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REVEALED: HOW PLANETS FORM FROM STAR DUST

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TR AN S IT SP E
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MERCURY
Uncover the secrets of the Solar System’s innermost
world and see it cross the Sun this month

CITIZEN SCIENTISTS
The remarkable discoveries
made by amateur astronomers

MAKING IT RIPPLES IN 1ST FOR MAY 2016


TO MARS SPACETIME GEAR #132
Can humans cope with a How gravitational waves Nikon’s new DSLR camera www.skyatnightmagazine.com
mission to the Red Planet? will change astronomy designed for dark skies

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VIDEO INTERVIEW u VIRTUAL PLANETARIUM
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LETTER FROM THE EDITOR MAY 03

This month’s
contributors
include...
JASMIN FOX-SKELLY
Welcome
Mercury’s transit and Mars’s opposition dominate in May
SCIENCE WRITER
Could We’re scanning
humans forecasts and HOW TO CONTACT US
cope with crossing fingers for
the long clear skies on 9 May, Subscriptions,
0844 844 0254
binders, CD cases and back issues

voyage to Mon to Fri 8am to 8pm; Sat 9am to 1pm for orders
when the transit of
Mars? Jasmin explains Editorial enquiries
the physical and mental Mercury will – 0117 314 7411
risks. Page 62 hopefully – be visible 9.30am to 5.30pm, Mon to Fri
right across the UK. Advertising enquiries
WILL GATER 0117 314 8365
ASTRONOMY EXPERT The planet will take
Will looks
at how
seven hours to cross
the face of the Sun, surely time enough for
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skyatnight@servicehelpline.co.uk
Editorial enquiries
the most conditions in the lower atmosphere play contactus@skyatnightmagazine.com
advanced along! Turn to the Sky Guide on page 47 App enquiries
telescopes in http://apps.immediate.co.uk/support
the world are revealing
for Pete Lawrence’s expert guide to immediateapps@servicehelpline.co.uk
nascent planetary observing and imaging this special event.
systems. Page 40 To find out just what sort of world Mercury Editorial enquiries
BBC Sky at Night Magazine, Immediate Media Co
is turn to page 34, where Prof David Bristol Ltd, Tower House, Fairfax Street, Bristol, BS1 3BN
GOVERT SCHILLING
ASTRONOMY AUTHOR Rothery, principal investigator on ESA’s
Govert BepiColumbo mission to Mercury, The world named after the Roman god of
reflects on outlines the conditions on the planet war also appears in our feature on page 68,
why the closest to the Sun. where Elizabeth Pearson speaks to amateur
discovery of
Mercury isn’t the only planet on show astronomers who have made astounding
gravitational
waves is so astounding, this month. Towards the end of May, Mars discoveries. They may lack the equipment of
and the effect it will have comes to opposition. It’s around this time the pros but these backyard stargazers have
on astronomy. Page 78 that the planet is at its brightest, so its made significant contributions astronomy.
DAVID A WEINTRAUB
distinctive orange colour should be really Enjoy the issue!
ASTRONOMY PROFESSOR apparent to the naked eye.
David Mars is not only prominent in the sky
examines this month, it’s also prominent in this issue.
what the On page 62, Jasmin Fox-Skelly takes a look
discovery
at the dangers facing any astronauts
of alien
life would mean for embarking upon a manned mission to Mars
Chris Bramley Editor
the world’s major and, on page 52 you’ll find full details of
religions. Page 73 how best to observe the Red Planet in May. PS Next issue goes on sale 19 May

Sky at Night LOTS OF WAYS TO ENJOY THE NIGHT SKY...

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Find out what The Sky Visit our website for All the details of our The BBC Sky at Night Get each month’s Follow @skyatnightmag
at Night team will be reviews, competitions, latest issue, plus news Magazine team discuss issue on your iPad, to keep up with the
exploring in this month’s astrophotos, observing from the magazine and the latest astro news in now with bonus video latest space stories and
episode on page 19 guides and our forum updates to our website our monthly podcast and extra images tell us what you think

skyatnightmagazine.com 2016
04

NEW TO ASTRONOMY?
In the magazine See The Guide on page 82 and our online glossary
at www.skyatnightmagazine.com/dictionary

REGULARS
06 EYE ON THE SKY
11 BULLETIN
The latest space and astronomy news.

19 WHAT’S ON
21 A PASSION FOR SPACE
With The Sky at Night co-presenter
Maggie Aderin-Pocock.

23 JON CULSHAW
Jon’s off-world travelogue continues.

25 INTERACTIVE
26 SUBSCRIBE
Get your issues at a discount.
32 MERCURY: THE PLANET, THE
MISSIONS AND THE TRANSIT
29 HOTSHOTS
FEATURES 47 THE SKY
C = on the cover IN MAY
34 MERCURY C Your 15-page guide to the
All we know about the world closest to the Sun, night sky featuring the top
sights, an all-sky chart,
the coming transit and BepiColombo mission.
a deep-sky tour and more…

40 SPYING A SOLAR
SYSTEM’S BIRTH C 94 FIRST LIGHT
82 SKILLS
82 The Guide
How the world’s most advanced telescopes The moons of Mars.
are hunting down nascent planetary systems.
78 THE GRAVITATIONAL
WAVE REVOLUTION
84 How To
Automate your observatory, part 1.
62 SURVIVING THE 86 Image Processing
JOURNEY TO MARS C Derotate images with
WinJupos, part 2.
There are three major risks to humans 88 Scope Doctor
attempting to reach Mars. Could we survive? Your kit questions answered.

68 BACK GARDEN 89 REVIEWS


BREAKTHROUGHS C First Light
The amateur and armchair stargazers at the C 90 Nikon D810A DSLR camera.
forefront of astronomical advancement. 94 Vixen SSW eyepiece series.
Tried & Tested
73 WHEN RELIGION 98 Starwave Classic 102mm
achromat refractor.
MEETS ET 102 Books
What would alien life mean for Earth’s religions? 104 Gear

78 THE GRAVITATIONAL 106 WHAT I REALLY


WAVE REVOLUTION WANT TO KNOW IS…
The discovery that could change astronomy.
C
62 SURVIVING A JOURNEY TO MARS How mixed up is the lunar surface?

skyatnightmagazine.com 2016
CONTENTS MAY 05

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visit: www.skyatnightmagazine.com/bonuscontent
CONTENT ACCESS CODE: QTTAPL5

THE MAN WHO EVERY MONTH


LANDED CURIOSITY
NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover has provided a VIRTUAL
PLANETARIUM
wealth of data and images, revealing the
secrets of the Martian landscape and geology.
We talk to Adam Steltzner, the engineer who
headed the landing of the rover on Mars. He With Paul Abel and Pete Lawrence
reveals his role in the project, what we have Take a tour of May’s night-sky
learned, and what’s left for Curiosity’s mission.
highlights with Paul and Pete.

HIGHLIGHTS THE SCIENCE BEHIND


LISA PATHFINDER
ESA videos reveal
the experiments
being carried out
by LISA Pathfinder
and how it will
further our
understanding of
the Universe. AND MUCH MORE…
X HOTSHOTS GALLERY
COULD HUMANS SETTLE X EYE ON THE SKY
ON THE RED PLANET? EXTRA EQMOD FILES
SKY AT NIGHT EPISODE Images and an
X
Chris and Maggie turn their attention to animation by X BINOCULAR TOUR
breathtaking astrophotos as the team architects Foster
select their top five images of the Solar X EQUIPMENT GUIDE
+ Partners depict
System. From Saturn’s rings to the surface what a future X DESKTOP WALLPAPER
of Mars and live pictures of the Sun, these settlement on
images have revealed the secrets and Mars might
X OBSERVING FORMS
majesty of our cosmic environs. look like. X DEEP-SKY TOUR CHART

PRODUCTION Head of UK Publishing Chris Kerwin


Production Director Sarah Powell UK Publishing Coordinator Eva Abramik COVER MAIN IMAGE: NASA/JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY APPLIED PHYSICS LABORATORY/CARNEGIE
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skyatnightmagazine.com 2016
Hiding in
plain sight
Cosmic mysteries don’t always reveal themselves the way astronomers might
like: sometimes the most massive, vibrant objects can be the hardest to spot
VLT SURVEY TELESCOPE, 2 MARCH 2016

Fierce young stars ignite swirls of cosmic gas have masses dozens of times that of our Sun, that just one in every three million stars is an
in star formation region RCW 106 in the but it is still not entirely known how they O-type, and none is situated close enough to
southern constellation of Norma. RCW 106 manage to gather and hold together such Earth for detailed study. As a result of their
is a giant nebula about 12,000 lightyears an enormous amount of gas during formation. elusiveness, they remain something of an
away and its brightest section can be seen at As well as this they form in the densest parts astronomical enigma; intriguing yet
the top of this image. The thick clouds of dust of nebular clouds covered by cosmic dust, tantalisingly out of reach.
containing the ingredients for stellar birth are making them difficult to spot, and also have
hiding a mysterious, relatively unknown type very short lifespans. O-type stars use up all
of star from visible light. their fuel in tens of millions of years, which is
YOUR BONUS CONTENT
These are known as O-type stars and are a very short time in the context of stellar life.
More stunning space images
ESO

something of a puzzle for astronomers. They To add to this, they are very rare. It is thought
08

W Beautiful
blue
HUBBLE SPACE
TELESCOPE, 22
FEBRUARY 2016
This is Wolf-Rayet
star WR 31a,
surrounded by a blue
interstellar cloud of
dust and gas known
as a Wolf-Rayet
nebula. Wolf-Rayets
are massive, hot
stars with a high
rate of mass loss that
project cosmic gas
out into space. When
stellar winds hit the
layers of hydrogen
gas given out by WR
31a, the effect is the
surrounding blue
nebula seen in this
image. Wolf-Rayets
typically begin with
a mass at least 20
times that of our Sun,
but begin to lose that
mass very quickly.
As a result, the
typical life span
of this type of star
is just a few hundred
thousand years.

Crater within
a crater X
MARS
RECONNAISSANCE
ORBITER,
9 MARCH 2016
This image of Mars
spans about 1km,
halfway across a
small crater that lies
within the Gale
Crater. From the
shape and position
of the ripple-like
structures, NASA
scientists have
inferred that
something flowed
into the crater from
the south. The image
was captured by the
Mars Reconnaissance
Orbiter the day
before the 10th
anniversary of
its arrival at the
Red Planet.

skyatnightmagazine.com 2016
EYE ON THE SKY MAY 09

T Saturnian trio
CASSINI, 22 FEBRUARY 2016
The vastness of the ringed planet is more than evident in this image
of Saturn and three of its moons. The largest is Tethys, 1,062km across,
which appears just above the rings. Enceladus, 504km in diameter, is
just below, while 396km-wide Mimas sits near the bottom of the
picture. The view was captured by the Cassini spacecraft about 1.35
million km from Enceladus, looking toward the sunlit side of Saturn’s
rings; the image scale is 8km per pixel.

S Splitting stellar light T Peake aurora


HUBBLE SPACE TELESCOPE, 29 FEBRUARY 2016 TIM PEAKE, 23 FEBRUARY 2016
When stellar light is split into a spectrum, the colours it reveals can Since arriving on board the International Space Station in December
sometimes be marked with distinct dark and bright lines known as last year, British astronaut Tim Peake has been sharing his views of
emission lines. This is the case with the star at the centre of this image, space and Earth. This image of the aurora was taken by Peake and
IRAS 12196-6300. Its emission lines can be compared against those of shared on social media with a caption that seems to sum up the
known atoms and molecules to reveal the star’s chemical composition. phenomenon in general: “eerie but very beautiful”. Aurorae are a
This emission-line star is young, under 10 million years old, and has yet result of energetic particles from the Sun travelling towards Earth
to start burning hydrogen at its core. The hazy reflection nebula of gas and hitting molecules in the planet’s atmosphere, which create the
and dust it is embedded in are the remnants of the cloud it formed in. magnificent green glow effect seen here.

ESA/HUBBLE & NASA X 2, NASA/JPL-CALTECH/UNIV. OF ARIZONA, NASA/JPL-CALTECH/SPACE SCIENCE INSTITUTE, ESA/NASA

skyatnightmagazine.com 2016
BULLETIN MAY 11

PLUS

Bulletin
The latest astronomy and space
news written by Elizabeth Pearson
CUTTING
14 CHRIS LINTOTT
16 LEWIS DARTNELL
Our experts examine the hottest
new astronomy research papers
EDGE

The changing face of

CERES
The dwarf planet’s mysterious spots bloom in the Sun
CERES COULD BE a more active world than that the spots are most likely magnesium salts
COMMENT
by Chris Lintott
Changes on Ceres aren’t
a surprise: the infrared
originally anticipated after the reflectivity deposited by brine that has been pushed up eye of the Herschel space
telescope observed what
of its mysterious spots were seen changing through the crust from the water-rich mantle.
seemed to be plumes of
from night to night. Closer observations with Dawn should help to water vapour erupting
When NASA’s Dawn spacecraft arrived at the untangle exactly how this relationship works. from the surface of Ceres
largest body in the asteroid belt in March 2015, “We know that the planet has a rocky core last year. At the time, the
it found 130 bright spots across its surface. Now with a thick ice mantle below the crust, and favoured interpretation was
more recent Earth-based observations have now this indicates that there is heating going that we were seeing the
revealed that the largest concentration of these on inside Ceres. Next we need to understand effect of ice geysers, but
spots – found in the Occator crater – is much if there is a liquid ocean below the ice in now it seems that what
more reflective when it faces the Sun. the mantle or if there is an atmosphere,” Herschel was seeing was
instead connected to the
“We concluded that something physical says Molaro.
bright spots in Occator crater.
varied on the spots within Occator crater,” says > See Comment, right
Detailed imaging from
Paolo Molaro from the Italian National the Dawn spacecraft
Institute for Astrophysics, who measured the shows clear evidence for
spots with the HARPS spectrograph at ESO’s flows of material on the
La Silla Observatory in July and August 2015. crater floor, but it also
The most likely cause is volatile material makes it clear that that’s
evaporating under the Sun’s radiation, not the only crater worth
creating a highly reflective plume of thinking about. A crater
called Oxo has repeatedly
gas. “This was then confirmed by
been observed to contain
Dawn’s direct images, which
water-ice, and several
detected haze in the craters,” others show interesting
says Molaro. chemistry, signs of flowing
The changes suggest that material and maybe even
there is an active changes. Like its fellow
connection between the dwarf planet Pluto, Ceres
interior and the surface, is clearly a fascinating
with material circulating world, though as with
between the two. This is Pluto it’s going to take
time to put together the full
backed up further by
story from the riches of
the recent discovery data provided by our
robotic explorers.

CHRIS LINTOTT co-presents


The cluster of bright spots
The Sky at Night
within Occator crater
has become the dwarf
planet’s defining feature
SXS

skyatnightmagazine.com 2016
12

NEWS IN
BRIEF HOMING IN ON
COSMIC RAYS
GREEN METEOR
MARKS ST
PATRICK’S DAY
The day of Ireland’s patron
saint was marked this year
by a meteor leaving a blue
Black hole at our Galaxy’s core the “most plausible” origin for cosmic rays
and green trail. The falling
fireball was seen across ASTRONOMERS AT THE High Energy “Somewhere within the central 33 lightyears
the UK at 03:16:54 UT on Spectroscopic System (HESS) observatory in of the Milky Way there is an astrophysical
17 March. It reached a Namibia have identified a likely origin for the source capable of accelerating protons to
maximum magnitude of Galaxy’s most powerful cosmic rays: Sagittarius energies of about 1PeV continuously for at least
–14.7 – brighter than the A*, the black hole at the centre of the Milky Way. 1,000 years,” says Emmanuel Moulin from the
full Moon. The fireball is Cosmic rays are made up of charged particles Centre de Saclay, home of the French Atomic
estimated to have been a so energetic they can cross the entire Galaxy. Energy Commission.
modest 66kg in weight “[Sagittarius A*], the supermassive black hole
They can be picked up by particle detectors
and fragmented around
but pinpointing their source is problematic at the centre of the Galaxy, is the most plausible
70km above the Earth’s
surface, which makes it
as their paths are deflected by the magnetic source of the PeV protons,” says Felix
unlikely that any sizable fields they encounter. Aharonian from the Max Planck Institute in
pieces of the space rock However, when the cosmic rays hit gas clouds Heidelberg and the Dublin Institute for
reached the ground. floating in space, they produce gamma rays, Advanced Studies. “Several possible
which travel in straight lines and can be acceleration regions can be considered, either
detected on Earth. Mapping these gamma rays in the immediate vicinity of Sagittarius A* or
allows us to effectively ‘track the footprints’ of further away, where a fraction of the material
cosmic rays. And that’s exactly what led the falling into the black hole is ejected back into
HESS astronomers to Sagittarius A*. the environment, thereby initiating the
The team at HESS identified a very powerful acceleration of particles.”
source of gamma rays at the centre of our But while the galactic centre is producing
NEW RECORD FOR Galaxy. The cosmic rays that generated the some cosmic rays, it cannot account for the
(YALE UNIVERSITY) AND G. ILLINGWORTH (UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA/SANTA CRUZ, © DR MARK A. GARLICK/H.E.S.S. COLLABORATION,
CARRASCO-GONZALEZ ET AL/BILL SAXTON/NRAO/AUI/NSF, ESA/ATG MEDIALAB, ESA–STEPHANE CORVAJA, 2016, NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI

gamma rays would have had energies around number currently being observed. However if
RICHARD BASSOM/WESSEX ASTRONOMICAL SOCIETY, NASA/ESA/ P. OESCH (YALE UNIVERSITY) G. BRAMMER (STSCI) P. VAN DOKKUM

FARTHEST GALAXY
Less than a year after one petaelectronvolt, or 1PeV, significantly the central black hole was more active in the
discovering the farthest higher than other cosmic ray sources, such as past, it could have created the bulk of rays seen
galaxy ever recorded, a supernova remnants and pulsars, which can on the Earth today.
new contender has been only reach energies of 0.1PeV. www.cnrs.fr/index.php
found. The light from
galaxy GN-z11 was
picked up by the Hubble
Space Telescope after a
13.4 billion year journey.
It began its travels a mere
400 million years after the
Big Bang, at the end of
the Universe’s ‘Dark Ages’
when stars were just
beginning to ignite.
GN-z11 only had one per
cent of the stars the Milky
Way has now but was
producing new ones at
rates 20 times faster.

The Sagittarius A* black hole is a


likely candidate for the powerhouse
generating cosmic rays

skyatnightmagazine.com 2016
BULLETIN MAY 13

NEWS IN
Baby planet’s first steps BRIEF
The protoplanet’s parent star HL Tauri is unexpectedly young PLUTO IS YOUNG
AT HEART
THE BIRTH OF a new world has been caught New Horizons continues
The inner structure of to reveal a dynamic and
on camera for the first time. The image that was the protoplanetary active world on the edge
captured shows the inner debris disc of a star disc around HL Tauri of our Solar System as it
450 lightyears away containing a clump of transmits more data from
matter with a mass three to eight times that its Pluto flyby. Of
of Earth – the beginnings of an infant planet. particular interest are two
“We believe this clump of dust represents the mountains that might be
earliest stage in the formation of protoplanets,” ice volcanoes, Wright
says Thomas Henning, of the Max Planck Mons and Piccard Mons,
Institute for Astronomy, who imaged the planet located slightly to the
south of the dwarf
with the Very Large Array near New Mexico.
planet’s ‘heart’, known
“It’s likely to develop into a fully grown planet
as the Sputnik Planum.
over the next few million years.” A volcanic origin for
Despite affirming theories of early planetary these features could help
formation, the find is surprising scientists explain why the surface
since the star, HL Tauri, is only a youthful of the 1,000km-wide
million years old. region appears so bright
www.vla.nrao.edu and smooth, indicating
that its icy surface is
being refreshed through

EXOMARS NARROWLY AVOIDS DISASTER active geology.

EUROPE IS BOUND for Martian skies once again afterwards it was seen breaking into several
after the launch of ExoMars on 14 March, despite fragments by the Astronomy Observatory of
part of the rocket breaking apart. After successfully Sertão de Itaparica in Brazil, which had been
giving the probe its last kick towards Mars, the tracking the launch. Luckily ExoMars was already
Breeze-M upper booster stage exploded. several kilometres away when the explosion
The thruster separated from ExoMars nearly happened and so none of the equipment on
11 hours into the flight after accelerating the probe board appears to have been affected.
to a speed of 33,000km/h, the speed necessary to The launch is the first half of a two-part JUPITER BENDS
reach Mars in seven months’ time. But shortly mission being conducted by ESA and the Russian IN THE WIND
space agency, Roscosmos. This installment The arrival of a colossal
The probe launched will put an orbiter around Mars, while a 2018 solar storm at Jupiter in
from Baikanur in mission will send a rover to the surface. ExoMars 2011 was powerful
Kazakhstan on will search for signs of both geological and enough to create an X-ray
14 March aurora, the first time such
biological Martian activity.
an interaction has been
exploration.esa.int/mars
seen on the planet. The
aurora was triggered
by solar winds strong
enough to shift Jupiter’s
enormous magnetic field
by 2 million km.
“There is a constant
power struggle between
the solar wind and
Jupiter’s magnetosphere.
Understanding this
relationship is important
for the countless magnetic
objects across the Galaxy,”
says William Dunn from
UCL’s Mullard Space
Science Labarotary.
ExoMars will examine
Mars’s atmosphere and
drop off a test lander

skyatnightmagazine.com 2016
14

CUTTING found that star formation was being enhanced.


Our experts examine the
EDGE
These systems were actually forming more stars
than their inactive companions!
hottest new research But not all active galactic nuclei can be detected
in the infrared. The vast majority are identified as
having actively growing black holes because of
The influence of black holes emission in visible light from material that’s closer
to the nucleus. These are the second type of galaxy
The massive objects affect the growth of their and they show the opposite effect: they’re forming
fewer stars than the comparison inactive sample.
host galaxies, but exactly how is still a mystery Finally, there are the galaxies whose nuclei are
radio bright. Here we’re looking right down to the
active regions, seeing radiation from material close
to the nucleus itself. These have a much more
dramatic decline, forming stars at less than half the
rate of their unaffected counterparts.
So what’s going on? The key is to realise that these
different types of galaxies form a sequence, with
each type of black hole leading into another. The
idea is that something, most probably a merger with
another galaxy, triggers an increase in the amount
of gas available. That leads to more star formation,
but some of the gas will be transferred towards the
centre of the galaxy, fuelling the black hole. As this

“Some of the gas


will be transferred
to the centre of
the galaxy, fuelling
the black hole”
gas is used up, the star formation rate decreases

A
ccording to our current understanding The way material is and our view of the activity at the centre changes,
of how galaxies grow, a black hole at sucked into black holes revealing first optical signatures of activity and then
their centre has a huge influence on the shapes the growth of the radio signatures.
the galaxy around it
rest of the system. As gas flows down It’s a logical and clear picture, but there’s a lot we
towards the black hole it becomes very hot, and the still don’t know. For example, just because we watch
radiation and jets this excited material emits can the nucleus’s activity and the star formation
heat or expel surrounding cold gas that would changing in parallel, we shouldn’t necessarily
otherwise form stars. Having a growing black hole conclude that one causes the other. It may be that
can reduce activity in the rest of the galaxy, but the mergers trigger both, though even that might not
details of exactly how it does this remain murky. tell the whole story with regard to the radio-bright
A new paper from Sara Ellison of the University galaxies. Using data from our Galaxy Zoo project,
of Victoria in Canada takes a close look at over the authors point out that only one per cent of these
20,000 galaxies to try and untangle some of that systems show signs of the disruption that might
murkiness. Her approach was to measure star accompany a merger. For these galaxies at least,
formation consistently across three types of we still need to find another explanation.
galaxies where the material falls into the black > For the latest on black hole winds, see page 15
hole in very different ways. CHRIS LINTOTT is an
Firstly there are the galaxy systems that shine astrophysicist and
co-presenter of The Sky
brightly in the infrared. Their nuclear activity is
at Night on BBC TV.
obscured in visible wavelengths behind a thick He is also the director CHRIS LINTOTT was reading… The star formation rates
ISTOCK X 2

cloud of dust, but the heat generated causes an of the Zooniverse project. of active galactic nuclei host galaxies by Sara L Ellison
intense infrared glow. In these galaxies Ellison et al. Read it online at http://arxiv.org/abs/1601.03349

skyatnightmagazine.com 2016
BULLETIN MAY 15

Record winds from black hole NEWS IN


The cosmic gale may be stunting star formation by blowing material away BRIEF
THE FASTEST WINDS ever measured racing away MARS MAGNETISM
from a supermassive black hole have been detected, OVERPOWERED BY
reaching speeds of over 200 million km/h. PASSING COMET
The Martian magnetic
The supermassive black hole is surrounded by a
field was thrown into
disc of gas hot enough to generate light so bright it
chaos when Comet Siding
can be seen on the other side of the Universe – a Spring passed by the
variety known as a quasar. These intense conditions planet in October 2014,
cause some of the gas to stream away at enormous research has revealed.
velocity, affecting the rest of the galaxy. During the flyby NASA’s
“When galaxies form, these winds fling material MAVEN probe recorded
outwards and deter the creation of stars,” says charged particles from the
Jess Rogerson of York University, Canada. “If comet overwhelming the
Red Planet’s weak
such winds didn’t exist or were less powerful,
magnetosphere.
we would see far more stars in big galaxies than
“The main action took
Though some of the gas surrounding the black hole is we actually do.” place during the comet’s
being drawn inward, much of it is being blown away www.gemini.edu closest approach but the
planet’s magnetosphere
began to feel some effects

