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The discovery of the first eclipsing binary helped solve a long-standing puzzle in astronomy. The star Algol, in the constellation of Perseus, changes its brightness in an odd but regular way. Normally, Algol is a fairly bright star, but at intervals of 2 days, 20 hours, 49 minutes, it fades to one-third of its regular brightness. After a few hours, it brightens to normal again. This effect is easily seen, even without a telescope, if you know what to look for.

In 1783, a young English astronomer named John Goodricke (1764–1786) made a careful study of Algol (see the feature on John Goodricke for a discussion of his life and work). Even though Goodricke could neither hear nor speak, he made a number of major discoveries in the 21 years of his brief life. He suggested that Algol’s unusual brightness variations might be due to an invisible companion that regularly passes in front of the brighter star and blocks its light. Unfortunately, Goodricke had no way to test this idea, since it was not until about a century later that equipment became good enough to measure Algol’s spectrum.

In 1889, the German astronomer Hermann Vogel (1841–1907) demonstrated that, like Mizar, Algol is a spectroscopic binary. The spectral lines of Algol were not observed to be double because the fainter star of the pair gives off too-little light compared with the brighter star for its lines to be conspicuous in the composite spectrum. Nevertheless, the periodic shifting back and forth of the brighter star’s lines gave evidence that it was revolving about an unseen companion. (The lines of both components need not be visible for a star to be recognized as a spectroscopic binary.)

The discovery that Algol is a spectroscopic binary verified Goodricke’s hypothesis. The plane in which the stars revolve is turned nearly edgewise to our line of sight, and each star passes in front of the other during every revolution. (The eclipse of the fainter star in the Algol system is not very noticeable because the part of it that is covered contributes little to the total light of the system. This second eclipse can, however, be detected by careful measurements.)

Any binary star produces eclipses if viewed from the proper direction, near the plane of its orbit, so that one star passes in front of the other (see [link] ). But from our vantage point on Earth, only a few binary star systems are oriented in this way.

Astronomy and mythology: algol the demon star and perseus the hero

The name Algol comes from the Arabic Ras al Ghul , meaning “the demon’s head.” Fans of Batman comic books and movies will recognize that this name was given to an archvillain in the series. The word “ghoul” in English has the same derivation. As discussed in Observing the Sky: The Birth of Astronomy , many of the bright stars have Arabic names because during the long dark ages in medieval Europe, it was Arabic astronomers who preserved and expanded the Greek and Roman knowledge of the skies. The reference to the demon is part of the ancient Greek legend of the hero Perseus, who is commemorated by the constellation in which we find Algol and whose adventures involve many of the characters associated with the northern constellations.

Perseus was one of the many half-god heroes fathered by Zeus (Jupiter in the Roman version), the king of the gods in Greek mythology. Zeus had, to put it delicately, a roving eye and was always fathering somebody or other with a human maiden who caught his fancy. (Perseus derives from Per Zeus , meaning “fathered by Zeus.”) Set adrift with his mother by an (understandably) upset stepfather, Perseus grew up on an island in the Aegean Sea. The king there, taking an interest in Perseus’ mother, tried to get rid of the young man by assigning him an extremely difficult task.

In a moment of overarching pride, a beautiful young woman named Medusa had compared her golden hair to that of the goddess Athena (Minerva for the Romans). The Greek gods did not take kindly to being compared to mere mortals, and Athena turned Medusa into a gorgon: a hideous, evil creature with writhing snakes for hair and a face that turned anyone who looked at it into stone. Perseus was given the task of slaying this demon, which seemed like a pretty sure way to get him out of the way forever.

But because Perseus had a god for a father, some of the other gods gave him tools for the job, including Athena’s reflective shield and the winged sandals of Hermes (Mercury in the Roman story). By flying over her and looking only at her reflection, Perseus was able to cut off Medusa’s head without ever looking at her directly. Taking her head (which, conveniently, could still turn onlookers to stone even without being attached to her body) with him, Perseus continued on to other adventures.

He next came to a rocky seashore, where boasting had gotten another family into serious trouble with the gods. Queen Cassiopeia had dared to compare her own beauty to that of the Nereids, sea nymphs who were daughters of Poseidon (Neptune in Roman mythology), the god of the sea. Poseidon was so offended that he created a sea-monster named Cetus to devastate the kingdom. King Cepheus, Cassiopeia’s beleaguered husband, consulted the oracle, who told him that he must sacrifice his beautiful daughter Andromeda to the monster.

When Perseus came along and found Andromeda chained to a rock near the sea, awaiting her fate, he rescued her by turning the monster to stone. (Scholars of mythology actually trace the essence of this story back to far-older legends from ancient Mesopotamia, in which the god-hero Marduk vanquishes a monster named Tiamat. Symbolically, a hero like Perseus or Marduk is usually associated with the Sun, the monster with the power of night, and the beautiful maiden with the fragile beauty of dawn, which the Sun releases after its nightly struggle with darkness.)

