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Image courtesy of Don Bruns

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Illustration of the Tele Vue-NP101is
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MAY 2018
VOL. 46, NO. 5


30 For years, planetary scientists
thought our solar system formed
in a simple way. Now the picture
is more complex.
New insights into how StarDome and
the solar system formed Path of the Planets COLUMNS
Recent observations reveal that RICHARD TALCOTT;
Strange Universe 10
chaos and mayhem ruled our ILLUSTRATIONS BY ROEN KELLY
planetary system’s irst days.
JESSE EMSPAK 44 Secret Sky 14
28 Black hole jets. Observe Mars at its best For Your Consideration 16
An organically grown It’s been 15 years since the JEFF HESTER
planet definition 46 Red Planet was this close and
Should we really deine a word Why do galaxies align? this big. Set up your scope, and Binocular Universe 18
by voting? KIRBY D. RUNYON he matter in our universe take advantage of this apparition. PHIL HARRINGTON
AND S. ALAN STERN forms ilaments and threads like MICHAEL E. BAKICH Observing Basics 70
a grand cosmic web, tugging GLENN CHAPLE
30 galaxies and clusters into place 62
Seeking the unknown along the way. MICHAEL WEST Guide your camera QUANTUM GRAVITY
in cosmic data to great shots
In an era of large-scale surveys, 52 A variety of mounts and
Snapshot 8
citizen science projects, and new Leo’s exotic techniques can help you create Astro News 12
machine-learning techniques, deep-sky gems stunning images. Which one
unexpected discoveries should be Beyond the brightest galaxies, is for you? MIKE REYNOLDS IN EVERY ISSUE
expected. MARA JOHNSON-GROH the Lion contains many
challenging deep-sky targets. From the Editor 6
Capture video with Astro Letters 11
Sky This Month this low-cost camera New Products 68
Jupiter shines brilliantly. Lots of accessories make the
MARTIN RATCLIFFE AND Advertiser Index 69
RunCam Night Eagle an easy
match for any telescope or Reader Gallery 72
camera lens. RICHARD P. WILDS Breakthrough 74

ONLINE Astronomy (ISSN 0091-6358, USPS 531-350) is

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with the staff of celestial events. photos from the science and
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4 A ST R O N O M Y • MAY 2018
Black Holes, Tides,
and Curved Spacetime:
Understanding Gravity
E D TIME OF Taught by Professor Benjamin Schumacher


70% 1. The Strangest Force

off 2. Free Fall and Inertia

RD 3. Revolution in the Heavens

E R BY J UN 4. Universal Gravitation
5. The Art of Experiment
6. Escape Velocity, Energy, and Rotation
7. Stars in Their Courses—Orbital Mechanics
8. What Are Tides? Earth and Beyond
9. Nudge—Perturbations of Orbits
10. Resonance—Surprises in the Intricate Dance
11. The Million-Body Problem
12. The Billion-Year Battle
13. From Forces to Fields
14. The Falling Laboratory
15. Spacetime in Zero Gravity
16. Spacetime Tells Matter How to Move
17. Matter Tells Spacetime How to Curve
18. Light in Curved Spacetime
19. Gravitomagnetism and Gravitational Waves
20. Gravity’s Horizon—Anatomy of a Black Hole
21. Which Universe Is Ours?
22. Cosmic Antigravity—Inflation and Dark Energy
23. The Force of Creation
24. The Next Revolution

Black Holes, Tides, and Curved Spacetime: Un-

derstanding Gravity
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Editor David J. Eicher
Art Director LuAnn Williams Belter

How our
Managing Editor Kathi Kube
Senior Editors Michael E. Bakich, Richard Talcott
Associate Editors Alison Klesman, Jake Parks
Copy Editors Dave Lee, Elisa R. Neckar
Editorial Assistant Amber Jorgenson

solar system
Graphic Designer Kelly Katlaps
Illustrator Roen Kelly
Production Specialist Jodi Jeranek

Bob Berman, Adam Block, Glenn F. Chaple, Jr., Martin George,
Tony Hallas, Phil Harrington, Korey Haynes, Jeff Hester, Liz
Kruesi, Ray Jayawardhana, Alister Ling, Steve Nadis, Stephen
James O’Meara, Tom Polakis, Martin Ratcliffe, Mike D.
Reynolds, Sheldon Reynolds, Erika Rix, Raymond Shubinski
Buzz Aldrin, Marcia Bartusiak, Timothy Ferris, Alex Filippenko,
Adam Frank, John S. Gallagher lll, Daniel W. E. Green, William K.
Hartmann, Paul Hodge, Edward Kolb, Stephen P. Maran, Brian

ne of the most history. Emspak’s story tells into their weirdo orbits, and May, S. Alan Stern, James Trefil
fundamental ques- the sordid tale as it is now planetary scientists now
tions we innately shaping up for planetary believe that migration of Kalmbach Publishing Co.
have as humans is scientists. planets played a major role CEO Dan Hickey
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most solar systems around us and Kuiper Belt objects have Yours truly,
ought to resemble ours. been scattered into eccen-
Studies over the past tric, oddball orbits.
few years have upset the Something catastrophic or
apple cart of how our solar extremely energetic had to David J. Eicher Follow Astronomy
system formed and its early have pushed these bodies Editor

AstronomyMag AstronomyMagazine +astronomymagazine
Follow the Dave’s Universe blog:
Follow Dave Eicher on Twitter: @deicherstar

6 A ST R O N O M Y • MAY 2018
Life on Mars
What to Know Before We Go
David A. Weintraub

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near the Moon’s

north pole may lead
to an underground

Small pits in a crater

network of lava tubes.

Non-rotating neutron
stars of more than
2.16 solar masses are
doomed to collapse
into black holes.
A new radio image of
the Small Magellanic
Cloud reveals features in
three times the detail of
previous observations.


Life in the
may be
New research from experts
in early life on Earth
points toward life in the
universe at large.

J. William Schopf is an old friend

of Astronomy magazine who has
consulted with us in the past.
He’s also one of the world’s
sharpest researchers on the ori-


gin of life and the existence of
ancient microfossils. Recently,
Schopf and his team at UCLA,
along with scientists at the
University of Wisconsin, released
studies of early microfossils that
could shed light on how common
life is in the universe. This fossil microorganism from Western Australia is 3.465 billion years old and suggests that life may be spread throughout the cosmos.
The oldest known microfossils
on Earth come from Western gas, and two more used methane common throughout the cosmos. shown that there were sulfur
Australia and date to 3.465 bil- to build their cellular walls. “By 3.465 billion years ago,” users 3.4 billion years ago as well.”
lion years ago. In a study pub- In a world of growing under- said Schopf, “life was already To Schopf and his team, the
lished in December 2017 in the standing that early, primitive diverse on Earth; that’s clear — new evidence adds credence to
Proceedings of the National microbes on Earth were diverse, primitive photosynthesizers, the fact that life formed quickly
Academy of Sciences, Schopf and the team suggests that this diver- methane producers, methane on early Earth, and also under-
his team report that two species sity, coupled with the increasing users. These are the first data that scores that primitive life evolved
they studied appeared to undergo number of known exoplanets and show the very diverse organisms quickly into more advanced
a primitive form of photosynthe- the sheer number of stars in the at that time in Earth’s history, microorganisms.
sis, another produced methane universe, points toward life being and our previous research has — David J. Eicher

8 A ST R O N O M Y • MAY 2018
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Apathy Now!
Would the discovery of extraterrestrial life
really change the world?
1 cm

re you ready for some want to say that. Because as I
exciting news about paid close attention the next
apathy? day, nobody talked about the
Back when Dan life-on-Mars discovery. People
Goldin was didn’t care. (That Goldin’s
administrator of NASA, his announcement later proved too The meteorite ALH84001 is a 4.5 billion-year-old chunk of Mars’ crust that arrived
on Earth about 13,000 years ago. In 1996, NASA announced that the meteorite
sister was one of my students. optimistic isn’t relevant here.) It might contain fossils of early martian life — a statement that didn’t have a major
She thoughtfully told me he was one more sign our culture impact on society or its view of science. NASA/JSC/STANFORD UNIVERSITY
totally loved Discover magazine is scientifically apathetic.
— especially my astronomy Fast forward to 2017. When I was hired to run here. Astronomers are keeping
page. Pleased to hear it, I fol- Someone in Sweden posted astronomy programs at the big everything secret.
lowed him closely after that, gorgeous Facebook photos of 2015 Wanderlust yoga festival The problem lies deeper than
which is why I vividly remem- atmospheric ice crystal phe- in Killington, Vermont, a staff the sad reality that fewer teen-
ber August 6, 1996, when he nomena. They showed halos, member met me at the office. agers are participating in out-
called a press conference to the upper tangent arc, the par- “Did you see the news?” she door hands-on nature hobbies
make a jaw-dropping helic circle, and other cool stuff. asked. “The Earth is flat.” like astronomy, bird-watching,
announcement: NASA’s analy- Then I read the comments. “What? Earth isn’t flat.” or canoeing. Nonetheless, many
sis of the Antarctic martian “Wake up, folks,” wrote the “Yes it is. They’ve proven it. are glued to screens with the
meteorite ALH84001 revealed first guy. “Here’s proof the gov- It’s all over the net.” potential to believe the fakery.
the possibility of life. Life on ernment is releasing metals “You don’t have to believe Our response? We mustn’t
Mars! It finally happened! into the atmosphere!” me,” I said. “Do you have any try to bring young people into
I quickly turned to my long- The next commentator friends in California?” real science too quickly.
suffering wife and yelled: “Now agreed. “Absolutely! Fifteen “Yes.” Instead, reality should be intro-
we’ll find out!” years ago I saw a ring around “Then during the next sunset duced incrementally. The first
I’d long suspected that the the Sun for the first time. Now here, phone your California step is a return to the situation
endlessly repeated adage that a decade ago, which was mere
“everything will change if we indifference. That’s an achiev-
find extraterrestrial life” was Ignorance of science able objective. To help, we’re
wrong, that it gave our apathetic seems only to be growing. offering a new bumper sticker:
citizenry too much credit, that “Apathy Now!”
people wouldn’t care if geeky We’ve founded NAP — the
scientists found evidence of I often see rings. The govern- friends. They’ll tell you their National Apathy Promotion.
some microscopic or plantlike ment is poisoning the air.” Sun is halfway up the sky. Yet Our goal is to get 1 million
organisms in a distant place. “You’re wrong,” I said to her it’s on the horizon here. So teenagers a year to say, “Don’t
Even today, that adage is still in my mind. “Early on, you Earth can’t be flat.” bother me with astronomy.” If
repeated like a mantra. Bill Nye’s never noticed rings —which are Her face had a “don’t bother you donate, my friends, we can
December 3 op-ed piece in The called halos, by the way — me” expression. I get the rea- replace the current insistence
New York Times said the same because you didn’t watch the soning: Our government lies. So that Mars is a secret alien mili-
thing: finding extraterrestrial life sky and don’t know about if it insists Earth is a ball, it tary base and that congressmen
would profoundly alter our refraction phenomena. Now means Earth is flat. are reptilians (no joke, Google
everyday attitudes. you’re aware of rings, so you Call it fake science or any- it) with a return to the NASA
Goldin’s announcement see them because they’re com- thing you want. It’s spreading. glory years of “I don’t care.”
wasn’t about some distant exo- mon. And, incidentally, metal- Climate change is not real. We It’s a lofty goal. But with
planet. This was Mars. It was lic particles can’t refract light never went to the Moon. White your help, we can succeed.
next door. So I figured, now and wouldn’t resemble ice crys- lines in the sky are from gov-
we’ll finally know how the pub- tal effects. They wouldn’t form ernment programs. A planet Join me and Pulse of the Planet’s
lic reacts. halos in the first place.” named Nibiru is on a collision Jim Metzner in my new podcast,
Astounding Universe, at
I don’t want to say I told you It’s no use. Ignorance of sci- course with Earth. Armageddon
so. Actually, that’s not true. I do ence seems only to be growing. is coming. Aliens are already


10 A ST R O N O M Y • MAY 2018
An authentic solar experience Jeff Hester responds
I really enjoyed David Eicher’s November I’m an Oklahoma boy who spent his teen-
2017 editor’s letter, “Making light of gal- age years sitting on a tractor. I’ve read
axies,” and the idea of viewing the real the Bible cover to cover. The reader and I
thing through a telescope. I live where might know and respect some of the same
there are fairly dark skies and sometimes people. But I write for Astronomy as a
try to challenge myself by searching for scientist, and think it’s important to do so
deep-sky objects, such as nebulae and without dissimulation.
faint galaxies. It’s not always about how If only creationism were a straw man!
bright and beautiful the object appears, Many who “believe in” evolution and
but rather knowing that you are looking the Big Bang accept the historical events
at a galaxy that could be 58 million light- but insist on a Guiding Hand. The
years away, although it only appears as a thing is, adding teleology to the mix
faint smudge through the eyepiece. It can rejects the very core of those theories.

sometimes be frustrating trying to locate Repackaging creationism as “intelligent
the fainter objects, but it’s so rewarding design” doesn’t change the leopard’s spots.
when a deep-sky object is found. How did our universe give rise to tardi-
With all the available technology and grades and Trump supporters and other
access to online viewing, it’s refreshing to Stellar holiday décor bizarre creatures? As I have discussed in
read an article that embraces viewing the We saw the breathtaking totality in several columns, the Second Law of
night sky with your own telescope. McMinnville, Oregon, in 2017. The glass- Thermodynamics and Darwinian evolu-
— Tom Bryant, Danville, KY es made for great Christmas tree orna- tion get you there.
ments while we await the 2024 eclipse. The reader raises related questions that
— Elliot Perlman, Providence, RI would make for fun conversation over a
Lone velocity beer. What caused the Big Bang? A coun-
Astronomy often writes about the velocity terintuitive implication of quantum
of various bodies traveling through space, From nothing to everything? mechanics is that events require no direct
but without indication of what that veloc- Most Christians I know believe in evolu- cause. From eternal inflation to a collision
ity is relative to. An assumption is often tion and in a universe created by the Big between string theory branes, most cred-
possible, such as the Sun for the Voyager Bang. Because of this, it was with amuse- ible ideas describe the Big Bang as the
spacecraft or the Milky Way for the ment that I read Mr. Hester’s responses result of a quantum fluctuation. Why does
Andromeda Galaxy, but in the Ask Astro to criticism of “intelligent design.” The anything exist? Based on the general form
section of the December issue, I read spectacle of him sallying forth with pen- of field equations, theoretical physicists
that the Milky Way is traveling through nants unfurled to do battle with the straw argue that absolute nothingness is unsta-
space at 1.3 million mph (580 km/s). This man of creationism will stick with me for ble. The reader also implicitly raises the
doesn’t make sense unless the reader a while. anthropic principle, but I’m out of space to
knows what the velocity is relative to. In I would have been much more respond. Stay tuned.
the future, please encourage your writ- impressed had he addressed the idea that
ers to include a point of reference when in a void without even space, where there
discussing the velocity of bodies moving was no place or space for time to elapse in, Astronomy’s musical impact
through space. amid the infinite timeless nothingness, for A quick note to say that I really enjoyed
— John Patterson, Hollywood, MD no reason, and at no particular time, tons the article in the January issue, “The real
of energy exploded (and maybe six to music of the spheres,” about music and
Astronomy responds eight times more dark stuff and maybe 15 the continual influence and pull that
Sorry for any confusion. The speed we times more dark energy) to create a huge the heavenly bodies have had on artists
were quoting is relative to the cosmic amount of space. Randomly. Out of abso- through the centuries. It featured great
background radiation, which serves as a lutely nothing. And in such a fashion that information about musical and astronom-
standard reference frame when consider- 13 some billion years later, here we are ical history. Thank you!
ing the universe as a whole. amid black holes and aardvarks and uni- — Mallory Duff, Hampstead, MD
cycles and liberals and all sorts of other
unlikely phenomena.
We welcome your comments at Now I’m just a dumb old Iowa farm boy Correction
Astronomy Letters, P. O. Box 1612, and retired Army first sergeant, but it The “Wonders of the Big Dog” article on
Waukesha, WI 53187; or email to letters@ seems to me that although Mr. Hester may p. 68 of the January 2018 issue states that Please include your be every bit as clever as he thinks he is, the Sirius and its white dwarf companion star,
name, city, state, and country. Letters rest of us are not nearly as lunkheaded as Sirius B, are separated by 4". However,
may be edited for space and clarity. he dearly seems to believe. they have a maximum separation of 11.2",
— Steven Imerman, Springfield, MO which will occur in 2025.

ASTRONEWS ORIGIN STORY. The first meteorites found to contain both liquid water and complex organic compounds may have
originated from a dwarf planet in the asteroid belt, such as Ceres.


ven though Mars’ atmosphere is just
1 percent as dense as Earth’s, the
Red Planet’s surface still experiences
plenty of weathering and erosion. In
2008, researchers captured a full-
scale avalanche on Mars as material
plunged down a 2,300-foot (700 meters)
slope into a valley. These types of geological
events often expose structures beneath the
martian surface, revealing layers of rock,
dry (carbon dioxide) ice, and even water ice.
In a study published January 11 in
Science, researchers using the Mars
Reconnaissance Orbiter investigated eight
steep and eroded slopes, known as scarps, at
DEEP BLUE. In this color-enhanced image of an eroding cliff on Mars taken from above, water ice appears in
various sites across Mars. At each spot, they blue. The top third of the image shows the martian surface leading up to the cliff’s edge, while the bottom third
found thick shelves of relatively pure water is the valley below. NASA/JPL/UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA/USGS
ice as little as 3 feet (1 m) below the surface.
Some of these ice deposits were massive — weathered slopes, the researchers believe the valley below. Based on this, the
more than 330 feet (100 m) thick. the ice is “cohesive and strong.” The team researchers estimated the ice is retreating
Scientists have spotted frozen water on also found that the ice appears banded, horizontally at a rate of a few millimeters
Mars’ surface many times before, but this showing layered variations in its blue color. each year, likely because of exposed ice sub-
is the first time observations have revealed This suggests that the massive ice deposits limating (transforming directly from a solid
so much about its layering, thickness, are composed of many distinct layers that to a gas) as it contacts the thin martian air.
purity, and prevalence. have been squished together over time, pre- The discovery of these large reservoirs of
According to the paper, “the ice exposed serving a record of Mars’ climate history. pure water ice adds yet another piece of
by the scarps likely originated as snow that However, because there are few craters near evidence supporting the increasingly held
transformed into massive ice sheets, now these sites, the authors suggest the ice was theory that water ice not only remains on
preserved beneath less than one to two formed relatively recently, in the past mil- Mars, but also is surprisingly common.
[meters] of dry and ice-cemented dust or lion years or so. Although the ice sheets could obviously
regolith near ±55° latitude.” In 2008, the Although the deposits formed quickly serve as sources of water for future manned
Phoenix Mars lander discovered similar ice (geologically speaking), they also recede a missions to Mars, scientists still need to
deposits along martian scarps, but they tiny bit each summer, the researchers say. characterize them and estimate their size
were in regions much closer to the planet’s In one scarp, the team found that over the first. But with the Mars 2020 rover just a
north pole. course of only three martian years, multiple few years away, the discovery of eight more
Since the ice deposits highlighted in the meter-wide boulders had dislodged them- tantalizing sites ripe for investigation is still
study were found intact along the scarps’ selves from the ice deposits, tumbling into an exciting find. — Jake Parks

Stellar disks
can form rings
without planets
NO PLANET REQUIRED. Astronomers spot
disks of gas and dust around young stars by
placing a “mask” (the dark region in the image’s
center) over the star to block its light. This disk
around the star HD 141569A shows complex
structure; rings and other patterns are often used
as proxies for forming exoplanets, which are
thought to carve out lanes as they grow. But new

simulations using NASA’s Discover supercomputing

2 arcseconds cluster show that planets are not needed for such
rings to arise. Instead, disk material can develop
structure as a result of exposure to ultraviolet
22 billion miles light from the star. The discovery was announced
(35 billion kilometers) January 11 at the American Astronomical Society
meeting in Washington, D.C. — Alison Klesman

12 A ST R O N O M Y • MAY 2018
ASTRONEWS MARTIAN METHANE. New measurements taken by the Curiosity rover indicate that atmospheric methane — a sign
of life on Earth — changes with the seasons on Mars.

QUICK TAKES Cepheid variable star V1 in M31 A Cepheid variable
identified by Edwin
STELLAR STROLL Hubble in the
Walking Among the Stars is a Andromeda Galaxy,
virtual reality project that lets designated V1, allowed
users explore the Cassiopeia A him to measure the
supernova remnant in 3-D. January 26, 2011 galaxy’s distance,

December 30, 2010 proving that it was not
a nebula inside the
Research suggests the presence December 21, 2010 Milky Way. Cepheid
of life can change a world’s variables change
atmosphere enough to alter brightness predictably
how quickly the planet spins. with time via a

December 17, 2010 relationship called
the Leavitt Law. NASA, ESA,
A circumstellar disk is the most
likely explanation for the
periodic dimming of Tabby’s Star
— not an alien megastructure.

Researchers proved that
spacecraft can navigate
autonomously with a GPS-like
system that tracks narrow
New surveys help calibrate a century-old law
A Cepheid variable star pulsates over Recent work to improve Cepheid vari- “When we looked at a star’s spec-
beams of radiation from pulsars.

hours or days. As its physical size
changes, its temperature, surface
able measurements was presented in
January at the 231st Meeting of the
trum across its entire pulsation cycle,
we found no significant differences
gravity, and brightness change as American Astronomical Society in in the results. … We’re getting reli-
Prolonged periods of
weightlessness cause persistent
well. In the early 1900s, Henrietta Washington, D.C. able results every time we look,” she
fevers in astronauts and Leavitt spotted a relationship Kate Hartman, an undergraduate said in a press release.
significantly increase body between a Cepheid’s brightness and from Pomona College working with That means APOGEE accurately
temperatures during exercise. the time period over which it varies. Rachael Beaton, the NASA Hubble measures the chemical composition

This relationship, called the Leavitt
Law, allows astronomers to calculate
and Carnegie-Princeton postdoctoral
fellow at Princeton University, exam-
of Cepheid variables, regardless of
where or when they’re seen. Now
A January paper in Astrobiology the star’s intrinsic brightness and ined Cepheid variables in the Sloan the catalog’s data can be confidently
calls on astronomers to broaden determine the distance to the star. Digital Sky Survey’s Apache Point paired with other up-and-coming
their search for life in the Cepheids remain vital distance indi- Galactic Evolution Experiment surveys, such as Gaia, which mea-
cosmos by also combing space cators and tracers of galactic evolu- (APOGEE) catalog to determine sures distances via parallax, to fur-
for viruses. tion, and it’s important to ensure these whether APOGEE produces reliable ther test and calibrate the Leavitt

stars are mapped and measured accu-
rately in large surveys, where a single
information about these unique stars.
Hartman studied several images of
Law so astronomers can reliably use
Cepheid variables of all compositions
The Keck Observatory’s newest image could catch the star at any ran- the same variable taken over time to to map and study our galaxy and
instrument, the Near-Infrared dom point during its pulsation period. measure the elements in the star. others nearby. — A.K.
Echellette Spectrometer, saw
first light with an image of the
planetary nebula NGC 7027.

