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Editor’s Notes Solar Explorer Solar Facts and Figures When Stars go BANG! Availability of Astronomy Venus AstroCamp Awesome Astronomy The Southern Crosses John Harper’s Sky at Night
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ON THE COVER
Credit - NASA A small coronal mass ejection blown from the Sun over 10 hours on the 4th/5th of December last year.
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FROM THE EDITOR
As a young astronomer I always wonder what potential there is for humanity outside of our cocoon, Earth. However, my main concern is whether or not it will happen in my lifetime. From recent advancement into the darkness, humanity has really proven what is available and what can be achieved using the new technology and research we collect. This month’s magazine focuses on the community. With two new young writers Liam and Gillian providing their thoughts on Astronomy and how we are educated about science in our society. I feel there is lack of enthusiasm in the fields of science education. I started my learning in the sciences with design on the frontier. It was soon after my schooling that I thought some topics became boring. My career path veered into somewhere different and I have ended on a path very different to where I set out. Education is a difficult topic. If you enjoy it, you’re more likely to research it and learn. With available support, dedication and opportunity it is possible to follow your dreams and achieve what you set out to achieve. I hope you all enjoy reading this month’s magazine and are looking forward to the release of our new website on July 1st 2013.
Editorial Editor in Cheif - David Bood Senior Editors - Edward Dutton Imagery Editor - Edward Dutton Writers - Joolz Wright, Liam Edwards, Julian Onions, Andy Devey, Gillian Mallaney, Neville Young, John Harper, Ralph Wilkins Art & Design Design Leader - Edward Dutton Design Team - Edward Dutton, Robert Watson, Glen Wheeler Editorial Correspondence E-mail: designteam @astronomy wise.com.
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Astronauts Carl J. Meade and Mark C. Lee test the Simplified Aid for EVA Rescue. Credit - NASA
THE SOLAR EXPLORER
Solar cycle No.24 is proving to be very different to the predictions?
The start of 2013 was expected to be the peak of solar maximum but up to the beginning of May the Sun has been very quiet causing a dip in solar activity. This solar maximum is looking like it could be double peaked with the northern solar hemisphere peaking in 2011 while the last few weeks appear to have confirmed that the southern hemisphere is about to peak shortly. This is the weakest solar cycle for a hundred years and cycle in March 2013.
By Andy Devey
very similar in character to solar cycle No.14. NASA Science released a short video about this current solar May 2013 has shown an uplift in sunspot numbers and also yielded the first X-class solar flares for 2013 bursting forth from AR1748 in the week commencing 13 May 2013. This started with an X1.7, an X2.8 followed by an X3.2 on May 13, and then an X1.2 on May 15. The region then went on to produce an M3.2-class flare on 17 May that I was able to capture between 09:02 and 09:55UT to make a movie of the event with my PST while I was hand tracking on an alt-azimuth mount. John Stetson of Maine USA was able to capture the
A comparison of the last three solar cycles. Credit - WUWT solar reference page.
X2.8-class event his excellent images are included below. I was able to get a short look at it with my PST through lots of clouds but had no chance of imaging it – sods law! I am not aware of any Moreton shock waves being detected from this event. I was able to capture one such event on 4 March 2012 triggered by an M2.2-class solar flare. When large flares release their energy close to the solar limbs it is possible on occasions to see the development and plasma flows in huge coronal loop structures. Here is an example that I captured on the 20 May 2013 associated with an M1.7-class solar flare.
This is the NOAA/SWPC Boulder Colorado plot of solar cycle No.24 to April 2013. Credit - NOAA/SWPC
Credit - John Stetson
The capture of an X-class solar flare has been a long time goal that I have. Thus far there have been a total of 19 during this current solar cycle and we are already half way through it? To capture such an event there needs to be an active region [AR] on the earth facing side of the Sun that has a Delta-class magnetic field [checking the spaceweather.com site will confirm this]. The Sun needs to be up in your part of the world and your equipment needs to be set up with a favourable clear sky conditions. These events only last for a brief period of time and so the probability of catching one remains fairly low even though I have moved to southern Spain where there are long sunny days and lower incidence of cloud cover. I have spent hundreds of hours on delta-class active regions but no luck as yet my largest was the loops from an M7.7 and the flare from an M6.7 event! The largest solar flares are often referred to as super-flares with an X-ray classification above X10 and there have been no such events during this present solar cycle!
Here is a summary of the X-class solar flares for cycle No 24 [updated 21 May 2013] with the largest being at the top of the list.
By participating in solar astronomy you have a unique opportunity to capture and record a fleeting and possibly spectacular solar event, so remember – orientate your image correctly and record its date/time and then you will have so much more than just a great photo! If you are considering buying a H-alpha telescope then don’t delay now is the time to buy! Just beware as this type of astronomy is extremely addictive and could easily set you off on a spending spree in pursuit of ever greater aperture and ever narrower band widths and so try to stick to your budget! Have fun with our Sun and enjoy the solar spectacle.
Here is my capture sequence of my first solar shockwave. The GONG network captured a stunning solar shockwave associated with an X6.5-class solar flare on 6 December 2006 from 18:43 to 18:51UT. Click here to see the video.
To read more about our Sun please visit:
The first still from Andy Devey’s eastern limb sequence of these loops on the 20 May 2013 at 08:01UT. Click here to watch this spectacular event. 8 Astronomy Wise
A Brief History of Solar Astronomy – Part 3
By Andy Devey
In 1910 British astrophysicist Arthur Eddington suggested the existence of the solar wind, without naming it, in a footnote to his article on Comet Morehouse he postulated that the ejected material consisted of electrons while in his study of this comet he supposed them to be ions. In 1919, Frederick Lindemann also suggested that particles of both polarities, protons as well as electrons, come from the Sun. Eugene Parker realised that the heat flowing from the Sun in Chapman’s model and the comet tail blowing away from the Sun in Biermann’s hypothesis had to be the result of the same phenomenon, which he termed the “solar wind”. In 1929 - Robert d’Escourt Atkinson and Fritz Houtermans used the measured masses of low-mass elements and applied Einstein’s discovery  that E=mc2 to predict that large amounts of energy could be released by fusing small nuclei together. Hans Bethe’s work in 1939 showed how nuclear fusion powers the stars – the source of the Sun’s energy was finally proven. Bethe won the 1967 Nobel Prize for physics for this work. James Stanley Hey laid the basis for the development of radio astronomy while working on radar technology for astronomical research. In 1942 he discovered that the Sun radiates radio waves and also localized for the first time an extragalactic radio source in the constellation Cygnus. In 1942 Hannes Alfvén suggests the existence of electromagnetic-hydromagnetic waves in a paper published in Nature. Alfvén waves in plasma are a low-frequency travelling oscillation of the ions and the Sun’s magnetic field.
Herbert Friedman an American pioneer in the application of sounding rockets (an instrument-carrying rocket designed to take measurements and perform scientific experiments during its sub-orbital flight) to solar physics and was the first to detect solar X-rays in 1949. Horace W. Babcock invented and built a number of astronomical instruments, and in 1953 was the first to propose the idea of adaptive optics. He specialized in spectroscopy and the study of magnetic fields of stars. He proposed the Babcock Model, a theory for the magnetism of sunspots and in 1961 he proposed the magnetic cooling of sunspots theory. In January 1959, the Soviet satellite Luna 1 first directly observed the solar wind and measured its strength. Gail Moreton was using time lapse photography at the Lockheed Solar Observatory when he spotted the chromospheric signature of a large-scale coronal shock wave in 1959. These shockwaves now bear his surname. In 1960 Robert Leighton, Robert Noyes and George Simon discover five-minute oscillations by observing the Doppler shifts of dark lines and they published in 1962. In 1970 Roger K. Ulrich, John Leibacher and Robert F. Stein deduce from theoretical solar models that the interior of the Sun could act as resonant acoustic activity. The solar oscillations can be observed on the surface of the Sun and can now be used to make precise measurements of the characteristics of the interior of the Sun. These two factors represent the birth of Helioseismology. R Tousey made the first detection of a CME on 14 December 1971, using the Seventh Orbiting Solar Observatory (OSO-7). Initially it was thought that the camera may have failed but the next image showed that the brighter area had moved away from the Sun.
