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EXPERIENCE the birth of astrophysics p.



The world’s best-selling astronomy magazine


Must-see images
from HiRISE p. 20

Ancient coins
capture solar
on the barely visible
eclipses p. 32
universe p. 12
Vol. 46

Celestial treats in the NGC catalog p. 54 ONLINE

Issue 9

WE TEST Vixen’s HR eyepieces p. 60

Ask Astro, Astro News, Reader Gallery AND MORE CODE p. 4
The Theory of Everything:
The Quest to Explain All Reality
Taught by Professor Don Lincoln


70% 1.

Two Prototype Theories of Everything

The Union of Electricity and Magnetism


3. Particles and Waves: The Quantum World


4. Einstein Unifies Space, Time, and Light
SEPTE 5. Relativistic Quantum Fields and Feynman

6. Neutrinos Violating Parity and the Weak Force

7. Flavor Changes via the Weak Force

8. Electroweak Unification via the Higgs Field

9. Quarks, Color, and the Strong Force

10. Standard Model Triumphs and Challenges

11. How Neutrino Identity Oscillates

12. Conservation Laws and Symmetry: Emmy Noether

13. Theoretical Symmetries and Mathematics

14. Balancing Force and Matter: Supersymmetry

15. Why Quarks and Leptons?

16. Newton’s Gravity Unifies Earth and Sky

17. Einstein’s Gravity Bends Space-Time

18. What Holds Each Galaxy Together: Dark Matter

19. What Pushes the Universe Apart: Dark Energy

20. Quantum Gravity: Einstein, Strings, and Loops

21. From Weak Gravity to Extra Dimensions

22. Big Bang and Inflation Explain Our Universe

23. Free Parameters and Other Universes

Join the Quest to Explain 24. Toward a Final Theory of Everything

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VOL. 46, NO. 9

Mars has long fascinated humans,
perhaps more so than any other
planet. Check out some of the
greatest images of the Red Planet
ever made on p. 20.

Strange Universe 12


For Your Consideration 16


Secret Sky 64
20 COVER STORY 36 54 Binocular Universe 66
Take control of Sky This Month An NGC primer PHIL HARRINGTON
a Mars orbiter Neptune at its best. he most extensive list of deep-
Observing Basics 68
Imagine directing the highest MARTIN RATCLIFFE AND sky objects has an unusual history
resolution camera orbiting the ALISTER LING and ofers prime-number gems
Red Planet. hat wish can now for observers. ALAN GOLDSTEIN
be a reality. 38 QUANTUM GRAVITY
StarDome and 60 Snapshot 9
Path of the Planets We test Vixen’s HR Astro News 10
32 RICHARD TALCOTT; eyepieces
Minting a celestial ILLUSTRATIONS BY ROEN KELLY hese high-resolution
memory eyepieces, speciically designed
Coins made as far back as for planetary observing, From the Editor 6
400 b.c. may honor solar eclipses. minimize optical aberrations. Astro Letters 8
How William Huggins PHIL HARRINGTON
he tradition continued for two
shaped astrophysics New Products 62
In 1868, an English astronomer Advertiser Index 65
pioneered a way to measure the
motion of stars and other objects.
Ask Astro Reader Gallery 72
Imaging exoplanets.
BARBARA J. BECKER Breakthrough 74

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

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4 A ST R O N O M Y • S E P T E M B E R 2018
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Editor David J. Eicher
Art Director LuAnn Williams Belter

Lure of the Senior Editors Michael E. Bakich, Richard Talcott

Production Editor Elisa R. Neckar
Associate Editors Alison Klesman, Jake Parks
Copy Editor Dave Lee
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Red Planet ART

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
Executive Editor Becky Lang
Design Director Dan Bishop

ver since the long history of expe- EDITORIAL ADVISORY BOARD
Buzz Aldrin, Marcia Bartusiak, Timothy Ferris, Alex Filippenko,
first tales of rience with space- Adam Frank, John S. Gallagher lll, Daniel W. E. Green, William K.
Hartmann, Paul Hodge, Edward Kolb, Stephen P. Maran,
“Martians” craft missions. He is Brian May, S. Alan Stern, James Trefil
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the 19th cen- of the Lunar Kalmbach Media
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Follow the Dave’s Universe blog: David J. Eicher AstronomyMag AstronomyMagazine +astronomymagazine Editor
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Pluto appreciation and I could make out what looked to be a
When I received the May 2018 issue, I few craters on the edge. I took 18 pictures
went straight to the article “An organi- before the crescent started to move out
cally grown planet definition” by Dr. of view, into the branches of our tree.
Runyon and Dr. Stern. I want to thank That had to be one of the best days off
them both for such a refreshing perspec- I’ve had in a long time, thanks to your
tive. We really should be teaching every- article. I enjoy a challenge, and finding a
one, students and adults alike, “the types 5.6-percent-illuminated crescent Moon
and subtypes of planets and how the solar certainly fit the bill. — Mark Schell, Toronto
system is naturally organized outward
from the Sun, using a handful of planets
as examples.” Scientific vs. artistic expression
While I wish I had the creative under- I just wanted say thank you to Jeff Hester
standing to have arrived at this conclusion for your article “A murmuration of star-
myself, that’s no matter because it’s clearly lings” in the July 2018 issue. Absolutely
the right perspective for everyone to have. fascinating. A simple scientific explana-
May we all appreciate the beauty of our tion for a puzzling phenomenon. I always
solar system, and all types of planets first turn to Jeff’s article when opening a
everywhere, because of it! new issue of Astronomy magazine.
— Mike VanVooren, Ballwin, MO One other comment: In AstroNews of
Illustrating a legend the same issue, it was mentioned that
I wanted to share this personal tribute about 70,000 years ago, Scholz’s star came
Squashing conspiracies illustration I did after hearing the news within one light-year of the Sun.
I just couldn’t read Bob Berman’s article about Stephen Hawking’s death. I wish Assuming it has about the same luminos-
“Apathy Now!” from the May 2018 issue you all the best. — Brian Stauffer, Novato, CA ity as Proxima Centauri, an easy calcula-
without responding. I’m as concerned as tion shows that its apparent magnitude
you are about the rise of the “conspiracy would have been 7.99, yet the picture
theory” culture. I’m in my 70s, and I Challenge accepted shows an early human looking up in won-
taught science for years. Without any con- To Mr. O’Meara: As a longtime derment at a bright red star. Of course it
trol of what is taught in science classes, Astronomy magazine reader, I have to say would have been invisible, but neverthe-
credibility is lost. Previously, there was that I always enjoy the contents of each less, I think this is a good example of
oversight by the government regarding issue. There is always something interest- where artistic license is a positive.
what children were taught in school. Now, ing to read, whether it’s about new dis- — Robert Douglas, Mill Valley, CA
science can be taught with computer coveries, upcoming events, or observing
programs or by individuals who want to tips. Your column in the April 2018 issue,
promote an agenda — one that directly “See the daytime lunar crescent,” was very Krypton’s cryptic composition
conflicts with what real science strives to intriguing. I have seen the Full Moon in After reading the article “What’s in a
achieve. the daytime, as well as the quarters, but comet?” in the May issue’s AstroNews, I
We must face the prospect that fantasy a crescent? I had never noticed, much was instantly amused and reminded of the
is more exciting than science. Watching less tried to see it. I live in Toronto, so old Superman movie where Richard Pryor
men and women with super skills save light pollution is rampant. However, the studies a deep-space chunk of the planet
humanity beats a film where humans have daytime sky is pretty much the same as it Krypton, but its composition has an
to work really hard to reverse the effects of would be in the country, so I thought to “unknown.” Hopefully the Rosetta team’s
squandering Earth’s finite resources. I give your suggestion a try. result of 2.4 percent “Other” for Comet
hope that the article sheds some light on I had the day off March 19 and was 67P is known, but the result is just limited
the subject, and that people like Bob keep greeted with a mostly clear sky. Checking by the column inches of your magazine.
fighting for science. — Herb Hoyack, Stellarium, I saw that the Moon would be — Vince Fukes, Melbourne, Australia
Shutesbury, MA almost 40° east of the Sun, a little over 47°
high, and 5.6 percent illuminated. I went
out at 1:30 p.m. to take a look. It was really Correction
hard to find! I noticed what looked to be a The “Seeking the unknown in cosmic
We welcome your comments at crescent, but it could have been a random data” article that begins on p. 30 of the
Astronomy Letters, P. O. Box 1612, cloud, too. I grabbed my binoculars and May 2018 issue incorrectly states that
Waukesha, WI 53187; or email to letters@ took a look. Yes, that was it! physicist Karl Jansky accidentally discov- Please include your Trying to make out some detail was ered X-rays emanating from the center of
name, city, state, and country. Letters difficult, as I’m sure you can imagine. the Milky Way. What he actually discov-
may be edited for space and clarity. Using my Celestron C80-HD telescope on ered was that the Milky Way is emitting
a CG-4 mount, I found the crescent again, radio waves.

8 A ST R O N O M Y • S E P T E M B E R 2018
On May 20, NASA’s


Curiosity rover success-

fully drilled its first hole
since 2016, using a new
technique to circumvent
The Laser Interferometer
Space Antenna, launching
in the 2030s, should detect
dozens of binary compact
objects emitting gravitational
NASA will send the
Mars Helicopter to the
Red Planet with the
Mars 2020 rover to test
the feasibility of future
damaged equipment. waves in globular clusters. martian drones.


SNAPSHOT The Hawaiian islands’ youngest and the eruption May 21–22, as several illumination from the Moon.
most active volcano, Kīlauea, began fissures spewed lava and molten rock Gemini’s cloud-monitoring

LAVA a surge of activity in May. Located

on the southeastern shore of the
that flowed into the sea.
In this image, taken from a longer
camera is a single-lens reflex camera
outfitted with a wide-angle lens, with

LAMP Big Island, the volcano has since

destroyed hundreds of homes.
A cloud-monitoring camera situ-
time-lapse video, the bright glow of
the volcano is visible above a sea of
clouds and against a backdrop of
its infrared-blocking filter removed.
Telescope operators use it to monitor
large-scale weather conditions
Hawaiian volcano ated at the Gemini North 8-meter stars. To the volcano’s left, the dim- at the telescope’s elevation (about
shines at night. telescope atop Mauna Kea, more mer yellow glow comes from lights 13,800 feet [4,200 meters]) to deter-
than 30 miles (50 kilometers) away in the town of Hilo. The foreground mine whether the sky is clear enough
from Kīlauea, captured light from landscape appears bright, thanks to for observing. — Alison Klesman

ASTRONEWS PINT-SIZED. Researchers have shrunk an entire chemistry lab to the size of a toaster, creating the Mars Organic Molecule Analyzer
(MOMA), a key instrument on the planned ExoMars Rover. MOMA will analyze martian soil samples to search for signs of life.


Sun during its planet-forming phase.
So, if it is not from this solar system, the
researchers argue, then Bee-Zed must be
from another star system, one that likely
formed in the same stellar nursery as the
Sun. “Asteroid immigration from other star
systems occurs because the Sun initially
formed in a tightly packed star cluster,
where every star had its own system of
planets and asteroids,” said team member
Helena Morais. “The close proximity of the
stars, aided by the gravitational forces of the
HIDE AND SEEK. Although the backward-orbiting asteroid 2015 BZ509 initially came from another star system, planets, helps these systems attract, remove,
it has since been (poorly) hiding out in Jupiter’s orbit. NASA/JPL and capture asteroids from one another.”
One of the most tantalizing offshoots of

ess than a year ago, astronomers dis- “How the asteroid came to move in this this new discovery is the potential for
covered ‘Oumuamua, the first object way while sharing Jupiter’s orbit has until future research to investigate how the Sun
from another solar system ever seen now been a mystery,” said Fathi Namouni, is similar to — and more importantly, dif-
passing through our own. Now, a new the current study’s lead author, in a press ferent from — its ancient siblings. For
study published May 21 in the Monthly release. “If 2015 BZ509 were a native of our example, astronomers could dissect the
Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society: system, it should have had the same original composition of Bee-Zed (through spectro-
Letters announces the discovery of the first direction as all of the other planets and scopic analysis, or even a sample-return
known interstellar object to have taken up asteroids, inherited from the cloud of gas mission) to learn how it is chemically dis-
permanent residence around the Sun. and dust that formed them.” tinct from objects forged within our own
Astronomers discovered the asteroid, The key insight of the new study comes solar system.
which has the catchy name 2015 BZ509 from simulations that rewound Bee-Zed’s Furthermore, if astronomers can deter-
(Bee-Zed for short), in 2015 using the motion back 4.5 billion years, to an era mine exactly which star system the asteroid
Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid when the planets were just finishing form- initially came from, they may be able to
Response System (Pan-STARRS). The dis- ing around the Sun. The researchers learn how the Sun and Bee-Zed’s host star
coverers noticed Bee-Zed had a very peculiar showed that the asteroid has always moved interacted in the distant past. This informa-
yet stable orbit — it shares a nearly perfect in its current, perfectly choreographed orbit tion would teach us a great deal about the
1-to-1 resonance with Jupiter but travels in that nearly mirrors Jupiter. Therefore, Bee- Sun’s early path to independence, helping
the opposite direction — but they could not Zed could not have formed from the co- us piece together our own cosmic origin
explain its retrograde motion. orbiting disk of debris that surrounded the story. — Jake Parks


_ _

` `
a a


BEAR NECESSITIES. The brightest stars in the constellation Ursa Major the Great Bear form a distinctive
asterism called the Big Dipper. But the stars won’t always be able to hold water. As they orbit the center of the Five Big Dipper members — Beta (β), FAST
Milky Way, these suns slowly change position in our sky. Although they resemble a familiar kitchen utensil Gamma (γ), Delta (δ), Epsilon (ε), FACT
today (left), the group will be unrecognizable in 100,000 years (right). — Richard Talcott and Zeta (ζ) Ursae Majoris — belong
to the Ursa Major Moving Group
and remain largely aligned.
10 A ST R O N O M Y • S E P T E M B E R 2018
ASTRONEWS IN THE DARK. Astrophysical simulations show that early galaxies could have formed if dark energy were 50 times
stronger than observed — but they would be 10 times denser, leading to many more observed supernovae.

