuang Star Chart, although it cannot be seen from the Chinese capital of Chang'an. The Chinese astronomer Yi Xing had journeyed south to chart Canopus and other far southern stars in 724 AD. However, it was already mentioned by Sima Qian in the second century BC, drawing on sources from the Warring States period, as the southern counterpart of Sirius.
Bright stars were important to the ancient Polynesians for navigation between the many islands and atolls of the Pacific Ocean. Low on the horizon, they acted as stellar compasses to assist mariners in charting courses to particular destinations. Canopus served as the southern wingtip of a "Great Bird" constellation called Manu, with Sirius as the body and Procyon the northern wingtip, which divided the Polynesian night sky into two hemispheres. The Hawaiian people called Canopus Ke Alii-o-kona-i-ka-lewa, "The chief of the southern expanse"; it was one of the stars used by Hawaiʻiloa and Ki when they traveled to the Southern Ocean.
The Māori people of New Zealand/Aotearoa had several names for Canopus. Ariki ("High-born"), was known as a solitary star that appeared in the east, prompting people to weep and chant. They also named it Atutahi, Aotahi or Atuatahi, "Stand Alone". Its solitary nature indicates it is a tapu star, as tapu people are often solitary. Its appearance at the beginning of the Maruaroa season foretells the coming winter; light rays to the south indicate a cold wet winter, and to the north foretell a mild winter. Food was offered to the star on its appearance. This name has several mythologies attached to it. One story tells of how Atutahi was left outside the basket representing the Milky Way when Tāne wove it. Another related myth about the star says that Atutahi was the first-born child of Rangi, who refused to enter the Milky Way and so turned it sideways and rose before it. The same name is used for other stars and constellations throughout Polynesia. Kapae-poto, "Short horizon", referred to it rarely setting as seen in New Zealand; Kauanga ("Solitary") was the name for Canopus only when it was the last star visible before sunrise.
The Tswana people of Botswana knew Canopus as Naka. Appearing late in winter skies, it heralded increasing winds and a time when trees lose their leaves. Stock owners knew it was time to put their sheep with rams. In southern Africa, the Sotho, Tswana and Venda people called Canopus Naka or Nanga, “the Horn Star”, while the Zulu and Swazi called it inKhwenkwezi "Brilliant star". It appears in the predawn sky in the third week of May. According to the Venda, the first person to see Canopus would blow a phalaphala horn from the top of a hill, getting a cow for a reward. The Sotho chiefs also awarded a cow, and ordered their medicine men to roll bone dice and read the fortune for the coming year. To the ǀXam-speaking Bushmen of South Africa, Canopus and Sirius signalled the appearance of termites and flying ants. They also believed that stars had the power to cause death and misfortune, and they would pray to Sirius and Canopus in particular to impart good fortune or skill.
The Kalapalo people of Mato Grosso state in Brazil saw Canopus and Procyon as Kofongo "Duck", with Castor and Pollux representing his hands. The asterism's appearance signified the coming of the rainy season and increase in manioc, a food staple fed to guests at feasts.
Canopus traditionally marked the rudder of the ship Argo Navis. English explorer Robert Hues brought it to the attention of European observers in his 1592 work Tractatus de Globis, along with Achernar and Alpha Centauri, noting:
"Now, therefore, there are but three Stars of the first magnitude that I could perceive in all those parts which are never seene here in England. The first of these is that bright Star in the sterne of Argo which they call Canobus. The second is in the end of Eridanus. The third is in the right foote of the Centaure."
Etymology and cultural significanceEdit
The name Canopus is a Latinisation of the Ancient Greek name Κάνωβος/Kanôbos, recorded in Claudius Ptolemy's Almagest (c.150 AD). Eratosthenes used the same spelling. Hipparchos wrote it as Κάνωπος. John Flamsteed wrote Canobus, as did Edmond Halley in his 1679 Catalogus Stellarum Australium. The name has two possible derivations, both listed in Richard Hinckley Allen's seminal Star Names: Their Lore and Meaning.
- One from the legend of the Trojan War, where the constellation Carina was once part of the now-obsolete constellation of Argo Navis, which represented the ship used by Jason and the Argonauts. The brightest star in the constellation was given the name of a ship's pilot from another Greek legend: Canopus, pilot of Menelaus' ship on his quest to retrieve Helen of Troy after she was taken by Paris.
