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Epsilon Carinae

A bright orange star in the central parts of Carina, a little to the east of brilliant Canopus. Avior is among the brightest stars in the sky (brighter, for example, than Polaris, and closely comparable with Alkaid, the 'handle' of the Plough).

Its location in the southern constellation of Carina meant that it was not historically visible to northern astronomers, and in fact it did not gain a name until the 1930's. It was selected as a navigational star in an almanac for use by the Royal Air Force, who insisted that it be named. The intended meaning of the name is unclear, but given the connection to the RAF it is presumably connected to Latin avis (literally 'bird', but also used in modern times for 'aircraft'). It shares this etymological source with the star Peacock in Pavo, which acquired its name for the same reasons.

Avior lies some 632 light years from the Solar System, and given its brightness in the sky this great distance implies that it is highly luminous. In fact it belongs to a system of at least two stars, with the heart of that system being an orange giant. Around that primary orbits a blue dwarf, whose eclipses of its giant companion cause small periodic shifts in its brightness. It is possible that there is a third star in this system, an orange dwarf in orbit around the blue star, though this has yet to be confirmed.


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