Ken Huggett, founded Solarscope Ltd on the Isle of Man in 1973 his company uses Laser optics, and specifically for the manufacture of high quality planar air-spaced, confocal, solid and tuneable Fabry-Perot etalon instrumentation. : The Fabry-Perot interferometer consists of two parallel flat semi-transparent mirrors separated by a fixed distance. This arrangement is called an etalon, was designed by Charles Fabry and Albert Perot in 1897.
corona. In 1981 NASA retrieves data from 1978 that shows a comet diving into the Sun. In 1990, the Ulysses probe was launched to study the solar wind from high solar latitudes. All prior observations had been made at or near the Solar System’s ecliptic plane. The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) was
Skylab was launched on 14 May 1973 it was the U.S.’s first space station launched and operated by NASA it orbited the Earth from 1973 to 1979. Numerous scientific experiments were conducted aboard Skylab during its operational life, and crews were using an X-ray telescope and were able to confirm the existence of coronal holes on the Sun [areas where the Sun’s corona – its outer atmosphere is darker, and colder, and has lower-density plasma than average]. Del Woods founded the DayStar Filter Company in February 1975. DayStar developed several series of specialized filters for visual and imaging applications that became included in most professional solar observatories and those of amateurs. The first accurate measurement of the period of horizontal wavelength of the five-minute solar oscillations was made by Franz-Ludwig Deubner in 1975. The Solar Maximum Mission satellite (SMM) was designed to investigate solar phenomena and in particularly solar flares. It was launched on February 14, 1980 and it was notable in that its useful life compared with other similar spacecraft. It was intercepted and maintained on the Space Shuttle Challanger in 1984, and in the shuttle’s payload bay the satellite received maintenance and repairs. The Solar Maximum Mission ended on December 2, 1989, when the spacecraft re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere and burned up. The term heliophysics was first coined in 1981 to denote the physics of the entire Sun: from centre to
launched on December 2, 1995 to study the Sun with its 10 instruments and it has discovered over 2400 comets to date. It began normal operations in May 1996. This joint project between the European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA was originally planned as a two-year mission, SOHO currently continues to operate after over seventeen years in space and in November 2012, a mission extension lasting until December 2014 was approved. In the late 1990s the Ultraviolet Coronal Spectrometer (UVCS) instrument on board the SOHO spacecraft observed the acceleration region of the fast solar wind emanating from the poles of the Sun, and found that the wind accelerates much faster than can be accounted for by thermodynamic expansion alone. David Lunt developed Coronado Filters in 1997; Later Coronado filters were responsible for launching the PST [Personal Solar Telescope] in 2004 an introductory H-Alpha telescope that has massively increased the numbers of amateur solar astronomers viewing in the hydrogen-alpha wavelength. Meade Instruments purchased the company in 2005. The TRACE (Transition Region and Coronal Explorer) satellite was launched in April 1998 to allow joint observations with SOHO during the rising phase of the solar cycle to sunspot maximum. No transition region or coronal imager had witnessed the onset and rise of a solar cycle to image the solar corona and transi-
tion region at high angular and temporal resolution. The TRACE mission obtained its last science image on 2010/06/21 23:56 UT it was replaced by the newer SDO mission. The massive solar X-ray flare that occurred on Tuesday 4 November 2003 at the best estimate was an X28. This flare saturated the X-ray detectors on several monitoring satellites. This remains the most power-
ful in recorded observational history. The associated coronal mass ejection (CME) came out of the Sun’s surface at about 2300 kilometres per second (8.2 million km/h). Only part of the CME was directed towards Earth, since the source region was on the right on the limb of the Sun as seen from Earth. On 25 October 2006, NASA launched STEREO, these are two near-identical spacecraft which from widely separated points in their orbits are able to produce the first stereoscopic images and measurements of CMEs and other solar activity. They orbit the Sun at distances similar to that of the Earth, with one slightly ahead of Earth and the other trailing. Their separation gradually increased so that four years after launch they were almost diametrically opposite each other in orbit. Andrew Lunt, David Lunt’s son founded Lunt Solar Systems in 2008. They are based at Tucson Arizona and manufacture a huge range of dedicated solar telescopes, solar filters and accessories from 35mm to 230mm in diameter. The Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) was launched on 11 February 2010 and came into operation in the spring of that year. It has 10 instruments to observe the Sun in exquisite detail. It is currently planned as a 5-year mission. There are so many discoveries that have led to our greater understanding of the Sun and so the decision has to be made as what to include and what to leave out. Those above and in the last two issues have been my personal choice but this article is by no means exhaustive on this subject and should be considered only as a framework for further research.
Blue (171 Angstroms) full disk image: The Sun’s million degree atmosphere taken on Dec. 4 by STEREO’s SECCHI/EUVI telescope. Credit - NASA
Have fun delving into those archives and enjoy our Sun!
To read more about our Sun please visit:
Sun Facts & Figures
By Gillian Mallaney
Our Sun, Sol, is a small star at the centre of the Solar System that is only 8 light minutes away from Earth. It is an almost perfectly spherical object made of hot plasma and interwoven by magnetic fields. To comprehend just how big the Sun is; it has a diameter of 1,392,684 km, 109 times that of Earth. The Sun formed about 4.6 million years ago and is currently middle aged, just like our Earth. It formed from a gravitational collapse of a region within a large molecular cloud. The Suns Stellar Classification based on Spectral Class is a G2V indicating that the surface temperature is around 5778K (5505°C) which shows that it is a gas because no liquid or solid materials can continue to exist in this temperature. The sun is composed of a variety of gases. Although the sun has no solid surface it still has a defined structure. The three interior structures of the Earth are: • • Core – Centre of the Sun Radiative Zone – Immedi-
outermost region of the sun. 30% of the radius. Above the surface of the sun is it’s ‘atmosphere’. • The Photosphere- The innermost part of the suns atmosphere and the only part we can see from Earth. • Chromosphere – In-between the photosphere and the corona. Hotter than the photosphere. • Corona – The outermost layer and the hottest. Extends several million miles from the chromosphere. The most recognisable feature on the sun is the sunspots which appear to us as a significantly darker area because of the difference in temperature; the sunspot being a lower temperature. Magnetic fields are associated with sunspots; where there is intense magnetic activity it reduces energy transport from the hot interior to the surface. Sunspots alter and vary consistently over an 11 year period known as the solar cycle. At solar minimum, few sunspots are visible, occasionally none. As the cycle pro-
gresses, the number of sunspots increases and move towards the equator. Sunspots usually occur in pairs with opposite magnetic polarity. Sol, our sun is a main sequence star and becomes 10% hotter every billion years. In two to three billion years, Earth’s oceans will evaporate and cause a runway greenhouse effect, similar to Venus. The Sun is destined to become a red giant that will swell and engulf almost all of the inner planets. A red giant is a star that cools and expands. It will become so large that it will begin to destroy the Earth as we know it. The Sun will eventually die out because it does not have enough sufficient hydrogen reserves to burn indefinitely. A white hot dwarf will form from the remaining core of the sun which will produce very little light and heat. For the remaining planets it will be cold and dark and will never see Sols light again.
and 25% of its radius. ately surrounding the core. 45% of the radius. • Convective Zone – The
On the 31st of August 2012, a giant prominence on the sun erupted. Credit - NASA / Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO)
Top Image: Before and after galaxies showing how bright supernovae are. Credit - NASA Graph: Type II-p and II-l light curves over time. Credit - Paul Smith via Wikipedia
When Stars Go BANG!
