Universe Guide

Altair (Alpha Aquilae, 53 Aquilae) Star Facts

Altair Facts

  • Altair is a eclipsing binary sys subgiant star that can be located in the constellation of Aquila. The description is based on the spectral class.
  • Altair is a main star of the constellation outline.
  • Based on the spectral type (A7IV-V) of the star, the star's colour is blue - white .
  • Altair is the 12th brightest star in the night sky and is the brightest star in Aquila based on the Hipparcos 2007 apparent magnitude. The star can be seen with the naked eye, that is, you don't need a telescope/binoculars to see it.
  • Using the most recent figures given by the 2007 Hipparcos data, the star is 16.73 light years away from us. Distance

Altair's Alternative Names

Alpha Aquilae (Alf Aql) is the Bayer Classification for the star. The Bayer Classification was created by Johann Bayer in 1603. The brightest star in the constellation is normally given the Alpha designation, there are exceptions such as Pollux which is Beta Geminorum.

The Id of the star in the Yale Bright Star Catalogue is HR7557. HIP97649 is the reference name for the star in the Hipparcos Star Catalogue. The Id of the star in the Henry Draper catalogue is HD187642. The Gliese ID of the star is GL 768. The star was part of the original catalogue devised by German Astronomer Wilheim Gliese of stars located within 20 parsecs of Earth. Star Names In Arabic, it is known as At-Ta'ir.

Flamsteed designations are named after the creator, Sir John Flamsteed. Sir John named the stars in the constellation with a number and its latin name, this star's Flamsteed designation is 53 Aquilae. The Flamsteed name can be shortened to 53 Aql.

The Gould star designation is one that was designed by American astronomer, Benjamin Apthorp Gould. Gould stars are predominantly in the Southern and Equatorial constellations but do appear in northern constellations such as Bootes and Orion. The star has the designation 86 G. Aquilae. There are no stars with a Gould designation in Ursa Major for example.

BD number is the number that the star was filed under in the Durchmusterung or Bonner Durchmusterung, a star catalogue that was put together by the Bonn Observatory between 1859 to 1903. The star's BD Number is BD+08 4236.

More details on objects' alternative names can be found at Star Names .

Location of Altair

The location of the subgiant star in the night sky is determined by the Right Ascension (R.A.) and Declination (Dec.), these are equivalent to the Longitude and Latitude on the Earth. The Right Ascension is how far expressed in time (hh:mm:ss) the star is along the celestial equator. If the R.A. is positive then its eastwards. The Declination is how far north or south the object is compared to the celestial equator and is expressed in degrees. For Altair, the location is 19h 50m 46.68 and +08° 52` 02.6 .

Radial Velocity and Proper Motion of Altair

Proper Motion

All stars like planets orbit round a central spot, in the case of planets, its the central star such as the Sun. In the case of a star, its the galactic centre. The constellations that we see today will be different than they were 50,000 years ago or 50,000 years from now. Proper Motion details the movements of these stars and are measured in milliarcseconds. The star is moving 385.29 ± 0.32 milliarcseconds/year towards the north and 536.23 ± 0.57 milliarcseconds/year east if we saw them in the horizon.

Radial Velocity

The Radial Velocity, that is the speed at which the star is moving away/towards the Sun is -26.60000 km/s with an error of about 0.40 km/s . When the value is negative then the star and the Sun are getting closer to one another, likewise, a positive number means that two stars are moving away. Its nothing to fear as the stars are so far apart, they won't collide in our life-time, if ever.

Physical Properties of Altair

Altair Temperature and Colour

Based on the star's spectral type of A7IV-V , Altair's colour and type is blue - white subgiant star. The star's effective temperature is 7,800 Kelvin which is hotter than our own Sun's effective Temperature which is 5,777 Kelvin.

Altair Luminosity

Luminosity is the amount of energy that a star pumps out and its relative to the amount that our star, the Sun gives out. The figure of 10.84 that I have given is based on the value in the Simbad Hipparcos Extended Catalogue at the University of Strasbourg from 2012.

Altair Radius

Altair estimated radius has been calculated as being 1.92 times bigger than the Sun. The Sun's radius is 695,800km, therefore the star's radius is an estimated 1,336,728.67.km. If you need the diameter of the star, you just need to multiple the radius by 2. However with the 2007 release of updated Hipparcos files, the radius is now calculated at being round 1.9211392224413253386522163094. The figure is derived at by using the formula from SDSS rather than peer reviewed papers. It has been known to produce widely incorrect figures.

Altair Iron Abundance

Altair Iron Abundance is -0.24 with an error value of 9.99 Fe/H with the Sun has a value of 1 to put it into context. The value comes from the Hipparcos Extended Catalog.

Altair Apparent and Absolute Magnitudes

Altair has an apparent magnitude of 0.76 which is how bright we see the star from Earth. Apparent Magnitude is also known as Visual Magnitude. If you used the 1997 Parallax value, you would get an absolute magnitude of 2.21 If you used the 2007 Parallax value, you would get an absolute magnitude of 2.21. Magnitude, whether it be apparent/visual or absolute magnitude is measured by a number, the smaller the number, the brighter the Star is. Our own Sun is the brightest star and therefore has the lowest of all magnitudes, -26.74. A faint star will have a high number.