THE PLANET THAT BEHAVES LIKE A COMET as soon as it entered the


outer edge of the comet’s
A NEWLY DISCOVERED world is being flung coma,” says Jared Espley
round its star in the most eccentric orbit ever from the MAVEN science
team. “We think the
found. The path of HD 20782 b resembles
encounter blew away
that of a comet, skimming past the star at part of Mars’s upper
0.06 times the Earth-Sun distance before atmosphere, much like a
being hurled out to 2.5 AU. strong solar storm would.”
The unusual orbit is what allowed detections
of the planet to be made. During the closest
approach a brief flare of reflected light was
observed bouncing off the planet’s atmosphere.
In most exoplanets found so close to their star,
reflective particles are boiled away from the
atmosphere, making the planet darker. But as
HD 20782 b only stays in this environment very
briefly its atmosphere doesn’t have time to change. Planets that orbit close to their stars tend to lose their
http://physics.sfsu.edu reflectivity – this hasn’t happened with HD 20782 b ONE-YEAR ISS
MISSION ENDS NASA AND M.-WEISS CHANDRA X RAY CENTER, NASA’S GODDARD SPACE FLIGHT CENTER X 2,
After 12 months on the ISS R. WILLIAMS (STSCI) THE HUBBLE DEEP FIELD TEAM AND NASA, NASA/BILL INGALLS

testing their bodies’ limits in

Looking back microgravity, Scott Kelly and


Mikhail Kornienko have
returned to Earth, touching
down on 2 March. The

May 1996 mission aims to study the


long-term effects of living in
space on the human body,
The 26 May 1996 broadcast of some the most distant and and included a comparison
The Sky at Night looked at one youngest ever seen, the light to Kelly’s earthbound twin.
of the deepest images ever of which had taken over
taken of the night sky: the Hubble 12 billion years to reach us.
Deep Field. Focusing on a In 2004, the Hubble Ultra-Deep
seemingly empty piece of sky, the Field repeated the image in the
Hubble Space Telescope created constellation of Fornax, going
the image by stacking together even deeper in 2014 to create
342 separate exposures. Despite the Hubble eXtreme Deep Field.
being only 2.5 arcminutes across, Together these found a total of
the resulting image revealed 15,500 galaxies dating back
3,000 previously unknown to a time just 800 million years Most of the galaxies in the Hubble
galaxies. Among them were after the Big Bang. Deep Field had never been seen before

skyatnightmagazine.com 2016
16 BULLETIN MAY

CUTTING spewed by early Martian volcanoes could have become


Our experts examine the
hottest new research EDGE absorbed and trapped in the permafrost of the Red
Planet’s surface. Under the right conditions, frozen
water-ice can trap molecules of gas such as carbon
dioxide or sulphur dioxide within its lattice, to form
what’s known as clathrate ice. Schmidt and his team
Mars’s middle-aged believe that during the early epoch of Martian history
known as the Noachian, the sulphur dioxide

sulphuric breakdown released by volcanic eruptions became trapped in


surface clathrates and steadily built-up over time.
In fact, Schmidt calculates that a huge amount of
Volcanic gases sequestered under the Red Planet’s sulphur dioxide could potentially have been held in
permafrost may have been released in one great wave solid storage in this way.
This sulphur dioxide wasn’t permanently locked
away though. As more and more of the CO2
atmosphere on Mars escaped into space, the air
pressure on the ground became lower and lower.
Eventually, a threshold was passed and the clathrate
ice destabilised under the reduced pressure,
releasing the gas it had held. Schmidt thinks this
could have been a pretty sudden event, with

“This could have


been a sudden event,
with huge volumes
of sulphur dioxide
rapidly disgorged”

O
n Earth, the interaction between volcanoes Þ The Hebes Chasma, enormous volumes of sulphur dioxide rapidly
and the climate is relatively well understood. a huge basin with a disgorged into the atmosphere during the Hesperian
The short-term effect is that a large volume flat-topped mountain era three to 3.7 billion years ago. One curious feature
of sulphur dioxide gas is released into at its centre, is rich in of Martian geology is that we see large deposits of
the stratosphere, where it is converted into tiny mineral salts formed sulphate minerals dated to the Hesperian period, but
from sulphuric acid
droplets of sulphuric acid. This volcanic aerosol little deposited in the earlier Noachian. And this
spreads around the world and acts to scatter or could be explained neatly by such a depressurisation-
block some of the incoming sunlight, leading to a triggered breakdown of clathrates.
slight cooling in global temperatures, before the Up to four million billion tonnes of sulphur
sulphates are washed back out of the atmosphere. dioxide could have been released in this way in
We saw this happen in 1991 when Mount Pinatubo pulses, says Schmidt, and this is a far neater
in the Philippines erupted and global temperatures explanation for the massive sulphate deposits
temporarily dropped by 0.5º C. than the gas being freshly erupted – it would take
But over longer timescales, the carbon dioxide 20 times the average terrestrial emission over
pumped into the atmosphere by thousands of years’ 100 million years to produce the same effect.
worth of volcanic eruptions warms the world through Schmidt acknowledges that more modelling and
the greenhouse effect. This is an important part of experimental work is needed to test this idea, but
the stabilising feedback process that has kept the it does highlight how very different the climatic
climate on our planet comfortable for life for billions processes can be on neighbouring planets.
LEWIS DARTNELL is an
of years. For example, when the planet descended into
ESA/DLR/FU BERLIN (G. NEUKUM)

astrobiologist at the
global glaciations known as ‘Snowball Earth’ periods, University of Leicester
it was volcanoes around the world continuing to belch and the author of The
LEWIS DARTNELL was reading… Early Mars volcanic
out CO2 that swung the climate out of the deep freeze. Knowledge: How to
sulfur storage in the cryosphere and formation of
On Mars, however, things might have been very Rebuild our World
transient SO2 -rich atmospheres during the Hesperian
from Scratch (www.
different. Based on modelling work, Frédéric Schmidt by F Schmidt et al
the-knowledge.org)
and colleagues argue that the sulphur dioxide gas Read it online at http://arxiv.org/abs/1602.03331

skyatnightmagazine.com 2016
NEW MOON RISING
THE C9 MOONPHASE
Incorporating Calibre JJ04

E XC LU S I V E LY AVA I L A B L E AT christopherward.co.uk
WHAT’S ON MAY 19

Space Rocks on Ice

What’s on
Our pick of the best events from around the UK
Royal Astronomical Society Lecture Theatre, Burlington
House, Piccadilly, London, 10 May, 6pm
Dr Katherine Joy of the
University of Manchester
is an expert in the
bombardment of the Solar
System. In this talk for the

K
PICTH
Royal Astronomical
Society, she explains how
E
OF H
Antarctica’s freezing
MONT climate provides the
perfect conditions to
preserve meteorites.
Admission is free.
www.ras.org.uk

Gamma-Ray Bursts
The British Geological Survey, Keyworth,
Nottingham, 5 May, 7.30pm
Gamma-ray bursts are produced
by the most violent explosions
known in the Universe. In recent
years we’ve come to realise that
a range of different systems can
give rise to these explosions,
very likely including merging
neutron stars. In this talk for
Þ Discover the secrets of the cosmos at Liverpool’s World Museum Nottingham Astronomical
Society, Prof Nial Tanvir reviews
Merseyside Astronomy Day the latest developments in the field. Admission is free.
www.nottinghamastro.org.uk
World Museum, Liverpool, 30 April
Liverpool John Moores University hosts and modern telescopes are uncovering Edge of Darkness
its annual day-long astronomy event at the secrets of galaxy formation and
Armagh Planetarium, Northern Ireland, throughout May
the city’s World Museum, with lectures stellar birth.
and a panel session for those seeking Also speaking is Chris Copperwheat,
answers to questions about the cosmos. astronomer-in-charge of the Liverpool
Prof Nate Bastian leads the first talk of Telescope in La Palma, which is run by
the day looking at globular clusters and Liverpool John Moores University. He
how they relate to the formation and discusses the history, technology and
destruction of galaxies. Dr Claire Davies science behind the scope and plans for
of the University of Exeter then explores the future Liverpool Telescope 2.
the formation of planetary systems, from Included in the programme of events
DAVE JONES, THE ROYAL SOCIETY, PROF NIAL TANVIR, ARMAGH PLANETARIUM X 2, NASA/JOHNS HOPKINS

the birth of stars to the planetary bodies are an ‘Ask the Astronomers’ Q&A
that form in their circumstellar gaseous session and free time to explore the rest Fly through the cliffs of comet 67P/Churyumov-
discs. Prof Johan Knapen of the of the museum. Admission is £5 and Gerasimenko, get a closer look at the bright lights of
European Astronomical Society is also advance booking is advised. Ceres and explore Pluto and its moons in this full dome
show narrated by Hayley Atwell, who plays Agent
on hand to explain how spectroscopy ww.astro.ljmu.ac.uk/MAD
UNIVERSITY APPLIED PHYSICS LABORATORY/CARNEGIE INSTITUTION OF WASHINGTON

Carter in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Tickets are £6


or £5 for concessions, and £20 for a family. All shows
must be pre-booked and age restrictions apply.
BEHIND THE SCENES www.armaghplanet.com
THE SKY AT NIGHT IN MAY
Four, 8 May, 10pm (first repeat Four, 12 May, 7.30pm)*

THE TRANSIT OF MERCURY MORE LISTINGS ONLINE


With a transit of Mercury visible Visit our website at www.
from the UK on 9 May, the team skyatnightmagazine.com/
look at the geology of the planet whats-on for the full list of
this month’s events from
and how its features could be the
around the country.
result of a collision with Earth or
Venus. This month’s episode also To ensure that your talks,
explores how the study of planetary observing evenings and star
transits has transformed our parties are included, please
understanding of the Universe. submit your event by filling
in the submission form at the
Mercury’s surface is as complex as any rocky *Check www.bbc.co.uk/skyatnight
bottom of the page.
world – but what’s the story behind it? for subsequent repeat times

skyatnightmagazine.com 2016
A PASSION FOR SPACE MAY 21

A PASSION FOR

with Maggie Aderin-Pocock


The Sky at Night presenter on the discovery of
the gravitational waves predicted by Einstein

E
ven during my the strange behaviour of
The gravitational waves
relatively short detected are believed to
surrounding gas and
time on The have been caused by a pair dust, or other objects in
Sky at Night, of black holes colliding their vicinity. None had
the topic of gravitational been directly observed.
waves has arisen on many However, gravitational
occasions. I liked to refer waves give us a direct
to them as the “elusive method for detecting
gravitational waves”, but black holes and other
since 11 February this massive bodies. One
year gravitational waves scientist that has been
are elusive no longer. A truly heartened by the
confirmed detection has announcement is Prof
now been made after Stephen Hawking. The
years of searching. world’s most famous
Gravitational waves, living scientist has spent
ripples in spacetime, his life understanding
were one of the the inner workings of
predictions made by black holes. After hearing
Einstein’s general theory the announcement he
of relativity. This first detection of them see this manifesting as gravity. When said, “Gravitational waves provide a
was made by the two instruments that objects are truly massive, these can result completely new way at looking at the
make up the Laser Interferometer in a gravitational force so strong not even Universe. The ability to detect them has
Gravitational Wave Observatory, or LIGO, light can escape. These bodies were known the potential to revolutionise astronomy.”
which came online in August 2002. as black holes and were thought to be the But the first confirmed detection took
Gravitational waves are tiny, so you need result of the death of larger stars. LIGO 14 years, so is this potential
a truly massive event to create ripples revolution likely to be a slow one? Well
distinct enough to be detected. The source Could black holes be real? maybe not, as there are already plans to
of the gravitational waves in this case was Initially few believed in the existence of upgrade LIGO with a new detector. This
the collision of two black holes located the objects and many thought that they will improve the sensitivity by more than
more than a billion lightyears away. This were just a miscalculation in the theory. a factor of 10 once fully commissioned in
was an additional cause for celebration, But the detection of pulsars (a similarly 2021 and there are plans to build more
as this was the first direct detection of a exotic object) in the 1960s led people to instruments, including another LIGO
pair of black holes. believe that black holes could be out there. detector in India, which recently had its
In the general theory of relativity three- Evidence for their existence started to funding approved. So it does seem that a
dimensional space and time are merged mount, but the challenge has always been new era in astronomy is just beginning. S
together to form the four dimensions of how to detect a body that not even light
spacetime. In the theory, mass is thought can escape from. Many black holes have Maggie Aderin-Pocock is a space scientist
ISTOCK

to cause distortions in spacetime and we now been identified, but generally due to and co-presenter of The Sky at Night

skyatnightmagazine.com 2016
R A T
E B I
L

N
E
40

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EXOPLANET EXCURSIONS MAY 23

JON CULSHAW’S
EX PLANET
EXCURSIONS
Jon travels to heart of M4 in Scorpius and one of the oldest worlds in the Universe

A
t 4.5 billion years old, planet those infernal ‘buffering’ symbols we see
Earth has existed for an on our everyday computers. The pulsar
enormous period of time, emits a stroboscopic flicker from its
but I’m on my way to an 100 revolutions per second, an effect that
exo-world that has been around for far bears an eerie similarity to the kind of
longer. PSR B1620-26 b is believed to light shows that appear in nightclubs
have existed for a conscience-numbing whenever they play Kraftwerk.
12.7 billion years, a colossal age that puts The planet Methuselah seems like a
its formation just a billion years after wise old soul who has witnessed the
the Big Bang and has earnt it the patterns of the Universe since time
unofficial name ‘Methuselah’, after the immemorial. It originally formed
oldest living person in the Bible. around another Sun-like star, 12.7
Methuselah orbits a binary star system billion years ago. In its early days
MAIN ILLUSTRATION: MARK GARLICK, SPACECRAFT: PAUL WOOTTON, PHOTO: EMMA SAMMS

12,400 lightyears from Earth in globular this planet would have been bathed in
cluster M4 – within the constellation of highly powerful ultraviolet radiation
Scorpius in Earth’s skies. As the stars in as M4 underwent a feverish period of
M4 are thought to have all formed stellar birth. It’s thought Methuselah
around a similar time, the planet must and its original parent star drifted
have coalesced soon afterwards. It is into the core of the globular cluster,
most likely a gas giant, around 2.5 Jupiter whereupon a mighty gravitational equator. Next time, I’ll look more
masses. It takes a century to complete an tussle took place. This led to the star closely at the compellingly mysterious
orbit of its parent binary stars, one being being dramatically ejected from the features of this far-flung world, and
a pulsar and the other a white dwarf system, leaving Methuselah orbiting contemplate the torrid chapters still
0.34 times the mass of our Sun. the pulsar and its companion. set to unfold. For despite Methuselah’s
The orbital path of this ancient world Today, Methuselah hangs with a epic 12.7 billion years, in many ways,
lies 23 AU away from its parent stars and stable, majestic surety evocative of its long-term life has hardly begun.
this is a perfect distance to observe how the views we were beamed from Voyager. Methuselah gives us a wonderful
they move. When viewed at increased It has similarities to Jupiter but with opportunity to reflect on infinity.
speed on the Perihelion’s screen the lilac and indigo bands, and there
double stars, orbiting each other appear to be three rather wonderful Jon Culshaw is a comedian, impressionist
separated by a single AU, remind me of ‘Great Blue Spots’ near the planet’s and guest on The Sky at Night
IO L
N
IT ECIA
ED SP

PATRICK MOORE’S GUIDE TO

THE MOON
FROM THE MAKERS OF

Familiar and mysterious by equal


measure, Earth’s constant companion
has fascinated astronomers for
generations, none more so than the late
Sir Patrick Moore. This new volume,
ONLY
collecting the best of the lunar observing
columns Patrick wrote for BBC Sky at
£9.99P*
INC P&
Night Magazine, is the ideal aid for
your explorations of our Moon. Learn
all about our natural satellite, then see
why it enchanted our editor emeritus
for yourself. On sale 31 March.
Plus – subscribers to BBC Sky at Night
Magazine receive FREE UK P&P*!

Get a deeper look at the best lunar features Learn how the Moon formed, how it Take your lunar odyssey one step further
in Sir Patrick Moore’s Moonwatch columns, compares to the other bodies of the Solar with our beginner’s guide to imaging
organised by quadrant for easy reference System and more in our in-depth features – from full disc shots to crater close-ups

ORDER YOUR COPY TODAY


www.buysubscriptions.com/moon
Alternatively call 0844 844 0254 and quote ‘PGMHA16’ †

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£12.99 for Europe and £13.49 for Rest of World. Please allow up to 28 days for delivery.
LETTERS MAY 25

This month’s
top prize: four
Philip’s books
The ‘Message of the Month’
Interactive
EMAILS • LETTERS • TWEETS • FACEBOOK
writer will receive four top
titles courtesy of astronomy
Email us at inbox@skyatnightmagazine.com
publisher Philips: Robin
Scagell’s Complete Guide
to Stargazing, Sir Patrick
Moore’s The Night Sky,
MESSAGE OF THE MONTH
Robin Scagell and David
Frydman’s Stargazing with
From ducks in the pond to stars in the sky
Binoculars and Heather available I bought a Celestron StarPointer Pro and
Couper and Nigel made a mounting bracket to fit my scope. The
Henbest’s Stargazing 2016
results have been a real eye opener and a great
pleasure. The moons of Jupiter sprang into view as
the first target, followed by a long look at Orion and
all its jewels – magnificent! I now look forward to
clear nights and the only limit to my enjoyment is
the cold. The scope is a Kowa TS611 with a 2.3-inch
aperture, fitted with a 27mm wide-angle eyepiece.
The bracket is an L-shaped welded steel strip. The
John’s setup is
outer LED ring of the finder is approximately 80 per
based around a
spotting scope
cent of the eyepiece view making acquisition very
quick and easy. The resulting package is light to carry,
SOCIAL Having been a keen birdwatcher for many years easy to use and doesn’t appear to scare the ducks!
MEDIA I occasionally tried pointing my spotting scope
towards the night sky. As it has a 45º eyepiece the
John Clark, via email

WHAT YOU’VE BEEN SAYING


ON TWITTER AND FACEBOOK results were not good: finding anything recognisable That’s ingenious, John! Adapting the kit you’re
was pretty impossible. However, having read this comfortable with using is a great way to get into
Have your say at twitter. magazine and seen the various finder devices observing the night sky. – Ed
com/skyatnightmag
and facebook.com/
skyatnightmagazine
Armed for observing astronomer and watch collector this could not have
On the successful award of been more of a surprise. In fact in the space of a week
@skyatnightmag asked:
What got you into funding by the Armed Forces I received a new watch, a new job opportunity and a
astronomy? Community Covenant and new grandson. My lottery ticket was a duff though!
Royal Irish Regimental David Jones, Tamworth
@deepskymike August Headquarters I managed to get
12th 1985 wondering why our Astronomical Observatory What you need now is a cloudless night to check the
my elderly neighbours built, with an opening ceremony phases of the Moon, David. – Ed
were looking up. Then I on 2 March. It is fulfilling the
saw it. A bright Perseid! Covenant’s aim of enhancing cross-community A flare for outreach
integration between the Armed Forces and the local I recently showed my
@p0ppy08 Seeing Patrick
Moore on television telling
civilian population: the kids love it and after a view mother-in-law how to
us to go out and look at of Orion Nebula twinned with views of Jupiter it is view the ISS and also
Orion later that night. already getting a big thumbs up. Even the great told her about Iridium
British weather couldn’t ruin the day! flares. She was
Ken Barlow Combination Capt Rick Spence, Unit Welfare Officer, 1st Battalion interested in seeing
of Carl Sagan and the The Royal Irish Regiment, Clive Barracks, Shropshire one so I promised I’d
Voyager missions. help her spot the next bright flare in our area. She
Well done on your efforts Rick: that is a stellar was amazed by the sight and, as I said goodbye,
Terry Lumsden My dad
achievement. – Ed presented me with a bottle of wine. I later heard
taught me how to
that she is encouraging the neighbours to spot
recognise the plough
aged 6. 3 days after A lucky phase the ISS and Iridium flares too.
I ran indoors shouting to I am just writing to thank you all for the great prize Steve Brown, Stokesley
him that it had shrunk! I recently won. I completed the reader survey in the
I dragged him outside and January issue and was lucky to be drawn as the winner Sharing the wonder of the astronomy is a reward in
pointed at the pleiades! of a Christopher Ward Moonphase watch. As a keen itself, but it’s always nice to be thanked! – Ed

skyatnightmagazine.com 2016
Sky at Night
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HOTSHOTS MAY 29

Hotshots
YOUR
BONUS
CONTENT
A gallery
containing these
and more of your
stunning images
This month’s pick of your very best astrophotos

PHOTO
OF THE
MONTH

S The Sculptor Galaxy


RON BRECHER AND BRETT SOAMES, NEW SOUTH WALES, AUSTRALIA, OCTOBER 2015/FEBRUARY 2016

Ron says: “NGC 253 is one of the field. The refractor used for this little doubt as to why began as a visual
most magnificent galaxies visible image was made by famous this galaxy is also observer around
using amateur equipment and is Australian amateur astronomer called the ‘Silver 20 years ago and
a real stunner in photographs. Barry Adcock.” Dollar’. The level of is now a proficient
Brett acquired the detail from his detail is absolutely image processor.
home observatory in New South Equipment: SBIG STXL-6303E superb, highlighting Australia-based
Wales, while I did the processing CCD camera, custom-built the spiral nature of the galaxy Brett, pictured right, got into
to produce the image. The 6-inch refractor, Paramount but also the wisps of dark gas astronomy over 10 years ago
challenge was to extract as much ME mount. and dust and the fierce blue glow and describes himself as an
detail as possible while still of stars being born.” equipment junkie. The pair were
managing noise, keeping it bright BBC Sky at Night Magazine says: introduced by astrophotographer
enough to reveal the halo and “The clearly defined shape About Ron and Brett: Ron, who Warren Keller, who encouraged
the tiny galaxies around the captured in this image leaves observes from Ontario, Canada, them to begin collaborating.

skyatnightmagazine.com 2016
30

W The Moon
PAUL COTTON, LINCOLNSHIRE,
22 JANUARY 2016
Paul says: “My main interest is deep-sky
objects so the Moon is often a major
annoyance, but I do take a lot of pictures of it!
I like the subtle detail at the edge of an almost
full Moon and the contrasting ray patterns of
Copernicus and Tycho.”

Equipment: Canon EOS 1100D DSLR camera,


Celestron VX 9.25-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain,
Sky-Watcher NEQ6 Pro SynScan mount.

W Saturn
RONALD PIACENTI
JUNIOR, BRAZIL,
6 DECEMBER 2015
Ronald says:
“I was surprised
at how easy it
was to capture
this image. I had doubts about the result,
as it was the first time I'd used this
telescope for planetary imaging, but in
the end I was very happy.”

Equipment: ZWO ASI120MC monochrome


camera, Celestron C6 XLT Schmidt-Cassegrain,
Sky-Watcher HEQ5 Pro SynScan mount.

Galactic beam
IVAN SLADE, AUSTRALIAN TELESCOPE
COMPACT ARRAY, 13 FEBRUARY 2016
Ivan says: “I had seen these telescopes
online and knew the night skies must
be very dark so had been wanting to
go for some time. Just as the telescopes
reoriented I could see a chance of
getting the shot I wanted; the antenna
aligning with the Milky Way as if
sending out a beam into the cosmos.”

Equipment: Sony _7S MkII camera,


Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 Di VC USD lens.

skyatnightmagazine.com 2016
HOTSHOTS MAY 31

S The Rosette Nebula


TREVOR NICHOLLS, UK, 5 FEBRUARY 2016
Trevor says: “This is a target I have been after
for a while but is only visible to me for a
limited time and I missed it the past couple of
years. The main challenge, as always, was the
weather and the Moon, but I am pleased with
how it turned out.”

Equipment: QSI 6120 cooled CCD camera,


Takahashi FSQ-106ED refractor, Paramount
MX mount.

T Jupiter and the


Great Red Spot
HARVEY SCOOT, ESSEX, 1 JANUARY 2016
Harvey
says: “I had
been up
all night
imaging,
and the
seeing was
improving
steadily as
Jupiter rose S Gar skagi lighthouse
in the sky. I was very pleased to obtain this
level of detail this early on in the apparition, MARIUSZ SZYMASZEK, ICELAND, 2 FEBRUARY 2016
as Jupiter was some distance from opposition.” Mariusz says: “I took this photo on my recent trip to Iceland to see the Northern Lights for the
first time. The night I took this photo was the last one on my trip and I wanted to catch the magic
Equipment: ZWO ASI224MC camera,
of the place with green aurora in the background.”
Celestron EdgeHD 14-inch Schmidt-
Cassegrain, Mesu-Mount 200. Equipment: Sony _7S camera, Samyang 14mm/2.8 lens.

skyatnightmagazine.com 2016
32 HOTSHOTS MAY

T Nacreous Clouds
STEVE BROWN, STOKESLEY, NORTH YORKSHIRE, 2 FEBRUARY 2016
Steve says: “My wife used to tease me as these were one of
few atmospheric phenomena she had seen that I hadn’t! As I
was on my way to work I didn't have time for a lengthy set-up
so I grabbed a few handheld shots. It was a very windy day,
which made it quite challenging.”

Equipment: Canon EOS 600D DSLR camera, 18-55mm lens.

S Planetary Nebula NGC 2438 in M46


KFIR SIMON, NAMIBIA, MAY-DECEMBER 2015
Kfir says: “When I planned my trip to Tivoli farm in Namibia in 2015,
I put this target to on my ‘to do’ list. A single 20-minute frame in
hydrogen-alpha didn't show anything; it was only after stacking that
the shell of the planetary nebula began to appear.”

Equipment: Apogee Alta CCD camera, Dream 16-inch Newtonian.

W The Heart
Nebula
TERRY HANCOCK
AND HERB
CARPENTER, US,
12 FEBRUARY 2016
Terry says: “This is
a collaboration of
data collected over
three seasons, using
three different
telescope and CCD
combinations, in two
different locations.
Over 350 individual
frames make up
this final image for
a total integration
of 40 hours.”

Equipment: QHY9
mono CCD camera,
Astro-Tech TMB-
92 apo refractor;
QHY11 mono CCD
camera, Takahashi
E-180 astrograph;
SBIG STL-11000M
mono CCD camera,
Takahashi FSQ-
106ED refractor.