Ideas about QUICK TAKES

star formation STEADY STATE

Based on models of the two
most recent near-reversals

are challenged of Earth’s magnetic field,

researchers have determined
the field is unlikely to reverse
The current picture of star formation anytime soon.
is this: Within a dense cloud of gas
and dust, perturbations cause local-

ized areas to fragment into “cores.” NASA’s Innovative Advanced


These cores further fragment and Concepts Program has greenlit
collapse; when a region in the core a proposal for a 100-foot-wide
reaches the conditions required for modular space telescope that
fusion, a star is born. will assemble itself.
Based on data from nearby star-
forming regions, astronomers have

long believed that the masses of the Astronomers recently observed
stars produced depend on the a pulsar in unprecedented
masses of the cores that develop. And detail, spotting from a distance
in these nearby regions, cores and of 6,500 light-years two regions
of radiation just 12 miles
stars occur in a consistent pattern:
(20 kilometers) apart.
Stars with masses similar to our Sun’s
are common, but very high- and low- NEW PERSPECTIVE. The star-forming region W43-MM1 is typical of the clouds that form •
mass stars are rare. stars throughout the Milky Way. It is also much farther — 18,000 light-years — than any An amateur astronomer used
Astronomers had assumed this previously observed star-forming clouds, and it indicates that nearby regions of star inexpensive and readily
pattern of mass distribution occurred formation have thus far only shown astronomers part of the picture. available equipment to
throughout our galaxy, in clouds of collect data identifying
both high and low density. But new spread throughout the Milky Way. has long been assumed,” said study a new exoplanet.
observations with the Atacama Large
Millimeter/submillimeter Array of the
W43-MM1’s density is representative
of the denser, more widespread star-
co-author Kenneth Marsh of Cardiff
University in a press release. •
star-forming region W43-MM1 — forming regions in our galaxy. And The team plans to study 15 more One of the Milky Way’s fastest-
which, at 18,000 light-years away, lies within W43-MM1, many more massive regions, all similar to W43-MM1, to moving stars actually hails from
farther than previously studied areas cores than expected are present, determine the significance of the another galaxy: the Large
— are challenging that belief. The while fewer smaller cores are found. finding. “As a consequence, the com- Magellanic Cloud.
results were published April 30 in
Nature Astronomy.
This suggests the distribution of star
masses throughout our galaxy — and
munity may need to revisit its calcula-
tions regarding the complex

Why the difference? The molecular others — may not be universal, as processes that dictate how stars are A newly discovered black hole
clouds in which star formation has astronomers had thought. born. The evolution of a core into a is devouring about a Sun’s
been studied in the past are preferen- “These findings were a complete star involves many different physical worth of mass every two days,
tially close to the Sun. That makes surprise and call into question the interactions, and the results of studies making it the fastest growing
them easy to study, but these nearby intricate relationship between the such as this should help us better black hole ever found.
regions all happen to be less dense
than the majority of molecular clouds
masses of star-forming cores and the
masses of the stars themselves, which
understand how it all happens,”
Marsh said. — A.K.

Astronomers detected oxygen
in a galaxy 13.3 billion light-
years away, suggesting the first
An ant armed stars began forming a mere 250
million years after the Big Bang.

with a laser •
Re-examination of data
LIGHT SHOW. A rare double-star system
collected by NASA’s Galileo
is lurking in the vibrant Ant Nebula, new
spacecraft in 1997 indicates
research suggests. Observations from the
Jupiter’s moon Europa may be
European Space Agency’s Herschel Space
venting subsurface water
Observatory showed peculiar infrared laser
through its icy shell.
emissions beaming from the nebula’s cen-
tral core, which contains a white dwarf —
the remnant of a Sun-like star. To give off

this emission, the white dwarf must be To help in the hunt for alien life,
closely surrounded by extremely dense gas. researchers are developing the

However, dying stars usually expel all their first framework for tracking
dust and gas, leaving an empty expanse seasonal changes related to
nearby. Upon closer investigation, research- biological activity in
exoplanetary atmospheres.
ers found gas orbiting the dead star in a
dense, edge-on disk that can only be
explained by the presence of a binary com-

panion. The gravitational field from the Researchers have successfully
companion star deflects gas that would demonstrated that a new
have otherwise shot into space back toward nuclear fission system can
the white dwarf, creating the dusty disk supply power for long-duration
that enables the unique infrared laser manned missions to Mars
emission to occur. — Amber Jorgenson and beyond. — J.P.


Searching for
obscurity What makes us
look up?

uring the next in their 50-year orbit, spread
three months, apart by the same distance as
Uranus shines at the Sun from Uranus. I’ve
Can you see Uranus without a telescope? If you live in — or travel to — a rural area
an unusual magni- enjoyed the much easier white this fall, the answer may be yes. Amateur astronomers revel in challenges like spotting
tude 5.7. If you’re dwarf 40 Eridanus B. But seeing the magnitude 5.7 disk of our solar system’s seventh planet. NASA/JPL-CALTECH/KEVIN M. GILL
in a city, that’s still too faint for the Earth-sized Pup, the most
the unaided eye. But here in my famous white dwarf, delivers At any given moment, it’s easy An easy alternate demo of
isolated hometown of Willow, a thrill. It’s the same thrill as to tell which is operating. your personal scotopic/photopic
New York, population 156, seeing Uranus naked-eye. Or Observing any galaxy boundary involves checking star
Uranus’ rare brightness pro- counting 11 Pleiads. through a telescope automati- tints. There are no green stars,
vokes tail-wagging excitement. Why? Is it the challenge? The cally employs scotopic vision. Its but the pastel blue of Rigel,
If you can visit rural friends test of night vision? You hardly maximum acuity is 20/200. Spica, and Sirius, or the orange
between now and Thanksgiving, need astronomy for that. After That’s legally blind. Let’s repeat: of Aldebaran and Betelgeuse,
you, too, can see Uranus with nightfall, many homes have Observing a galaxy through a are obvious because these are
no optical aid. I hope that this scurrying cockroaches. telescope renders you legally bright enough to reliably pro-
past spring you already Residents could theoretically blind. It’s no wonder that at the voke photopic vision. But now
observed the asteroid Vesta tiptoe into a dark kitchen to eyepiece, you cannot perceive the look at the Great Square of
with your naked eye, since it assess how many they can sharp galactic detail displayed in Pegasus, nicely up at midnight.
reached an easy magnitude of count. Taking such an inventory this magazine’s photographs. Scheat, upper right, is reddish,
5.5. And while you’re in the would provide an easy appraisal And since scotopic is grayscale, but at 2nd magnitude may or
country, count the Pleiades. Six of nocturnal vision acuity. Yet no one’s ever directly seen the may not stimulate a photopic
are obvious, but from dark amateur astronomers probably Whirlpool’s campfire-yellow response. Markab, lower left, is
locales, 11 are not difficult to prefer to count stars in the core or its cobalt spiral arms. blue, but at 3rd magnitude
find if you have good eyesight. Pleiades, even though it incon- A luminosity below 0.7 lam- almost definitely won’t show its
Who would get excited about veniently requires stepping into bert is where our vision switches color. Now boost these stars to 0
such dim, barely there objects? magnitude by using binoculars.
We do. Bingo. Their colors dramatically
In truly unpolluted places, Who would get excited about such dim, pop. Binoculars let you deter-
the dimmest test target is prob- barely there objects? mine where your scotopic vision
ably the Triangulum Galaxy kicks in.
(M33). Until I spotted it myself Travel to where there’s no
from Organ Pipe Cactus chilly air. This suggests we’re to scotopic and thus becomes doubt. Drive a few hours until
National Monument in southern motivated by something other colorless. (A lambert is defined you reach “nowhere.” In early
Arizona, I doubted it was even than testing eyesight. as the brightness of a light autumn, the reward is the
possible. Then two autumns A more basic assessment to source that emits 1 lumen per year’s best faint, intricate celes-
ago, I saw it from my own back- see whether real darkness even square centimeter.) For com- tial detail, such as the countless
yard. M33 is surprisingly big exists in your environment parison, the average flat-panel Dali-esque dust lanes in the
and perfectly round. But man, involves merely checking for TV has a brightness of 100 lam- Cygnus Milky Way. Such gray-
it’s faint. It’s part of a parade of the presence of color. Human berts. So the next time you’re scale attractions are endless
dim but very cool targets. vision uses two separate physi- observing from your backyard, because the faint universe is a
This year Sirius A and B are ological processes that switch check to see if there’s any color bottomless realm.
separated by about 10", letting on and off beyond our control. around you. If the ambient light And if this majestic obscu-
backyard telescopes finally see The first, which yields sharp, pollution is sufficient to make rity belongs to any group of
the Dog Star’s famous compan- colorful images whenever the grass look green and show your people, it belongs to us.
ion, “The Pup.” Glimpsing this environment is bright, is called home’s exterior color, you auto-
white dwarf is hard because it’s photopic vision. The second, matically know your photopic Join me and Pulse of the Planet’s
25,000 times dimmer than the which produces less distinct vision is operating — which also Jim Metzner in my new podcast,
Astounding Universe, at
primary. For the next decade, grayscale images in low-light means no Uranus. It’s simply
they are maximally separated conditions, is scotopic vision. not dark enough.


12 A ST R O N O M Y • S E P T E M B E R 2018
ASTRONEWS TEAM UP. Although rivals for almost 20 years, the Giant Magellan Telescope and the Thirty Meter Telescope
are now working together to secure much-needed funding from the National Science Foundation.

Helium found in
alien atmosphere
An international team of researchers made the
first-ever detection of helium in the air of a
planet outside our solar system, according to
a study published May 2 in the journal Nature.
The target, the exoplanet WASP-107b, showed
a helium signal so strong that researchers
think the planet’s upper atmosphere may
stretch thousands of miles into space, where
strong stellar winds likely create an extended
cometlike tail of gas around the exoplanet.
To carry out their investigation of WASP-
107b, the researchers tried a novel technique
to probe the exoplanet, using the Wide Field
Camera 3 on the Hubble Space Telescope to
view infrared light passing through the plan-
et’s upper atmosphere. By analyzing the HOT AIR. WASP-107b, which was initially discovered last year, is a gas giant roughly the size of Jupiter, but it is only
light’s spectrum, the researchers then were 12 percent as massive, making it one of the lowest-density planets known. It is also about eight times closer to its
able to decode the elemental composition of host star than Mercury is to the Sun, making it one of the hottest planets (932° Fahrenheit, or 500° Celsius) yet found.
the planet’s air, ultimately finding a great deal ESA/HUBBLE/NASA/M. KORNMESSER

of helium in an excited state.

“The strong signal from helium we mea- upper atmosphere, and this new technique observatories. “We hope to use this technique
sured demonstrates a new technique to study may help us to detect atmospheres around with the upcoming James Webb Space
upper layers of exoplanet atmospheres in a Earth-sized exoplanets — which is very diffi- Telescope, for example, to learn what kind of
wider range of planets,” said lead author cult with current technology.” planets have large envelopes of hydrogen and
Jessica Spake, of the University of Exeter, in a Although future projects could use tele- helium, and how long planets can hold on to
press release. “Current methods, which use scopes here on Earth to study exoplanet their atmospheres,” said Spake. “By measuring
ultraviolet light, are limited to the closest exo- atmospheres, the new technique may be infrared light, we can see further out into space
planets. We know there is helium in the Earth’s even more valuable for future space-based than if we were using ultraviolet light.” — J.P.

Chandra separates old stars from young

What fraction 76.45%
of all stars

are Sun-like?
TRUE COLORS. The spectral
sequence shown here accounts
for all stars on the main sequence
— those that create energy by
fusing hydrogen into helium —
just like our Sun. They are the
most numerous group of stars
in the cosmos. The list doesn’t
include white dwarfs, giants, or
supergiants. — Michael E. Bakich

O stars have FAST

hotter than FACT
30,000 K
(53,500° F),
while M stars
can be as cool
as 2,500 K Sun
(4,000° F).
1° 12.1%
AGE GAP. NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory captured a close-up photo of NGC 6231, a star cluster that 7.6%
astronomers estimate houses between 5,700 and 7,500 young Sun-like stars. Because of their location in the 0.00003%
disk of the Milky Way, these stars are difficult to pick out visually among the older stars scattered in front of 3%

and behind them. But strong magnetic activity associated with young stars heats their outer atmospheres to 0.13% 0.6%
tens of millions of degrees, causing them to emit X-rays and allowing Chandra to spot them. The cluster has
just reached the point where it no longer forms stars, giving researchers a chance to study how star clusters O B A F G K M
evolve at this pivotal stage. Will the stars in NGC 6231 disperse, like the cluster our Sun likely formed in, or will
they stay in their close-knit group, bound by gravity? Only time will tell. — A.J.

ASTRONEWS MOVING OUT. Astronomers determined Kuiper Belt object 2004 EW95 is a carbon-rich asteroid that likely formed in
the asteroid belt before it was ejected from the inner solar system by the early outward migration of the gas giants.

NASA successfully
launches Mars InSight,
GRACE-FO missions
Two space science missions successfully
launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base
in California in May.
At 4:05 A.M. PDT May 5, NASA’s Mars
InSight (short for Interior Exploration using
Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat
Transport), riding atop an Atlas V-401 rocket,
became the first interplanetary mission
launched from the West Coast.
On May 23, NASA reported that InSight
ARC OF LIGHT. The Atlas V-401 rocket carrying
had successfully begun steering toward the Mars InSight arcs over Los Angeles on its way to the
Red Planet. Course corrections are needed Red Planet on May 5. D. ELLISON
because although the InSight lander was
DEEP DIVE. Once on the surface of Mars, InSight
cleaned of all Earth microbes, its Atlas rocket will study the planet’s interior to determine its current
was not. To prevent contamination, the rocket composition and formation history. JPL/NASA
lifts off with a trajectory that avoids Mars,
requiring the spacecraft to change its course stars,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate
after separating from the launch platform. administrator for NASA’s Science Mission
InSight will land November 26 and become Directorate, in a press release.
the first mission to study the deep interior of “Scientists have been dreaming about
the Red Planet with instruments designed to doing seismology on Mars for years,” added
track heat flow, planetary tilt, and even mars- Bruce Banerdt, the mission’s principal investi-
quakes. Among other goals, Insight will mea- gator at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Research Centre for Geosciences (GFZ) mis-
sure how much Mars’ poles wobble as the Trailing InSight on its journey is Mars sion, lifted off at 12:47 P.M. PDT aboard a
planet orbits the Sun to determine the compo- Cube One, or MarCO, which consists of two SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. The two GRACE-FO
sition and state (solid or liquid) of Mars’ core. CubeSats. They are the first CubeSats to leave satellites will track movement and changes in
“InSight will not only teach us about Mars, Earth’s gravitational influence and will dem- Earth’s mass by tracking precisely the pull of
it will enhance our understanding of forma- onstrate technology for future interplanetary gravity around the planet. As the satellites
tion of other rocky worlds like Earth and the missions, as well as collect data during orbit, they will communicate via microwaves
Moon, and thousands of planets around other InSight’s landing to improve future efforts to and a laser light, allowing them to monitor
land in Mars’ challeng- their separation from each other. Changes in
ing thin atmosphere. Earth’s gravity field, dictated by the mass
On May 22, passing beneath the satellites, will alter their
GRACE-FO (Gravity distance, allowing them to build an ongoing
Recovery and Climate map of the planet’s mass, including when,
Experiment Follow-On), where, and how it shifts.
a joint NASA/German The “FO” is derived from the fact that it
“follows on” the initial GRACE mission, which
ended in 2017 after taking gravity measure-
ments for 15 years. GRACE-FO has a planned
five-year mission. The spacecraft began relay-
ing test data successfully in June, less than
three weeks after launch.
“GRACE-FO will provide unique insights
into how our complex planet operates,” said
Zurbuchen. “Just as important, because the
A MATCHED PAIR. The two satellites that make up GRACE-FO mission monitors many key aspects of the
continuously measure their separation with high precision as they
Earth’s water cycle, GRACE-FO data will be
pass over Earth. Differences in the planet’s gravitational field
associated with changes in mass will affect the separation, allowing used throughout the world to improve peo-
the satellites to track mass and its motion over time. NASA ple’s lives — from better predictions of
drought impacts to higher-quality informa-
GOING UP. The twin spacecraft of GRACE-FO lifted off May 22
from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, sharing a SpaceX tion on use and management of water from
Falcon 9 rocket with several other satellites. NASA/BILL INGALLS underground aquifers.” — A.K.

14 A ST R O N O M Y • S E P T E M B E R 2018
ASTRONEWS CLEAR SKIES. Astronomers discovered a “hot Saturn” exoplanet,
WASP-96b, that is completely free of clouds.

