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So still runs the river
While I wait upon the shore
Amore di ritorno
For my love goes on forever more
Like the river, forever more.
– The River (Le Colline Sono In Fiore), a number three hit in 1965 for Ken Dodd.
The Constellation Eridanus
|Name:||Eridanus (Latin: 'River')|
|Area:||1,138 sq deg|
|Co-ordinates1:||Right Ascension 03h, Declination −20°|
The southern constellation Eridanus is one of the largest of the modern 88, ranking below Hydra, Virgo, Ursa Major, Cetus and Hercules. At 1,138 sq deg area, Eridanus is the third-largest southern constellation, and the sixth-largest overall. Eridanus starts below Taurus and Orion, then snakes through the southern sky between Lepus and Cetus, Caelum and Fornax, through Horologium and Phoenix, before finishing with its brightest star (alpha Eridani - Achernar) next to the border with Hydrus.
Eridanus is one of Greek astronomer Ptolemy's original 48 constellations. Homer called it the 'Ocean Stream', but the river it is thought to represent on Earth has been lost in the mists of time. It may have been the Sumerian Strong River, also known as Ariadan. The rivers Tigris, Euphrates, Po, Ganges and Nile have each been identified as the Eridanus by various cultures.
Objects of interest include: the 'Eridanus Supervoid', which is the largest chunk of barren space yet discovered; epsilon Eridani (Sadira) is a popular science-fiction topic due to its similarity with our own Sun; and four extrasolar planetary systems.
The constellation Eridanus represents the erratic passage taken by the Sun chariot one day when Helios (the Sun god) allowed his son Phaëton to take the reins. Phaëton convinced his father that he was strong enough to control the horses, but he was not. The result was that the Sun swung so high the Earth almost froze, then so low that parts of Africa, which had been lush, were frazzled and the skins of the populace scorched. This is how the ancient Greeks explained the ebony skin of Ethiopians.
Obviously this calamity caused mass panic and, to prevent the destruction of the Earth, the great god Zeus hurled a thunderbolt at the Sun chariot. Phaëton was killed by the blow and his body tipped out, falling into the river Eridanus below. Phaëton's grieving sisters, Aegiale, Aegle and Aetheria2, who had encouraged their brother in his misadventure, were morphed into poplar trees. Still weeping tears turned to amber by the Sun, the trees are said to grow along its banks.
The scientific star names are simple to understand (if you know your Greek alphabet). For example: 'alpha Eridani' means it is the brightest star in the constellation Eridanus. The next brightest is designated 'beta' etc. Combined with the genitive name, this is known as the 'Bayer designation'. Some stars have proper names as well, for example, alpha Eridani is Achernar. Others are known by their catalogue number.
Achernar (alpha Eridani) is a first magnitude star, the ninth brightest star in the sky. It is a blue main sequence dwarf with an unusual spectrum. This star rotates so fast that it bulges in the middle; images of it look like a blue jellybean. Achernar lies at the southernmost end of the constellation, with barely a degree separating it from Eridanus' neighbour Hydrus, the water snake.
Epsilon Eridani, Sadira, has a dust disc and an extrasolar planet system. This star, beta Pictoris, Vega (alpha Lyrae) and Fomalhaut (alpha Piscis Austrini) are dubbed the 'Fabulous Four' debris stars; the debris was discovered by the IRAS (Infrared Astronomical Satellite). Sadira is situated just ten light years3 away and, thanks to similarities to our own Sun, is often a topic of sci-fi novels.