Kepler has revealed that iron-
rich stars are more likely to host MaS distribution of 67P BUILDING BLOCKS. Recent
shorter-period planets, while results from the Rosetta mission’s The comet 46P/
iron-poor stars tend to have COSIMA instrument team have Wirtanen was
longer-period planets. highlighted the “ingredients” Rosetta’s original

present in Comet 67P/Churyumov-
Gerasimenko, based on analysis of
target, but a
delay in launch
The first six hexagonal segments 45% dust grains emitted as the comet date led the team
of the Extremely Large neared the Sun. Researchers studied a
to select 67P as
Telescope’s 130-foot (39 meters) small subset of 30 grains (out of over
the spacecraft’s
main mirror have been 35,000 collected) that ranged from
0.01–1 millimeter in size, and found destination.
successfully cast.

they all have a similar composition,
revealing the makeup of the comet.
A Johns Hopkins University
Chemical composition of 67P About 45 percent of 67P is organic, making it one of the most
carbon-rich bodies currently known in our solar system. The
astrophysicist proposed a new
30% 30% 30% 5.5% 1.6% 0.6% 2.4% comet’s minerals are non-hydrated, meaning they lack water
upper boundary for the mass of
compounds. While the comet does of course include water,
a planet: between 4 and
scientists believe the fact that it is frozen as ice prevented the

10 Jupiter masses.
• water from mixing with the minerals.



67P’s material is considered “pristine,” left over from the


NOWHERE TO HIDE formation of our solar system. Studying the composition of


NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson 67P and other comets can help astronomers better piece
recently became the first person together the history of the solar system and of Earth, as comets
to collect unknown organisms are thought to have delivered a significant percentage of the
and sequence their DNA while materials that compose the planet — and paved the way for
in space. — J.P. life to form. — A.K.

by the appearance of long and
bright “super-outbursts” that
can last weeks. At minimum,
TV Corvi lies dormant at 19th
magnitude before an outburst

Snow White brightens it 250 times to 13th

magnitude (or brighter) in
roughly two days, making it

and the seven

visible in backyard telescopes.
You can plot a finder chart at
Our next target, magnitude

dwarfs Replace Happy and Doc with

the seven dwarfs of the sky.
7.5 Lalande 21185 in
Ursa Major (R.A. 11h03m,
Dec. 35°58'), is the brightest
red dwarf star north of the

his month, I’m chal- celestial equator and the third The Small Cluster Nebula (NGC 7129)
lenging you to go brightest in the entire sky. A combines a star cluster with three
after some diminu- mere 8.3 light-years distant, it nebulous regions. A 6-inch telescope
will reveal the cluster. To spot the
tive objects that sails through the background nebulae, move up to at least a 10-inch
spice up the night stars at nearly 5" a year. scope. KEN CRAWFORD
sky with their hidden beauty. Red dwarfs are the smallest
I have selected seven dwarf stars in our galaxy. Lalande Stars of the Week, “Rare is the
objects you can search for. 21185 possesses only about half naked-eye star that has a lumi-
First up is the white dwarf the Sun’s mass and spans only nosity and mass less than that
central star of planetary nebula about 40 percent of its diam- of the Sun.” But with a magni-
IC 2149, in the northern part of eter. It appears red because the tude of 4.5, the yellow/orange
the constellation Auriga the star has a cool surface tempera- dwarf star Xi Boötis can be
Charioteer. Lying just 40' west- ture of 6,400° Fahrenheit spied under a dark sky without
northwest of Pi (π) Aurigae, (3,800 kelvins). In 2017, astron- effort. You’ll find it nearly a
IC 2149 is an “inside out” plan- omers discovered an exoplanet fist-width due east of the
etary nebula. Visually, planetar- The trick to observing Leo I (top) orbiting Lalande 21185. They orange giant star Arcturus
is to move the brilliant blue star
ies usually appear as gaseous Regulus just outside the field of view christened it Lalande 21185b. It (Alpha Boötis). I call it “yellow/
rings or butterflies with nearly of your eyepiece. BERNHARD HUBL is several times larger than orange” because Xi is an easily
impossible-to-spot central stars. Earth, but several times smaller accessible double star (at a dis-
But IC 2149 is a planetary neb- the view. Doubling the diffi- than Neptune. tance of about 22 light-years,
ula with a magnitude 11.3 cen- culty, the galaxy’s light covers Sailing northward along the one of the closest to our Sun)
tral star surrounded by a tiny an area measuring 12' by 9', so Milky Way into the constella- consisting of a magnitude 4.6
and almost inconspicuous neb- a dark sky and moderate mag- tion Cepheus the King, we yellow dwarf and a magnitude
ula 8.5" in extent. nification are required. At a encounter a cosmic rosebud, 6.8 orange dwarf companion
You’ll find our next target, distance of 800,000 light-years, NGC 7129 — a dwarf nebula some 7" away. So you get two
newly designated dwarf planet Leo I may be the farthest satel- (with a diameter less than 10' dwarfs for the price of one!
1 Ceres, in the northeastern lite system orbiting our galaxy. when photographed through a I’ll finish with Snow White.
part of Cancer the Crab. Ceres We now proceed to an enig- blue filter) 2.6° northwest of Well, actually, you’ve probably
reached perihelion April 22, matic object: the dwarf nova magnitude 4.5 Xi (ξ) Cephei, already seen her — the Milky
when it shined at magnitude TV Corvi (Tombaugh’s star). the heart of the celestial king. Way. Astronomers investigating
7.8 and sailed about 1° north- Lowell Observatory astrono- This evolved HII (star-form- the color of our galaxy used
east of Iota (ι) Cancri. On mer and discoverer of Pluto ing) region belongs to a com- Sloan Digital Sky Survey data
May 1, the minor world is Clyde Tombaugh found this plex molecular cloud some collected on hundreds of galax-
within 30' of the magnitude 6.7 star on plates he took in 1931, 3,300 light-years distant that ies resembling ours and found
star 70 Cancri. It then heads during his trans-Neptunian skirts the upper regions of the its color resembles that of
southeast toward magnitude planet search. He considered it Cepheus Bubble — a giant dust freshly fallen snow seen about
4.5 Kappa (κ) Leonis on the a nova. Not until Astronomy ring with an apparent diameter an hour after dawn. So, it seems
15th, and about 1° northwest of contributing editor David Levy of about 10°. NGC 7129 is itself the Milky Way is aptly named.
magnitude 4.3 Lambda (λ) researched Tombaugh’s discov- a little bubble of hot gas created As always, let me know how
Leonis on the 31st. ery in 1989 did we learn that it by the three B stars within its you fare by sending emails to
The dwarf spheroidal galaxy has repeated outbursts. cavity. Visually the 7'-by-7'
Leo I appears as a magnitude TV Corvi, in fact, appears to nebulosity centers on a trap-
10 glow only 20' north of be composed of two dwarf ezoid of stars, which causes the Stephen James O’Meara
Regulus (Alpha [α] Leonis), the objects: a white dwarf and a nebula to appear patchy. is a globe-trotting observer
Lion’s brightest star. Glare substellar brown dwarf donor. As star expert Jim Kaler who is always looking for the
next great celestial event.
from the luminary hampers The variable is characterized tells us in his online column


14 A ST R O N O M Y • MAY 2018
ASTRONEWS DIM DETECTIONS. By using Hubble to peer deep into the Orion Nebula, astronomers discovered the
largest population of brown dwarfs yet, identifying 20 small, failed stars.

New model links three types of energetic particles

Energetic cosmic rays, gamma
rays, and neutrinos emitted
from sources far across the
universe act as cosmic mes-
sengers, carrying information
to Earth about extreme objects
from beyond our galaxy.
Although the origins of these
particles remain mysterious,
their comparable energies have
led astronomers to wonder for
decades if they might all come
from a similar source. TRIPLE PLAY. The supermassive black hole in the center of the Cygnus A PACKED IN. The Kepler-11 system has six
Astronomers have posited galaxy produces bright jets. Astronomers believe such jets could generate planets of similar mass orbiting their sun with
that active galactic nuclei (AGN) energetic cosmic rays, gamma rays, and neutrinos. COURTESY OF NRAO/AUI relatively even spacing. The entire system could
— supermassive black holes fit inside the orbit of Venus. NASA/TIM PYLE
feeding at the centers of galax- how all three particles can high-energy neutrinos and
ies — may be responsible for
these three types of high-
energy emissions, but have
result when cosmic rays are
accelerated within the powerful
jets emitted from the region
gamma rays we observe.
“This model paves a way to
further attempts to establish a
struggled to explain exactly
how or why. A new model
based on highly detailed
around active supermassive
black holes.
grand-unified model of how all
three of these cosmic messen- systems are
numerical calculations and
published January 22 in Nature
According to the model,
such acceleration boosts the
energy of these cosmic rays
gers are physically connected
to each other by the same class
of astrophysical sources,”
neater than ours
Physics bolsters the case for into the “ultrahigh” range, Murase said in a press release. As our catalog of extrasolar systems
exactly this origin. above about 1017 electron volts. Both authors hope their model grows, so does astronomers’ ability to
The work, by Ke Fang at the When these cosmic rays collide will prompt further studies of pick out patterns that reveal the secrets
Pennsylvania State University with the gas that permeates the active galaxies in clusters and of planet formation. One such pattern
and Kohta Murase at the galaxy clusters where many groups to confirm or disprove presents further evidence that our solar
University of Maryland, shows AGN reside, they produce the their predictions. — A.K. system may be an outlier: Extrasolar
planets in other systems often share
similar masses and circle their suns in

regularly spaced orbits.
The number of graphics processing units in the new ARTS super- The finding, published January 3 in
computer, which aims to discover one fast radio burst per week. The Astronomical Journal, is based on 909
planets in 355 systems discovered by the
Kepler telescope. Two major patterns
arose when astronomers examined the
data statistically. First, neighboring exo-
planets tend to have similar masses.
Second, their orbits are regularly spaced
from one planet to the next. By compari-
son, our solar system’s inner planets have
mismatched sizes and are widely spaced.
“These patterns would not occur if the
planet sizes or spacings were drawn at
random,” said study leader Lauren Weiss
of the Université de Montréal in a press
release. That indicates the planets in the
systems surveyed — and possibly most
extrasolar systems — remain relatively
undisturbed since their formation from a
disk of debris around their young star.
Based on current models of planet for-
mation, planets should easily form in such
a disk with a compact configuration that
leaves them similarly sized and at regular
intervals. Astronomers believe our solar
system appears different because Jupiter
and Saturn moved inward to disrupt any

existing structure before retreating to

their current positions.
Additional data on more planetary
AR sandbox helps users visualize gravity systems will help pin down how common
it is for either disruption or undisturbed
GRASPING GRAVITY. Undergraduates at the University of Iowa designed and built an augmented reality (AR) planet formation to occur. Weiss is now
sandbox, dubbed Gravbox, that helps users visualize how variations in gravity influence an object’s motion. Although working on a study to look for extrasolar
similar AR sandboxes exist, Gravbox is the first to simulate the effects of gravity in real time. How does it work? The systems with planets like Jupiter to learn
user sculpts an environment from sand, then a computer projects a moving particle onto the terrain. The projection more about its role in our own solar sys-
simulates how an object, such as a comet or space probe, would travel through the imagined landscape. — J.P. tem’s history. — A.K.


to the
Amateur astronomy
can change lives.

ou amateur astrono-
mers out there are an
odd lot. (I get to say A beautiful deep-sky object like the Whirlpool Galaxy (M51), viewed at a star paty with a moderate-size telescope, can spark people
that because I started to see the universe in a new way. Just one telescopic look has altered the future of many young folks. BOB FERA
out as an amateur
myself.) Think about it. You on a limb and say that maybe It’s good that we are coming I’ve known many amateur
dump tons of time and money those thousand hours or so sit- to better understand this stuff, astronomers and spoken to
into telescopes, cameras, and ting in math classrooms could because the times, they are countless clubs and gatherings
the like. Every chance you get, have been better spent. Granted, a-changing. Watch an IBM over the years. You are an
you head off into the hinterland if you don’t own a tool, you can’t Watson commercial, catch a interesting and passionate lot
where you sit up all night, freez- use it. But if you don’t need a self-driving cab, or read a news with a great deal to offer. Cool
ing your keister, and stare into tool for something you care story written by a computer. science, hands-on hardware,
an eyepiece to catch a glance of about, why bother to pick it up? Day after day, more and more recording and working with
some ghostly apparition. Your None of this surprises teach- jobs are being taken over by new data, star parties, questions
family thinks you are nuts. ers who are worth their salt. and rapidly evolving technolo- that have intrigued humankind
Aren’t the spectacular pictures When counseling undergradu- gies. Today’s student won’t have for millennia — your hobby is
on Google Images enough? ates, I made it a point to discuss a single career; she will likely tailor-made for Project Based
Of course they aren’t! what college is about: “You have dozens of job titles, most of Learning. Places like the Buck
Astronomy is a passion, and that aren’t really here to get a job or which have yet to be invented. Institute for Education and
Messier collection means some- even a degree. You certainly The future doesn’t need workers Edutopia (the George Lucas
thing. I understand that. But aren’t here to collect A’s, or at who have been trained to put Educational Foundation) have
where did your passion come least I hope not. What you are nut B on bolt A. The future what you need to get started.
from? What got you hooked? here for is to start becoming needs interesting, capable, cre- Your chance to help shape the
I’m going to hazard a guess that who you will be for the rest of ative, curious individuals future might be as close as a
it didn’t have much to do with a your life!” To quote Plutarch shaped by diverse and wide- phone call from your club to a
classroom sage on a stage. Don’t (a.d. 46–120): “The mind is not ranging experiences. nearby school.
get me wrong, classrooms are a vessel that needs filling, but Schools are beginning to You are the sorts of people
important. After a quarter- wood that needs igniting.” catch up with this need. “Project whose passion inspires. I know,
century of teaching, at least I What is new is a growing Based Learning” is fancy jargon because when I was a kid, you
hope they are. But as a student, understanding of what’s going for curriculum that is built not inspired me. Very few of the
my own attitudes and interests on behind the curtain as we around chapters in textbooks, students you work with will go
had more impact on what I got learn, deep inside our brains. but around authentic, engaging, on to become astronomers. But
out of a class than anything a The sum total of your life’s and complex questions, prob- what you share will become a
teacher or professor said. experiences blends together into lems, and challenges. It is messy, part of who those students are,
Experiences are what matter. your own unique internal creative, collaborative, draws on how they think, and what they
Since time immemorial, uni- model of the world, different individual strengths, and always do for the rest of their lives.
versity faculty members have from that of any other person. produces something to show for They might just change the
bemoaned the “sorry state of Your brain uses that ever- the effort. More than just way that you experience the
affairs with today’s students.” changing internal model to another fad, Project Based world, too.
How is it possible, we astronomy construct the predictions and Learning is a real world
professors ask, that after years simulations that become your approach to education that Jeff Hester is a keynote speaker,
of math classes, students can’t conscious reality. That internal works with rather than against coach, and astrophysicist.
figure out a simple inverse- model is what largely makes how our brains are wired. Follow his thoughts at
square law? I’m going to go out you you. This is where you come in.


16 A ST R O N O M Y • MAY 2018
ASTRONEWS VIEWING THE INVISIBLE. The April 2017 campaign to image the supermassive black hole in the heart
of the Milky Way is expected to release its results later this year.

This meteorite’s Webb to take

origin is mysterious on brown
stone, discovered by geologist
Aly Barakat in 1996, contains a Researchers have been try-
combination of chemicals and
ing to unlock the mysteries
minerals that doesn’t match our
of brown dwarfs ever since
early solar system. MARIO DI MARTINO/INAF
their existence was confirmed
in 1995. Observations of
these distant, dim objects
from Earth are limited, but
multiple researchers plan
to use NASA’s upcoming
James Webb Space Telescope
(JWST) to eliminate some of
Researchers at the uncertainty surrounding
the University of brown dwarfs. Plans to study
Johannesburg recently their atmospheres and gain
conducted a mineral analysis of the Hypatia insight into their formation
stone, an extraterrestrial rock fragment discov- are in the works, with the end
ered in Egypt in 1996. Their analysis found that goal of better understanding
the stone’s mineral makeup is unlike any other the dividing line between
known object in our solar system. stars and planets.
The meteorite contains unusually high Researchers at the
amounts of carbon and low amounts of silicon, Université de Montréal will use
a chemical composition opposite to that of JWST to study SIMP0136, a
Earth, which has high amounts of silicon and brown dwarf with a cloudy TINY LIGHTS. NGC 1333 is just one of many targets planned for
low amounts of carbon. Additionally, the grains atmosphere. Brown dwarfs’ the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope. The young star cluster
within Hypatia’s matrix (the stone inside which atmospheres are best viewed associated with this nebula contains numerous brown dwarfs; Webb’s
dust grains are embedded) also have a unique in infrared light, but because infrared capabilities will allow astronomers to study these hard-to-see
blend of phosphorus, nickel, and minute Earth’s atmosphere absorbs failed stars in greater detail. NASA/CXC/JPL
amounts of iron. Because the ratio of elements this light, studying SIMP0136
inside the grains differs from any other rocky from the ground has proven constellation Perseus. dwarfs in much finer detail
body in the solar system, researchers think the difficult. Webb’s space-based NGC 1333 is a hotbed for than current ground
grains were formed prior to the solar nebula instruments will enable brown dwarfs, including instruments.
that birthed our planets. researchers to study the those weighing only about 5 Webb’s ability to detect
Astronomers believe the solar nebula, a clouds’ chemical composition to 6 Jupiter masses. (They are atmospheric molecules will
massive cloud of dust and gas, produced the without obstruction. usually much larger, tens of not only assist in identifying
Sun and the planets in our solar system. Planet Aleks Scholz, an astrono- times more massive than common compounds among
formation likely began as the nebula’s dust mer at the University of Jupiter.) Webb’s infrared brown dwarfs, but also could
began to clump together, a process long St. Andrews in Scotland, plans viewing capabilities will help pinpoint whether these
believed to be homogenous. However, to use Webb to study enable Scholz to study these worlds hold the elements
Hypatia’s bizarre chemical composition and the NGC 1333, a nebula in the rare, dim, low-mass brown needed to support life. — A.J.
lack of silicate minerals in its matrix — which
are dominant in the compositions of Earth,
Venus, Mars, and most known meteorites —
cast doubt on this theory. VENUS AT DUSK
If Hypatia’s matrix is pre-solar, the question
of where it came from remains. And if it instead Ecliptic in early June
formed from the same nebula that created the 20° Ecliptic in mid-August
planets, its never-before-seen makeup contra- 18 June 3
dicts the homogenous theory, leaving astrono- July 3 19
mers to re-evaluate the distribution of 18

May 4
elements inside the nebula that formed our Aug. 2
solar system. — Amber Jorgenson 10° 19

Sept. 1 April 4

16 20
March 5

Azimuth West
The upper cost of a THE “EVENING STAR.” Even at its dimmest, Venus shines nine times
new earth science mission line brighter than the night sky’s brightest star, Sirius. But Venus stands out even From 40° north FAST
more when it lies far from the Sun. This chart plots the planet’s positions latitude, Venus FACT
recommended to NASA by the for an observer at 40° north latitude an hour after sunset. Notice that Venus
reaches its peak altitude in late May and early June, more than two months
peaks at an
altitude of 16°
National Academies of Sciences, before its August 17 greatest elongation. That’s because the ecliptic — the in early June.
apparent path of the Sun and planets across our sky — makes a steeper
Engineering, and Medicine. angle to the western horizon in springtime. — Richard Talcott


A great glob
under the radar
The cluster M5 lies in an interesting neighborhood. M5 in Serpens is one of the most brilliant globular clusters in the northern sky, and an

f you were asked to name to be evenly distributed along While most of the Milky 24,500 light-years away and
the greatest visual observer the Milky Way. From this, he Way’s globular clusters are may contain as many as
of all time, whom would reasoned that the Sun must be clumped in Sagittarius, 500,000 stars crammed into a
you choose? There are in the very center. Of course, Scorpius, and Ophiuchus, a few space about 165 light-years
many worthy candidates, that isn’t correct. That’s renegades are out there. This across. By contrast, M13 —
but my vote would have to go to because, unbeknownst to him, month, let’s examine a loner summer’s Hercules Cluster,
the 18th-century astronomer cosmic dust blocked his view found in western Serpens. M5 which we visited in this col-
William Herschel. He had quite (as well as ours) along the plane may be off the beaten path, but umn in July 2016 — holds
a track record, including the of the galaxy beyond about this recluse is one of the most about 300,000 stars.
discovery of the planet Uranus 6,000 light-years. magnificent globulars any- Before we bid farewell to this
as well as thousands of deep-sky It would be another century where in the sky. month’s binocular universe,
objects. That’s a pretty good run. and a half before Harlow Gottfried Kirch discovered let’s take a look at an asterism
Herschel did more than just Shapley discovered our solar M5 on May 5, 1702, from drawn among several stars to
look at the sky, however. He also system’s true position in the Berlin, Germany. His notes the south and east of M5.
tried to understand what he was Milky Way. By studying the described it as a “nebulous star.” Added together, they remind
looking at. Based on his studies distances to globular star clus- Although Kirch was Germany’s me of a sailboat. The boat’s bow
of how stars appear distributed ters, Shapley found that most first Astronomer Royal at the is marked by 5 Serpentis, while
along the hazy band of the seemed to be distributed in a time, those notes remained 6 and 8 Serpentis symbolize the
Milky Way, Herschel concluded spherical volume centered not unpublished until after Charles deck. The hull extends to
that the Milky Way is shaped on the Sun, but instead on a Messier independently found 4 Serpentis and SAO 140444,
like a flattened disk. We know distant point in the direction of M5 on May 23, 1764. Messier the faintest star in the pattern.
today that he was exactly right. the constellation Sagittarius. He described it as a “beautiful neb- Finally, the sails’ mast extends
When it came time to know- concluded that globular clusters ula; it does not contain any east-northeast from 6 to 10
ing his place in the Milky Way, must hover around the core of star.” It was only after Herschel Serpentis. The sailboat looks
however, Herschel was way off. the Milky Way — a conclusion viewed it through a larger tele- capsized in the evening sky, but
He noticed how stars appeared we know today to be correct. scope 27 years later that its true if you happen to pull an all-
nature became clear. nighter this month, come back
To find M5, cast off from just before the onset of morn-
Arcturus and slide southeast- ing twilight. That’s when the
ward to 4th-magnitude Zeta (ζ) Serpent’s Sailboat asterism
Boötis. Continue from there will be most apparent, as it
α twice the distance along a approaches the western
slightly more easterly course horizon.
until you come to a not-quite If you have a favorite bin-
5 right triangle of stars. The tri- ocular target that you’d like
angle’s brightest star, positioned to share with the rest of us,
Sail at the not-quite right angle, is I’d love to feature it in a
3rd-magnitude Unukalhai future column. Drop me a
[pronounced oo-NOO-kul-hi line through my website,
and also known as Alpha (α) Until next
Serpentis]. Next, turn southwest time, don’t forget that two eyes
toward the 5th-magnitude star are better than one!
5 Serpentis. M5 will be just to
its north-northwest. Through Phil Harrington is a longtime
binoculars, it looks like a fuzzy contributor to Astronomy and
The author describes this asterism near cluster M5 as the “Serpent’s Sailboat.” It’s an star, just as Kirch described. the author of many books.
easy binocular target. TONY HALLAS Estimates say that M5 is

18 A ST R O N O M Y • MAY 2018
ASTRONEWS LESS LOSS. Direct observations of the ozone hole over the past 20 years show that there is now 20 percent less
ozone depletion each Antarctic winter than there was in 2005.


Time cloud Time
1.27 Myr 2.49 Myr

Wind Ionized
bubble region




Time Time
4.58 Myr 4.38 Myr
1 Myr = 1,000,000 years

BUBBLE BIRTH. University of Chicago researchers are suggesting the solar

system may have formed in a densely shelled bubble within a giant Wolf-Rayet
star. According to their theory, as the dying star shed its outer layers — a normal
end-of-life process for massive stars — strong stellar winds plowed through the
loosely held cloak of material, forming bubbles packed with gas and dust. Such
bubbles are ideal for birthing stars, the researchers say; they estimate this process STRANGE NEIGHBORHOOD. New results show that the fast radio burst
could account for the formation of 1 to 16 percent of all Sun-like stars. — J.P. FRB 121102 comes from an extreme environment with highly magnetized, dense
plasma. One possibility is a magnetized nebula around or near a pulsar, such as
the one around the Crab Pulsar, pictured here in X-rays and optical light.

The mass contained in the “El Gordo”
galaxy cluster, in solar masses.
FRB resides near a
strong magnetic field
Fast radio bursts (FRBs) are brief
but powerful blasts of radio ener-
Faraday rotation ever observed
from an FRB, indicating its source
gy thought to come from neutron must sit in a highly magnetized,
stars. The sole repeating FRB, plasma-rich region of space.
FRB 121102, has already allowed “This sort of enormous Faraday
astronomers to pinpoint its loca- rotation is extremely rare. … We
tion in a dwarf galaxy 3 billion realized it was a huge clue about
light-years away. Now, new where this bizarre source resides,”
measurements showing that the said team member Victoria Kaspi of
bursts are influenced by a nearby McGill University in a press release.
strong magnetic field are helping Astronomers now have two
astronomers further narrow down theories for the environment
its location within the galaxy. around FRB 121102: Either its
The results come from a study source is near the galaxy’s central

conducted with the Arecibo supermassive black hole, or it is

Observatory in Puerto Rico and sitting inside a nebula magne-
the Green Bank Telescope in West tized by winds from a powerful
Virginia. In the study, published pulsar, such as a scaled-up ver-
January 11 in Nature, astronomers sion of the Crab Nebula.
measured the polarization of the The new findings leave astron-
bursts coming from FRB 121102. omers wondering whether FRBs
Polarization measures the could be a product of their envi-
A globular cluster’s silent black hole degree of alignment between the
magnetic and electric fields of
ronment. “If you have an extreme
object in an extreme environ-
ODD ORBIT. Using ESO’s MUSE instrument on the Very Large Telescope in
light (in this case, radio emission). ment, is that just a coincidence?
Chile, astronomers discovered a star zipping around the heart of the globular
cluster NGC 3201. By analyzing the star’s exceptionally bizarre orbital motion, When polarized emission passes FRBs have these huge explosions
they determined that an inactive (not actively accreting material) stellar-mass through or near a strong mag- in radio waves, and we don’t
black hole lurks within the cluster, imagined in this artist’s concept. This is netic field, its alignment can know why that occurs. Maybe this
the first inactive black hole discovered in a globular cluster, and the first become twisted, a process called is a clue to the mechanism that
detection of a stellar-mass black hole made purely by measuring its gravitational Faraday rotation. Bursts from produces these explosions,” said
influence on other stars. — J.P. FRB 121102 show the strongest Kaspi. — A.K.