WORTH
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Email your pictures to us at hotshots@skyatnightmagazine.com or enter online.

skyatnightmagazine.com 2016
Though tiny, the innermost
planet is home to its fair
share of stunning features
and unanswered questions
Mercury
THE PLANET
THE MISSIONS
AND THE TRANSIT
Mercury will pass across the face of the Sun on
9 May. David Rothery describes the transit, and
what makes Mercury such a fascinating planet
id you know that there are we see it moving across the Sun we are

D just two times of year that


a transit of Mercury can
happen? The innermost
world of the Solar System can only cross
the Earth-Sun line of sight within a few
glimpsing its forward motion, rather
than the changing perspective resulting
from the Earth’s motion.
When watching a transit of Mercury
you should see the planet, in Sir William
days of either 8 May or 10 November. Herschel’s words of 1786, as “a very black,
We are fortunate to have transits of round spot”. It may be noticeably darker
Mercury across the Sun coming up on than any sunspots, though small, dark
9 May this year and again on 11 November objects on a bright background are hard
2019, both at excellent times of day for to compare. If you are watching during
viewing from the UK. The following the start or the end of the transit, look
occasion will not be until 13 November carefully at the moment when the full
2032, though that one will be viewable disc of Mercury is touching the
from the UK too. inside edge of the Sun’s disc (only three
Mercury is so far away from us and minutes after the beginning, or three
so much smaller than the Sun that it minutes before the end of the transit).
appears tiny against the solar disc, You may experience the momentary
unlike the Moon during a solar eclipse. impression of a teardrop joining Mercury
However, transits of Mercury are visible to the sky beyond the Sun. This ‘black
from the entire daylit hemisphere of drop effect’ is caused by optical defects
NASA/JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY APPLIED PHYSICS LABORATORY/CARNEGIE INSTITUTION

Earth when they happen, whereas solar and is more prominent when our
eclipses are viewable only from within atmosphere is turbulent.
a narrow track. Mercury also travels Only two spacecraft have visited
through space faster than Earth, so when Mercury so far. NASA’s Mariner 10 >
OF WASHINGTON, JOHN CHUMACK/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

Lit from behind, Mercury


takes on the guise of an
intense black dot during
transit events
< During its three flybys Mariner 10 took many
stunning close-up images of Mercury’s surface

March 2011, Messenger went into orbit around the


planet and began a spectacular mission that ended
with a crash onto the surface on 30 April 2015.
The planet’s next visitor will be the BepiColombo
mission, comprising two orbiters operated by ESA
and the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA). They are
due to launch in April 2018, arriving in 2024.
Just as Messenger was a more
capable spacecraft than
Mariner 10, so
BepiColombo
will be an
> made three flybys in 1974 and 1975, by placing
itself in an orbit round the Sun that lasted twice as
long as Mercury’s orbit and had a perihelion close
to Mercury’s aphelion. NASA’s Messenger made
three flybys in 2008 and 2009, but this time the
gravity assist from each flyby was used to nudge the
craft into solar orbits that more closely matched
Mercury’s. Then, on the fourth encounter in

WATCHING
THE TRANSIT
Simple ways to see Mercury
cross the solar disc The 9 May transit Mercury’s disc will be tiny on openlearn/
could hardly be the Sun – you won’t be able exploremercury)
better timed for to see it with eclipse glasses and get hold of a
viewing from the UK. It mirror and lens-based
starts at 12:12 BST (11:12 UT) ‘solar scope’ that projects an
and ends at 19:42 BST (18:42 UT), so it lasts image onto the inside of a box.
all afternoon and ends about an hour before If you have binoculars or a small telescope
sunset. Remember: it is dangerous to look but don’t have specialist solar filters to cover
directly at the Sun, and there is absolutely no the objective lenses, you can still use them to
point in doing so! Mercury’s apparent diameter project an image of the Sun onto a white card
as it crosses the Sun’s disc will be 1/150th of held about 0.5m beyond the eyepiece. You
the Sun’s diameter. This is too small to see can tell when your telescope is aimed directly
without magnification, and so eclipse glasses at the Sun without looking through the
designed for looking through with the naked eyepiece by manoeuvring it until the shadow
eye will be no use, nor will pinhole-based of its tube is circular.
gadgets. Mercury will look smaller than a Of course, nothing beats seeing an event
large sunspot, but will not be too hard to see with your own eyes and your own kit, but you
with a little help. On an image of the Sun that will get the best view – maybe the only view if
is 15cm across, Mercury would be a 1mm dot. it is cloudy all day – by watching over the
If you have access to a solar telescope internet. ESA plans to webstream live images
(your local astronomical society may have from solar telescopes in Spain and Chile, and
one) you will be well catered for. Otherwise, from at least two satellites. You can watch
Access to a solar scope will reveal Mercury’s watch the safety advice video on the Open these at www.cosmos.esa.int/web/
progress across the Sun’s roiling features University website (www.open.edu/ bepicolombo/mercury-transit.

skyatnightmagazine.com 2016
MERCURY MAY 37

Messenger continued Mariner’s work with its own


breathtaking images; this is the Raditladi Basin

Inside the Caloris Basin are a series of graben, the


troughs that form between inward-dipping faults

Oblique lighting highlights the cluster of peaks


at the centre of the floor of crater Abedin

The 822km Enterprise Rupes strikes across the


Rembrandt Basin close to Mercury’s southern limb

the Sun; it is an ‘end member’ whose nature and


origin we must determine if we wish to understand
our Solar System. It is also another end member NASA/JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY APPLIED PHYSICS LABORATORY/CARNEGIE INSTITUTION OF
NASA/JPL/USGS, NASA/JPL, NASA/JPL/NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY X 3, DOMINIQUE DIERICK,

– this time as the largest airless rocky body in the


family consisting of the Moon and the rocky
advance on Messenger. Having its two orbiters BepiColombo will asteroids with surfaces affected by space weathering.
in place at the same time will increase the flow of comprise several Mercury has a more eccentric orbit than any
information about Mercury’s magnetic field, and components. From left other planet, being 0.31 AU from the Sun at the
the neutral and charged particles near the planet. to right: the Mercury closest point in its orbit (perihelion) but 0.47 AU
Transfer Module, which
Its cameras will image the southern hemisphere away at its furthest point (aphelion). It rotates
houses the ion drive;
much better than Messenger did, plus it will carry the Mercury Planetary exactly three times for every two orbits round the
the first thermal infrared imager to go to Mercury Orbiter, which will be Sun. This is described as a 3:2 spin-orbit coupling,
(great for studying the surface minerals) and it placed in a low, relatively and almost certainly results from the strong tidal
has a much improved X-ray spectrometer. This circular, orbit; the forces experienced as a result of Mercury’s changing
instrument is called MIXS, the Mercury Imaging sunshield that protects the distance but general proximity to the Sun. It rotates
Mercury Magnetospheric
WASHINGTON X 4, ESA, ASTRIUM

X-ray Spectrometer, and is UK-led. It will map the slowly, bringing opposite hemispheres to the
Orbiter, which will be
surface distribution of about a dozen of the most placed in a more sub-solar point at alternate perihelia. Somewhat
abundant elements. eccentric orbit counterintuitively, this results in its day length
(measured from sunrise to sunrise) being twice as
Eccentric and enigmatic long as its year, which lasts 88 Earth-days.
So, why is it worth taking an interest in Mercury? This slow rotation makes for surface temperatures
It is the smallest terrestrial planet and the closest to in excess of 400°C by day, dropping below –170°C >

skyatnightmagazine.com 2016
38

Liquid iron, sulphur and


Iron-poor silicate mantle silicon outer core

Anticrust

Solid inner core

Iron-poor silicate crust

> before dawn. However, because Mercury’s axis Cut-away model of Because its core is so big, the rocky part of
is not tilted relative to its orbit, the floors of some Mercury showing its Mercury (its mantle and crust) is relatively thin.
craters near the poles are in permanent shadow estimated composition, It may be that this is a remnant of a much thicker
and so permanently cold, allowing them to have which includes a rocky outer zone that was removed by a violent
hypothetical ‘anticrust’
accumulated deposits of cometary ice, as are also event during Mercury’s formation 4.5 billion years
of iron sulphide.
found within polar craters on the Moon. Convection in the liquid ago. In an example scenario there could have been
LIBRARY/ALAMY STOCK PHOTO, JAXA/NASA/PPARC, NASA/JHUAPL/CIW X 4

outer core, which a giant collision, the proto-Mercury being the


Thinking thin
CARLOS CLARIVAN/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY, © MARY EVANS PICTURE

generates the magnetic impactor and slamming into a larger target body
Mercury is a dense planet, so it is likely to have an field, is indicated by like the Earth, Venus, or one of the large planetary
iron core occupying a greater portion of its interior the patterning embryos that later merged to form one of them. The
than in the case of the Earth. Like the Earth, we embryonic Mercury would then have careened away,
can tell that the outer part of this core must be stripped of most of its original crust and mantle.
molten because motion of this electrically However, one of the biggest surprises revealed by
conducting liquid generates a magnetic field, the Messenger mission is that Mercury’s surface is
discovered by Mariner 10. Messenger found that rich in elements that we would expect to be easily
Mercury’s magnetic poles coincide with its lost in a hot or violent event. These include sulphur,
rotational poles, but that the magnetic equator chlorine, sodium and potassium. There are also
is displaced 480km north of the geographic patches of Mercury’s surface (called ‘hollows’) that
equator. Venus, Mars and the Moon don’t have look distinctly ‘moth-eaten’, where the top 10m or
magnetic fields, and so their cores must so of material has simply vanished. Maybe those
be solid throughout. patches have evaporated (more properly speaking,

skyatnightmagazine.com 2016
MERCURY MAY 39

‘sublimed’) away to space. We do not know the


composition of the volatile and easily lost material,
and one of the main goals of the UK-led Mercury
HISTORIC TRANSIT
Imaging X-ray Spectrometer on BepiColombo is
to determine this.
OBSERVATIONS
Solar transits of Mercury are more
Shrink and spin common than those of Venus. The first
But perhaps the most remarkable feature of Mercury observation was achieved on 7 November
is that its diameter appears to have shrunk by about 1631 by the French Jesuit astronomer Pierre
14km during the past three billion years or so. This Gassendi (pictured), thanks to a successful
prediction by Johannes Kepler. There is no record
is most simply explained by thermal contraction as of a transit of Venus having been observed until
the planet cooled, and there is evidence of contraction, 1639, even though those can be seen by the naked
mostly in the form of giant thrust faults known as eye (at the risk of damaging your eyesight).
lobate scarps across the surface. There are a few Edmond Halley observed a transit of Mercury
features like this on the Moon, but they are mostly while at St Helena on 3 May 1676, and realised
at least 10 times smaller. Mapping of Mercury’s that if observers at known but distant locations
were to record the same transit, the parallax would give the information
lobate scarps reveals a preponderance of north-
required to deduce the scale of the Solar System. That’s why James Cook
south oriented examples in mid- and low-latitudes, was sent to observe the 3 June 1769 transit of Venus from Tahiti. Less well
which implies that the shortening was concentrated known is that the expedition’s astronomer Charles Green, along with Cook
along the east-west axis. This may be evidence of himself, observed a transit of Mercury on 9 November of the same year, from
Mercury’s spin slowing down, leading to the the shores of Mercury Bay in New Zealand.
collapse of a former equatorial bulge that had been Green later fell ill, and died soon after putting out from Batavia (modern-day
Jakarta) in 1771, but is credited with being the first to note that Mercury’s crisp
sustained as a result of previous more rapid spin.
outline during transit demonstrates that the planet must have little or no
Mercury has no regions similar to the lunar atmosphere. Sir William Herschel caught only brief glimpses of the 4 May 1786
highlands that formed by flotation from a magma transit through cloud, but had better luck on 9 November 1802.
ocean. Instead it is an almost entirely volcanic

Þ At the centre of this Messenger view is the 320km


Goethe basin, now reduced to a ‘ghost’ by lava flooding
planet, apart from traces of possible carbon-rich
early crust. Most of its crust was formed by lava
flows more than three billion years ago, and there
are many volcanic vents where explosive volcanic
Þ The abundance of the flat-floored depressions known as ‘hollows’ – shown in eruptions have occurred, at least one probably less
exaggerated colour in this image – is one of the innermost planet’s enduring mysteries
than a billion years ago.
When the BepiColombo spacecraft arrives
at Mercury in eight years time, it will arrive
at a planet that is sill holding onto many of its
secrets. We expect to be able to shed new light on
its composition and evolution, and many other
questions with the mission, destined for the
planet that will be moving across the face of
the Sun this month. S

ABOUT THE WRITER


David Rothery is professor of
planetary geosciences at the
Open University and principal
Þ This irregular pit appears to be a Þ Unity Rupes, a lobate scarp named after investigator on BepiColombo’s
compound volcanic vent, deposits from the ship that took Halley to St Helena to MIXS instrument.
which discoloured the surrounding surface observe the 1676 transit of Mercury

skyatnightmagazine.com 2016
Distinctive patterns in the
material orbiting HL Tauri could
be the signs of a planetary
system beginning to form
SPYING A
SOLAR SYSTEM’S

BIRTH
With the help of the world’s most advanced telescopes
astronomers are now getting ever more detailed glimpses
of nascent planetary systems. Will Gater investigates

I
n late 2014 an array of dishes deep in the to observe things such as emissions from dust
Atacama Desert turned in unison toward a grains and molecules that could not be observed
point on the sky in the constellation of Taurus, at other wavelengths. It gives us a unique view
not far from the bright star Aldebaran. of many kinds of objects in the Universe,” says
Their target was a faint star designated HL Tauri, Dr Catherine Vlahakis of the National Radio
some 450 lightyears from the Sun. Dim and Astronomy Observatory in Charlottesville, in
distant, HL Tauri is not the sort of star that you the US, who was part of the study. “The discs of
or I might gaze at on a frosty winter’s night material around young stars like HL Tauri are
– even if we could see it. But it’s exactly the type made of dust grains. Not only does ALMA operate
of object that astronomers using ALMA, the
ABOUT THE at the wavelengths needed to observe these dusty
Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array, WRITER discs, but its combination of high sensitivity and
get very excited about. Will Gater is an unprecedented resolution means that it’s possible
astronomy journalist,
HL Tauri is young. And young stars are typically to capture incredibly detailed images of the
author and
embedded at the centre of vast discs of gas and astrophotographer. structures of discs.”
dust. Observations of HL Tauri over the years have Follow him on
shown that it has just such a disc encircling it, and Twitter: @willgater A clearer picture
it was this that made it a tantalising subject for Previous studies of HL Tauri had produced
ALMA’s 2014 observations. indistinct images of the disc around the star.
ALMA would examine the HL Tauri system by But with ALMA astronomers had the means to
observing the radiation it emitted at wavelengths get an even clearer view.
ESO/L. CALÇADA

slightly longer than infrared light, so-called “ALMA is the largest millimetre/submillimetre
millimetre and submillimetre wavelengths. telescope of its kind,” says Vlahakis. Part of
“Millimetre/submillimetre astronomy allows us its strength is its ability to combine each of the 66 >
42

> dishes dotted across The thrill of the


the dry desert floor into ALMA team can be better
a single enormous understood when you
telescope. “The large consider the name
distances at which astronomers give the
the antennas can be huge discs of gas and
separated – up to dust around young
16km – means that stars: protoplanetary
ALMA can see the discs. What ALMA
Universe at a much had given the
higher resolution astronomers was
than ever before at an unprecedented
these wavelengths,” window into the lives
adds Vlahakis. of these enigmatic
“When the antennas structures and perhaps
are at their largest also the planet-forming
separation we can see process itself – because
even finer detail than is one explanation for the
possible with the Hubble spectacular features seen
Space Telescope.” With that in HL Tauri’s disc is that there
resolution the ALMA scientists were nascent worlds beginning
were able to get a detailed view to emerge within it.
of HL Tauri’s disc, but few of them “The series of bright rings and dark
had envisaged quite how extraordinary gaps is what we’d expect to see if planets are
the image would be. forming in the disc,” says Vlahakis. “The bright
ALMA’s image of the
“Everyone on the team was stunned when circular paths in the gas rings are caused by emissions from dust particles
we first saw the HL Tauri image. That ALMA and dust around HL Tauri in the disc and the gaps imply that planets in the
had captured an image with such an exquisite astonished astronomers process of forming have swept a path in the dust
level of detail that it could be mistaken for an as they orbit the central star.”
artist’s impression was astonishing. But it was It’s not the only explanation though. “These
the spectacular and unexpected concentric ring structures can be predicted by theoretical
structure, with its tell-tale dark gaps, that really models of planet formation, but there are other
took our breath away,” recalls Vlahakis. theoretical models that also predict these

WHAT IS ALMA?
An array of 66 radio antennas gazes through the skies over Chile
Located high in the Atacama Desert in Chile, ALMA observes the skies with
‘eyes’ that see millimetre and submillimetre wavelengths of light. Rather than
using telescopes with mirrors to collect celestial radiation the project uses a
network of 66 dish-shaped antennas. “The signals captured by the array of
individual ALMA antennas are then processed by a powerful supercomputer to
combine them into data from which astronomers can
produce high-resolution images,” says Dr
Catherine Vlahakis of the National Radio
Astronomy Observatory in the US.
ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), Y. BELETSKY (LCO)/ESO, ESO/L. CALÇADA

skyatnightmagazine.com 2016
BIRTH OF A SOLAR SYSTEM MAY 43

structures through astrophysical processes that at another young star in Taurus – may be able
don’t involve forming planets,” says Vlahakis. to shed some light on.
“Future observations that will help refine these By directing the powerful radio ‘eyes’ of the
models should be able to answer this question UK-based e-MERLIN telescope network towards
definitively.” Either way, something interesting a star designated DG Tauri, which at just 2.5
is going on around HL Tauri. million years old is young by astronomical
standards, Greaves and her colleagues were
From pebbles to planets able to detect radio waves emanating from
A 2008 study observing the system at radio ‘pebbles’ around the star. “We think
wavelengths uncovered signs of a possible [the pebbles] formed by sticking
protoplanet candidate orbiting the star. The lead together smaller rocky grains,”
author of that study – Dr Jane Greaves, now at explains Greaves. “They
Cardiff University – says the object she and her should be at least a couple
colleagues detected would be within one of the of centimetres across.
disc structures revealed by ALMA. This is because we
“The radio protoplanet candidate appears looked for radio
to fit right in one of the gaps in the dust rings!” waves a few >
she says. “We’re following up on that system
to see what the emission from the protoplanet
candidate actually is.”
Catherine Vlahakis believes there may be
another interpretation, however. “A paper by
the ALMA Partnership in 2015 showed that
the features Greaves observed are likely to be a
combination of the disc’s rings when seen at lower
resolution,” she says. Whether the object the
astronomers spotted is real or not, if planetary
embryos are responsible for the features of
HL Tauri’s disc then it raises intriguing questions
for astronomers studying planet formation.
“One of the most surprising things about the
[ALMA] image is that the star HL Tauri is no
more than a million years old, and it was not at
all expected that such a young star would
already have planets forming around
it,” explains Vlahakis. So just
how quickly can protoplanets
materialise from discs of
gas and dust? That’s
something that
Greaves’ recent
work – looking

“One explanation for the spectacular


features seen in HL Tauri’s disc is
that there are nascent worlds
beginning to emerge within it”

skyatnightmagazine.com 2016
44

Crucially, the presence of the pebbles around


the infant DG Tauri provides an insight into the
early stages of planetary construction. “[The result]
confirms some of our expectations, especially that
the seeds of planet formation can grow quickly, and
in the right place for planets like those in our Solar
System to get started,” says Greaves. “It also tells us
that nature can get past one of the steps – growing
millimetre-sized dust grains – that is difficult to
understand in theoretical terms. Finding systems
such as DG Tauri where growth is successful, and
maybe some others where it is less so, will tell us
what the ideal conditions for making planets are.”

Mind the gap


Slowly but surely astronomers are building a picture
of the formative moments in the life of a planetary
system. Some of the most intriguing advances
in this area of late have come from studies of the
dust and gas discs around young stars known as
> centimetres long, and the pebbles have to be The material slowly ‘transitional discs’.
approaching this size to emit radio waves well. coalescing into pebbles “Transitional discs are discs with a gap or hole
They aren’t good at producing waves larger around HG Tauri in their dust distribution,” explains Dr Nienke
than they are.” The signal the team observed produced a tiny heat van der Marel from the University of Hawaii.
was generated by the heat of the rocks, which signature that the ALMA “Protoplanetary discs are typically between one and
team was able to detect
although spectacularly cold by human standards, five million years old. We don’t know exactly how
is nevertheless capable of being picked up at old the transitional discs are, as we don’t know how
radio wavelengths. they’re formed. Neither do we know if every

ANATOMY OF A TRANSITIONAL DISC


GAS AND DUST DISC
Transitional discs are typically composed of
CENTRAL STAR 99 per cent gas and one per cent dust, and
At the centre of a measure a few hundred times the average
transitional disc sits Sun-Earth distance across
an infant star. In some
cases, it’s thought that
we’re seeing these
young stars roughly
a million years after
they formed

skyatnightmagazine.com 2016
BIRTH OF A SOLAR SYSTEM MAY 45

protoplanetary disc even goes through a ‘transitional


disc’ phase. However, it must be somewhere within
this range,” she says. “There is another category of
disc, the so-called debris discs, that don’t have gas,
only rocks and debris dust, which are between five
and 100 million years old. Transitional discs are
potentially the link between protoplanetary discs
and debris discs, but this is uncertain.”
Part of the challenge of understanding these
objects is that the gaps observed in the transitional
discs could be made by different processes. “The
photo evaporative force of the star could blow the
gas and dust material away from the inside out,
or a companion star or planet could have formed
and cleared its orbit, thereby creating a gap,”
explains van der Marel. To get to the bottom of
which process might be at work van der Marel and
her colleagues recently studied a small number
of transitional discs using ALMA. The vast
Diameter of Neptune’s orbit, 60 AU
telescope array would be able to show what was
happening to the gas in the discs, which makes up
the majority of their mass.
“I discovered not only that gas gaps were present Þ The gap in the dust traps, which are predicted by theoretical models
inside the cavities (indicating that a planet had (orange) and gas (blue) of planet-disc interaction and dust evolution to
formed) but also that the dust in the outer disc was around the star HD exist at the edge of gaps created by planets.” It’s this
135344 B suggests the
concentrated in narrow rings and sometimes even sort of correlation between their observations and
presence of another
asymmetries,” says van der Marel. “This implies young planet in this predictions that has got the astronomers so excited.
that the dust is ‘trapped’ in pressure bumps or dust image caught by ALMA
Mysteries unravelling
“Studies such as van der Marel’s are telling us
that these gaps [in transitional discs] are cleared
BABY PLANET of large dust grains, but not necessarily cleared of
gas and small grain material. Or at least not to the
Recent studies suggest
same degree,” explains Dr Kate Brutlag Follette, an
that emergent planets
are responsible for
astrophysicist at Stanford University. “That suggests
the gaps observed that the most exciting explanation for the existence
in the gas and dust of central cavities – the presence of forming planets
discs in a number of – is probably the right one.”
transitional discs Follette’s own observational research has recently
revealed remarkable evidence for an emergent world
– identified by the tell-tale hallmark of hot hydrogen
gas at a wavelength of light known as ‘hydrogen-
alpha’ – accumulating gas within a gap in a transitional
disc around the star LkCa 15. “Since it’s only a point
of light in our images, and because we don’t really
ISTOCK, © STOCKTREK IMAGES, INC./ALAMY STOCK PHOTO, ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)

understand the exact mechanism by which the gas


is falling onto the protoplanet, we don’t really know
how to translate the hydrogen-alpha brightness that
we’ve measured into any physical property in a very
robust way,” explains Follette. “And we have no idea
what the system looks like, at least not yet. That’s
something that we’ve challenged our theorist
friends to tackle though.”
With ground-breaking observations like these
and parallel theoretical work driving the field
GAP WITHIN THE DISC forward like never before, some of the great
mysteries of planet formation are now beginning to
The defining feature of a transitional disc
be unravelled. And as phenomena like transitional
is this gap. Observations with ALMA have
shown that gaps occur in both the dust discs and the protoplanet birth-process slowly give
and gas within some transitional discs up their secrets, it’s clear that some of the remaining
gaps in our understanding are destined only to
grow ever smaller. S

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BESPOKE JEWELLERY • WEDDING AND ENGAGEMENT RINGS • DIAMOND SPECIALISTS • JEWELLERY REPAIR
IE GH D
LY
N T
FR LI RE

lig e
THE SKY GUIDE MAY 47

ed o b
ht
D
rr t
de ned
un sig
de de
tsi is
ou e
le uid
ab y g
ad sk

PLUS
re his
T

Stephen Tonk
in’s
BINOCULA
R T OU R
Turn to pag
e 58 for six
of this mon
th’s best
binocular si
ghts

TheSky Guide
Written by
Pete Lawrence
Pete Lawrence is an
expert astronomer
and astrophotographer
with a particular
interest in digital
imaging. As well
as writing The Sky
May
On 9 May, the planet Mercury will transit
across the face of the Sun, an event taking
nearly 7.5 hours from start to finish. Although
there are other Mercury transits coming up
in the next few years, this will be the best
PETE LAWRENCE

Guide, he appears on
The Sky at Night each one until 2049. So fingers crossed for some
month on BBC Four.
beautiful May sunshine!

skyatnightmagazine.com 2016
48

Highlights
Your guide to the night sky this month
This icon indicates a good photo opportunity

2
MONDAY X

1
SUNDAY The waning crescent
The constellation of Corona Moon’s libration is
Borealis is high up in the hours currently good for
around midnight. Inside its spotting the Mare Orientale, seen
beautiful semicircle is the amazing as a foreshortened region along
variable star R Coronae Borealis. the Moon’s southwestern limb.
Although it has been around 14th
magnitude since last summer, it can
brighten unpredictably to the threshold
of naked-eye visibility.

5 6
THURSDAY FRIDAY
The Eta Aquariid The Moon is both
meteor shower is new and at perigee
active between 21 April today, making this a
and 12 May, reaching a peak on perigee-syzygy new Moon.
the night of 5/6 May. The shower
is best suited for those south of the
equator but new Moon means it’s
definitely worth seeing if you can
spot an Eta Aquariid streaking
across the sky. See page 51.

8 9
W SUNDAY W MONDAY
Mars is relatively Today the planet
close to mag. +1.1 Mercury appears
red supergiant Antares to pass across the disc
(Alpha (_) Scorpii), the name of of the Sun. This rather special
which means ‘rival of Mars’. It gets event, known as a transit, starts
this title because it looks similar to at 12:12 BST (11:12 UT) and
how Mars typically looks to the continues through to 19:40 BST
naked eye. However, being close to (18:40 UT). See pages 50 and 60.
opposition, Mars now dramatically
outshines its rival.

