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The Question

(Submitted February 21, 1997)

I am 34 years old, graduated from Belhaven College in Jackson Mississippi in 1987 with a Business Major. I am from Santa Cruz Bolivia and four years ago we founded an Insurance Brokers with the name of ANTARES BROKERS because it is the brightest star of our galaxy. In this matter I would appreciate if you could help me by sending me information about this star and if it is possible a poster or a picture of it. Please let me know if I have to pay for this information in order to send the check.

The Answer

First the bad news! Antares, although very luminous, is not the brightest star in the Galaxy. As you may know, Antares is only the 15th brightest star as viewed from the Earth (and excluding the Sun). If we could move all the stars in the galaxy to the same distance from us, so that we could compare their true brightnesses, Antares would be impressive - but there would be many even brighter stars. Antares may be the brightest star within about 1000 light years of us, but go a little beyond that and Deneb, Betelgeuse and Rigel are all about 10 times brighter. Currently the brightest known star in the Galaxy is Cygnus OB2 number 12, which is about 200 times brighter than Antares.

Now the good news! Antares is a pretty spectacular object - to be in the most luminous hundreds of stars in a galaxy of billions is no mean achievement. It is a red supergiant, which means that it has consumed all its hydrogen and is still shining only because it has begun to fuse together increasingly heavy elements. When all the fuseable elements have been consumed, Antares will collapse and explode in a supernova - at which time its brightness will rival that of the rest of our galaxy put together. Antares is also close in the sky to some pretty nebulae, so you should be able to find just the picture you want. I know of some beautiful images obtained by David Malin at the Anglo-Australian Telescope, at least one of which is available as a slide. (Go to http://www.syz.com/images/ and enter 'Antares' as your search string). You should contact the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh (by going to their site at http://www.roe.ac.uk ) for details.

With best wishes,

Paul Butterworth and Mike Arida
for Imagine the Universe!

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