By Julian Onions
I mentioned briefly last time what happens when stars die, mentioning in passing that big stars often go off with a bang. The subject here though is the detail of what happens when stars of with a bang. Firstly, the scale of these explosions are quite staggering. A star going supernova in our galaxy will be quite a sight, and there are several good candidates locally - Betelgeuse in Orion being a prime example. Supernovas tend to go off about once every 100 years per galaxy, and we haven’t had a local one since 1604 (Kepler’s supernova), and before that there were well observed
galaxy types and a number of other cases all of which made sense once, but now with more knowledge are either less useful or downright confusing. So supernovas were first classified by their spectral signature. There were type I supernovae, which show no signs of hydrogen in the spectrum, and type II which show hydrogen. So OK - that sounds fair enough so far, you’d expect hydrogen generally, it’s the most commonest thing around, so it is a reasonable thing to split on. Next there were different sorts of lines that were apparent in type 1 supernovae spectra. Type 1a shows a line indicating the element silicon is involved, type 1b has a helium signature, and type 1c doesn’t show much of either. Type II’s started to break ranks too. There are type IIp’s which explode and then have a plateau in their light signature where the brightness fades, then stays the same for a while, before ultimately fading again. The type II-l has a linear decay (sort of constant de-lighting so to speak) in contrast. The type IIn shows narrow lines in the spectrum, and the type II-b starts off like the others but looks like a type I-b after a while.
“The star collapses inwards at a huge rate, a good fraction of the speed of light in fact.”
ones in 1572, 1181, 1054, and 1006 - so we are well overdue for one. If it happens it may
well be visible during the day, competing with the Sun. When we see them go off in nearby galaxies they are often brighter than the entire galaxy of 10 billion stars or more, for a short time. First, there are 5 - or possibly 6, or maybe more, types of supernova. With a lot of astronomy we are stuck with history, annoyingly so in a lot of cases. I could go off on one about magnitudes, stellar classification, Well if you’re not confused yet, then let me throw another confounding thing into the Confused yet?
than generated. Firstly lots of intense light is generated that splits up a lot of the heavy elements built up so far back into helium and hydrogen. The core collapses, compressed by all this infalling material, getting squashed into huge density. Such a force actually pushes electrons into protons, turning them into neutrons, and so making a neutron star at the centre. This produces a huge number of neutrinos, those ghostly particles that hardly ever deign to interact with normal matter. However SO many neutrinos are made (maybe 1058 - yes that IS 1 with 58 0’s after it) that even though they hardly ever interact with normal matter - with that number present they have an effect pushing out material. The material then “bounces” off this solid core, exploding outward running into the mix. All the above types have basically the same cause, except for the type I-a. All the others, the type I-b and type I-c and all the type II’s are caused by a giant star collapsing at the end of its life. These are massive stars, in hydrostatic equilibrium as it’s known. This means that the star wants to collapse due to its gravity, but also wants to expand because of the heat produced from fusion. So it settles down to an uneasy equilibrium where the pressure outwards is exactly equal to the force of gravity inwards. Then the fire goes out, and gravity takes over. It takes over with a rush! The star collapses inwards at a huge rate - a good fraction of the speed of light in fact. One second the iron core is maybe the size of the Earth, the next second it is the size of something just slightly bigger than the M25. During this time energy is consumed rather gas that has started to fall in with a mighty collision. They tussle it out for a while, but
Top Image: Artists impression of a Supernova. Credit - NASA Bottom Image: Crab nebula the remains of supernova that went off in 1054. Credit - NASA
the huge numbers of neutrinos passing
Image: Kepler’s Supernova Remnant In Visible, X-Ray and Infrared Light. Credit - NASA
The brightness peaks, and then slowly diminishes. Over the subsequent years, a shell of expanding material can be seen, until it looks something like that of the image on the previous page - the crab nebula. Although it is the death of the star, it contains the seeds of rebirth. Firstly it scatters lots of heavy elements into the nearby environment, giving the building blocks for rocky planets and life itself. It also send shocks out that cause clouds of otherwise stable gas to start to collapse forming new stars. They are also important in regulating the life of galaxies as a whole. So - part of the circle of life. I skipped over the type 1a supernova - they have quite a different process of going off, and one that is extremely useful for astronomers - so I’ll defer that to another article.
through heat up the material. Perhaps heat up is the wrong word, they actively fry the material which means the outward forces now win. There is violent nuclear fusion, making new elements by the r-process whereby the newly freed neutrons make up new elements in fractions of a second ( the r-process - r standing for rapid in contrast to the slow s-process). Those watching (hopefully from afar!) would see first a blast of neutrinos (provided they had neutrino detectors!) and then a little later a blast of light, as the explosion finally
“Newly freed neutrons make up new elements in fractions of a second.”
makes its way out from the shrouding outer material. There are a lot of short lived highly radioactive elements made during this process, and it’s these that keep the supernova shining for several weeks.
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Schools and Astronomy
By Gillian Mallaney
Astronomy being introduced in Schools Just think for a minute of where your interest in space came from. Whether it was from a TV show, a film, looking at the night sky or even science class, it developed from somewhere. Space and Astronomy have long been considered an interest of wonder, fear and excitement in the science curriculum, depending on prior knowledge, extent of self-teaching and how it was taught in class, if it was taught to you in class. Osborne and Collins (2000) came to the conclusion in their study of attitudes to science in school that; “The one topic [among the sciences] that generated universal enthusiasm was any study of astronomy”. The results of this study led to the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council to commission Martin Barstow of the University of Leicester to review and report on the use of astronomy in UK schools. With such media outlets as Stargazing Live, presented by Brian Cox, peaking at prime time the levels of interest of astronomy are developing a various ages. GSCE science students can learn about a variety of things including; electromagnetic spectrum, compare and contrasting views of the sun and the milky way in the Royal Observatory’s Colour and wavelengths in space activity, rotational periods of the sun, planet Earth, the Moon and Sun, the Solar System and Stars and Galaxies. Carl Rutter, a student from Darlington, has a small interest in astronomy but has never been able to pursue his interest through the education system. He says; “I think it’s an important part of the human experience to understand how the universe works and pay more insight into the world beyond your front garden”. Astronomy is a subject that touches up on history, religions and cultures globally as well as moral/ethical issues. The specification to teach Astronomy in the UK has been updated to include the latest news about space, not just the basics. Since 2011, GCSE and astronomy teaching has been supported by the Royal Astronomical Society and numbers of candidates participating in GCSE Astronomy are predicted to exceed 5000 in upcoming years.