Star-forming cloud is mapped with sound

Our solar system formed from a cloud of gas
and dust about 4.5 billion years ago. Now,
a team of astronomers from the Australian
National University (ANU) and the University of
Crete in Greece has imaged in 3D an interstel-
lar cloud in the early stages of doing the same.
Their findings were published May 11 in Science.
The cloud, called Musca, is 570 light-years
from Earth. Though it appears needle-shaped
on the sky from our vantage point, the team has
determined it is actually a flat, sheet-shaped
cloud rather than a long, thin filament.
To map Musca’s three-dimensional struc-
ture, the team looked to a series of thin,
ordered structures called striations, which sur-
round the core of the cloud. These striations
result from waves of gas and dust moving
through the cloud, which itself shows global
oscillation. “This is a cloud in space that is sing-
ing to us — all we had to do was listen. It’s
actually quite awesome,” said lead author Aris
Tritsis of ANU in a press release.
As the entire cloud vibrates, a unique pattern
of striations is produced. The pattern holds DARK STREAK. The Musca molecular cloud appears
within it information about the boundaries of as a dark slash against the starry background at the
the region that produced it. Working to decode bottom of this image. Although it appears filament-like
this information, the team modeled several pos- due to projection effects, astronomers recently mapped
sible cloud shapes and the resulting patterns of the cloud’s 3D structure and discovered it is a thin, flat
striations that occur when the model clouds sheet seen edge-on from Earth. NASKIES AT EN.WIKIPEDIA
oscillated at the frequencies observed. They
finally arrived at a model that matched the stria- making new stars and planets, which will
tions observed around Musca: a sheet about 27 ultimately take millions of years to form,” said
light-years in length, 20 light-years in width, and Tritsis. “Knowledge of the 3D shape of clouds
half a light-year thick. will greatly improve our understanding of these
“We were able to reconstruct the 3D struc- nurseries of stars and the birth of our own solar
ture of a gas cloud in its very early stages of system.” — A.K.



Earth caught on CubeSat camera

LOOKING BACK. Voyager 1’s “Pale Blue Dot” image of Earth was taken in 1990 from more than 4 billion miles
(6 billion kilometers) away. Since then, several spacecraft have taken images of Earth from other planets. This
newest planetary portrait was taken May 9 with a fisheye camera on MarCO-B, one of the two tiny CubeSats
accompanying Mars InSight on its journey to the Red Planet. The photo was taken just one day after the CubeSats
set a distance record by traveling more than 600,000 miles (1 million km) from Earth. If it seems that Earth and the
Moon haven’t been ideally framed in the shot, it’s because they were a bonus — the image was actually taken to
ensure the CubeSat’s high-gain antenna had unfolded as expected. — A.K.


Making sausage
It’s not personal. It’s science.

agazines like bye-bye. C’est la guerre!
Astronomy do a Huh? What do you mean,
wonderful job “tear ideas to shreds?” What do
making neat sci- you mean, “opinions and beliefs
ence accessible don’t matter?” That’s really
to the public, but that’s not harsh, man!
always such a great thing. Slick Yep, it sure is. But that’s how
press releases and well-written the game is played. Airplanes

articles about fun discoveries fly, computers compute, and
can make science look easy; it’s spacecraft navigate the solar
anything but. system because when it really
I’m not talking about the matters, those rules work better
difficulty of the subject matter than any other rules humans
itself, although the chasm have ever come up with. Pulling punches is clearly a it’s not my intention to be
between a popular article and Even so, living by those rules no-no. If scientists start going snarky. I write about that
the science it describes can can suck. We humans often fall easy on ideas just to protect stuff because it’s important.
be vast. I’m talking about the deeply in love with ideas and people’s feelings, airplanes start Intelligent design, for example,
human experience of doing beliefs, present company falling out of the sky. is a cause célèbre for groups that
science, which can be brutal. included. That’s especially true I need to be careful with my want to gut science education
Some questions are matters of when an idea or belief helps wording here. It’s not that your nationwide. Climate change is
opinion. Yankees or Red Sox? bind us to our social group, and peers have a go at you, person- an existential issue facing
Asparagus or green beans? Other it’s as true for scientists as it is ally. What they have a go at is human civilization. The anti-
questions are not. How many for anyone else. Our shared val- the idea you love so much. If vaccine movement puts public
protons are in a carbon nucleus? ues are built around discovering you want to survive science in health at serious risk. It would
Is the Moon made of green how the world works, and one emotional piece, that’s an be irresponsible and frankly
cheese? How did life begin? knowing that in a confrontation important distinction. It’s not unfair to readers to sweep stuff
There are answers to those like that under the rug.
questions that depend in abso- All this applies to me, too,
lutely no way, shape, or form on
“For Your Consideration” invites readers to by the way. If you disagree with
opinion or belief. We can stand push aside the decorative curtain of packaged- something that I say, show me
on a hilltop and shout at the for-the-public science, step into the kitchen, evidence that falsifies testable
heavens, but the universe is predictions, and I’m all ears.
never going to rearrange itself
and see how the sausage is made. But if something I say just gets
to suit our notions of how someone’s hackles up, my
things ought to work. between opinion and evidence, personal. It’s science! I can’t answer will always be the
That’s where science comes in. evidence wins. count the number of times I’ve same: The rules are the rules.
If you learn nothing else Instead of, “Run it up a flag- gone toe-to-toe with someone There you have it. Human
from reading my column, at pole and see who salutes,” sci- over a scientific disagreement, exploration of the universe and
least learn this: Science is an ence is more, “Run it up a only to sit down later and drink of ourselves continues at an
intellectually violent activity! flagpole and see if there is any- a beer with the dear friend I just ever-accelerating pace, and
Scientific knowledge comes thing left after people finish went 12 bloody rounds with. what we are learning is as
from destructively testing ideas. shooting at it.” A scientist has This column invites readers amazingly, mind-blowingly cool
(See my column from November to get used to the notion that to push aside the decorative as it is profound. But there is no
2015, “Postmodernist air- when you share an idea, people curtain of packaged-for-the- getting around letting the pieces
planes.”) A scientist’s duty is to respond by looking for reasons public science, step into the fall where they may. That’s not
logically and honestly use all why you’re wrong. When they kitchen, and see how the sau- personal. That’s science.
available evidence to try to tear finish, they go back and look sage is made. Sanitizing science
ideas to shreds. If an idea can some more. Then a new genera- or soft-pedaling its implications Jeff Hester is a keynote speaker,
survive that gantlet, then it is tion comes along with new and would defeat the whole purpose. coach, and astrophysicist.
worth holding onto, at least for better tools, and they have a go Things I write about can make Follow his thoughts at
now. But if it can’t survive, at you, too! some readers uncomfortable, but


16 A ST R O N O M Y • S E P T E M B E R 2018
ASTRONEWS WHIRLIGIG. NASA’s NICER mission discovered a pulsar and its companion orbiting each other every 38 minutes.
The pair has the shortest-known orbital period in their class of pulsar binaries.

X-ray satellite is gone, not forgotten

NASA’s Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer (RXTE), charting the intricacies of the accretion disks
which operated from 1996 until 2012, of matter that gather to swirl into the black
burned up in Earth’s atmosphere April 30. hole like water flowing down a drain. In
Although the satellite has not operated for 1997, RXTE returned the first observational
six years, its data continue to provide astron- evidence of a phenomenon called frame
omers with a valuable and unprecedented dragging. By watching the way blobs of hot
look at high-energy objects, such as pulsars gas moved very close to the edge of a black
and black holes. hole, astronomers observed how the black
“Observing these X-ray phenomena with hole’s immense gravity dragged space-time
precise high-resolution timing was RXTE’s near the event horizon along with it, just as
specialty,” said Jean Swank of NASA’s relativity predicts.
Goddard Space Flight Center in a press The satellite’s successor, the Neutron star
release. Swank served as the mission’s Interior Composition Explorer (NICER), is cur-
project scientist until 2010. “During RXTE’s rently installed on the International Space
run, no other observatory could provide Station, allowing astronomers to continue
these measurements.” studying in detail variable X-ray sources
Today, “the data remain a treasure-trove such as pulsars, black holes, and extreme
for studying compact objects, whether pul- stars. — A.K.
sars and stellar-mass black holes in our own


galaxy or supermassive black holes in the ON YOUR MARK. In 1995, the Rossi X-ray Timing
cores of distant galaxies,” said Tod Explorer was processed for mounting atop a Delta II
Strohmayer, also of Goddard, who was 7920 rocket prior to its December 30 launch. During
RXTE’s project scientist from 2010 to 2012. its 16-year mission, the satellite helped to unlock the
RXTE allowed astronomers to watch the mysteries of black holes and pulsars by observing
motions of hot gas around black holes, these fast-changing objects with high precision.


STORMY WEATHER. Storms rage throughout our solar system, from Venus to Neptune. Some
would only partially cover the United States, while others could swallow Earth whole. — A.K.
Hurricanes and
Earth tropical storms

Rare dust
On Mars, most dust storms are
less than 1,200 miles (1,930 km)
Typhoon across, but large storms can
Venus’ south pole is covered by Tip cover anywhere from one-third Great
a vortex bounded by a “collar” of the planet (1,407 miles Red Spot
of cold air 1,240 miles (2,000 km) On Earth, hurricanes and tropical [2,260 km]) to rarer globe-
across, roughly half the width storms typically range 100–400 miles spanning dust storms (Mars’ Jupiter
of the U.S. (160–640 km) in diameter. The largest diameter is 4,220 miles Jupiter’s Great Red Spot is
storms are about 1,000 miles (1,600 km) [6,790 km]) that would stretch 10,250 miles (16,500 km)
500 miles across; Super Typhoon Tip stretched halfway across Earth if laid out. across. It would cover
1,380 miles (2,220 km), about half the about 1.3 Earths lined up
1,000 km width of the U.S. next to each other.

FAST Jupiter Saturn Uranus On Uranus, some storms

FACT can range about
6,200 miles (10,000 km),
nearly the diameter
Jupiter’s Great of Earth.
Red Spot has
persisted for
centuries, but Neptune
Neptune’s Great Neptune’s Great Dark Spot,
Dark Spots are also called GDS-89, was imaged

transient. with Voyager 2 at 8,100 miles

GDS-89 vanished The north polar hexagon of Saturn is about 20,000 miles (13,000 km) across, just over
between 1989 30,000 miles (32,200 km) wide, the equivalent of 2.5 Earths. Individual the diameter of Earth.
and 1994. vortices within the larger hexagon are 2,200 miles
50,000 km (3,540 km) across, or eight-tenths the length of the U.S.

ASTRONEWS SMOOTH IT OUT. NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale mission found that Earth’s protective magnetic field
periodically breaks and reconnects, taming turbulence induced by the solar wind.


SN 2001ig Surviving companion is the first image
of a surviving
companion to a
supernova blast.
Thanks to Hubble’s
high resolution
and exquisite
VLT 2002 Gemini 2004 HST 2016 sensitivity,
astronomers now
know that some
supernovae have
roots in double-
star systems.
2 parsecs
6.5 light-years

Map of
Orion A
shows stellar
Hubble spots a supernova survivor birthplaces
Using NASA’s Hubble Space “We know that the majority of causes an epic explosion. EXQUISITE DETAIL. Researchers
Telescope, astronomers have cap- massive stars are in binary pairs,” Though it may seem surprising recently merged data from the
tured the first-ever photograph of said lead author Stuart Ryder, an that a star so close to a super- Nobeyama Radio Observatory (NRO)
a surviving companion following astronomer at the Australian nova can survive, when you take telescope and the Combined Array for
a supernova. Astronomical Observatory in into account the structure of Research in Millimeter Astronomy
The image of the companion Sydney, in a press release. “Many stars, it makes sense. A star is (CARMA) to create the most detailed
star, which was seen in the fading of these binary pairs will interact made of a dense core surrounded star map of the nearby Orion A molecu-
lar cloud to date. Sitting about 1,200
afterglow of a supernova that and transfer gas from one star to by a relatively loosely held shell
light-years from Earth, this molecular
exploded some 40 million the other when their orbits bring of hot plasma and gas. When the
cloud is the closest region to us that is
light-years away in the galaxy them close together.” shock wave from SN 2001ig currently birthing high-mass stars.
NGC 7424, provides the most In the case of SN 2001ig, astron- struck its neighboring star, the Among its varied star-forming environ-
compelling evidence yet that omers believe the companion star companion star’s gaseous enve- ments, Orion A houses compact star
some supernovae originate in siphoned off nearly all the hydro- lope temporarily deformed, but clusters similar to the one astronomers
binary systems. gen from the outer shell of the its core held strong. believe our Sun likely formed in. These
The supernova in question, supernova’s progenitor. Since the With this new image, astrono- data from the CARMA-NRO Orion
SN 2001ig, is a Type IIb stripped- outer region of a star is extremely mers have finally proven that at Survey will now allow researchers to
envelope supernova. This unusual efficient at transferring energy least some stripped-envelope study how stars form and evolve, and
type occurs when the majority from the core outward, the supernovae have companions, also assist in predicting the stellar pop-
of a massive star’s hydrogen is absence of an envelope can lead but now their goal shifts to deter- ulations of distant galaxies, based on
stripped away prior to exploding. to an instability that ultimately mining exactly how many. — J.P. Orion A’s behavior. — A.J.

ExoMars returns its first image from orbit


NOT SO RED. The ExoMars spacecraft arrived in orbit around the Red Planet in early April. On April 15, its Colour and Stereo Surface Imaging System (CaSSIS) took three
images nearly simultaneously, and they were combined to create this stunning final photo, covering 25 miles (40 kilometers) of the rim of Korolev Crater in Mars’ northern
hemisphere. Ice sweeps out from the crater’s edge, shining brightly against the martian surface. ExoMars, a joint endeavour of the European Space Agency and Roscosmos,
derives its name from the term exobiology and consists of two missions: the Trace Gas Orbiter currently at the Red Planet, and a surface rover set to launch in 2020. — A.K.

18 A ST R O N O M Y • S E P T E M B E R 2018

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This field of sand dunes
rests on the complex,
eroded floor of an ancient
crater in Noachis Terra.
The dunes have gentle
slopes to the southwest
(lower left) where they
face the prevailing wind,
and steep slopes on the
opposite side. ALL IMAGES:

Take control of a

20 A ST R O N O M Y • SEPTEMBER 2018
MARS orbiter
Imagine directing the highest resolution camera
orbiting the Red Planet. That wish can now be a reality.
by Alfred McEwen



Va l l e
s Ma



180° 240° 300° 0° 60°

ars exploration entered a I am the principal investigator. The

new era in 2006. In March camera has acquired more than 52,000
of that year, NASA’s Mars high-resolution orbital images of Mars’
Reconnaissance Orbiter surface. The photos achieve resolutions
(MRO) fired its main as high as 10 inches (25 centimeters) per
engines for 27 minutes, pixel, good enough to measure objects as
slowing the sophisticated small as 30 inches (75 cm) across.
probe enough for the Red Engineers at Ball Aerospace in
Planet’s gravity to capture Boulder, Colorado, designed and built the
it into a highly elliptical camera. We call it “The People’s Camera”
orbit. During the next five because we process and release images
months, MRO repeatedly quickly, provide tools to make it easier to
dipped into the martian examine these enormous images (which
atmosphere. Friction with can contain up to 500 megapixels), and
air molecules slowed the welcome suggestions from the public.
craft more, gradually
modifying its course until it reached its Make a wish
final science orbit, a near-circular path HiWish is our public web tool for sug-
with a lower altitude and shorter period. gesting images. It’s easy to register and
Now, a dozen years later, MRO has sent propose places on Mars you’d like HiRISE
more data to Earth than all other inter- to photograph. Since we announced the
planetary missions in history combined. HiWish program in early 2010, 9,248
A good chunk of that data comes people have registered, and they have
from the High Resolution Imaging put forward 21,021 targets. Sometimes
Science Experiment (HiRISE), on which a single photo can satisfy more than

22 A ST R O N O M Y • SEPTEMBER 2018
Far left: Images taken as part of the HiWish
program cover much of Mars. Each square
indicates one of the 5,438 photos captured
during the program’s first eight years. The
base map shows the altitude of the surface
(red signifies high, blue low) from the Mars
Orbiter Laser Altimeter on Mars Global

Left: Glacial features appear across many

high-latitude mountainous regions on
Mars. Here, snow and ice accumulated in
the mountain valley at top and then flowed
downhill onto the adjacent plain. In some
cases, such glaciers have long since lost their
ice; in others, ice remains beneath a cover of
rock and soil debris.