15 21
SUNDAY X SATURDAY
This The Red
morning it is Planet,
the turn of brilliant now virtually at
Jupiter to get a lunar visit. In the opposition, is joined by the full
early hours the waxing gibbous Moon, which means it too is at
Moon (63% lit) is less than 5º from opposition. At 23:00 BST (22:00
the planet. For a challenge, try and UT) our celestial neighbour is 5º
image the Moon, Jupiter and some north of mag. –2.0 Mars.
of its Galilean moons together.

24
TUESDAY X
The end
of May
brings the start
of the northern hemisphere’s
noctilucent cloud season. These
elusive but beautiful ‘night shining’
PETE LAWRENCE X 7

clouds, can sometimes be seen


90-120 minutes after sunset low in
the northwest or a similar time
before sunrise low in the northeast.

skyatnightmagazine.com 2016
THE SKY GUIDE MAY 49

What the team will be


observing in May
Pete Lawrence “I’m excited to have another
opportunity to see the intensely black dot

3 4
TUESDAY WEDNESDAY
The Martian With the Moon out of Mercury crossing the face of the Sun
equivalent of the of the way and the again. It’ll be great to see what the event
Greenwich Meridian, length of darkness still
known as Sinus Meridiani (or manageable, this is a great time to looks like through a hydrogen-alpha filter too.”
Meridian Bay) is centred on the try our deep-sky tour on page 56.
disc of Mars around 01:00 BST This month we’re hunting bright Chris Bramley “I’ll be escaping the light
(00:00 UT) this morning. and dim objects near the Keystone pollution of my home town this month and
asterism of Hercules.
plan on taking the opportunity to explore
the galaxies in the Bowl of Virgo. I also
want to have a good look at Mars.”

Paul Money “I’ll be keen to view Mars

7
SATURDAY
A slender 1%-lit waxing when it is at opposition on 22 May as
crescent Moon may its disc will be 18 arcseconds in diameter
be visible very low down in and hopefully showing a lot of detail.”
the west-northwest after sunset. Look
for it approximately 20 minutes after
the Sun has dropped below the horizon.

Need to know
The terms and symbols used in The Sky Guide
UNIVERSAL TIME (UT) AND BRITISH SUMMER TIME (BST)
Universal Time (UT) is the standard time used by astronomers around
the world. British Summer Time (BST) is one hour ahead of UT.

RA (RIGHT ASCENSION) AND DEC. (DECLINATION)


These coordinates are the night sky’s equivalent of longitude and
latitude, describing where an object lies on the celestial ‘globe’.

HOW TO TELL WHAT EQUIPMENT YOU’LL NEED


NAKED EYE
Allow 20 minutes for your eyes to become dark-adapted

22
SUNDAY X
At
23:00 BINOCULARS
BST (22:00 10x50 recommended
UT) the waning gibbous Moon
(98% lit) sits 2.5º north of PHOTO OPPORTUNITY
mag. +0.5 Saturn. Use a CCD, planetary camera or standard DSLR

Mars is at opposition today


SMALL/MEDIUM SCOPE
– see page 52.
Reflector/SCT under 6 inches, refractor under 4 inches

LARGE SCOPE
Reflector/SCT over 6 inches, refractor over 4 inches

26 30
THURSDAY MONDAY
Saturn Despite
reaches being at
opposition on opposition on
3 June. The planet’s rings typically 22 May, Mars is actually at its Getting started
brighten for several days either
side of opposition and the start
closest to Earth for this apparition
at 23:00 BST (22:00 UT)
in astronomy
of the last week of May is a good today, being at a distance If you’re new to astronomy, you’ll find
time to start monitoring the of 75,280,000km. two essential reads on our website. Visit
planet to try and spot the effect http://bit.ly/10_Lessons for our 10-step
for yourself. See page 51. guide to getting started and http://bit.ly/
First_Tel for advice on choosing a scope.

skyatnightmagazine.com 2016
50

DON’T
MISS… 3 top sights
! NEED TO KNOW

The transit of Mercury An object’s brightness is


given by its magnitude. The
lower the number, the brighter
the object: with the naked eye
WHEN: 9 May, view from 12:05-19:42 BST (11:05-18:42 UT) you can see down to mag. +6.0.

You have plenty of time to Mercury will appear as an


catch this month’s transit N intense black dot, gliding across
of Mercury as the event the solar disc. It reaches the point
lasts for 7.5 hours of greatest transit at 15:56:20
E
BST (14:56:20 UT), the altitude
of the Sun having dropped
slightly to 42º by this time.
First contact 12:12:26 BST Third contact occurs at
(Sun’s altitude 52º)
19:37:21 BST (18:37:21 UT),
when Mercury’s leading edge
touches the Sun’s southwest
limb. Fourth contact follows
approximately three minutes
Second contact later, when Mercury slips off
12:15:37 BST
the Sun’s southwest edge,
bringing the transit to an end.
Point of greatest This occurs at 19:40:33 BST
transit 15:56:20 BST Third contact (18:40:33 UT) with the Sun
(Sun’s altitude 42º) 19:37:21 BST
just 9 º above the horizon.
Being a long event means
Fourth contact
19:40:33 BST
that even if the weather isn’t
(Sun’s altitude 9º) perfect there will hopefully be
some gaps to provide a view.
Hydrogen-alpha filtered
ALTHOUGH NOT AS rare as the 9 May event being nearly A 12-arcsecond diameter telescopes give added interest
a Venusian transit, transits of 7.5 hours long. May transits disc is too small to be seen as there are often features
the planet Mercury across the are better suited for the UK, without optical aid. A safe and visible on the Sun’s disc to
face of the Sun are infrequent offering a better chance of inexpensive way to get a view help mark the progression of
enough to make them special seeing the whole event and a is to use a telescope or the transit. This filter may also
events. Whereas Venusian higher altitude of the Sun, binoculars fitted with a full give an extended transit if
transits occur in pairs separated which can give more stable aperture white light filter, such there happen to be prominences
by eight years, themselves views. The next May transit of as Baader AstroSolar Film. along the planet’s path.
occurring 121.5 or 105.5 years Mercury isn’t until 7 May
apart, there are 13 or 14 transits 2049, so this year’s event is
of Mercury every century. rather special.
At present, transits of The transit starts at
Mercury occur around 8 May, 12:12:26 BST (11:12:26 UT)
near the planet’s aphelion, or with first contact, when the
10 November, near perihelion. leading edge of Mercury’s disc
Consequently, Mercury has a touches the eastern limb of
larger apparent diameter of the Sun. It’ll then take
12 arcseconds during its May approximately three minutes
transits, compared to 10 for the entire planet to slip
arcseconds during its November completely onto the Sun’s
crossings. November transits disc. Second contact, when
are separated by 7, 13 or 46 Mercury’s following edge
PETE LAWRENCE X4

years while May transits are touches the Sun’s limb, With a hydrogen-alpha
either 13, 33 or 46 years apart. occurs at 12:15:37 BST filter, you may catch
Mercury silhouetted against
A significant transit may (11:15:37 UT). The Sun will
a prominence (simulation)
take many hours to complete, be 52º up at this time.

skyatnightmagazine.com 2016
THE SKY GUIDE MAY 51

The Seeliger
effect on Saturn
WHEN: 26 May through to 10 June

WITH THE OPPOSITION of Saturn


approaching on 3 June, the end of May
is a good time to observe the planet in
order to witness the Seeliger effect,
which affects the brightness of the The Seeliger effect in
action: the lower image
planet’s rings.
in this pair of Saturns
The rings consist of small particles from 2008 shows the
ranging in size from microns to several rings brightening
metres across. Each casts a shadow in the
opposite direction to the Sun. When
viewed from the side, the particles around opposition. Of course, from mean you’re looking through a thicker
closest to the Sun are fully illuminated Earth we can’t see each particle layer of atmosphere, which in turn will
while those behind are partially individually, but do get to witness an cause more wobbles than if the planet
shadowed from their sunward overall ring brightening. were higher in the sky.
neighbours. At opposition, the Sun, Saturn’s currently in a low part of So the best strategy is to keep the
Earth and Saturn are more-or-less in the sky between the feet of Ophiuchus, magnification high enough to be able to
line, so the individual shadows line up the Serpent Bearer. From the centre see the planet and rings convincingly,
behind the face of each particle. Here we of the UK, the planet only reaches but low enough to lessen the effect of the
see the fully illuminated faces of each about 16º in altitude at its highest wobbles. If you do this from the last
particle unaffected by its sunward point, when due south. week in May through to the second week
neighbour’s shadow. The net result is This will present problems with trying of June, it should be possible to see the
that the rings appear brighter in the days to get a clear view of the planet as it’ll Seeliger effect in action.

Eta Aquariids
EQUULEUS
PEGASUS ¡

WHEN: Shower active from


19 April to 28 May, peak
activity on 5/6 May
_
THE ETA AQUARIID meteor Eta Aquariid AQUARIUS
shower is one of two radiant position `
Steering _
associated with the debris (April-May) Wheel
25 Apr 20 Apr
stream of Comet 1P/Halley.
10 May
It’s active between 19 April 20 May 15 May 30 Apr
25 May 5 May
and 28 May with a broad peak d CAPRICORNUS
occurring typically on the
nights of 5 and 6 May. Peak Circlet
PISCES
zenithal hourly rates (ZHR)
tend to vary between 40-85
meteors per hour over a
E ESE
12 year period; unfortunately,
2016 is expected to be closer
Þ The Eta Aquariid radiant never gets particularly high, but the new Moon will make meteor hunting easier
to the lower value.
The radiant rises in the 3-10 May, the low altitude observation is relatively short, identify Aquarius, this should
early hours, with the best time of the radiant means the there won’t be any light give you a sufficient marker
to watch being midnight shower is best seen from the pollution from the Moon to to be able to at least confirm
through to the onset of dawn southern hemisphere. interfere with the view. that a meteor is actually
at around 03:00 BST (02:00 Despite this, the Moon is The radiant position will be travelling away from the
UT). Although the shower new when the shower peaks virtually due east and quite radiant. If it is, then there’s
has a fairly decent ZHR above this year, meaning that low at the start of May. So a decent chance that it’s an
30 meteors per hour between although the period of even if you’re not sure how to Eta Aquariid.

skyatnightmagazine.com 2016
52

q
OPHIUCHUS
Sabik
d

The planets 1st


Saturn
31st 1st
i ` Graffias

t
31st

t b
Mars
PICK OF THE MONTH LIBRA

m
MARS Antares
/
M4
BEST TIME TO SEE: 22 May, _
p
01:10 BST (00:10 UT) o l o
ALTITUDE: 15º
LOCATION: Scorpius SCORPIUS
DIRECTION: South
FEATURES: Polar caps, darker
albedo features, diffuse clouds,
large relief features
EQUIPMENT: 3-inch refractor
S
MARS REACHES OPPOSITION on
22 May, a time when it’s opposite the Sun Þ Mars, now rivalling Jupiter in brightness, moves into Libra as it approaches opposition
in the sky. In orbital terms, this means it’s
closest to Earth for the current period of diameter throughout May and June, and carefully for the steadiest views. Clear,
observation. Being our next planetary have a brightness rivalling Jupiter. At its steady air is best, but this can be hard to
neighbour out from the Sun, the period brightest, around the end of May, Mars will achieve for such a low altitude.
around opposition has greater shine at mag. –2.0 which is quite It’s the northern hemisphere of Mars
effect on Mars’s appearance impressive. Its orange colour that’s currently tilted towards Earth, so
than for any other planet, will be obvious to the the north polar cap should be well
increasing its apparent naked eye at this time. presented. Also look out for the dark
size dramatically. During most of rocky regions, such as the iconic V-shaped
Closest approach May, Mars can Syrtis Major, contrasted against the
occurs on 30 May, be found in brighter Martian deserts. Delicate clouds
when Mars’s the southern can also often be seen, typically most
apparent diameter constellation of apparent near to the limb of the planet.
will be 18.6 Scorpius, but Look out too for Mars’s rival, the bright
arcseconds. At this travels west into mag. +1.1 star Antares (Alpha (_) Scorpii),
size, Mars can show a neighbouring Libra which can be seen south and east of Mars
wealth of detail when on 28 May. Its low during May and June. Although its name
PETE LAWRENCE X 3

seen through a telescope. altitude doesn’t do the literally means ‘rival of Mars’ at opposition
The planet will planet any favours any similarity between the red supergiant
remain above 15 Þ Look for the dark, triangular Syrtis Major so pick your and the planet are lost, Mars completely
arcseconds apparent jutting into the brighter Martian deserts observing time outshining the star.

THE PLANETS IN MAY


The phase and relative sizes of the planets this month. Each planet is shown with south at the top, to show its orientation through a telescope

VENUS MARS JUPITER SATURN URANUS NEPTUNE


15 May 15 May 15 May 15 May 15 May 15 May

MERCURY
1 May

MERCURY
15 May

MERCURY
31 May
0” 10” 20” 30” 40” 50” 60”
ARCSECONDS

skyatnightmagazine.com 2016
JUPITER phenomenon that causes the
BEST TIME TO SEE: 1 May, rings to brighten noticeably.
22:30 BST (21:30 UT)
ALTITUDE: 43º
LOCATION: Leo
MERCURY
BEST TIME TO SEE: 9 May
S AT U R N ’S M O O N S
DIRECTION: Just west of south
Jupiter is past the meridian as
darkness falls at the start of
May, rapidly losing altitude
(transit), 12:12-19:40 BST
(11:12-18:40 UT)
ALTITUDE: 54º to 9º
LOCATION: Aries
May
Using a small scope you’ll be able to spot Saturn’s biggest moons.
against the evening twilight as DIRECTION: South round Their positions change dramatically during the month, as shown on
the month progresses. Located to west-northwest the diagram. The line by each date on the left represents 00:00 UT.
amid the back legs of Leo, the It’s unlikely you’ll be able to
DATE WEST EAST
planet remains a prominent see Mercury in the twilight
1
object in the evening sky, sky this month as it’s rather
shining at mag. –2.3 on 1 May. poorly positioned. Of course, 2
By the end of the month it will the headline event is the fact
3
have dimmed to mag. –2.0, that as Mercury reaches
matching the brightness of inferior conjunction on 9 May, 4
Mars at opposition. Detail can its position relative to the Sun 5
still be seen on Jupiter’s disc and Earth means that we will
but catch the planet early if get to see it pass in front of the 6
possible, when it’ll be at its solar disc, an event known as 7
highest point in the sky. The a transit of Mercury.
apparent diameter of Jupiter The event begins at 12:12 8
reduces from 41 to 37 BST (11:12 UT) and takes 9
arcseconds through the month. around 7.5 hours to complete,
which will help if the weather 10
SATURN decides to be unkind. Even if 11
BEST TIME TO SEE: 31 May, the skies are cloudy, there will
12
01:25 BST (00:25 UT) be some hope that throughout
ALTITUDE: 16º the duration of the transit, 13
LOCATION: Ophiuchus conditions will improve to
14
DIRECTION: South allow some views. For further
Like Mars, Saturn is also details of the event, turn to 15
approaching opposition page 50 and for advice on how 16
(3 June), and so is best placed to image the transit, turn to
around midnight. It is near page 60. During the transit, 17
the feet of Ophiuchus and Mercury will present a disc 18
appears like a yellow-hued 12 arcseconds in diameter but
mag. +0.1 star to the naked completely black as its lit 19
eye for most of the month. hemisphere will be pointing 20
Saturn’s northern pole is directly at the Sun.
21
almost at maximum tilt
towards Earth, affording us a VENUS 22
fantastic view of its amazing BEST TIME TO SEE: 1 May,
23
rings. However, Saturn’s 10 minutes before sunrise
location in the sky, not too far ALTITUDE: 1º (low) 24
from Mars, means that from LOCATION: Aries 25
the UK it never gets very high DIRECTION: East-northeast
above the horizon. The poorer Although it might be possible 26
stability of the atmosphere to glimpse mag. –3.9 Venus 27
low down will cause issues low down in the east-
when viewing, but even so northeast just before sunrise 28
those wide open rings in the first part of May, the 29
definitely make the planet planet is soon lost to the Sun’s
30
worth keeping an eye on. glare as it approaches superior
Towards the end of May it conjunction early next month. 31
should be possible to see the
1
Seeliger effect start to take NOT VISIBLE THIS MONTH
hold. This is an opposition URANUS, NEPTUNE 3 2 1 0 1 2 3

arcminutes
YOUR BONUS CONTENT Planetary observing forms
Tethys Dione Rhea Titan Iapetus Saturn
54

The Northern Hemisphere


WHEN TO USE THIS CHART N
KEY TO 1 MAY AT 01:00 BST
O
RT
STAR CHARTS

HE
15 MAY AT 00:00 BST

AST
Arcturus STAR NAME 31 MAY AT 23:00 BST

_
PERSEUS CONSTELLATION
On other dates, stars will be in slightly different places
NAME due to Earth’s orbital motion. Stars that cross the sky LACERTA
GALAXY
will set in the west four minutes earlier each night.

M3
OPEN CLUSTER
HOW TO USE THIS CHART

9
GLOBULAR
CLUSTER
1. HOLD THE CHART so the direction you’re facing
is at the bottom.

De
2. THE LOWER HALF of the chart shows the sky

n
PLANETARY

_
eb
NEBULA
ahead of you.
DIFFUSE
3. THE CENTRE OF THE CHART is the point
NEBULOSITY directly over your head.

a
9
M2
DOUBLE STAR

CYGNU
orth N

b
DELPHINU

le
VARIABLE STAR

ern
ng
a

S
Tri

Cros
THE MOON,

er
_
SHOWING PHASE

mm

s
S

Su
LYR

b
`
COMET TRACK

a
Al A

M7
bi

_
Ve

SAGITTA
1

a
re g
o a

_
VULPECULA
b

M57
EAST

`
ASTEROID

_
TRACK

C
_

olli
STAR-HOPPING

n
a

der
PATH Alt
air
THE SUN IN MAY*
`

39
9

METEOR DATE SUNRISE SUNSET


RADIANT HE
1 May 2016 05:34 BST 20:40 BST R
AQUILA

11 May 2016 05:16 BST 20:57 BST


et

b
rcl

XO RS
21 May 2016 05:00 BST 21:14 BST
Ci

ASTERISM PH

Rasalha
31 May 2016 04:48 BST 21:27 BST

PLANET
THE MOON IN MAY* gue
_ _ Ra
QUASAR MOONRISE TIMES
1 May 2016, 03:15 BST 17 May 2016, 16:24 BST
R
STAR BRIGHTNESS: 5 May 2016, 05:09 BST 21 May 2016, 20:36 BST
MAG. 0 9 May 2016, 07:49 BST 25 May 2016, ––:–– BST `
a
SE

& BRIGHTER 13 May 2016, 12:02 BST 29 May 2016, 01:49 BST
_ SCUT

RP
EN

MAG. +1 *Times correct for the centre of the UK M1


SC

4
UM

MAG. +2 SATURDAY SUNDAY MONDAY TUESDAY WEDNESDAY THURSDAY FRIDAY OPH


AU

IUC
1 2 3 4 5 6 HUS
D

MAG. +3
A

MAG. +4 M1
NEW MOON 0
& FAINTER
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
SO

5º N
UT

W COMPASS AND
H

E
EA

FIELD OF VIEW 14 15 16 17 18 19 20
T
S

S 22nd

MILKY WAY 21 22 23 24 25 26 27

FULL MOON
28 29 30 31

skyatnightmagazine.com 2016
NORTH
THE SKY GUIDE MAY 55
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YOUR BONUS Paul and


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Pete’s Virtual
CONTENT Planetarium

SOUTH skyatnightmagazine.com 2016


56

THIS DEEP-SKY TOUR HAS BEEN AUTOMATED


ASCOM-enabled Go-To mounts can now take you to this

Deep-sky tour month’s targets at the touch of a button, with our Deep-Sky
Tour file for the EQTOUR app. Find it online.

The Keystone asterism in Hercules is a great


jumping off point for globulars and galaxies
THE GREAT GLOBULAR

�  Tick the box when you’ve seen each one 3 The distinctive Keystone asterism lies 4.5º
north of Abell 39. One-third of the way between
mag. +3.5 Eta (d) and mag. +2.9 Zeta (c) Herculis,
along the Keystone’s western edge, is M13, the Great
NGC 6207 is a spiral galaxy close Globular in Hercules, which contains several hundred
to M13 on the background sky thousand stars packed into a spherical region 145
lightyears across. A 6-inch scope resolves many
outlying stars surrounding a bright granular core.
A 10-inch scope increases M13’s apparent diameter
to 15 arcminutes and shows lots of ‘star strings’ in and
around the core. A pattern of three dark lanes comes
together southeast of the core’s centre. to create a
feature known as the Propeller, though it can take
a bit of concentration to spot visually. � SEEN IT

NGC 6207

4 There’s a dimmer deep-sky object located less


than 0.5º to the northeast of the Great Globular.
NGC 6207 is a mag. +11.6 spiral galaxy which,
through a 6-inch scope, can be seen as a faint
elongated patch with a star-like centre. Discovered by
William Herschel in 1787, the galaxy is believed to lie
around 30 million lightyears from Earth. To put that in
perspective, this distance is 1,350 times that between
Earth and M13, which itself is some 22,200 lightyears
distant. A 10-inch scope shows the elongated
appearance of the galaxy well, revealing that its
elliptical shape displays a definite sharp tapering
towards both ends. � SEEN IT

NGC 6210 NGC 6058

1
Planetary nebula NGC 6210 is 4º northeast
of mag. +2.8 Kornephoros (Beta (`) Herculis).
At mag. +8.8, the nebula is quite bright. A 6-inch
scope shows it as a small greenish disc forming an
5 Our next target is 13th-magnitude planetary
nebula NGC 6058. Locate it by extending the
top line of the Keystone for the same length as the
Keystone’s western edge (7.3º) to the west. This is a
isosceles triangle with two 7th-magnitude stars. tricky object for smaller instruments as it tends to
A 10-inch scope at high power reveals a larger, resemble a faint star, but a 10-inch scope will start to
25x15-arcsecond bluish halo. The central star is show detail. The mag. +13.8 central star appears to be
relatively bright at mag. +12.7, and a viable target surrounded by a compact halo of brightness, around
for a 4-inch scope. The main halo has an east-west 20 arcseconds across, that seems to fade gently away.
aligned oblong appearance, which is a good subject A 12-inch scope shows the nebula with more clarity,
for high magnification astrophotography. The although its appearance tends to make it look more like
challenge here is to try and record two faint a galaxy than a planetary nebula. � SEEN IT
extensions, or ansae, poking out of the main oblong
on the northern and southern sides. � SEEN IT M92

6 Return to Eta Herculis in the northwest corner of


CHART: PETE LAWRENCE, PHOTO: HARALD STRAUSS/CCDGUIDE.COM

ABELL 39 the Keystone and extend a line northeast for the


same distance as the Keystone’s western side. This takes

2 Located 4º northwest of NGC 6210 is planetary


nebula Abell 39. It is large and circular,
measuring 155 arcseconds across, with an integrated
brightness of +12.9 but very low surface brightness.
you to our final target, globular cluster M92. It often
gets overlooked in favour of nearby M13 but is a great
object in its own right. M92 is listed at mag. +6.4, half
a magnitude fainter than M13’s +5.9, and appears
You would need a 16-inch scope to see it without the
use of filters (and even then only with averted vision), more concentrated in its centre. A 6-inch scope will
but an 8-inch instrument may show it under extremely resolve the outer regions, but the central core remains
dark skies once you add a UHC or OIII filter. Physically a haze. Larger apertures fare better, a 12-inch scope
this is one of the largest spheres known, measuring confidently resolving the entire cluster. One defining
2.5 lightyears across. The oblique view through the feature of M92 can be seen along its southeast side:
edge of the sphere makes it seem like Abell 39 has it appears distinctly flattened. � SEEN IT
an outer ring, which is slightly asymmetrical, being
brighter to the east. The mag. +15.6 central star Print out this chart and take
appears fractionally offset to the west. � SEEN IT YOUR BONUS CONTENT an automated Go-To tour

skyatnightmagazine.com 2016
+45º

0m
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NGC 6229

16h3
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6
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º
+45º

HERCULES NGC 6239


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M29

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NGC 7243
_
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Gienah

LACERTA Veil Nebula


Complex

eye double star; these are 31 and 30 Cygni.


