Milky Way in Northern Cross


Cygnus is home to several attractive double stars, five of which appear on the list in this article. Albireo marks the foot of the Northern Cross and is one of the most colorful and best known pairs in the entire sky. The bright object on the right side of this photograph is the (single) star Vega.

Courtesy Akira Fujii

In "Pretty Double Stars for Everyone" I presented 42 double or multiple stars chosen for their beauty. When summer arrives in the Northern Hemisphere, another 54 gems become prominent. I hope you will agree with me that the two lists represent some of the most beautiful doubles and multiples visible.

The table on the last page has a couple of novel columns: color difference and optimum magnification. The color-difference rating refers to how far apart the two components are on the well-known OBAFGKM scale of spectral classification. For example, the blue and yellow stars of 24 Comae Berenices are class B and K respectively, yielding a color difference rating of 4. The final column suggests an optimum magnification.

Experience has shown me that doubles look best when viewed at a magnification determined by dividing 750 by the separation of the pair, given in arcseconds. For example, the components of the star Kappa (k) Herculis, also known as Marfik, are separated by 27.1 arcseconds; thus the optimum magnification is 750/27.1, or approximately 28x. The optimum magnification is typically about two and a half times the minimum required to resolve any given pair.

Some Fine Doubles

Separation and position angle diagram


The two measures of a double star are separation and position angle. The directions shown here are for an inverting scope, such as a Newtonian reflector. Other telescopes may have different field orientations.

Sky & Telescope illustration

I often begin my observing evenings with the famous Double-Double, Epsilon (e) Lyrae. It's a handy check for seeing conditions and a stunning pair of pairs. Some observers think of Epsilon Lyrae as a tough test of telescope quality, but I've found that most scopes will split both pairs without much difficulty when the air is steady.

A tougher test of telescope resolving power is Porrima, Gamma (g) Virginis. The components are identical in both magnitude (3.5) and color, making them a perfectly matched pair. Porrima is easy to locate in the bowl of Virgo above Spica. This is a binary system with a period of 171 years. It reached its minimum separation of 0.4" in 2005.

If you find Porrima too challenging, try searching in Ophiuchus, about midway between Antares and the Teapot of Sagittarius. Here you'll find another perfectly matched pair in 36 Ophiuchi, whose magnitude 5.1 components are separated by 4.9".

Gamma Delphinus

Gamma Delphini

Courtesy Rainer Anton

Everyone's favorite colored double is Albireo, Beta (b) Cygni, and I certainly love it too. But have you tried viewing it in 15x binoculars? If mounted or stabilized, they'll certainly resolve it. Other colorful beauties that deserve attention are the triple Omicron (o) Cygni (also easy in binoculars), 24 Comae Berenices, and Epsilon (e) Boötis. If you have trouble resolving the latter, try a pale blue filter. This trick helps with other close colored pairs and on nights of marginal seeing — I've even used it to split Antares.

Two lesser-known but very pretty colored doubles with generous separation reside in Hercules: Alpha a Herculis (Rasalgethi) and 95 Herculis. Rasalgethi is easy to locate in southern Hercules, just 5° north-northwest of Alpha Ophiuchi.

Winding its way near the north celestial pole, the constellation Draco is blessed with the Northern Hemisphere's two best binocular doubles.

Gamma Leonis

Gamma Leonis

Courtesy Rainer Anton

They feature separations ideal for 10x viewing. Nu (n) Draconis is a perfectly matched pair with components of magnitude 4.9. Nearby 17-16 Draconis is nearly its equal.

Three other doubles are so easy to find that they rarely escape my telescope on summer evenings. These are Algieba (g Leonis), Cor Caroli (a Canum Venaticorum), and Acrab (b Scorpii).

