Algol (β Per) is a bright eclipsing binary system located in the northern constellation of Perseus and one of the best-known variable stars in the sky. Often referred to as the "Demon Star", most of the time it shines at mag. +2.1, but every two days, 20 hours and 49 minutes it suddenly dips in brightness to mag. +3.4, remaining dim for about 10 hours before returning to its original state.

Why the change in brightness? The Algol system consists of at least three-stars (β Per A, β Per B and β Per C) with the orbital plane of Algol A and B directly in line with the Earth. The regular dips in brightness occur when the dimmer B star moves in front of and eclipses the brighter A star. There is also an extra dimension in that a secondary eclipse occurs when the brighter star occults the fainter secondary, resulting in a very small dip in brightness that can be detected with photo-electrical equipment.

Algol System (credit:- Dept. of Physics and Astronomy - Univ. of Tennessee at Knoxville)

Algol is located in Perseus among the stars of the northern Milky Way. It's positioned west of mag. +0.1 star Capella (α Aur) and southeast of the well known "W" of Cassiopeia. The finder chart below shows the position of Algol, along with magnitude data of some surrounding stars for comparative purposes.

Finder Chart for Algol (credit:- freestarcharts)

Finder Chart for Algol - pdf format (credit:- freestarcharts)

For those new to variable star observing, Algol is an excellent first choice target. It dims quite dramatically and the regular brightness changes are obvious to the naked eye. The table below contains date and time information of Algol's minima for April 2017 for various World time zones that cover most regions of Europe, America, China and Australia. For time zones not listed, local eclipse times can be calculated by adjusting the table to fit to the observers local time.

Algol Minima for April 2017

DateTime (UT-GMT)Time (BST-UK)Time (CEST-Europe)Time (EDT-N America)Time (PDT-N America)Time (CST-China)Time (AEDT-Australia)
Apr 0109:3310:3311:3305:3302:3317:3320:33
Apr 0406:2307:2308:2302:2323:23 (Apr 3)14:2317:23
Apr 0703:1204:1205:1223:12 (Apr 6)20:12 (Apr 6)11:1214:12
Apr 1000:0101:0102:0120:01 (Apr 9)17:01 (Apr 9)08:0111:01
Apr 1220:5021:5022:5016:5013:5004:50 (Apr 13)07:50 (Apr 13)
Apr 1517:3918:3919:3913:3910:3901:39 (Apr 16)04:39 (Apr 16)
Apr 1814:2915:2916:2910:2907:2922:2901:29 (Apr 19)
Apr 2111:1812:1813:1807:1804:1819:1822:18
Apr 2408:0709:0710:0704:0701:0716:0719:07
Apr 2704:5605:5606:5600:5621:56 (Apr 26)12:5615:56
Apr 3001:4602:4603:4621:46 (Apr 29)18:46 (Apr 29)09:4612:46

Sky Highlights - May 2017

Mercury
Mercury reaches greatest elongation west on May 17, 2017

Meteor Shower
Eta Aquariids meteor shower peaks on May 5th and 6th, 2017

The Planets
This Month's Guide

Algol Minima
Algol eclipse dates and times for May 2017

Northern Hemisphere
Evening
West:- Mars (mag. +1.6)
South:- Jupiter (mag. -2.4)
Midnight
Southwest:- Jupiter
Southeast:- Saturn (mag. +0.2)
Morning
South:- Saturn
East:- Venus (mag. -4.7)

Southern Hemisphere
Evening
West:- Mars
North:- Jupiter
Midnight
Northwest:- Jupiter
North:- Saturn
Morning
Northwest:- Saturn
East:- Venus, Mercury (mag. +2.5 to -0.3), Neptune (mag. +7.9)

Deep Sky
Naked eye / binoculars:-
Melotte 111 - Mel 111 - The Coma Star Cluster (Open Cluster)
Messier 44 - M44 - The Praesepe (Open Cluster)

Telescopes:-
Messier 67 - M67 - Open Cluster
Messier 51 - M51 - The Whirlpool Galaxy (Spiral Galaxy)
Messier 97 - M97 - The Owl Nebula (Planetary Nebula)
Messier 101 - M101 - The Pinwheel Galaxy (Spiral Galaxy)
Messier 65 – M65 – Spiral Galaxy
Messier 66 - M66 - Intermediate Spiral Galaxy
Messier 95 - M95 - Barred Spiral Galaxy
Messier 96 - M96 - Intermediate Spiral Galaxy
NGC 4244 - Spiral Galaxy
NGC 4565 - Needle Galaxy - Spiral Galaxy

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