Through binoculars, the more southerly of the
two (mag. +3.9 31 Cygni) shows a deep yellow-
orange colour. This itself is a double star, with a

Binocular tour brilliant white mag +7.0 companion an easy


split at 1.8 arcminutes to the south. These three
stars are a line-of-sight grouping and are not
A morphing cluster, a ‘black hole’ and a gravitationally connected. � SEEN IT
line-of-sight triple are waiting in May’s sky
With
Tick the box when you’ve seen each one
Stephen Tonkin � 5 M29
15 x If you put mag. +2.2 Sadr (Gamma (a)
70 Cygni) at the north of your field of view,
visible in an urban sky, a dark rural sky should
1 NGC 7243 allow you to resolve 15-20 in an area about the
you will find this mag. +6.6 open cluster M29
10 x NGC 7243, also known as Caldwell 16, size of the Moon. These fainter stars also
near the centre, just less than 2° south of the
50 is 2.5º west of mag. +3.8 Alpha (_) star. Although it is a fairly unremarkable object
change the apparent shape of the cluster from
Lacertae in a bright part of the Milky Way. It is in smaller binoculars, on a good night 15x70s
trapezoidal to triangular. � SEEN IT
a large, sparse cluster that is obvious in small will resolve up to a dozen stars against a diffuse
binoculars, even against the very rich background. background that is similar in appearance to a
A pair of 10x50s should reveal a dozen stars 3 IC 1396 globular cluster. Some of these brighter stars
but no background glow, suggesting that there 10 x Slightly more than 1º south of mag. +4.0 appear to make a waisted H shape. Like many
are few unresolved stars. The stars appear to 50 Mu (+) Cephei is the mag. +3.5 open clusters, its distance is unknown, but is in the
be in two groups, raising the question of cluster IC 1396. The cluster itself is over 1º wide, range 4,000-7,200 lightyears. � SEEN IT
whether this is a single or double cluster, or making it an ideal binocular object. If you return
even just a chance association of stars that are to it every hour or so as it rises higher in the sky,
not gravitationally bound. � SEEN IT you should be able to see the effect of reduced
6 BARNARD 145
atmospheric absorption, meaning more stars 15 x Our final object is one of several dark
70 patches of sky that EE Barnard classified
CHARTS AND PICTURES: PETE LAWRENCE

become visible. Although binoculars will not


2 M39 show any of the gas and dust associated with it,
as ‘holes’ and ‘lanes’ cutting through the Milky
10 x From NGC 7243, locate mag. +1.3 this is a star-forming region containing some of
Way, before he realised that they were due to
50 Deneb (Alpha (_) Cygni) and navigate intervening dust. To locate it, start at mag. +3.9
the youngest stars ever observed. � SEEN IT
halfway to it. Here you will find the sparse but Eta (d) Cygni and find the 6th-magnitude star
bright (mag. +4.6) cluster M39. Although it is that lies 1º to the north. Look 1º farther on and
just visible to the naked eye in a dark sky, 10x50 4 31 CYGNI slightly east of north to find a pair of 5th- and
binoculars will show you a wedge-shaped group 10 x Our next target is 1º north of the middle 6th-magnitude stars. Now glance 1º to the
of stars, whose number increases in better sky 50 of a line joining Deneb and mag. +6.2 north you will find a long thin ‘inlet’ into the
conditions. Although only four or five may be Delta (b) Cygni. You are looking for a naked- Milky Way; this is Barnard 145.� SEEN IT

skyatnightmagazine.com 2016
THE SKY GUIDE MAY 59

N
STATISTICS
Moonwatch
TYPE: Crater
SIZE: 41km diameter
AGE: 1.1-3.2 billion years
LOCATION: Latitude 5.7°S,
Herschel longitude 2.1°W
BEST TIME TO OBSERVE:
THE 41KM CRATER Herschel eroded crater Gylden (48km). At first quarter Moon or six E
is named after the much A number of interesting lunar days after full Moon
celebrated British astronomer, domes can be picked up here, (14 May and 29 May)
Sir William Herschel. It sits best seen with a high power at MINIMUM EQUIPMENT:
2-inch telescope
immediately north of the huge times when the Sun angle is
and distinctive walled plain of low for the crater.
Ptolemaeus (154km) and In between Herschel and
although dwarfed by its Gylden is a large and
neighbour, manages to stand apparently unnamed valley,
its own ground thanks to the measuring 12km across at “The flattest portion of the
sharpness of its features. its widest point and around
Unlike ancient Ptolemaeus,
which has been flooded by lava,
100km in length. The
15km crater Herschel N
floor is interrupted by a
Herschel is relatively young.
As a consequence, its features
nestles up against the valley’s
western edge, close to
sizeable mountain complex”
remain crisp and well defined. its mid-point. this crater is huge. Seen from region, located in Mars’s
The fact that it’s also a Although not the most a distance, the crater gives southern hemisphere.
relatively small target will dramatic crater on the Moon’s the moon an uncanny But the Herschel legacy is
also have been a factor here. earth facing side, William similarity to the planet- also represented in other parts
It’s easier for a large structure Herschel’s legacy continues destroying Death Star in of the Moon, with the 156km
to have experienced partial throughout the Solar System the Star Wars saga. Perhaps walled plain J Herschel (after
damage than a smaller with several other craters unsurprisingly, Mimas is John Herschel) located to the
crater – unless it’s named after him. Probably often referred to as the north of Mare Frigoris, and a
particularly unlucky. the most dramatic is that ‘Death Star moon’ because of small 13km circular crater to
Herschel’s rim is rather of the 130km crater Herschel this. Another crater Herschel the south of the western end of
delicately terraced. A set of on Saturn’s moon Mimas. can be found on Mars in the Sinus Iridium in the Mare
concentric rings can be seen Compared to the 396km form of a 304km impact Imbrium called C Herschel
under high power, as if the diameter of Mimas itself, basin in the Mare Tyrrhenum (after Caroline Herschel).
edge of the crater has been
deliberately stepped. Two small
scallops appear in the southern
rim close to where Herschel is
touched by the 14km crater
Herschel G. A lovely, circular SPORER
FLAMMARION
3km diameter craterlet,
Herschel X, can be seen GYLDEN
touching the outside of the
northwest rim.
The flattest portion of the
crater’s floor is interrupted by HERSCHEL X HERSCHEL N
a sizeable central mountain
complex that shows multiple
HERSCHEL G
peaks. Small hills can also be
seen dotted around this HERSCHEL
formation under favourable
oblique lighting. The mountain
complex is slightly offset to the
west of Herschel’s centre.
Immediately north of
Herschel is the indistinct 28km PTOLEMAEUS
crater Sporer, and a bit further
to the northwest still, the 75km
walled plain of Flammarion.
East of Herschel is the heavily Þ Being a young crater, Herschel’s features are well defined, a contrast to lava-filled Ptolemaeus nearby

skyatnightmagazine.com 2016
60

Astrophotography
Imaging the transit of Mercury
A DSLR camera may also be inserted
RECOMMENDED EQUIPMENT into the eyepiece barrel using an adaptor
Various setups can record the the transit – see text. With a DSLR, use a 300mm lens/ – normally a female T-threaded bayonet
scope for a non full-frame camera and a 500mm lens/scope for a full-frame one ring for your particular make of camera,
and a male T-threaded 2-inch barrel
screwed into the ring. Fit the camera and
Take multiple images
and you can edit them select a low ISO of 100-200. Set the
together later to create a camera to manual or bulb mode and if
record of the event possible use a remote shutter to take your
shots. The ideal exposure time will vary
depending on setup, so start with 0.5
seconds and examine the results.
If the shot comes out too bright, reduce
the exposure. Too dim, and the exposure
should be upped. However, it’s probably
best to raise the ISO to 400-800 in this
situation to help keep blurring due to the
atmosphere down to a minimum.
A high frame rate planetary camera
is ideal for use with a white light
filtered telescope and the use of a mono
camera fitted with a green imaging
filter will help to reveal the presence
of solar granulation, a fine textured
pattern visible across the whole of
the Sun’s photosphere. As long as you
focus the image accurately, a setup that
gets the whole of the Sun in shot, almost
filling the frame, or zooms in to a partial
part of the Sun’s disc, should show the
intense black dot of Mercury in the result.
THE TRANSIT OF Mercury on 9 May it’s possible to buy solar film in larger The king of solar filters has to be a
presents a great opportunity to grab a rolls or to simply create a smaller hydrogen-alpha filter and the use of one
photograph of a fairly infrequent Solar aperture out of a piece of card. of these will open up some additional
System event. There are numerous ways With a white light filter fitted to the possibilities for the transit. Follow our
to catch a view. Carefully projecting an front of your scope, it should be possible guide and see how you get on.
image of the Sun through a small refractor to obtain an image of the transit by
onto a flat piece of white card will work, pointing a camera, even one on a
but a safer and more convenient method, smartphone, through a pre-focused KEY TECHNIQUE
which also works well for imagers, is to fit eyepiece. This is called afocal
PLANNING THE EVENT
a full aperture white light filter. photography. The camera’s automatic
The transit lasts around 7.5 hours. Although
A common way to do this is to make functions should take over and create the this takes the pressure off to some extent,
your own from a product such as Baader correct exposure, although it may take a if you intend to try and capture a sequence
AstroSolar Film, although pre-made filters few practice shots to get it right. If you of the event, careful planning is needed.
are available too. The benefit of the film have headphones with a volume control For example, although the Sun starts high
method is that it’s inexpensive and there’s in the lead, attach them and open the in the sky, by the end of the transit it will
only be 9º up. Then there’s the frequency
often enough spare from an A4 sheet to phone’s camera. Some models of phone
ALL PICTURES: PETE LAWRENCE

of shots you intend to take. Set this too


make additional filters for, say, a pair of will allow you to use the in-lead volume high, and you’ll be tied to your telescope
binoculars or your telescope’s finder. controls to activate the shutter, exactly and camera for the full 7.5 hours.
It’s important that any telescope that’s like a remote shutter release cable.
pointed at the Sun is correctly filtered,
and this includes the telescope finder. If
you’re using a large-aperture instrument,
Send your image to: hotshots@skyatnightmagazine.com

skyatnightmagazine.com 2016
THE SKY GUIDE MAY 61

STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE

7 3

STEP 1 Mercury’s intensely black dot appears just 12 arcseconds STEP 2 Colour cameras lose around 75 per cent sensitivity imaging
during the transit; only 1/150th the apparent size of the Sun. A low in hydrogen-alpha; consequently mono cameras work best. Point your
image scale Sun should have a diameter of at least 500 pixels in order hydrogen-alpha scope at the Sun. Fit the camera and adjust gain and
for Mercury to show properly. If you intend to use a magnified image exposure settings low enough to be able to see detail. Slew in RA,
scale, create a full disc image beforehand for presentation purposes. re-orientating so features move parallel to the bottom of the frame.

Nudge the front


of the scope
north (up). The N
last edge seen
if the Sun
moves out
of frame
Nudge the
would be
E W front of the
the north
scope west
limb
(right). The last
edge seen if
the Sun moves
out of frame
would be the
S
west limb

STEP 3 Apply gentle pressure on the scope’s front, pushing it west. STEP 4 As a baseline, set your camera’s gamma to 1.0 and reduce
The last Sun’s edge seen if you kept pushing in this direction would be gain and exposure so that the control software’s level meter peaks
the west limb. Apply gentle pressure on the scope’s front, pushing it up. around 90 per cent. Check for prominences in the part of the limb
The last Sun’s edge seen if you kept pushing in this direction would be where Mercury will make first contact. If there, start imaging, say
the northern limb. Identify the east limb and line up on it by 11:30 BST. from 12:00 BST (actual time will depend on prominence size).

<10 seconds

20 seconds

60 seconds

90 seconds

180 seconds

Capture length vs the shape of Mercury

STEP 5 Aim to shoot continuous 10-second sequences around first and STEP 6 False colour your greyscale images in an editor using Levels.
second contact, and again at third and fourth contact. For the main part Adjust mid-point for each colour channel; red towards white, green and
of the transit, Mercury will move its own diameter roughly every three blue towards black, experimenting to taste. For a time sequence, overlay
minutes. When finished, process all sequence files in AutoStakkert and align images as layers. Use the eraser tool to reveal Mercury’s
(freeware), making sure that Mercury is one of the alignment points. position in lower layers to avoid issues caused by the Sun’s rotation.

skyatnightmagazine.com 2016
SURVIVING THE
JOURNEY TO

Jasmin Fox-Skelly explores the physical and


mental risks facing astronauts who undertake
a mission to the Red Planet
bodies have evolved to live on Earth with its
ABOUT THE WRITER unique atmosphere and gravity, so how would
Jasmin Fox-Skelly is an astronomy leaving Earth for an extended period affect our
and science writer based in circulatory system, our brains and our bones?
Cardiff. She has a BSc in In March, NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and
neuroscience and an MSc in
science communication.
Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko returned
to Earth after 340 days on the ISS. Tests were
conducted to determine how much their bodies

O
uter space is an inhospitable place. had changed during the One-Year Mission.
Astronauts are bombarded with Speaking on board the station shortly before he
carcinogenic radiation, confined to returned, Kelly said: “Physically I feel pretty good,
cramped spaces and must receive although when we look at the data back home
their nourishment from a restricted diet. there might be effects that are more significant
An average stay on the International Space than how I feel. I could do another 100 days, or
Station (ISS) is about six months. Studies carried another year if it made sense, but I’m looking
out on astronauts who have worked on the ISS forward to going home.”
show that this relatively short time frame doesn’t As challenging as life on the ISS can be, an
damage the human body too much, but very little expedition to Mars would be even more so.
is known about the long-term effects of space Astronauts undertaking such a journey would be
ISTOCK X 2, NASA

on the body. A journey to Mars and back would more isolated and wouldn’t be able to regularly
take three years and yet the longest time anyone communicate with people back on Earth. They
has ever spent in space is 437 days; a record set would also have to cope with three specific
by Russian cosmonaut Valeri Polyakov. Our challenges: gravity, radiation and confinement. >
64

Gravity
Living without the force our bodies evolved with
A mission to Mars would involve three gravity fields. Firstly, on the six-
month journey to Mars astronauts would be weightless. Then, upon arrival
they’d have to live and work in gravity about a third as strong as Earth’s.
Finally, they’d have to readjust to Earth’s gravity on their return. Switching
and changing between gravity fields is a tricky business. Astronauts lose their
balance and spatial orientation, suffer from motion sickness and struggle
with head-eye and hand-eye coordination. Going through all this while
trying to land a spacecraft on Mars would be very dangerous indeed.
But sickness and confusion aren’t the only risks. Living in zero gravity
means the body’s muscles have very little work to do, making them weaken
and deteriorate over time. It causes loss in fitness as the heart and lungs can’t
pump oxygen around the body as well. Bone density drops at over one per
cent a month, putting astronauts at a greater risk of developing osteoporosis.
Absence of gravity also means that the fluids in the human body don’t flow
as they’re supposed to and instead drain upwards towards the head, putting A special ‘gym’ on the ISS uses vacuum cylinders and
pressure on the eyes and affecting vision. flywheels to simulate lifting weights in microgravity

Confinement
Mental health is as critical as physical fitness
The importance of human psychology to a
The Mars500 crew
pictured in May 2011, mission can’t be underestimated. During the
during the ‘return Mars500 experiment in 2010, six men spent 520
trip’ from Mars days sealed inside a small windowless chamber
at the Russian Institute for Biomedical Problems
in Moscow. The idea was to simulate a mission
to Mars in isolation without fresh food, fresh air
or sunlight. By the end of the study most of the
crew members were suffering from insomnia and
other sleep disorders.
Spending so much time crammed into small
spaces with other people can lead to boredom,
stress, anxiety and depression. According
to Kelly, he spent the majority of his year aboard the ISS living and
exercising in a “box the size of a phone booth”. This space would be even
smaller on a mission to Mars.
NASA only selects astronauts who are extremely mentally resilient,
easygoing and have good social skills, but research shows that the more
confined and isolated humans are, the more likely they are to develop
behavioural and psychiatric disorders. The lack of a day and night cycle
can also mess with the body’s natural rhythm, leading to lack of sleep.
Along with fatigue from a gruelling work schedule, this could all add to
a breakdown in relationships among crew, potentially leading to mission
failure. Also, microbes
that live in the human
© STOCKTREK IMAGES, INC./ALAMY STOCK PHOTO,

body are more easily


transferred between
people in closed spaces.
To add to this, cramped
conditions lead to
NASA X 3, ESA, ISTOCK X 5

elevated stress hormones


that lower the body’s Scott Kelly spent
immune defences, making 340 days on the ISS,
it more susceptible to measuring the effects
it had on his body
those same bacteria. >

skyatnightmagazine.com 2016
SURVIVING THE TRIP TO MARS MAY 65

WHAT HAPPENS TO THE BODY IN SPACE?


Like Scott Kelly, below, astronauts on missions undergo changes in key body areas

BRAIN
The loss of a 24-hour
day-night cycle, a
confined environment
and intense work
demands can cause
anxiety and depression.
INNER EAR
Responsible for balance
and keeping humans
orientated. It’s sensitive
to changes in gravity
so, when landing,
astronauts can
experience disorientation
and motion sickness.

HEART
In space the heart doesn’t
have to work as hard to
pump blood, so over time
it becomes less efficient.
Radiation may also affect
MUSCLES endothelial cells, which
Evidence shows muscle size and strength line the blood vessels,
could be reduced by as much as 20-40 causing coronary heart
per cent during long-duration flights disease.
unless exercise measures are put in place.

BONES
In space the legs, hips and
spine lose calcium and become
brittle and weak. Intervertebral
discs can also swell and the
spine can become misaligned.

skyatnightmagazine.com 2016
66 SURVIVING THE TRIP TO MARS MAY

Radiation difficult, or be made of more efficient


shielding materials. NASA is researching
structures called hydrogenated boron
A hidden high-energy danger nitride nanotubes, which could provide
Earth’s atmosphere and magnetic field sufficient protection.
protect us from harmful UV and ionising As radiation levels on the ISS are still
radiation. In space, the dangers of solar comparatively low, astronauts wear
radiation are increased, damaging dosimeters to track their exposure. Earth’s magnetosphere
human cells and mutating DNA, leading However, any mission to Mars would shields us from much of
to cancer. It can also affect the body’s have to take the greater risk posed by the radiation astronauts
central nervous system and cause nausea, prolonged exposure to radiation into would be exposed to
vomiting, anorexia and fatigue. On the account. But what more can NASA do to
ISS, astronauts have to cope with radiation protect long-duration astronauts from at countering muscle and bone loss, and
10 times higher than on Earth, but because the radiation? “We don’t yet know what degradation of cardiovascular function.
the station lies within Earth’s magnetic the most effective countermeasures It’s also a great psychological boost. And
field, it’s much safer than outer space. against radiation will be,” explains Mark it’s essential to ensure the crew get the
The Apollo missions relied on the fact Shelhamer, former chief scientist at proper nutrients in a food supply that’s
that astronauts were only outside Earth’s NASA’s Human Research Program. “But not as varied or fresh as on Earth.”
protective magnetosphere for about antioxidants and pharmaceuticals that One thing is clear: while living and
10 days. Astronauts travelling to Mars, repair cellular damage are among the working on Mars may prove an extreme
however, would encounter radiation things we’re looking at,” says Shelhamer. challenge, much work is yet to be done
levels higher than humans have ever As for the other hazards outlined if we are to provide a safe route for
experienced, and be exposed to them here, the best countermeasures currently astronauts journeying to the Red Planet. S
for much longer. To protect them, the available are exercise and diet. “Astronauts
spacecraft would either have to be much exercise about two hours a day on the
bulkier, making launches expensive and ISS,” says Shelhamer. “It’s very effective

Habitats on Mars
would need to
be constructed
using methods
and materials that
provide protection
from radiation
Find out more about how
astronauts survive in space
in a BBC World Service
podcast, available at
www.bbc.co.uk/
programmes/p03bbvmg

EXTENDED STAY ON THE SPACE STATION


Kelly and Kornienko’s year-long ISS mission was twice the normal duration
Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko spent 340 days on board
the ISS as part of NASA’s Human Research Program, which
aims to test how the conditions of space affect the human body.
© STOCKTREK IMAGES, INC./ALAMY STOCK PHOTO DETLEV VAN

Both men regularly collected samples of blood, urine and


saliva for later analysis. They underwent tests to measure
their aerobic capacity, their ability to make fine movements
RAVENSWAAY/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY, NASA X 2

with their hands and fingers, and several aspects of their


cognitive performance.
Following their return, scientists continue to
measure these properties to see how Kelly
and Kornienko’s time in space affects their
readjustment back on Earth. This research
is especially important for missions to
destinations such as Mars, where the
astronauts must land and then carry out
strenuous work, without assistance from Þ Scott Kelly (left) and Mikhail Kornienko became
support staff as they have on Earth. human guinea pigs for long-duration space flights

skyatnightmagazine.com 2016
BACK GARDEN
BREAKTHROUGHS
AND ARMCHAIR
ASTRONOMERS
Elizabeth Pearson speaks to dedicated
amateur astronomers who have used their
observations to help further science
hroughout the history of astronomy, amateurs

T have played a big role – from finding


supernovae to tracking the size of
Jupiter’s Great Red Spot. While
professionals may have access to the biggest
telescopes, there have been many cases in
recent years of others making big discoveries.
Here, we look at a few of the breakthroughs
made by amateur astronomers
in their back gardens and
citizen scientists at their
computers, which have
helped advance our
knowledge of the Universe.

For more about


astronomy projects
being run by amateurs
listen to how UK
ABOUT THE WRITER observatories are
Dr Elizabeth Pearson is protecting us from
BBC Sky at Night asteroids in The
Magazine’s news editor. Great Space Hunt
She gained her PhD in at www.bbc.co.uk/
extragalactic astronomy programmes/b03ynts6
at Cardiff University.
AMATEUR DISCOVERIES MAY 69

Pushing the
boundaries
A skilled astrophotographer can match even the best scopes

JON HICKS, DR LUCY ROGERS/IOW STAR PARTY, © 2016 R. JAY GABANY/WWW.COSMOTOGRAPHY.COM X 2

What had only been seen as an vague doughnut became a detailed image of the remnants of a star stream, thanks to R Jay GaBany (inset)

TIME IS A precious commodity in the Sometimes these new details aren’t just able to successfully apply for time on
world of professional astronomy. The novel to astroimagers, but to professional the Spitzer and Galex space telescopes to
fine detail needed for science requires researchers as well. Researchers such as study it. However, not all of the science
long exposures and getting the necessary astrophysicist David Martinez-Delgado. community was immediately convinced.
telescope time can be difficult. “One night David was looking through “That fact that David is working with an
Amateur astrophotographers, my website and saw a picture of something amateur makes him very cautious. At first
meanwhile, can spend days or even he’d never seen before in the galaxy he got a lot of comments from his peers,
months on any target they choose. One M94,” explains GaBany. With his 20-inch but now other professionals are open to
such imager, American R Jay GaBany, used Ritchey-Chrétien telescope and SBIG working with amateurs,” says GaBany.
this freedom to contribute something new STL-11000 CCD camera, GaBany had The pair have since gone on to work on
to extragalactic astronomy. managed to tease out spiral arms in what papers looking at several other galaxies,
“Bringing up something that has never all other telescopes had just seen as an using GaBany’s stunning deep-sky images
been seen before in my astrophotography amorphous doughnut of light. to push the boundaries of what’s being
images is a personal goal of mine. I try The spiral arms turned out to be the seen by amateurs and professionals.
to show some new detail or structure,” remnants of a star stream and using > See more of GaBany’s images at
says GaBany. GaBany’s images, Martinez-Delgado was www.cosmotography.com

skyatnightmagazine.com 2016
70

Supernova
serendipity
For some discoveries you just need to
be in the right place at the right time
ON THE EVENING of 21 realised they’d stumbled
January 2014, a group of on something special.
physics students from It was a supernova.
University College With the clouds still
London were waiting closing in, the group
for an astronomy raced to take as many
practical. But just images as possible.
as Ben Cooke, Tom Meanwhile they Improvising under worsening weather led
Wright, Matthew Wilde hastily recorded the UCL students to discover a supernova in M82
and Guy Pollack were find while searching but also that it was the nearest Type Ia
about to start observing the internet trying to see supernova since 1972. And it might have
the clouds began to roll in. if anyone else had seen the gone undetected if not for the students
The night looked to supernova. No one had. looking at something they’d never
Matthew Wilde scarmbles to
be a loss, but lecturer After half an hour, the intended to on a cloudy night in London.
log the students’ observations
Steve Fossey found a gap clouds were too thick “I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to believe I
in the clouds where the Cigar Galaxy, to see the galaxy. The only thing left happened to be the one sitting in the room
M82, would at least let his students see to do was to announce their discovery at the time,” says Matthew Wilde. “We
something. As soon as they took their on the Astronomers Telegram (www. panicked trying to get it reported using a
OBSERVATORY/STEVE FOSSEY/BEN COOKE/GUY POLLACK/MATTHEW WILDE/THOMAS WRIGHT, GUY POLLACK, NASA, ESA/TOTAS SURVEY TEAM, NASA/ESA/UNIV. OF

first calibration images, they could tell astronomerstelegram.org) and to tell system none of us were familiar with. But
something was different – a bright speck colleagues of Fossey’s in the US and let there was a hope that it would prove to be
UCL/UNIVERSITY OF LONDON OBSERVATORY/STEVE FOSSEY/BEN COOKE/GUY POLLACK/MATTHEW WILDE/THOMAS WRIGHT UCL/UNIVERSITY OF LONDON

resembling a star in the middle of the them carry on the work. as significant an evening as we wanted.”
galaxy that wasn’t there before. As they The next morning, large telescopes had > For details of Mill Hill Observatory’s open
saw the spot in image after image they not only confirmed it was a supernova, evenings visit www.ulo.ucl.ac.uk/public

GIVING PEAS Scouting


ARIZONA/HST/GO 12228 TEAM, ESA/NASA, WAYNE JAESCHKE X 3, DAVID A. HARDY/WWW.ASTROART.ORG, KEELE OBSERVATORY

A CHANCE the skies


It took the
eyes of citizen TO STAND A hope of protecting our
scientists to planet from hazardous near-Earth
A four-night amateur survey in Tenerife
spot dwarf objects (NEOs) we need to know about led to the discovery of asteroid 2011 SF08
galaxies the any potential threats well in advance.
pros had
Though there are many searches trying to The group started when German
missed
find NEOs they require a lot of time and amateur astronomer Matthais Busch
manpower, not only to collect the data wrote a programme to scan the sky for
The Galaxy Zoo citizen science but to examine it as well. asteroids and was granted a few days on
campaign took advantage of the human But the Teide Observatory Tenerife ESA’s Optical Ground Station in Tenerife.
eye’s unrivalled pattern recognition Asteroid Survey, a group of volunteers While he was there his diligence gained
ability by recruiting thousands of people based on the island off the coast of Spain, the attention of the SSA astronomers, who
to identify the shape of nearly a million is taking on the burden of protecting our agreed to pay for more telescope time.
galaxies. When green blobs started
appearing in images that the computer
planet by scouting the skies in partnership Now nearly 50 volunteers work together
had mislabelled as stars, the volunteers with ESA’s Space Situational Awareness in shifts with professional astronomers,
noticed them. These ‘green pea galaxies’ (SSA) programme. searching through the data looking
turned out to be dwarf galaxies forming In September 2011 the survey team for asteroids and providing follow up
stars 10 times faster than the Milky Way, discovered its first NEO. After tracking observations. Despite only observing for
but are only one per cent of the mass. the asteroid for several nights the team an average of eight hours a month, the
> Galaxy Zoo finished in 2014, but you realised it posed no threat to Earth, team has discovered 14 NEOs since 2009.
can help with many other citizen science
projects through www.zooniverse.org passing by our planet at a comfortable > For more information about helping the
30 million km. SSA’s NEO search visit http://neo.ssa.esa.int

skyatnightmagazine.com 2016
AMATEUR DISCOVERIES MAY 71

HELPING FROM HOME


There are plenty of astronomy projects open for public participation. Here are three...

