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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 57.djvu/651

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CHAPTERS ON THE STARS.

easily be noticed by any one who looks for them at the right times, and knows how to find the stars. These stars are:

Omicron Ceti, called also Mira Ceti.
Beta Persei, or Algol.
Beta Lyrae.

It happens that each of these stars exemplifies a certain type or law of variations.

Omicron Ceti. On August 13, 1596, David Fabricius noticed a star in the constellation Cetus, which was not found in any catalogue. Bayer, in his 'Uranometria', of which the first edition was published in 1601, marked the star Omicron, but said nothing about the fact that it was visible only at certain times. Fabricius observed the star from time to time, until 1609, but he does not appear to have fully and accurately recognized its periodicity. But so extraordinary an object could not fail to command the attention of astronomers, and the fact was soon established that the star appeared at intervals of about eleven months, gradually fading out of sight after a few weeks of visibility. Observations of more or less accuracy having been made for more than two centuries, the following facts respecting it have been brought to light:

Its variations are somewhat irregular. Sometimes, when at its brightest, it rises nearly or quite to the second magnitude. This was the case in October, 1898, when it was about as bright as Alpha Ceti. At other times its maximum brightness scarcely exceeds the fifth magnitude. No law has yet been discovered by which it can be predicted whether it shall attain one degree of brightness or another at maximum.

Its minima are also variable. Sometimes it sinks only to the eighth magnitude; at other times to the ninth or lower. In either case it is invisible to the naked eye.

As with other stars of this kind, it brightens up more rapidly than it fades away. It takes a few weeks from the time it becomes visible to reach its greatest brightness, whatever that may be. It generally retains this brightness for two or three weeks, then fades away, gradually at first, afterward more rapidly. The whole time of visibility will, therefore, be two or three months. Of course, it can be seen with a telescope at any time.

The period also is variable in a somewhat irregular way. If we calculate when the star ought to be at its greatest brightness on the supposition that the intervals between the maxima ought to be equal, we shall find that sometimes the maximum will be thirty or forty days early, and at other times thirty or forty days late. These early or late maxima follow each other year after year, with a certain amount of regularity as regards the progression, though no definable law can be