Top: Sand dunes line the valley floor in this

0.6-mile-wide (1 kilometer) section of Samara
Valles. This entire ancient valley system runs
more than 620 miles (1,000 km) across the
heavily cratered southern highlands before
emptying into Chryse Basin.

120° 180°

Above: Bumps and knobs occupy this

tiny section on the floor of Palos Crater.
Scientists think this terrain is weathering
into polygon-shaped blocks. Winds brought
in the dark sand and dust that fills the
eroded, circular impact craters.

Right: Martian gullies occur on steep

slopes, most often on the walls of craters
at middle and high latitudes. Typically,
a gully shows a branching pattern at its
head and a fan-shaped debris apron at its
base. Some scientists think liquid water
carves the gullies, while others believe
NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
they form as chunks of frozen carbon
dioxide roll downhill.
has sent more data to Earth than all other
interplanetary missions in history combined.
As of the beginning of this year, HiWish has fulfilled
7,000 requests by capturing 5,483 images,
about 10 percent of HiRISE’s total.
one suggestion if the locations lie close
enough to one another. As of the begin-
ning of this year, HiWish has fulfilled
7,000 requests by capturing 5,483 images,
about 10 percent of HiRISE’s total.
A HiWish user first decides what he
or she wants to image, then writes a brief
science justification and selects one of
18 science themes. (See “The 18 science
themes,” starting on p. 25, for descrip-
tions.) Next, a member of the HiRISE
science team prioritizes suggestions in
each theme. A science lead chooses
which of these to favor in each two-week
MRO planning cycle. The decision takes
into account several constraints, includ-
ing the recommended priorities and what
regions MRO will be able to view during
that two-week window.
We typically need at least one image
per 120-minute orbit to make optimal
Clockwise from bottom left: These steep,
use of the downlink, or data stream, to conical hills in Valles Marineris were built
Earth. HiRISE photos are so large that up from debris expelled by volcanic vents.
we can’t store more than a few of them With only a few small impact craters on
their flanks, these volcanic structures likely
on board the spacecraft at a time; luckily, are only a few hundred million years old.
NASA’s Deep Space Network provides
downlink coverage every day. But if we HiRISE discovered “recurring slope lineae”
take too few images, we will have trans- — the dark, narrow streaks that appear
to flow down steep slopes and grow, fade,
mitted all of our data and be left with and reappear every martian year — that
valuable downlink that goes unused. some scientists think could be seasonal
Some regions of Mars are extremely flows of briny water. This HiWish image
shows several originating in the boulder-
popular for imaging. The landing sites strewn terrain at left.
for Mars rovers, candidate sites for future
landers, and Valles Marineris — the The edge of a single mesa snakes through
vast canyon system than spans some this view of Aureum Chaos, a broad region
of plateaus and mesas near the equator.
2,500 miles (4,000 kilometers) — rank The rocks here likely formed as layers
among the favorites. Other regions prove of sediments or volcanic debris. The
less popular, and orbits that pass over ground later collapsed to create the
current landscape.
these areas have fewer suggested images.
If we don’t acquire any images during The sand dunes at the base of this huge
these unpopular orbits, we can run out mesa might make a good dirt track course
of data to return and waste downlink. in the distant future. Racers would have to
navigate the 8.7-mile (14 km) course under
Fortunately, a HiWish suggestion is a gravitational pull barely one-third that
almost always available, and they often at Earth’s surface.
produce exciting results.
If you look at the global distribution Channels circle around and, in some cases,
apparently empty into a small crater in
of images acquired through the HiWish Mars’ Arabia Terra region.
program (see p. 22), you’ll see only a
smattering in Mars’ polar regions. This
may be because the base maps people use
to target the camera are incomplete or

24 A ST R O N O M Y • SEPTEMBER 2018
Aeolian (wind) processes:
Looks at landforms sculpted
by the fierce martian winds.
Outside the polar regions,
this is the planet’s most
dynamic geological process.

Climate change: Focuses

on evidence for ongoing
changes in Mars’ climate by
detecting signs that water
and carbon dioxide are
moving from one reservoir
to another.

Composition and
photometry: Uses the
camera’s high resolution
to map areas of different
compositions at small scales.

Fluvial processes: Targets

features carved by flowing
water to learn how they
formed and to better
understand the history
of water on Mars.

Future landing sites:

Analyzes the surface and
hunts for potential hazards
in areas scientists are
considering for upcoming
landers and rovers.

Geologic contacts and

stratigraphy: Looks at
the way different kinds of
layered rocks are arranged
to determine their relative
ages and how the rocks
were deposited.

Glacial processes: Studies

glaciers and their margins to
learn about the distribution
of water ice beneath Mars’
surface as well as the history
of surface ice and climate.

Hydrothermal processes:
Examines features and
deposits that might have
formed in the presence of
water warmed, for example,
by volcanic activity or an

Impact processes: Focuses

on primary and secondary
craters formed in high-
velocity impacts, to study
the physical properties and
ages of various terrains.

— Continued on page 27
difficult to interpret at high latitudes. Above: This patterned ground lies in an area
Away from the poles, the distribution is of exposed bedrock in the ancient martian
highlands. The polygonal patterns likely arise
remarkably uniform in comparison to a from deposits of wet, clay-rich materials. This
map showing all HiRISE images, which area resides in a valley network carved by
concentrate strongly in certain locations. flowing water billions of years ago.
This happens because we commonly
acquire HiWish images in regions that
would otherwise have few science targets.

Star performers
Roughly 100 Mars scientists
HiWish users include scientists who have suggested targets, and the
are not part of the HiRISE team, and
as you might expect, they enter great resulting images have contributed
science suggestions. University of
Hawaii researcher Peter Mouginis-Mark
to hundreds of publications.
proposed the first HiWish image we
acquired: a view of ejecta flow from the Although each proposal needs a science and featureless at night are cold and tend
15.4-mile-wide (24.8 km) crater Arandas. rationale, it can be something as simple to be covered with dust. Such locations
Some of our favorite HiWish requests as “This hill looks like a volcano in lower- typically make less interesting targets for
come from Ken Edgett of Malin Space resolution images or topography, but we high-resolution photography, though
Science Systems in San Diego. Edgett is need a better image,” or “This feature is with some important exceptions, like
the principal investigator for the Mars especially bright in THEMIS nighttime new impact sites.
Hand Lens Imager on the Curiosity infrared images — I wonder what it is.” Some HiWish users may be disap-
rover and was the top planner of photos THEMIS — the Thermal Emission pointed with their images if they target
captured by the Mars Orbiter Camera on Imaging System aboard NASA’s Mars regions blanketed in dust. Although
the Mars Global Surveyor satellite from Odyssey spacecraft — photographs the some of these landforms may draw your
1997 to 2006. Roughly 100 other Mars martian surface at five visible-light wave- attention in lower-resolution images or
scientists have suggested targets, and lengths and 10 infrared wavelengths. through their topography, the new details
the resulting images have contributed Areas that appear bright in the infrared HiRISE reveals might be nothing more
to hundreds of publications. at night are warm and thus typically than textures in the dust. Intriguing tar-
Still, you don’t need to be a Mars rocky, and bedrock makes a great subject gets do exist in dust-covered regions, but
scientist to propose excellent targets. for HiRISE. Regions that appear dark the key is to think about what you might

26 A ST R O N O M Y • SEPTEMBER 2018
— Continued from page 25
Landscape evolution:
Seeks the subtle signatures
that allow scientists to
understand the processes
that shape the planet’s
diverse landscapes.

Mass wasting processes:

Studies the downhill
movement of rocks and
debris, from massive
landslides and debris
avalanches to single
boulders rolling down a hill.

Polar geology: Explores

the layered deposits in both
the north and south polar
regions, to help unravel the
planet’s climate history.

Rocks and regoliths:

Examines rocks as well as the
smaller rock pieces and dust
(regolith) that make up the
martian soil, to see what
processes create this soil
over time.

Seasonal processes:
Studies the transient polar
caps of carbon dioxide frost
as they wax and wane
(through condensation and
sublimation, respectively)
with the seasons.

From top: Dark debris eroding off processes: Seeks insights
a mountain (off the top of this image) into Mars’ layered rocks
collects at the base of a cliff near the center to learn when the layers
of Hebes Chasma. Shades of blue are not formed and if they began as
natural on the Red Planet, of course — sediments in lakes, volcanic
scientists enhance color to better see fine
ash, or atmospheric dust.
Tectonic processes:
This tangle of ridges forms just a small
part of a much wider network of similar
Explores the forces within
ridges north of Baldet Crater. Individual the planet’s interior that
ridges can be 1,000 feet (300 m) long and cause rock to slide, bend,
100 feet (30 m) tall. and break, by measuring
how much the rock has
Dozens of large boulders dot the surface deformed.
of this tiny crater and its immediate
surroundings. The region lies in a series of Volcanic processes:
glacial ridges in the northern hemisphere. Focuses on the planet’s
huge volcanoes and
Channels cut through this intricate extensive lava flows, in part
series of mesas and buttes that lie in the to learn if the lava oozed
northern lowlands, northwest of the giant
Elysium Mons volcano.
from the ground or blasted
out in massive explosions.

Other (non-themed):
Any potentially interesting
observation that doesn’t
relate directly to one of the
other 17 themes.

The greatest HiWish success stories
are the probable discoveries of the
Mars 3 and Beagle 2 landers.
see at a scale of several feet. The best way
WEBSITES to do this is to examine nearby HiRISE
TO GET YOU photos at full resolution. You can down-
load a tool called HiView from the
GOING HiRISE website that lets you rapidly
examine any image at full resolution.
The scientists behind
Of the 5,483 HiWish images, retired
the HiWish program have
developed tools to make it
schoolteacher James Secosky suggested
easy to plan your imaging 2,133 — nearly 40 percent of the total.
adventures with HiRISE. He is also largely responsible for the
Here are some websites excellent Wikipedia page about HiWish.
to help you get started: The page includes many of his favorite
HiWish images broken down into 35 cat- parachute opened, it might create a bright
HiWish home page: egories. Secosky chooses his desired loca- target that would be relatively easy to see, tions by first examining photos taken and the other pieces may appear bluer, or
with MRO’s Context Camera (CTX), at least less red, than a typical martian
NASA’s initial announcement which provides a resolution of about surface. Unfortunately, any such artifacts
about the HiWish program:
20 feet (6 meters) per pixel. Features that get covered by dust over time and may
look interesting in a CTX image usually closely resemble natural features in
make great targets for HiRISE. HiRISE images.
The first HiWish image acquired: Many proposals come from students. Finding these lost landers requires Over the past decade, Ginny Gulick of someone — or a team — with dedication,
ESP_016842_2225 NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett who also understands the details of the
Field, California, has helped students at probe’s landing system and the exact
HiView, a tool for viewing Evergreen Middle School in Cottonwood, sizes of possible pieces. Russian journal-
full-resolution HiRISE images: California, suggest and analyze HiRISE ist and space-exploration enthusiast photos. And students taking my Mars Vitaliy Egorov led the Mars 3 discovery
class at the University of Arizona have effort. In this case, at least, the spacecraft
Help analyze HiRISE images:
been targeting and analyzing HiRISE seekers had a bit of help: We know
images since 2007. that Mars 3 landed mostly successfully
James Secosky’s Wikipedia page because it returned a signal for about
for the HiWish program: In search of lost landers 15 seconds before going silent for still- The greatest HiWish success stories are unknown reasons. The team found an
HiWish_program the probable discoveries of the Soviet exceptional candidate for Mars 3’s para-
Union’s 1971 Mars 3 lander and the chute and more subtle features that could
THEMIS images and background: United Kingdom’s 2003 Beagle 2 lander, be the descent module, heat shield, and which hitched a ride to the Red Planet on lander itself.
the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Mars As for Beagle 2, the HiRISE team
The Mars 3 lander story: Express mission. launched a concerted effort to image the
Imaging successful landers is quite spacecraft’s landing ellipse — the region
The Beagle 2 discovery story:
easy because we know exactly where to within which the probe likely set down if look for them and what pieces to find — the entry and descent went according to
typically a back shell and attached para- plan. A 1-sigma landing ellipse means
chute, a heat shield, and the lander itself. there’s a 39 percent chance the craft lies
But lander missions that failed to call in that area; a 3-sigma ellipse raises the
home are much more difficult to find or probability to 99 percent. Although our
recognize because they could lie within a team imaged most of the 3-sigma ellipse,
large region of the planet and we don’t nobody was able to spend the time needed
know for sure what to look for. If the to thoroughly examine each image.
spacecraft crashed, there might be only Meanwhile, Michael Croon, a retired
a small fresh crater. If the spacecraft’s ESA engineer who worked on the

28 A ST R O N O M Y • SEPTEMBER 2018
Clockwise from top left: Layers of dusty ice
up to 2 miles (3 km) thick and about 620 miles
(1,000 km) in diameter form the north polar
layered deposits. The exposed layers seen
here have various surface textures, hinting
that the underlying layers have a different
dust content or ice-grain size. The angular
breaks mark where layers eroded before new
ones were deposited.

The human brain does a remarkable job of

perceiving familiar shapes when they aren’t
really there. In this HiWish image, one of
the author’s favorites, the boundary of a
lava flow looks like the head and trunk of
an elephant; a well-placed crater forms the
pachyderm’s eye.

Have you ever found a needle in a haystack?

Then you might be ready to search HiRISE
images for artifacts from defunct spacecraft.
A team of Russian space enthusiasts used a
HiWish request to locate what appears to be
the parachute from the 1971 Mars 3 lander.
The original image measures 3.1 miles (5 km)
across; the suspected white parachute (inset,
center) is just 25 feet (7.5 m) in diameter.

