Syfy Insider Exclusive

Create a free profile to get unlimited access to exclusive videos, sweepstakes, and more!

Sign Up For Free to View
SYFY WIRE Bad Astronomy


By Phil Plait

Sometimes, I just wanna post a cool picture. Like now.

Whoa. That photo was taken in June 2013, when a lightning storm raged over Cerro Paranal in Chile. See those four bumps on the top of that hill? Those are the enclosures of the four sub-units of the Very Large Telescope, each an 8-meter behemoth. A person standing there would be too small to see in this photo.

But what I really love about this—besides the obvious drama—is over on the left. That patch of clear sky reveals a star barely visible over the mountains’s flank: Procyon, the 8th brightest star in the sky. It’s a relatively old star, a couple of billion years of age, and is actually a binary: a massive, hot star orbited by a small white dwarf, the exhausted core of a star long dead. They’re separated by a couple of billion kilometers, but from our distance of more than 100 trillion kilometers, they appear as a single star by eye.

It’s a reminder to me that there can be much sound and fury, but it’s amplified by being nearby; from a great distance much larger fury can be subdued into a flickering dot.

Read more about: