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Atlas of the Universe Part02

Atlas of the Universe Part02

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Published by Mustafa YAVUZ

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Categories:Types, Research, Science
Published by: Mustafa YAVUZ on Oct 17, 2009
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Hale and Thomas Bopp. It was by no means a faint tele- scopic object, but was 900 million kilometres (560 million miles) from the Sun, beyond the orbit of Jupiter. It bright- ened steadily; by the autumn of 1996 it had reached naked-eye visibility, and became brilliant in March and April 1997, with a magnitude exceeding\ue0001. It passed Earth on 22 March 1997, at over 190 million kilometres (120 million miles); had it come as close as Hyakutake had done, it would have cast shadows. Perihelion was reached on 1 April, at over 125 million kilometres (over 80 million miles) from the Sun. It will return in about 3500 years.

Hale\u2013Bopp was a very active comet, throwing off shells from its rotating nucleus; there was a curved reddish-brown dust tail and a very long, blue gas or ion tail. Unquestionably, it was the most striking comet of recent times, and possibly the best since the Daylight Comet of 1910. Astronomers everywhere were sorry to bid it farewell!

On 22 September 2001, the spacecraft Deep Space 1 flew past Borrelly\u2019s periodical comet, and sent back close- range images of the nucleus. This is a typical, short-period comet; it was discovered in 1904, and returns every 6.9 years. It is an easy telescopic object, but never becomes visible with the naked eye.

\ue000Comet Hale\u2013Bopp,

photographed by the author
on 1 April 1997, at Selsey,
West Sussex (Nikon F3,
50 mm, exposure 40
seconds, Fuji ISO 800).

\ue001 Comet Borrelly\u2019s nucleus,

from Deep Space 1. Dust jets
can be seen; the main one is
directed towards lower left,
and a smaller one appears to
emerge from the tip.

\ue002 Comet Wild 2,taken from

the NASA spacecraft
Stardust on 2 January 2004.
It has a variety of surface
features, including pinnacles
and craters. This image was
taken from a distance of
236 km (147 miles) and is
the closest short exposure
of the comet.

\ue003Deep Space 1, in an artist\u2019s

impression. Launched in
1998, Deep Space 1\u2019s main
purpose was to rendezvous
with the asteroid 9969 Braille,

which it accomplished in
1999. The close encounter
with Borrelly\u2019s Comet was a
very successful addition to
DS 1\u2019s mission.

Meteors are cometary debris. They are very small,

and we see them only during the last seconds of their lives as they enter the upper atmosphere at speeds of up to 72 kilometres (45 miles) per second. What we actually observe, of course, is not the tiny particles themselves (known more properly as meteoroids) but the luminous effects which they produce as they plunge through the air. On average a \u2018shooting-star\u2019 will become visible at a height of about 115 kilometres (70 miles) above ground level, and the meteoroid will burn out by the time it has penetrated to 70 kilometres (45 miles), finishing its journey in the form of fine \u2018dust\u2019. Still smaller particles, no more than a tenth of a millimetre across, cannot produce luminous effects, and are known as micrometeorites.

When the Earth moves through a trail of cometary debris we see a shower of shooting-stars, but there are also sporadic meteors, not connected with known comets, which may appear from any direction at any moment. The total number of meteors of magnitude 5 or brighter entering the Earth\u2019s atmosphere is around 75 million per day, so that an observer may expect to see something of the order of ten naked-eye meteors per hour, though during a shower the number will naturally be higher.

It is also worth noting that more meteors may be expected after midnight than before. During evenings, the observer will be on the trailing side of the Earth as it moves round the Sun, so that incoming meteors will have to catch it up; after midnight the observer will be on the leading side, so that meteors meet the Earth head-on, so to speak, and the relative velocities are higher.

The meteors of a shower will seem to issue from one particular point in the sky, known as the radiant. The particles are travelling through space in parallel paths, so that we are dealing with an effect of perspective \u2013 just as the parallel lanes of a motorway appear to \u2018radiate\u2019 from a point near the horizon.

The richness of a shower is measured by its Zenithal Hourly Rate (ZHR). This is the number of naked-eye meteors which could be seen by an observer under ideal conditions, with the radiant at the zenith. These

conditions are never met, so that the observed rate is
always appreciably lower than the theoretical ZHR.

Each shower has its own particular characteristics. The Quadrantids of early January have no known parent comet; the radiant lies in the constellation of Bo\u00f6tes (the Herdsman), the site of a former constellation, the Quad- rant, which was rejected by the International Astronomical Union and has now disappeared from the maps. The ZHR can be very high, but the maximum is very brief. The April Lyrids are associated with Thatcher\u2019s Comet of 1861, which has an estimated period of 415 years; the ZHR is not usually very high, but there can be occasional rich displays, as last happened in 1982. Two showers, the Eta Aquarids of April\u2013May and the Orionids of October, come from Halley\u2019s Comet, though they were not partic- ularly rich around the time of the comet\u2019s last return in 1986. The October Draconids are associated with the periodical comet Giacobini\u2013Zinner, and are sometimes referred to as the Giacobinids. Usually they are sparse, but they produced a major storm in 1933, when for a short time the rate of observed meteors reached 350 per minute. Ever since then, unfortunately, the Draconids have been very disappointing.

