Stargazers, look up. The giant star Vega is at its most visible this month in Yucatan.
Shining directly overhead and with a distinctive blue tint that comes because of its high temperature — almost twice that of the sun — Vega is a very close neighbor in astronomical terms.
Just 25 light years away, compared to billions of years for some stars, Vega is also a very young star, about 450 million years old. Our sun, by comparison, is 4.5 billion years old.
But Vega is 2.5 times more massive than the sun and 40 times brighter. That means that if we orbited Vega instead of our own sun, Earth’s surface temperature would be hot enough to melt lead.
Vega was potentially important to our ancestors not only because it is bright and easy to spot in the northern hemisphere, even under moonlit skies, but also because of its location in the sky.
Because the Earth’s axis wobbles, our perception of north gradually shifts to different stars over a 26,000-year cycle. Vega was the North Star several thousand years ago, and it will regain that status in about 12,000 years.
Vega is very well placed to view during September in Yucatan, starting about 8:30 p.m. The star is almost directly overhead and sinks below the horizon for only seven hours a day.
Vega rose to prominence in popular culture in the late 1990s after Carl Sagan’s novel “Contact” was adapted into a Hollywood movie starring Jodie Foster.
The book and the movie follow an astronomer who, while searching for extraterrestrial intelligence, discovers a signal appearing to emanate from Vega.