Teaching and learning even happens on the ISS. Credit - NASA
Availability of Astronomy
By Liam Edwards
Availability of Astronomy to young people Astronomy, as I’m sure you all know, is the study of everything outside of Earth’s atmosphere. All of space is included within this parameter so astronomy is a very widespread branch of physics. However, it has been brought to my attention over the past few years that astronomy is far from accessible to young people. I believe this needs to change.. Firstly I’d like to start off by telling you my story and how I became interested in astronomy. I’ve been an inquisitive and curious soul for all my life, I’ve loved finding out about the world around me and how everything works. As any normal child I wanted to be a lot of things when I grew up. Firstly I wanted to be a palaeontologist and study the long dead remains of dinosaurs and prehistoric creatures. Then I found a love for marine biology after visiting SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida in 2007. I bought loads of books to
Expedition 35 Commander Chris Hadfield (left), Roman Romanenko (center), and Tom Marshburn (right) have all had extense training and education to get to their role the International Space Station. Credit - NASA
do with marine biology – most of them I still have to this day because I still have a hidden passion for the field. At the time, physics was my worst subject and biology was my favourite. I absolutely hated physics (especially forces and motion) whereby the most I ever received in a physics test was 46%. However, all of that was to change when one Professor Brian Cox and one Dara O’Briain presented the first series of Stargazing LIVE on the BBC in January of 2011. From that point onwards I was hooked on astronomy. I bought books, DVD’s, apps, notes – anything to do with astronomy just so I could try and satisfy my insatiable thirst for knowledge. As my knowledge increased I became interested in more areas of physics that I previously had thought impossible to understand and comprehend such as quantum mechanics and particle physics. Whilst I was discovering my passion for astronomy I noticed that there wasn’t a lot of firsthand information for people just starting out in astronomy. You could buy books and watch videos on the internet etc. and just simply learn them inside out, but that doesn’t make an ounce of difference until you actually get out
there with a telescope (or a pair of binoculars) and do some stargazing – something that guide books and websites don’t tell you to do straight away. When I was just starting out, I took the risk of buying my first telescope very early on and without much research done into it. This was a risk that proved to be a very good choice later on as, after my first stargazing session outside in my grandparents’ back garden, I was hooked! Nothing quite beats the feeling you get after a successful night’s stargazing – especially your first one. This is a feeling that I think everyone should experience at one point in their lives, preferably early on in their education because then they’ll be inspired to pursue a career path into astronomy or physics. Several famous astronomers agree with this point for example Neil deGrasse Tyson and the late Carl Sagan. However, despite the lack of firsthand experience and knowledge around these days, there are a growing group of people who wish to destroy the stereotype that astronomy is only available to do if you have grand 10m telescopes, these are the astronomical societies. Astronomical societies are a fantastic way
to make new friends and to learn more about the universe in which we are a part of. There are several different astronomical societies and charities scattered around the world (the best being Astronomy Wise - hehe) and they are all united with one common goal – to observe the cosmos above our heads. A worrying fact about astronomical societies is that they are few and far between. Here in North Wales there is no astronomical society or community which is a real shame because astronomical societies are probably the best places to get inspired and to get involved with astronomy because practically everyone in astronomical societies started out with the exact same problems as young people just getting into it. When people think about astronomy they immediately think that you need colossal 10 metre telescopes to even see some of the planets in our Solar System. This is a common misconception that I’ll admit I thought myself before I started out. Then I thought I’d go on various e-commerce sites to see if they had any telescopes – this was just after Christmas and because I didn’t work back then I had a plan of saving up my pocket money and my Christmas money to buy a telescope. I genuinely thought I’d have to save up for months and months before I could afford a decent one, but then I saw one that was only £20 from Argos that had a focal length of 360mm and a 50mm two elements coated achromatic lens. It was a tabletop telescope, a very small one that had 2 eyepieces (4mm and 20mm). But it was with this telescope that
I first saw the rings of Saturn, the Galilean moons of Jupiter, the Orion Nebula, the things I believed were completely out of reach but for only a select group of people who had a double decker-sized telescope in orbit around the Earth. So to concur, in order to get astronomy more available to younger people, we must first bring these younger people through the doors of misconceptions and into the realm of reality whereby beautiful and mystical things await. With an increased number of amateur astronomers we can then set our sights on even wider audiences and eventually lift the whole world’s eyes up to the skies and the mysteries that wait to be seen. The voice of the astronomical community must be louder in order to extend our horizons and invite more people in, there needs to be an increase in physicists and scientists alike who have a greater interest in providing the public with the necessary information otherwise people trying to start up in astronomy will suffer and their curiosity for the heavens will ultimately begin to drain out of their minds due to the lack of information and inspiration. This is why programmes like Stargazing LIVE, Horizon, Carl Sagan’s Cosmos and The Sky at Night are crucial to opening up the previously mentioned ‘doors of misconception’ up to the general public. Most importantly young people, because it’s young people who are the future of this planet and the role it plays in scientific expansion and space exploration.
Not all careers lead to becoming an Astronaut, some advance onto engineering spacecraft such as the Orion. Credit - NASA
Image Credit - NAS
Some call it the origin of women and some call it a god who encompassed love and beauty. They say, it’s the closest to our home.
By Gillian Mallaney
Could We Ever Land On Venus?
Curling up on the sofa bed, with the blinds drawn and the door closed just enough to let the light from the bathroom enter the room; a little girl grabs the duvet from next to her and opens her Encyclopaedia. She flicks past everything and slams her hand on the Universe section. With a massive smile on her face, she spends the next few hours mesmerised, thumbing through pages and pages of facts about planets much more inferior to her own. I was eight years old when I developed an interest in space. Even the Seven Wonders of the World couldn’t hold my interest to this planet. Years later, around the age of 11, I was grounded for two weeks for sneaking downstairs in the middle of the night to watch a science fantasy television series about a group of astronauts that would spend the rest of their life exploring the solar system. I cannot recall exact details of what the show was about; I can only remember the one memory of sneaking downstairs, sitting with my back up straight and in front on the television very wide eyed. I just couldn’t wait for this episode to be recorded like all the others because this one was about Venus.
