We let everyone know that WR 140's periastron passage should be observable with medium-resolution spectrographs on small telescopes.
One problem was that during the months around WR 140's periastron, Cygnus would be near the horizon and setting soon after sunset or, later, rising soon before dawn.
Christopher Taylor has been watching the current periastron passage with the 12 1/2-inch (32-centimeter) reflector of Hanwell Community Observatory near Oxford, England (see his drawings here).
Taylor notes that the date of periastron was not well determined in 1836, and there remains an uncertainty of perhaps a month this time around.
Noting that the stars come within a few astronomical units of one another at periastron, the astronomers have proposed that extreme tides may have stripped the outer atmosphere from the now-smaller of the two stars and transferred it to the dominant partner during the mid-19th-century flare-up (S&T: April 2000, page 16).
Mass transfer also may have taken place during the 1997-98 periastron event, albeit on a far less dramatic scale, say several astronomers.
At this close approach (periastron), the two stars' energetic winds plow into each other, creating a shock front that, oddly enough, provides a dense, shielded environment where dust grains can form.
By watching the binary before and after its February 2001 periastron, the team found that "a bow-shock arc of dust is seen within one month of periastron," says Monnier.
"Unfortunately, in August the Epsilon Eridani planet was close to periastron
[its orbital point closest to the star], which of course makes it harder to see."
This has revealed a progressive shift in the pulsar's periastron
(the point in its orbit where it gets closest to its companion).