If you haven’t tried HiWish, what are you
waiting for? MRO arrived at Mars 12 years ago,
and it will not last forever.
operations team for Mars Express,
was searching the region more carefully.
He entered a HiWish suggestion with
this eye-catching science rationale: “I
located Beagle 2 hardware candidates
inside the 1-sigma landing ellipse, see
my map … I suggest re-imaging the
location (90.429E 11.526N) in color to
check if the putative lander exhibits a
color anomaly.”
After reading this, I made sure we
acquired the requested image, which
supported his interpretation. We also
took additional photos, and the full set
showed something remarkable: Bright
spots appeared at the location of the sus-
pected lander, but at slightly different
locations in different images. We
explained this as specular reflections —
the type you get from a mirrorlike sur-
face — off the solar arrays and the lander
Clockwise from bottom left: This crater’s oval
science package, each of which should be shape suggests that it formed when an asteroid
positioned on the ground at a slightly collided with Mars at a shallow angle. The impact
different angle. gouged out the 1,000-foot-wide (300 m) divot
and sent most of the debris at right angles to the
Because we acquired HiRISE images impactor’s direction.
over a range of illumination and viewing
angles, sometimes we got a specular This collection of streamlined hills, known as
reflection from one panel and sometimes yardangs, lies in the Arsinoes Chaos region in
far eastern Valles Marineris. They form when
from another. We identified four such winds erode bedrock either by sandblasting
bright spots spaced just right to be from the surface with tiny particles or carrying away
the deployed lander, so at least three of loosely bound pieces. Scientists are still trying
to learn how the series of parallel sand ridges
the four solar panels had deployed cor- between the yardangs formed.
rectly. This meant that the Beagle 2
entry, descent, and landing sequence was Looking for signs of past water and possibly life
largely successful, a vital piece of infor- on Mars, scientists initially chose 28 potential
landing sites for the Mars 2020 rover mission.
mation to engineers planning future This image shows layering in one of those spots:
landings on Mars. 56-mile-wide (90 km) Firsoff Crater. Scientists
Although HiRISE has captured thou- have since dropped this site from consideration.
sands of images through the HiWish
The distinctive shapes of these sand dunes in
program, literally thousands of other Hellas Basin arise because the wind blows in the
intriguing targets remain unexplored. same direction (east to west) for long periods.
If you haven’t tried HiWish, what are By imaging regions like this over many years,
scientists can measure how fast the dunes creep
you waiting for? MRO arrived at Mars across the surface.
12 years ago, and it will not last forever.
Heed Janis Joplin’s advice from the last This close-up shows flows of ice-rich debris along
song on her classic Pearl album: “Get it the edge of a mesa near the boundary between
martian lowland and highland terrain. Scientists
while you can.” think material deposited only about 10 million
years ago covers much of the area.
Planetary scientist Alfred McEwen of
the University of Arizona is the principal
investigator for HiRISE.

30 A ST R O N O M Y • SEPTEMBER 2018
Above: These concentric cracks mark a
crater that formed when the surface
collapsed. Scientists think a mudflow
covered the original landscape, which was
rich in water or water ice. A nearby source
of magma then either quickly turned the
water to steam or melted the subsurface ice,
triggering the collapse.

Minting a
Coins made as far back as 400 b.c. may honor solar eclipses. Armed with this new knowledge, the
The tradition continued for two millennia. Chaldeans, and later the Greeks and
Romans, could explain the cause of eclipses
text and images by Richard Jakiel and — more importantly — predict when
they would happen. This allowed the

he Great American Eclipse of The earliest verifiable eclipse observa- Romans to use eclipses as a propaganda
August 21, 2017, certainly was tion was made June 15, 763 b.c., by the device to promote military campaigns or
one for the record books. It Assyrians. This was soon followed by political agendas.
became a huge media event, and well-documented viewings recorded
hotels and even state and national parks by the Chinese and Greeks. But it was The mints open
were booked to capacity in anticipation. the Chaldean astronomers of the Neo- Around the same time, the Greeks came
But total solar eclipses have not always Babylonian Empire who first deduced the up with a pretty nifty invention — coinage.
been seen with the same kind of awe and Sun-Moon eclipse connection known as the At first the designs were quite crude, but in
wonder. In ancient times, people often saros cycle. the span of a few generations, they became
experienced great fear and trepidation, and This period, 6,585.3211 days, is the nothing less than works of art. The sheer
they viewed such events as omens or por- length of time after one total solar eclipse variety of themes soon rivaled the number
tents of change. when a nearly identical eclipse will occur. of Greek city-states scattered throughout

Fourth century b.c. November 11, 120 b.c. January 5, a.d. 75

This silver coin from the Greek city- The mint of M. Tullius in the Roman A denarius with the Rogman emperor
state of Istros is smaller than a dime, republic issued this dime-sized silver Vespasian on the obverse and a
yet twice as thick. Two heads (one coin, called a denarius, after the ship’s prow plus a “star” (the eclipsed
inverted) of Apollo appear on the hybrid-total eclipse on November Sun) on the reverse was produced
obverse, and the reverse shows an 11, 120 B.C. The obverse features the to commemorate the total solar eclipse
eagle carrying off a dolphin. These winged head of Victory, and the reverse of January 5, A.D. 75, and probably
coins might commemorate two solar shows a chariot drawn by four horses. to celebrate renewed stability in the
eclipses, one in 434 B.C. and another Above is a wreath of fire representing Roman Empire.
a scant three years later in 431 B.C. the eclipsed Sun.

32 A ST R O N O M Y • S E P T E M B E R 2018
rose out of the Black Sea. (The line of total-
ity lay about 100 miles [160 kilometers]
north.) In fact, the rising Sun would have
appeared as a thin crescent, and in the
span of 10 minutes, the tips of its “horns”
would have switched to point in the oppo-
site direction, much like the inverted
heads. Three years later on August 3,
431 b.c., during the Peloponnesian War,
the Mediterranean world. identical heads of the god Apollo, always an annular eclipse visible from Istros pro-
Starting in Greece, those who minted presented anti-parallel, on the obverse duced the same horned solar crescent pat-
coins used them in ways beyond their (front). Scholars have offered a number of tern, but this time in the late afternoon.
stated use as money. Commemorating an explanations for the heads, including that Because Istros was a busy commercial cen-
event or a person could curry favor with they represented the rising and setting Sun, ter, regional officials spun these events as
those in power. Honoring natural events that the pair was supposed to be the signs of good times, which may have
— such as eclipses, which would have been Dioscuri (the twins Castor and Pollux), and resulted in producing this series of coins.
experienced by many — or military victo- even that the heads symbolized branches of Unlike Greek coins, which can be noto-
ries could instill within the populace a the river Ister (Danube). riously hard to date due to a number of
sense of unity or nationalistic pride. What But in 2005, William C. Saslaw and Paul factors, several series of Roman eclipse
finally appeared on individual coins was Murdin from the Institute of Astronomy at coins have been linked to events. Perhaps
up to the imagination of the minter. the University of Cambridge in England hit the earliest, and certainly one of the most
One of the most unusual designs came upon the idea that these coins commemo- intriguing, was minted from 217 b.c. to
from Istros, a small city-state on the coast rated solar eclipses. In a span of only three 215 b.c. The Roman Republic was locked in
of the Black Sea near the mouth of the years, there were two solar eclipse events: the Second Punic War with Carthage and
Danube River. Made from about 400 b.c. to The first occurred at 6:30 a.m. on October 4, had already lost several major engagements
350 b.c., the coins featured two inverted 434 b.c., when the heavily eclipsed Sun to the great general, Hannibal Barca.

a.d. 126 to 128

One of the most sought-after series of “star and crescent” coins was made during the
reign of the Roman emperor Hadrian. Inspired by the eclipse of September 3, 118,
whose path fell on the northern part of the Roman Empire, the series features a
portrait of Hadrian on the obverse and a thin crescent Sun with one to seven “stars”
on the reverse. The reverse of the coin on the left has a single star; the center one has
five stars; and the one on the right contains seven stars. This series of silver denarii
was minted from 126 to 128 during the middle part of Hadrian’s reign.


satellite’s crescent phase is a normal occur- coins with astrological and astronomical
rence, however, and if the seven stars were motifs, yet few are the subjects of research.
the five planets plus Earth and Moon, why Several years ago, fellow amateur astrono-
repeat? An eclipsed Sun is a better explana- mer and collector Jerry Armstrong con-
tion. And indeed, on September 3, 118, a tacted me regarding a small coin from the
Perhaps out of sheer desperation, the spectacular total solar eclipse cut across the Roman province of Lydia in western
Roman ruling class saw the total solar northern Roman Empire. This event cer- Turkey. The design on the reverse consisted
eclipse of February 11, 217 b.c., as an omen tainly could have provided the artistic of a crescent and two stars — but was it an
of better things to come. To honor it, Rome inspiration for the coin series. eclipse coin?
produced an unusual bronze coin with a An even longer lasting eclipse coin After a bit of research, we found that a
radiant visage of Apollo; the reverse had an series was minted during the Roman total solar eclipse occurred August 14, 212,
almost whimsical “smiley face” consisting Severan dynasty. On December 28, 186, with the path running across the Black Sea,
of a solar crescent, two stars, and a pellet. people in the region of the western southern Europe, and just south of Rome.
Did it help achieve the desired soothing Mediterranean watched an annular eclipse In Lydia, the lunar disk covered more than
effect? It’s hard to say, but in the end the setting in the winter sky. From Rome, the 95 percent of the Sun, while ships just off-
Romans did eventually triumph. Moon covered more than 70 percent of the shore would have been treated to totality.
One hundred years later, fortunes had Sun, which appeared as a brilliant crescent Because the coin was minted between 212
greatly improved for the Romans with major as it sank below the western horizon. and 215, the correlation is good. But what
victories over the Celts of southern Gaul For seafarers and citizens of Rome, this was the significance of the stars? They were
(France). A series of coins was minted to celestial spectacle must have been an awe- the bright planets Jupiter and Venus, and
commemorate the eclipse of November 11, some sight. As for the coin series, it was both would have been easily visible during
120 b.c., which was seen as a blessing by minted primarily in bronze for more than totality.
the gods. The eclipse was a hybrid-annular four decades (and through the reign of sev-
type, much like the May 30, 1984, event in eral emperors). It also featured a crescent The Middle Ages
the eastern United States. with one to seven stars. By a.d. 1000, nearly all aspects of
The reverse of the coin features a Through the centuries, the Greeks and the ancient Roman world were gone.
winged Victory driving a chariot of four Romans minted thousands of different Christianity and Islam had replaced pagan
horses with a fiery wreath burning in the
sky. It doesn’t take too much imagination
to see that the wreath is the eclipsed Sun,
with Bailey’s beads and large prominences
dotting the rim.

A new era dawns

By the turn of the first century a.d., Rome
had become a mighty empire, spanning
across the entire Mediterranean Sea and
much of Europe. After several years of
turmoil following the end of Nero’s chaotic
reign, stability finally returned under the
no-nonsense reign of Vespasian.
On January 5 in the year 75, a total solar
eclipse was seen in southern Italy and
northern Africa. In Rome, more than 90
percent of the Sun was obscured. Perhaps
to mark the start of more good times, the
mints produced a silver denarius — a
dime-sized silver coin — displaying a ship’s
prow with a brilliant star (the eclipsed Sun)
above it, guiding the ship to safe waters.
Perhaps the most beautiful and well-
known series of Roman eclipse coins
appeared during the height of the empire. a.d. 1176
August 14, a.d. 212
The first series of silver denarii was minted
This small bronze coin, about the size of During the Middle Ages, it was common
from 126 to 128, during the early part of to interpret astronomical events such as
a penny, was produced shortly after the
the reign of the emperor Hadrian. The eclipse of August 14, 212, in the Roman solar eclipses as signs from the heavens.
reverse of these coins shows a thin crescent province of Lydia in western Turkey. From This silver denarius was minted in Antioch
plus one to seven stars, with four- and six- there, the Moon covered 95 percent of the during the reign of Bohemond III. It sports
Sun. Of interest are the two “stars” on the a simple design, a commemoration of the
star versions being the rarest of the set. reverse. They represent Jupiter and Venus, total solar eclipse of 1176, whose path of
Many scholars had thought that this both of which would have been easily totality passed directly over the city.
crescent represented the Moon. Our visible to the unaided eye during the event.

34 A ST R O N O M Y • S E P T E M B E R 2018
beliefs. However, astrologers still were much good; he was forced to sign the exotic coin from the Sultanate of Rum
making predictions about the future. They, Magna Carta in 1215, and he died of dys- showing an attacking lion with the Sun and
as well as the general population, saw solar entery less than a year later. three luminaries — possibly Venus, Saturn,
eclipses and comets in particular as omens Luckily, King John wasn’t the only game and Mercury.
of change, and coins depicting those events in town. For several centuries, the
were commonplace. Let’s examine the Crusades had a huge impact on everyday The Enlightenment
circumstances of a few examples and their life, and during that time, eclipses were and beyond
impact on the feudal world. used to promote great victories and other By the early 18th century, the science
One of the most infamous of all English events. A popular example was minted in of eclipse prediction had progressed
rulers was John Lackland, better known as Antioch during the reign of Bohemond III. to a point where astronomers could accu-
King John, the youngest brother of Richard This city was on the centerline of the total rately pin down the location and duration
the Lionhearted. Much maligned by his- solar eclipse of April 11, 1176, and the event of the paths. However, it would take much
tory, John had a disagreeable personality was likely a major influence on the design longer for the general populace to drop
that offset whatever good traits he may of a silver coin. the old superstitions and accept the sci-
have had. But he seldom let an opportunity Another eclipse that inspired the cre- ence. Classic examples are the medallions
for self-promotion go by. In 1201 and 1207, ation of several coins took place six decades produced by both sides of the conflict at
the tracks of two annular eclipses passed later. The path of totality of the great the end of the Siege of Barcelona (April
quite close to the British Isles. In London, eclipse of June 3, 1239, cut across Asia 2–27, 1706) during the War of the Spanish
observers would have seen the Moon cov- Minor and most of southern Europe. The Succession.
ering 67 percent and 76 percent of the Sun’s greatest duration of totality was 5 minutes As a large English fleet pulled into
disk, respectively. and 59 seconds. A scant two years later, on the harbor carrying reinforcements,
King John issued a series of coins October 6, 1241, another total eclipse the siege was quickly lifted, and Spanish
inspired by the two events, perhaps as a crossed southeastern Europe. and French forces soon began to leave
propaganda device to promote good times, These events had a major impact on the city. On the morning of May 12, the
or to shore up his failing reign. The coin coin design across the region for several retreating forces witnessed more than
depicts a crescent Moon and a stellate Sun. decades. A couple of fine examples include four minutes of totality. It didn’t take
In the long run, it didn’t seem to do him a silver coin from Slavonia (Croatia) and an long before people were calling the event
the “eclipse of the Sun King,” referring
to Louis XIV of France. On the side of
the victors, Queen Anne of Britain had
bronze and silver commemorative medals
produced, the reverse depicting Barcelona
Harbor and the radiant eclipsed Sun rising
over it.
On the losing side, the Habsburgs pro-
duced a medal for King Charles III of Spain
showing a similar scene on the reverse. But
instead of a tranquil harbor, it displays the
eclipsed Sun over a city under siege with the
phrase along the rim “VNIVS LIBERATIO
ALTERIVS OPRESSIO,” or “the liberation
of one(s), oppression of others.”
Today, we no longer regard total solar
eclipses with mystery and dread, although
we still celebrate them in coins and medals.
And thanks to the internet, we have rela-
tively easy access to resources that let us
conduct research on eclipse coins.
The Greeks and Romans produced liter-
ally tens of thousands of different coins,
and thousands more were minted in the
Middle Ages. Many have not yet been cata-
loged, let alone examined for possible con-
a.d. 1201 and 1207 October 6, a.d. 1241
nections to astronomical events. It’s still a
A stylized portrait of King John Lackland The total eclipse of October 6, 1241, broadly wide-open field, limited only by your ability
of England — the villainous “Prince John” visible across Southern Europe and Asia
of the Robin Hood stories — is shown on Minor, had a major impact on coin design. to do online research. Give it a shot — you
the obverse of this thin silver coin. On the This example from Slavonia (now Croatia) might just make an interesting discovery!
reverse is a crescent Moon plus a starlike has a stoic design typical of those times.
Sun. The minting of this coin, perhaps used The obverse features a wolflike predator
Richard Jakiel writes about astronomy’s
as a propaganda device to herald future with two stars, while the reverse shows a
good tidings, commemorated annular cross surrounded by a star and crescent, history and observes celestial objects from
eclipses in 1201 and 1207. a large star, and portraits of two rulers. Lithia Springs, Georgia.

