We're all getting used to the lyrics of The Big Picture by now, especially that wonderful Bernie Taupin line "Brightest star tonight" in the title track. Let's live the myth that Bernie penned that lyric as a thank you for the fans' decision to name a star in the Hercules constellation after him and Elton. Like most myths, it probably isn't true.
But whether we were thanked or otherwise, Elton certainly loved the star idea, when he received a special certificate of registration from the International Star Registry (ISR), presented to him in person by fans, in early April 1997.
The idea of naming the star after the writing partnership which has out-survived Lennon-McCartney, David-Bacharach, and others, as well as presenting it to Elton right after his 50th birthday this year, certainly had plenty of media coverage. Together with the stamps for Elton's 50th birthday, the star will surely count as one of the highlights of fans' efforts.
It was particularly pleasing for us that DESPITE London and national commercial radio broadcasts announcing the presentation ceremony in Elton's London apartment on April 3, 1997, our esteemed artist was still totally unaware of the surprise gift. Just as we'd have liked it.
HOW TO FIND THE 'ELTON HERCULES JOHN AND BERNIE TAUPIN STAR'
In wintertime, it's also a good time to find the star with a humble pair of binoculars on these clear, frosty days. That's right. Although this northern constellation is not very conspicuous compared with some others, it's actually the fifth largest in the sky. The whole constellation stretches north-south with DECL=4 degrees nearly down to the celestial equator. The west-east extension starts at RA=15h 50m and nearly reaches RA=19h.
Still with me? Then you'll pin-point from all this that the star we've named is positioned at RA 18th 3m 55s D 40 degrees 4'. Its magnitude is MV 6.5.
It may be coincidence, or maybe it's in the stars, but the star is registered with the ISR as 047193. Re-arrange those numbers and you get Elton's birth month and year: 03 1947.
The constellation includes other celebrities, such as U.S. President Bill Clinton, actors Clint Eastwood and William Shatner, drag queen Lily Savage, and musician Paul Simon. But the Hercules star is the main one, hence it can be seen without a telescope.
It's seen in the southern hemisphere of Planet Earth in the winter months, although still visible from Europe and north America, I'm advised. It's in the summer sky that it's at its highest in the northern hemisphere. Wherever you actually are, the idea is to look directly north and then tilt leftwards to see it. Hercules and Lyra (The Harp) constellations are the only two available which can be seen with a pair of ordinary binoculars.
ABOUT THE CONSTELLATION
The four stars EPSILON HER, ZETA HER, ETA HER and PI HER form the asterism Keystone. Hercules appears as though he is kneeling on the head of Draco, the dragon. Hercules' outstretched hand is holding a bow and the arrow Sagitta is flying towards the birds, Aquilla the Eagle and Cygnus the swan. As Greek legend has it, Hercules missed the birds who escaped to live another day. We like happy endings at HERCULES.
There are also some variable stars associated with Hercules constellation. Variable because they vary in brightness through the year. S HER, for example, varies every 307 days from 5.9 mag to 13.6 mag in brightness.
If you have a small telescope, you can detect two stars collectively known as 95 Her. The stars 95 Her are fairly bright, being 5th mag, shimmering with golden and silver light.
One of the most beautiful globular clusters, however, is M13, the famous Hercules Cluster. It was discovered in 1774 by the very distinguished Briton Edmond Halley (who also discovered the comet said to bring catastrophic changes - Halley's Comet). Although located about 21,000 light years from us, M13 is seen by the naked eye. M13 is visible as a star of 4th mag. In small telescopes it appears as a misty patch being more dense in the centre. Large telescopes reveal a nearly perfect sphere of stars.
Globular clusters are the oldest stellar systems known to humans. They are about 15 billion years old. So Elton and Bernie still have some way to go! Our galaxy, the Milky Way, has some 200 clusters, and each such cluster has as many as several million stars in it.
In September 1970 (about the time of Elton's great preparation for the break-through U.S. Tour, the Troubadour Club, Robert Hillburn, and all that) the primary star was located, HZ Her. This system lies 20,000 lightyears away from Planet Earth.
"And I wish I was rain, I want to fall from the sky, I want to get wet all over again" (Taupin). Well, sure the constellation gets its showers too. But their meteoric. Tau Herculids is the shower, and it's active from May 19 to June 19. The shower is in full swing on June 9, when the maximum of 4 meteors passes. The shower was discovered as a by-product of finding its parent comet. The comet occurred on May 2, 1930, and was found by A. Schwassmann and A.A. Wachmann of the Hamburg Observatory in Germany. Tau Herculids was found shortly afterwards at the Kwasan Observatory in Kyoto, Japan.
As depicted in the new Walt Disney film Hercules, to ancient Greeks Hercules was the son of Godfather Zeus and Alkmene, the wife of Amphitryon. Zeus made Alkmene believe that he was Amphitryon. Hera, the wife of Zeus, was not pleased and saw to it that Eurystheus was the first born son of Alkmene. (And you thought the astro bit was confusing!). This son gave his half brother (that's Hercules) 12 tasks to perform. These included strangling the Lion of Nemea, killing the Hydra, to catch Zeberus, the three-headed dog of the Hades (Hell), and to catch the hind of Diana (nothing to do with the Princess of Wales, so don't read anything into it).
So now you know - on a need to know basis!