ASTRONEWS NEIGHBORLY BEHAVIOR. Nearby star Tau Ceti may host two potentially habitable worlds slightly larger than Earth,
as well as two other planets with temperatures too extreme for life.


Astronomers have
discovered an
excess of high-
mass stars in the
Tarantula Nebula.
This suggests that
massive stars are
much more common
throughout the
universe than
previously thought,
potentially changing
our understanding
of the cosmos.

he universe is teeming with many more “We were astonished when we realized that

massive stars than previously believed, 30 Doradus has formed many more massive
according to a study published January 5 stars than expected,” Fabian Schneider, a Hintze
in Science. Since massive stars play a cru- research fellow in the Department of Physics at
cial role in shaping our universe — the University of Oxford and lead author of the NASA’s Mars Orbiter Camera captured
through stellar winds, supernova explosions, and study, said in a press release. the top photo during a period of little
the production of heavy elements — an excess of Chris Evans, the principal investigator of atmospheric activity. A month later
heavyweights has far-reaching implications. VFTS and co-author of the study, added: “In (bottom photo), a global dust storm
had shrouded the Red Planet’s surface.
Researchers discovered the surplus of massive fact, our results suggest that most of the stellar
stars in the Tarantula Nebula (30 Doradus), some mass is actually no longer in low-mass stars, but
160,000 light-years away in the Large Magellanic
Cloud. This region only began producing stars
a significant fraction is in high-mass stars.”
The researchers were not only surprised by
Global dust
about 8 million years ago, so it serves as a perfect
laboratory to study young, massive stars.
the number of massive stars they found, but also
that stars with masses up to 200 solar masses
storms on Mars
The team used ESO’s Very Large Telescope,
part of the VLT-FLAMES Tarantula
were common, said co-author Hugues Sana
from the University of Leuven in
may allow gas
Survey (VFTS), to gather detailed
spectroscopic observations of nearly Massive
Belgium. Only recently have astron-
omers reached the consensus that
to escape
Mars is occasionally enveloped
1,000 massive stars in the region. By 200-solar-mass stars exist at all, and
meticulously analyzing 247 of these
stars play a this study clearly shows such stars
by intense storms that kick up
dust and haze, hiding large
stars (with masses between 15 and crucial role 200 to 300 times the mass of the Sun swaths of the surface from view.
A January 22 study in Nature
200 solar masses), the team deter- can be born.
mined the mass distribution of stars in shaping Although the study examined
Astronomy, using data collected
by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance
born in the nebulous nursery. They
translated this catalog of stellar
our universe. only behemoth stars in one particu-
lar region, the researchers hope to
Orbiter, links dust storm activity
on the Red Planet with the escape
birth weights into an initial mass expand their study soon to deter- of gas from its atmosphere.
The study found that during
function (IMF), which mathematically describes mine how universal their findings are. If the
mild storms, water vapor rises
the expected distribution of masses within a overabundance of massive stars in the Tarantula along with the air being pushed
population of stars. An IMF gives astronomers Nebula is not a fluke, astronomers will need to upward by the storm, leading to
an idea of how many stars of a particular mass re-evaluate many of their basic assumptions subtle hydrogen loss from the
will likely form in a certain population, such as about the universe. upper atmosphere. Bigger storms
likely mean more loss. This pro-
inside a star cluster or throughout a galaxy. “Our results have far-reaching consequences cess may have helped transform
Astronomers once believed that massive stars for the understanding of our cosmos. There Mars into an arid planet.
were relatively rare in the universe, with less might be 70 percent more supernovae, a tripling The last global dust storm in
than 1 percent of all stars born with masses of the chemical yields, and toward four times the 2007 caused more than a hun-
dredfold increase in water vapor,
greater than 10 times the mass of the Sun. But ionizing radiation from massive star popula-
recent reanalysis of the data has
this assumption was based on older IMFs cre- tions,” said Schneider. “Also, the formation rate shown. Astronomers are now
ated using plenty of data from low-mass stars, of black holes might be increased by 180 percent, preparing for a global dust
and little data from high-mass stars. directly translating into a corresponding storm expected later this year.
The new study fills out the high-mass portion increase of binary black hole mergers that have Observing such a storm with
more advanced technology could
of the IMF, suggesting that massive stars are recently been detected via their gravitational corroborate the study’s initial
much more common than prior IMFs indicated. wave signals.” — J.P. findings. — A.J.

20 A ST R O N O M Y • MAY 2018
ASTRONEWS SINK IN. The surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa may be so porous
that visiting spacecraft would sink into the world.

Black hole lets out a double burp

Astronomers believe that
supermassive black holes at X-ray & optical
the centers of galaxies “flicker”


on and off, alternately gob-
bling up material, “burping”
out bubbles of hot gas, and
“napping” between meals. But
while spotting a single out-
burst isn’t rare, identifying the
remnants of two past meals
has never occurred until now.
A team led by researchers at New
the University of Colorado burp
Boulder published such a find
in The Astrophysical Journal
November 6, identifying two
separate burps emitted by the
galaxy SDSS J1354+1327 (or Old burp
J1354, for short): one ancient
and on the verge of dissipat-
ing, and one hinting at a more BAD MANNERS. Astronomers imaged the galaxy J1354, about
recent meal. 800 million light-years away, in X-rays and optical light. They saw the
Because burps dissipate over remnants of one ancient (blue-green emission) and one more recent
time, they become increasingly (blue arc) burp. A nearby companion galaxy hints at a galactic collision
difficult to see. “We happened that funneled material in toward the supermassive black hole, providing
to observe this galaxy at a time the meals that prompted those burps.
when we could clearly see evi-
dence for both events,” said from the black hole about once again, which theory had
study leader Julie Comerford of 100,000 years ago. Above the predicted,” said Comerford.
CU Boulder in a press release. bulge, they saw a shock wave That theory also applies to
The researchers spotted a 3,000 light-years away from the the Milky Way. “Our galaxy’s
large, diffuse cone of gas black hole, associated with a supermassive black hole is now
extending 30,000 light-years second, more recent meal. napping after a big meal, just
below the galaxy’s bulge, where Between the two events, like J1354’s black hole has in the
the supermassive black hole is the black hole was likely much past. So we also expect our mas-
located. The atoms in the gas more dormant. “We are seeing sive black hole to feast again,
were stripped of their electrons this object feast, burp, and just as J1354’s has,” said Scott
by a huge burst of radiation nap, and then feast and burp Barrows of CU Boulder. — A.K.


Earth Mars Jupiter, Saturn, Mercury Venus

71.4 years 2 minutes Uranus, and 30 seconds 1 to 2 seconds
(average) Neptune
1 minute

The four outer planets have PLANETARY BODY. Science fiction movies sometimes show bad
FAST no solid surfaces. If you things happening to spacesuits. Indeed, films like The Martian and Total
FACT started at the top of their Recall attempt to visualize what would happen if a suit depressurized.
But how long could an astronaut last without that first level of
atmospheres, you’d fall for
protection? Here are some rough estimates. — Michael E. Bakich
about a minute (choking all
the way) before the intense
atmospheric pressure
crushed you.
New insights into
Recent observations reveal
that chaos and mayhem
ruled our planetary system’s
first days. by Jesse Emspak

The early solar system was rife with

tiny planetesimals, seen here filling
the sky above a young Jupiter. The
giant planet itself likely formed some
3.5 astronomical units (AU) from the
Sun, migrated inward to 1.5 AU, and
then tacked outward again to its
current location. RON MILLER FOR ASTRONOMY

22 A ST R O N O M Y • MAY 2018
of dust and gas coalesced around a nascent Sun. Close to the newborn
star, volatile substances that vaporize at relatively low temperatures,
like water and other ices, turned into gas and left behind the rocky
planets. Farther out, gas giants formed beyond the “snow line,” where
these volatiles condensed. Earth became the most massive rocky planet
by happenstance, and Jupiter the accidental ruler among the giants.

Shortly after the planets had formed,

a 300 million-year pummeling known as
the Late Heavy Bombardment gave us the
pockmarked faces of the Moon, Mercury,
and other airless worlds. When that ended
some 3.8 billion years ago, all was quiet
save for the odd comet or asteroid that
might sail through the inner system and
one and 10 times Earth’s radius with peri-
ods of 120 days or less. Multiplanet systems
tend to have lots of “super-Earths” — rocky
planets bigger than our own, but no more
than about 17 Earth masses (approximately
the mass of Neptune). Super-Earths are the
most common species among the more
than 3,700 exoplanets discovered so far
the solar
system’s early
evolution. Its inward
migration limited the amount of material available
to form terrestrial planets. Its subsequent outward
migration moved the giant worlds. NASA/JPL/SSI
hit Earth — like the one that killed the — and yet, none exist in our solar system.
dinosaurs 66 million years ago. Planetary Another type of planet that shows up
scientists thought other solar systems consistently, though much less often, is the masses. Scientists have discovered most
would look roughly like ours; after all, the hot Jupiter. These are gas giants that lie exoplanets via Kepler’s transit method, or
Copernican principle tells us we’re not spe- close to their stars. When astronomers dis- by using spectroscopy to observe small
cial, and our system likely is average. covered 51 Pegasi b — the first planet found changes in a star’s velocity along the line of
Astronomers now know that these for- around a Sun-like star — in 1995, it turned sight. But an alien astronomer looking at
mation scenarios are spectacularly wrong. out to be a hot Jupiter. Now known as our solar system with a Kepler-like tele-
Planets probably bounced around our Sun Dimidium, the planet is half Jupiter’s mass scope would have to wait at least 24 years
like billiard balls before settling into their and circles its star in 4.2 days at an average to see two Jupiter orbits, the minimum
current stately dance. And two decades’ distance of 4.8 million miles (7.8 million needed to confirm its existence.
worth of observing planets around other kilometers). In contrast, Mercury takes Still, even accounting for this bias, the
stars shows that our solar system actually is 88 days to orbit the Sun and gets no closer existence of super-Earths and hot Jupiters
quite the oddball. But that leaves the ques- than 29 million miles (46 million km). showed that models of planet formation at
tion: How did it get this way? Then-current models had no sensible way the very least needed work.
to make a Jupiter-sized planet so close to
It’s not you, it’s me its star. Dimidium must have moved. Missing mass and Mars
Exoplanets were among the first signs that “The standard model, the one everyone Besides the exoplanets, other clues showed
something was amiss with our solar sys- had in their heads, was that the inner disk up closer to home. When planetary scien-
tem. Much of this evidence came from was dry and volatile-poor, with planets like tists tried building solar systems with
NASA’s Kepler spacecraft, which fixes on Mercury, which is iron rich and dense. In increasingly sophisticated computer
stars and looks for planets the outer system, you’d get simulations, they kept getting a Mars
transiting across their faces. colder, and have lower densi- that was five to 10 times as massive as
Such transits reveal a planet’s ties,” says David Minton of the one we have.
size and period. When Kepler Planets probably Purdue University, who In addition, models of the disk from
launched in 2009, the num- bounced around studies planet bombard- which the planets formed assume it had
ber of confirmed exoplanet ments and formation. “The a relatively uniform density. Astronomer
systems was in the low hun- our Sun like Kepler mission turned that Alessandro Morbidelli at the Observatoire
dreds. Kepler has since
pushed that number into
billiard balls on its head.”
It’s possible that detection
de la Côte d’Azur in Nice, France, has
made a career of modeling planet dynam-
the thousands. before settling bias has played a role in ics. He says a uniform density would point
If you plot the periods of
confirmed planets against
into their current these results. Planet-finding
methods favor worlds with
to at least an Earth’s mass of material in
the current asteroid belt. But the actual
their radii, most fall between stately dance. short periods and high mass of the whole thing is only a few

24 A ST R O N O M Y • MAY 2018
ten-thousandths of our planet. All that If the solar system arose
material had to go somewhere. in an orderly way from
a relatively uniform
Then, there’s the debris one would disk, Mars should be
expect around stars still early in their five to 10 times bigger
planet-forming stages. The problem is than it is. Astronomers
think Jupiter put the
simple: The collisions that build planets Red Planet on a diet
also break things apart. “When things by removing much of
crash into one another, they produce a the gas in its vicinity.
lot of debris,” says Alan Jackson at the
Center for Planetary Sciences in Toronto.
And that debris should hang around for
millions of years.
So, if the collision models are correct,
you’d expect to find a lot more of this rubble
around other stars. It’s easier to see this
material than to see planets, says Jackson,
because the small fragments have much
more surface area than planets. “It’s why Kuiper Belt, Pluto is a good example. “The
we’ve known about the debris disk around very existence of Pluto in the orbit we see
Beta Pictoris since the 1980s,” he says. “How today means it had to be pushed into that

many have debris? Nowhere near enough.” place,” says Michele Bannister, a planetary
Scott Kenyon, an astrophysicist at astronomer at Queens University in Belfast.
the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for In the asteroid belt, Ceres stands out.
Astrophysics, wrote a paper in August 2016 NASA’s Dawn mission revealed that Ceres
that suggests terrestrial planet formation looks different from many of its brethren
actually might be “quick and neat.” In this — it is richer in volatiles than one would
scenario, planets form in a few hundred expect. “Ceres didn’t form where it is,” says
thousand years, with less gas drag and less Morbidelli. He thinks it may be a refugee Ceres is the biggest object in the asteroid belt
between Mars and Jupiter. The dwarf planet
dust generation from the planets getting hit from farther out, beyond the snow line. appears richer in volatile substances than it
with leftover rocks. Something similar Other asteroids show signs of violence. should be, hinting that it formed farther from
might have happened here — though that Minton works with a team studying class C the Sun and moved inward.
still doesn’t explain Mars’ low mass. asteroids, the type that give birth to carbo-
naceous chondrite meteorites. Such mete-
Smoking guns orites show evidence of high-temperature In this theory, Jupiter formed about
Beyond the cleared-out inner solar system, processes: They have structures inside 3.5 astronomical units (AU; one AU is the
the asteroid belt and its more distant cous- them that look like metal droplets. “The average Earth-Sun distance) from the Sun.
in, the Kuiper Belt, apparently were dis- material looks like it was vaporized and The essentially fully formed planet cleared
rupted. Both belts have groups of worldlets recondensed. It takes a lot of energy to do out a “lane” in the protostellar disk while
whose orbits incline steeply to those of the that,” says Minton. “We think the mecha- also drawing material in ahead of it and a
planets. The only way that could have hap- nism was extremely high-velocity impacts.” huge “tail” behind it. The mass of this sur-
pened is if something scattered them. In the The evidence points to migrating planets rounding material exerted a strong torque
as the culprits. And the first to move was on the planet.
Jupiter, which fell into the inner system Because the gas-dominated disk had
according to a model called the Grand Tack. a large mass — much bigger than Jupiter
and the other early planets combined — it
Moving giants began to siphon away Jupiter’s momentum,
The Grand Tack was first outlined in a causing it to spiral inward. Meanwhile,
2011 Nature paper by Kevin Walsh of the Saturn formed soon after Jupiter, at about
Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, 4.5 AU. Experiencing torques like its larger
Colorado; Sean Raymond of the University cousin, the future ringed planet also spi-
of Bordeaux, France; David O’Brien of the raled inward. When Jupiter reached 1.5 AU,
Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, about where Mars is now, the migration
Arizona; Avi Mandell of NASA’s Goddard stopped. Jupiter and Saturn entered what
Space Flight Center; and Morbidelli. The is called a mean motion resonance, with
theory covers the period soon after the Saturn making two orbits for every three of
protoplanets took shape, before the solar Jupiter’s. The resonance created a kind of
system was more than a few million years braking effect. The migration took perhaps
The ice giant Neptune currently lies 30 AU from old. Instead of the planets forming roughly 100,000 years, a geological blink of an eye.
the Sun, but it likely was born only a quarter as simultaneously, the Grand Tack says As Jupiter and Saturn approached the
far out. Jupiter’s massive gravity captured both
it and its cousin, Uranus, in resonance and forced Jupiter developed first, followed by Saturn inner system, they flung other objects into
them outward. NASA/JPL and the ice giants, Uranus and Neptune. the Sun or out of the solar system entirely.

Hal Levison of the Southwest Research
Institute; and Morbidelli proposed a theory
called the Nice model (named for the
French city in which it was formulated).
This scenario takes place after the dust and
gas in the planet-forming disk had dissipat-
ed at the conclusion of the Grand Tack. In
the Nice model, Uranus and Neptune
formed closer in than they are now and
migrated outward. Some later versions of
the theory have Uranus and Neptune
switching places, or even flinging a third
ice giant into deep space.
The clues are in models of the early
solar nebula. Estimates of its density don’t
The movements of the giant planets The battered lunar highlands testify to an leave enough matter in the outer reaches of
disrupted the distant Kuiper Belt and its most intense period of bombardment that lasted some
prominent member, Pluto. There couldn’t have 300 million years. The migration of the giant
the solar system to form planets, at least
been enough material in the outer solar system planets likely caused the barrage by jostling the not fast enough to yield ice giants. “It’s
to create Pluto in place. NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI distant Kuiper Belt. CONSOLIDATED LUNAR ATLAS/UA/LPL obvious you can’t form Neptune at 30 AU,”
says Steven Desch, a theoretical astrophysi-
cist at Arizona State University. Desch was
This cleared out the area that one day of super-Earths in the early solar system. among the proponents of the idea that
would be the asteroid belt, and left less But Jupiter and Saturn caused such a dis- Uranus and Neptune might have swapped
material in the region for Mars to grow. ruption in the inner system that the super- positions. Building Neptune requires a lot
Basically, Jupiter’s presence removed a lot Earths spiraled into the Sun. of hydrogen, some two Earth masses at
of the matter that could have gone into As Jupiter and Saturn tacked back to least. “There’s no model where you can
planet-building. the outer part of the solar system, they cap- grow Neptune to where it can accrete
Orbiting the Sun faster than Jupiter tured Uranus and Neptune in resonance, enough gas,” he says. “It’s got to be 10 Earth
itself, the remaining gas and dust inside keeping other large bodies from wandering masses to hold on to it. If you form it closer
Jupiter’s orbit exerted an outward force, into the inner solar system. “Without in — like 15 AU — then maybe it can grow
and the two giant planets started to retreat. Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune would be big enough to hold on to the hydrogen gas.”
“It’s a tidal effect,” says Morbidelli. “It’s the inside Mercury’s orbit,” says Morbidelli. Unlike the Grand Tack model, the Nice
same as the Earth which, rotating faster “Maybe there wouldn’t have been enough model plays out over millions of years.
than the Moon, pushes the Moon out. mass left to create terrestrial planets.” This is how Uranus and Neptune could
So the still massive inner disk wins — exchange enough angular momentum with
Jupiter moves out and drags Saturn with Nice ice, baby the Kuiper Belt to switch places. Although
it, thanks to the fact that Saturn is locked Getting the solar system to its current con- each interaction with a Kuiper Belt object
in resonance.” figuration requires a bit more rearrange- (KBO) wouldn’t do much, over time, many
Fortunately for us, Jupiter did “tack,” ment, however. In a series of papers pub- KBOs would be scattered toward the Sun
migrating out again, and the remaining lished in Nature in 2005, Kleomenis and the ice giants would20°be nudged to their
planetesimals formed a ring around the Tsiganis, then at the Observatoire de la current positions. Morbidelli doesn’t think
Sun centered in the region between where Côte d’Azur; Rodney Gomes of Brazil’s the planet-switching is likely, however. He
Earth and Venus are now. Mars, on the National Observatory in Rio de Janeiro; refers to it as a “dead hypothesis,” and
outer edge of that ring, was never able to
grow large. As the two giant worlds moved 80°
ever outward, they scattered material back
into the future asteroid belt.
Telltale 60°
Classical KBOs
Resonant KBOs
Scattered disk
The Grand Tack explains why Mars is
relatively small, the lack of super-Earths,
orbits Detached

and the dearth of mass in the asteroid The orbits of many Kuiper 40°

belt. It also can help solve the problem of Belt objects (KBOs) tip
significantly to that
Earth’s water. Many planetary scientists of the major planets.
think asteroids delivered the water. With Astronomers suspect that
Jupiter and Saturn scattering objects from the migrations of Uranus
and Neptune likely
the current asteroid belt region, it’s plau- scattered these KBOs
sible that lots of water-rich objects would into their highly inclined
smack into Earth. orbits. ASTRONOMY: ROEN KELLY
One version of the Grand Tack model,
proposed by Konstantin Batygin at Caltech
and Greg Laughlin at the University of 0 50 100 150
California, Santa Cruz, posits the existence Astronomical units

26 A ST R O N O M Y • MAY 2018
Grand Tack model
Jupiter forms
Saturn Uranus Neptune
Asteroids Comets

Jupiter migrates inward

Debris disks, like this one around the star Beta Saturn migrates to 3:2 resonance; formation of the terrestrial planets
Pictoris, should be a lot more common if planets
take millions of years to form. Planet migration
can clear out debris quickly, however, leaving
such disks as rare commodities. ESO/A.-M. LAGRANGE ET AL.

thinks a five-planet model with another ice Outward migration

giant is sufficient.
These movements also would explain
the Late Heavy Bombardment. As the ice
giants moved out, they disrupted the early
Kuiper Belt and sent volatile-rich bodies
careening into the inner system. End of the “Grand Tack”
All this planetary dancing was crazy
enough — and then came Planet Nine.

Out in the cold

The first inklings that there might be a
large planet beyond the Kuiper Belt came After “Nice scenario”
in 2003, when Caltech astronomer Mike
Brown noticed that Sedna — an object
roughly 600 miles (1,000 km) in diameter
that never gets closer to the Sun than 76 AU
— has a particularly elongated orbit. With Sun 2 AU 4 AU 6 AU 8 AU 10 AU
Batygin, he found five other objects whose
orbits seemed similarly aligned. Brown Astronomers developed the Grand Tack model in 2011 as a way to explain Mars’ low mass. It contends
that Jupiter, after forming some 3.5 astronomical units (AU) from the Sun, migrated inward to 1.5 AU
and Batygin proposed that the only thing before tacking back out to its current spot 5.2 AU away. The critical stages in the process encompass
that could cause that was a planet — but the birth of Jupiter through 600,000 years later. ASTRONOMY: ROEN KELLY
Neptune was too far away to be the culprit.
It had to be a world many times Earth’s
mass in a millennia-long orbit. its parent, raising the question of how it got the right way means a lot of things had to
If Planet Nine is real, it couldn’t have there. If it were an ejected ice giant, then play out just so. “It’s probably not going to
formed in the outer reaches of the solar the issue is what kind of orbit it might end happen around a large fraction of other
system, says Kat Volk of the University of up in — still a big unknown. Bannister stars,” he says.
Arizona. There simply isn’t enough mass in notes that an ejected super-Earth-sized or Just because our system is hard to make
that region — recent estimates put the total ice-giant-sized planetary core would be as doesn’t mean it can’t happen. “If you want
for all KBOs at about that of the Moon. likely to leave the solar system as to hang to describe planetary systems in general,
The zones where Planet Nine would lurk around its fringes. To get something that you want broad evolutionary models,” says
are home to even less material. massive out there would require a lot of Morbidelli. “When you want to describe a
That means if it does exist, Planet Nine moving parts to work together. specimen, you’ve got to reconstruct its his-
either was ejected from closer in to the Sun tory like an archaeologist. A general pat-
or it was stolen from a passing star. Each Weird and rare, but home tern needs some exceptions, like describing
hypothesis has its difficulties. Bannister Rare events might be why our solar system the specific life of each one of us.”
says it’s hard to imagine capturing a planet is as odd as it is compared with what we
from a passing star because it already see elsewhere in the galaxy. Jackson says Jesse Emspak is a science writer who lives
would have to be relatively far away from that for Jupiter and Saturn to migrate in and works in New York City.