Distance to Altair

Using the original Hipparcos data that was released in 1997, the parallax to the star was given as 194.44000 which gave the calculated distance to Altair as 16.77 light years away from Earth or 5.14 parsecs. If you want that in miles, it is about 98,584,547,508,289.14, based on 1 Ly = 5,878,625,373,183.61 miles.

In 2007, Hipparcos data was revised with a new parallax of 194.95000 which put Altair at a distance of 16.73 light years or 5.13 parsecs. It should not be taken as though the star is moving closer or further away from us. It is purely that the distance was recalculated.

Using the 2007 distance, the star is roughly 1,058,131.08 Astronomical Units from the Earth/Sun give or take a few. An Astronomical Unit is the distance between Earth and the Sun. The number of A.U. is the number of times that the star is from the Earth compared to the Sun. The star's Galacto-Centric Distance is 7,397.00 Parsecs or 24,126.30 Light Years. The Galacto-Centric Distance is the distance from the star to the Centre of the Galaxy which is Sagittarius A*.

Travel Time to Altair

The time it will take to travel to this star is dependent on how fast you are going. U.G. has done some calculations as to how long it will take going at differing speeds. A note about the calculations, when I'm talking about years, I'm talking non-leap years only (365 days).

The New Horizons space probe is the fastest probe that we've sent into space at the time of writing. Its primary mission was to visit Pluto which at the time of launch (2006), Pluto was still a planet.

DescriptionSpeed (m.p.h.)Time (years)
Airbus A38073615,243,772.02
Speed of Sound (Mach 1)767.26914,622,532.91
Concorde (Mach 2)1,534.547,311,256.93
New Horizons Probe33,000339,982.31
Speed of Light670,616,629.0016.73

Variable Type of Altair

The star is a eclipsing binary sys Beta Persei (Algol) variable type which means that its size changes over time. The Variable Type is usually named after the first star of that type to be spotted. Altair brightness ranges from a magnitude of 0.869 to a magnitude of 0.820 over its variable period. The smaller the magnitude, the brighter the star. Its variable/pulsating period lasts for 7.9 days (variability).

Source of Information

The source of the information if it has a Hip I.D. is from Simbad, the Hipparcos data library based at the University at Strasbourg, France. Hipparcos was a E.S.A. satellite operation launched in 1989 for four years. The items in red are values that I've calculated so they could well be wrong. Information regarding Metallicity and/or Mass is from the E.U. Exoplanets. The information was obtained as of 12th Feb 2017.

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Additional Altair Facts and Figures

Visual Facts

Primary / Proper / Traditional NameAltair
Alternative NamesAlpha Aquilae, Alf Aql, At-Ta'ir, HD 187642, HIP 97649, HR 7557, 86 G. Aquilae, 53 Aquilae, 53 Aql, BD+08 4236, Gliese 768
Spectral TypeA7IV-V
Constellation's Main StarYes
Multiple Star SystemYes
Star TypeSubgiant Star
GalaxyMilky Way
Absolute Magnitude 2.21 / 2.21
Visual / Apparent Magnitude0.76
Naked Eye VisibleYes - Magnitudes
Right Ascension (R.A.)19h 50m 46.68
Declination (Dec.)+08° 52` 02.6
Galactic Latitude-8.90851234 degrees
Galactic Longitude47.74264505 degrees
1997 Distance from Earth194.44000 Parallax (milliarcseconds)
 16.77 Light Years
 5.14 Parsecs
2007 Distance from Earth194.95000 Parallax (milliarcseconds)
 16.73 Light Years
 5.13 Parsecs
 1,058,131.08 Astronomical Units
Galacto-Centric Distance24,126.30 Light Years / 7,397.00 Parsecs
Proper Motion Dec.385.29000 ± 0.32000 milliarcseconds/year
Proper Motion RA.536.23000 ± 0.57000 milliarcseconds/year
B-V Index0.22
Radial Velocity-26.60000 ± 0.40 km/s
Iron Abundance-0.2400 ± 9.99 Fe/H
Semi-Major Axis7718.0000000
Stellar Luminosity (Lsun)10.8400000
Brightest in Night Sky12th

Companions (Multi-Star and Exoplanets) Facts

Exoplanet CountNone/Unaware

Variable Star Details

Variable Star ClassEclipsing binary sys
Variable Star TypeBeta Persei (Algol)
Mean Variability Period in Days7.945
Variable Magnitude Range (Brighter - Dimmer)0.820 - 0.869

Estimated Calculated Facts

Radius (x the Sun)1.92
Effective Temperature7,650 Kelvin

Sources and Links

SIMBAD SourceLink

Multi-Star System

The star has been identified as being a multi-star system, one in which there is at least one star in close orbit to another star or two or more stars orbiting a central point. The stars may be of equal mass, unequal mass where one star is stronger than the other or be in groups orbiting a central point which doesn't necessarily have to be a star. More information can be found on my dedicated multiple star systems page. The source of the info is Simbad. The file is dated 2000 so any differences between this and any other source will be down to the actual source from where the information came from.

Proper Motion mas/yr
H.D. IdB.D. IdStar CodeMagnitudeR.A.Dec.SpectrumColourYear
187642+08 4236.0A0.90000537.00000387.00000A5White
+08 4232.0B9.600009.00000-16.000001925
+08 4238.0C10.100001959

Location of Altair in Aquila

Altair Location in Aquila

The map was generated using Night Vision, an awesome free application by Brian Simpson.

Aquila Main Stars

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