Many of the characters in these Greek legends can be found as constellations in the sky, not necessarily resembling their namesakes but serving as reminders of the story. For example, vain Cassiopeia is sentenced to be very close to the celestial pole, rotating perpetually around the sky and hanging upside down every winter. The ancients imagined Andromeda still chained to her rock (it is much easier to see the chain of stars than to recognize the beautiful maiden in this star grouping). Perseus is next to her with the head of Medusa swinging from his belt. Algol represents this gorgon head and has long been associated with evil and bad fortune in such tales. Some commentators have speculated that the star’s change in brightness (which can be observed with the unaided eye) may have contributed to its unpleasant reputation, with the ancients regarding such a change as a sort of evil “wink.”

Questions & Answers

How long the duration was when the laws of physics became active after the big bang?And why the time is called plank's time?
Mostak Reply
how many galaxies in universe?
Shaikh Reply
10 to the power 11
Wwe
testing
Ahmad
thnx
Shaikh
if u can count all the sands on the beaches and on the deserts then u will know how much it will be.......some said more than 1,000,000,000 galaxies are there in our universe...
Gospel
it's ok bro
Wwe
I hope you will become a member of nasa
Wwe
just new in this area, from art background not science
Ahmad
what's ur name wwe
Shaikh
The Observable Universe Contains Between 200 Billion To 2 Trillion Galaxies.....
Adam
are u sure?
Caleb
It actually hasn't been proven, people have just made estimations.
Ariana
the thing is u can't count,maybe the our number system will collapse there...who knows?
Abdullah
What's the exact time when the laws of physics became active after the big bang ?
Mostak
Actually we still don't know the exact number of galaxies in the universe, since the universe is bigger than we can imagine and it is still expanding even bigger today than yesterday
Ismaee
hi i need a telescope would you help mee
Nauman Reply
i can only advice you to go to some museum
Gospel
wher is it?
Nauman
but before that.......... i wanna know where are you from and from which state...and if you are nearer to that of the museum or will be able to go then.,.. i donot have any more words.
Gospel
What Do Plan To Observe?
Adam
sorry . i am from asia
Nauman
Check on amazon.Celeston telescopes are good for beginners.
priyanshu
can yoy introduce your self
Nauman
can you
Nauman
Asia...? from which country you belong into ...,,is it India or where?
Gospel
Do You Want A Telescope With ALot Of Maintenance Or Zero Maintenance?
Adam
pakistan
Nauman
with alot offf
Nauman
Any second hand online stores in your area? great for unused Christmas gifts etc..
Collins
So You Want A Newtonian Reflector?
Adam
So what i would put for that answer ?
Abdulla Reply
The largest observatory complex in the world is on Mauna Kea, the tallest mountain on Earth. Whatare some factors astronomers consider when selecting an observatory site? Don’t forget practical ones.Should astronomers, for example, consider building an observatory on Denali (Mount McKinley) or MountEverest?
Abdulla Reply
i need help on the the second part
Abdulla
Should astronomers for example considered building an observatory on Denali (Mount Mckinley) or MountEverest ?
Abdulla
I would take into consideration. climate weather pattern.
basim
also, could an establishment be built and be able to sustain years of being beaten by the weather?
basim
so far Mount Everest to my understanding is a difficult mountain
basim
it is because of light pollution in the cities that the observatories are situated in extremely remote areas.
Ashish
Everest ist the tallest mountain
Paul
how far us milky way galaxy?
ShowsSpy Reply
oh man
madison
We are part of the Milky Way Galaxy. We are within it, so it's not really away from us. Our galaxy is 100,000 light years in diameter. The nearest big galaxy is Andromeda, around 2 million lightyears away.
Jignesh
its 200,000 light years
Gospel
Where is Rice University located?
Amanda Reply
it is in your vagina
world
that couldn't be any more wrong 😂😂
jay
what even is this conversation😂😂!?
Herrera
Show Some Class.....
Adam
Houston, Texas.....
Adam
Houston
Preston
what is the first step to take as far as getting into the field of astronomy?
john Reply
how are universe made up of?
madhu Reply
saksi
madhu
lanika
madhu
I think that your question is- What is the universe made up of?
priyanshu
Ever heard of matter?
priyanshu
Well,the universe is made up of matter and possibly antimatter
priyanshu
Actually,it's made up of matter's smaller units,fundamental particles
priyanshu
But for normal purposes,say that it's made of matter
priyanshu
If you're asking how was the universe made,
priyanshu
there are several theories,but the widely accepted one is the 'Big Bang Theory'.
priyanshu
In simple words,a veeeeeeery long time ago (20 billion years).
priyanshu
The universe was just inside a very small point.
priyanshu
Then,it started to expand.
priyanshu
It is still expanding today
priyanshu
But remember,it's just a theory,there is no hard and fast proof
priyanshu
oh d*mn😭😭😭😭 i cant do my astronomy quest
swagirl
up Down quarks atoms electrons proton neutrons
Blake
😭😭😭😭..
swagirl
usually in astronomy quest there's many math formula. i'm difficult on them
swagirl Reply
practice!
Collins
?
swagirl
what was the question? if you need any help CrashCourse/astronomy and physics channel on YouTube are a good help.
Collins
yeah like... you know venn diagram?
swagirl
yeah it's for sets
Vinit
***youtu.be/uR70knMr2Hg
Collins
this might help you understand Venn diagram. and yes they're sets of numbers.