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

September 2018: Neptune at its best

Sun illuminates only 30 percent early September should be
of its Earth-facing hemisphere. sharper than those later on.
And on September’s final eve- Jupiter’s disk spans 35" at
ning, Venus shows a disk 46" the beginning of the month.
in diameter and 17 percent lit. This is big enough that even
You can find Jupiter small scopes will deliver strik-
blazing in the southwest after ing views of atmospheric fea-
sunset all month. It lies 23° to tures. Look for two dark belts
Venus’ upper left September 1; that straddle a brighter zone
the gap closes to 14° by the end coinciding with the gas giant’s
of the month. Be sure to watch equator. Changes within these
when the waxing crescent belts often show up in just an
Moon slides past these planets. hour of observing.
On September 12, our satellite Small instruments also
lies 9° above Venus and 16° reveal Jupiter’s four big moons:
right of Jupiter. By the next Io, Europa, Ganymede, and
evening, the Moon stands 4° to Callisto. The satellites shift
Jupiter’s upper right. Although positions noticeably within
the magnitude –1.9 giant planet an hour or two, and will look
appears less than one-tenth as completely different from one
bright as Venus, it easily out- night to the next. The illustra-
shines every nighttime star. tion on the right side of p. 41
Neptune appears at its best for the year in September. Although a
If you want crisp views of will help you identify which
telescope will show its tiny blue-gray disk, you won’t see the stunning Jupiter through a telescope, moon is which.
detail the Voyager 2 spacecraft revealed when it flew past in 1989. NASA/JPL observe in late twilight before Scan some 45° east of
the planet sinks too close to Jupiter, and your eyes will
the horizon. Low altitudes land on Saturn nestled

our bright planets line up after sunset. Despite its low mean its light has to travel among the background stars
across September’s early altitude, it’s easy to see through more of Earth’s of northern Sagittarius. The
evening sky. Venus and because it shines brilliantly image-distorting atmosphere, magnitude 0.4 ringed planet
Mars provide the book- at magnitude –4.6. Use bin- which washes out fine detail. lies due south and at peak
ends for this bonanza, oculars and you’ll see Virgo’s For the same reason, views in altitude an hour after sunset
with Jupiter and Saturn sand- brightest star, magnitude 1.0
wiched between. You can look Spica, 1.3° to the planet’s An ice giant peaks
for Uranus and Neptune to upper right.
come to the fore later in the Although Venus dips N
evening. Neptune reaches a hair lower each evening,
opposition and peak visibility it also grows brighter. It
September 7, but it remains an peaks at greatest brilliancy
inviting object all month. And September 21, when it gleams
Mercury rules the predawn sky at magnitude –4.8. It then
early this month as it wraps up stands just 5° high in the E q
one of its finest morning southwest 30 minutes after
appearances of the year. sunset, however, so you’ll
Your first target these need an unobstructed horizon
September evenings should be to get a good view. s
Venus. Earth’s inner neighbor Viewing Venus through a AQUARIUS
lies low in the west-southwest telescope in September reveals s
shortly after the Sun goes remarkable changes. On the

down. From mid-northern 1st, the planet appears 30"
latitudes on the 1st, it appears across and 40 percent lit. By The eighth planet reaches opposition September 7, when it lies 2.3° west-
about 10° high a half-hour the 15th, it spans 36" but the southwest of 4th-magnitude Phi (ϕ) Aquarii. ALL ILLUSTRATIONS: ASTRONOMY: ROEN KELLY

36 A ST R O N O M Y • S E P T E M B E R 2018
On the Sea of Moisture’s shore Gassendi

Intriguing features abound on a fascinating crater Gassendi,

waxing gibbous Moon. Marvel which perches on the northern
at Tycho’s satellite-spanning edge of Mare Humorum (Sea of
rays, expansive Mare Imbrium Moisture) in the lunar southwest.
with striking Sinus Iridum on Circular Gassendi spans 69 miles Gassendi
its northwestern edge, and the and tilts down toward the center
prominent crater Copernicus of Mare Humorum.
with its intricate debris splatter. Gassendi displays multiple
Consider starting your peaks and slumped walls, a
observing session before dark- characteristic of many large cra- Mare
ness falls, when the light-blue ters. You can even see that the Humorum N
sky reduces the glare of the prominent crater on its northern
Moon’s bright disk. Sometimes, rim formed after the main event E
the Moon at night is simply too and pushed this material inward.
bright through a telescope. A fil- The arcs and rilles visible in the The 69-mile-wide impact crater Gassendi boasts interior rilles and
ter helps, but sunglasses provide southern and southeastern several central mountain peaks. CONSOLIDATED LUNAR ATLAS/UA/LPL; INSET: NASA/GSFC/ASU
a nice low-tech solution. parts of Gassendi are remnants
Target the Moon the evening of fracturing. Up and down later welled up from below and astronomer Pierre Gassendi.
of September 19, when Mars motions of the crust caused sur- covered half of the crater’s floor. In 1631, he became the first
hangs some 5° below it. The face cracks similar to those you Scientists named this crater person to observe Mercury
sunrise line has moved past the might see in a pie crust. Lava after 17th-century French transiting the Sun.

September 1. Once the sky

grows dark, you’ll notice it METEORWATCH
is set against some of the
Milky Way’s richest regions.
Binoculars reveal Saturn as
Spy the false dawn The zodiacal light’s predawn glow

a yellow sapphire with the No major meteor showers occur

misty glows of the Trifid in September, and the minor ones
Nebula (M20) 1.7° to the west produce no more than five meteors
and the Lagoon Nebula (M8) per hour. But the tiny dust particles
2.2° to the southwest. that give rise to meteors when they
A First Quarter Moon get incinerated in our atmosphere
interrupts the deep-sky show up in a different way this
viewing when it passes by month. Dusty debris from asteroid
September 16 and 17. Saturn’s collisions and ancient comets fills
easterly motion against the the inner solar system. The particles
starry background during concentrate along the orbital plane
September’s second half car- of the planets, called the ecliptic.
And when the ecliptic angles steeply
ries it to a spot 2.2° east of
to the eastern horizon before dawn,
M20 by month’s end.
as it does in September, the dust
While binocular views of
appears to the naked eye as a cone-
Saturn are thrilling, they can’t
shaped glow.
match the extraordinary sight To see this zodiacal light, or false
of the ringed planet through a dawn, you must observe from a
telescope. Any scope shows dark site when the Moon is out of
the gas giant’s 17"-diameter the morning sky (September 8–23
disk surrounded by stunning this year). It appears most conspicu-
rings that span 38" and tip 27° ously within a half-hour of twilight’s Mid-September provides a good opportunity to see the cone-shaped
to our line of sight, their max- first glow. zodiacal light (at left, beside the Milky Way) before dawn. JEFF DAI
imum tilt of the year. Under
good seeing conditions, you
can spot the A ring poking OBSERVING Neptune reaches its 2018 peak September 7, when the planet
— Continued on page 42 HIGHLIGHT glows at magnitude 7.8 and spans 2.4" through a telescope.

CA M81
How to use this map: This map portrays the
PA M82
sky as seen near 35° north latitude. Located
inside the border are the cardinal directions

and their intermediate points. To find

stars, hold the map overhead and
orient it so one of the labels matches PE
the direction you’re facing. The EU 84 NG N C P Polaris
stars above the map’s horizon S
now match what’s in the sky.


The all-sky map shows IA EU


how the sky looks at:


10 P.M. September 1 GU CO


9 P.M. September 15


8 P.M. September 30

Planets are shown

at midmonth





a g











ic )







Sirius A
0.0 S M11
UM M16
4.0 7
2.0 5.0 M1

M22 S at



A star’s color depends ST IS NU Mars M8



on its surface temperature. N



• SE

The hottest stars shine blue




Slightly cooler stars appear white S A G I T TA R I U S

• Intermediate stars (like the Sun) glow yellow
• Lower-temperature stars appear orange COR

• The coolest stars glow red GR

• Fainter stars can’t excite our eyes’ color
receptors, so they appear white unless you INDU TEL
use optical aid to gather more light S

38 A ST R O N O M Y • S E P T E M B E R 2018 S
Note: Moon phases in the calendar vary
in size due to the distance from Earth
SEPTEMBER 2018 and are shown at 0h Universal Time.


UR Open cluster
Globular cluster

Diffuse nebula
2 3 4 5 6 7 8
Planetary nebula


r 9 10 11 12 13 14 15


M 51



16 17 18 19 20 21 22


23 24 25 26 27 28 29



Calendar of events


2 Venus passes 1.4° south of 17 The Moon passes 2° north of


Spica, 5 A.M. EDT Saturn, noon EDT


The Moon passes 1.2° north of 18 Asteroid Urania is at


Aldebaran, 10 P.M. EDT opposition, 10 P.M. EDT


Last Quarter Moon 19 The Moon is at apogee (251,578


occurs at 10:37 P.M. EDT miles from Earth), 8:53 P.M. EDT

5 Mercury passes 1.0° north of 20 The Moon passes 5° north of

Regulus, 7 P.M. EDT Mars, 3 A.M. EDT

6 Saturn is stationary, 6 A.M. EDT Mercury is in superior


conjunction, 10 P.M. EDT


7 Neptune is at opposition,



21 Venus gleams at mag-

The Moon is at perigee

nitude –4.8 today, the

i te r

(224,533 miles from Earth),


brightest it gets during


9:20 P.M. EDT this evening apparition.


9 New Moon occurs at

22 Autumnal equinox occurs at
NS 2:01 P.M. EDT
R PE A 9:54 P.M. EDT
S E AU 12 The Moon passes 10° north of
r nC Venus, noon EDT 23 The Moon passes 2° south of
20 Neptune, noon EDT
s 13 The Moon passes 4° north of
re Full Moon occurs at
nta M
4 Jupiter, 10 P.M. EDT 24
A 10:52 P.M. EDT
M6 16 Mars is at perihelion (128.4
SW million miles from the Sun), 27 The Moon passes 5° south of
7 S Uranus, 3 A.M. EDT
U S 30 Pluto is stationary, noon EDT
PI First Quarter Moon
NG 31 occurs at 7:15 P.M. EDT


PLANETS The planets in September 2018
UM a
Objects visible before dawn
C Vn LMi




Path o PEG
f the
Path Sun (
LEO of th eclip Asteroid Urania reaches
e Mo tic)
ORI TAU on opposition September 18 E QU
o Uranus PSC
Hebe J u n
SEX Celestial equator

LEP Neptune reaches its peak
CM a
in early September


Moon phases Dawn Midnight

11 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

30 29 28 27 26 25 24 23 22

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


Ceres Neptune
10" Venus Jupiter

Date Sept. 1 Sept. 15 Sept. 15 Sept. 15 Sept. 15 Sept. 15 Sept. 15 Sept. 15 Sept. 15
Magnitude –0.8 –4.7 –1.7 8.6 –1.9 0.4 5.7 7.8 14.2
Angular size 6.4" 35.7" 18.4" 0.4" 33.7" 16.9" 3.7" 2.4" 0.1"
Illumination 65% 31% 91% 100% 99% 100% 100% 100% 100%
Distance (AU) from Earth 1.056 0.467 0.509 3.555 5.858 9.832 19.092 28.943 33.178
Distance (AU) from Sun 0.308 0.728 1.381 2.590 5.380 10.064 19.874 29.940 33.642
Right ascension (2000.0) 9h35.8m 13h57.9m 20h15.7m 12h25.2m 15h07.2m 18h10.2m 1h59.0m 23h04.9m 19h20.4m
Declination (2000.0) 15°04' –17°21' –24°45' 5°16' –16°42' –22°44' 11°33' –6°59' –22°05'

40 A ST R O N O M Y • S E P T E M B E R 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
H ER CVn UM a Dots display positions
of Galilean satellites at
11 P.M. EDT on the date Europa
shown. South is at the
VUL C rB top to match
DEL the view
LEO Ganymede
through a W E

SER telescope. N Callisto

LI B 2
Ve 3
Saturn Jupiter
rs 4 Europa
Vesta Venus shines at its brightest
in September’s evening sky 5
LU P 6
Early evening

To locate the Moon in the sky, draw a line from the phase shown for the day straight up to the curved blue line. 9

Note: Moons vary in size due to the distance from Earth and are shown at 0h Universal Time. 10

11 Callisto Ganymede
21 20 19 18 17 16 15 14 13 12 11 10 9



Autumnal equinox 16 Jupiter
Mercury is September 22
Superior conjunction
is September 20
Perihelion is 19 Io
Ceres September 16

Venus 21


Jupiter 23



The planets Uranus 26


in their orbits Jupiter

Opposition is

Arrows show the inner planets’ September 7
monthly motions and dots depict Saturn 29
the outer planets’ positions at mid-
month from high above their orbits. 30

— Continued from page 37
Glimpse Saturn’s faint inner satellites
Dione Rhea
Venus (southwest) Mars (southwest) Mercury (east)
W Mimas
Mars (south) Saturn (southwest) Uranus (southwest)
Jupiter (southwest) Uranus (east) Neptune (west)
Saturn (south) Neptune (south)
Neptune (east)
September 20, 11:00 P.M. EDT 15"
Observers have a great chance to track down Mimas and Enceladus
above the planet’s north pole harder to spot, but it doesn’t when they lie farthest east of the ringed world.
behind Saturn. Also look for get any easier as Iapetus
the planet’s shadow falling on heads back toward the planet The fourth naked-eye 16" during the month, and it
the eastern side of the rings. because it fades as it goes. The evening planet lies in the fades about 0.2 magnitude per
The smallest instruments outer moon glows at 11th south-southeast after sunset. week. The best times to view
also reveal Saturn’s largest magnitude when it passes 1.7' Mars shines at magnitude –2.1 it through a telescope come
moon, 8th-magnitude Titan. north of Saturn on the 18th, September 1, making it the when it lies due south and
A 4-inch scope brings in four and continues to dim as it second brightest of our plan- at peak altitude. In early
10th-magnitude satellites. moves east of the gas giant. etary quartet, but it stands out September, this occurs
Tethys, Dione, and Rhea, Two inner moons — 12th- just as much for its stunning around 10:30 p.m. local day-
which orbit Saturn at less than magnitude Enceladus and orange color. The Red Planet light time. Late in the month,
half Titan’s distance, are the 13th-magnitude Mimas — then sits on the border between it appears highest at 9 p.m.
easiest targets. And with peri- show up through 8-inch Sagittarius and Capricornus. During moments of good
ods ranging from 1.9 to 4.5 scopes when they lie farthest Binoculars reveal globular star seeing, Mars resolves into a
days, these three provide a from Saturn. Try to find them cluster M75 just 4° to its north. patchwork of dark and bright
constantly changing show. September 20, when they reach As September progresses, markings. From North
Iapetus also glows at 10th greatest eastern elongation Mars treks northeastward America, evening views in
magnitude at the start of within an hour of each other. against the Sea Goat’s back- early September show the
September, when it lies 8.4' The two stand just beyond the ground stars. It also retreats dark region Mare Sirenum
west of Saturn. This large rings’ edge halfway between from Earth and, as a result, its on the central meridian, the
distance makes it somewhat Dione and Tethys. diameter shrinks from 21" to line joining the planet’s north

A periodic comet’s triumphant return Comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner

Since its discovery in 1900, Start at low power to capture N Sept 1

Comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner has the entire coma and most of its Capella
returned to the inner solar sys- bluish gas tail, which should ` AURIGA
tem every 6.6 years. Some visits extend 1° or more to the west. 5
Path of Comet 21P
are better than others, however. Push your scope around a bit to
The comet makes its closest activate the motion-sensitive
approach to both the Sun and rods of your eye’s peripheral e 9 M38
Earth during September’s sec- vision. Then try medium magni- M37 M36
ond week, which should push fication to see more detail. The
this performance to its second coma’s eastern side, where the
best ever. solar wind pushes ionized gas `
Astronomers expect 21P to away, should appear sharpest.
peak at 6th or 7th magnitude. Giacobini-Zinner lies within
But the comet’s proximity to 2° of magnitude 0.1 Capella on 17 TAURUS
Earth means that it will be a September 2 and 3. Imagers will c
diffuse, low-surface-brightness want to target it a week later Aldebaran
object, so you’ll want to view it at New Moon, when it passes 21
from a dark-sky site. Although its through a photogenic region

host constellation, Auriga, rises in of the winter Milky Way that
the evening, wait until it climbs includes the star clusters M36 This visitor could hit 6th magnitude as it makes its closest approach to
high in the sky before dawn. and M38. the Sun and Earth while passing through the winter Milky Way in Auriga.