Two major showers occur in December: the Geminids and the Ursids. The Geminids have an unusual parent \u2013 the asteroid Phaethon, which is very probably a dead comet. The Ursids, with the radiant in the Great Bear, are associated with Tuttle\u2019s Comet and can sometimes be rich, as in 1945 and again in 1986.

Some showers appear to have decreased over the years. The Andromedids, as we have seen, are now almost extinct. The Taurids, associated with Encke\u2019s Comet, are not usually striking, though they last for well over a month; reports seem to indicate that in past centuries they were decidedly richer than they are now.

Probably the most interesting showers are the Perseids and the Leonids. The Perseids are very reliable, and last for several weeks with a sharp maximum on 12 August each year; if you look up into a clear, dark sky for a few minutes during the first fortnight in August, you will be very unlucky not to see several Perseids. The fact that the display never fails us shows that the particles have had time to spread all round the orbit of the parent comet, Swift\u2013Tuttle, which has a period of 130 years and was last back to perihelion in 1992. The comet was not then conspicuous, but at its next return it will come very near the Earth \u2013 certainly within a couple of million kilometres, perhaps even closer \u2013 and there have been suggestions that it might hit us. In fact the chances of a collision are many hundreds to one against, but certainly Swift\u2013Tuttle will be a magnificent spectacle. It is a pity that nobody born before the end of the 20th century will see it.

The Leonids are quite different. The parent comet, Tempel\u2013Tuttle, has a period of 33 years, and it is when the comet returns to perihelion that we see major Leonid displays; the particles are not yet spread out all round the comet\u2019s orbit. Superb meteor storms were seen in 1799, 1833 and 1866. The expected displays of 1899 and 1933 were missed, because the swarm had been perturbed by Jupiter and Saturn, but in 1966 the Leonids were back with a vengeance, reaching a peak rate of over 60,000 per hour. Sadly, this lasted for only about 40 minutes, and it occurred during daylight in Europe, so the observers in the New World had the best view. The Leonids were rich in 1999, 2000 and 2001, though there was no display comparable with that of 1866. Leonid showers have been traced back for many centuries, and indeed 902 was known as \u2018the Year of the Stars\u2019.

\u25b2The Leonid Meteor Storm
of 1833,when it was said

that meteors \u2018rained down
like snowflakes\u2019. Other major
Leonid meteor storms were
those of 1833, 1866, 1966
and 2000.

\u25bcGreat Meteor of
7 October 1868.Old painting

by an unknown artist. The
meteor was so brilliant that
it attracted widespread
attention, and seems to
have been as bright as the
Moon, lasting for several
seconds and leaving a trail
which persisted for minutes.

1 Jan
4 Jan
6 Jan
Radiant in Bo\u00f6tes.
Short, sharp max.
19 Apr
21 Apr
25 Apr
Occasionally rich,
as in 1922 and 1982.
Eta Aquarids
24 Apr
5 May
20 May
Broad maximum.
Delta Aquarids
15 July
29 July
6 Aug
Double radiant.
20 Aug
Faint meteors.
23 Jul
12 Aug
20 Aug
Rich; consistent.
16 Oct
22 Oct
27 Oct
Swift; fine trails.
10 Oct
10 Oct
10 Oct
Usually weak, but
occasional great displays,
as in 1933 and 1946.
20 Oct
3 Nov
30 Nov
Slow meteors. Fine
display in 1988.
15 Nov
17 Nov
20 Nov
Usually sparse, but

occasional storms at
intervals of 33 years:
good displays from 1999
to 2001. No more Leonid
storms expected in the
near future.

15 Nov
20 Nov
6 Dec v.low
Now almost extinct.
7 Dec
13 Dec
16 Dec
Rich, consistent.
17 Dec
23 Dec
25 Dec
Can be rich, as in 1945
and 1986.
\u25b2Fireball(a brilliant

meteor) photographed at
22.55 UT on 8 November
1991 by John Fletcher,
from Gloucester, England.
Exposure time 6 seconds;
film 3M 1000; focal length
50 mm; f/2.8.

\u25bcComet Swift\u2013Tuttle,the

parent comet of the Perseid
meteors, photographed by
Don Trombino at 23.35 UT
on 12 December 1992. It
never became bright at
this return, but was widely

\u25b2The \u2018radiant\u2019 principle.

I took this picture from
Alaska in 1992; the parallel
tracks seem to radiate from
a point near the horizon.

\ue000The Leonid meteor storm

as seen from Arizona,
17 November 1966. It seems
to have been just as rich
as the storms of 1799, 1833
and 1866.

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