- A second from the Egyptian Coptic Kahi Nub ("Golden Earth"), which refers how Canopus would have appeared near the horizon in ancient Egypt, reddened by atmospheric extinction from that position. A ruined ancient Egyptian port named Canopus lies near the mouth of the Nile, site of the Battle of the Nile.
In 2016, the International Astronomical Union organized a Working Group on Star Names (WGSN) to catalog and standardize proper names for stars. The WGSN's first bulletin of July 2016 included a table of the first two batches of names approved by the WGSN; which included Canopus for this star. It is now so entered in the IAU Catalog of Star Names.
α Carinae (Latinised to Alpha Carinae) is the star's Bayer designation. It is also listed in the Bright Star Catalogue as HR 2326, the Henry Draper Catalogue as HD 45348, and the Hipparcos catalogue as HIP 30438. Flamsteed did not number this southern star, but Gould gave it the number 7 (7 G. Carinae) in his Uranometria Argentina.
It is also personified as the Shou star.
In Japan, Canopus is known as Mera-boshi and Roujin-sei (the old man star).
In traditional Tibetan astronomy and astrology, Canopus is named Karma Rishi སྐར་མ་རི་ཥི།
Canopus was identified as the moiety ancestor Waa "Crow" to some Koori people in southeastern Australia. The Boorong people of northwestern Victoria recalled that War (Canopus) was the brother of Warepil (Sirius), and that he brought fire from the heavens and introduced it to mankind. His wife was Collowgullouric War (Eta Carinae). The Pirt-Kopan-noot people of western Victoria told of Waa "Crow" falling in love with a queen, Gneeanggar "Wedge-tailed Eagle" (Sirius) and her six attendants (the Pleiades). His advances spurned, he hears that the women are foraging for grubs and so transforms himself into a grub. When the women dig him out, he changes into a giant and carries her off.
The Kulin people knew Canopus as Lo-an-tuka. Objects in the sky were also associated with states of being for some tribes; the Wailwun of northern New South Wales knew Canopus as Wumba "deaf", alongside Mars as Gumba "fat" and Venus as Ngindigindoer "you are laughing". Tasmanian aboriginal lore held that Canopus was Dromerdene, the brother of Moinee; the two fought and fell out of the sky, with Dromerdene falling into Louisa Bay in southwest Tasmania.
Canopus was known to the ancient Mesopotamians and given the name NUN-ki and represented the city of Eridu in the Three Stars Each Babylonian star catalogues and later MUL.APIN around 1100 BC. Today, the star Sigma Sagittarii is known by the common name Nunki.
An occasional name seen in English is Soheil, or the feminine Soheila; in Turkish is Süheyl, or the feminine Süheyla, from the Arabic name for several bright stars, سهيل suhayl, and Canopus was known as Suhel // in medieval times. Alternative spellings include Suhail, Souhail, Suhilon, Suheyl, Sohayl, Suhayil, Shoel, Sohil, Soheil, Sahil, Suhayeel, Sohayil, Sihel, and Sihil. (See also Lambda Velorum.) An alternative name was Wazn "weight" or Haḍar "ground", possibly related to its low position near the horizon. Hence comes its name in the Alphonsine Tables, Suhel ponderosus, a Latinization of Al Suhayl al Wazn. Its Greek name was revived during the Renaissance.
The people of the Society Islands had two names for Canopus, as did the Tuamotu people. The Society Islanders called Canopus Taurua-e-tupu-tai-nanu, "Festivity-whence-comes-the-flux-of-the-sea", and Taurua-nui-o-te-hiti-apatoa "Great-festivity-of-the-border-of-the-south", and the Tuamotu people called the star Te Tau-rari and Marere-te-tavahi, the latter said to be the true name for the former, "He-who-stands-alone".
Among New Zealand Maori Canopus is a circumpolar star called Atutahi (variants include Autahi and Aotahi). Atutahi was considered so sacred that he stood alone outside the Milky Way, it was an important weather predictor and indicated when soils were ready for planting. Te Taki o Atutahi referred to the stars role in leading Te Punga (the anchor) i.e. the Southern Cross.
In modern times, Canopus serves another navigational use. Canopus's brightness and location well off the ecliptic make it popular for space navigation. Many spacecraft carry a special camera known as a "Canopus Star Tracker" plus a Sun sensor for attitude determination.
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