An organically
phrases to describe their dune produced by the action of wind
work, and write them in predominantly from one direction …
peer-reviewed journals and peri- with a gentle slope facing toward the
early 2017, the two of odicals, and speak them aloud in scien- wind and a steep slope, known as the
us, along with a few others, refreshed tific conferences and classrooms. slip face, facing away from the wind.” (It
the debate on the definition of planet Precedent is a key element in forming so happens that barchan sand dunes are
in scientific nomenclature. The definitions (just ask a lawyer!) that both all over the place on Mars!)
International Astronomical Union’s reflect and promote a useful schema for That definitions arise through pro-
(IAU) historic definitional vote in 2006 understanding the natural world. fessional and common usage are one
recognized only eight solar system Conversely, scientific definitions are blow against the legitimacy of the IAU’s
planets, and this has brought new focus almost never and should never be definitional vote. Another blow arises
to some underlying issues of importance handed down authoritarian- from the fact that scientists
to planetary science. Specifically, this style from a central voting of one discipline should not
debate touches on how words acquire body, particularly when sci- Words possess presume to define words for
their meaning and shape our thinking entists of different disciplines power beyond another. An illustration
in both science and everyday life. have different uses for the stems from considering the
Accordingly, the definition of planet is

same word. The artificial word metal. Astronomers

about much more than whether students authority behind the few Word choice use it to describe elements in
learn Pluto’s name in a list of planets. voted definitions in exis- stars heavier than helium.
In science, two languages describe the tence, such as the IAU’s
affects how we Metallurgists use the word in
natural world: words (in our case, in planet definition, should be conceptualize, the more common way, yet
English) and mathematics. Here, we’ll viewed with skepticism and astronomers and metallur-
focus on words. Words possess power even dismissal. Science func-
organize, gists don’t fight over the def-
beyond communication: Word choice tions through individual synthesize, and inition — each user
affects how we conceptualize, organize, experts making conclusions community knows what they
synthesize, and contextualize informa- and coming to consensus,
contextualize mean when they use the
tion. Words are also how we scientists rather than being instructed information. word metal. What would
and educators communicate science to on what has been decided. happen if the metallurgical
the public. In other words (so to speak), For instance, as far as I (Kirby) know as community declared an official defini-
words structure our understanding of a planetary geologist, no one has ever tion of metal and then publicly scorned
the world. This mental structure is what voted on the definition for a barchan astronomers for using a different defini-
educational psychologists call a schema. sand dune. Yet, through usage and prec- tion, saying, “I wish they would just get
Scientists define words as part of our edent, a definition for barchan exists over it”?
scientific nomenclature with an eye based on its introduction in the scien- Just as different definitions of metal
toward schematic usefulness to concep- tific literature in 1881 by Alexander serve different communities, we, as plan-
tualize, organize, synthesize, and contex- von Middendorf. Britannica’s useful def- etary scientists, find it useful to define a
tualize information about nature. inition for barchan sand dune is based planet as a substellar mass body that has
Nomenclatures’ definitions arise organi- on the word’s precedent in the literature; never undergone nuclear fusion and has
cally: Scientists choose words and the definition is a “crescent-shape sand enough gravitation to be round due to

28 A ST R O N O M Y • MAY 2018
hydrostatic equilibrium, regardless of its planet. Similarly, stars’ size and spectral subtypes of planets and how the solar sys-
orbital parameters. This is the definition diversity between red dwarf stars and blue tem is naturally organized outward from
we presented at the 2017 Lunar and supergiant stars parallels planets’ diversity the Sun, using a handful of planets as
Planetary Science Conference. Indeed, between small Kuiper Belt dwarf planets examples. This is analogous to learning the
planetary scientists already use and teach and giant planets. organization of the periodic table of the
such a geophysical definition of planet to Definitions, like numerical measure- elements without having to memorize all
promote a useful mental schema about ments, have uncertainty, or as scientists or even most of the 100+ names.
the round and non-round worlds we like to call it, an “error bar.” Many small Along with this teaching strategy,
study: At least 119 peer-reviewed papers quasi-round worlds fall into that uncer- scientists, educators, and students should
in professional, scientific journals implic- tainty on the small end of the size spec- ignore illegitimate scientific definitions
itly use this definition when they refer to trum, and deuterium-fusing large worlds that arise via voting, such as the IAU’s

grown Should we really define a word by voting? by Kirby D. Runyon and S. Alan Stern

round worlds (including moons) as plan- (brown dwarfs) fall into the error bars on planet definition. Instead, they should
ets. The publication history for these the large end. However, the geophysical adopt definitions that arise naturally
papers spans decades, hailing from both definition of planet has low enough through usage by experts in the field,
before and after the 2006 IAU vote. This uncertainty to still be useful to us. which reflect and promote a useful
overwhelming precedent cements the geo- The geophysical definition further mental schema about the natural world
physical definition’s legitimacy in profes- proves its worth when considering exo- and a more accurate picture of how
sional planetary science. planets orbiting other stars outside our science operates.
We realize that more than 100 objects solar system. As a thought experiment, Other scientists may find a different
in the solar system fit this geophysical assume our Milky Way Galaxy has a con- definition useful, such as one more con-
planet definition, yet this does not dilute servative 100 billion possible planetary cerned with orbits and gravitational
the word’s usefulness. Rather, subcatego- systems anchored by at least one star. effects on smaller worlds, as proposed by
ries of planets help us form a mental Assume a conservative 100 dwarf planets the IAU. However, such scientists should
schema to recognize planets’ diversity and like Pluto or Eris in each system. That’s not look to the IAU’s vote to cement their
then draw conclusions and insights based 10 trillion dwarf planets in just our gal- preferred definition, but should rather
on groupings of planets with similar axy. If one assumes five giant planets per use and teach the definition they find
properties. A few useful examples of planetary system, that’s only 500 billion useful. In parallel, they should not
diversity among planets include terrestrial giants in the galaxy compared to 10 tril- begrudge other scientists’ criteria for
planets (Mars), giant planets (Uranus), lion dwarfs. Thus, dwarfs outnumber what makes a definition useful to them.
dwarf planets (Pluto, Eris, etc.), and satel- giants 20 to 1 and are the rule rather Just as in the example about the use of the
lite planets (Europa). Each subcategory of than the exception. Re-formulating our term metal, each user community should
planet helps us recognize similarities and schema of what a planet is facilitates use planet definitions useful to them
differences: the domain of comparative such insights. without deferring to a central voting
planetology. For instance, Enceladus (an This new schema for planet — properly authority. And, just as other definitions
icy dwarf satellite planet) and Neptune (a defined by expert planetary scientists — arise organically, the definition of planet
giant planet) are very different types of will powerfully work itself out in grade may now be considered organic, drawing
planets in size, gravity, and orbits. Yet school classrooms. Rather than teaching to a close this public hand-wringing
both are round, contain high amounts of students the names of all the planets, debate and thawing hearts that had fro-
water, and are located within our solar teachers should emphasize the types and zen toward the planet Pluto.
system’s Middle Zone. (This usage further
illustrates the nonsensical claim by the Kirby D. Runyon S. Alan Stern is a plan-
IAU that dwarf planets are not planets; is a postdoctoral etary scientist who pri-
rather, dwarf planets are a subcategory of planetary geologist marily studies the outer
planets just as giant planets are.) Just as at the Johns Hopkins solar system. He is also
having approximately 400 billion objects Applied Physics the principal investigator
that fit the definition of star in our Milky Lab specializing on NASA’s New Horizons
Way Galaxy does not diminish the useful- in image analysis mission and formerly the
ness of the word star, likewise having to understand the associate administrator
many planets in our solar system does not evolution of planetary for NASA’s Science
diminish the usefulness of the word landscapes. Mission Directorate.

In 2014, NASA released
this updated version
of the iconic Hubble
Ultra Deep Field image.
The original zoomed
in on a tiny section of
apparently empty sky in
the Southern Hemisphere
using both visible and
near-infrared light.
For Hubble Ultra Deep
Field 2014, astronomers
collected and included
ultraviolet data, which
helps reveal the youngest,
largest, and hottest stars
in the universe. NASA, ESA,
In an era of large-scale surveys,
citizen science projects, and new
machine-learning techniques,
unexpected discoveries should
be expected. by Mara Johnson-Groh

Seeking the
unknown in
In 1964  astronomers Arno A. Penzias and Robert
W. Wilson found themselves cleaning
pigeon poop out of the Holmdel Horn Antenna, a radio telescope
in New Jersey. The data from the instrument had weird, persis-
tent noise that they couldn’t get rid of. They tried looking for
places where errant radiation signals could sneak in, and even
redesigned a part of the telescope, but the noise endured. When
nothing else seemed to work, they trapped two pigeons that had
taken up roost in the telescope and scrubbed out their droppings,
yet the noise remained. Unbeknownst to them, they were trying
to remove a fundamental signature of our universe — the cosmic
microwave background.
Just over a decade later, Wilson and Penzias won the Nobel
Prize in Physics for their serendipitous discovery of cosmic micro-
wave background (CMB) radiation. Although the pair initially had
been searching for a halo around the Milky Way, they instead
found the first light of the universe, left over from right after the
Big Bang, when photons of light were just bursting forth.
Wilson and Penzias aren’t alone in making fortuitous break-
throughs. Indeed, unexpected discoveries are almost a hallmark of
astronomy. William Herschel discovered Uranus in 1781 while
looking for binary stars, originally identifying the planet as a

improve their chances of discovering the
unexpected. Perhaps the way to remain
on the cutting-edge of astronomy is to
look where no one has looked before.

Leaving no stone
Many unexpected discoveries in astron-
omy were possible simply because of new
technology. Galileo’s telescope allowed for
unprecedented views of the sky, uncov-
ering shocking surprises. Similarly, the
Hubble Space Telescope allowed astrono-
mers to look deeper into the universe
than ever before, revealing unimaginable
phenomena. Now, Ray Norris — an
astronomer at Western Sydney University
and the Commonwealth Scientific
and Industrial Research Organisation
in Australia — will tackle an under-
The 15-meter Holmdel Horn Antenna was built in 1959 at Bell Laboratories in Holmdel,
New Jersey, with the goal of performing pioneering work related to satellite communications.
observed section of the universe with a
While attempting to use the antenna for research in 1964, radio astronomers Robert Wilson new survey using radio waves.
and Arno Penzias accidentally made a discovery worthy of the Nobel Prize in Physics. NASA The Evolutionary Map of the Universe
(EMU) survey will use the Australian
Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder to
comet. Engineer Linda Morabito found energy, and showed that a seemingly study radio sources in the night sky. Its
volcanoes on Io while fiddling with empty section of the night sky was actu- goal is to combine breadth and depth to
image contrast to better see the back- ally burgeoning with untold numbers of seek out fainter sources spread across a
ground stars behind the jovian moon. galaxies. Nobody expected these discov- wider field of view than previously
Physicist Karl Jansky stumbled upon eries when Hubble launched. attempted. Currently, 2.5 million radio
X-rays emanating from the center of the With rapid advances in technology, sources are known. EMU expects to find
Milky Way while trying to improve astronomy is emerging into an era of big 70 million more.
trans-Atlantic phone calls. A U.S. spy surveys. Ultra-high-resolution imaging Radio sources are often among the
satellite originally detected gamma-ray and new collection techniques now allow most energetic and explosive objects in
bursts while looking for covert nuclear for unprecedented amounts of data to be the sky. Black holes, supernovae, and rap-
bomb explosions in the 1960s. And these recorded and stored. Astronomers are idly rotating neutron stars (pulsars) are
are just a few examples. already becoming overwhelmed with all known to emit radio waves. The EMU
While astronomy has progressed more data than they have time to process. survey expects to find many objects in
through dogged reconciliation of theory When scientists barely have the time to the early universe — some of known
and observation, it has also greatly ben- search the data for what they’re looking types and some new — that can tell us
efited from things no one could have for, how can they be expected to catch the how the first stars and galaxies formed.
expected at the time. Two decades on, paradigm-shifting details no one could And Norris has spent a lot of time think-
the Hubble Space Telescope has fulfilled have imagined? ing about how best to make those unex-
its key goals, but it has also discovered This new era of big-data astronomy pected discoveries.
proplyds (a type of planet-forming disk requires a new way of looking at data, “As telescopes develop, we’ll be getting
around a young star), unveiled dark and astronomers are developing ways to more and more data,” says Norris. “The

The cosmic microwave background (CMB) is the first light to travel This simulated image shows how the sky would have appeared
throughout the universe, left over from just moments after the Big Bang. to the Holmdel antenna, which was used by Penzias and Wilson
Over time, the light that makes up the CMB lost energy, stretching out its in 1965 to accidentally discover the cosmic microwave background.
wavelength toward the microwave and radio spectra. NASA/WMAP SCIENCE TEAM NASA/WMAP SCIENCE TEAM

32 A ST R O N O M Y • MAY 2018
Bombshell breakthroughs
March 13, 1781,
William Herschel
was searching
for binary
stars when he
Uranus. He
mistook the plan- VOLCANOES ON IO. Engineer Linda Morabito inadvertently discovered Io’s volcano
et for a comet. Pele in an optical navigation image taken by Voyager 1. Following Pele’s discovery,
NASA/JPL-CALTECH hundreds of smaller volcanoes were detected on Io over the years. NASA/JPL/UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA

GAMMA-RAY BURSTS. In the 1960s, a U.S.

spy satellite was searching for violations of the
Nuclear Test Ban Treaty when it unexpectedly
detected gamma rays coming from the sky
X-RAYS AT THE CENTER OF THE MILKY WAY. While attempting to improve long-distance instead of the ground. This was the first evidence
telephone calls, physicist Karl Jansky accidentally discovered that the center of the Milky Way for gamma-ray bursts, which are some of the
is bursting with X-ray light (magenta). NASA/JPL-CALTECH most powerful explosions in the universe. ESO

problem is finding the things you don’t at the University of Cambridge, Bell was size of 40 Full Moons, LSST will take
expect, which hide among the things you charged with studying data from quasars images at multiple wavelengths ranging
can recognize and the noise in the data.” — distant active galaxies — coming from from visible to near-infrared. Every clear
Background and instrumental noise, a radio telescope. Amid all the signals, night, it will log as much as 30 terabytes
as Penzias and Wilson know all too well, she noticed a source that varied too fast of data. Over its 10-year expected life-
can be hard to quantify. As telescopes to be a quasar. She had discovered a new time, LSST plans on imaging each section
and instruments become increasingly type of star: pulsars. of the sky a thousand times, creating
complex, it becomes harder to under- This technique is the basis of surveys more than 30 trillion observations of
stand the signatures they leave in the like the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope 40 billion celestial objects.
data. But being able to distinguish (LSST), which will survey the entire sky This style of observation will naturally
between noise and small, unexpected sig- every few nights from its location in single out objects that change in bright-
nals is key in the search for the unknown. north-central Chile. ness, such as pulsars, supernovae, and
To tease out the unexpected discover- “There are some quantifiable reasons distant quasars, as well as moving objects,
ies, Norris is helping develop a project why everyone believes LSST to be a major like asteroids and other small bodies in
known as the Widefield ouTlier Finder, revolution for very rare objects and our solar system. The scientists hope it
or WTF. With the specific goal of aiding events,” says Željko Ivezić, project scien- may also help identify new variable activ-
in unexpected discoveries, WTF will use tist of LSST and professor of astronomy ity in the night sky.
complex algorithms and cloud computing at the University of Washington in Large-scale surveys have been carried
to pull out unusual signals in the data Seattle. “The volume, the high dimen- out before, but never to the extent that
and reduce the huge quantities of data to sionality of measurements, and the mea- LSST will go. Previously, the most exten-
manageable amounts. surement precision all bode well for sive survey was the Sloan Digital Sky
unexpected discoveries and discoveries of Survey (SDSS), which imaged only a
Seek and you will find rare objects and events.” quarter of the sky. LSST will use a tele-
If you can’t find somewhere new to look, Set to begin watching the night sky in scope nearly three times larger, providing
you can try looking harder than anyone 2021, LSST will provide continual sur- twice the resolution across a wider range
else. This method paid off for astronomer veillance of the heavens in an exhaustive of wavelengths of light, and it will view a
Jocelyn Bell. While a graduate student manner. With a wide field of view the greater portion of the cosmos.

by having them explore real images to
identify simple objects or patterns in a
fun, gamelike way. With citizen science,
the types of routine analyses that would
typically require months of work by a few
scientists can now be done by many more
science enthusiasts at their leisure.
One of the first groups to enlist the
public’s help at the data processing stage
was a team of scientists at NASA’s Ames
Research Center. Using data collected by
the Viking orbiters, which were sent to
Mars in the 1970s, the team developed
ClickWorkers, an online site where the
public could identify and map craters on
the martian surface, in 2000. The initial

results showed the public was both enthu-
siastic about helping and capable of per-
forming tasks accurately. Soon after, the
project was expanded.
Using the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder, Ray Norris plans to carry out the
Evolutionary Map of the Universe (EMU) survey to investigate radio sources in the sky. Although “The majority of people participated
2.5 million radio sources are already known, EMU expects to take on another 70 million more. because they wanted to be a part of
research,” says Lucy Fortson, an astro-
physicist at the University of Minnesota
With the immense amounts of data Enlisting the public’s help in scientific who has worked extensively with citizen
LSST will produce nightly, it will be endeavours dates back more than a cen- science projects. “They felt that they
essential for researchers to stay on top of tury to birdwatchers tracking aviary wanted to do something meaningful with
the imagery. For this, LSST scientists migration patterns across North their extra time.”
have developed systems that automati- America. But it wasn’t until the rise of the Today there are numerous citizen sci-
cally process images by looking for differ- internet and the online gaming culture ence projects in astronomy, such as
ences between two exposures of the same that citizen science projects really took CosmoQuest, Milky Way Project, and
section of the sky that were taken at dif- off. The idea is simple: Engage the public perhaps most famously, Galaxy Zoo. In
ferent times. This automation will allow
any changes to be noticed within a min-
ute. However, the road to understanding Same size, different sight
the flagged events will still require hours Primary mirror
upon hours of analysis. diameter Field of view
“We need to develop these tools so that 8m-class telescope
they can operate on these quadrillions of
numbers,” says Ivezić. “Today we have
these tools if you want to apply them to
millions or even billions of objects. But if
you want to scale them up by a factor of a
thousand, it’s not a trivial thing. These 0.2°
tools can mean the difference between
amorphous piles of ones and zeros and 8m
potentially paradigm-shifting discoveries.”

Crowdsourcing astronomy LSST

Astronomers have determined that as
many as 400 billion stars exist in our gal-
axy, while likely hundreds of billions of
galaxies exist in the observable universe.
And, with the help of new large-scale Full Moon
surveys, these numbers could keep grow- is 0.5°
ing. Thanks to computers, scientists no
longer have to hand-count dots on pho-
tographic plates. But even with machines, 8.4 m
there is still far more data out there than
any scientific cohort, no matter how A comparison of the field of views for a typical 8-meter-class telescope and the uniquely designed
dedicated, can tackle. Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST). LSST CORPORATION; ASTRONOMY: ROEN KELLY

34 A ST R O N O M Y • MAY 2018
Galaxy Zoo, the public is asked to iden- Galaxies, clusters
tify the type of galaxy shown: Is it a disk? of galaxies, and
Is it edge-on? Is there a central bulge? clusters of clusters
These features can be quickly identified of galaxies join
with dark matter
by eye, but natural variations can make to form a grand,
them exceedingly difficult for computers weblike structure
to recognize and categorize. called the cosmic
web, a slice of
“Humans are actually very well
which is shown
designed to picking out serendipitous here. With the
discoveries in image datasets,” Fortson help of artificial
says. “By virtue of evolution, humans neural networks,
have developed this amazing visual cor- hope to run
tex that can differentiate the unknown simulations like
unknowns from the knowns.” this to investigate
Of course, using the untrained public the cosmic web in
much greater detail
doesn’t come without its challenges. than previously
People make mistakes. Luckily, the large possible. NASA, ESA,
number of people involved in the identi- AND E. HALLMAN (UNIVERSITY
fication can be used to create averages
and a group consensus, which, over the
long run, can be even more accurate
than a single scientist’s identification. In
Galaxy Zoo, 40 different individuals
examine each galaxy to create a trusted
identification. By carefully processing “training set,” which is a series of exam- training set is not extensive enough, the
the results, individual people can even ples containing what the computer is computer will draw the wrong conclu-
be weighted differently depending on looking for — such as spiral galaxies. sions. Or, as astronomers are fond of
their identification success rate. In this Over time, and with enough examples, repeating, “Garbage in, garbage out.”
way, people whose identifications gener- the computer will become adept at The other drawback to artificial neu-
ally don’t agree with the group consen- identifying spiral galaxies, despite ral networks is that they require vast
sus can be flagged for rejection, so they their wide range of appearances. At datasets to “learn” from. Luckily, in the
don’t skew the end results. this point, the scientist can provide era of large-scale surveys, vast datasets
the computer with a sample of unidenti- are common. This means that artificial
Rise of the machines fied galaxies, and the machine will neural networks can quickly turn the
Once the masses have identified and return those that fit the criteria it problem of too much data into an advan-
categorized thousands of images, has assessed. tage. The larger the training set — which
significant work remains to analyze Machines can also be taught a much citizen scientists can help bolster — the
the data. This is where computers finally more difficult task: assessing how objects better the results.
come in. These machines are the heavy and their characteristics relate to one
lifters, allowing for complex calculations another. For example, scientists have used The future of
and comparisons that the artificial neural networks to unexpected discoveries
human brain would be hard- investigate how galaxies form “Our ability to collect these humongous
pressed to match on its own. LSST will clusters and how that group- datasets is developing in parallel with
While machines historically ing affects the numbers of our ability to interpret these huge data-
can only do exactly what they collect as stars the galaxies produce. sets,” says Ivezić. “Both directions are
are told, a subset of comput- much as 30 Only with the assistance of important — people who collect data and
ers are being taught to think computers are the scientists people who develop tools to analyze and
on their own. terabytes of able to compare the many interpret. Otherwise we’d just be stuck
Astronomers are using a
type of artificial intelligence,
data every physical properties at play,
such as galaxy mass, distance
with a huge pile of zeros and ones we
couldn’t make sense out of.”
called machine learning, to clear night. between galaxies, and previ- With the combination of large-scale
get computers to teach them- ous interactions between gal- surveys, a legion of citizen scientists, and
selves how to find patterns in axies. And by comparing new machine learning techniques, it
the data. A specific method of machine many hundreds of thousands of galaxies, seems many new unexpected discoveries
learning known as artificial neural scientists are able to make broad conclu- will soon emerge from the darkness. But
networks was designed based on how sions about our universe that are unbi- as for the nature of those discoveries?
the brain functions. These neural ased by small irregularities. Only time can tell.
networks draw connections in vast When encoded properly, artificial
webs of data, just as the human brain neural networks can provide profound Mara Johnson-Groh is a science writer and
does. To create these networks, a scien- insight to scientists; however, they can photographer who writes about everything
tist starts by showing the computer a also be easily misused. For example, if the under the Sun, and even things beyond it.

