The Australian Aborigines Could Easily Discover the Variability of Betelgeuse, and They Did Discover the Variability
Hamacher (2018) has recently put forth a popularized claim that the Australian Aborigines discovered the variability of the red supergiant Betelgeuse, as well as the variability of Aldebaran and Antares. The basis is that multiple tribal groups around Australia have long-standing lore about the red-star in what-we-now-call Orion that waxes and wanes in brightness, with this all transmitted as a morality tale. Other independent traditions are known for indicating the variability of Betelgeuse, Antares, and Aldebaran. This claimed prehistoric discovery of stellar variability runs up against various (spurious) biases within the historical communities, and there is also a healthy skeptical worry that inexperienced observers could not discover the variability. So I have made an independent assessment of the claim. I find that the claim is good, in that the Aborigines (and any other group in old times going back many thousands of years) could easily have discovered the variability. The essence is that inexperienced observers can readily note relative brightness changes down to 0.3 mag in size, while Betelgeuse (and the others) have excellent comparison stars, so Betelgeuse' variability from V=0.0 to V=1.3 is easy. Betelgeuse is one of the most prominent stars in the sky, and so will be seen often by Aborigines at night in the clear dark Outback skies. The discovery of variability would have started simply by many people at many times noting something like Betelgeuse being significantly brighter than nearby Procyon, while a few months earlier it was significantly fainter than Procyon, The Aborigines have a long proven track record of turning celestial observations into lore that gets passed along faithfully down many generations for thousands of years. This is all making the case that the Aborigines could discover the variability. The proof that the Aborigines did discover the variability is simply that they have documented lore from many tribes that unambiguously identifies the specific stars as waxing and waning.
American Astronomical Society Meeting Abstracts #234
- Pub Date:
- June 2019