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Gamma Centauri

Proper NameMuhlifain
Bayer DesignationGamma Centauri
Flamsteed NumberNone
HR (BSC)4819
Right Ascension12h 41m 31s
Declination-48° 57' 36"
Distance130 light years
40 parsecs
MagnitudeApparent: +2.2
Spectral ClassA1IV white subgiant (both components)
Optimum VisibilityApril (Usually visible from southern latitudes)
NotesForming a binary pair, the two white subgiants of the Muhlifain system pursue an elongated elliptical orbit around one another. At times they can approach as closely as 8 AU, a distance that would place them nearer together than Saturn's orbital distance from the Sun.

A relatively bright star (with a magnitude of +2.2) lying on the fringes of the Milky Way in the heart of the constellation Centaurus. Muhlifain is simple to find in the sky, as the long axis of Crux, the Southern Cross, points towards it. A line northward through the stars Acrux and Gacrux leads almost directly to Muhlifain in Centaurus.

To the northwest of Muhlifain is Tau Centauri, a less luminous star that is a relatively near neighbour of Muhlifain in space. The fainter, yellower star to Muhlifain's immediate northeast is w Centauri, an orange giant much farther from the Sun than the other two bright stars seen here. Imagery provided by Aladin sky atlas

The name Muhlifain means 'pair', but the reason for its original application to this star is unclear. It has been suggested that it was somehow taken from Muliphein, Gamma Canis Majoris, which lies in a quite different part of the sky. It is difficult to be sure whether this transfer was intentional or accidental, or indeed whether the similarity of the names is simply a coincidence.

However the name Muhlifain was derived, it is entirely appropriate for this star system, which resolves into a binary when observed in detail. The Muhlifain system consists of two stars, highly similar to one another, pursuing an elongated mutual orbit over a period of some 85 years. Each star is a white subgiant, close to the point of expanding into a true giant star.


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