SKYTHIS Visible to the naked eye


solar system’s changing landscape as it appears in Earth’s sky.
Visible with binoculars
Visible with a telescope

May 2018: Jupiter shines brilliantly

As twilight deepens, Jupiter For the best views through
appears low in the east. On a telescope, wait for the planet
May 1, it rises by 8:30 p.m. local to climb 30° high so its light
daylight time and achieves the traverses less of Earth’s
same altitude as Venus (though image-distorting atmosphere.
on the other side of the sky) It reaches this altitude around
around 9:20 p.m. midnight local daylight time
Jupiter reaches opposition in early May and by 10 p.m. at
May 8, when it lies opposite month’s close. These prime
the Sun in our sky and viewing conditions last about
remains visible all night. This three hours.
peak coincides with the plan- Even the smallest instru-
et’s closest approach to Earth, ment reveals Jupiter’s two
so it shines brightest and dark equatorial belts, which
appears largest through a tele- sandwich a brighter zone that
scope. But as an outer planet, coincides with the planet’s
Jupiter changes slowly — it equator. More details pop into
shines brilliantly at magnitude view during moments of good
–2.5 all month, and its equato- seeing, when Earth’s atmo-
rial diameter stays between sphere steadies, or when
44" and 45". observing through larger
The planet’s steady appear- scopes. Look for a series of
Dark cloud belts alternate with brighter zones in Jupiter’s atmosphere. ance is reflected in its slow alternating belts and zones
Even small telescopes will reveal details within these bands, particularly motion across the sky. Jupiter that extends to the polar
when the gas giant looms large at its peak in May. NASA/ESA/A. SIMON (GSFC) resides in Libra, beginning regions. Also focus on fea-
May 4° east of Zubenelgenubi tures along the turbulent

upiter rules the sky from the western horizon along (Alpha [α] Librae) and ending edges of the dark belts.
dusk to dawn. The king of with Venus. the month 0.9° northeast of Because the planet spins on
the planets reaches oppo- Venus treks eastward as this 3rd-magnitude star. its axis in less than 10 hours,
sition and peak visibility May progresses, arriving at
May 8, though it’s a star a point midway between the Jupiter at its best
attraction all month. The giant Bull’s horns (Beta [β] and
planet has plenty of company, Zeta [ζ] Tauri) on the 13th.
however. Venus entertains Four days later, a wafer-thin
us during the early evening crescent Moon stands 6° to
hours, while Mars and Saturn Venus’ left. Our satellite VIRGO
stand out after midnight. It’s appears only 9 percent lit
a cornucopia of planetary because it passed between the Spica
delights that promises to thrill Sun and Earth just two days C ORVUS
every observer. earlier. Venus, on the other
Let’s start our tour in the hand, lies on the far side of OPHIUCHUS
western sky shortly after sun- its orbit, and a telescope LIBR A
set. Venus shines at magnitude reveals a 12"-diameter disk
–3.9 and appears beautiful that is 84 percent lit.
against the backdrop of bright Venus continues its east- Antares
stars typically associated with ward sojourn all month. It SC OR PIUS 10°
winter. On May 1, the planet crosses into Gemini on
lies in Taurus about 5° north of May 19 and passes less than
the Hyades star cluster and 10° 1° north of the 5th-magnitude May 8, 11 P.M.
Looking southeast
east of the Pleiades (M45). The star cluster M35 on the 20th.
stars of Orion add to the stun- By month’s end, the planet The solar system’s largest planet peaks at opposition May 8, but it rules
ning scene as they sink toward resides in central Gemini. the background stars of Libra all month. ALL ILLUSTRATIONS: ASTRONOMY: ROEN KELLY

36 A ST R O N O M Y • MAY 2018
A fresh perspective on the Moon Furnerius and Mare Australe

The Moon’s nearside provides floor, the Moon’s face rises and
more than a thousand features drops from our perspective. As a
within range of small telescopes. waxing crescent May 18, it lies
But our satellite offers more than somewhat below us, and the cra- Furnerius
just the craters, maria, and moun- ter Furnerius looks like a bright
tain ranges visible at first glance. dimple on the face’s lower right.
Every month, Luna performs a As Luna rises up with each pass-
subtle dance with Earth that you ing day, the dimple moves away
just have to look for. from the limb and we see more
Turn to the “Path of the “under the chin.”
Planets” on p. 40–41 and locate By the 22nd, we catch the first
the blue curve showing the hint of a dark blemish — Mare
Moon’s path and the orange arc Australe — at the southeastern
depicting the Sun’s motion. Notice limb. This sea, the edge of a large
how the Moon swings below the farside basin, slowly reveals itself N
Sun and then rises above it, a until Full Moon on May 29. The Mare Australe
motion that stems from the tilt of Moon’s motion is at its peak, and it E
the Moon’s orbit relative to Earth’s. then slowly drops back down, but
As the two partners twirl the change near the limb occurs in This pair of features near the Moon’s southeastern limb reveals our
across the solar system’s dance darkness and out of sight. changing viewpoint during May. CONSOLIDATED LUNAR ATLAS/UA/LPL; INSET: NASA/GSFC/ASU

its appearance changes notice-

ably in as little as 10 minutes.
Combined with Jupiter’s gas-
eous nature, this rapid spin
causes the world’s equatorial
Halley’s debris reaches Eta Aquariid meteor shower

regions to bulge. Look care- a fiery demise CYGNUS


fully and you’ll notice that the AQUIL A

diameter through the poles is Two meteor showers trace their ori-
6 percent smaller than across gins to history’s most famous comet.
Both the Eta Aquariids in May and
its equator.
the Orionids in October result from Enif
Small scopes also excel at
Earth crossing the orbital path of CAPRIC ORNUS
showing Jupiter’s four bright
Comet 1P/Halley. As our planet plows
moons. It can be a challenge AQUARIUS
through dust particles shed by the
to identify them, but the comet over many millennia, friction Radiant
alignment on opposition with molecules in the upper atmo-
night makes it easy. On the sphere incinerates the bits and cre-
evening of May 8, Io, Europa, ates “shooting stars.” 10°
and Callisto line up in that The Eta Aquariid shower peaks the
order east of Jupiter while morning of May 6. Unfortunately, a May 6, 4 A.M. Eta Aquariid meteors
Ganymede is the lone moon waning gibbous Moon shares the sky Looking east Active dates: April 19–May 28
west of the planet. With three and will drown out fainter meteors. Peak: May 6
A gibbous Moon competes with Moon at peak: Waning gibbous
satellites on one side and one For the best views, find an otherwise May’s best shower, reducing Maximum rate at peak:
on the other, you can quickly dark site and place yourself where a the number of meteors visible 50 meteors/hour
tell which direction is which tree or building blocks the Moon’s in the predawn sky May 6.
— often a problem because direct light.
the orientation of the field With clear weather, observers at Hemisphere could see twice climbs much higher. It’s still a
depends on the type of instru- mid-northern latitudes might see up as many because the radiant far cry from the normal rate
ment you use and when you to 10 meteors in the hour before — the point in Aquarius where (up to 50 per hour), but it’s the
observe — and thus distin- dawn. People in the Southern the meteors originate — best May has to offer.
guish the moons.
Once each orbit, Io,
Europa, and Ganymede OBSERVING Jupiter reaches its 2018 peak May 8, when the gas giant shines
— Continued on page 42 HIGHLIGHT at magnitude –2.5 and spans 44.8" through a telescope.



` LA
CE b
How to use this map: This map portrays the A
sky as seen near 35° north latitude. Located
inside the border are the cardinal directions + CEP
and their intermediate points. To find S
stars, hold the map overhead and _
orient it so one of the labels matches
the direction you’re facing. The NE d

stars above the map’s horizon

Polaris _
now match what’s in the sky.


The all-sky map shows


how the sky looks at:

midnight May 1
11 P.M. May 15

RA 1

CO c `
10 P.M. May 31 a

Planets are shown


at midmonth

e g



f `

Mizar b

¡ a



















_ 4





Ar _









M b









3.0 4
1.0 M10

4.0 a _ Spica US

2.0 5.0 RV
` CO C
Jup _ b a
Path of the Sun (ecliptic) i te r


re A a
A star’s color depends s m `
/ m _
on its surface temperature. _ M

• The hottest stars shine blue SE SC HY
• Slightly cooler stars appear white


Intermediate stars (like the Sun) glow yellow S

• Lower-temperature stars appear orange

• The coolest stars glow red d a b

g d i
• Fainter stars can’t excite our eyes’ color
receptors, so they appear white unless you +
NGC 5128
use optical aid to gather more light ¡
_ c

38 A ST R O N O M Y • MAY 2018 S
Note: Moon phases in the calendar vary
in size due to the distance from Earth
MAY 2018 and are shown at 0h Universal Time.
Open cluster
` _
1 2 3 4 5
Globular cluster

` Diffuse nebula
6 7 8 9 10 11 12
Planetary nebula


13 14 15 16 17 18 19

X 20 21 22 23 24 25 26

k LY


27 28 29 30 31



l u

Calendar of events



3 Venus passes 7° north of 13 The Moon passes 5° south of


Aldebaran, 1 P.M. EDT Uranus, 11 A.M. EDT



4 The Moon passes 1.7° north of The Moon passes 2° south of

` +


Saturn, 4 P.M. EDT Mercury, 1 P.M. EDT


5 The Moon is at apogee (251,318 15 New Moon occurs at


miles from Earth), 8:35 P.M. EDT 7:48 A.M. EDT




6 The Moon passes 3° north of 16 The Moon passes 1.2° north of

_ Regulus

Mars, 3 A.M. EDT Aldebaran, 9 A.M. EDT



SPECIAL OBSERVING DATE 17 The Moon passes 5° south of


6 A waning gibbous Moon Venus, 2 P.M. EDT


shares the sky with the

The Moon is at perigee

Eta Aquariid meteor


(226,040 miles from Earth),


shower at its peak

before dawn. 5:05 P.M. EDT

21 First Quarter Moon

7 Last Quarter Moon

occurs at 11:49 P.M. EDT


occurs at 10:09 P.M. EDT


27 The Moon passes 4° north of


8 Asteroid Vesta is stationary, Jupiter, 2 P.M. EDT

6 A.M. EDT
29 Full Moon occurs at
R Jupiter is at opposition,
TE b 10:20 A.M. EDT

9 P.M. EDT
31 The Moon passes 1.6° north of
10 The Moon passes 2° south of Saturn, 9 P.M. EDT
Neptune, 5 A.M. EDT

12 Mercury passes 2° south of

Uranus, 5 P.M. EDT
j N


PLANETS The planets in May 2018
Objects visible before dawn DR A

C rB
Merc Sun
ury SGE
Uranus EQU
AQL SER Jupiter appears at its best
Celestial equator for the year in May
Neptune VIR
th e Moo
Vesta Path of
Pluto Saturn LI B
SGR Amphitrite

Moon phases Dawn Midnight

16 15 14 13 12 11 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

31 30 29 28 27 26

The planets These illustrations show the size, phase, and orientation of each planet and the two brightest dwarf planets at 0h UT
for the dates in the data table at bottom. South is at the top to match the view through a telescope.
in the sky

Mercury Uranus


Venus Ceres Neptune

Date May 1 May 15 May 15 May 15 May 15 May 15 May 15 May 15 May 15
Magnitude 0.3 –3.9 –0.7 8.5 –2.5 0.3 5.9 7.9 14.2
Angular size 7.8" 12.1" 12.8" 0.5" 44.8" 17.8" 3.4" 2.3" 0.1"
Illumination 46% 85% 89% 96% 100% 100% 100% 100% 100%
Distance (AU) from Earth 0.859 1.375 0.734 2.526 4.403 9.319 20.806 30.307 33.001
Distance (AU) from Sun 0.459 0.718 1.476 2.559 5.408 10.066 19.888 29.942 33.562
Right ascension (2000.0) 0h54.1m 5h34.9m 20h07.4m 9h19.6m 15h01.0m 18h36.0m 1h51.3m 23h09.6m 19h30.3m
Declination (2000.0) 2°41' 24°44' –22°12' 26°36' –15°48' –22°18' 10°53' –6°25' –21°33'

40 A ST R O N O M Y • MAY 2018
This map unfolds the entire night sky from sunset (at right) until sunrise (at left).
Arrows and colored dots show motions and locations of solar system objects during the month.

Objects visible in the evening Jupiter’s moons

UM a
Dots display positions
of Galilean satellites at
PER 11 P.M. EDT on the date Europa
C Vn LMi AU R shown. South is at the
C OM top to match
Cer Venus the view
C NC through a W E
LEO telescope. N Callisto
tic ) CMi
n (e 2 Jupiter
e Su
f th


Early evening 9
To locate the Moon in the sky, draw a line from the phase shown for the day straight up to the curved blue line.
Note: Moons vary in size due to the distance from Earth and are shown at 0h Universal Time.
11 Io

25 24 23 22 21 20 19 18 17 16 15


15 Europa
The planets 16
in their orbits 17
Venus Arrows show the inner planets’
monthly motions and dots 18 Callisto
depict the outer planets’ posi-
Mercury tions at midmonth from high
above their orbits. 20


Jupiter 24



Uranus 27

Jupiter 28 Ganymede
Opposition is May 8
Neptune 29


— Continued from page 37
Track down Jupiter’s satellites


Venus (west) Jupiter (south) Mercury (east)
W Io Europa
Jupiter (southeast) Saturn (southeast) Mars (south)
Jupiter (southwest) Jupiter
Saturn (south)
Uranus (east) May 8, 11:30 P.M. EDT 2'
Neptune (southeast)
The gas giant’s moons are easy to see through a telescope, but identifying
them can be tricky. Their arrangement at opposition makes the task easy.
transit Jupiter’s disk along with until dawn. Next up is
their shadows. Earlier this year, Saturn, which rises shortly during May, ending the month Division, a dark gap that sep-
each moon’s shadow crossed after midnight local daylight 1.8° northwest of M22. arates the outer A ring from
before the moon itself. But time in early May and some Saturn brightens from mag- the brighter B ring. Small
around the time of opposition, two hours earlier by month’s nitude 0.3 to 0.2 during May. It instruments also show
when the Sun lies behind Earth end. For the best views, how- far outshines Sagittarius’ stars, Saturn’s brightest moon,
as we look toward Jupiter, the ever, wait until it climbs and its yellow glow makes it 8th-magnitude Titan.
moons and shadows practically higher in the south an hour easy to identify. The planet Although you won’t notice
overlap. On May 7, for exam- or two before twilight starts will brighten a bit more, to much change with Jupiter and
ple, Io’s shadow touches the to paint the sky. magnitude 0.0, by opposition Saturn this month, Mars
jovian cloud tops at 10:56 p.m. The ringed planet resides in late June. improves dramatically. The
EDT — just two minutes among the background stars Like Jupiter, Saturn’s Red Planet is just two months
before Io itself. The moon and of Sagittarius, just north of appearance through a tele- away from a late July opposi-
shadow both leave Jupiter’s that constellation’s Teapot scope doesn’t change much in tion that will bring it closer to
disk at 1:06 a.m. Contrast this asterism. On May 1, it stands May. But that’s a good thing, Earth than it has been in 15
with the scene May 30, when nearly 4° northeast of 3rd- because few celestial objects years. Observers will notice a
Io transits starting at 10:37 p.m. magnitude Lambda (λ) rival the beautiful ringed rapid buildup toward this
but the shadow doesn’t hit the Sagittarii, the star marking the world. In mid-May, the planet’s peak in May — Mars doubles
planet until 30 minutes later. top of the Teapot’s lid, and 1.7° disk measures 18" across while in brightness (from magni-
While Jupiter deserves north of the 5th-magnitude the rings span 40" and tilt 26° tude –0.4 to –1.2), and its
plenty of attention, the parade globular star cluster M22. to our line of sight. Even small angular diameter grows by
of viewing treats continues Saturn moves slowly westward scopes reveal the Cassini a third (from 11" to 15").

PANSTARRS makes its closest approach Comet PANSTARRS (C/2016 R2)

The distant Oort Cloud continues C/2016 R2 moves slowly against

to send cometary messengers the background stars, and it will
into the inner solar system. Its remain a tempting target in the k
best current envoy — Comet northwest after darkness falls. 31
PANSTARRS (C/2016 R2) — Several nearby bright stars 26
should glow at 10th or 11th mag- should make it relatively easy
nitude this month. But the comet to track down the comet. In
exceeded astronomers’ expecta- early May, PANSTARRS lies just 16
tions earlier this year, so there’s 2° south of magnitude 0.1 / 11
hope it could glow brighter. Capella. And shortly after mid- E
PANSTARRS reaches perihe- month, the comet passes a simi- 6
lion, its closest approach to the lar distance north of magnitude May 1
Path of
Sun, on May 9. Even then, how- 1.9 Beta (β) Aurigae. Comet PANSTARRS
ever, it lies in the midst of the A 4-inch telescope under a AURIGA
asteroid belt some 2.6 times far- dark sky should be enough to
ther from the Sun than Earth is. capture the comet’s fuzzy glow, l
At that distance, our star can’t but an 8-inch scope will allow 1°
warm the comet’s nucleus you to pick out some structure.
enough to make it glow brightly. You’ll want to use a fairly high Brilliant Capella and 2nd-magnitude Beta (β) Aurigae make convenient
But the great distance also means power to get the best views. guideposts for tracking down this modest comet on May evenings.

42 A ST R O N O M Y • MAY 2018
The Moon passes Venus

Passing through the Lion’s den

Procyon If you’ve never seen a dwarf crosses a field conducive to star-
planet before, May offers a hopping, with plenty of unusual
Capella perfect opportunity. Ceres, the patterns containing unequal
largest object in the asteroid stars. Those are easy to sketch
belt between Mars and Jupiter, quickly, providing a framework
slides past magnitude 4.5 that makes Ceres’ night-to-night
Kappa (κ) Leonis on the evening movement noticeable. You can
Betelgeuse of the 18th. Point your tele- see it shift positions in a single
ORION scope at Kappa and then look evening again on the 24th,
10° for a magnitude 6.8 star half when it passes a crooked line
the Full Moon’s diameter to the of three fainter stars.
May 17, 1 hour after sunset south-southwest. Magnitude 8.5 Viewing Ceres in the first half
Looking west
Ceres lies between the two and of May won’t be as easy. Still, a
slightly closer to Kappa. You 3-inch scope under suburban
A waxing crescent Moon teams up with brilliant Venus to form a stunning
pair in the western sky after the Sun sets May 17. can see the dwarf planet move skies will pull it in. Your best bet
in under an hour as a nearly is to start at Kappa and hop over
straight line becomes crooked. the border into Cancer. Just be
Mars rises shortly before The volcanic Tharsis region
If it’s cloudy on the 18th, patient so as not to get lost in
1:30 a.m. local daylight time as rotates into view on mornings don’t despair — Ceres soon the abundance of field stars.
May opens. It then lies in east- in mid-May. And by the 21st
ern Sagittarius, 15° east of and 22nd, Solis Lacus appears
Catch a bright dwarf planet
Saturn. Unlike Saturn, how- quite prominent.
ever, the Red Planet moves The remaining planets N o
eastward quickly. It passes 0.3° cluster low in the east before
south of the 9th-magnitude sunrise. Neptune rises at the
globular cluster M75 on the break of dawn in early May May 1
14th; by the next morning, it but becomes a much easier
has crossed into Capricornus. target late in the month. On 6
LEO Path of Ceres
It will remain in the Sea Goat the 31st, it rises around 2 a.m.
until late August. The planet’s local daylight time and climbs g
eastward journey partially 20° high in the east-southeast 16
compensates for the Sun’s own as twilight commences. 21
easterly motion, and Mars still Glowing at magnitude 7.9,
26 i
rises after midnight in late May. it’s an easy binocular object
Your best views through a set against the backdrop of ¡ 31
telescope come shortly before Aquarius. Look for it 1.0° 1°
twilight begins. By then, Mars west of 4th-magnitude
has climbed about 25° high in Phi (ϕ) Aquarii.
the south-southeast. (It Uranus pops into view at Although Ceres fades from magnitude 8.4 to 8.7 this month, it should be
appears higher the farther the end of May. After a five- easy to find as it crosses from Cancer into Leo.
south you live.) The planet’s year stint among the back-
visible hemisphere changes ground stars of Pisces, the
little from one night to the distant planet now resides in mid-northern latitudes. week or two. Although the
next because Mars rotates just Aries. You can find it through Mercury reached greatest innermost planet slowly loses
a bit slower than Earth. If you binoculars 10° due south of western elongation April 29, altitude, it also brightens. On
observe the Red Planet at the 3rd-magnitude Beta (β) and it remains low in the east the 15th, it appears 3° high a
same time each morning, the Arietis and 3° northeast of before dawn in early May. half-hour before sunup and
longitude at the center of the 4th-magnitude Omicron (ο) On the 1st, it stands 4° high shines at magnitude –0.3.
disk shifts only 9.1° each day. Piscium. Uranus shines at 30 minutes before sunrise. It
For observers in North magnitude 5.9 and shows then shines at magnitude 0.3 Martin Ratcliffe provides plane-
America on May’s first few up quite easily through and should be visible through tarium development for Sky-Skan,
mornings, the dark, wedge- binoculars. binoculars if you have an Inc., from his home in Wichita,
shaped feature known as Syrtis Our final planet never unobstructed eastern horizon. Kansas. Meteorologist Alister
Major stands at the center of escapes morning twilight If you’re ambitious, you can Ling works for Environment
the martian disk. A week later, this month for observers at follow Mercury for another Canada in Edmonton, Alberta.
the dark, fingerlike Mare
Cimmerium takes center stage. GET DAILY UPDATES ON YOUR NIGHT SKY AT

ASKASTR0 Astronomy’s experts from around the globe answer your cosmic questions.

BLACK HOLE Light waves

disperse as they
pass through a
prism, spreading

into a rainbow.
waves, however,
do not disperse,
meaning both
waves travel
through every
LIGHT-YEARS? Robert Byerly, Windsor, California LUCAS V. BARBOSA

A: You are absolutely right that It is from the accretion disk Q: IN THE NOVEMBER 2017 should travel at the same speed
not even light can escape from that the jets are formed and ISSUE’S GRAVITATIONAL as a low-frequency wave.
a black hole, and yet they launched, again well outside WAVES STORY, ROBERT A familiar example of dis-
launch huge, energetic jets that the event horizon. Astronomers NAEYE WROTE, “IF GRAVITA- persion occurs when white light
we can see. The key here is believe these jets arise through TIONAL WAVES DISPERSE, passes through a prism, which
while nothing can escape a interactions between the black SLOWER FREQUENCIES WILL separates the light into its con-
black hole once it has fallen past hole’s magnetic field and elec- ARRIVE AT THE DETECTORS stituent colors. This occurs
a certain point — called the trically charged plasma par- AFTER THE FASTER ONES.” because different wavelengths
event horizon — the jets origi- ticles in the accretion disk. BUT HOW ARE THERE DIF- (frequencies) of light take dif-
nate from outside that region. When the black hole’s mag- FERENT VELOCITIES FOR ferent paths through the prism.
Black holes themselves are netic field accelerates them, DIFFERENT FREQUENCIES? As light passes through the
invisible. But outside the event they gain enough energy to IT SEEMS ILLOGICAL TO ME. prism, it is absorbed and re-
horizon, infalling matter col- glow, allowing us to spot them. Aaron Morris emitted by the atoms of the
lects into an accretion disk, For stellar-mass black holes, Smyrna, Georgia prism differently, depending on
which grows hot due to friction the jets “turn on” and become its frequency. Violet light is
and emits all sorts of radiation, visible at a distance of tens of A: Gravitational waves are dis- slowed down by this absorption
from optical through X-rays. thousands of miles from the turbances in the fabric of space- and re-emission process more
When astronomers observe a black hole. For supermassive time that radiate outward from than red light, and thus the two
black hole, they’re actually black holes, this distance is the rapid movement of massive travel very different paths,
observing the radiation from millions of times greater. objects. And in fact, you are spreading out by the time they
this disk, which ends at the Alison Klesman right: Basic human intuition exit the prism.
event horizon. Associate Editor says that a high-frequency wave According to Einstein’s the-
ory of general relativity, gravi-
tational waves do not
experience dispersion in this
way. In other words, provided
that general relativity is an
accurate description of nature,
high-frequency gravitational
waves should travel at exactly
the same speed (the speed of
light) as low-frequency gravita-
tional waves. There should be
no preferential absorption or
re-emission of gravitational
waves as they travel through
space-time, regardless of their
frequency. Many alternative
theories, however, predict that
gravitational waves could expe-
rience dispersion as they travel
Black holes themselves are invisible, but they can form huge accretion disks and launch energetic jets. The through space-time; these the-
accretion disk (orange-red and blue) and jet (purple) occur outside the black hole’s event horizon (the dark sphere) ories treat gravity and
and are thus visible to astronomers. NASA/JPL-CALTECH

44 A ST R O N O M Y • MAY 2018
Objects are not to scale
Solar system distances


Ne s







Inner Oort Cloud Oort Cloud

asteroid belt Kuiper Belt

1 10 100 1,000 10,000 100,000

Logarithmic scale Astronomical units (AU)

The Oort Cloud is an extended region of icy bodies left over from the formation of the solar system. These objects appear tightly packed in illustrations,
but they are actually spread out with great distances on the order of 31 million miles (50 million km) between neighboring bodies. ASTRONOMY: ROEN KELLY

gravitational waves differently between about 2.1 and 3.3 Q: MY UNDERSTANDING IS detectable when infalling mat-
from Einstein. If the nature of astronomical units (AU; 1 AU THAT THE MATERIALS FOR ter forms a disk that emits
gravity is different from what is the average Sun-Earth dis- OUR SOLAR SYSTEM AND radiation. A lone black hole
Einstein states, then gravita- tance, 93 million miles [150 OTHERS NEARBY WERE with no companion accretes
tional waves might be allowed million kilometers]) from the CREATED BY A SUPERNOVA. slowly, so it has a minimal disk
to disperse. Sun, there are some 1 million to WHERE IS THE BLACK HOLE and remains virtually invisible.
LIGO and Virgo have both 1.5 million asteroids larger than FROM THAT SUPERNOVA? Finally, nothing in our
looked for dispersion in the 0.6 mile (1 km). Each of these John Goodemote Milky Way is static. Every star
gravitational waves detected asteroids is on average 1.8 mil- La Grange, Illinois (and neutron star and black
from merging black holes and lion miles (3 million km) apart, hole) revolves around the cen-
neutron stars, but have so far or about eight times the Earth- A: The heavy elements we see ter of the galaxy, and also
found that all the different fre- Moon distance. These asteroids throughout the galaxy today, moves relative to the objects
quencies are arriving at the are small compared with our including our solar system, around it. This ultimately
detector at the exact same time, Moon and thus would generally were indeed created in and dis- means that astronomers aren’t
just as Einstein predicted. not be observable from each persed by supernovae, as well as able to reliably wind back the
Robert Naeye other. Collisions between aster- by colliding neutron stars such clock to determine what our
Contributor oids still do happen, with a few as those observed in August. Sun’s surroundings looked like
per year that create dust clouds However, not all supernovae before it formed. A black hole
we can detect with telescopes. end in black holes. Current or neutron star left by a nearby
Q: I’VE HEARD THAT THE The Oort Cloud has many models predict that a star must supernova isn’t in the same
OORT CLOUD CONTAINS more objects than the main have a mass at least 20 times place it was billions of years
TRILLIONS OF ICY BODIES. asteroid belt, some trillion that of the Sun before the core ago. We may never find the
WHAT WOULD BE THE AVER- objects larger than a kilometer, collapse at the end of its life exact supernova remnant or
AGE DISTANCE BETWEEN but it also occupies a much will result in a black hole. If remnants that left behind the
THESE BODIES? larger volume of space from any nearby supernovae didn’t material from which our solar
Larry Guldenzopf 5,000 AU to beyond 20,000 to meet this initial criterion — if system formed.
Milwaukie, Oregon 50,000 AU from the Sun. Oort their parent stars were only Alison Klesman
Cloud objects larger than 1 km between eight and 20 solar Associate Editor
A: In movies you usually see have some 31 million miles (50 masses — they would have left
an asteroid belt full of rocks million km) between each behind a neutron star, not a
close to one another. In reality, other. This is about the dis- black hole. Send us your
this would be an unstable situ- tance between Earth and Mars Neutron stars are difficult to questions
ation because objects that are at their closest approach. observe, particularly when they Send your astronomy
close to one another will col- The large distances between are old and lack a binary com- questions via email to
lide often as they orbit the Sun. small objects in our solar system panion. They are typically on,
Any belt of objects will grind make empty space the norm the order of 12 miles (20 km) or write to Ask Astro,
down the population until col- and mean spacecraft can travel in diameter and cool off over P. O. Box 1612, Waukesha,
lisions are rare, and thus the safely among the planets. time unless they are actively WI 53187. Be sure to tell us
objects generally will not be Scott Sheppard accreting material from a your full name and where
found near each other in a sta- Staff Scientist, Department of nearby companion star. Black you live. Unfortunately, we
ble long-lived belt. Terrestrial Magnetism, Carnegie holes have the same observa- cannot answer all questions
In our main asteroid belt Institution of Washington, tional problem — they only submitted.
between Mars and Jupiter, Washington, D.C. “light up” and become

