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The Planet that Wasn’t

The Planet that Wasn’t

Within the famous star pattern we call the Big Dipper, we can can find the star Mizar, the middle star in the dipper’s handle. Mizar has a fainter companion, about one-fourth as bright, known as Alcor. When Mizar and Alcor are viewed through a telescope, the two appear bright and far apart from each other. But that’s not all. Mizar itself is separated into two stars very close together.

Back in 1722, a German mathematics professor, J.G. Liebknecht, was examining Mizar with a crude telescope and chanced upon a faint star between Mizar and Alcor.

With some fanfare, he announced that he had discovered a new planet, and named it “Sidus Ludoviciana” or “Ludwig’s Star” after his sovereign, the Landgrave Ludwig of Hessen-Darmstadt. But the reaction from other astronomers throughout Euorpe was universally unfavorable, as they noted that Liebknecht’s “new planet” was merely a fixed telescopic star.

Nonetheless, to this day, the star still retains the name that was bestowed upon it by Liebknecht when – for a few months anyway – it was thought to be a planet.

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If you notice a hole in the upper left-hand corner of your Farmers' Almanac, don't return it to the store! That hole isn't a defect; it's a part of history. Starting with the first edition of the Farmers' Almanac in 1818, readers used to nail holes into the corners to hang it up in their homes, barns, and outhouses (to provide both reading material and toilet paper). In 1919, the Almanac's publishers began pre-drilling holes in the corners to make it even easier for readers to keep all of that invaluable information (and paper) handy.

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