The orange dwarf star Keid (40 Eridani) is worthy of mention because it is one of the rare stars to have a common name but no Greek letter designation. Gene Roddenberry chose this stellar area to be the origin of one of the most famous sci-fi characters, Mr Spock (played by actor Leonard Nimoy) of Star Trek fame. If it really existed, Spock's home planet, Vulcan, would boast a spectacular view because the star it orbits has two companions. The white star and a red dwarf star would shine silver-white and brilliant red, much like how we view Venus and Mars.
|α Eri||alpha Eridani||Achernar
(end of the river)
|β Eri||beta Eridani||Kursa||+2.79||90||Blue-white dwarf|
|γ Eri||gamma Eridani||Zaurak||+2.92||220||Red dwarf|
|δ Eri||delta Eridani||Rana||+3.5||29||Orange subgiant|
|ε Eri||epsilon Eridani||Sadira||+3.54||10||Dusk disc & eso planet system|
|ζ Eri||zeta Eridani||Zibal||+4.8||120||White giant|
|η Eri||eta Eridani||Azha||+3.9||133||Orange giant|
|θ Eri||theta Eridani||Acamar||+2.9||160||Binary star system|
|ι Eri||iota Eridani||HD 16815||+4.1||145||Orange giant|
|κ Eri||kappa Eridani||HD 15371||+4.24||530||Blue-white dwarf|
|λ Eri||lambda Eridani||69 Eridani||+4.2||520||Blue-white dwarf|
|μ Eri||mu Eridani||57 Eridani||+4.01||500||Blue-white dwarf|
|ν Eri||nu Eridani||48 Eridani||+3.9||580||Blue-white subgiant|
|ξ Eri||xi Eridani||42 Eridani||+5.2||200||White giant|
|ο Eri||omicron Eridani||38 Eridani||+4.04||120||Triple star system|
|π Eri||pi Eridani||26 Eridani||+4.42||500||Red subgiant|
|ρ Eri||rho Eridani||8 Eridani||+5.7||300||Orange giant|
|τ Eri||tau Eridani||Liberflux||+3.7||50-400||9-star group|
|υ Eri||upsilon Eridani||Theemin||+4.5||120||Orange giant|
|φ Eri||phi Eridani||HD 14228||+3.5||150||Blue-white dwarf|
|χ Eri||chi Eridani||HD 11937||+3.7||57||Yellow dwarf|
|ψ Eri||psi Eridani||65 Eridani||+4.8||900||Blue-white dwarf|
|ω Eri||omega Eridani||61 Eridani||+4.36||227||White giant|
|40 Eri||40 Eridani||Keid||+4.42||16||Orange dwarf|
New General Catalogue (NGC)
The NGC was compiled by John Louis Emil Dreyer (director of the Armagh Observatory from 1882 - 1916).
NGC Objects of Eridanus
|NGC 1187||Barred ACW spiral galaxy||+11.4||58m||Supernova 1982R|
|NGC 1232||CW spiral galaxy||+10.9||69m||Has unusual arms|
|NGC 1232A||Dwarf galaxy||+10.9||69m||Interacting with NGC 1232|
|NGC 1300||Barred CW spiral||+10.4||69m||No central black hole|
|NGC 1309||CW spiral galaxy||+11.6||100m||Recent supernova 2002fk|
|NGC 1637||Spiral galaxy||+11.5||25m||Supernova 1999em|
|NGC 1535||Planetary nebula||+11.6||1,500||Glowing green gaseous nebula|
Hickson 21 is a group of five galaxies that are all registered separately on the NGC table. They are in such close proximity that they are interacting, and may eventually collide, providing a cosmic train-wreck of intergalactic proportions:
|Galaxy||NGC number||Galaxy type||Magnitude|
|Hickson 21A||NGC 1099||ACW spiral||+13.1|
|Hickson 21B||NGC 1100||ACW spiral||+13.0|
|Hickson 21C||NGC 1098||Elliptical||+12.6|
|Hickson 21D||NGC 1092||Elliptical||+13.4|
|Hickson 21E||NGC 1091||CW spiral||+14.1|
The Eridanus Supervoid
The Eridanus Supervoid was discovered by a combination of NASA's Microwave Anisotropy Probe and data from the Very Large Array. It is at least 6 billion light years away and the largest absence of galaxies to be discovered so far. At a billion light years in diameter4, the scale of this super-cool gap has so far escaped explanation by the scientific community. However, several ideas have been put forward, some a little wackier than others:
- Quantum entanglement between our universe and a parallel universe.
