Have you ever looked up at the night sky and wondered about the stars that you see? One of those twinkling lights is Altair, the brightest star in the Aquila constellation and twelfth-brightest star in the night sky. Altair, also known as Alpha Aquilae, is a fascinating star that stands out from the rest due to its size and unique features.
To truly appreciate the size of Altair, it helps to compare it to something we’re familiar with. Imagine, for instance, our own Sun. Altair is about 1.8 times the size of the Sun. That means if the Sun was the size of an average soccer ball, Altair would be almost twice as big, roughly the size of a beach ball. Altair is not just bigger than the Sun, but it also spins a lot faster. This rapid rotation causes it to bulge at the equator, making it look more like an M&M shape than a perfect sphere.
Altair’s size is not its only noteworthy feature. This star rotates at a high speed of approximately 286 kilometers per second. To give you a comparison, our Sun rotates at a speed of just over 2 kilometers per second at its equator. That means Altair is spinning over 140 times faster than the Sun! This fast rotation makes Altair a very interesting star to astronomers. It has led scientists to discover that Altair is not a perfect sphere like most stars, but is actually flattened at the poles due to this high rotation speed.
Altair is located in what astronomers call the G-cloud, which is an interstellar cloud made up of gas and dust. It’s not far from us either, at least in astronomical terms. Altair is only 16.7 light-years away from Earth. To put that into perspective, if a light-year were a mile, Altair would be about as far away as a road trip from New York to Los Angeles and back… three times!
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