ly without the aid of technology or equipment here on Earth, the thick layers of clouds prevent us from being able to see her surface. She has the densest atmosphere of the four inner planets, with a surface pressure of 92 times that of Earth. Venus consists mainly of a 90-95% Carbon Dioxide atmosphere. This gas prevents the heat from the nearby Sun escaping and raise surface temperatures to 735K (462°C, 863°F). This makes Venus hotter than Mercury and the hottest planet in the Solar System; even though she is twice the distance away from the Sun. Venus has a very slow rotation, a Venusian Day equals out to 243 Earth Days and she orbits the sun in only 224.65 Earth days. If you could spend the day on Venus, you would most certainly realise that the Sun rises in the East and sets in the West. This is because unlike the other planets in the Solar System, Venus rotates on its axis in a clockwise fashion. Venus has a
The History of Venus
Venus was named after the Roman Goddess of love and beauty, is the second planet from the sun and is often called Earths ‘sister’ planet or ‘twin’. The Babylonians named the planet Ishtar, the manifestation of womanhood and Goddess of Love. She also played a key role as a Goddess of War. Although the planets are similar in size, gravity and bulk composition, they are very different in nature. Venus is shrouded by an opaque, yellow tinted, highly toxic layer of sulphuric acid. These clouds are highly reflective and are the reason that Venus can be seen so clearly on Earth. She reaches her maximum brightness shortly before sunrise and just after sunset. Cultures refer to her as the ‘morning star’ and the ‘evening star’ because of these timings. Although we are lucky to be able to see Venus clear-
very weak magnetic field, most likely due to her liquid iron core. There is a theory that Venus did once have her own rotating moon, just like our planet. Her moon was also created by a huge impact with the developing planet, billions of years ago. In the 17th Century, Giovanni Cassini reported seeing a moon orbiting Venus. The moon was named Neith and over the next 200 years there were numerous reports of sightings. About 10 million years after formation, according to Alex Alemi and David Stevensons 2006 Study of the early Solar System, another impact reversed the planets spin direction and caused the Venusian moon to spiral towards her at great speed, until eventually the moon collided with the planet and merged with her. Almost 1000 impact craters on Venus are evenly distributed across her surface. On Earth and the Moon, the impact craters exist but show various signs of deg-
radation, whereas Venus 85% of them are in pristine condition. On Earth, the degradation happens a lot faster because of the atmosphere. Wind and liquid erosion are the fastest and primary cause of degradation. This was compared with the Grand Canyon on Earth and the Valles Marineris on Mars. The Grand Canyon is shaped, smoothed and altered by the weather and water on Earth but the Valles Marineris remains almost untouched because there is little change in weather on Mars and only a very thin atmosphere. Compared to the Earth, Venus’s crater impacts aren’t as lethal. The dense atmosphere slows objects with such a force down that most incoming foreign objects are less than 50 meters in diameter or will burn up long before they get to hit the surface. The number of pristine crater impacts indicates that the planet went under a global resurfacing approximately 300-600 million years ago. Project Magellan, also referred to as the Venus Radar Mapper, was launched on May 4, 1989. The study provided evidence to help us understand the role of impacts, volcanism and tectonism in the forming of Venus’s surface structures. The surface was covered with volcanic matter and volcanic features, such as plains, small lava domes and large volcanos. The signs of large plate tectonics, like the many we have on Earth, are not evident on Venus. The planet is dominated by global rift zones and coronae; Venus is unable to sustain such a process that we have on Earth. Without the plate tectonics, the planet undergoes a cyclical process in which the mantle raises in temperature until they hit a critical level, thus weakens the crust. Over a period of approximately 100 million years, subduction occurs and completely recycles the crust. Compared to objects such as the Earth and the Moon, Venus expressed few crater impacts which expressed to Magallen that the surface was geologically young-
A 3D Perspective view of Gula Mons gathered by Magellan Credit - NASA
about 800 million years old.
whistler mode waves, the signature of lightning. It is the only lightning we know of that is not associated with water clouds but clouds of sulphuric acid. The top layer of Venus’s clouds take just four days to complete an orbit of the surface as they travel as hurricane speeds, making entry of the planet very difficult. The weather on Venus is harsh and unpleasant; a lot worse than Earths Atacama Desert. Earth has four seasons because of the rotation axis ‘set’ at 23 degrees. Venus has been impacted so much that she has been flipped almost completely upside down leaving her with a tilt of just three degrees from the sun, seasons don’t exist. Whereas on Earth we have a hot summer and a cold winter, Venus has the most circular orbit in the entire Solar System, this means that she is prevented from becoming hotter or cooler by moving towards and away from the sun. Also after a lengthy day (almost an Earth year) you would think that the night
The centre of Venus and the mechanics of the planet are not known but are predicted to be similar to that of our own because of the size, density and mass of Venus. The surface research conducted by missions such as the Mariner 2 gave us indications that the inside of Venus is thought to contain a core of metal 3,000km across, this is submerged inside a mantle of rock 3,000km thick and then covered with a thin crust of around 50km thick. Venus most likely contained a lot of water, similar to Earth, but it all boiled away because she is so close to Sun. Earth would have suffered the same fate as Venus if we were positioned any closer to the Sun. The average temperature on Venus is 461 to 500 °C, since water boils at 100 °C, it is not possible for water to exist on the planet. Scientists believe that Venus and Earth formed in the same way, the same materials were ‘collected’ and the same process happened to each. ESA’s Venus Express Spacecraft found that Venus has a trail ‘blown’ by the solar winds coming from the sun, the Earth’s magnetosphere protects our atmosphere from the sun, channelling the solar wind around the planet and preventing it from reaching/taking our atmosphere. The Earth’s magnetosphere was formed by the large temperature difference between the outer core and the inner core. At some point plate tectonics ceased to exist on Venus and the planet stopped releasing interior heat, without this the convection stopped and took away the magnetosphere. If we lost ours, we would lose all of our water too.
Weather on Venus
The Venus Express was the closest thing Venus had to being a moon. It was launched in 2005 and by 2006/07 it found evidence of the intermittent appearance indicated a pattern associated with weather activity,
Hubble’s photograph of Venus’ Clouds Credit - NASA
Galileo’s Violet and Near Infrared Filter images Credit - NASA Astronomy Wise 25
side would be cooler, but the sun gets little access to the planet, the blanket of sulphuric acid creates a greenhouse effect and the high winds move the intense heat around, keeping temperatures only varying within 100 degrees. All of the planets water has boiled away and the remaining water particles have been ‘blown’ into space, so you don’t get precipitation (bar sulphuric acid rain that burns up in the heat before hitting the surface) or storms like you do on Earth. There are two ‘cold’ areas of Venus above the acid clouds in two layers called the mesosphere and the thermosphere. In Earth’s atmosphere, a circulation pattern occurs when warm air rises over the equator and towards the poles, where the air is cooled and settles. Venus composes the opposite. The winds blow in a retrograde fashion, they are fastest near the poles and as you approach the equator, they can die down to almost nothing.
As a result of the harsh conditions, unbearable heat and crushing surface pressure; a surface colony is out of the question with current technology. The atmospheric pressure approximately 50km above the Venusian surface is similar to Earths according to Geoffrey Landis, a scientist at NASA’s Glenn Research Centre. Earth air (nitrogen and oxygen) would be a lifting mechanism in the Venusian atmosphere. Landis proposed that the atmosphere at this precise point was so Earth like, that we could create ‘floating cities’ on Venus where people could live, work and study the planet below. He states that humans would not require pressurised suits when outside just air to breathe and protection from the sulphuric acid in the atmosphere. So the possibility of landing and living on Venus is there. Humans would have to adapt to such a harsh world and it probably wouldn’t be happening this century. Landis’ theory is more of a science fiction novel than a long term goal at present as a lot is still unknown about the Venusian world but with missions to Mars and potential Colonisation on the red planet happening, the dream is becoming more of a possibility each day.
Our Future on Venus
The impermeable Venusian Clouds once gave writers the freedom to make up an atmosphere and alien life forms of Venus. The genre peaked between the 1930s and 1950s but was quickly put to bed when findings from the first missions to Venus were made public.