42 A ST R O N O M Y • S E P T E M B E R 2018
Venus blazes in evening twilight
Arcturus Sailing past the Lagoon Nebula
Antares B O ÖTES September’s typically great galaxy’s disk obscures much of
weather likely will give you a our view. Until mid-September,
SC OR PIUS string of clear nights to fol- 7th-magnitude Vesta is the
Jupiter low asteroid 4 Vesta passing brightest object in the field.
LIBR A near the Milky Way’s center in Once the asteroid passes
Sagittarius. From the suburbs, south of the Lagoon around
start at the yellow beacon the 21st, you might confuse
VIRGO Saturn and make the short several stars for the space rock.
Venus hop to this main belt asteroid. Make a sketch of the field that
Spica Under a dark sky, begin at the includes the four or five bright-
sprawling Lagoon Nebula (M8) est dots, then return a night or
10° and shift to the position indi- two later to confirm which
cated on the chart below. “star” moved. You can also take
September 21, 30 minutes after sunset
No matter your observing advantage of Vesta’s proximity
Looking west-southwest
site, the first thing you’ll notice to track down globular star
in early September is the scar- clusters NGC 6544 and NGC
This dazzling planet peaks in brightness (magnitude –4.8) in September’s city of background stars, which 6553. Through a 6-inch scope,
second half, when it pairs nicely with its solar system sibling Jupiter.
allows Vesta to stand out a bit they’ll look like slightly fuzzy,
more. Interstellar dust in our 8th-magnitude stars.
and south poles that passes binoculars or a telescope to see
through the center of the disk. it. It lies 2.2° west-southwest of
By the end of the first week,
Vesta’s Milky Way vista
4th-magnitude Phi (ϕ) Aquarii
the dark feature Solis Lacus on September 1 and 2.9° away N
takes center stage. At the same from this star on the 30th. A
time, Olympus Mons appears telescope at medium magnifi-
on the planet’s morning termi- cation reveals the planet’s
nator. This is the time to watch 2.4"-diameter disk and blue- Saturn
for bright clouds that often gray color.
appear around this huge vol- Uranus rises around M8
cano. In September’s second 9:30 p.m. local daylight time Path of Vesta
NGC 6544
week, the dark sands of Mare as September begins, and some Sept 1
Erythraeum take center stage. two hours earlier by month’s 6
16 11
Syrtis Major, the darkest close. It stands well clear of 26 21
Oct 1
feature on Mars, lies near the the eastern horizon just a NGC 6553
martian central meridian from couple of hours later. The ice
around September 20–25. The giant world resides in south-
bright Hellas Basin, the plan- western Aries, 12° south of 1°
et’s lowest-lying region, sits the Ram’s brightest star, 2nd-
just south of Syrtis Major. And magnitude Alpha (α) Arietis. The sky’s brightest asteroid slides south of the Lagoon Nebula (M8)
by month’s end, the dark, At magnitude 5.7, Uranus and between two 8th-magnitude globular clusters after midmonth.
fingerlike extension of Mare appears bright enough to see
Cimmerium appears at the with the naked eye from a
center of the disk. dark site, though binoculars innermost planet rises nearly for it through binoculars
Once you’ve viewed the make the task easier. Only a 90 minutes before the Sun on September 5 and 6, when
bright evening planets, turn few background stars in the September 1 and stands 10° it passes within 1.5° of 1st-
your attention to their fainter area glow as brightly as the high a half-hour before sunup. magnitude Regulus. The pair
siblings. Neptune reaches the planet. To confirm a sighting, It shines at magnitude –0.8 lies about 7° high 30 minutes
peak of its yearly appearance point your telescope at the and should be easy to spot before sunrise.
when it comes to opposition suspected planet. Only against the twilight glow. A
September 7. It then lies oppo- Uranus shows a disk, which telescope reveals the planet’s Martin Ratcliffe provides plane-
site the Sun in our sky, rising spans 3.7", with a distinctive 6"-diameter disk, which tarium development for Sky-Skan,
at sunset and climbing halfway blue-green color. appears two-thirds lit. Inc., from his home in Wichita,
to the zenith in the southern As dawn approaches in Mercury drops lower with Kansas. Meteorologist Alister
sky around 1 a.m. local day- early September, Mercury each passing day but grows Ling works for Environment
light time. appears low in the east. The brighter as it descends. Look Canada in Edmonton, Alberta.
Neptune glows at magni-
tude 7.8, so you’ll need GET DAILY UPDATES ON YOUR NIGHT SKY AT

F or most of human history, observers
envisioned the night sky as a sphere
studded with fixed stars. It is easy
to understand why. Our lives are
too short and our unaided senses
too limited to detect any stellar motion.
In 1718, Edmond Halley discerned the
“particular motion” of three stars across the
sky based on careful comparison of ancient
and contemporary star maps. But stars offer
none of the usual cues we might use to tell if
they also moved along our line of sight.
That changed in 1868 when English astronomer William
Huggins applied the spectroscope and Doppler’s principle to
the problem. The impact on the theory and practice of
astronomy was revolutionary. Within a generation, the ques-
tions astronomers could ask about the bodies they observed
and the methods deemed appropriate to examine them
changed in ways their predecessors could not have imagined.
Huggins’ name might be unfamiliar to modern ears, but
the self-taught amateur astronomer was celebrated in his own
In 1868, an English astronomer lifetime as the father of astrophysics. Born in 1824, he sold his
family’s London silk shop at the age of 30 to devote himself
pioneered a way to measure full time to his growing interest in astronomy. In 1856, he
built a substantial observatory attached to his home and
the motion of stars and other recorded his first observations in a bound notebook. In the
early 1860s, he drew widespread acclaim for his pioneering
objects. by Barbara J. Becker work in celestial spectroscopy, the technique of splitting

How William Huggins

44 A ST R O N O M Y • SEPTEMBER 2018
Sir William Huggins’ contemporaries, left to
right: William Allen Miller, Christian Doppler,
and James Clerk Maxwell. LOVELL REEVE; UNKNOWN (PUBLIC

starlight into its constituent wavelengths. (For the details already been introduced nearly a decade earlier by
of this process, see “How does spectroscopy work?” on Austrian mathematics professor Christian Doppler.
p. 47.) Huggins was among the first to compare stellar Few people had heard of Doppler’s name or his work.
spectra directly with those of terrestrial elements, the first His lack of notoriety was hardly surprising: When he pre-
to observe emission lines in the spectra of nebulae, and sented his theory before the Royal Bohemian Society of
the first to observe a nova’s spectrum. Sciences in May 1842, only a handful of members were
At that time, members of the professional astronomical present. Doppler considered his theory as an extension to
community saw the spectroscope’s celestial discoveries stellar aberration, the small annual shift in a star’s appar-
only as interesting distractions from the real task at hand, ent position on the sky. While aberration is a natural con-
namely mapping the sky with precision to aid in terres- sequence of both the finite speed of light and Earth’s
trial navigation and testing Newton’s laws. All this orbital motion around the Sun in a plane perpendicular
changed after Huggins introduced spectral analysis as a to a star’s incoming light, Doppler believed he had discov-
tool to detect and measure the motion of celestial bodies ered something analogous resulting from motion parallel
in three-dimensional space. to its incoming light.

SOLVING STAR COLORS Rest frame Moving frame

To understand how Huggins was drawn to this line of
investigation, we need to start with the enigma of star
color. This characteristic had long intrigued observers.
Stars’ perceived
Did a star’s color have a real physical or chemical cause,
was it more a matter of unavoidable instrumental dis- motions
tortion, or was it due to illusory individual perception? Stellar aberration causes a star
With no obvious means to resolve the issue with any to appear as though it is moving
certainty, it seemed that it might always remain a matter due to Earth’s motion as it orbits
the Sun. This phenomenon
of creative speculation. makes the star appear displaced
In 1844, English astronomer William Henry Smyth in the direction of the observer’s
urged astronomers to methodically observe double star motion by a small amount
related to the speed of light
systems like Albireo (Beta [β] Cygni), which exhibit dif- and the speed of the observer’s Perceived
ferent, sometimes complementary colors. Jesuit astrono- motion. ASTRONOMY: ROEN KELLY change
mer Benedict Sestini took up Smyth’s challenge, and in in angle
1850 he published a paper suggesting “variations in color
may be owing to variations in stellar velocity.” Smyth
expressed cautious interest in what he called “Sestini’s
theory,” unaware that an explanation for star color had

46 A ST R O N O M Y • SEPTEMBER 2018


Astronomers generate spectra by passing starlight

through a prism or reflecting it off a diffraction grating.
The resulting spread of light contains information about Resulting
the source’s composition and motion. ASTRONOMY: ROEN KELLY spectrum

A spectroscope (for visual study) element and molecule produces

or spectrograph (for photogra- a unique set of lines that can be
phy) separates incoming light, used to identify its presence in a
such as starlight, into its constit- given spectrum.
uent wavelengths using either a If the source is moving, its
prism or a diffraction grating, spectral lines — as a set — will
both of which spread light out shift either toward the red
The two brightest stars in the Albireo system, easily resolvable by wavelength. The result is (motion away from the observer)
through a small telescope, appear complementary in color. One
shines yellow-orange, while its partner appears blue. Astronomers called a spectrum. or blue (motion toward the
once wondered whether these colors resulted from compositional Atoms absorb or emit light of observer) end of the spectrum
differences, stellar motion, or even observer bias. HENRYK KOWALEWSKI specific wavelengths that corre- due to the Doppler effect. All
spond to the differences the lines shift by the same
between the energy levels where amount, so the spacing between
Doppler was not an experimentalist. He based his the- electrons reside. Absorption lines relative to each other does
ory on the mathematics of wave behavior, which describes occurs when a photon, a particle not change.
how an observer’s perception of frequency will change if of light, strikes an electron and During spectroscopy,
provides the energy to boost it researchers first create a refer-
the wave source and the observer move toward or away
to a higher energy level. ence spectrum produced by a
from one another. Doppler pointed out that any detect- Emission occurs when the elec- known source, such as a single
able difference between a wave’s intrinsic frequency and tron falls back down to a lower element like hydrogen, to cali-
the frequency perceived by an observer will make it pos- energy state, releasing a photon brate the instrument. It also pro-
sible to calculate the source’s relative speed of approach or of the same energy. Absorption vides a reference point for any
recession. He applied this principle first to sound and lines appear dark while emission shifting of spectral lines due to
then to light waves, claiming it could account for many lines appear bright. Each motion. — Alison Klesman
previously unexplained astronomical phenomena, such as
the colors observed in binary stars, as well as changes
reported in the color and brightness of periodic variable
stars and novae. moved fast enough for an observer to perceive a measur-
In June 1845, Dutch meteorologist Christoph Hendrik able difference in its appearance. Even if such a speedy
Diedrik Buijs-Ballot devised a grand experiment to test star were found, he pointed out that Doppler was wrong
Doppler’s ideas. During several trials, groups of musicians to expect its motion to produce any hint of color. Buijs-
and musically trained observers switched roles as passen- Ballot assumed that any wavelengths that shifted out of
gers on and bystanders alongside a noisy moving railway the visible range at one end of the spectrum would simply
train. While the musicians struggled to sustain a steady be replaced by previously invisible rays shifted into it at
monotone, the observers reported what they heard. the other end.
Despite the tremendous challenge of executing these tri- Buijs-Ballot was not the only one studying the effect of
als, Buijs-Ballot believed the reported changes in pitch motion on sound. In an 1848 lecture, French physicist
matched Doppler’s predictions. Armand Hippolyte Louis Fizeau announced his own con-
However, Buijs-Ballot was less sure about extending clusions on how the motion of a sound’s source affects
the theory to stars. The speed of light is nearly a million what an observer hears. Fizeau was unaware of Doppler’s
times faster than that of sound. He doubted any star and Buijs-Ballot’s work, giving him a fresh perspective on

how his acoustic experiments might
apply to light. He felt sure that stars
could and did move fast enough to
The Fraunhofer lines b D
K H h g Gfe d h F c h 4-1 E 3-1 a C B A
change the perceived frequency of their
emitted light. And although Fizeau
doubted such a change would affect a
star’s overall color, he suggested it
could be detected spectroscopically,
thanks to the dark lines Joseph von 400 450 500 550 600 650 700 750
Wavelength (nm)
Fraunhofer had mapped in solar and
stellar spectra. He proposed using In 1802, William Hyde Wollaston observed dark lines in the Sun’s spectrum. Joseph
these lines as benchmarks, like the von Fraunhofer, for whom the lines are named, plotted more than 500 of these lines
beginning in 1814. The brightest are denoted by the letters A through G; these dark lines
monotones he had relied on to hear a represent absorption of light by elements in the Sun’s atmosphere. Similar absorption
shift in pitch during his acoustic exper- lines appear in the spectra of other stars. SAPERAUD (WIKIPEDIA)/CEPHEIDEN (WIKIPEDIA)
iments. Fizeau was optimistic that
astronomers could and would develop instruments that
could precisely measure such displacements. those experiments immediately preceded his review of
Doppler’s work.
MORE QUESTIONS THAN ANSWERS So, it is hard to imagine that Maxwell was unaware of
In 1850, a detailed summary of Fizeau’s 1848 lecture was either Doppler’s ideas or Fizeau’s 1848 lecture by the time
included in a review of Doppler’s theory in Répertoire he attended a Royal Society meeting on May 26, 1864. At
d’Optique Moderne, published by French physicist Abbé this meeting, Huggins and chemist William Allen Miller
Moigno. Physicist James Clerk Maxwell often consulted read their first joint paper, “On the Spectra of Some of the
the Répertoire; in 1857, he turned to this valued resource Fixed Stars,” confirming that star spectra are interrupted
to read up on Fizeau’s efforts to measure the speed of light by an assortment of dark lines.
in different media. As it Their results must have resonated with Maxwell’s
happens, the pages on thoughts that evening. Inspired by Fizeau’s experiments,
which Moigno described he had recently tried to detect Earth’s motion through the
luminiferous ether, an omnipresent medium once pro-
posed to explain light’s propagation through empty space.
So with dark lines and Fizeau very much on his mind,
Maxwell would have listened with keen interest as
Huggins and Miller introduced their groundbreaking
work on stellar spectroscopy.
In his account of the meeting for The Reader, Norman
Lockyer, the magazine’s science editor, reported that the
two collaborators presented “pretty certain proof of the
idea which has long been floating in many minds as to the
cause of the colours of the stars,” namely, that they
depend “upon the differences of . . . their chemical consti-
tution.” For Lockyer, this meant “that the colours of the
stars must be better watched than they have been,” and
that “some other theory than Doppler’s must be found to
account for their variability.”
Maxwell echoed Lockyer’s doubts concerning
Doppler’s theory. Using words that sounded like they had
come directly from Fizeau’s 1848 lecture, Maxwell is
quoted in Lockyer’s article stating that “if the colours were
really tinged in consequence of the motion either of the
Pages from
The Intellectual star or our earth, the lines in the spectrum of the star
Observer journal would not be coincident with the bands of the metal
(left) and Répertoire d’Optique observed on the earth, which gives rise to them.”
Moderne by Abbé Moigno review information
about spectroscopes and Doppler’s theory. Lockyer ultimately declared that “Messrs. Huggins
HARVARD UNIVERSITY, MUSEUM OF COMPARATIVE ZOOLOGY, ERNST MAYR LIBRARY; GOOGLE and Miller, doubtless will not let the matter rest.” And he

