What is 33 Years?

The Star Pollux, photographed by Yuugi Kitahara

This is an image of the star Pollux, also called Beta Geminorum, taken by Nagano based photographer Yuugi Kitahara.

Pollux is one of the twenty brightest stars in the night sky (it is also the nearest Giant star), but today we are considering it from the standpoint of distance.  Pollux is 33 light-years away from the Earth, or a bit past 10+17 meters. That also means that when you see this star as part the Constellation Gemini in the night sky (actually early morning this time of year), the beam of light you are seeing left Pollux 33 years ago–in 1977.

Think of it: that beam of light started its journey exactly at the moment Charles and Ray and the Eames Office team were making the film Powers of Ten we celebrate on this site.  It took a billion seconds (33 years is about 10+9 seconds) and the trip for the twinkle you saw early this morning began right around the moment this drawing was being done:

Sketch for Powers of Ten

Many readers of this blog were not even born yet.  But the journey reveals something else.  Though the star certainly did not change, our understanding of it did.  In 1977, planets outside our Solar System were a merest speculation to human astronomers, now we know that Pollux has at least a Jupiter size planet orbiting it.  (This is old news to Star Trek fans, who will remember that the episode “Who Mourns for Adonais?” took place on a planet in the Pollux system.)

One final (for now) Eamesian connection: Castor and Pollux are the twins in the constellation Gemini.  They are also the names of two paintings by Ray’s mentor Hans Hofmann that once belonged to John Entenza and were displayed for a while in the Eames House.  Here’s what they looked like on the wall (I believe that Pollux is the orange one):

Castor and Pollux Paintings by Hans Hoffmann

So what is 33 years? A billion seconds?  A stellar hop skip and a jump?  A new generation?  The loss of an old generation?  Enough time for new discipline in science? 10 million viewings of a classic film?  Naturally, all–and just the beginning of the list.

BTW: Here’s a cool list of other stars within 50 light-years of Earth.

AND: here is another page about Pollux the star.

We’ll finish with a closer shot of one of the Hofmann Paintings hung from the ceiling of the Eames House in the 1950s.  As I said, I think it is Castor, not Pollux, but on the other hand, Castor and Pollux were twins, so may be it is close enough?

Castor painting by Hans Hoffmann hanging from ceiling of Eames House

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