If you have access to even a small telescope, be sure to look up some double stars. Imagine being on a planet with two suns. One may be yellow, the other red or blue or white. You would have double shadows, and unfortunately perhaps few dark, starry nights, unless both suns were below your horizon at the same time. Many star systems have three stars, or more.

If you have access to even a small telescope, be sure to look up some double stars. Imagine being on a planet with two suns. One may be yellow, the other red or blue or white. You would have double shadows, and unfortunately perhaps few dark, starry nights, unless both suns were below your horizon at the same time. Many star systems have three stars, or more.

For the Earth to be inhabitable, if we had a second star our orbit would have to be quite different and the star pair in just the right places. We can be thankful we have but one.

Like a pair of square dancers, many stars twirl together through space, locked by bonds of gravity if not affection. Through a telescope set up in your backyard, you can marvel here and there at the sight of close pairings. Depending on the size and quality of your instrument, as well as atmospheric conditions, most double stars will be difficult or impossible to resolve. Many others, however, will be split into two, some barely so, some with a wide separation.

Some with equal brightness will stare at you like a a pair of headlights. If they seem to be getting brighter and wider, you are probably aiming your telescope too low and down the street at a car. Look up! You also might imagine close pairings like a couple gleaming cat eyes. Many will be of unequal brightness and differing colors, the hues enhanced by contrast.

Likely the most well known pair is the middle star in the handle of the Big Dipper. The principal, brighter star is Mizar. If your eyesight is good and you hold very steady, you should be able to see fainter Alcor right next to Mizar. This is actually a chance pairing, the stars not actually in the same system. Aim your telescope at Mizar, however, and behold, Mizar is easily revealed as a close double star system, with Alcor far off in your magnified view. On January evenings, look low in the northeast for the Big Dipper. Mizar and Alcor are nicknamed the "Horse and the Rider."

Another wonderful double star is Gamma Andromedae, nearly overhead around 7 p.m. in mid-January. Easily resolved in a small telescope, look for a bright orange star and a dim white or greenish companion. Lambda Orionis, on the top of the bright constellation Orion, is a beautiful pair seen with a small telescope. The stars are described as lemon white and blue-violet, and one star is much dimmer than the other.

Full moon is on Jan. 15.

Comments, questions and observing reports and photos may be sent to news@neagle.com.

Keep looking up!