- Dark energy: scientists know so little about it, but it is thought to be accelerating the expansion of the universe.
- Big Bang: this is where it happened, and the entire universe accelerated from here.
- Heaven/the Afterlife: More than 90% of the Earth’s population believes in some form of religion including the possibility of life after death. Is this where all the souls go after Earthly life has ceased? Or maybe it is the storage facility of all the souls yet to be born?
- It is bad news. After all, nothing wants to hang around bad news.
- A cloaked military base camp run by hostile aliens.
- It is the last known frontier for Star Trek - to 'boldly go where no-one has gone before'.
- It is a space that has been cleared for an intergalactic bypass still awaiting planning permission (with apologies for the inconvenience).
- It is the graveyard of the Great Grey Ghost Elephant, from the legend behind the song 'Ging Gang Goolie'5.
- As it is the coolest spot in the known universe, it has to be where Elvis Presley is - that is the 'real' Elvis, of course, no impersonators, and those fans who have since followed him.
- It is where all the unrealised dreams, lapsed friendships, regrets and unrequited love feelings go.
- It is a rather small (solar system-sized) reflector array, pointed away from us, that was put in place 'mumblety' billion years ago during the early times of a treaty/conglomerate of beings who were running out of conventional renewable energy sources. Basically, they put together an array of small(er) mirrors, surrounded by steerable reflectors, that catch all of the light from that sector and send it back to themselves - including the light reflected back from themselves. Imagine, if you will, the complex technologies involved. Unfortunately, due to being designed under the auspices of their government, a small error occurred. We are left with the dead remains. We (well, just a few of us) know this because a probe has been recovered and its contents translated (using the 'Itsarose' tablet, recently found in Mariana Trench). It gives a brief account of the artefact but then, part way through, fades out, saying: 'Don't...' That probe and its message is held secret by certain authorities here... until now, that is.
It is a very hot topic in the cosmology world right now.
- Professor Lawrence Rudnick of the University of Minnesota.
Extrasolar Planets in Eridanus
Several extrasolar planetary systems have been found in the constellation Eridanus; the first was discovered in 2000. Figures given in the table below are the length of the planet's orbital period around its parent star, which we know of as a year, the mass of the extrasolar planet as compared to that of Jupiter, our solar system's largest planet (the 'Jovian scale'), and the year of discovery.
Extrasolar Planets Table
|Star name or
|Year of discovery||Comments|
|HD 10647||HD 10647 b||0.9||1,050||2003||Slight eccentric orbit|
|HD 28185||HD 28185 b||6||383||2001||Habitable zone|
|Gliese 86 A||Gliese 86 A b||4||16||2000||Binary system: planet orbits primary star Gliese 86 A|
|epsilon Eridani||epsilon Eridani b||1.7||2,500||2000||Eccentric orbit|
|epsilon Eridani||epsilon Eridani c||0.1||102,200||2002||Unconfirmed (2007)|
|HD 30562||HD 30562 b||1.29||1,157||2009||Eccentric orbit|
|HD 28254||HD 28254 b||1.16||1,117||2009||Gas giant|
|WASP-22||WASP-22 b||0.56||3.5||2010||Hot gas giant|
|WASP-50||WASP-50 b||1.47||1.95||2011||Hot gas giant|
On 13 September, 2008, a record-breaking gamma-ray burst, 12.8 billion light-years from Earth, was recorded by the Swift Space Telescope. GRB 080913 is 70 million years older than the previous oldest GRB. The light is only just reaching us now because of the immense distance involved.
It's coming to us from near the edge of the visible Universe.
– NASA scientist Dr Neil Gehrels
Down to Earth
Eridanus Giffin is a self-representing Californian artist who likes to paint flowers, particularly poppies, tulips and daffodils.