Venus Colorized Clouds taken by the Galileo Spacecraft Credit - NASA 26 Astronomy Wise
AstroCamp is back this year with their first bi-annual event with loads of new and exciting stories to be shared. For more information packed with images, testimonies, future bookings, astronomy discussion and advice, please visit their website at: www.astrocamp.org.uk | Facebook | @TheAstroCamp
Astronomy Wise 29
By Ralph Wilkins
The eagerly anticipated second AstroCamp finally arrived in early May and the organisers were especially excited to be welcoming new people to the event in the Brecon Beacons. The number of bookings increased by around 50% on the first AstroCamp in September 2012 and included people from far-flung astronomical societies as well as curious newbies – we were very keen to welcome everyone, get to know new people and share scopes as we pitched tents and set up a bewildering array of astronomy equipment. The Friday that we arrived and took over the Cwmdu valley in the heart of the Black Mountains, promised poor weather for the evening– a meteorological set back that has plagued each and every star party so far this year – so this gave us time to get to know each other, talk astronomy and, more importantly for some, reconnoitre the local pub! But the Saturday heralded a few sunny patches and hints of stargazing weather after sunset. This was enough of a chance that we felt confident enough to bring out the full force of equipment! ‘The Common’, the open central area in
the campsite designed specifically to encourage a shared stargazing experience, suddenly became populated with scopes of all shapes and sizes as we teased out some lunar detail on the 24% lit waning crescent moon, resplendent in the rich blue skies. Next up, a test of the solar viewing project. Neil Hawkins from The Tring Astronomy Centre kindly .gave us a Lunt hydrogen alpha scope to use for the event, and we soon progressed from eyepiece views to projection of the ‘bear claw’ shaped sunspot group onto a plasma screen TV that John Wildridge of the Baker Street Irregular Astronomers had brought for us to use. The experiment worked well and gave dozens of people their first views of solar prominences,
sunspots and filaments. But Saturday afternoons at AstroCamp are about astronomy talks, a quiz and giving away prizes! We filled the pub from alcoves to rafters and heard a beautifully illustrated talk from Tom Kerss on the solar cycle and the predicted long solar minimum. Then we had 2 quizzes – one for the children (won by Olivia Williamson from Winchester) and one for the adults (won by Barbara Isalska of Manchester Astronomical Society). Well done guys! We don’t make any money from AstroCamp, and put every penny of profit into prizes so, with the help of Simon Bennett of The Widescreen Centre, we were able to give away, in total, 2 planispheres, astronomy books, a sketching kit, space fact cards, 2
pairs of binoculars with tripods, a Celestron 127 Maksutov goto scope and a Coronado hydrogen alpha scope with tripod! Our aim was to give prizes that could be used right out of the box and allow people to use that night. A lot of people left the pub very happy and not just because of the excellent beers. This began a gradual increase in our fortunes as the weather forecasts gave us hope of some clear skies on Saturday night and we saw the cloud bands and moons of Jupiter first. The small refractors mitigated the atmospheric shimmer the most to give us lovely views before we turned our attention, shortly after, to the beautiful ringed world, Saturn. Here we saw the benefit of the longer focal lengths of the catadioptric scopes as we picked out the Cassini Division in the rings and the majestic moons Titan, Tethys, Rhea and Dione. Sharing scopes is such a fun way to learn about the benefits of different methods of focusing the light onto an eyepiece and an excellent way of socialising. The sparkling open clusters in Auriga, Cancer and Cassiopeia showed us why the contrast of a dark background sky is so important to reveal the full beauty of these star concentrations and the globular clusters, that are so plentiful in Spring, stood out as 3D spheres through the larger scopes – the 10½” Dobsonian, 9¼” Schmidt
Cassegrain and, the monster in our midst, Owen Brazell’s 22” Dobsonian. But the clouds rolled in around midnight and we bided our time in conversation to see if we could ride out the weather. A few of us, having decided around 2am that enough was enough, were quite dismayed to hear the next morning that the skies had perfectly cleared up less than half an hour after we’d given up! Those that had kept the faith were rewarded with a sight of the Milky Way stretching away from north to south and views of summer skies to come: Lyra and Cygnus showing them the Ring planetary nebula, the Double binary star and the Veil and Pelican Nebulae. Waking up on Sunday, we set up the hydrogen alpha scope and plasma screen once again. We took videos to process into super-resolution images while people watched the rotating sunspot groups and prepared for more talks in the sunshine. Organisers Paul Hill and Tom Kerss gave
talks on main sequence stars and Patrick Moore respectively, and we celebrated Simon Bennett’s 50th birthday with a cake that would have overshadowed many a wedding cake! All afternoon Paul and Tom answered follow up questions on their talks and we passed a very pleasant and sunny few hours engaged in astronomy and cosmology discussions. But the night time stole the show as the skies remained crystal clear for as long as we could remain awake. We started the evening with the incredibly pleasurable experience of watching stars pop into view as the skies darkens. The gas giant planets Jupiter and then Saturn emerged from the fading blue backdrop first. Then bright Capella in Auriga, then Arcturus in Bootes, followed by Procyon, Vega, Betelgeuse… before long the sky is dark and rather than stars, we’re picking out deep sky objects with the naked eye… the Double Cluster in Perseus, the Beehive Cluster and later, the vast expanse of the North America Nebula - we don’t see that from London! The Hercules and Serpens globular clusters and the galaxies that spanned Leo and Virgo loomed large in Neil Hawkins’ 11” Schmidt Cassegrain, while the contrasty views through the plucky Takahashi 60mm and Matthew Hodgson’s twin mounted APMs showed the refractors can be just as
sensational. All views that I feel are delicately and indelibly etched onto my retinas. A few people, myself included, were taking advantage of the opportunity to take some images of the skies too. Tom took widefield images around the camp and into the light-speckled blackness above. I hunted down the Leo Triplet, the Great Globular Cluster in Hercules and Kemble’s Cascade, while Jupiter and Saturn coaxed many people into a photographic keepsake – some who were trying astrophotography for the 1st time. It was also warm enough to enjoy the party atmosphere until late. The sight of people relaxing on The Common on airbeds with a drink in hand as they gazed up into the skies was a joy to behold. As were the regular sounds of a ukulele that floated across the camp from time to time! The mood was exactly as we’d planned. Clear skies for stargazing, help and guidance to newcomers (a special thank you to Damien Phillips for all his help there), a fun and relaxed atmosphere and a great social gathering to learn more about the skies and techniques to get the best views. A count of scopes on the Sunday showed more than 60 pointing their lenses and mirrors skyward from The Common, and many more dotted elsewhere around the camp site. of 3 clear nights at the 2nd, a few We also got the chance to talk to other astronomy promoters such as Callum Potter from Astronomy Now, Andrew Davies from Mid Cheshire Astronomical Society and Jim Anning from AstroPub, where people were suggesting that we’ll be remembered for being the only stargazing festival that can guarantee good observing weather – but we won’t put that on the website, it’ll only jinx it for next time!
we could exchange ideas, promote new ones and plan more ways to encourage others to look up. So you can bet that there will be even more astronomy outreach endeavours to enjoy in the future. With each night being clear at the 1st AstroCamp, and 1½ out
What this event was really about was a fantastic culmination of the hard work of the organisers, gracious offers to help the event from astronomy retailers and, most of all, the friendliness and enthusiasm of the people who booked to join us at AstroCamp. When a new astronomy event can be this much
fun - and introduce new people to practical astronomy – we’d be foolish not to do it all again in autumn wouldn’t we? Hopefully we’ll see you all again, and many more, under clear dark AstroCamp skies in early September 2013!
My AstroCamp Experience
By Joolz Wright
When asked what AstroCamp was all about it seemed a little odd when the words that came out of my mouth were …”I’m taking my telescope and my son into the middle of Wales to spend the weekend with a bunch of people I met on the internet”. But that was basically it. Having never been to a Star Party, very little knowledge of the telescope I owned and only having spoken to the folk I was going to spend the weekend with in 140 characters via Twitter... to say it was daunting is an understatement! Well, that was last September and it was so brilliant I did it all again in May! This time I was armed with my new telescope, a Skywatcher Skymax 127 GoTo (which incidentally, was purchased with great sound advice of the new Astro friends I met at AstroCamp first time around) but I am still a relative newbie to astronomy having had very little use of my scope due to the dreadful winter weather! Arrival in Cwmdu on Friday to a warm welcome from camp organisers was followed by an evening of clouds, which on hindsight was perhaps a good thing, giving everyone chance to pitch up, settle, catch up with friends and meet new ones… the local pub optional of course! Saturday was a social But then it is when dusk begins to approach that the real magic happens. The buzz on the central observing area with astronomers of all ages and experience setting up scopes, the general banter amongst like-minded people, the first excitement as Jupiter’s first glow is seen in the sunset just has
Equipment (above) - Much better than CBBC!