AL GG ??
The matter in our universe forms
filaments and threads like a grand
cosmic web, tugging galaxies and
clusters into place along the way.
by Michael West

The galaxy cluster ne of the most striking features
MACS J0416.1–2403 of the distribution of matter in
is highly elongated.
The orientations of
the universe is its filamentary
its brightest member appearance, with long, luminous
galaxies, which appear strands of galaxies woven togeth-
round and yellow in er into a vast cosmic web.
this image, reflect this
arrangement. ESA/HUBBLE, Nowhere is this more evident than the
NASA, AND HST FRONTIER FIELDS Perseus-Pisces Supercluster. This colossal chain
of galaxies snakes across more than 50° of the
northern sky, fed by a network of smaller fila-
ments that resemble tributaries flowing into a
river. Embedded within these filaments are
densely populated groups and clusters of galaxies.
Between them lie immense voids.
Our own Milky Way Galaxy resides in the
outskirts of a similar structure known as the
Laniakea Supercluster. (Laniakea means “immea-
surable heaven” in Hawaiian.) Home to an esti-
mated 100,000 galaxies, it’s a tangled knot of

46 A ST R O N O M Y • MAY 2018


150° 120° 90° 60° 30° 330° 300° 270° 240° 210°



A slice from the all-sky 2MASS XSCz infrared survey

shows galaxies within 140 million to 280 million light-
Decades of lively debate followed. English ama-
years of Earth. Long chains of galaxies — filaments
— are seen stretching across vast expanses of space, teur astronomer Francis Brown spent more than
linking together to create an intricate network known
as the cosmic web. TOM JARRETT (IPAC/CALTECH)
30 years investigating galaxy alignments in his
spare time. In a series of papers published between
1938 and 1968, he presented evidence that galaxy
orientations in certain regions of the sky were far ELONGATED?
filaments stretching half a billion light-years from from random. But many astronomers remained
end to end. University of Hawaii astronomer Brent skeptical, suggesting that the results might be a Most galaxies are elon-
gated in shape; round
Tully, whose team discovered Laniakea in 2014, lik- consequence of measurement errors, selection
ones are rare. But why?
ened it to “finding out for the first time that your effects, or even psychological biases. A galaxy’s image is a
hometown is actually part of a much larger country Then in 1968, Gummuluru Sastry of Wesleyan snapshot of its stars’
that borders other nations.” University showed beyond any doubt that the ori- motions, a moment fro-
Everywhere we look, galaxies trace out the paths entations of some galaxies are clearly not haphaz- zen in time. Spiral galax-
of these filaments. But it turns out galaxies don’t just ard. Sastry discovered that giant elliptical galaxies ies like the Milky Way
illuminate the cosmic web — they’re also shaped by it. owe their flattened
that populate the centers of clusters — the biggest
shapes to rotation. Just
and brightest galaxies in the universe — have a as a ball of pizza dough
When the stars align remarkable tendency to be elongated in the same flattens when spun, a
In 1874, less than a decade after the Civil War direction as their host cluster. For example, if a spiral galaxy’s stars
ended and long before anybody knew for certain cluster is elongated north-south, then more often spread into a thin disk as
what galaxies were, astronomer Cleveland Abbe than not, its brightest member galaxy is, too. If gal- it rotates. Traveling at
wondered how “nebulae,” as galaxies were known axies were human, psychologists would call this a half a million miles per
hour, our Sun has made
in those days, are oriented in space. textbook example of mirroring behavior. nearly two dozen trips
To answer this question, Abbe chose 59 of the Although Sastry’s conclusion was based on only around the Milky Way
most extended nebulae in Sir John Herschel’s five galaxies, other astronomers have subsequently since its birth.
famous Catalogue of Nebulae and Clusters of Stars confirmed his results with much larger samples. Elliptical galaxies, on
and measured their direction of elongation. His sur- Recent studies with the Hubble Space Telescope the other hand, have lit-
prising conclusion was that the nebulae appeared to — whose sharp vision allows us to see the remote tle or no rotation. Their
stars swarm around the
favor certain orientations with respect to the Milky past by looking far into space — reveal that these
galaxy’s center like bees
Way. But his study drew little attention and was alignments even existed billions of years ago. around a hive, each fol-
soon forgotten; Abbe moved on to a more successful And there’s more. lowing its own seem-
career in meteorology. In 1981, Bruno Binggeli of the University of ingly random path.
Forty years later, American astronomer Edward Basel in Switzerland showed that clusters of galax- However, these orbits
Fath revisited Abbe’s question. After measuring the ies aren’t oriented at random, either. Instead, they are often elongated in
one direction more than
orientations of hundreds of galaxies on photo- exhibit a remarkable tendency to “point” toward
others, stretching the
graphic plates taken at Mount Wilson Observatory, neighboring clusters. Binggeli’s discovery was galaxy into a shape
he reported in 1914 that they “appear to be oriented anticipated a few years earlier by Estonian astrono- resembling a lumines-
at random.” mers Jaan Einasto, Mihkel Jõeveer, and Enn Saar. cent football. — M.W.

48 A ST R O N O M Y • MAY 2018
One astronomer’s signal is
sometimes another’s noise.
Charles Messier com-
piled his famous list of
deep-sky objects to spare
fellow comet hunters
from wasting time on
them. Edmund Weiss, a
19th-century Austrian
astronomer, called aster-
oids the “vermin of the sky”
because their trails on long-
exposure photographs
were considered blemishes.
And galaxy alignments turn
out to be a nuisance for
some astronomers, too.
Gravitational lensing,
the deflection of light rays
by gravity, has become a
powerful tool for cosmol-
ogy. As light from faraway
Above: The giant galaxies journeys through
galaxy in the cen- space, the gravitational
ter of the cluster pull of matter — both visi-
Abell 3827 is in the
ble and invisible — alters
process of devour-
ing several smaller its path. This causes galax-
ones. Galaxies like ies near each other in the
this grow by first sky to appear slightly elon-
capturing and then gated and aligned.
later cannibalizing Astronomers call these dis-
their neighbors. tortions cosmic shear.
Although it’s a minus-
cule effect, by carefully
Left: Galaxy merg- measuring the shapes and
ers often occur orientations of large num-
along filaments in bers of galaxies, astrono-
the cosmic web, mers can infer the amount
possibly imparting and distribution of dark
the end result with matter, the mysterious
a preferred align- stuff that makes up much
ment. ESA/HUBBLE AND of the universe.
But a crucial assumption
in cosmic shear studies is
that galaxy orientations
are inherently random, so
Cosmic cartography that any apparent align-
ments are the result of
On this map of the gravitational lensing.
50° galaxy distribution
Physical alignments, such
in the region of
the Perseus-Pisces as those seen in giant ellip-
Supercluster, each tical galaxies, masquerade
40° point represents as cosmic shear and com-

a galaxy located plicate analysis.

35° 150 million to So, while intrinsic align-
300 million light- ments provide important
30° years from Earth. clues about how environ-
Dense clusters ment shapes galaxies,
of galaxies, the
they’re a nuisance for scien-
20° metropolises of the
cosmos, dot the tists whose goal is mapping
15° prominent filament the dark matter content of
like beads on a the universe. — M.W.
3h00m 2h00m 1h00m 0h00m 23h00m 22h00m
Right ascension

SIMULATING Dark matter distribution
THE UNIVERSE 70° 60° 50° 40° 30° 20° 10° 0° 350° 340°
In 1941, five years before digital
computers were invented, Erik
Holmberg of Lund Observatory in
Sweden performed the first simu- –30°
lation of colliding galaxies. What

Density of matter
he lacked in computational power
he made up for with ingenuity.
Because an object’s gravita-
tional pull and apparent bright-
– 40°
ness both vary inversely with the
square of distance, Holmberg
realized he could use light as a
proxy for gravity. Representing
two galaxies with 37 lightbulbs
each, he measured the brightness
at different locations to deter-
1 billion light-years
mine the strength and direction –50°
of the gravitational force and
adjusted their motions accord- An international team of scientists used the 570-megapixel Dark Energy Camera at Cerro Tololo
ingly. Although crude, Holmberg’s Inter-American Observatory in Chile to record light from 26 million galaxies. Tiny distortions in
analog computation provided their apparent shapes caused by gravitational lensing provide a map of the dark matter in different
insights into the frequency of gal- regions of space. In this image, red regions have more dark matter than average, while blue regions
axy mergers and suggested that have less. Hints of large-scale filamentary features can be seen. The European Space Agency’s
close encounters could generate Euclid mission and NASA’s Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope, both scheduled for launch in 2020, will
spiral arms. measure cosmic shear from space, providing even sharper views of the cosmic dark matter distribution.
Astronomers quickly
embraced digital computers as a
tool to simulate events and time- They noticed that clusters in the Perseus-Pisces
scales beyond anything accessi- Supercluster are elongated in the same direc-
ble to mere mortals. In the 1970s,
tion as the filament that bridges them, leading
brothers Alar and Jüri Toomre
pioneered numerical simulations
them to suggest in a 1980 paper published in
of galaxy mergers by represent- Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical
ing each galaxy as a swarm of Society that “the orientation of clusters in
interacting particles whose tra- superclusters is a conspicuous morphological
jectories were calculated by the property of superclusters.”
computer. Although the avail- The alignment of galaxies and clusters over
able computing power at the
tens or hundreds of millions of light-years
time limited the number of par-
ticles that could be followed,
means the innermost regions of some galaxies
these simulations revealed that are aligned with their surroundings on scales
galaxy mergers are common, larger than 1,000 times the size of a single gal-
and that mergers of spiral gal- axy itself. It suggests that the birth and evolu-
axies can produce things that tion of these objects have been strongly
look like elliptical galaxies. influenced by the cosmic web. But how?
As computational power
grew, so did astronomers’ ambi-
tion. Today, thanks to state-of- Going with the flow
the-art computers, it’s possible Galaxies, like people, are products of their
to simulate the evolution of environment. Elliptical galaxies, for example,
enormous volumes of space in usually huddle together in groups and clusters,
unprecedented detail using tril- while spiral galaxies prefer more elbowroom.
lions of particles to represent Environment clearly plays a role in galaxy
both luminous and dark matter.
orientations, too. There are two leading theo-
Beginning from some assumed A computer simulation shows the gossamer-like
set of initial conditions, astrono- structure of the cosmic web. Within this network, ries for how this happens. One suggests that
mers can run the simulation for- matter flows along filaments, piling up where they galaxies are born aligned with their surround-
ward in time to see what the intersect. The simulation shown here, one of the ings, while the other assumes that alignment is
largest ever done, followed the motion of trillions
predicted distribution and
of particles as gravity amplified tiny variations something they acquire later.
properties of galaxies would be in their initial distribution. Black points show the Galaxies might gain their orientation in
today and then compare the locations of dark matter; yellow denotes dense several ways. Big galaxies grow by cannibaliz-
results with observations. Such regions where galaxies and clusters form; and ing smaller ones, a process astronomers euphe-
simulations have become an white indicates voids. The region displayed here is
invaluable tool for understand- 2.5 billion light-years across, only a portion of the mistically call merging. But mergers aren’t
ing how the universe reached entire simulated volume. JOACHIM STADEL, UZH haphazard. Computer simulations show that
its present state. — M.W. they occur most frequently along well-defined

50 A S T R O N O M Y • MAY 2018
A computer simulation of our home galaxy,
the Milky Way. Today’s simulations are
more realistic than ever before, following
the birth and evolution of galaxies from
the Big Bang to the present day. This
simulation required 15 days of number
crunching with one of the world’s fastest

directions as gravity shepherds material along

filaments. This imprints a built-in memory of
their environment on these cannibals, one that
reflects the surrounding cosmic web. In a
sense, giant galaxies are like spiders waiting for
prey, only it is smaller galaxies rather than bugs MRC 1138-262, the Spiderweb Galaxy, is seen
in this Hubble Space Telescope image as it
that they devour, and the web they sit in is
appeared only 2 billion years after the Big Bang.
elongated rather than circular. The giant galaxy, located at the center of a
Alternatively, given enough time, gravity’s
relentless tug will slowly reorient galaxies until GARGANTUAN growing cluster, is being assembled via mergers
of smaller systems of gas, dust, and stars. Such
they align with their surroundings. Theoretical GALAXIES mergers occur preferentially along directions
defined by the surrounding cosmic web. NASA, ESA,
calculations and computer simulations suggest G. MILEY, R. OVERZIER AND THE ACS SCIENCE TEAM
People come in a wide range of
this should occur on timescales shorter than
shapes and sizes. According to
the age of the universe, which means that even Guinness World Records, the heavi-
if a galaxy was initially misaligned with its est person ever was an American traced by galaxies and clusters, but also reflected
surroundings, it should have fallen into line named Jon Brower Minnoch, who in their orientations.
by today. tipped the scales at a whopping There’s tantalizing evidence that alignments
As is often the case in science, it’s possible, 1,400 pounds (635 kilograms). At might even extend to other scales. In 2014, a
the other extreme, a Mexican
even likely, that there’s more than one explana- team led by Damien Hutsemékers from the
woman named Lucia Zarate, who
tion for galaxy alignments, with mergers along suffered from an extreme form of University of Liège in Belgium reported that the
filaments and twisting due to gravitational dwarfism, weighed only 13 pounds spin axes of some quasars are parallel to each
effects both contributing to the end result. (6 kg) as an adult — less than other over distances of billions of light-years,
1 percent of Minnoch’s weight. and that they share the same orientation as the
Is there more to But that’s nothing compared surrounding filamentary structure.
cosmic congruence? to galaxies, where the biggest
outweigh the smallest by factors
If confirmed, this would suggest that the
“Things are the way they are because they were of a million or more. Lurking in the cosmic web has even influenced the supermas-
the way they were,” maverick astronomer Fred centers of many galaxy clusters are sive black holes powering quasars, further evi-
Hoyle once quipped. the largest known stellar systems dence of a truly remarkable coherence of
Beginning with the thinnest of strands — in the universe, giant elliptical structures in the universe.
tiny irregularities in the primordial distribution galaxies that could easily swallow
of matter — gravity has slowly woven a cosmic dozens of their neighbors — and Michael West is deputy director for science
probably have. It may be no
web of sublime beauty and complexity. It’s coincidence that these behemoths
at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona.
astonishing to think that the filamentary distri- are so strongly aligned with their His most recent book is A Sky Wonderful With Stars:
bution of matter on large scales is not only surroundings. — M.W. 50 Years of Modern Astronomy on Maunakea.

Leo’s exotic
Beyond the brightest galaxies,
the Lion contains many
challenging deep-sky targets.
by Stephen James O’Meara

52 A ST R O N O M Y • MAY 2018
deep-sky gems

The Leo Triplet — M65

(top right), M66 (bottom
right), and NGC 3628 —
consists of three galaxies
that make up one of the
finest galaxy groups in
the spring sky. CHUCK KIMBALL

ost deep-sky hunters excellent seeing to look for that orange
associate Leo with dwarf’s 13th-magnitude red dwarf com-
galaxies … and so panion (C) 2.5" to the east. The greater the
they should. Although magnification, the greater the apparent
the celestial Lion has separation, and the greater your chances
other wonders (espe- are to see faint objects.
cially Regulus and Gamma Leonis, two Yet there’s more! Even small-telescope
regal double stars), we can enjoy them on users can search for a 12th-magnitude line-
our way to more exotic galaxies. of-sight companion (D) 3' due west of
Most of these galaxies can be seen read- Regulus — a sneaky little star often missed
ily through modest-sized apertures, but by the casual viewer. What you can’t see is
some will require much greater apertures. the spectroscopic object, speculated to have
Others still are best appreciated by involv- once been a luminous giant greater than
ing the imagination to see the delicate dra- Regulus but is now an Earth-sized high-
mas unfolding in and around them in density white dwarf star of 0.3 solar mass.
wavelengths that extend beyond the eye’s Take a deep breath before you head to
visual range. After all, astronomy is half our next challenge, Leo III (Leo A). This
science, half imagination. enigmatic dwarf galaxy is one of the most
I hope the latter exotics will inspire
astroimagers to capture these objects and
their demanding details and bring them to Below: Two odd galaxies, NGC 3226 and
light so the rest of us can enjoy them as NGC 3227, float in Leo as they gently lock
in a tidal embrace. NGC 3227 (right) is the
they truly are.
somewhat brighter barred spiral in this
interacting pair. Elliptical galaxy NGC 3226
Hidden dwarfs lies to its left. ROBERT LOCKWOOD
Leo harbors a fine selection of dwarf galax-
ies, many of which can be enjoyed by
observers using telescopes both large and
small. But we’ll start with a visual chal-
lenge: the 10th-magnitude dwarf spheroidal
Leo I.
Astronomy Senior Editor Michael E.
Bakich succinctly summarizes the situa-
tion: “Easy to find, hard to see.” The galaxy
lies only 20' north of Regulus (Alpha [α]
Leonis), but its light spreads across 12' by 9'
of sky. (That’s comparable in size to NGC
205, but two magnitudes fainter and with
no core!) Add in glare from Regulus, and
you’ve got a wonderful visual challenge.
Hints: Use a wide-field eyepiece that
provides moderate magnification (70x),
push Regulus out of the field of view, and
gently tap the tube as you look for a dim
and uniform carpet of ethereal light against
a bleak background of stars. At a distance
of 800,000 light-years, Leo I may be the
farthest satellite system orbiting our galaxy.
Regulus itself is a multiple star system
that can be seen with binoculars and tele-
scopes, and offers a secret challenge. This
glistening 1st-magnitude jewel shines with
a dazzling light. An 8th-magnitude “violet”
(a color-contrast illusion at low power)
companion (B) lies 3' to the northwest; B is
actually an orange dwarf. If you are using a
large aperture (12 inches and greater), don’t
stop there. Use 300x or more on a night of

54 A ST R O N O M Y • MAY 2018
telescope. The galaxy was described as tri-
angular shaped, and was held steady with
averted vision.

Galactic cannibals
Let’s dip farther south into the Lion’s mane
to 2nd-magnitude Algieba (Gamma [γ]
Leonis), near which we’ll find an amazing
galaxy gobbler. But first, keep your tele-
scope trained on Gamma Leonis, one of
the night sky’s finest binaries for telescopes
of all sizes. It’s amazingly beautiful, appear-
ing as two golden orbs: a 2nd-magnitude
reddish-orange primary with a lemon-
yellow 3rd-magnitude companion about 5"
away. At times, the secondary will take on a
more illusory aqua hue when seen at high
magnification; indeed, the 19th-century
observer William Henry Smyth saw the
companion as “greenish yellow.” You’ll have
to use your imagination to see the
10-Jupiter-mass exoplanet in its Earth-like
orbit around the primary.
When you’ve finished exploring Algieba,
poodle along just 30' to the east-northeast,
Above: Leo I is a faint, challenging dwarf galaxy where you’ll find the interacting galaxies
that lies in our Local Group at a distance of about
NGC 3226 and NGC 3227. NGC 3227, the
800,000 light-years. It lies a short distance from
Leo’s brightest star, Regulus. BERNHARD HUBL larger and brighter of the two, is a peculiar
barred spiral that shines at 10th magnitude
Left: Regulus itself is a 1st-magnitude beacon and appears as a 7'-long ellipse, making it a
that hides two faint stars circling the bright near twin in size to M108 in Ursa Major.
primary: a “violet” companion 3' away and
a fainter red dwarf 2.5' away. This telescopic NGC 3226 is a 2'-wide, 11.5-magnitude
sketch captures all three stars and was made peculiar elliptical nipping the north-
with a 6-inch f/8 reflector at 240x. JEREMY PEREZ northwestern rim of its larger neighbor. At
their union, a tiny bridge appears to con-
nect the two. (And I wonder what size tele-
scope is required to see that!)
I’ve spied the two easily through a 5-inch
refractor, but the real drama is reserved
isolated of its kind in the Local Group. for users of large-aperture telescopes
Lying about 2.5 million light-years away, it and astroimagers, as the two galaxies are
appears as a featureless sphere of stars awash in the remains of a deceased third
bursting forth with relatively youthful stars galaxy — cannibalized by the gravity of
(around 90 percent of which are less than the visual pair.
8 billion years old), yet it shows no signs of High-resolution optical images with the
Gamma Leonis is tidal interactions having taken place to Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope in
beautiful, appearing trigger new star formation.
Finding this cosmic puzzle will test
Hawaii, combined with data from the
European Space Agency’s Herschel Space
as two golden orbs: your visual mettle. The rub is that Leo III Observatory and NASA’s Hubble and
is three magnitudes fainter than Leo I but Spitzer space telescopes, have revealed the
a reddish-orange much smaller (5' by 3'), so its light is more braided remains of the cannibalized galaxy,
compact. You’ll find it about 1˚ south- whose gas and stars have been torn asunder
primary with southwest of 5th-magnitude 20 Leo by gravitational forces. This extragalactic
a lemon-yellow Minoris in the Lion’s high mane (R.A.
9h59m26.4s; Dec. 30˚44'47"). The one
detritus now describes a vast and ornate
series of loops and swirls around the two
companion. observation I’m aware of was made by a visible members. How much of this detail
South African observer using an 8-inch f/6 can be seen visually (and through what
APM Wirth-Intes Maksutov Newtonian 86 size telescope) is something you can

Above: An obliquely oriented spiral, NGC 3521
is one of the most overlooked bright galaxies
in the sky. A small scope shows it as a beautiful
cloud of light. KEN CRAWFORD

discover and share. Skilled deep-sky

observers are renowned for seeing what
used to be deemed impossible, and I have
faith in them.
Observers can easily overlook Leo’s dis-
crete southern extension, which contains
some interesting galaxies. Chief among
them is NGC 3521, one of the most
neglected bright galaxies in the night sky.
This 9th-magnitude marvel rivals many of
the Messier galaxies. Through a 4-inch
scope, this oblique spiral spans 12' by 6.5',
is oriented northwest-southeast, and
appears cometlike — similar to an ellipse
within an ellipse. It is classified as a floc-
culent spiral (like NGC 2841 in Ursa
Major) with extensive debris shells that
surround the galaxy’s disk like a toy in a
bubble bath. This is yet another stunning two 9th-magnitude spirals, M65 and M66, but the most amazing and concealed fea-
example of a galactic cannibal, where the joined by the slightly fainter edge-on spiral ture of the group is a striking tidal “plume”
sloppy remains of several long-deceased NGC 3628 (the Hamburger Galaxy). trailing off NGC 3628. This extragalactic
satellite galaxies still surround a voracious Located about halfway between Theta (θ) umbilical cord of star-forming regions
spiral. While much of this drama is invis- and Iota (ι) Leonis in the big cat’s thigh, extends some 2˚ east of NGC 3628’s north-
ible to the eye, I do wonder if the brightest this winning trio travels as a pack at a dis- eastern rim before arcing slightly to the
patch of the slaughter — just northeast of tance of about 30 million light-years. All north, making the galaxy appear like an
the nucleus — can be spied in large ama- measure about 10' in length, can be spied old westbound ocean liner trailing smoke.
teur telescopes. even in 10x50 binoculars under a dark sky, Lenses as small as 200 millimeters have
and telescopically display the deforming been able to capture this tail. The question
Rings and things effects of tidal warping. is: Can it be seen visually? And if so, at
Leo’s most famous gaggle of galaxies is Telescopes as small as 4 inches can what aperture and magnification?
undoubtedly the Leo Triplet, consisting of reveal the “broken arms” of M65 and M66, Return your telescope to Regulus. Now