BEGINNER INTERMEDIATE EXPERT


Disc Detectives Globe at Night Lowell Amateur Research Initiative
Join fellow citizen scientists looking through Help keep track of light pollution by finding Lowell Observatory runs several programmes
WISE images to identify the debris discs the dimmest visible stars in your night sky and dedicated to particular research topics. They’ll
around young stellar objects, the regions then submit your readings to the Globe at match you to a project that fits your skills.
where planets are born. Night project via the website or special app. > http://lowell.edu/research/lari-pro-am-
> www.diskdetective.org > www.globeatnight.org astronomy/

Plumes
of Mars
Amateurs are often looking
in much more detail
Wayne Jaeschke (below left) picked up on the as-yet-unexplained cloud formation over Mars
FOR DECADES
WAYNE Jaeschke amateur astronomer. But it was soon “Usually when you think you’ve found
has spent every clear apparent this fuzziness was caused by something interesting the professionals
night possible taking something in the image. “I put together an immediately know what it is. So when they
thousands of images animation of images and noticed that the say, ‘Wow, we have no idea what that is,’
of the planets with feature was rotating with the planet, so it it’s a lot of fun,” says Jaeschke.
his 14-inch Schmidt- was clearly something on Mars.” The object turned out to be a cloud 200-
Cassegrain telescope After alerting his fellow planetary 250km above Mars’s surface. However,
and Point Grey Flea3 imagers, they realised they’d spotted the the conditions above 120km are such
monochrome CCD. But while observing on feature too, but had dismissed it. Jaeschke that it should be impossible for a cloud to
12 March 2012 not everything went as planned. then contacted friends in the professional form. Whatever caused the cloud Jaeschke
“Something wasn’t focusing right on one community and to their surprise, they discovered remains a mystery.
of the Martian limbs,” says the American hadn’t seen anything like this either. > See more of Jeschke’s images at exosky.net

Tom Wag (inset) spotted


a new exoplanet while
on work experience
The youngest planet hunter
WHILE MANY PEOPLE spend their work Follow up observations confirmed
experience making tea and photocopying, his find as an exoplanet, WASP 142b, a
Tom Wagg spent his discovering a new hot Jupiter, orbiting close to a star 1,000
world. The then-15-year-old spent a week lightyears away in the region of Hydra.
at Keele University looking for evidence Other amateurs have helped find planets
of planetary transits. He was examining via the Planet Hunters website, which
data from the Wide Angle Search for lets people search through data from
Planets (WASP) survey that looked for the the Kepler mission looking for the same
momentary decrease in a star’s luminosity signals that Wagg found. The project
caused by a planet passing in front. Wagg has discovered three planets. S
found one of these dips. > Join the search at www.planethunters.org

skyatnightmagazine.com 2016
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WHEN
RELIGION
MEETS ET
With astronomers getting closer
to discovering extraterrestrial life,
David A Weintraub considers
the impact it will have
on the world’s
major religions
74

I
f there is life elsewhere in the telescopes are highly likely to find evidence
Universe, the possibility that we’ll its presence. While we won’t be able to
discover it within the lifetimes of exchange messages with extraterrestrials
our children is high. In the past anytime soon, by the end of this century
25 years, scientists have built a powerful we are likely to know if we’re alone or
foundation upon which the search for have biological company in our Galaxy.
extraterrestrial life can take place. Humanity can make no discovery more
How? By constructing a catalogue profound than that. The impact of finding
of thousands of planets orbiting distant life on another planet will be felt across
stars. Currently, astronomers have every facet of society, including religion.
identified the locations of nearly 2,000 The existence or non-existence of
confirmed exoplanets, and while this extraterrestrial life won’t prove any one
accomplishment is astounding in theological system right or wrong. But
itself, new space telescopes are about
Þ With its primary mirror now fully being able to prove that life exists will
assembled, the James Webb Space Telescope
to dramatically expand that list. The is one step closer to its 2018 launch have an enormous impact on how each
Gaia mission, of us understands
launched by ESA our particular
in December 2013, “By the end of this century we are faith. Perhaps
NASA/CHRIS GUNN, ISTOCK X 2, MIT, THALES ALENIA SPACE, ESA/ATG

NASA’s TESS more importantly,


likely to know if we are alone or have
MEDIALAB, © MARY EVANS PICTURE LIBRARY/ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

mission, scheduled knowing that there


for a 2018 launch, is intelligent life out
and ESA’s PLATO biological company in our Galaxy” there may change
mission, planned for the way we treat
a 2024 launch, are likely to 24.5m Giant Magellan Telescope (due people of other faiths on this planet.
collectively increase our catalogue of to be completed in 2024) and the
exoplanets to include the locations planned 39m European Extremely One God, one faith
of more than one million worlds. Large Telescope will allow us to study Let’s start by assuming a single deity
With the next generation of giant the exoplanets to unravel the detailed controls the entire Universe. If this is the
telescopes we’ll be able to study these chemistries and look for the by-products case, are the rules for living according to
exoplanets in great detail. Instruments of life in their atmospheres. the principles ordained by God identical
such as the 6.5m James Webb Space If life exists in the Milky Way, the on every planet? Or, to put it another way,
Telescope (set for launch in 2018) the astronomers using these next-generation would my religion make any sense to an alien?

From left: Gaia, PLATO and


TESS, a trio of missions that
will soon be expanding our
catalogue of exoplanets

skyatnightmagazine.com 2016
RELIGION & ET MAY 75

Most Christians are likely to think that In the past, missionaries


the God they worship is the God of the spread Christianity
whole Universe. The obvious corollary to around the world
this assumption is that Christianity can be
exported; that extraterrestrials can and
perhaps should be converted to Christianity,
just as European explorers, centuries ago,
aggressively sought to convert non-
European native peoples to Christianity.
Does baptising extraterrestrials
make theological sense? It does to Guy
Consolmagno, an American research
astronomer and the director of the Vatican
Observatory, who has written, “It is not
just humankind, but the whole of creation
that was transformed and elevated by the
existence of Christ.” Once we have accepted,
through astronomical observations, that life
exists beyond Earth, then Consolmagno’s
“whole of creation” would include the
creatures living on worlds millions of
lightyears from our home planet.
This is where things get interesting.
Unless you deny the possibility of
evolution, the discovery of any kind of life
– even bacterial life – on another planet
implies that sentient beings either exist or
may come into existence in distant parts of
the Universe. If all beings in the Universe
are “elevated by the existence of Christ”,
we might ask how those otherworldly
beings will learn about the birth and
resurrection of Jesus that occurred on
planet Earth, approximately 2,000 years
ago. Will we send messages to them at the
speed of light? Will we transport copies of
the gospel in high-speed rockets? If we’re
limited by the laws of physics, we’ll be
unable to transmit news of the birth and
redemption of Christ to the rest of the
Universe in a reasonable amount of time.

Man’s salvation alone?


Twentieth-century Roman Catholic
philosopher and Jesuit priest Pierre
Teilhard de Chardin – whose writings,
since 1962, have been considered full
of “serious errors as to offend Catholic
doctrine” – wrote boldly and radically that
“The idea of an Earth chosen arbitrarily
from countless others as the focus of
Redemption is one that I cannot accept.”
The more mainstream Jesuit theologian
Karl Rahner echoed this sentiment, saying,
“A theologian can hardly say more about
this issue than to indicate that Christian
revelation has as its goal the salvation of
the human race.” Christianity, in other words,
is a religion only for humans on Earth. How would news of
the birth of Jesus have
Were we to discover that extraterrestrials
reached Christians
exist, we would have no reason to teach them living on other worlds?
about Christianity, because Christianity >

skyatnightmagazine.com 2016
76

Could aliens practise the Islamic faith without being able to determine the direction of Mecca, or make the pilgrimage required?

> would, theologically speaking, make no


sense to them. “Orthodox Jews must pray three times a day to
But Christianity isn’t the only religion
we have on Earth. What about Islam? The
faithfully practise Judaism. Is that possible on a
pillars of the Islamic faith require that planet with a day that’s only 90 minutes long?”
the faithful face Mecca at times of prayer
and undertake a pilgrimage to Mecca in Much like Islam and Christianity, the to celebrate the festivals of Purim and
the course of their lifetime. If aliens live practice of Judaism is strongly Earth- Passover? Orthodox Jews believe one must
millions of lightyears from Earth and centric. Could a being on another planet pray three times a day to faithfully practise
can’t determine the direction of Mecca, be Jewish if it cannot claim Jerusalem Judaism. Is that possible on a planet with
let alone travel to it, does that preclude as an ancestral home or has no reason a day that lasts only 90 minutes? All of
them from being Muslim?
According to the Qur’an, “His are all An ancestral connection
ISTOCK, © ILAN ROSEN/ALAMY STOCK PHOTO, © DINODIA PHOTOS/ALAMY

things in the heavens and on the Earth… to Jerusalem is a key part


His throne doth extend over the heavens of the Jewish faith
and the Earth.” Therefore, explains
Islamic philosopher Seyyed Hossein Nasr,
“All beings in the Universe… are Muslim,
i.e., ‘surrendered to the Divine Will.’”
STOCK PHOTO, © BSIP SA/ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

But how can one be Muslim if one


cannot practise the Islamic faith? If and
when we discover that extraterrestrials
exist, the Islamic faithful on Earth might
have to acknowledge that intelligent
beings on other worlds would have their
own prophets, prophets that would
reveal to those beings ‘pillars of the faith’
appropriate for their particular worlds.

skyatnightmagazine.com 2016
RELIGION & ET MAY 77

but Earth need not be the only sacred


location in the Universe. The connection
of humans to life elsewhere in the Universe
emerges most directly through the belief
in samsara, the endless cycle of birth and
rebirth within and between different levels
of living beings.
For Hindus, when death occurs, the
soul of a living being transitions from
one material body to begin a new life in
another one. That reincarnation event can
transfer one’s life force from a body on
Earth into the body of another living being
anywhere in the Universe – the laws of
physics don’t control or limit the speed or
distance that a soul might transmigrate.
Buddhism, on the other hand, is a
way of life devoted to finding a spiritual
path for escaping the suffering of endless
reincarnation. Those who follow the path
of the Buddha seek to achieve nirvana
and end their personal suffering. Within
the Buddhist worldview, the Universe is
incomprehensibly vast and ancient, and
is densely populated by sentient beings.
In this immense Universe humans, like
all forms of life, are simultaneously
insignificant and all-important.

Adjust your beliefs


In the past, astronomy has undergone
significant paradigm shifts that have had
major impacts on religion. Most notably,
the Copernican revolution undermined
the Aristotelian foundation of medieval
Þ There’s nothing in Hinduism that stipulates the samsara (or reincarnation) is confined solely to Christianity. Big Bang cosmology, offered
Earth and that a person’s soul couldn’t transmigrate to another body anywhere in the Universe up by astronomers in the 20th century,
has encountered significant opposition
these issues emerge because Judaism is varied and how far-flung throughout from literal creationists. Now, in the 21st
a religion built upon the daily life and the remotest galaxies of His majestic century, astronomers are charging toward
culture on planet Earth. Universe… Man may not be the purpose yet another paradigm shattering discovery.
Whether Judaism is limited by its of the Universe, yet he may have a purpose Perhaps the most valuable lesson we
human-centric aspects, however, is a in the Universe.” Similarly, Judaism may can learn from our history is that we can’t
matter for scholarly debate. The great be intended only for humans on Earth, but run and hide from scientific progress. If
medieval scholar Moses Maimonides that doesn’t diminish the importance of aliens are out there, we are going to find
never considered mankind of the practice of Judaism. out very soon. The best thing we can do,
great importance in God’s whatever our faith, is to start considering
larger Universe, but Rabbi Versatile faiths the implications of that. S
Norman Lamm, head Unlike the three major
of the rabbinic school western Abrahamic
at Yeshiva University religions, Hinduism ABOUT THE WRITER
from 1976 until is not Earth-centric. David A Weintraub is
Professor of Astronomy
2013, suggests that Hindus could
at Vanderbilt University
mankind can be practise anywhere and the author of the
important to God in the Universe, and book Religions and
without being the all beings throughout Extraterrestrial Life.
only created species the Universe could
in the Universe. “We practise Hinduism. For
affirm our faith that God some Hindus, the Earth Listen to an episode of
In Our Time discussing
is great enough to be may be considered
science and religion
concerned with all his Þ The last big theory to challenge a vital aspect of its http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio/player/p005479y
creatures, no matter how religion was Big Bang cosmology cosmological system,

skyatnightmagazine.com 2016
A collision of black holes
1.5 billion lightyears away
led to the detection of
gravitational waves on Earth
– a breakthrough that ushers
in a new era of astronomy

THE GRAVITATIONAL

WAVE
REVOLUTION
GRAVITATIONAL WAVES MAY 79

For the first time in history,


scientists have directly
detected gravitational
waves. The discovery
ABOUT THE will change the face
WRITER
Govert Schilling is an of astronomy, explains
astronomy writer and
the author of Deep
Space: Beyond the Solar
Govert Schilling
System to the End of

‘‘W
e. Have. Detected.
the Universe and the
Beginning of Time
Gravitational waves. We did
it!” David Reitze, executive
director of the US Laser
Interferometry Gravitational-Wave Observatory
(LIGO), announced with pride and joy to the press
– and the world – in Washington DC on Thursday
11 February this year. And he had good reason to
be proud: this, the first detection of gravitational
waves, confirms a general relativity prediction
made by Albert Einstein a century ago. It provides
astronomers with detailed information about two
colliding black holes and paves the way for a totally
new kind of astronomy.
Observing gravitational waves has been
described as ‘listening to the Universe’, even
though gravitational waves have nothing to do with
sound. Instead, they’re tiny ripples in the fabric
of spacetime (see ‘What are gravitational waves?’,
page 80). According to Einstein, they’re produced
when large masses are strongly accelerated. Typical
examples are asymmetric supernova explosions,
merging neutron stars, colliding stellar black holes,
orbiting supermassive black holes in the cores of
distant galaxies or the Big Bang itself.

Ripples of interference
Einstein never believed the tiny ripples could ever
be measured and, to begin with, it appeared he was
right. When American physicist Joe Weber set up
simple experiments to detect gravitational waves
in the late 1960s and early 1970s, his results were
unconvincing. But scientists were certain that if
gravitational waves did exist as Einstein predicted,
they could be detected. So they set out to build
interferometers – huge, expensive detectors that
measure the minute variations in the length of laser
beams caused by a passing gravitational wave.
An interferometer splits a laser beam and sends
it along two perpendicular arms of exactly the
RUSSELL KIGHTLEY/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

same length. Mirrors at the ends of the arms


reflect the beams back to a detector that picks
up the pattern made by the beams’ lightwaves as
they meet. Provided both beams travel exactly the
same distance, the patterns will match, cancelling
each other out, but they won’t if anything alters
the distance one beam travels, such as a ripple
in spacetime – a gravitational wave, in other >

skyatnightmagazine.com 2016
80

> words. And by analysing the variations in the The gravitational wave
light patterns scientists at laser interferometer first hit LIGO’s Livingston
observatories, such as LIGO, can determine how facility (above left), before
reaching its Hanford
the gravitational wave was generated.
site (above right) seven
LIGO was inaugurated in 1999. It consists of two milliseconds later
observatories, one in Hanford, in America’s Pacific
Northwest and one near Livingston, Louisiana, > The Strain readings
some 3,000km to the southeast. Detections are only from the Hanford and
Livingston sites show how
taken seriously when both observatories see the
much the wave distorted
same effect within 10 milliseconds of each other the length of the LIGO
(gravitational waves travel at the speed of light). In facilities’ arms
Europe, a similar but smaller detector called Virgo
was built near Pisa, Italy.
Nothing definitive was detected at either facility Although rumours started to circulate, scientists
during the first decade of the 21st century and so managed to keep the news secret while they had
a programme of upgrades was undertaken to turn analysed and confirmed the detection. Finally, on
them into ‘Advanced’ sites with more powerful 11 February 2016, the news broke.
lasers, better vacuum systems and more stable
mirror suspensions. A colossal event
And then it happened. On Monday 14 September From the shape of the gravitational wave, scientists
2015, at 09:51 UT (10:51 BST), just four days before deduced that it had been caused by an orbiting pair
the Advanced LIGO was due to officially begin of black holes, 29 and 36 times the mass of the Sun,
observations, a powerful gravitational wave (now Watch a Sky at Night spiralling into each other in a galaxy 1.5 billion
known as GW150914) hit Earth from the south. It programme all about lightyears away. Just before they collided, they
passed through our planet, hitting LIGO Livingston gravitational waves were moving at half the speed of light, completing
CALTECH/MIT/LIGO LAB X 3, ISTOCK X 2, LIGO/AXEL MELLINGER, INTERFEROMETER ILLUSTRATION BY PAUL WOOTTON, WWW.ET-GW.EU

seven milliseconds before arriving at LIGO and black holes 75 orbits per second. Then, as they merged, the
http://www.bbc.co.uk/
Hanford. “We were very lucky,” says Reitze. “Both equivalent of three solar masses was converted into
programmes/b006mk7h
detectors had already started operations.” energy, leaving a 62-solar-mass black hole behind.

WHAT ARE GRAVITATIONAL WAVES?


How to visualise ripples in spacetime and who first thought of them
You can visualise gravitational waves by thinking of indirectly confirmed their existence: the binary
empty space as a jelly. If you tap the jelly ripples are lost orbital energy in precise accord with
sent through it, alternately compressing and stretching Einstein’s predictions. It would take another
the dessert a little bit. As a result, the distance between 40 years before gravitational waves
two grains of sugar suspended within the jelly will were actually detected.
periodically decrease and increase, despite the
absence of any motion.
Likewise, the distance between two points in space
will vary slightly as a result of a passing gravitational
wave. Usually, however, the effect is extremely weak:
the variations are on the order of a billionth of a
billionth of a per cent.
The existence of gravitational waves was first
predicted by Albert Einstein in January 1916, just over a
month after he published his theory of general relativity.
He theorised that they would be generated by
accelerating masses. Two decades later, in the Think of jelly
mid-1930s, physicists still debated whether or not the as spacetime and
ripples in spacetime were a physical reality. Then, in the wobbles as
the 1970s, observations of a binary neutron star gravitational waves

skyatnightmagazine.com 2016
GRAVITATIONAL WAVES MAY 81

HOW DOES AN INTERFEROMETER WORK?


LIGO uses lasers to measure minute movements
The two LIGO detectors are designed to pick up Laser
changes in the length of its arms caused by a
gravitational wave. To do this a single laser beam is
split so that half of the laser light travels up each of
the arms. Mirrors hung in the arms bounce the laser
light back and forth before it finally returns to
the junction of the arms, where it interferes
with light from the other arm. If the Mirrors
lengths of both arms are unchanged, the
two combining light waves will match,
cancelling each other out and leaving
the light detector with nothing to pick Beam splitter
up. But if a gravitational wave stretches
one arm and compresses the other by the
smallest amount (about 1/1,000th the diameter of Light detector
a proton), the two light beams won’t match and the
light detector will pick up a light pattern. This pattern
reveals information about the change of length
between the two arms, which can shed light on what
produced the gravitational waves.

“This is the most energetic event ever witnessed launch a space interferometer called eLISA.
by humanity,” says Dutch physicist Jo van den And the hunt is on for the fingerprints
Brand of Nikhef of the National Institute of primordial gravitational waves in
for Subatomic Physics in Amsterdam. polarisation patterns of cosmic
For a fraction of a second, the power microwave background radiation,
emitted in the form of gravitational as finding them would give
waves reached a value of 3.6x1040 astronomers a unique glimpse of
gigawatts – about a hundred times the origin of the Universe.
the total power of all the stars in the As Bernard Schutz of Cardiff
observable Universe. University – the founding director
According to theoretical physicist of the Albert Einstein Institute in
Chris van den Broeck, also at Hannover, Germany – explained
Nikhef, this was the first opportunity last summer at a gravitational-
to test Einstein’s 100-year-old theory wave conference in Gwangju, South
of gravity under extreme circumstances. Korea, studying gravitational waves is
“Potentially, we could have observed a completely new way of learning about
deviations from Einstein’s predictions,” the Universe. “It’s as if a deaf person has
says van den Broeck. “We didn’t.” studied a jungle by just looking,” says Schutz.
“Then, suddenly, his hearing is restored, providing
The search continues Þ The detection gave him with a much richer experience.”
While scientists pore over data from LIGO’s a rough location in the By sensing the ripples of spacetime, astronomers
observations, engineers at the Virgo observatory are southern sky as the source are about to unravel many of the Universe’s
almost done with their upgrades. Later this year, of the gravitational waves mysteries. We’re definitely in for some surprises. S
Advanced Virgo will begin working with the two
LIGO detectors. Observing a gravitational wave
with three instruments makes it easier for scientists
to determine its origin. Follow-up observations
with optical, radio or X-ray telescopes might then
find an ‘electromagnetic counterpart’ of the event,
providing astronomers with much more data.
Meanwhile, radio astronomers hope to detect
low-frequency waves by studying pulsars – the
arrival times of their pulses are influenced
by passing gravitational waves. In the future,
additional gravitational-wave detectors in Japan
and India will join LIGO and Virgo. European The planned Einstein
Telescope will have 10km-long
scientists have plans for a much bigger instrument,
arms buried underground
called the Einstein Telescope. In 2034, ESA will

skyatnightmagazine.com 2016
Brush up on your 82 THE GUIDE

SKILLS astronomy prowess with


our team of experts
84
86
88
HOW TO
IMAGE PROCESSING
SCOPE DOCTOR

The Guide
Phobos and Deimos
With Kev Lochun

Often overlooked, the moons of Mars are as enigmatic as any other


The surface of Phobos (left) is dominated
by the large crater Stickney, one of many
named features on its surface; Deimos
has only two named craters, Swift
and Voltaire, after the writers
who alluded to these
moons long before
their discovery

I
n the early 17th century, Johannes they must be both small and close to Mars, after the manifestations
SCIENCE SYSTEMS, ROYAL ASTRONOMICAL SOCIETY/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY,
NASA/JPL-CALTECH/MALIN SPACE SCIENCE SYSTEMS/TEXAS A&M UNIV X 2
NASA/JPL-CALTECH/UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA X 3, NASA/JPL/MALIN SPACE

Kepler heard that Galileo had making them fearfully tricky to pick out of fear and terror in Greek
discovered four moons in orbit of the blackness of space. Although no mythology, who also happen to be
around the gas giant Jupiter. This evidence for them could be found, the idea the sons of Ares, the God of War. To
knowledge led him to what can only be prevailed for a time – the dual moons of the Romans, he was known as Mars.
described as a fanciful notion: if Jupiter Mars would appear both in Jonathan
had four moons and Earth one, then Swift's 1726 novel Gulliver's Travels and in Dots in the dark
Mars, he conjectured, must have two. Voltaire's 1750 short story Micromégas. It is little wonder that it took so many
It was pure speculation, arguably Discovery did not come until August years and such a large telescope to find
inspired by the aesthetic neatness of 1877, when American astronomer Asaph Phobos and Deimos. They are the two
their presumed existence as much as Hall, who was conducting a systematic smallest moons in the entire Solar System,
anything else. But amazingly, and quite search around the Red Planet using the and are among the least reflective objects
coincidentally, he was right. 26-inch refractor at the US Naval in our cosmic neighbourhood.
That Kepler's moons were not quickly Observatory in Washington DC, found Phobos is the larger of the two with a
discovered in the wake of the Galilean both within the space of a week. Soon they diameter of around 22km, meaning its
satellites was explained by the suggestion became known as Phobos and Deimos, total surface area is less than that of

skyatnightmagazine.com 2016
THE GUIDE MAY 83

Phobos also
displays a series
of grooves: these
are thought to be
stress fractures

PHOBOS: THE FIRST


STEP TO MARS?
The road to the Red Planet may yet see
humans set foot on the closest of Mars's
tiny moons, something we have yet to do
even with a lander. Phobos has been
mooted as a potential pit stop as part of
a phased approach to a manned Mars
mission, as it would allow NASA to use
technology already in development,
including the Orion capsule and the Space
Launch System. Not only would this mean Asaph Hall found the speculative moons using the 26-inch refractor at the US Naval Observatory
astronauts could reach the vicinity of Mars
quicker, it would give the space agency a
forward operating base from which it
could control rovers on the Red Planet until
we are ready to send humans in their stead.

Luxembourg. It orbits just 9,377km above


the Martian surface, completing a full
orbit of the Red Planet in seven hours and Phobos eclipses the Sun – as seen by NASA's Curiosity rover – but never completely blots it out
39 minutes. This is much faster than
Mars spins on its axis; any astronaut elliptical orbits. The most likely alternative
that NASA manages to place on Mars is that they formed either from an impact
in the 2030s would see Phobos rise and that blew chunks off Mars itself, or
set roughly twice a day. coalesced from orbital debris surrounding
From the surface, Phobos would appear the Red Planet.
to be one-third the width of the full Moon. What we can be sure of is that both of
Deimos, nearly half as small again with a these asteroid analogues have uncertain
diameter of 12.4km and farther flung at an futures. Deimos's orbit is taking it away
average distance of 23,455km, would appear from Mars, to the point it will eventually
star-like in the Martian sky – albeit a star break free of the planet's gravity and zoom
that shines almost as brightly as Venus. It's away. Phobos is travelling in the other
a bit more sedate in its orbit, completing a direction, closing in on Mars at a rate of
Phobos can also occult Deimos on occasion,
full loop in 30 hours and seven minutes. as in this sequence captured by Curiosity
2m every 100 years. Research published in
For a better glimpse we would have November 2015 suggests that the closer of
to wait until later Mariner missions and carbonaceous asteroids, the type that the two moons is not solid, but a loose
the Viking probes of the late 1960s and dominate our Solar System's asteroid belt. coalition of rubble held together by a thin
1970s, each of which returned new images. Perhaps then, the moons of Mars were crust, and that in 30-50 million years it
They revealed Phobos and Deimos to be once asteroids, knocked out of the belt and will be ripped apart by Mars's gravity
irregular, potato-shaped worlds, lacking captured by Mars's gravity? Though their – and possibly leave our Solar System with
the gravity necessary to become spherical, composition would suggest so, their another ringed planet. S
and pitted by crater impacts. Soon we remarkably circular orbits count against
learnt that they were not like our Moon at them. As far we know, if they were truly Kev Lochun is BBC Sky at Night
all, but had more in common with C-type captured objects they should have Magazine’s production editor

skyatnightmagazine.com 2016
SKILLS
How to
Automate your observatory PART 1
With Steve Richards This month: how to add azimuth control of the dome

TOOLS AND
MATERIALS

TOOLS
Drill, drill bits, marker pen, masking
tape, tape measure, metric Allen
keys and metric spanners.