Collins
tx for u
swagirl
why the dark side of moon never face us? because moon dont rotate? why tho
Rishabh Reply
im in 8th standard and my school teach us nothing about astronomy but i want to be an astronomer so i study from youtube and apps like this but sometimes i get language problems
Rishabh
dark**
Glory
side**
Glory
The Moon does actually rotate. It takes 27 days for the Moon to make a full rotation. Because it takes it so long and the Earth is rotating around the sun, it seems like the Moon is pretty much standing still. That's called "synchronous rotation".
steveh259
I ment to say "The Earth is orbiting around the sun"
steveh259
Tidal Locked.....
Adam
***svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/4442
Collins
thats cool
Gospel
ya gives you a look at how the moon orbits around us too and a perspective of how fast we are going. also gives the moon phases for the year! enjoy 😁
Collins
yes you are absolutely correct, it just like something like the milk of heaven
Subhasish
the far side of the moon is not the dark side of the moon.
Shawn
Tidal Locking?
priyanshu
what phases of the moon occurs when spring tide?
Florence Reply
the moon has a 28 day cycle. you can download a moon calander or follow the pattern and make your own calendar. 1st full moon of the year 21/22nd Jan, its also a blood moon and a wolf moon. if this info helps at all. 😊
Collins
***svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/4442
Collins
How to determine the velocity of light?
PARTHIB Reply
using this formula c=1/√absolute permeability×absolute permittivity of free space i.e. c=1/√8.854×10^-12×4π×10^-7~3×10^8ms^-1
Vidyashankar
what is mean by Big Bang
block Reply
What it means by Big Bang is how the world was made and came in to exist
Glory
The Big Bang Is The Best Explanation For What We See Around Us, And For The Origin Of The Universe, All Our Evidence Points To The Big Bang Theory..... And Was Proposed By A Belgian Priest.....
Adam
if the big bang theory is really true than i would like to know what exploded and where did it came from and where did the energy came from and where come from for the matter to expand into amd where did the organization come from and where did the information come from.........
Gospel
Some say that on the otherside of the singularity was a black hole. They say that at the other end of all black holes is another universe. Hence the multiverse. It's all theoretical at this point but less than a 100 years ago people believed that there was only 1 galaxy in the universe. So why
Rafael
should there be only 1 universe?
Rafael
universe.
Rafael
Big Bang is a theory on the origin of the universe.It says that the whole universe started as an infinitely dense and hot point,which expanded with time to form the universe in which we live today.
priyanshu
but if you study about string theory then you will come to know that before big bang there were string ( vibrating particles) which cause to form the conditions for big bang.
YOG
Hmm,actually,I dont know much about string theory,just a little.I just wanted to tell this guy what is the Big Bang Theory.
priyanshu
and according to string theory black holes are giant fuzzball of strings,there is no infinity dense singularity and no smooth horizon there is just only a ball of string
YOG
I think that is the problem. why don't we ask what was before the big bang. to explode there must be a reason or a change so if there is change there must be time also. science can't solve this . never . unless it accepts the existence of God . it is a matter of scientists will accept God. and every
KUMNEGER
For those arguing Religious Dogma over Science, regarding the Origins of the Universe, as well as the Origin of Man... Please pick up and read a Chemistry Book first, particularly in regard to Atomic Structure, Composition & the creation of other Elements from the Periodic Table... To start with.😉
Bill
Next you can look up the terms... Potential Difference, particularly associated with Electrical Charge or Energy & the Transfer of electrons from the outer Valence Shell of an Atom...and the production of ENERGY or Electrical Charge and Heat...😉😁😎
Bill
You should now begin to see the dots connecting themselves, from a scientific perspective, pretty quickly...😉😁😎
Bill
is astronomy a hard subject to learn because i want to be an astronomer
FNAF Reply
No it not it just takes time and effort to learn
Glory
if your already interested/observing, your already an astronomer ! The more you look and read the more you'll learn.
Collins
I want to become a scientist but my knowledge is very low. How I can improve my knowledge?
Wwe
any form of science courses, there's free crash course channel on you tube. I've learned alot from this channel. covers most topics, science: biology chemistry physics, astronomy, ranges to anatomy, history and many many more. it's a never ending subject!
Collins
suggest a channel as a example
Wwe
CrashCourse is the name of the channel and there is a picture of an apple. look through their play lists. They will have other related channels they follow also.
Collins
thank you so much
Wwe
your very welcome
Collins
No actually astronomy is a very interesting subject and it's not so hard if you'll make research and read some books you'll find it so simple
Ismaee
to become a actually astronomer you need to learn physics and after that you can take job of astronomy
Sir
Which books should I read as a beginner?
Aditya
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Source:  OpenStax, Astronomy. OpenStax CNX. Apr 12, 2017 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11992/1.13
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