56 A ST R O N O M Y • MAY 2018
extragalactic neighbor M105, with two
close attendants: the 11th-magnitude len-
ticular galaxy NGC 3384 about 7' to the
northeast and 12th-magnitude NGC 3389
(which is most likely a background galaxy)
near equidistant to the southwest. We can
now imagine the location of the Leo Ring,
a giant blossom of cold gas that surrounds
these galaxies; it once was one of the night
sky’s most dramatic and mysterious clouds
of intergalactic gas in the radio spectrum.
First detected by radio telescopes in
1983, the ring was further studied in 2009
by the ultraviolet vision of NASA’s GALEX,
which detected emissions interpreted as
dwarf galaxies forming out of primordial
gas. A year later, astronomers using the
Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope found
optical emissions associated with the ring
— not from dwarf galaxies, but from bursts
of star formation along the ring. Their
models indicate that the gas is not primor-
Above: The 12th-magnitude galaxy NGC 2964 dial, but formed by a billion-year-old colli-
(top right) lies near another strange galaxy,
NGC 2968, which has a twisting dark lane
sion between M96 and NGC 3384.
running across its midsection. JOHN BESWETHERICK/ Let’s slip far to the northwest corner of
ADAM BLOCK/NOAO/AURA/NSF Leo’s boundaries, about 5˚ southeast of
Alpha Lyncis, where we’ll find the “other”
Left: Another trio in Leo consists of M95 (left), Leo Triplet: 12th-magnitude NGC 2964,
M96 (above center), and the elliptical galaxy
M105 (right). Other galaxies lie near M105,
13th-magnitude NGC 2968, and 14th-
including NGC 3384 (above and right of M105) magnitude NGC 2970. Included in
and NGC 3389 (above NGC 3384). DANIEL B. PHILLIPS Astronomy contributing editor Phil
Harrington’s Cosmic Challenge, this triad
appears through modest-sized telescopes as
a series of extragalactic “dust motes.”
Whereas NGC 2964 is oriented east-
west, measures 3' by 1.5' across, and sports
make a 10˚ sweep east with a wide-field a tiny, fuzzy core, NGC 2968 is oriented
eyepiece. You are within striking range of northeast-southwest, measures 2' by 1.5',
another celebrated pack of reasonably and reveals no core. In reality, NGC 2964 is
bright galaxies: M95, M96, and M105. a mixed spiral galaxy, and NGC 2968 is an
M95 and M96 are separated (east-west) irregular galaxy with a peculiar S-shaped
by only 42'; both magnitude 9.5 barred spi- dust lane running lengthwise through its
rals are about 7' wide, with tight arms that body. But there’s more! A tidal tail con-
wind around a bright core, forming both a nects NGC 2968 and NGC 2970, extending
bright inner annulus and a fainter outer to the northeast. NGC 2970 is a true visual
NGC 3628 has a tail ring. Only M95 is seen nearly face-on
(looking like the Death Star from Star
dust mote, measuring only 0.5'.
NGC 2968 is very distorted and sur-
that looks like an Wars), while M96 is inclined 45˚. M96 is rounded by shells. What’s more, a super-
also the more curious of the two, as it is a nova occurred in 1970 on the luminous
ocean liner trailing one-armed spiral that loops around the bridge, confirming a physical association
core from the southwest to perform a tight
smoke. Can it be counterclockwise inner swirl, forming an
between NGC 2968 and NGC 2970.
If you make an astonishing observation
seen visually? And if ill-defined inner annulus before looping
again to form a warped outer loop, the
of any of these exotic features, send an
email to
so, at what aperture northern rim of which is rife with star
formation. And this is where it gets Stephen James O’Meara is a well-known
and magnification? interesting. observer, author of many books, and a
About 1˚ east-northeast of M96 lies its contributing editor of Astronomy.

at its best
It’s been 15 years since the Red Planet was this close and this big. Set up
your scope, and take advantage of this apparition. by Michael E. Bakich

Although a bit PLANETARY OBSERVING HITS A HIGH called oppositions, when Mars lies opposite the Sun from
farther and smaller
than it appeared
point this summer as Mars once again dominates our perspective on Earth. This year’s opposition occurs
in 2003, Mars in the evening sky. Dust off your scope, because this is July 26 or 27, depending on where you live. Let me
2018 will appear the year to observe the Red Planet. It hasn’t been this explain.
much larger than big and bright since 2003, and it won’t be again until
during its worst
opposition, more September 2035. Dates and numbers
than 800 years So, excitement is building. For readers new to Red The moment of opposition occurs at 5h13m Universal
from now. ASTRONOMY: Planet mania, astronomers’ interest peaks during times Time on the 27th. In the United States, that’s 1:13 a.m.
EDT. If you observe from the Mountain or Pacific time
zones, the date of opposition will be the 26th.
Middle ground Then, a scant four days later, Mars reaches its closest
point to Earth. An opposition happens every 780 days
63,070,000 miles (minus 1 hour 26 minutes 24 seconds, to be exact). But
Sun 35,785,000 miles each closest approach to Earth is not really, well, closest
because Earth’s and Mars’ orbits are not circular, so the
miles distance between our two worlds changes from one oppo-
sition to the next.
During a distant opposition, Mars can lie more than
60 million miles (97 million kilometers) away. Contrast
that with a nearby opposition that places Mars less than
35 million miles (56 million km) from Earth.
August 2003 July 2018 March 2832 For observing purposes, it all comes down to apparent
diameter. Astronomers use angular measurement to
describe how large a celestial object appears. A planet’s
angular size can change a lot. Mars varies in size at oppo-
sition from a minimum of 13.8" to a maximum of 25.1".
And its maximum brightness at each close approach var-
ies from magnitude –1.5 to –3.0.
In 2018, opposition occurs July 27, but Mars lies closest

58 A ST R O N O M Y • MAY 2018
This Hubble
Space Telescope
image, taken
June 26, 2001,
remains one of
the best ever of
Mars. At the time,
the Red Planet
was 43 million
miles (68 million
kilometers) from
to Earth (and thus appears a smidge larger) on the 31st. equator) is –25°34'. This means for an observer at 40° Earth. NASA/THE HUBBLE
The Red Planet will lie 35,785,000 miles (57,590,000 km) north latitude, Mars will climb a scant 24° above the
away then. It will span 24.33" and shine at magnitude southern horizon at midnight local time.
–2.8. And — not that you’ll need any stars to locate it It’s important to consider a planet’s altitude because
— its position will lie within the constellation the less air you view (or photograph) through, the better
Capricornus just north of the midpoint of a line joining the image. So, if you have a choice, head south. Even a
the magnitude 4.7 star 62 Sagittarii (HIP 98688) with 10° change in latitude will let you see more surface
magnitude 4.3 Omega (ω) Capricorni. details. Ideally, we all probably want to observe from
latitude 25°34' south. Anyone up for a trip to Brisbane,
Head south Australia? At midnight there, Mars will be overhead on
Observers at northern latitudes find themselves at its opposition date.
a severe disadvantage this summer. At opposition, Here’s a tip: Don’t wait for opposition. Although Mars
Mars’ declination (distance above or below the celestial will be biggest and brightest around opposition, you can

How bright will Mars be?

23" 24"

Magnitude 22" 23"

How big –2.4

and bright Mars 21" 21"
appears depends
on when you –2.2
observe it. This
graph shows how 20" 20"
the Red Planet’s
apparent size
grows before
opposition and June 25 July 1 July 9 July 15 July 31 Aug. 10 Aug. 19 Aug. 28 Sep. 4
shrinks afterward. Date


“Mars will look as large as wasn’t bad enough, we
the Full Moon to the naked saw this statement again
eye.” How exciting — if before Mars’ next half-
only it were true. This dozen oppositions.
deliberately misleading Nothing could be farther
statement first appeared from the truth, but expect
online during mid-2003, this lie to pop up again this
when Mars was as close to year. Just tell your friends
Earth as it will be for thou- it’s someone’s idea of an
sands of years. And if that internet joke. — M.E.B.

This sequence,
taken June 5, make quality observations long before and after that 4-inch or larger telescope, you’ll see large albedo features
2016, shows Mars’ date. At the start of May — a full three months before — regions distinguished by the amount of light they
rotation over
closest approach — Mars will shine at magnitude –0.4 reflect. Mars’ best include Syrtis Major (an easily seen
slightly more than
2 hours. The left and measure 11" across, nearly 50 percent of its maxi- dark, triangular feature), Chryse, Elysium, the Hellas
image was taken mum size this year. At that size, detail will be visible. Basin, Libya, and Solis Lacus.
at 1h17m36s UT, Because Mars will really put on a show for more than Mars’ day, which astronomers call a sol, is 37.4 min-
the center one
at 1h48m36s UT, a month on either side of opposition, the darkness of utes longer than an Earth day. So, if you observe Mars at
and the right one your site doesn’t matter much. Indeed, some ambient the same time each night, its markings will appear to
at 3h26m36s UT. light actually is welcome when you observe the Red move 9.11° per day to the west. In a little more than five
Planet. A white light off to your side (not directly in your weeks, the planet seems to slowly rotate backward one
field of view) lighting up your surroundings will cause full spin. All of Mars’ prominent features will, at some
your daytime vision — which is superior to night vision time during this period, lie on its meridian, the line
in both resolution and color sensitivity — to kick in. splitting the planet’s visible disk from top to bottom, as
Want to observe from a parking lot in Chicago? If it’s seen from Earth. All martian features look their best
clear, you’ll see some detail, even through small tele- when on the planet’s meridian.
scopes. But you shouldn’t observe from a parking lot Even including albedo highlights, the Red Planet’s
because the steadiness of the air above your site — what best surface features are its polar ice caps. At opposition,
astronomers call seeing — makes all the difference. The Mars’ south polar cap will tilt 11° in our direction.
better the seeing, the more detail your scope will reveal. Due to the temperature range at the martian poles,
Unfortunately, any parking lot stores lots of daytime heat astronomers subdivide each ice cap into larger “sea-
in the summer and releases it at night, ruining the view sonal” and smaller “residual” caps. Residual caps last
of even bright objects like Mars. So leave the city behind. through the martian year. The southern residual ice cap
measures about 200 miles (320 km) across. The northern
What can you see? residual ice cap spans about 600 miles (960 km).
Albedo features are the areas most subject to seasonal Winters are more severe in Mars’ northern hemi-
changes such as brightening or darkening. Through a sphere, and the seasonal ice cap there has reached a

60 A ST R O N O M Y • MAY 2018
This image,
taken October
23, 2014, shows
Mars (bright
object at bottom
center) passing
by the Lagoon
(M8) and Trifid
(M20) nebulae
in Sagittarius.

latitude of 45°. In the southern hemisphere, the seasonal N

ice cap never passes above a latitude of about –55°.
p /
Don’t confuse the Hellas Basin with the polar cap. m
Hellas is a round, bright feature — an impact basin with CAPRIC ORNUS
lots of bright dust and sometimes fog or clouds. When
seen near the limb (the planet’s edge), it can look like a June 1
polar cap. May 1
With respect to clouds, all of them on Mars are tem- July 1 Path of Mars
porary. Discrete clouds associate with a specific area,
and Mars’ rotation carries them along. 15
Orographic clouds are a type of discrete cloud. Wind 31 52
passing over high mountains and volcanoes creates t SAGIT TARIUS
Aug. 1 60
these water-vapor clouds. Observe orographic clouds 15
through a blue or violet filter to see the most contrast. 59
Look away from Mars’ meridian and observe morn- 62
ing and evening clouds. These bright, isolated patches
of surface fog appear at sunrise (the western edge of

Mars) and sunset. Evening clouds generally appear
larger and are more numerous, and as the martian night
approaches, they grow larger. These clouds respond best Mars’ motion
to blue or violet filters. is any night it’s in the sky. Once every 26 months, Mars across the stars
Color filters show a lot when you observe Mars, but appears bright in our sky, but some of these appearances takes it through
the constellations
they do take some getting used to. Be patient, and you’ll — like this one — are better than others. Take advantage Sagittarius and
be amazed at how much more detail you’ll see. of the planet’s size and brightness, and don’t worry so Capricornus from
much that it’s so low in the sky. Head out to a science May 1 through
No need to rush center or observatory, contact your local astronomy club, August 31.
Although Mars will appear biggest July 31, it will look or simply point your scope at the Red Planet. Then focus TALCOTT AND ROEN KELLY
almost as bright several weeks before and after that date. and take a good, long look.
So, if you’re clouded out, or if the 31st just doesn’t work
for observing, cheer up. Unlike totality during a solar Michael E. Bakich is a senior editor of Astronomy. He also is
eclipse, a martian opposition isn’t a short-lived event. a longtime observer of the Red Planet, having traced its path
Just keep in mind that the best time to observe Mars along the zodiac starting in the 1960s.

YOUR The photographer
captured Barnard’s
Loop in Orion over
two nights from
a plateau about

25 miles east of Globe,
Arizona. He used an
AstroTrac tracking
mount on a heavy
tripod as his base.
He mounted his QSI
583wsg camera on an

autofocus mounting
bracket and attached
it to a Pentax 67
medium-format lens.


imagers, I started astrophotography by taking simple
star and planet trail shots, and photographing the
Moon through my telescope. This was during the

A variety of mounts and techniques
film era, when most amateur astronomers considered
color emulsions advanced, not to mention special
spectroscopic and astronomical films and techniques,
like cold cameras and film
As I progressed though more
detailed and complicated photo-
similar to the ones I used in the
film days; the advantage is that
you can control with your cam-
era many of the settings I had to
can help you create stunning graphic techniques, acquiring a deal with by using different film
images. Which one is for you? mount that accurately tracked types or in the darkroom. As
the sky was the next step. This with film, prints, and the dark-
by Mike Reynolds took the trails out of my expo- room, digital processing is
sures and gave me nice wide- another story in itself.
field images of the night sky. General interest in wide-field
Today’s digital techniques are camera-lens imaging has

62 A ST R O N O M Y • MAY 2018
partially been reignited
through the work of The World
at Night (TWAN). Initiated by
Babak Tafreshi and Mike
Simmons through Astronomers
Without Borders, the 30 or so
regular TWAN photographers
(and many others) have con-
tributed well-composed images
and time-lapse videos of celes-
tial objects with interesting
natural or human-made land-
marks in the foreground. The
phrases “lightscape imaging” These superb full-frame cameras for astroimaging use different tech. The Canon 6D (right) is a standard DSLR
or “light painting” are often that employs a mirror to send the image to the viewfinder. The Sony a7R II is a mirrorless digital camera. COURTESY
used to describe such work.

Necessities included with the purchase of a

What do you need to create DSLR). Lens autofocus and
wide-field astronomical images image stabilization features are
of your own? First, get a camera not necessary and actually can
that will allow a number of set- cause problems. Your lens focal
tings for long-exposure photog- length should not be too long. I
raphy. I define “long exposure” usually consider anything lon-
here as anything greater than ger than a 135-millimeter tele-
1 second. The digital single- photo lens to be too long,
lens reflex camera, or DSLR, though I often shoot through
is a great choice. Price points telephoto lenses.
for DSLRs range from several One discussion you might
hundred to thousands of dollars. hear is whether you should use
And what you may have heard is a zoom lens. Today’s zoom
true — you can take high-quali- lenses are much better than
ty tracked astrophotos with one those of 30 years ago, back in
of the lower-priced DSLRs. the film era. The glass used to
An alternative to the DSLR make lenses is of higher quality,
has emerged: the mirrorless and the lens mechanics are
camera. This version doesn’t greatly improved. I have had
need a mechanical mirror to good success using zoom lenses
switch between the viewfinder for astrophotography. With a
and the sensor. Manufacturers zoom lens, I have the flexibility This image of the summer Milky Way was shot through a Canon 6D with
a 47mm lens at ISO 3200. The photographer mounted his camera on a
can reduce the camera’s overall to create a specific field of view. Celestron Advanced VX tracking mount and made a 2-minute exposure.
complexity, weight, and size by Another advantage is having JOHN CHUMACK
replacing the optical viewfinder multiple focal lengths available
with a digital version. This also in one lens instead of buying
eliminates a vibration source in several fixed-focal-length a reduced sensor size, the image you are setting up a scope just
the system. There are some lenses. I use both zoom and it produces is magnified, thus to piggyback a camera, as a lot
pros and cons: Most mirrorless fixed lenses for astrophotogra- reducing your field of view. of work is involved.
cameras have reduced-size sen- phy, yet find myself almost Keep that in mind. A number of small equato-
sors, require specific mirrorless entirely using zoom lenses for Next, let’s take a look at rial tracking platforms are
camera lenses or a special lens regular photography. tracking. A high-quality polar- available at reasonable prices.
adapter, and use battery power The effective focal length of aligned mount or go-to plat- Each will carry a camera and
at a faster rate than DSLRs. a lens depends on whether you form with accurate tracking is lens, or even a small telescope
Sony and Fuji are currently the are using a full-size or cropped- essential if you want to produce with a camera attached, but you
leaders in mirrorless cameras. sensor DSLR. Full-size sensor images without trails. will need a sturdy tripod on
Like the DSLR, these will con- cameras (with chips the same Accessories are available that which to mount the tracking
tinue to evolve. size as the old 35mm film) are will let you piggyback, or platform. Setting up and polar
Next, invest in a good cam- more expensive; the sensor is attach, a camera-lens combina- aligning such a system is usu-
era lens. Most of today’s DSLR larger than the Advanced Photo tion to a telescope on a mount. ally easy, and this equipment is
lenses easily meet that require- System type-C (APS-C) This can be an ideal setup if the also light, so it’s a joy to trans-
ment, even those referred to as cropped-sensor cameras. mount is equatorial. The only port. For the exposures you’ll
kit lenses (less expensive lenses Because the APS-C camera has drawback to this method is if collect, perfect polar alignment

taken, the period between cause problems for exposures
exposures, and the number of when you want stars to appear
exposures. Some intervalom- as points of light, rather than
eters even allow you to set the squiggly lines.
time between mirror lockup Set the white balance
and exposure, since the mirror to auto: White balance lets you
lockup introduces vibration in adjust colors so that the image
the system. looks natural in its setting.
This is great if you are shooting
Camera settings a wedding under some unusual
Proper camera and lens settings lighting, or skiers against
will not only save you a lot of bright white snow, but it’s
frustration, but also noticeably not necessary for nightscapes.
improve the quality of your So, leave the white balance
images. And the beauty of digi- on auto.
The LighTrack II Mount tal media is that you can delete ISO setting range: The
from Fornax is easy to assemble and reshoot — unless your measure of the camera sensor’s
and use. The company also sells subject is a total solar eclipse or sensitivity setting is the ISO, a
the optional FMW-200 wedge
and polar alignment scope. a magnificent fireball. photographic standard adopted
ASTRONOMY: WILLIAM ZUBACK Turn off the lens autofocus: during the film days by the
Many camera lenses — in your International Organization for
smartphone, point-and-shoot Standardization. Most digital
camera, and most DSLR lenses cameras start at a low sensitiv-
— have a feature called autofo- ity of 100 ISO (or even 64 ISO)
cus. For taking general photos and range to 102,400 ISO on
of people and scenery, this is an high-end cameras. Although a
invaluable feature, but not so high ISO setting would seem
for astrophotography. If you ideal for low-light astronomical
leave the camera DSLR lens on imaging, there is an important
autofocus when taking astro- trade-off. As you increase the
nomical images, the lens will ISO, you increase electronic
perceive the sky as blank and noise. I prefer to image at a
continually search for the maximum of 400 ISO. But the
focus. Autofocus also drains noise-suppression software in
your battery. your camera may work won-
Turn off your flash: This ders. Experiment with higher
one might seem obvious, but
I’ve seen instances when a nov-
The constellations Andromeda and Triangulum (with their two large galaxies)
dominate this wide-field shot taken through a Canon 6D with a 47mm lens ice did not know to turn off the
mounted on a Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer tracking mount. JOHN CHUMACK flash, or an experienced imager
forgot to do so. This is one of
the reasons why I still use a
is not as important as it is when that you avoid inducing vibra- checklist when I prepare for a
you’re planning to use a CCD tions that can ruin your expo- night of astrophotography.
or DSLR through the telescope, sures. Canon refers to its Mirror lockup: This lets
yet this does depend on the intervalometer as a Timer/ you lock the mirror before you
length of the exposure. Remote Controller; Nikon calls begin imaging. In normal oper-
Other beneficial accessories it a Multi-Function Remote ation, when the mirror swings
include a reasonable-size mem- Cord; and Sony calls it a out of the way as you start an
ory card that allows you to Remote Commander. Be cer- exposure, the motion intro-
quickly download exposures, a tain you check your camera duces a vibration into the sys-
fully charged battery or an model compatibility if you pur- tem. This is not a problem for
external power supply, and an chase this accessory. normal, handheld, usually
intervalometer. I also carry With an intervalometer, you short exposures, but it can
spare memory cards and can set the length of each expo-
charged batteries with me. sure when you set your camera
The intervalometer is an to “bulb” on some DSLRs or Celestron’s Advanced VX
important accessory. It allows “manual” on others. With most Mount has a maximum weight
capacity of 30 pounds (13.6
you to program and control the intervalometers, you can set the
kilograms). Counterweights
length of your exposures with- time between activation and and a tripod are included.
out touching the camera, so when the first exposure is COURTESY OF CELESTRON

64 A ST R O N O M Y • MAY 2018
ISO settings, and see what Dew control: I bring along a
results you get. But be warned: plastic garbage bag to cover my
You’ll look at a high-ISO image equipment in case of sudden
and think, “Look at all of those inclement weather. Depending
stars!” Unfortunately, most of on where you observe, conden-
the points will be noise. sation might also be a problem.
Manual or bulb setting: A variety of accessories — for
Your DSLR features a pre- example, a dew heater — can
determined number of expo- help you combat this poten-
sure lengths, with the longest tially session-ending issue.
usually 30 seconds. With the As you complete your
manual setting, you set the checklist, keep in mind where
exposure length. On the bulb you will be doing your imag-
setting, the shutter stays open ing. You won’t take many good
while you depress the shutter images with a lot of light pollu-
button, and it closes when you tion around. Yet some imaging
release it. Most cameras also from a light-polluted area can
allow you to manually set your make for interesting lightscape
lens aperture from either of photography. I am fortunate to
these settings. live far enough from bright city
File size: This lets you lights that I can easily see the
choose the exposure’s final size. Milky Way without optics. Shooting comets is popular with astroimagers. Here, the photographer
I always recommend capturing However, you might have to attached a Canon XTi to a Zeiss 80mm refractor and mounted them
RAW exposures, the largest file travel some distance to find a on a tracking mount. This image, shot April 8, 2013, between 4:45 A.M.
possible. This will use more dark sky. and 4:55 A.M. MST, combines ten 1-minute exposures at ISO 800. CHRIS SCHUR
space on your memory card,
but it will also give you more Under the stars
data for better results when
processing your images.
Now that you’ve completed
your preparation, you’re ready
Noise reduction: Electronic for some imaging. But where EFFECTIVE FOCAL LENGTHS
noise can be an issue with digi- do you begin? If it’s your first
Full Sensor Canon APS-C 1.6X Nikon APS-C 1.5X
tal cameras. With this feature, session, start with a bright
you can reduce the amount of constellation. This will help 16mm 25.6mm 24mm
noise (which usually looks like you see what the sky conditions 24mm 36mm 38.4mm
faint stars), an important con- are. Take some initial test shots 50mm 80mm 75mm
sideration when many of your with different exposures and a 85mm 136mm 127.5mm
backgrounds will be black and couple of different lenses if you 135mm 216mm 202.5mm
your subjects will be faint have them. 105mm 168mm 157.5mm
points of light. The drawback is Say you’re going to take
400mm 640mm 600mm
a decrease in detail. Experiment some exposures, and it’s winter.
with this feature, and see what The constellation Orion is
works best for you. above the horizon, a great place
Lens aperture: This is spe- to start. First, check the focus
cific to the lens, though usually carefully. Do not trust the the lens and its aperture, ISO astronomical imaging a try,
controlled by the DSLR. infinity mark on the lens. Over setting, noise reduction factor, especially if you already have
Adjusting the aperture changes the years, I’ve gotten to know how well your mount is polar the equipment. You’ll find it
the amount of light that reaches where infinity is on my lenses, aligned, and more. I also exper- fun and relaxing to create
the camera’s sensor. The pur- yet I always check at the start of iment. Try a range of exposures images. You’ll also have lots of
pose of an adjustable lens aper- (and several times during) each from short to long, and pick the chances to experiment, some-
ture is to change the depth of imaging session. one that looks best to you. times with the placement of a
field. As the aperture decreases, You can approach exposure Wide-field astronomical pine tree in the foreground,
the f-number increases, bring- length a couple of different photography will let you image and at other times by trying a
ing more objects in the picture ways, depending on whether the Milky Way, meteors and range of lens focal lengths.
into focus. Because we are deal- you plan to process your meteor showers, and aurorae Hopefully, your sessions will
ing with astronomical objects images, a whole new factor in dancing in the starry sky. You lead to high-quality pictures
(with the exception of light- astrophotography. Or do you might even capture a satellite you’ll be proud to share.
scape imaging) this is not an want to keep it simple for now or the International Space
issue. Set the aperture at the and see what immediate results Station passing through one of Mike Reynolds is a contributing
lowest number so your lens will you can get? The maximum your images. editor of Astronomy and a
allow the maximum amount of length you can expose depends I cannot encourage you passionate celestial imager —
light through. on factors like sky conditions, enough to give DSLR-tracked especially of total solar eclipses.

