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Press Release 07-062

Gazing up at the Man in the Star?

Researchers take picture of the face of Altair, a first for a star like our own

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An artist's rendition of Altair, a star that spins so quickly it stretches at its equator.

An artist's rendition of Altair, a star that spins so quickly it stretches at its equator. Astronomers have now captured an image of Altair with such fine detail that variations can be seen on the star's surface.

Credit: Zina Deretsky, National Science Foundation


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The actual image of Altair as captured by the CHARA array.

The actual image of Altair as captured by the CHARA array outfitted with the Michigan Infrared Combiner.

Credit: Ming Zhao, University of Michigan


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CHARA composite image

Astronomers peering far into space using the worlds largest infrared telescope can be likened to a person trying to read a newspaper that is one hundred miles away. The CHARA Interferometer along with the Michigan Infrared Combiner (MIRC) make up the facility on Mt. Wilson, Calif. that has just imaged the star Altair, an object roughly one million times farther from us than the Sun. CHARA is made up of 6 infrared telescopes with the MIRC being the rectangular building in the middle. Combining the light-capturing ability of four of the telescopes, the astronomers created an effective telescope diameter of approximately 250 meters, about 100 times bigger than the mirror on the Hubble Space Telescope.

Credit: Zina Deretsky, National Science Foundation


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Astronomers have modeled many of the properties of Altair. While the newly captured image confirms some of them, corrections still need to be made to bridge remaining differences between theories and the star's actual characteristics, including the location of the hottest (brightest) regions near the poles.

Credit: Ming Zhao, University of Michigan

 

A schematic of the CHARA interferometer.

A schematic of the CHARA interferometer.

Credit: CHARA, Georgia State University


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