Students now can wish upon Cal's own star

By Kathleen Scalise, Public Affairs

15 NOVEMBER 00 | At the Big Game football match this Saturday between Berkeley and Stanford University, a new official campus symbol will be announced - one designed to encourage Berkeley students, both on and off the field, to "strive for the stars."

Following in the footsteps of the colors blue and gold, the Golden Bear and Oski, the campus mascot, comes Berkeley's own star system. Located in the Cygnus constellation, the double star Albireo - consisting of one blue and one gold star that circle endlessly - has been adopted by the student senate.

"We're calling it the Cal Star," said Lauren Bausch, an undergraduate and author of the bill resolving to officially adopt the star. Bausch said Berkeley students always have sought to "strive for the stars" and now will know just which star to reach for.

During late autumn and early winter months, the constellation Cygnus, or the Swan, can be found far in the west during the first few hours of the night, said Astronomy Professor Alex Filippenko. He first proposed Albireo as the Cal star to his astronomy students years ago, but it wasn't until this fall that one of his students, Bausch, decided to do something about it.

"It looks like a cross," Filippenko said of Cygnus. "In fact, the constellation is also known as the Northern Cross. Albireo is the bottom star of the cross and the fifth brightest."

Filippenko said the other stars of the cross easily are seen in a "darkish" sky. While he said Albireo is a bit harder to find, it still is visible to the eye unless the sky is cloudy or overly brightened by city lights.

Albireo, also known as Beta Cygni, is located 385 light years from Earth. It has been known since antiquity. Characterizing the constellation as a bird began in the Middle East and continued in ancient Greece and Rome. Cygnus was named after characters in classic mythology who were transformed into swans. The Albireo star system heads the swan constellation.

Filippenko said Albireo is actually a triple star, as the yellow star is itself binary, but telescopes on the ground have a difficult time distinguishing the two components of the yellow star, yielding the blue and gold effect. Of what can be seen, the blue star is hotter and the gold star is larger. The system's colors were recognized at least as early as 1840.

Besides the Cal Star, other official campus symbols include the blue and gold colors and the university seal. The Golden Bear and Oski may never have been officially adopted, said Steven Finacom, a campus planning analyst and keeper of much UC Berkeley history, but, he said, "they have become ubiquitous through common usage."

The student senate bill about the Cal Star met positive reaction from students and passed nearly unanimously, said Bausch, a 19-year-old sophomore from Paso Robles, Calif. She added that Astronomy 10, an introductory class taught by Filippenko, is one of the campus's most popular undergraduate courses. Filippenko worked with the students to make the star adoption possible.


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