with this low-cost camera
Lots of accessories make the RunCam Night Eagle an easy match
for any telescope or camera lens. by Richard P. Wilds

12mm to 5mm C-mount C-mount to 11 ⁄4" adapter Knight Owl 0.5X Focal Optional 11 ⁄4"
Strain relief Camera C-mount adapter spacers (2) ( 1 ⁄ 2" barrel length) Reducer or equivalent extender ring

n inexpensive new video cam- Above and right: The individual parts and the
era has come onto the scene. assembled view for the RunCam Night Eagle 2
Astro Edition are shown in a configuration typical
RunCam Technology Co., for refractors with 2-inch or larger apertures, and
in partnership with the all Newtonian reflectors. RICHARD P. WILDS
International Occultation Timing
Association (IOTA), has adapted one of its
sensitive “quadcopter FPV” video cameras 8 to 250). This gives the user maximum
for use by amateur astronomers. control over video exposures.
The monochrome RunCam Night An added bonus for star party users is
Eagle 2 Astro Edition has a sensitivity of that RunCam includes a digital zoom so
0.00001 lux and supports the 640x480 others can get a close-up view of objects on
NTSC and 720x576 PAL formats. Using the video screen.
CMOS technology, its sensor can detect Of course, your field of view through
faint stellar targets even through small different optical configurations will vary.
portable telescopes. When using the 0.5 Knight Owl Focal
Reducer without the zoom, a 12-inch f/5
IOTA’s input Newtonian reflector produces a field 0.5°
IOTA has assisted RunCam to produce an wide, or equal to the width of the Full
incredible video camera at an affordable Moon. A 4.8-inch f/5 refractor gives a field
price. Enhancements made specifically twice as wide, a full 1°. And wider (even
to aid in the observation of occultations much wider) fields are possible through
include internally controlled integrations camera lenses of various focal lengths.
of two, four, and eight exposures (pro- Because of the camera’s sensitivity,
viding images of stars across the field of bright planets can saturate the sensor when
view well into the double-digit magnitude using the Knight Owl 0.5 Focal Reducer.
range); improved gain controls for faint However, I am confident that those inter-
objects (which now include settings from ested in planetary photography will find
1 to 9); and brightness controls for bright little difficulty in replacing the Knight Owl
objects (which now include settings from Focal Reducer with a quality Barlow lens to

66 A ST R O N O M Y • MAY 2018
This computer reduction shows the first scientific results from an original This montage of the Moon combines 11 exposures. The photographer set
RunCam Night Eagle. It plots multiple results of the light curve of the the gain to 1 and the brightness to 8. This test image shows how well the
momentary disappearance of stars behind asteroid 206 Hersilia. DAVID DUNHAM camera can handle saturation issues. TONY GEORGE/IOTA

double or triple the system’s focal length, of occultation recording. You’ll find it at
making the planets much more viewable. PRODUCT INFORMATION
Most useful to the beginner will probably
Required accessories RunCam Night Eagle 2 be the IOTA Video Capture program,
RunCam produces and sells the Night Astro Edition which allows a Windows computer to cap-
Eagle 2 on its own. The Night Eagle 2 Astro Image sensor: 11⁄8" CMOS
ture the video stream and convert it to an
Edition, which contains the aforementioned Horizontal resolution: 800 TVL
AVI file for later analysis. Further down on
enhancements, is available only through Screen format: 4:3
the webpage, you’ll find the link to a dedi-
IOTA. That organization offers three differ- Signal system: NTSC/PAL switchable
cated YouTube channel that contains
ent kits. For $79 plus shipping, you’ll receive Signal-to-noise ratio: 50 dB
examples of RunCam Night Eagle 2 Astro
just the camera with a wide-angle lens. Electronic shutter speed: Auto
Edition videos and images.
For $149 plus shipping, you get the cam- Maximum gain: 1–9
era, plus all accessories (M12 to C adapter, Minimum illumination: 0.00001 lux
Precision timing
5mm spacer rings, camera C-mount to 1¼" Power: DC 5 to 36 volts
In occultation work, accurate timing of
adapter) except the 0.5x focal reducer. IOTA Work current: 90mA at 12 volts, 200mA
the disappearance and reappearance of a
includes the Knight Owl 0.5 Focal Reducer at 5 volts
star is extremely important. To help you
and everything else for $179 plus shipping. Housing: Aluminum alloy
out, IOTA has developed the IOTA-VTI
In the picture to the left, you can see a Weight: 0.56 ounce (16 grams)
v3 video time inserter, which you’ll find at
black bracket attached to the camera. Price: $79 to $179 plus shipping
While the company designed this bracket URL:
This small, battery-powered device con-
for mounting the camera in quadcopters ordering-page
tains a GPS antenna and adds a time stamp
(an environment where there would be lit- (accurate to milliseconds) to the bottom of
tle or no stray light), users found that the every frame of your occultation video. It
mounting holes let in light that can also allows you to record the exact location
impinge on the sensor. So, I recommend ly onto a small portable video camera at which you made the observation.
attaching this bracket both to seal out stray (like the Canon ZR or Elura series, which Recording stellar occultations allows
light and to relieve strain on the delicate both use DV tape and little compression), amateur astronomers to make real scien-
power and video cables. a full-size VCR recorder, or a computer tific contributions to the study of the solar
Even with the bracket holes sealed, hard drive. For computer capture, a USB system, double stars, and more. The combi-
though, some light can get in around the 3.0 port and a frame grabber (like the nation of the RunCam Night Eagle 2 Astro
edges of the camera case. For advice for StarTech SVID2USB23) are required. Camera and the IOTA-VTI v3 offers an
dealing with this issue, visit IOTA’s web- IOTA does not recommend using small inexpensive way to get into this exciting
site: portable digital video recorders because branch of citizen science.
AstroMetalTapeLightLeakSolution.pdf. they compress the images to a point where
their scientific value is degraded. Richard P. Wilds is a member of the American
Recording video You can download for free all the soft- Astronomical Society’s Historical Astronomy
You can record the camera’s output direct- ware offered by IOTA members in support Division and IOTA.

PRODUCTS Attention, manufacturers: To submit a product
for this page, email

Telescope mount Tripod

iOptron Orion Telescopes & Binoculars
Woburn, Massachusetts Watsonville, California
The CEM120 center balance Orion’s Tritech CFX Carbon Fiber
equatorial mount from Tripod with 3-Way Pan Head can
iOptron can carry a payload up support loads up to 15 pounds
to 115 pounds (52 kilograms). (6.8 kilograms). It weighs
The company uses precision Hydrogen-alpha scope 6.14 pounds (2.8 kg), extends to
stepper motors for 0.07" go-to Daystar Filters 65 inches (165 centimeters),
accuracy. The mount features a Warrensburg, Missouri and collapses to
built-in 32-channel GPS system, Daystar’s 60mm Solar Scout is 29 inches (74 cm). 21mm eyepiece
Wi-Fi for remote operation, and a dedicated hydrogen-alpha The tripod comes with a Omegon
an ST-4 autoguiding port. telescope with a 2.4-inch padded soft Landsberg, Germany
$3,999 achromatic doublet lens and a carry case and Omegon’s Panorama II 21mm
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Apparent field of view (AFOV)
Large Small

I know where,

Image magnification
but when?


Timing can make or break an observing session, but
don’t let converting to Universal Time bog you down.

oting the time and time on my calendar
that a predicted because Jupiter will be a readily
astronomical event seen telescopic sight for months
will occur can be to come, but other Jupiter-
problematic. If I related events require precise
told you that a comet is pre- times, too. For instance, if the
dicted to impact Jupiter at 9:00 skies are clear on the evening of Last January, I described object is at the bottom of the
P.M. on May 1, you’d rightly ask, the 8th, I may want to take out three simple ways to determine FOV, and I note the altitude
“9:00 P.M. where?” In a world my telescope and try for the the true field of view (TFOV) value. Then I move the tele-
ajumble with some two dozen Great Red Spot (GRS). Will it be of any eyepiece/telescope com- scope so the object is at the top
time zones, we need a standard visible then? bination. Mike Bertin, of of the FOV, and I write down
way to express the time of astro- To find out, I’ll need to know Orange County Astronomers the new altitude value. The
nomical events. the time when the GRS will be in California, offers another difference gives me the true
To this end, astronomers use near the center of the side of method for those of you who field of view in altitude. All of
Universal Time, abbreviated UT. Jupiter’s disk that faces us. I own a go-to scope that displays this takes less than 5 minutes.”
To avoid the confusion between turn to Project Pluto (specifi- altitude and azimuth. The Al Nagler, a pioneer in the
A.M. and P.M. hours, UT utilizes cally, beauty of this method is that it production of ultra-wide-field
a 24-hour “military time” clock, jeve_grs.htm), which supplies works during daylight by using eyepieces, notes that the appar-
and it is based on the time at the transit times for the GRS. A a distant terrestrial target, like ent field of view divided by
0° longitude meridian in transit is predicted at 1h17m the top of a light tower. magnification does not give an
Greenwich, England. accurate TFOV because of eye-
For any place on Earth out- piece focal length and distor-
side this zone, you have to make In a world ajumble with some two dozen tion variations and tolerances.
a correction. Here’s how it time zones, we need a standard way to express He notes, “The actual
works for me. I live in the the time of astronomical events. calculated true field of ANY
Eastern time zone. During eyepiece is its field stop diam-
Eastern Daylight Time (EDT), eter divided by the telescope
which runs from the second UT on May 9, which corre- He writes, “I level the scope focal length, times 57.3°.”
Sunday in March through the sponds to 9:17 P.M. EDT on May — eyeballing it is OK, but I usu- Field stop data for all Tele Vue
first Sunday in November, my 8. This is an hour after sunset, ally use a small level that I have eyepieces are published on the
clock is four hours behind so Jupiter should be comfort- mounted on top of the optical company’s website. If you’re
Universal Time. The rest of the ably positioned above the east- tube. Next, I move the telescope not sure of the field stop
year when clocks “fall back” to ern horizon. in azimuth so the object is at diameter for a different brand
Eastern Standard Time (EST), I What about your time zone one edge of the field of view, and eyepiece, the methods I men-
subtract five hours from UT. and the correction you need to I write down the azimuth value. tioned in the January column
Unfortunately, there will be make to convert to UT? Then I move the telescope so the will suffice.
no comet/Jupiter collision, but Astronomy simplifies the pro- object is at the other edge of the Do you have questions,
the big planet arrives at opposi- cess by posting times in Eastern field of view. I write down the comments, or suggestions of
tion this month. According to Standard (or Daylight) Time. new azimuth value, and by tak- your own? Email me at
the 2018 Observer’s Handbook You can also refer to a chart and ing the difference, I have the Next
— an annual publication put article on EarthSky (earthsky. TFOV in azimuth.” month: The missing Messier
out by the Royal Astronomical org/astronomy-essentials/ Bertin then double-checks object. Clear skies!
Society of Canada — the pre- universal-time). The article his result by repeating the pro-
cise time of opposition is May 9 refers to Universal Coordinated cess in altitude. “I once again Glenn Chaple has been an
at 1h00m UT. That translates to Time (UTC), which, for all prac- center on my reference object avid observer since a friend
May 8 at 9:00 P.M. EST. tical purposes, is identical to with the scope still level. I move showed him Saturn through a
small backyard scope in 1963.
I don’t plan to mark that date Universal Time. the telescope so the reference


70 A ST R O N O M Y • MAY 2018
Journey to Iceland for an unforgettable view
of the aurora borealis!
Everyone should experience the astonishing beauty of the aurora borealis once in
their lives — and one of the best places on Earth to take in the spectacle is under
Iceland’s northern skies.
This unique, new Iceland itinerary features:
• 8 nights of viewing just steps away from your comfortable countryside accommodations.
• The seldom-visited Great North region and the stunning Westfjords peninsula.
• Whale watching, fascinating local museums, a superb local guide, and much more.

TOTAL SOLAR ECLIPSE: Ancient Paths to the Present

Journey from Peru’s Sacred Valley of the Incas to the ancient mountaintop city of
Machu Picchu — and enjoy an unforgettable view of the July 2 total solar eclipse!
Join us for a once-in-a-lifetime South American odyssey with a dramatic focal point: a total solar eclipse.
Our itinerary weaves together two dimensions of this fascinating continent: spectacular landscapes with
unmatched views in remote areas of Chile and Peru; and a legacy of engineering, architecture, art, and
philosophy that includes a tradition of astronomical observation dating back two millennia.




This photographer endured a
temperature of –18 degrees Fahrenheit
(–28 degrees Celsius) on December 14,
2017, near Daqing, China, during the
annual Geminid meteor shower. His
final image combines 48 exposures,
each one recording a single Geminid.
• Jeff Dai

This wide-angle shot captures the
California Nebula (NGC 1499) in
the constellation Perseus at left,
the Pleiades star cluster (M45) in
Taurus at right, and a fortunate
astrophotographer in the middle.
• Amirreza Kamkar

72 A ST R O N O M Y • MAY 2018
The constellation Cassiopeia contains
many open clusters, bright and faint.
Stock 6 is the one at the center of this
image. It’s one of 24 open clusters
recorded by German astronomer
Jürgen Stock in the 1950s. NGC 688 is
the brighter open cluster below center,
and Berkeley 63 is the tight open
cluster to its right. • Dan Crowson


Features on the waning crescent
Moon appear sharp on the morning
of November 15, 2017. The Moon’s
illuminated portion was less than
10 percent when this image was
taken from San Carlos, Brazil.
• Fernando Oliveira de Menezes

Imagers seldom capture reflection
nebula IC 2169 as a separate object
because it lies in the general region
of the much more photogenic Cone
Nebula (NGC 2264) in the constellation
Monoceros. This intensely blue cloud
scatters light from nearby stars and
reflects it in our direction.
• Bruce Waddington


IC 1795 is a star-forming region
some 6,000 light-years away in the
constellation Cassiopeia the Queen.
This area is filled with a mixture of
emission, reflection, and dark nebulae.
Here, the photographer captured
the cloud through Hydrogen-alpha,
Oxygen-III, and Sulfur-II filters.
• Chuck Ayoub
4 5

Send your images to:

Astronomy Reader Gallery, P. O. Box
1612, Waukesha, WI 53187. Please
include the date and location of the
image and complete photo data:
telescope, camera, filters, and
exposures. Submit images by email
6 to

In the hub
with Hubble
Perched above Earth’s
turbulent atmosphere, the
Hubble Space Telescope
can resolve fine details
in crowded fields. This
view of the Milky Way’s
central bulge could be
Exhibit A. During the past
nine years, scientists have
used Hubble’s unique
capabilities to track
about 10,000 Sun-like
stars in this congested
region. They found that
the younger stars —
those richer in elements
heavier than hydrogen
and helium — orbit the
galaxy’s center faster than
their older cousins. The
researchers suggest that
these youthful interlopers
could be relics of smaller
galaxies that the Milky
Way cannibalized.

74 A ST R O N O M Y • MAY 2018
Capture the red planet in stunning high
resolution during opposition.
Mars will light up the night sky during its epic opposition
this summer. Peaking on July 27, this opposition
promises to be the best and brightest since 2003.
There’s no better time to gear up with a high resolution
Celestron imaging system.

Celestron Schmidt-Cassegrain and EdgeHD optics are

perfect for capturing Mars’ polar ice caps and surface
details with excellent contrast, high resolution, and
large image scale. Pair one of these optical tubes with
our upgraded CGEM II mount for an all-in-one Mars
imaging kit. After the opposition is over, you can use
this versatile system for superior planetary and deep
sky imaging for years to come.

Don’t miss it!

mounts and packages are

on sale for the month of April.

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Optics Planet – 800.504.5897 – Adorama – 800.223.2500 –
Astronomics – 800.422.7876 – Focus Camera – 800.221.0828 – MARS IMAGE BY DAMIAN PEACH
SKY MARTIN GEORGE describes the solar system’s changing landscape
as it appears in Earth’s southern sky.

July 2018: Red Planet renaissance

July offers planet observers details. Red and orange filters equatorial region into two par- Milky Way splayed across the
quite a feast. As twilight deep- reveal dark markings well, allel dark belts that sandwich southern sky on July evenings.
ens in early July, four naked-eye while a blue filter shows the a brighter zone. Larger aper- Our galaxy’s disk stretches
planets span the sky roughly polar regions and clouds more tures reveal more atmospheric from the eastern to southwest-
from east to west. But it is the clearly. Make the most of this details on a disk that measures ern horizon, with Crux the
fifth bright planet, which rises apparition — Mars won’t be as 40" across. Cross near its center. Although
shortly after darkness falls, that close again until 2035! Last but not least, Saturn our eyes tend to focus on the
undoubtedly will command the Although Mars rules the stands as the brightest object bright objects, the Aboriginal
most attention. night, don’t overlook July’s between Jupiter and Mars. The people of Australia formed
Mars puts on its finest other bright planets. Let’s ringed planet resides in north- patterns from the Milky Way’s
appearance in 15 years this tackle them one by one, mov- western Sagittarius, just north dark dust lanes.
month. The ruddy world rises ing from west to east across the of the Archer’s conspicuous Perhaps the best known of
around 7 p.m. local time July 1. early evening sky. First up is Teapot asterism, and climbs these is the Emu. The most
It then shines at magnitude Mercury, which appears low highest in the north in late eve- famous dark nebula in the sky,
–2.2, but it grows noticeably in the northwest after the Sun ning. Saturn shines at magni- the Coal Sack, represents the
brighter as it approaches a sets. The innermost planet tude 0.1 in mid-July, when a Emu’s head. The Coal Sack
splendid opposition on the reaches greatest elongation telescope reveals the planet’s tucks up against the southeast-
27th. Mars gleams at magni- July 12, when it lies 26° east 18"-diameter disk surrounded ern side of the Cross and is easy
tude –2.8 during July’s entire of the Sun and stands 15° high by a lovely ring system that to see under a dark sky. It
final week. That’s more than 45 minutes after sundown. spans 41" and tilts 26° to our stands out well with averted
100 times brighter than any of A telescope reveals an line of sight. vision, which brightens the
the stars in its host constella- 8"-diameter disk that’s slightly A slight partial solar Milky Way and thus increases
tion, Capricornus. less than half-lit. Over the fol- eclipse occurs July 13 for resi- contrast, making the Coal Sack
Although the Red Planet lowing 10 days, the planet’s dents of southeastern Australia. appear darker.
comes to opposition roughly disk grows while its phase From Hobart, Tasmania, the At first sight, the Coal Sack
every 780 days, some of these wanes to a pleasing crescent. eclipse lasts from 2h52m seems devoid of stars — indeed,
close approaches are consider- Look to Mercury’s upper to 3h56m UT, and the Moon it blocks our view of most
ably better than others. This right and you can’t miss Venus. covers 10 percent of the Sun’s objects beyond. It is far from
one is particularly favorable The brilliant world brightens diameter at maximum. empty, however. Pay particular
because the distance to Mars from magnitude –4.1 to –4.3 in Half a lunar month later, on attention to the open star clus-
shrinks to just 57.6 million July and dominates the evening July 27, the Moon dips deeply ter NGC 4609. It lies 1.8° east of
kilometers (on July 31), which sky. Venus spends all month in into Earth’s shadow. People in 1st-magnitude Acrux, Crux’s
is about as close as it can get. Leo the Lion, passing 1.1° north Africa and Australia can wit- brightest star, in the direction
To make this appearance of 1st-magnitude Regulus on ness a total lunar eclipse with of Alpha (α) and Beta (β)
even better, the planet lies at July 9. When viewed through brilliant Mars at opposition just Centauri. The 5th-magnitude
a declination of –26°. From a telescope, the planet shows a 7° south of the Moon. The star BZ Crucis dominates this
mid-southern latitudes, Mars disk that grows from 16" to 20" eclipse’s umbral phase begins at group, with the remaining stars
passes nearly overhead around across during July and a gib- 18h24m and ends at 22h19m spreading out to its northwest.
midnight local time and bous phase that wanes from UT, while totality runs from Based on its estimated dis-
remains at an altitude above 70 percent to 57 percent lit. 19h30m to 21h13m UT. (In tance of more than 4,000 light-
45° from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. Its The solar system’s two larg- Australia, the event takes place years, NGC 4609 lies behind the
lofty position means observers est planets also put on great before dawn July 28.) The 103 Coal Sack and shows through
should get sharp views through shows this month. Jupiter minutes of totality makes this its dust. Although binoculars
their telescopes. rides high in the north after the longest total lunar eclipse show the 7th-magnitude cluster,
At its closest approach in darkness falls. Shining at mag- since 2000. it appears most pleasing
late July, Mars’ disk spans 24.3", nitude –2.2 at midmonth, it through 10-centimeter and
and it remains above 20" all overshadows the background The starry sky larger telescopes. A magnified
month. Consider using eye- stars of Libra. Even a small tele- Southern Hemisphere observ- view reveals quite a few stars,
piece filters to bring out surface scope resolves the gas giant’s ers enjoy a splendid view of the many of them forming pairs.
9 P.M. July 1 RI
8 P.M. July 15 NA C2 MENSA
51 GC 10 N
7 P.M. July 31 6 CA

Planets are shown

at midmonth



3 VO
NG372 PA


U C4
X 755


` a


51 ` _ 3

NG 39









28 1
















(ecliptic) LIBRA

Path of the Su



M5 C











4 _

Sirius Open cluster M13
0.0 Globular cluster CA
Diffuse nebula NA CUL
2.0 TI
3.0 I M51
Planetary nebula
5.0 Galaxy

HOW TO USE THIS MAP: This map portrays
the sky as seen near 30° south latitude.
Located inside the border are the four
JULY 2018
directions: north, south, east, and
west. To find stars, hold the map Calendar of events
overhead and orient it so a
direction label matches the 1 The Moon passes 5° north of 16 The Moon passes 1.6° north of
U direction you’re facing. Mars, 2h UT Venus, 4h UT
The stars above the
map’s horizon now 4 The Moon passes 3° south of 19 First Quarter Moon occurs at
match what’s Neptune, 0h UT 19h52m UT
in the sky.
6 Last Quarter Moon occurs at 20 Asteroid Thisbe is at opposition,
7h51m UT 9h UT


Earth is at aphelion (152.1 million 21 The Moon passes 4° north of


kilometers from the Sun), 17h UT Jupiter, 0h UT


7 The Moon passes 5° south of 25 The Moon passes 2° north of


Uranus, 14h UT Saturn, 6h UT


9 Venus passes 1.1° north of Mercury is stationary, 7h UT

Regulus, 20h UT

27 Mars is at opposition, 5h UT

10 The Moon passes 1.1° north of



Aldebaran, 10h UT The Moon is at apogee



(406,223 kilometers from Earth),


11 Jupiter is stationary, 4h UT 5h44m UT


12 Mercury is at greatest eastern Full Moon occurs at 20h20m UT;

elongation (26°), 5h UT total lunar eclipse

Pluto is at opposition, 10h UT The Moon passes 7° north of

E Mars, 22h UT

13 New Moon occurs at 2h48m UT;


partial solar eclipse 30 Southern Delta Aquariid meteor

shower peaks

The Moon is at perigee


(357,431 kilometers from Earth), 31 The Moon passes 3° south of


8h25m UT Neptune, 6h UT

14 The Moon passes 2° north of Mars comes closest to Earth


Mercury, 22h UT (57.6 million kilometers away),



8h UT




Stars’ true colors


depend on surface

temperature. Hot

stars glow blue; slight-

ly cooler ones, white;
LY intermediate stars (like
the Sun), yellow; followed
_ by orange and, ultimately, red.
ga Fainter stars can’t excite our eyes’
color receptors, and so appear white
without optical aid.

Illustrations by Astronomy: Roen Kelly


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