packed afternoon with an Astro Pub Quiz for both adults and children with the most phenomenal prizes and a talk on the life cycle of the sun. Everyone then headed back to camp for some solar observation and imaging. A huge screen was set up at the base with live streaming of the Sun. Incredible, especially for the inexperienced solar observers like myself… and the camp children! The following afternoon were more talks this time at the camp so that astros could carry on solar observing and imaging and not miss the rare clear skies!
to be experienced to be believed. Then those black velvet skies descend and a busy night of observation begins. Voices call out astronomical objects and people move from scope to scope by soft glowing red light to enjoy and share their views. Then as the night becomes early morning all that can be heard is the whirring of scopes slewing, seeking out their new targets in the night sky (with the occasional expletive!) as the real die hards eek every last minute of clear sky. You see, that is the beauty of The Astrocamp. There are folk there with equipment to give the Hubble a run for its money, well okay, not quite but there were some incredible views at the eyepiece this weekend. There are imagers who were guaranteed no interruptions in a corner of the “Hub” or “Common” as it was affectionately
called. And there are people like me who just LOVE to view the sky, happy to soak up the mass of expertise that was freely given by the experienced attendees of the camp and practise my new found skills with my new scope. My 12 year old son saw an Iridium Flare for the first time this weekend along with many other celestial treats shared at the eyepiece and I was given fantastic help on using my DSLR and scope. Okay, it may not be the best image you have ever seen of Saturn… but it’s my first!
And here’s another amazing thing: an astronomer I met at the first camp had upgraded his webcam so he brought his older one which he not only gave to me but spent his Sunday morning giving me a hands on tutorial, both in imaging, stacking and processing practicing on trees! This is the kind of amazing camaraderie that Astrocamp fosters. By the end of the weekend I came away with so much more knowledge and experience that could never be gleaned from a manual, not to mention new friends!
So there it is. Astrocamp. If you ever get the chance to go I can highly recommend it. A place where memories are made, friendships are formed and knowledge is freely shared but most of all those skies...
Saturn (above) - Joolz’s first image of the planet. Equipment (below) Many telescopes on the day.
By Ralph Wilkins
Change is underway in Cydonia. The Face on Mars (our version of Mount Rushmore) is undergoing a revision to replace Tom’s likeness with that of his successor on the podcast, Paul. Since we began recording in April 2012, Tom and I have been incredibly excited to record an hour of astronomy news and information each month. It actually takes around 3 hours to record each hour-long
to interact with a wider astronomical community and get a better understanding of which issues interest people the most. If you’re interested, exoplanets, Mars and black holes seem to be the most popular ones! We started off the podcast last year with Sir Patrick Moore’s last ever interview (episode 1), talked about
the search for ET with SETI Senior Astronomer Seth Shostak (episode 3) and closed out 2012 by not succumbing to the misinterpreted Mayan ‘prophesy’ but, instead, going on a dark matter hunt with the particle physicists at Fermilab. episode, but much of that is due to deliberate mistakes, trying to put each other off and general clowning around. I really would recommend podcasting to anyone – you just can’t know how much fun recording is until you give it a go! But we’ve also been delighted to see that more people have been listening month on month – this, I think, has really demonstrated to us just how popular astronomy has become and that ever more people are keen to learn more about this incredible universe we live in. Our favourite part of the show has always been answering astronomy questions that have come into the programme via the Twitter account (@AwesomeAstroPod) and the Facebook Group, because this allows us However, Tom has now moved on to pastures new. He’s left the poor atmosphere on Mars for more astronomy ventures on Earth, but I’m absolutely thrilled to announce that Paul Hill will take on the mantle of educating and entertaining on Awesome Astronomy – the show will go on! Paul has a long background in education and astronomy communication and is one of the keenest visual observers I know – he’s one of those curious breed of astronomers that does his imaging with pencil and paper. How very nineteenth century! So he spends more hours at the eyepiece than is probably wise!
Nevertheless, we’re continuing to bring you the latest news in astronomy, planetary science and cosmology – always delivered with the intention of being engaging to anyone, regardless of their astronomy knowledge. We’ve also kept the Q&A section and an absorbing interview each month (spoiler alert: astronomy populariser Mark Thompson will be joining us in the next episode, out on 1st June). But we’ve also added a section to explain in five minutes those frustrating concepts in astronomy that can be difficult to understand. Paul started this in episode 11 with his simple explanation of the Big Bang and he already has ideas for guides to astrobiology, inflation and many other exciting astronomy concepts. Our aim’s still to promote astronomy and deflate any of the misconceptions or baseless conspiracy theories that stray into astronomy – okay, don’t ask us about the Face on Mars. We’re committed to entertaining with fact-based reporting and if we can’t continue to entertain you, we’ll break out the tripods and heatrays once more and, armed with antibiotics this time… slowly but surely, we’ll draw our plans against you… Hear previous episodes, subscribe to the show and download episode 12 on 1st June here.
Image Credits Stellarium
The Southern Crosses
By Michael Poll (Pretoria Centre, Astronomical Society of Southern Africa)
For viewers in the northern hemisphere at, say, latitudes between 40⁰ N and 55⁰ N, during May the distinctive quadrilateral of Corvus (the Crow) lies low in the southern sky, with the bright star Spica to the east (left) of it. There are not many other bright objects in that part of the sky, (apart from Saturn at the moment!), but just below the horizon lie a wealth of bright and interesting sights which do not rise at the higher northern latitudes. These sights include what are known to southern sky viewers as ‘The Southern Crosses’ – of which there are three. Southwards of latitude 30⁰ north (e.g Cairo), the Southern Cross itself (Crux) becomes visible below Corvus. The further south one
travels, the higher in the sky Corvus and Crux become, and it can then be seen that the long axis of the Southern Cross, when extended northwards, points straight at the Crow. At latitude 26⁰ S (e.g Pretoria), Corvus passes almost exactly overhead (the declination of the southern most stars of
the quadrilateral is 23⁰ S – declination is the celestial equivalent of latitude). The declination boundaries of the Southern Cross are between 55⁰ S and 65⁰ S so when Corvus is overhead, the Southern Cross attains its highest altitude of about 55⁰ for Pretoria, and stands upright. (The Southern Cross becomes circumpolar south of 34⁰ S, for
example in Cape Town, Buenos Aires and Sydney). The other two crosses are known as the False Cross and the Diamond Cross, and they lie to the west of Crux. The False and Diamond Crosses are asterisms, and not constellations – the Diamond Cross is wholly part of Carina the Keel, and the False Cross is split between stars of Carina, and Vela, the Sail. For Pretoria, these groups rise in the early evenings of late December and early January. The False Cross rises first, so that it is in the sky before the Southern Cross itself is visible. (note the Magellanic Clouds to the right of Canopus). For a first time viewer, this is where the ‘false’ part may come into play, but when the Crux rises, the difference is apparent. Referring to the diagram alongside it can be seen that the stars of Crux are brighter, and the constellation itself is smaller – the axes of Crux are 7⁰ x 4⁰, whereas the False Cross axes are 9⁰ x 7⁰, and the short axes slope in the opposite sense to each other. Given that the stars of Crux are labelled
clockwise from Alpha to Delta, starting with
Sir John Herschel’s famous ‘Jewel Box’, so named because of the variety of colours of its stars. Gamma Crucis is the only reddish star of the five brightest stars of Crux, and it has a line-of-sight companion. The False Cross and the Diamond Cross were originally entirely part of the ancient constellation of Argo Navis, which was one of Ptolemy’s original 48 constellations and was the largest constellation for about 2000 years. It is said that the constellation was dismantled for convenience in the 1750s by the Abbe Nicolas Louis de la Caille, a French astronomer who worked at the Cape of Good Hope (Ref 1), but another source suggests that Argo was broken up by the American Benjamin Gould in 1879 in order to make this part of the sky ‘more manageable’ (Ref 2). The problem with Argo was in cataloguing all the stars in the constellation. The Millennium Star Atlas says that there 28 446 stars brighter than magnitude 10 in Argo, compared with the next most populous constellation, Cygnus, which has about 14 000 stars brighter than magnitude 10 (Ref 3).
