R and T Coronae Borealis: Two Stellar Opposites
R Coronae Borealis spends most of its time at magnitude 6.0, but every few years it suddenly drops to magnitude 14 or fainter. It gradually recovers in the following months, though often suffering relapses along the way. The fade-outs are believed to be caused by clouds of carbon particles sooty smoke condensing above the star’s carbon-rich atmosphere.
T Coronae Borealis behaves oppositely: it’s a repeating nova. It spends decades on end simmering at 10th magnitude, then blazes to 2nd or 3rd magnitude. Its last eruptions came in 1866 and 1946. The next could happen any time.
Take a look with binoculars using this map. You’ll probably find R bright and T invisible. (Comparison-star magnitudes are given, with the decimal point omitted.) Look often, and pretty soon you won’t need the map to check on what these stellar opposites might doing whenever you step out for an evening's starwatching.