DRIVE GEAR
A Pulsar rotation drive system
comprising USB control box, motor
drive housing, encoder unit, 12V
power supply unit, homing cam
and all fastenings.

HARDWARE
A suitable computer running Windows
(XP upwards) with a spare USB port.
Domed observatories need careful watching to keep the roof aperture in line with the scope
SOFTWARE
he convenience of a permanent so that the telescope continues to point

T
You will need to have installed the
observatory cannot be overstated: through the roof aperture. This means latest ASCOM platform (free; http://
once you have one, it only takes that you have to step outside every ascom-standards.org), Microsoft
minutes to be out and observing 20 minutes or so to nudge the dome .NET Framework 4.0 or later
when the sky conditions are good. If you round a little. Completing this project (free; www.microsoft.com/net)
are a deep-sky astrophotographer in will fully automate this process. and the LesveDome control software
particular, you will benefit enormously There are various homebrew solutions to (paid; www.dppobservatory.net/
from the greatly reduced set-up times as driving the dome in azimuth but these downloads/downloads.php).
all your additional photographic require engineering, electronics and
equipment can be left in place, your software skills beyond the scope of this
mount is already polar aligned and your article. Instead of designing our system here uses a friction drive and the popular
equipment balanced. All you need to do is from scratch we opted for an off-the-shelf LesveDome ASCOM drive software.
switch it on and perhaps perform a simple package designed specifically for our The motor housing, control box and encoder
star alignment at the start of the session. Pulsar observatory; other dome makers are attached to the wall of the observatory
Automating the rotation of the dome, have drive systems tailored for their by carefully marking and drilling suitable
which is the subject of this article, is the particular dome design. This well-proven holes, taking care not to crack the gelcoat
icing on the cake. azimuth drive was the start point for a on the outside. Drill small pilot holes from
ALL PICTURES: STEVE RICHARDS

Many astrophotographers start an fully automated imaging observatory. inside first, then drill the main holes from
imaging sequence and then retire indoors All azimuth drive systems require a the outside with the drill running in
to let their setup run by itself. This works motor drive using either a friction drive or reverse to grind, rather than cut, the hole
very well if you have an observatory a cog drive of some kind, a control box, a through. Attach the three units using the
with a roll-off roof, but a conventional position sensor (encoder), a home sensor supplied stainless steel nuts, Allen bolts
domed observatory has to rotate precisely and control software. The system detailed and washers. Decide where you would like

skyatnightmagazine.com 2016
HOW TO MAY 85

STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE

Þ Once installed you won’t have to keep


popping out to nudge your dome along

the dome to ‘park’ and then move it


manually to this position – you can then
mark the position of the home actuating cam STEP 1 STEP 2
on the dome flange where it centres over the Position the control module and mark the Place the encoder module in position behind
position of the four retaining bolts. Position the dome flange and mark the position of the
home sensor built into the motor housing
the drive unit to the left of the control box mounting bolts on the observatory wall. Drill
leaving a 10mm clearance between the small pilot holes through each of the marked
Making light of the maths drive unit and the lower dome and mark hole positions using a 2mm drill with the drill
For long-exposure astrophotography, an the position of the four retaining bolts. turning in a clockwise direction.
equatorial mount is required and in most
setups this takes the form of a German
equatorial mount. These popular mounts
follow the apparent movement of the stars
in a smooth arc: ideal for imaging, but
through the course of the imaging session,
the telescope starts on the west side of the
pier pointing east and ends up on the east
side of the pier pointing west.
This non-linear pointing has to be
accounted for to ensure that the telescope
points through the dome’s aperture at all
times, requiring some complex mathematics.
It is the job of the dome control software
to do this for you. However, to do this
STEP 3 STEP 4
Carefully drill 8mm holes for the control Attach the three modules to the observatory
correctly, the software must know exactly panel, from the outside, using the pilot holes wall with nuts, bolts and washers, making
where the telescope is mounted in relation as a guide. Repeat the process for the motor sure that both the drive unit and encoder are
to the centre of the dome, so your first task drive unit and the encoder module using a perfectly vertical. Determine the dome’s ‘home’
is to make some careful measurements to 6mm drill. Run your drill in reverse to prevent position, mark and drill mounting holes for
the gloss gelcoat from cracking. the cam and attach it to the dome flange.
obtain the dimensions required. Using the
spreadsheet available as part of this
month’s Bonus Content will make it easier
to get all the dimensions correct and ready
for insertion into your software.
Install the ASCOM software and enter
the offsets from your spreadsheet, ensuring
the correct signs (positive or negative),
into your choice of control software – we
used MaxIm DL and POTH (Plain Old
Telescope Handset) but another popular
choice is Sequence Generator Pro. Once
the above is completed, your telescope
and dome aperture will be in sync. S
STEP 5 STEP 6
Steve Richards is a keen astro imager Measure the position of the pier centre and Install the ASCOM platform and LesveDome
and astronomy equipment expert all mount dimensions shown in the Bonus software on your observatory computer. Run
Content spreadsheet. These figures must be LesveDome and enter the setup parameters
accurate so the drive software can calculate supplied by Pulsar Observatories. Make POTH
YOUR BONUS Use our spreadsheet exactly where to move the dome aperture to your default dome driver and enter the figures
to simplify the maths match the pointing of the telescope. from the spreadsheet into the Geometry section.
CONTENT for this project

skyatnightmagazine.com 2016
SKILLS
Image
With Martin Lewis PROCESSING
PART 2 Derotate images using WinJupos
Our second method of sharpening focuses on filtered R, G and B captures

Left: the R, G and B images are aligned on the surface detail leading to colour fringing at the edges; Middle: the three are aligned similarly but
registered to the edges leading to colour separation in the details; Right: both edges and detail are aligned via the Derotate RGB Frames function

T
he modern method of planetary only this time with separate red, green and The Image Derotate feature allows
imaging involves combining blue filtered images captured with a you to combine the output of full colour
multiple ‘good’ images of your monochrome camera. videos taken at different times or
chosen subject, each one created Both of these features work not by alternatively to combine images from
from a separate video. If these videos are allowing you to take longer individual monochrome videos all taken at different
too long, or are taken more than a few videos, but instead by ‘correcting’ the good times through the same colour filter – be
minutes apart, then rotation of the images generated from processing each it red, green or blue. The Derotate RGB
spinning planet can cause its fine surface video. This cleverly predicts the planet’s Frames function also time-corrects, aligns
details to smear into an indistinct blur in appearance before or after the video was and combines images, but this time you
the combined result. This limitation means actually taken, compensating for any have one red, one green and one blue
you only have a window of a few minutes rotational movement between captures. image rather than a set which are all the
in which to capture all the videos you need of the same kind. It helps overcome a
for a fast-spinning planet such as Jupiter. No fear of smear common problem when planetary
Last month we showed that the useful As well as correcting separate images imaging using a monochrome camera
imaging window can be significantly to a common time, both WinJupos and colour filters.
widened for images which are of the derotate features align and combine the Here planetary rotation occurring
same type (that is, all taken with a separate images to create a single corrected between the separate videos taken through
one-shot colour camera, or with the same final image. By correcting for rotational the different filters either leads to colour
colour filter for mono RGB imaging) by smearing, WinJupos allows you to fringing at the edge of the planet if you
using the Image Derotate feature of the combine far more videos, which has a align the red, green and blue output
freeware program WinJupos. This second knock-on effect: you can produce a final frames on the centre details or causes
part explains how the related Derotate output image of greater detail and lower colour separation and reduced definition
RGB Frames feature does the same thing, noise than would otherwise be possible. if you just align them on the edges of the

skyatnightmagazine.com 2016
IMAGE PROCESSING MAY 87

You need to enter the time and date of each image as you load it into Next you need to adjust the measurement frame to fit each image
WinJupos – otherwise the alignment routine will not work correctly – ‘LD Compensation’ can enhance contrast to help you do this

When it comes to combining your R, G and B images into one shot you Clicking the ‘Compile Image’ button does all the hard work, aligning
have a choice in how you orientate it: south can be at the top or bottom your three images to a single reference point and stacking them

planet. By undertaking the following Measurement, open your first image Click on each of the top three ‘...’ buttons
steps, you should be able to produce a and enter its time and date. to add in the correct IMS file for each
RGB aligned and derotated final image Go to the Adj tab, click Draw Outline colour. If you wish you can also set the
showing more detail. Frame, then hit F11 to autofit the image with south at the top once it is
measurement frame to the image. Adjust stacked, using the Image Orientation
Edging toward clarity the frame to fit the image using the keyboard: button at the bottom of the screen.
Before starting the derotation backspace for a north-south flip, Page Up When your three IMS files have loaded,
procedure you will need to process your and Page Down for size, P and N for click on the lower ‘...’ button to choose a
monochrome videos to produce one rotation, and the cursor keys for position. location to save your combined full colour
fully sharpened image from each colour You may want to exaggerate the planet’s final image. Finally, click the Compile
filter. Note that each colour could also edge contrast – click LD Compensation Image button. The three different mono
have come from several images of the and try a value like 1.00. When you are image files linked to the IMS files that you
same colour previously combined using happy that you have a good fit, go back to have picked will all be derotated to the one
Derotation of Images feature. As before, the Image tab and hit Save. This creates an reference time, then aligned and stacked
ALL PICTURES: MARTIN LEWIS

the first step for derotation is to have image measurement (IMS) file. together to produce a full colour, combined
WinJupos know the size, orientation When you have created separate IMS image. This will be displayed on screen
and rotation of the images. First, open files for your red, green and blue images, and also saved to the chosen location. S
WinJupos and select the planet’s name you are ready merge them to make a
under Program > Celestial Body. single combined and corrected image. Martin Lewis is a planetary imager
Then under Recording > Image Click Tools > Derotation RGB Frames. and telescope builder

skyatnightmagazine.com 2016
SKILLS

Scope ;<->-¼; TOP TIP


What is the best way to avoid ima
ge

DOCTOR saturation in astroph otograp hy?


collecting
Getting the correct balance between
out detail is very
With Steve Richards plenty of photons yet not burning
r can lose muc h of their
important. Stars in particula
over satu rate d, losin g all traces
beauty if they are
Our resident equipment specialist cures your of colour but the same applies to brig
hter regi ons
core s. Satu ratio n
optical ailments and technical maladies of emission nebulae and galaxy
th, so expe rime ntation
is controlled by exposure leng
camera,
is required for each combination of
I have a Maksutov-Cassegrain telescope and cele stial obje ct. As a roug h guide,
telescope
tes will result
exposures between five and 10 minu
and want to view the Sun safely. What is in correctly saturated stars and high light s for
sures of
the best filter to use? RGB colour photographs, and expo
20 minutes for narr owb and imag es.
DARREN ELSON
< A homemade filter of Baader film
will reveal the Sun in white light

My Celestron Nexstar 127 SLT’s tripod


Alternately an
is fairly basic and a bit shaky. Can you
adjustable version
suggest a sturdier alternative?
from Astrozap is
available for £33. STEPHEN WOODS
Both of these The Celestron NexStar 127 SLT comprises a 5-inch
use Baader Maksutov-Cassegrain telescope on a motorised
film in their Go-To altaz mount. With the telescope’s relatively
construction. long focal length of 1,500mm, any small
The movements when focusing or from wind buffeting
advantage of it will be greatly magnified and the lightweight
this film is that mount and tripod will not dampen these down
it produces a easily. The tripod is the weakest link but is custom
natural white built for the mount itself, and can’t be upgraded.
light view, and for There are some usual improvements to try
safety the film is such as tightening up all the bolts, weighting the
coated on both sides centre of the tripod and reducing the operational
of the thin substrate height, but often these are not enough. A better
making it very unlikely idea here may be a sturdier scope, perhaps a
that any pinhole Sky-Watcher Skyliner 250PX FlexTubeor an
imperfections in the film can Orion SkyQuest XT10g. These Dobsonians
align with one another. However, you would give you a much more stable view whilst
You can indeed view the Sun with should check the film for other keeping the Go-To
your telescope but it is critical that damage before every observing facility. The increased
you use a front-mounted solar filter session and discard if you find any aperture would
for your own safety. Such a filter will damage. It’s usually best to remove provide you with
ensure that no harmful energy reaches your finder to prevent accidentally a much wider
either your eyepiece or, more looking at the Sun through it. choice of objects
importantly, your eyes. You won’t be able to observe solar to observe as well.
You can make your own solar filter flares with this filter as a special solar
using Baader AstroSolar Safety film, telescope is required to do this but > The Celestron
STEVE RICHARDS, DAVID HINDS

Nexstar 127 SLT


which costs about £18.50 for an A4 you will experience excellent views of
is a good starter
sheet and some typical Blue Peter sunspots, faculae and granulation. scope, but its
construction techniques. However, The use of a solar continuum filter tripod lets it down
for a little extra, you can purchase a fitted to your eyepiece would help to
ready-made slip-on unit for £26-£118, increase contrast on these fascinating Steve Richards is a keen astro imager
depending on the required diameter. features. and an astronomy equipment expert

Email your queries to scopedoctor@skyatnightmagazine.com


skyatnightmagazine.com 2016
REVIEWS MAY 89

HOW WE RATE

Reviews
Each category is given a mark
out of five stars according to how
well it performs. The ratings are:

+++++Outstanding
+++++Very good
+++++Good
Bringing you the best in equipment and accessories +++++Average
each month, as reviewed by our team of astro experts +++++Poor/Avoid
SEE INTERACTIVE 360° MODELS OF
ALL OUR FIRST LIGHT REVIEWS AT
WWW.SKYATNIGHTMAGAZINE.COM

90
Find out how Nikon fares
with its first foray into the
astronomical DSLR market,
the D810A camera

This month’s reviews

First light Tried & tested Books Gear


WWW.THESECRETSTUDIO.NET X 4

90 Nikon D810A
astronomical
DSLR camera
94 Vixen SSW
ultra-wide
eyepiece series
98 Starwave
Classic 102mm
achromat refractor
102 We rate four
of the latest
astronomy titles
104 Including
this motorised
focuser controller

Find out more about how we review equipment at www.skyatnightmagazine.com/scoring-categories

skyatnightmagazine.com 2016
90

FIRST light See an interactive 360° model of this camera at


www.skyatnightmagazine.com/NikonD810A

Nikon D810A
DSLR camera
Nikon’s first foray into the astronomical DSLR market is a spectacular start
WORDS: NIGEL A BALL

D
SLRs are great for nightscapes, star Live view has been improved to provide a more
VITAL STATS trails, lunar astrophotography and sensitive display when the exposure time is set
basic shots of the planets of our Solar above 30 seconds, and we found this very useful for
• Price £2,699 System. Canon has, for a number of focusing and framing purposes. We found that the
• Sensor 35.9x24.0mm years, offered DSLRs designed with astro imaging new red-lit display preserved night vision, and using
CMOS sensor
(36.3 megapixels)
specifically in mind – first came the EOS 20Da in the increased zoom level we found it easy to locate
• ISO range 200
2005, followed by the EOS 60Da in 2012. Nikon and monitor a star whilst focusing.
to 12800 has been somewhat slower to enter the astro You can display the current exposure settings
• Dimensions imaging market, but has finally done so with – such as white balance, shutter speed, ISO and
146x123x81.5mm the launch of the D810A. aperture – by simply pressing the Info button.
• Weight 980g The D810A is essentially a modified version However, we would have preferred an articulated
• Memory card SD and of the highly successful D810, and on first rear display to give a more accessible view when
Compact Flash slots inspection the only difference between them is the camera was pointed skyward. It would also
• Supplier Nikon UK the discrete, white letter ‘A’ on the front of the have been nice to have illuminated buttons, as
• www.nikon.co.uk
casing. But beyond its 36-megapixel resolution, seen on the Nikon D4, although this could have
the highest in the Nikon range, the D810A has had cost implications.
SKY SAYS… several astro-specific functions over and above
A new long- the standard D810, the most interesting and No need for a remote cable
impressive being a modified infrared-cut filter. The D810A was easy to set up and we didn’t need
exposure manual
WWW.THESECRETSTUDIO.NET X 6

Nikon has also added a new long-exposure to consult the user guide other than to find the
mode (M*)offers manual mode (M*), accessible via the command setting for front electronic curtain shutter control
exposures of 60, dial and Mode button. It offers extended exposure (it’s in one of the custom menus). This mode
120, 180, 300, times of 60, 120, 180, 300, 600 and 900 seconds. eliminates the effects of mechanical vibration.
600 and 900 Coupled with the built in intervalometer (which A camera focal-plane shutter is comprised of
seconds is standard on many DSLRs in the Nikon range) two curtains: a front one that opens to start
all exposure eventualities are covered without each exposure and a rear one that closes to end
the need for an external remote release. For it. With the electronic front curtain shutter,
star trails, the continuous shooting mode can exposure is started electronically after the front
be selected to minimise any potential gaps curtain opens; exposure ends when the rear curtain
in the final image. closes. Opening the mechanical shutter before >

LETTING THE RIGHT LIGHT IN


All DSLRs have a filter placed in front of the sensor to reduce transmission of red light
in order to reproduce colours accurately for daylight shots. Unfortunately, for astro
imaging this also reduces the transmission of the hydrogen-alpha spectral line at
656.28nm, which provides the red colour in many emission nebulae. A common
workaround is to get the DSLR modified by completely removing this filter,
however this brings a couple of major disadvantages – firstly, autofocusing
can no longer work, and secondly the colour balance of daylight shots is
towards the red end of the spectrum.
Nikon’s approach to this problem has been to modify the filter in front of
the sensor on the D810A to allow approximately a four times increase in
transmission of the hydrogen-alpha region of the spectrum. Taking daylight
shots with the D810A will still result in a slight pink colour cast but this can be
fixed quickly in Lightroom or Photoshop using custom presets.
FIRST LIGHT MAY 91

LIVE VIEW
When long-exposure mode is used with shutter speeds of
longer than 30 seconds a preview image equivalent to the one
obtained at 30 seconds is displayed; live view images can be
magnified up to 23 times. We found this combination very
useful for framing shots and selecting a star for focusing.

ELECTRONIC SHUTTER
When the electronic front curtain
(selectable in ‘Mup’ mode) is enabled
instead of the mechanical front curtain,
exposure timing is performed
electronically, thus eliminating the
source of mechanical vibration. We found
this to produce sharper images when using
longer focal length lenses or telescopes.

INTERVALOMETER
The intervalometer allows up to 9,999 frames to be shot in a sequence, something we found
very useful for setting up timelapse and star trail sequences. There is also a Timelapse option,
which can automatically generate a movie file if you don’t have movie editing software.

skyatnightmagazine.com 2016
92 FIRST LIGHT MAY

FIRST light

LONG-EXPOSURE

UDED
MANUAL (M*) MODE

S NOT INCL
Long-exposure manual (M*) mode is an
addition to the existing P/S/A/M settings.

CA MERA LEN
Shutter speed settings of four, five, eight,
10, 15, 20, 30, 60, 120, 180, 240, 300,
600 and 900 seconds, Bulb and Time are
available. This feature removes the need
to use an external timer remote.

> the exposure


SKY SAYS… starts eliminates
Now add these: vibrations caused
by the shutter,
1. Nikkor 14- reducing blur. When
24mm f/2.8 lens capturing long
FULL FRAME SENSOR
2. Portable exposures we would
have liked to have seen The full frame sensor should be matched with
tracking mount top quality optics for the best results: lenses
a countdown timer,
3. T-ring for and telescopes capable of providing a 44mm
but this can be
image circle at least would be best. The
attaching to considered to be a
36.3-megapixel sensor generates 74.5MB RAW
a telescope minor niggle. files when saved as uncompressed 14-bit images.
We initially tested
the D810A with a wide-field shot
using a Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8 lens.
A single five-minute exposure at f/2.8 and ISO
1000, tracked using an Astrotrac mount, picked
out Barnard’s Loop in Orion and also a hint
of the Wizard Nebula in Cepheus, displaying
realistic star colours.
For our deep sky test we coupled the D810A to
a Takahashi FSQ106. Despite the presence of the
first quarter Moon high in the sky, our stacked
image of the Heart and Soul Nebulae in Cassiopeia
(comprised of 20 exposures at ISO 1000, each five
minutes long) showed great detail and good colour.
Nikon’s debut into the astrophotography market
has been worth waiting for. The Nikon D810A is a
superb camera offering high resolution, great astro
functionality and produced some very pleasing
images. If Nikon would add an articulated display
screen and a timer countdown display during long Heart and Soul
exposures, it would be just perfect. S Nebulae, comprised
WWW.THESECRETSTUDIO.NET X 3, NIGEL A BALL X 2

of 20 five-minute
exposures at ISO 1000
VERDICT
BUILD & DESIGN +++++
CONNECTIVITY +++++
EASE OF USE +++++
FEATURES +++++
< Five-minute exposure
IMAGE QUALITY +++++ of the Orion region,
OVERALL +++++ f/2.8 at ISO 1000

skyatnightmagazine.com 2016
SKYEYE1

SKYEYE1
94

FIRST light See an interactive 360° model of these eyepieces at


www.skyatnightmagazine.com/VixenSSW

Vixen SSW
eyepiece series
A colourful set of oculars that offer an outstanding 83º field of view
WORDS: STEVE RICHARDS

G
one are the days when all celestial maximum extension. Some spectacle wearers will
VITAL STATS observations had to be made through be disappointed to know that we were unable to
a ‘porthole’ view – manufacturers are see the whole field of view while wearing glasses,
• Price £249 now keen to deliver the immersive as the eye relief of approximately 13mm was
• Focal length sensation achieved through the use of wide-field insufficient to allow our eyes to get close enough
3.5mm, 5mm, 7mm,
10mm, 14mm
eyepieces. Although Vixen already produces an to the lens even with the eyecup fully retracted.
• Apparent FOV 83º
eyepiece collection with a 65° apparent field of Even without glasses, we had to adjust our eye
• Eye relief 13mm view, their new SSW eyepieces increase this placement very carefully to see the edges of
• Optical elements substantially to 83°. the enormous field of view.
Seven This new collection comprises oculars with
• Barrel size 1.25-inch focal lengths of 3.5mm, 5mm, 7mm, 10mm Exploring the skies
• Extras Dust caps and 14mm, with the shorter focal lengths When swapping eyepieces it is always a bonus if
• Weight 210-233g favouring Solar System objects and galaxies, they are parfocal with one another and the Vixen
• Supplier Tring and longer ones open clusters and extended SSWs didn’t disappoint here with ±160µm
Astronomy Centre
nebulae. The SSW eyepieces incorporate a maximum variance. This makes it very easy to
• www.tringastro.co.uk
fully multicoated, seven-element design using switch from one focal length to another without
• Tel 01442 822997
high-transmission, low-dispersion glass needing to adjust the focus very much.
– including Lanthanum and other special We tested the eyepieces in our own 10-inch
glasses – housed in a compact body. Sky-Watcher Dobsonian and our grab-and-go
SKY SAYS… The eyepieces have 1.25-inch chrome finish William Optics Megrez 72 refractor, which have
When swapping barrels and a beautifully non-reflective black focal ratios of f/4.7 and f/6 respectively. The views
WWW.THESECRETSTUDIO.NET X 5

eyepieces it is a internal finish that includes a 28.5mm thread were excellent through both instruments, with
bonus if they are for standard filters. What will really catch your very good neutral colour control on both daytime
parfocal – the eye is the anodised alloy band that colour codes and celestial objects.
Vixen SSW series each eyepiece to help you tell them apart, although Examining the lunar limb with the 3.5mm,
we found this to be of limited use in the dark. As 5mm and 7mm eyepieces showed little sign of
did not disappoint well as the colour coding, each focal length is glare or unwanted reflections. There was a glorious
clearly marked in white on the coloured band. two-day-old Moon at the start of one of our
On removing the top dust cap an elegant twist-up observing sessions and the contrast between the
rubber eyecup is revealed. In its fully retracted earthshine and the bright crescent made for a
position it is just under 5mm above the 26mm wonderful sight through the 10mm eyepiece.
diameter eye lens, but it affords 7.5mm of M45, the Pleiades star cluster in Taurus, was >

A FIELD OF VIEW SO DEEP YOU COULD GET LOST


The new Vixen SSW eyepieces are all about by the eyepiece focal length. The true field of view
producing a wide field of view. As well as can then be found by dividing the apparent field
focal length, eyepieces are selected for their of view by the magnification.
‘apparent’ field of view in degrees. The A wide field of view provides an immersive
apparent field of view is the angular diameter observing experience, making the observer feel
of the circle of light received by your eye more part of what they are seeing. Typical
when looking through an eyepiece. However, eyepieces supplied with telescopes have an
this is not the true field of view that you will apparent field of view of 50° so the 83° field of
observe through a telescope as that is view of the SSW eyepieces is a huge increase
dependent on magnification. Magnification is – so much so that we had to work quite hard to
calculated by dividing the telescope focal length discern the edge of the view.

skyatnightmagazine.com 2016
FIRST LIGHT MAY 95

1.25-INCH BARRELS
The eyepieces have 1.25-inch barrels with a well
applied chrome finish. The barrels have lightly
COLOURED BAND machined undercuts to stop the eyepieces falling
out of the focuser if the retaining bolt loosens
Each eyepiece has two coloured, anodised in use. These worked well in both our Baader
alloy bands around the body, the larger of Steeltrack and William Optics eyepiece
which is 14mm deep. The colours are arranged holders, with no sign of snagging.
in wavelength order: shorter wavelengths
(towards purple) correspond to shorter focal
lengths and longer wavelengths (towards
red) correspond to longer focal lengths.

RUBBER GRIP
The rubber grip on each eyepiece is the same as that on
Vixen’s SLV eyepiece range and has a clever hexagonal
profile that prevents the eyepieces from rolling if placed on
their sides. This profile also gives the eyepiece a reasonably
solid grip surface when picking it up.

