The Corona Borealis Constellation

Corona Borealis is a small constellation in the Northern Celestial Hemisphere. It is one of the 48 constellations listed by the 2nd-century astronomer Ptolemy and remains one of the 88 modern constellations. Its brightest stars form a semicircular arc. Its Latin name, inspired by its shape, means “northern crown.” In classical mythology, Corona Borealis generally represented the crown given by the god Dionysus to the Cretan princess Ariadne and set by him in the heavens. Other cultures likened the pattern to a circle of elders, an eagle’s nest, a bear’s den, or even a smoke hole. Covering 179 square degrees and hence 0.433% of the sky, Corona Borealis ranks 73rd of the 88 modern constellations by area. Its position in the Northern Celestial Hemisphere means that the whole constellation is visible to observers north of 50°S. It is bordered by Boötes to the north and west, Serpens Caput to the south, and Hercules to the east. The official constellation boundaries, as set by Eugène Delporte in 1930, are defined by a polygon of eight segments. In the equatorial coordinate system, the right ascension coordinates of these borders lie between 15h 16.0m and 16h 25.1m, while the declination coordinates are between 39.71° and 25.54°.

The seven stars that make up the constellation’s distinctive crown-shaped pattern are all 4th-magnitude stars except for the brightest of them, Alpha Coronae Borealis. The other six stars are Theta, Beta, Gamma, Delta, Epsilon and Iota Coronae Borealis. The German cartographer Johann Bayer gave twenty stars in Corona Borealis Bayer designations from Alpha to Upsilon in his 1603 star atlas Uranometria. Zeta Coronae Borealis was noted to be a double star by later astronomers and its components designated Zeta1 and Zeta2. John Flamsteed did likewise with Nu Coronae Borealis; classed by Bayer as a single star, it was noted to be two close stars by Flamsteed. He named them 20 and 21 Coronae Borealis in his catalogue, alongside the designations Nu1 and Nu2 respectively.

Alpha Coronae Borealis (officially named Alphecca by the IAU, but sometimes also known as Gemma) appears as a blue-white star of magnitude 2.2. In fact, it is an Algol-type eclipsing binary that varies by 0.1 magnitude with a period of 17.4 days. The primary is a white main-sequence star of spectral type A0V that is 2.91 times the mass of the Sun (M) and 57 times as luminous (L) and is surrounded by a debris disk out to a radius of around 60 astronomical units (AU). The secondary companion is a yellow main-sequence star of spectral type G5V that is a little smaller (0.9 times) the diameter of the Sun. Lying 75±0.5 light-years from Earth, Alphecca is believed to be a member of the Ursa Major Moving Group of stars that have a common motion through space. Located 112±3 light-years away, Beta Coronae Borealis or Nusakan is a spectroscopic binary system whose two components are separated by 10 AU and orbit each other every 10.5 years. The brighter component is a rapidly oscillating Ap star, pulsating with a period of 16.2 minutes. Of spectral type A5V with a surface temperature of around 7980 K, it has around 2.1 M, 2.6 solar radii (R), and 25.3 L. The smaller star is of spectral type F2V with a surface temperature of around 6750 K and has around 1.4 M, 1.56 R, and between 4 and 5 L. Near Nusakan is Theta Coronae Borealis, a binary system that shines with a combined magnitude of 4.13 located 380±20 light-years distant. The brighter component, Theta Coronae Borealis A, is a blue-white star that spins extremely rapidly—at a rate of around 393 km per second. A Be star, it is surrounded by a debris disk.

Extrasolar planets have been confirmed in five star systems. The spectrum of Epsilon Coronae Borealis was analysed for seven years from 2005 to 2012, revealing a planet around 6.7 times as massive as Jupiter (MJ) orbiting every 418 days at an average distance of around 1.3 AU. Epsilon itself is a 1.7 M orange giant of spectral type K2III that has swollen to 21 R and 151 L. Kappa Coronae Borealis is a spectral type K1IV orange subgiant nearly twice as massive as the Sun; around it lies a dusty debris disk, and one planet with a period of 3.4 years. This planet’s mass is estimated at 2.5 MJ. The dimensions of the debris disk indicate it is likely there is a second substellar companion. Omicron Coronae Borealis is a K-type clump giant with one confirmed planet with a mass of 0.83 MJ that orbits every 187 days—one of the two least massive planets known around clump giants. HD 145457 is an orange giant of spectral type K0III found to have one planet of 2.9 MJ. Discovered by the Doppler method in 2010, it takes 176 days to complete an orbit. XO-1 is a magnitude 11 yellow main-sequence star located approximately 560 light-years away, of spectral type G1V with a mass and radius similar to the Sun. In 2006 the hot Jupiter exoplanet XO-1b was discovered orbiting XO-1. Roughly the size of Jupiter, it completes an orbit around its star every three days.

The discovery of a Jupiter-sized planetary companion was announced in 1997 via analysis of the radial velocity of Rho Coronae Borealis, a yellow main sequence star and Solar analogue of spectral type G0V, around 57 light-years distant from Earth. More accurate measurement of data from the Hipparcos satellite subsequently showed it instead to be a low-mass star somewhere between 100 and 200 times the mass of Jupiter. Possible stable planetary orbits in the habitable zone were calculated for the binary star Eta Coronae Borealis, which is composed of two stars—yellow main sequence stars of spectral type G1V and G3V respectively—similar in mass and spectrum to the Sun. No planet has been found, but a brown dwarf companion about 63 times as massive as Jupiter with a spectral type of L8 was discovered at a distance of 3640 AU from the pair in 2001.

Corona Borealis contains few galaxies. NGC 6085 and 6086 are a faint spiral and elliptical galaxy respectively close enough to each other to be seen in the same visual field. Abell 2142 is a huge (six million light-year diameter), X-ray luminous galaxy cluster that is the result of an ongoing merger between two galaxy clusters. It has a redshift of 0.0909 (meaning it is moving away from us at 27,250 km/s) and a visual magnitude of 16.0. It is about 1.2 billion light-years away. Another galaxy cluster in the constellation, RX J1532.9+3021, is approximately 3.9 billion light-years from Earth. At the cluster’s centre is a large elliptical galaxy containing one of the most massive and most powerful supermassive black holes yet discovered. Abell 2065 is a highly concentrated galaxy cluster containing more than 400 members, the brightest of which are 16th magnitude; the cluster is more than one billion light-years from Earth. On a larger scale still, Abell 2065, along with Abell 2061, Abell 2067, Abell 2079, Abell 2089, and Abell 2092, make up the Corona Borealis Supercluster. Another galaxy cluster, Abell 2162, is a member of the Hercules Superclusters. Credit: Wikipedia.