More Pretty Double Stars

StarR.A.         DecMag. (primary)Mag. (secondary)SeparationPosition angleColor diff.Magnification
38 Lyn9h 18.8m+36° 48'"227°2278x
g Leo
10h 20.0m+19° 50'"122°0167x
54 Leo10h 55.6m+24° 45'"112°0114x
x UMa11h 18.2m+31° 32'"273°0441x
N Hya11h 32.3m-29° 16'"210°080x
24 Com12h 35.1m+18° 23'56.620.6"270°436x
g Vir
12h 41.7m-1° 27'"265°0441x
35 Cam12h 49.2m+83° 25'5.35.821.5"329°035x
a CVn
(Cor Caroli)
12h 56.0m+38° 19'2.95.618.8"230°140x
z UMa
13h 23.9m+54° 56'2.33.914.4"153°052x
p Boo14h 40.7m+16° 25'"110°0134x
e Boo14h 45.0m+27° 04'"341°3288x
39 Boo14h 49.7m+48° 43'"46°0278x
a Lib14h 50.8m-16° 01'2.85.2230.7"314°13x
d Ser15h 34.8m+10° 32'"174°0183x
z CrB15h 39.4m+36° 38'566.1"305°0123x
x Lup15h 56.9m-33° 58'5.15.610.3"49°073x
b Sco
16h 05.4m-19° 48'2.64.913.6"20°055x
k Her
16h 08.1m+17° 03'56.227.1"12°028x
n Sco16h 12.0m-19° 27'"0577x
 16h 12.0m-19° 27'"54°0313x
s CrB16h 14.7m+33° 52'"237°0109x
r Oph16h 25.6m-23° 27'55.72.9"339°0259x
l Oph16h 30.9m+1° 59'"29°0500x
17-16 Dra16h 36.2m+52° 55'55.588.9"193°08x
17 Dra16h 36.2m+52° 56'"106°0234x
m Dra17h 05.3m+54° 28'"20°0341x
a Her
17h 14.6m+14° 23'"105°2156x
36 Oph17h 15.4m-26° 36'"148°0160x
r Her17h 23.7m+37° 09'"317°0179x
n Dra17h 32.2m+55° 11'4.94.961.7"311°012x
y Dra17h 42.0m+72° 09'4.65.830.1"16°025x
41 Dra18h 00.3m+80° 00'5.7619.3"233°039x
95 Her18h 01.5m+21° 36'55.26.3"256°2119x
t Oph18h 03.1m-8° 11'"282°0441x
70 Oph18h 05.5m+2° 30'4.263.6"149°0208x
100 Her18h 07.9m+26° 06'5.95.914.3"183°052x
e1 Lyr18h 44.4m+39° 40'56.12.7"348°0278x
e2 Lyr18h 44.4m+39° 37'"82°0300x
z Lyr18h 44.8m+37° 36' 4.35.741.3"154°118x
STT 525 Lyr18h 54.9m+33° 59'67.545.8"350°216x
q Ser18h 56.2m+4° 12'4.6522.6"103°033x
g CrA19h 06.4m-37° 04'"62°0577x
b Cyg
19h 30.8m+27° 58'"54°422x
16 Cyg19h 41.8m+50° 32'66.239.5"133°019x
57 Aql19h 54.6m-8° 14'5.76.535.6"170°021x
o Cyg20h 13.6m+46° 44'3.87105.8"174°47x
 20h 13.6m+46° 443.84.8338"323°42x
b Cap20h 21.0m-14° 47'3.16.1205.2"267°14x
r Cap20h 28.9m-17° 49'4.86.6256.2"150°23x
g Del20h 46.7m+16° 07'"266°281x
12 Aqr21h 04.1m-5° 49'"197°3300x
61 Cyg21h 06.9m+38° 45'5.2630.8"150°024x
m Cyg21h 44.1m+28° 45'"307°0395x
z Aqr22h 28.8m-0° 01'"187°0395x
d Cep22h 29.2m+58° 25'3.56.340.9"191°318x


You must be logged in to post a comment.