MULTICOATING
Multicoating the lens elements increases light transmission,
with Vixen claiming 99.5 per cent transmission for the SSW
eyepieces. The coatings were applied to a very high standard
with no blemishes and displayed a mainly green tinge with
hints of purple deeper into the eyepiece body.

skyatnightmagazine.com 2016
96 FIRST LIGHT MAY

FIRST light

SKY SAYS… > well placed during the


Now add these: review period and made
for a fine view, the 10mm
1. Vixen padded and 14mm eyepieces
eyepiece case revealing excellent
contrast between the
2. Opticron
bright member stars and
Professional the dark background of
Series lens the sky. It was here that
cleaning kit we felt the ‘immersion’
effect of a wide field of
3. Baader
view most, finally closed
Planetarium off by a well-defined
neodymium and field stop.
infrared-cut filter Later in our observing
sessions M42, the Orion
Nebula, was high in the sky and we
spent a long time tracing out the wealth
of detail visible in the extensive fine tendrils of the
nebulosity at various magnifications. This was
followed by close scrutiny of the Trapezium region
using the 3.5mm and 5mm eyepieces.
Star testing using Aldebaran in Taurus showed
crisp, clean shapes to over 90 per cent of the field of
view with some spikiness becoming apparent
towards the very edge of the field, especially in the
5mm eyepiece, indicating a tiny amount of
astigmatism. Extraneous light from objects close to
but outside the field of view was hardly discernible.
The Vixen SSW eyepieces produce excellent
views and their build quality is beyond reproach,
making them an excellent choice for intermediate
to advanced observers, but beginners may struggle
with eye placement. S

VERDICT
WWW.THESECRETSTUDIO.NET X 2

BUILD & DESIGN +++++


EASE OF USE +++++
TWIST-UP EYECUP
EXTRAS +++++
Soft rubber twist-up eyecups are fitted to each eyepiece and these
EYE RELIEF +++++
were a joy to use as their action was smooth, solid and easily adjustable.
OPTICS +++++ We found that eye positioning was quite critical to optimise the wide
OVERALL +++++ field of view and these comfortable eyecups made this easy to achieve.

skyatnightmagazine.com 2016
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for friendly advice and phone orders

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98

TRIED & tested


We review well-established equipment that’s stood the test of time
See an interactive
360° model of this scope at
www.skyatnightmagazine.com/
Starwave102mm

VITAL STATS
Starwave Classic 102mm
achromat refractor
• Price £385
• Aperture 102mm
(4 inches)
• Focal length 1,122mm
(f/11)
• Optical design Even a little colour fringing can’t dampen this scope’s potential
Japanese Ohara glass
multicoated doublet WORDS: PAUL MONEY
• Mounting Tube rings

A
with Vixen dovetail bar sk anyone who doesn’t call themselves
• Focuser 2-inch dual an astronomer to draw a telescope and
speed rotatable there is a good chance that they will
Crayford focuser draw something resembling a refractor.
• Weight 4.6kg It is incredible to think that centuries after Galileo
• Extras Retractable we still use refractors. The example we’re looking at
dewshield, finder shoe
in this Tried & tested is Altair Astro’s Starwave
bracket, 2-inch to
Classic 102mm f/11 achromat.
1.25-inch adapter
The package comprises the optical tube, a
• Supplier Altair Astro
• www.altairastro.com retractable dewshield, CNC-machined tube rings,
• Tel 01263 731505 a Vixen dovetail bar and a finder shoe. For the
review we used our own 2-inch star diagonal and is where the
a range of eyepieces from a 2-inch 32mm wide-field Starwave
SKY SAYS…
WWW.THESECRETSTUDIO.NET X 3, STEVE FOZZARD

model to 26mm and 9mm 1.25-inch oculars. We Classic 102mm


Procyon was pin also used 2x Barlow and 5x Powermate lenses to performs well.
sharp across 90 boost the magnification of the 1.25 inch eyepieces.
per cent of the The Starwave Classic 102mm is what’s known Long but not awkward
field with only as an achromat. The double lens design limits an The tube is quite light. We mounted it on
a little distortion optical aberration called colour fringing, which our own NEQ6 mount so that we could quickly
produces a colour halo around bright stars slew to a range of objects using its Go-To facility.
at the edges
visually and is particularly pronounced in astro The primary lens of 102mm (4 inches) is a doublet,
images. The effect is due to a single front lens not all the surfaces of which are multicoated. The
quite bringing all of the wavelengths of light to telescope has a focal length of 1,122mm, in a tube
the same focal point. Long focal length that is 1m long with the dewshield retracted and no
achromats show less of this distortion star diagonal in place. This seems long on paper,
than short focal length systems, and this but in use we had no trouble at all, even when the >

OWNER’S OBSERVATIONS
Name Steve Fozzard decent long-sliding dewshield. The scope has a
Location Otley, West Yorkshire premium air to it, which gives you an expectancy
Equipment Starwave 102mm achromat ‘No 33’, that it will deliver sharp views as you set it up.
SkyTee-2 mount with pier extension In use the Starwave 102mm delivers crisp,
Owner since September 2014 pinpoint stars, with no noticeable field
curvature and lots of intricate star colour
Having decided I wanted an archetypal refractor, shining through. It has and continues to excel
and after researching numerous articles on the at lunar and planetary observing, and there’s
virtues of long focal length achromats, I was enough light grasp for small planetary
particularly smitten by the Starwave 102mm: its nebulae. It gives engaging sights of
appearance, specifications and price point all deep-sky objects too, delivering crisp
came together in a very attractive package that views full of contrast and detail.
matched exactly what I was looking for. In addition, I’ve added a binoviewer for the
Build-wise I’ve been impressed with the overall ultimate wow factor when observing the Moon
quality, including the dual-speed focuser and a and the planets of the Solar System.

skyatnightmagazine.com 2016
TRIED & TESTED MAY 99

FOCUSER
The dual-speed Crayford focuser rotates through 360º
and can take 2-inch eyepieces natively or 1.25-inch
eyepieces with the included adaptor. The focus position
can be locked with a screw on the underside.

BODY
The tube is CNC-machined and coated in a tough white
gloss. It is 1m long with the Dewshield retracted. Internally
the tube is also matt black and baffled to prevent stray light
bouncing around inside which helps improve contrast.

OPTICS
The optical arrangement comprises a doublet lens
made from Japanese Ohara glass that is multicoated
DEWSHIELD on all surfaces. The f/11 focal ratio helps reduce
the effects of chromatic aberration; we only noticed
The retractable dewshield is quite long yet easy to use and
faint blue/violet haloes on the brightest stars. The
fully retracts when not needed. It fixes in place with a single
102mm (4-inch) primary lens provides 62 per cent
screw. Even after a couple of hours it gave very good
more light grasp than an 80mm (3-inch) lens.
protection from dewing up. The front cap is metal and
screws firmly in place to protect the optics.

skyatnightmagazine.com 2016
100 TRIED & TESTED MAY

TRIED & tested Beta


Moncerotis
Gamma
Andromedae
Iota Cassioeiae Theta Aurigae

2x Barlow 2x Barlow 2x Barlow 3x Barlow


> dewshield was fully extended, an act that increases
the scope’s length to around 1.2m. A series of double and triple stars as imaged through the Starwave 102mm
We checked the quality of the optics and field of
view using the bright star Procyon in Canis Minor, < The Double Cluster in
Perseus, comprised of
and although it did bright show a little blue/violet six 30-second exposures
halo, visually it was quite pleasing. Procyon was pin
sharp across 90 percent of the field using the 32mm
wide-angle (70º) eyepiece, with only a little distortion
at the field edges. Swapping to the 26mm we homed
in on several tight double and multiple stars – the
staple of such a long focal length instrument. By SKY SAYS…
adding the 2x Barlow, we found we could split Beta Now add these:
Monocerotis into its three components. We managed
the same with the triple of Iota Cassiopeiae, the 1. Altair
faintest component just visible and the Airy disk of Lightwave
the main star quite clearly defined. To push the Premium 1.25-
optics we turned to the binary star Theta Aurigae,
inch dielectric
which has components of quite unequal brightness,
but by swapping to our 5x Powermate our 26mm diagonal
eyepiece just revealed the fainter star on the edge 2. Starwave
of the outer ring of the main star’s Airy disk. 50mm finder
with illuminated
Beyond the stars
The Moon and planets are the other staples for this reticle eyepiece
kind of telescope. The views of Jupiter were richly 3. Kitakaru
detailed with four belts, the Great Red Spot and the 25mm
polar hazes. Viewing our Moon, we were rewarded
with lots of fine detail along the terminator when
orthoscopic
we used our 9mm eyepiece. eyepiece
Switching back to the 32mm wide-field eyepiece
we found the views of open star clusters such as the
Beehive and the Double Cluster very enjoyable, with
the latter showing off its scattering of orange stars This rendition of the nicely. The Pleiades were also a good view and
Moon is a stack of 33 fit inside the field of view, although as they’re
exposures at ISO 100, quite bright stars we did start to see a little colour
each lasting 1/160th
fringing. The Orion Nebula held plenty of detail
of a second
with the Trapezium Cluster sparkling away at
the centre, and even the bright galaxies M81
and M82 were easily viewable.
An achromat is not really designed for imaging
but we tried it out and the results were reasonable,
despite the obvious blue colour fringing around the
brighter stars we captured good detail. There really
is a lot that can be achieved with this
classic achromat. S

S
WWW.THESECRETSTUDIO.NET, PAUL MONEY X 3

VERDICT
BUILD AND DESIGN +++++ MOUNTING
EASE OF USE +++++ The CNC-machined tube rings
FEATURES +++++ were easy to adjust and the
IMAGING QUALITY +++++ thumbscrews clamped the tube safely. They
are supplied with a Vixen mounting bar, allowing the
OPTICS +++++ tube to be attached to any mount with such a fitting.
OVERALL +++++

skyatnightmagazine.com 2016
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Vixen
Vixen ® ®

TM
102

Books
RATINGS
HHHHH Outstanding
HHHHH Good
HHHHH Average
HHHHH Poor
New astronomy and space titles reviewed HHHHH Avoid

Aurora: In TWO MINUTES


WITH MELANIE
WINDRIDGE
Search of the What made you start
Northern Lights looking for the aurora?
As an undergraduate I had done some
Melanie Windridge work looking at the Sun and the solar
William Collins wind of charged particles that buffets the
£20 z HB Earth and causes aurora. As a plasma
The Northern Lights are surely one of the physicist I wanted to see the aurora, but
most captivating sights nature has to offer I also wanted to see the Arctic, a place
– and they seem to exert a special that held a fascination for me due to the
fascination for those of us living at lower stories of polar explorers, the landscapes
latitudes where they rarely appear. Indeed, inspires a look at the forces behind the and the hostility of the environment.
at the time of review the news was flooded lights, while visits to auroral observatories
with beautiful pictures of a rare outbreak in Canada spur investigations of the What has been your most memorable
seen as far south as the English Midlands. relationship between the electrically aurora moment?
As a plasma physicist, Melanie charged particles of the solar wind, the Besides the very first time, it was when
Windridge is well placed to describe the magnetism of the Sun and Earth, and the I saw the aurora just as my guide and
science of this fascinating delicate colours of aurorae. I were finishing a week-long ski across
phenomenon: the electrically Closer to home, Windridge Arctic Spitsbergen. It was dark, it was
charged gasses whose meets amateur aurora- freezing, we had been dragging our
properties she explores hunters in Scotland sleds all day and were keeping going so
on a daily basis are and gets an insight we wouldn’t have to spend another night
also the root cause into the growing area in the tent at close to –40°C. My body
of aurorae of space weather was aching as I hauled my sled up the
themselves. But forecasting, before last incline towards the road. Then the
Windridge’s first her final chapter guide shouted, “Look behind you!” and
book is about a lot takes her to the the Northern Lights were there, swirling
more than pure Norwegian arctic faintly green and stretching up above us.
science. Part history, island of Svalbard for a
part travelogue, part spectacular view of the What advice do you have for potential
meditation, it tells the story of interaction between aurorae aurora hunters?
the author’s own fascination An auroral display glows and the Sun itself. For such You need time and patience. You might
with these ghostly lights; an a ghostly green over Iceland’s a visual subject, it’s perhaps get lucky, but it’s a natural phenomenon
obsession that has taken her dramatic landscape a shame that the book’s so never guaranteed. Go somewhere
across the far north of the world not only format limits illustration to some useful really dark, out of town. The longer you
in search of the finest displays, but also to diagrams and a couple of photographic stay, the more chance you have of getting
meet the people who share her fascination, insert sections, but that’s more than made the right conditions. Don’t expect it to
hear the stories the lights have inspired up for in personal insight, intriguing look like the pictures – the colours are
and see the scientific instruments used science and surprising history. In short, often not as vibrant as in photographs
to understand them. this book is sure to turn anyone into an – but seeing it in the landscape lends
In Sweden we hear of Windridge’s first aurora obsessive. it a wholly different appreciation.
encounter with aurorae, while in Norway HHHHH
we learn of Sami, Inuit and other MELANIE WINDRIDGE is a plasma
traditional beliefs concerning the haunted GILES SPARROW is a science writer and physicist with a PhD in fusion energy
ISTOCK

sky. The tortured landscape of Iceland fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society from Imperial College London

skyatnightmagazine.com 2016
BOOKS MAY 103

15 Million Degrees: visible part of the spectrum. We learn


too about the source of the Sun’s energy,
A Journey to the how it was once seen as a ball of fire
before it was realised that heat could What’s It Like
Centre of the Sun be produced in other ways, for example
simply by rubbing one’s hands together.
In Space?
Lucie Green Basic ideas behind how the Sun works Ariel Waldman
Viking Books BOOK are made highly accessible to ordinary Chronicle Books
£18.99 z HB OF TH E readers in 15 Million Degrees. We are told £9.99 z HB
MO N T H not only that the Sun has magnetic fields,
It is easy to but also how and why they exist, and the
take the Sun explanation is as clear as can be. It’s the question
for granted, even This is not a dry physics textbook. The everyone wants to
though all life on our history and excitement of discovery, ask, but hopes
planet depends on it such as how astronomers found out they find a
to stay alive. But for what the Sun is made of, are brought to different way to
astronomers there’s an life through human stories about the ask it. As noted
additional reason why characters involved. Explosive events on in the introduction, ‘What’s it like in
it’s of such importance: it is the only star the Sun can dramatically impact Earth,
space?’ is a question that is boundless
we can study close up. but we see how satellites guard us at the
and hopeful. In this compact, neat little
This book takes a fascinating look at same time as uncovering the Sun’s secrets.
book you’ll find a huge variety answers
a literally brilliant object. Lucie Green is Throughout, Green’s friendly and fluent
to the question.
not only a world authority on solar writing style makes this one of the most
Every turn of the page reveals a
physics, but also a TV regular on the BBC’s enjoyable books about science you could
nugget of information about life in space,
Stargazing Live and The Sky at Night, with hope to find.
be it a little-known fact, a retelling of a
a gift for communicating space science. HHHHH
story or a direct quotation from an
Her story opens with a description of
astronaut – some of which are quite
what sunlight actually is and how light PAUL SUTHERLAND is a space writer
poetic. What it’s like to watch Earth from
extends far beyond what one can see in the and journalist
space is told using a myriad points of
view, from the appearance of clouds to
the different colours of the continents.
And then there’s the experience of being
weightless, with talk of space sickness
Into the Black testing, the ever-increasing technical
problems that were encountered and the offset by amusing stories of the fun that
can be had in zero gravity.
Rowland White first manned flight of a new vehicle ever to
It’s good to see that the important little
Bantam Press launch into space. An epilogue rounds off
£18.99 z HB the book with the highs and lows of the details of life, from work scheduling to
programme as a whole. sleeping, are also covered. What do
Despite the large The author does an excellent job keeping you do if you lose something in space?
number of books about complex ideas readable. For instance, the How do you figure out which way is
the Space Shuttle acronyms NASA is so fond of are used up? How long does it take to get
already available, it’s sparingly. It’s fascinating to read details of acclimatised to zero gravity? And less
refreshing to see that the US Department of Defense’s influence humdrum, more existential considerations
this latest addition to on the craft’s design in return for its are given consideration too: did you
the literature about support, as well as the practical help given know that Skylab 4 astronauts once went
NASA’s reuseable by the National Reconnaissance Office on strike to contemplate the cosmos?
spacecraft, Into The Black, is grounded on during the initial flight. Once highly Rest assured, no book on space travel
new research and interviews. classified, a spy satellite was turned to would be complete without a mention of
This is perhaps most evident in the image the orbiting Shuttle after the crew bodily functions, be that burping (you
chapters detailing the involvement of the reported seeing thermal protection tiles can’t), sneezing (be careful where you
military. With the passing of time, this is a missing from the rear of the craft. aim) or of course the one everyone really
section of the Shuttle’s history that can be This book’s page-turning style will wants to know about, going to the toilet
told more fully as classified information is captivate those unfamiliar with the (I’ll leave that to you). The result is a
released into the public domain. development of the first reusable space compilation that is funny, awe inspiring
Overall, the book is divided into four vehicle and also provide additional and thought provoking.
main parts along with additional maps, insights to those who thought they knew +++++
diagrams, a comprehensive timeline and the whole story.
index. We start by travelling back to the HHHHH CHRIS NORTH is an astronomer, author
early 1960s to examine the goals and ideas and the Herschel outreach officer
that would eventually shape the Shuttle’s MARK BOWYER is an expert in the
design. The book continues on through US manned space programme

skyatnightmagazine.com 2016
104 GEAR MAY

Gear
Elizabeth Pearson rounds up the latest astronomical accessories

1 4
1 Seletek TARSIER Controller
Price $139 • Supplier Lunatic Astronomical
www.lunaticastronomical.com
This controller helps to automate your focusing,
allowing you to change the speed and
coarseness of your stepper motor’s adjustment
without being connected to a computer.

2 Constellation Handkerchief
Price £9.95 • Supplier Sukie
01323 727001 • www.sukie.co.uk
Never be without a star chart again thanks
to this hankerchief. It’s decorated with the
familiar shapes of the constellations and is
made from 100 per cent cotton.
5
3 PrimaLuce 125mm PLUS
Support Rings
Price £168 • Supplier 365 Astronomy
020 3384 5187 • www.365astronomy.com
2 These aluminium support rings allow you to
easily secure your telescope to your mount as
well as attach additional plates, guide rings or
dovetail clamps. Other sizes are available.

4 CCD Guide 2016


Price À29 • Supplier Astro Systeme Austria
www.ccdguide.com
Optimise your CCD photography with the
help of this DVD guide. Look through illustrated
sky catalogues, then create projects and archives
of your own images. The 2016 version has
updated images and improved software.

5 Astrozap Dobsonian Dust Cover


Price From £10 • Supplier First Light Optics 6
01392 826133 • www.firstlightoptics.com
3 Use these dust covers to keep grime away from
Dobsonian telescopes. The elasticated strap
keeps the cover snug over the telescope’s
aperture. Available in a variety of sizes.

6 Orion Superwide 2-inch


Prime Focuser Adaptor
Price £49 • Supplier SCS Astro
01823 665510 • www.scsastro.co.uk
This adaptor lets you use your DSLR to image
through a 2-inch telescope barrel without
worrying about vignetting. Compatible with
Canon EOS and Nikon cameras.

skyatnightmagazine.com 2016
ADVERTISEMENT FEATURE

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106 EXPERT INTERVIEW MAY

WHAT I REALLY WANT TO KNOW IS…


How mixed up is the lunar surface?
Bradley Jolliff is asking why the rocks studied by a Chinese
rover are so different from those collected by Apollo astronauts
INTERVIEWED BY PAUL SUTHERLAND

L
unar samples tell us that the Moon is suggested there was actually an abundance of basalts
ancient, dating back about 4.5 billion with titanium in the middle ranges. This is important
years to shortly after the origin of because the level of titanium in the Moon’s
the Earth. We know that the mantle tells us about the mix of materials
heavily cratered highlands are at and the melts that produced the basalts.
least four billion years old and The landing site of Chang’e 3 is
that most of the big craters actually one of these areas that
formed around then. The looked like it had mid levels
volcanic rocks however, of titanium, and indeed that
those dark basalt materials was what we found.
that flooded basins on the The lander came down
near side of the Moon, right on the rim of a
are younger – generally relatively young impact
in the range of 2.5 to crater, and that crater
four billion years old. had excavated fresh
Some may be as young material from the
as one billion years. underlying basalt flow,
I’ve been working with that was still in a fairly
data from China’s Chang’e 3 pristine condition and not
mission, which landed with mixed with debris from
a robotic rover called Yutu elsewhere. It therefore
in the Mare Imbrium, one of closely resembled the
the large dark basins visible to composition of the underlying
the naked eye. The basalts there volcanic bedrock. Yutu found it
are on the relatively young side, rich in two minerals in particular,
produced by volcanism perhaps three olivine and ilmenite. Ilmenite is important
billion years or so ago. The goal was to for a number of reasons, not least because it
investigate the mare’s regolith, its lunar soil, is a very good source of oxygen, plus some hydrogen,
to and try to understand something about the Yutu, China’s first lunar so would be a useful resource for a lunar colony.
volcanic processes that created this lunar sea. rover, began operations on The two minerals are not usually found together,
14 December 2013; it now
NASA’s Apollo missions brought back rocks so this helps us understand how the material in the
holds the record for the
that were between three and 3.8 billion years old, longest operating period Moon formed. The ancient highlands are the
so didn’t really sample any of the youngest of any rover on the Moon so-called primary crust, which formed early on in
materials. But they gave us a pretty good idea of the Moon’s history. But the basalts were formed by
the compositions of the basalts we might expect the melting of the interior, a heating caused by
to find. Chang’e 3 landed in an area in which radioactive decay of elements such as uranium,
basalts had already been observed from orbit by thorium and potassium between three and four
spacecraft with instruments that could detect billion years ago, before the Moon started to cool
some of their mineralogy and chemical off in the outer parts. We are very interested to
composition. These spacecraft told us there is know how this molten material was distributed
a range of compositions. We were particularly around the Moon and how it varied with time.
interested in how much titanium was in the ABOUT BRADLEY The Moon still has a lot of surprises in store and
regolith because the concentration of this JOLLIFF I would love us to go back there, both robotically
element in lunar basalts varies hugely. Prof Bradley Jolliff carries and with humans trained to pick out the
© XINHUA/ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

out mineralogical and interesting. I’d particularly like to explore a huge


The void in-between geochemical detective impact zone on the far side called the South
work at Washington
Samples returned by Apollo and the unmanned University, St Louis, in
Pole-Aitken basin, which is about 2,500km wide,
Soviet Luna missions showed either low or high a bid to see what rocks stretching almost to the lunar equator. It was
titanium concentrations, but there was a sort of can tell us about the probably formed about 4.2 billion years ago, but
gap in the middle. Yet remote sensing from orbit Solar System’s history. I’d love to know for sure. S

skyatnightmagazine.com 2016
The Southern Hemisphere in May
With Glenn Dawes
N
WHEN TO USE THIS CHART O
RT

H
The chart accurately matches the sky on the
1 MAY AT 00:00 UT

EAS
dates and times shown. The sky is different at HE
15 MAY AT 23:00 UT

T
other times as stars crossing it set four minutes RC
earlier each night. We’ve drawn the chart for UL
31 MAY AT 22:00 UT latitude –35° south. S E

MAY HIGHLIGHTS STARS AND CONSTELLATIONS


Mars is at opposition and with High in the southern evening sky is
closest approach on the 31st presents the third-brightest star, the famous
a reasonable 18.6-arcsecond disc, its binary Alpha Centauri. Its mag. 0.0 and
largest since 2005. Turning to Mercury, +1.3 components have an orbital period of
the innermost planet has its best morning 79 years. Earth sees an inclined view of the salha
gue
apparition for 2016. As it moves from orbit and I’ve found it fascinating watching
inferior conjunction, its 11-arcsecond disc these stars slowly move together from a
develops a thin crescent and is visible from maximum separation of 22 arcseconds in

AQUILA
mid-month as it gains altitude in the eastern 1980 down to a close approach this year

a
dawn glow. Its phase increases as its apparent of 4 arcseconds. The brighter of the
SE

_
size shrinks, presenting a 7-arcsecond disc stars is similar to our Sun, having the

Al
RP
EN

tai
and a 50% phase by mid-June.

r
same spectral class but higher luminosity.

b
`

`
M11 R

_
THE PLANETS SC
UT

b
Mars and Saturn accompany mag. northern evening sky. Neptune arrives at UM

a
EAST

M
+1.1 Antares (Alpha (_) Scorpii) in 01:00 EST mid-month, around the time 25t
17
May. Rising during evening twilight, they Jupiter takes its leave. Uranus returns to h M2
5
remain visible through the night. Mars is the morning sky, rising at around 04:30
at its most dazzling this month, rivalling EST, while Mercury can be viewed in the
brilliant Jupiter, which is well placed in the eastern dawn from the middle of May.

SAG
_
`

ITTA
DEEP-SKY OBJECTS

RIU
Two impressive double stars are partner 2.3 arcseconds away, and that

S
CAPRIC

visible in Scorpius. Acrab (Beta (`) A has a mag. +5.3 at a separation of 1.2
Scorpii; RA 16h 05.4m, dec. –19° 48’) arcseconds. You’ll need high power
ORNUS

is obvious to the naked eye, and good seeing to spot it.


comprised of a white mag. +2.6
primary with a mag. +4.5 blue Halfway between Acrab
companion 13 arcseconds and Antares is globular
away. Look 1.6° east to reach cluster M80 (RA 16h 17.0m,
the double-double Jabbah (Nu dec. –22° 58’; pictured). It’s a
(i) Scorpii). Its main components, compact (2 arcminute) and bright
A and B, are mag. +4.2 and +6.6, (mag. +7.3) circular haze through
IN
D

and separated by 41 arcseconds. Closer small scopes. You’ll need a 6- to 8-inch


inspection reveals B has a mag. +7.2 instrument to start resolving stars.
a
SO
UT

CHART KEY
H

GR
EA

T
DANIEL VERSCHATSE/CCDGUIDE.COM

STAR
US
S

GALAXY DIFFUSE ASTEROID BRIGHTNESS:


NEBULOSITY TRACK MAG. 0
OPEN CLUSTER & BRIGHTER
DOUBLE STAR METEOR MAG. +1
GLOBULAR RADIANT
MAG. +2
CLUSTER VARIABLE STAR QUASAR MAG. +3
PLANETARY
MAG. +4
NEBULA COMET TRACK PLANET & FAINTER

skyatnightmagazine.com 2016
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SOUTH skyatnightmagazine.com 2016