Image Credits Stellarium
Alpha in the ‘6 o’clock’ position, a fifth star, Epsilon is easily seen on the line joining Delta and Alpha. The False Cross does not have an equivalent star. This diagram above shows the southern evening sky at 22h00 for mid-May. Considering that the upper diagram above is for the end of December, it can be seen how the sky has rotated around the south celestial pole from December to May, so that the Diamond Cross lies to the left of the False Cross in this diagram. Crux used to be part of Centaurus – the constellation of Centaurus surrounds Crux on three sides. The separation of Crux from Centaurus is generally attributed to the French astronomer Augustin Royer in 1679, although there are suggestions that it was recognised as a separate constellation at least a century before this. Alpha Crucis is a very close double, with a third star close by. All three stars are a brilliant white. Next to Beta Crucis is the wonderful open cluster NGC4755 (Caldwell 94). This cluster is
with the stars Beta and Theta of Carina formArgo ended up being split into Vela, the Sail; Carina, the Keel; and Puppis, the Poop Deck. There is no Alpha or Beta star in Vela - the brightest star in this constellation is Gamma Velorum. When Argo was split up, Alpha Argûs became Alpha Carinae, (a.k.a Canopus) and Beta Argûs became Beta Carinae (a.k.a Miaplacidus). Gamma Velorum is not part of the False Cross. The stars of this Cross are Delta and Kappa Velorum, and Epsilon and Iota Carinae. If the long axis of the False Cross is extended a little further than Epsilon it points to the pretty open cluster NGC 2516 (Caldwell 96). This cluster was discovered by LaCaille in the early 1750s. Its more recent nickname is the ‘Southern Beehive’. The Diamond Cross lies between Crux and the False Cross. It is a symmetrical asterism, Taken together these three crosses lie in one of the richest parts of the Southern Milky Way. Apart from the deep sky objects mentioned, there are also numerous other wonderful sights in this region of the sky. ing the long axis, and Upsilon and Omega of Carina, the short axis. At one end of the long axis of the Diamond Cross, the naked eye star Theta Carinae is actually the brightest star of a brilliant binocular or telescopic cluster of blue white stars, known as the Southern Pleiades (IC 2602, Caldwell 102). The cluster is very striking even when viewed against light pollution. Embedded in the cluster is a very distinctive asterism of five stars, variously described as the ‘Five of Diamonds’, or as resembling a capital Greek letter sigma (Σ), or the letter ‘M’, depending on the orientation of the cluster when viewed. References 1. Rambling Through the Skies E C Krupp Sky & Telescope March 1999 p 87 (Note that a date is misprinted in this reference – “1763” should read “1753”) 2. Jason’s Phantom Argonauts Les Dalrymple Sky & Telescope December 2002 p 114 3. Southern Hemisphere Sky Fred Schaaf Sky & Telescope April 1998 p 88
The Night Sky..
By John Harper F.R.A.S
As the month proceeds, the Sun climbs through the stars of Taurus until around 13h on the 21st when it crosses the border into Gemini, the solstice having occurred on the June 21st at 05h04 The earth-sun distance is 152, 028,935 km. The solstice marks the astronomical start of summer in the northern hemisphere, and the beginning of winter in the southern. Thus takes place the longest day and shortest night for us here in the UK, and thereafter night length increases once again. The season of summer lasts 93.65 days. In the northern UK, there is no true night, and at astronom-
ical midnight, the sky is not black but a beautiful velvet deep blue, merging to turquoise on the northern horizon. Don’t forget to look out for the ghostly silver-blue noctilucent clouds in the north, during the hour before and after midnight, as they catch the light of the sun, which is not very far below the northern horizon at this time of year. The Moon Moon is at apogee (furthest from the earth) on the 9th at 21h40, and perigee on (nearest to the earth) 23rd, at 11h09. New Moon occurs on the 8th, at 15h57, when the moon lies in Taurus, and 3° south of the sun. First Quarter is on the 16th at 17h24 takes place on the Leo/Virgo border 4° north of the constellation of Crater, the Cup. The moon is midway between Regulus in Leo and Spica in Virgo. Full Moon is at 11h33 on the 23rd, is in the constellation of Sagittarius not far from Pluto’s current position and is the second lowest Full Moon of this year.
Last Quarter Moon is on the 30th at 04h54 in the constellation of Pisces 5°to the right of the planet Uranus. The Planets Mercury’s favourable evening apparition continues during the first half of June, after which it begins to move in towards the sun, so that during the last week it can no longer be seen. The planet is beneath the twin stars of Gemini, Castor and Pollux. Mercury’s greatest elongation east of the sun (24°) takes place on the 12th. During the evening of the 10th, the two-day-old waxing crescent moon is low in the WNW sky, 6° below Mercury. The first object you are likely to spot when scanning in the twilight is Venus, which on the day of the moon/Mercury conjunction is some 5° to the right of Mercury and slightly lower in the sky. At around 21h, the two inner planets are around 10° above the horizon, beginning to set an hour later. Throughout June, Venus is a bright evening object
in the twilight, setting about 90 minutes after the sun. Never visible this month in a dark sky, the planet is easily detected low in the NW because of its brightness. Mars rises only 40 minutes before the sun at the beginning of the month, but 90 minutes before it at the end. Unfortunately because of the planet’s distance from the earth, and its comparative dimness, combined with bright June twilight, it is not an easy object to observe in Taurus, but if you can spot the Pleiades when they are 8° above the NE horizon at about 03h, and scan down towards the horizon to the lower left of this star cluster, you may spot Mars ‘twinkling’ a couple of degrees above the horizon. Jupiter is in conjunction with the sun during the late afternoon of the 19th and so is a very difficult object to observe due to its proximity to the latter. Because of the bright June twilight, Saturn is best observed between 23h and 01h, straddling
astronomical midnight; when it may be seen as a bright star-like object just over 15° above the SW horizon at 0h (UT). As Saturn lies on the Virgo Libra border, it is easy to identify, lying as it does in an area devoid of bright stars, with the exception of Spica, some 12° to the left, and lower down in the sky than Saturn. Take a look at the ringed planet through a small telescope and delight in the spectacle of the favourably placed northern surface of its ring system. By the end of the month the planet sets shortly before 01h. On the 19th the gibbous waxing moon passes south of Saturn and so when darkness falls during the night of the 19th/20th, the moon is some 6° to the lower left of Saturn. Uranus in Pisces is still a difficult object to observe in the morning sky, rising as it does in the brightening twilight after midnight. The much fainter planet Neptune, in Aquarius, half a degree above sigma Aquarii, is also
difficult to observe because of brightening twilight, although it lies over 10° above the SE horizon. Constellations visible in the south around midnight, mid-month, are as follows: Ophiuchus, Serpens Cauda, Hercules, and the head of Draco the dragon, which is near the zenith.
All times are GMT
1° is one finger width at arm’s length.