Alnitak (in lower right corner) and Flame Nebula
Epoch J2000 Equinox J2000
|Right ascension||05h 40m 45.52666s|
|Declination||−01° 56′ 34.2649″|
|Apparent magnitude (V)||1.77 (2.08 + 4.28 + 4.01)|
|U−B color index||−1.06|
|B−V color index||−0.11 (A)
|Radial velocity (Rv)||18.50 km/s|
|Proper motion (μ)||RA: 3.19 mas/yr
Dec.: 2.03 mas/yr
|Parallax (π)||4.43 ± 0.64 mas|
|Distance||387 ± 54 pc|
|Absolute magnitude (MV)||−6.0/−3.9/−4.1|
|Period (P)||2,687 days|
|Semi-major axis (a)||0.0359"|
|Longitude of the node (Ω)||83.8°|
|Periastron epoch (T)||JD 2452734.2|
|Period (P)||1,508.6 yr|
|Semi-major axis (a)||2.7280"|
|Longitude of the node (Ω)||155.5°|
|Periastron epoch (T)||2070.6|
Alnitak, designated Zeta Orionis (ζ Orionis, abbreviated Zeta Ori, ζ Ori) and 50 Orionis (50 Ori), is a multiple star several hundred parsecs from the Sun in the constellation of Orion. It is part of Orion's Belt along with Alnilam and Mintaka.
The primary star is a hot blue supergiant with an absolute magnitude of -6.0 and is the brightest class O star in the night sky with a visual magnitude of +2.0. It has two bluish 4th magnitude companions, one finely resolved and one only detected interferometrically and spectroscopically, producing a combined magnitude for the trio of +1.77. The stars are members of the Orion OB1 association and the Collinder 70 association.
Alnitak has been known since antiquity and, as a component of Orion's belt, has been of widespread cultural significance. It was reported to be a double star by amateur German astronomer George K. Kunowsky in 1819. Much more recently, in 1998, the bright primary was found by a team from the Lowell Observatory to have a close companion; this had been suspected from observations made with the Narrabri Stellar Intensity Interferometer in the 1970s. The stellar parallax derived from observations by the Hipparcos satellite imply a distance around 225pc, but this does not take into account distortions caused by the multiple nature of the system and larger distances have been derived by many authors.
Alnitak is a binary star system at the eastern end of Orion's belt, the second magnitude primary having a 4th magnitude companion nearly 3 arc-seconds distant, in an orbit taking over 1,500 years. The primary (Alnitak A) is itself a close binary, comprising Alnitak Aa (a blue supergiant of spectral type O9.5Iab with an absolute magnitude of -6.0 and an apparent magnitude of 2.0) and Alnitak Ab (a blue sub-giant of spectral type B1IV with an absolute magnitude of -3.9 and an apparent magnitude of 4.3, discovered in 1998 ). Aa is estimated as being up to 33 times as massive as the Sun and to have a diameter 20 times greater. It is some 21 000 times brighter than the sun, with a surface brightness (luminance) some 50 times greater. It is the brightest star of class O in the night sky. Alnitak B is a 4th magnitude B-type star which orbits Alnitak A every 1500 years. A fourth star, 9th magnitude Alnitak C, has not been confirmed to be part of the Aa-Ab-B group, and may simply lie along the line of sight.
The Alnitak system is bathed in the nebulosity of IC 434.
Etymology and cultural significance
Zeta Orionis is the star's Bayer designation and 50 Orionis its Flamsteed designation. The traditional name Alnitak, alternately spelled Al Nitak or Alnitah, is taken from the Arabic النطاق an-niṭāq, "the girdle". In 2016, the International Astronomical Union organized a Working Group on Star Names (WGSN) to catalog and standardize proper names for stars. The WGSN's first bulletin of July 2016 included a table of the first two batches of names approved by the WGSN; which included Alnitak for this star. It is now so entered in the IAU Catalog of Star Names.
The three belt stars were collectively known by many names in many cultures. Arabic terms include النجاد Al Nijād 'the Belt', النسك Al Nasak 'the Line', العلقات Al Alkāt 'the Golden Grains or Nuts' and, in modern Arabic, ميزان الحق Al Mīzān al Ḥaqq 'the Accurate Scale Beam'. In Chinese mythology they were known as The Weighing Beam.
The belt was also the Three Stars mansion (simplified Chinese: 参宿; traditional Chinese: 參宿; pinyin: Shēn Xiù), one of the Twenty-eight mansions of the Chinese constellations. It is one of the western mansions of the White Tiger.
In pre-Christian Scandinavia, the belt was known as Frigg's Distaff (Friggerock) or Freyja's distaff. Similarly Jacob's Staff and Peter's Staff were European biblical derived terms, as were the Three Magi, or the Three Kings. Väinämöinen's Scythe (Kalevala) and Kalevan Sword are terms from Finnish mythology.
The Seri people of northwestern Mexico call the three belt stars Hapj (a name denoting a hunter) which consists of three stars: Hap (mule deer), Haamoja (pronghorn), and Mojet (bighorn sheep). Hap is in the middle and has been shot by the hunter; its blood has dripped onto Tiburón Island.
In Latin America, this asterism is known as Las Tres Marías or As Três Marias which stand for The Three Marys in Spanish and Portuguese respectively.
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- Richard Hinckley Allen, Star-names and their meanings (1936), p. 314-15.
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- Schön, Ebbe. (2004). Asa-Tors hammare, Gudar och jättar i tro och tradition. Fält & Hässler, Värnamo. p. 228.
- Moser, Mary B.; Stephen A. Marlett (2005). Comcáac quih yaza quih hant ihíip hac: Diccionario seri-español-inglés (PDF) (in Spanish and English). Hermosillo, Sonora and Mexico City: Universidad de Sonora and Plaza y Valdés Editores.
- "Alnitak 3". SolStation. Retrieved 2005-12-15.
- Image of Alnitak from APOD
- Alnitak on WikiSky: DSS2, SDSS, GALEX, IRAS, Hydrogen α, X-Ray, Astrophoto, Sky Map, Articles and images