48 A ST R O N O M Y • SEPTEMBER 2018
Following Huggins’ work showing
spectroscopy could be used to
chart stellar motion along the
was right, sort of. Nearly four years later, in April 1868, by a color illustration that could line of sight, major observatories
Huggins submitted a paper to the Royal Society, not to deteriorate over time. The began incorporating spectroscopes
introduce a new theory of star color, but to describe a Metrochrome used an incandes- into their instruments. The
Star-Spectroscope at Lick
method to detect and measure the relative motion of cent platinum wire as an artifi- Observatory, shown mounted
Earth and stars along the line of sight, based on cial star and an array of colored on the observatory’s 36-inch
Doppler’s principle. filters made of strictly prescribed (91 centimeters) refracting
telescope, was designed by James
chemical solutions as a means Keeler and built by John Brashear.
TESTING THE THEORY “by which the tints of fixed stars It used prisms and a diffraction
Testing Doppler’s controversial ideas on star color and may be exactly recorded rela- grating, allowing astronomers to
choose the type of spectrum they
stellar motion may have been a back-burner project for tively to standards easily repro- wanted to produce. JULIUS SCHEINER
Huggins that came to the fore only after he acquired ducible by any observer, with any
instruments he believed were up to the demands of such a kind of telescope, any number of
challenging effort. But that does not explain why he chose years hence.”
to launch the project when he did. Kincaid’s talk would have thrilled Huggins. For one
A possible trigger may have been a presentation on thing, the two had collaborated before. And Huggins was
star color at the May 1867 meeting of the Royal fascinated by gizmos. The idea behind the Metrochrome,
Astronomical Society by Sidney Bolton Kincaid, a its ingenious design, and its ease of use would have
staunch adherent to Smyth’s plan to observe and record sparked his creative energies. It also would have refocused
star colors. Kincaid described a new apparatus he called his attention on the old star-color question.
the Metrochrome. He had developed the device to replace Did Kincaid reignite Huggins’ interest in star color
previous methods of describing a star’s color in words or and Doppler’s work? Or was it just a coincidence that

The Doppler effect Star moves
Redshifted away from

Star moves


The change in the observed wavelengths from a moving source is called the Doppler effect. First observed as a change in the pitch of sound
waves, this effect also applies to light emitted by stars. Motion toward the observer causes light to shift toward the blue end of the spectrum,
while motion away from the observer causes a shift toward the red. All lines in a star’s spectrum shift by an equal amount, and the offset
can be measured from a stationary reference spectrum. ASTRONOMY: ROEN KELLY

Huggins chose this particular time to seek Maxwell’s efforts entirely by eye. His notebook records help us
advice on measuring the motion of stars in the line of understand how he handled the overwhelming challenges
sight? Whatever prompted Huggins to reconnect with he faced at each step, and they bring into relief his skill in
Maxwell, it was a good move as he prepared to pursue persuading his colleagues that he had, in fact, succeeded.
that line of investigation. We can infer from Maxwell’s Armed with a new and more highly dispersive spec-
reply that both he and Huggins had given Doppler’s ideas troscope, Huggins tried again February 11, 1868, this
some serious thought since May 1864, and had come to time taking aim at Sirius (Alpha [α] Canis Majoris). He
view those ideas as key to success in this endeavor. compared the star’s blue Fraunhofer F line, which
Huggins’ original query to Maxwell is lost. An excerpt
from the reply he received on June 12, 1867, survives only
because Huggins shrewdly included it in his 1868 paper.
Maxwell’s letter fleshed out the theory and method
underpinning Huggins’ novel investigation and placed
authoritative weight behind his conclusions.
Although Maxwell still drew on Fizeau’s 1848 lecture,
he now acknowledged that if an individual spectral line of
a known terrestrial element could be compared simultane-
ously with its stellar counterpart, even small differences in
its position could be detected with the right instrument.
Then, Doppler’s formula could be used to calculate the rel-
ative motion of the star and Earth along the line of sight.
Huggins had just purchased a new micrometer that he
felt met the task’s demands for precision. On June 25,
1867, with the Moon at Last Quarter, he eagerly took aim
at Arcturus (Alpha [α] Boötis), then perched high over-
head in the evening sky. Unfortunately, poor conditions
deprived him of “the steady distinction necessary” to
detect “any motion towards or away from the earth,” he
recorded in his observing notes.
Today, measuring stellar radial velocity — mapping
tiny shifts in spectral lines to determine the motion of a This engraving depicts Huggins’ observatory around the time
star relative to an observer — is a straightforward and he was working on his line-of-sight measurements. The print was
created years later, likely based on Huggins’ description of his
routine procedure thanks to photography and precision observatory and its setup from memory. ENGRAVING BY JOSEPH SWAIN, PUBLISHED IN

50 A ST R O N O M Y • SEPTEMBER 2018
appears due to the presence of hydrogen, with that of a
hydrogen spark. He recorded: “Appeared to me very
slightly more refrangible than line of [hydrogen].” In
other words, Sirius’ line appeared shifted toward the blue
end of the spectrum.
But on February 24, he found the star’s F line to be
shifted toward the red!
He designed a better way to compare the star and
spark spectra simultaneously, but on March 6, he com-
plained he was unsure of the comparison spectrum’s
alignment: “Made the observation at least 20 times but
without absolute certainty.”
On March 10, he cheerfully recorded that he was
“almost certain after a great number of trials” that Sirius’
F line was shifted toward the red — only to have his con-
fidence shaken two nights later when the star’s lines once
again appeared to be shifted toward the blue, the opposite
Sirius is a hot blue star 8.6 light-years from Earth. It is the brightest star
of his earlier “very satisfactory” observations. in the sky, making it a tempting target for Huggins to observe using his
On March 30, he was relieved to see Sirius’ spectrum spectroscope in 1868. AKIRA FUJII/ESA
again shifted toward the red. “Taken in connection with
the satisfactory result of [February] 24, it may be consid-
ered as certainly confirmatory of the observations on that
night. I made numerous comparisons during an hour,
A Sirius subject
almost always the same result.”
By April 4, with Sirius too low in the sky, Huggins
compiled his observations and submitted his paper to the
Royal Society on April 23. It was titled “Further
Observations on the Spectra of Some of the Stars and
Nebulae, with an Attempt to Determine Therefrom
Whether These Bodies are Moving towards or from the
Earth.” Its tone is one of confidence and spirited adven-
ture. He advertised the soundness of his measures and the
theoretical foundation for his interpretation of them. He
expressed satisfaction that he had resolved his instrumen- Huggins made meticulous observations by eye of the Fraunhofer
tal problems through clever manipulation of instruments F line in Sirius’ spectrum, comparing it with a hydrogen spark
and enviable patience. that he used as a reference. He published this diagram in 1868.
Huggins does not say how many observations he actu-
ally made, or of those, how many were discarded or why.
In his view, throwing out those he deemed unworthy was
simply judicious weeding conducted to ensure the reliabil-
ity of his measurements.
The paper was sent to Astronomer Royal, George Airy,
for review. He praised Huggins’s detailed account of his The compound high-dispersion spectroscope used
by Huggins to observe Sirius incorporated two
instruments and challenges. However, Airy questioned direct-vision spectroscopes (labeled d and e) and
the legitimacy of assuming that the line “at or near F three prisms (f, g, h). PHILOSOPHICAL TRANSACTIONS OF
observed in Sirius” was, in fact, due to hydrogen. Airy THE ROYAL SOCIETY OF LONDON, VOL. 158, 1868, P. 536

thought it “illogical” to insist that the line was due to

hydrogen because it coincided with the terrestrial hydro-
gen line, while at the same time arguing that the star was
in motion because of its lack of coincidence. Despite these
concerns, he pronounced the paper a “very important
one,” and recommended that it be published in the Royal
Society’s journal of record, Philosophical Transactions of
the Royal Society.

Huggins had several talented contemporaries, including
astronomers, engineers, physicists, mathematicians, and
more. Here’s a quick roundup of some of the major
players in Huggins’ pursuit of stellar spectroscopy and
the answers it held. — A.K.

Sidney Bolton Kincaid

Designed the Metrochrome
apparatus, which allowed
astronomers to reproduce
the colors of stars and
derive their composition.

Norman Lockyer
Pages from Huggins’ personal (1836–1920)
observing notebooks record British astronomer jointly
his measurements of Sirius’ credited with discovering
Fraunhofer F line on two
different nights in 1868,
helium; he founded and
as well as the great care he took edited the journal Nature
to reproduce his results over the after working as science
course of a single night and on editor of The Reader.
different nights of observation.
SPECIAL COLLECTIONS George Airy (1801–1892) James Clerk Maxwell
British astronomer and (1831–1879)
mathematician who served Prolific Scottish physicist
as the seventh Astronomer and mathematician known
SPECTROSCOPY FINDS ITS PLACE Royal and defined the for Maxwell’s equations of
The physical theory behind Huggins’ line-of-sight prime meridian at the Royal electromagnetism, the
measures was a challenge to the best of contemporary Observatory Greenwich, Maxwell-Boltzmann
astronomers. A few years later, Airy wrote to physicist which he also directed. probability distribution,
George Stokes: “In some of the German pamphlets now and many other concepts.
afloat, on optical subjects, there is repeated allusion to Christoph Hendrik
das Doppelsche Princip, or some such term, conveying the Diedrik Buijs-Ballot William Allen Miller
idea that a man named Doppel has introduced some opti- (1817–1890) (1817–1870)
cal principle. It has something to do with change in the Dutch meteorologist who British chemist and astron-
velocity of light but I see no clear description of it — can tested Doppler’s principle omer who worked with
using musicians and a Huggins to study the effect
you help me?”
moving train. of a star’s composition on
Stokes replied by citing Huggins’ 1868 paper — the its spectrum (in the form of
very paper Airy had himself refereed! Christian Doppler absorption, or dark, lines).
Although Airy was acquainted with stellar spectros- (1803–1853)
copy, such observations did not fit into the mission or Austrian mathematician Abbé Moigno (1804–1884)
rhythms of daily operation of Greenwich Observatory, and physicist, best known Physicist, mathematician,
under his direction. Professional astronomers had little to for his Doppler principle writer, and science popu-
no interest in the chemical composition of stars. Their relating wavelength larizer who published
job was to observe, map, and track their positions. As (frequency) to motion. Répertoire d’Optique
they recognized the spectroscope’s power to reveal stellar Moderne in 1850.
motion in three-dimensional space, they became per- Armand Hippolyte Louis
Fizeau (1819–1896) William Henry Smyth
suaded it could contribute in useful ways to their all-
French physicist known for (1788–1865)
important sky-mapping enterprise. By 1876, even Airy his calculation of the speed British naval officer and
had granted the spectroscope a permanent, though lim- of light (to within 5 percent astronomer who asked
ited, place in the Greenwich routine. accuracy); he discovered astronomers to observe
But visual observations could never satisfy astrono- independently that the double star systems to
mers’ need for precision. Instrumental instability and the Doppler effect applied to determine the origin of
faintness of a target star’s spectrum made it difficult for electromagnetic waves. differing star colors.

52 A ST R O N O M Y • SEPTEMBER 2018
The Orion Nebula (M42), imaged here
using narrowband (Hydrogen-alpha,
Oxygen-III, Sulfur-II) and RGB filters,
the human eye to detect the small displacements clientele, making every effort was also a target of Huggins. Using a
required for satisfactory measurements. After German to instill in each a desire — spectroscope, he showed that some
nebulae, such as M42, display emission
astronomer Hermann Carl Vogel captured the first pho- even a need — to “buy” and spectra associated with light released
tograph of shifted stellar spectral lines in 1887, major use his newfangled methods. from gas atoms in excited states. Other
observatories around the world became immersed in As we celebrate the sesqui- “nebulae,” such as Andromeda (M31,
which we now know to be a galaxy),
measuring the radial velocity of many different types of centennial of Huggins’ intro- show starlike spectral characteristics.
celestial bodies. They commissioned and purchased duction of Doppler’s principle STEPHAN HAMEL

improved clock drives, state-of-the-art photographic into the astronomer’s toolkit,

equipment, and other precision instruments to aid in we commemorate the pioneering efforts of this gentle-
this work. man scientist who participated with vigor and vision in
Private individuals could not afford such investments, the rise of astrophysics. We celebrate the risky choices he
and in time it became clear that Huggins had introduced made as he moved from the periphery of scientific
a method that was well beyond his fellow amateurs’ London toward its inner circle, choices that expose the
reach. While Huggins cheered the progress of his profes- dynamic and often uncertain process by which its
sional colleagues, he moved on to other projects. boundaries of acceptable research were redefined during
Nevertheless, in daring to apply Doppler’s principle to his lifetime. And we applaud his ability to persuade his
astronomical inquiry, Huggins gave astronomy an ele- colleagues of the theoretical authenticity, practical utility,
gant and reliable research tool of broad utility. More and reproducibility of this method for measuring stellar
importantly, he successfully persuaded his contempo- motion in the line of sight.
raries of the method’s potential. His early career as a silk
merchant made him inclined to handle each and every Barbara J. Becker is a retired historian of science. Her 2011 book,
innovation and discovery as a commodity to be pack- Unravelling Starlight: William and Margaret Huggins and the
aged and sold, like an exotic bolt of cloth. He treated his Rise of the New Astronomy, won the American Astronomical
colleagues like discriminating and sophisticated Society Historical Astronomy Division’s 2015 Osterbrock Book Prize.

The most extensive list
of deep-sky objects has
an unusual history and
offers prime-number gems
for observers. by Alan Goldstein
ny amateur astrono-
mer who has read
about the universe
or has an interest in observ-
ing deep-sky objects has
encountered the letters NGC.
They stand for New General
Catalogue. The complete title
is New General Catalogue of
Nebulae and Clusters of Stars.
That begs two questions:
Who created the NGC? And
why is it important to astron-
omers, professional and ama-
teur alike? The catalog makes
for a great observing list, and
I am going to highlight some
NGC objects that are prime
numbers — thus, the primer.
But first, a little historical

Here come
the Herschels
Let’s go back a couple of
centuries, before the nature
of the universe was known.
Telescopes were small, with
optics and views equivalent to
a typical small telescope used
by new observers today. Enter
William Herschel, observer
extraordinaire from England.
In the 18th century, he and
his sister Caroline scanned
the skies and documented
clusters and nebulae in a sky
that was as unfamiliar to
observers as the American
and African continents were
to explorers at the time. The
NGC 281 true nature of objects like gal-
axies was unknown; they were
This object is nicknamed
the Pacman Nebula because simply amorphous clouds in
of a prominently placed the heavens, no different from
dust cloud that gives it
a “mouth.” BOB FERA the Orion Nebula (M42), the

W W W.A S T R O N O M Y.CO M 55
Dumbbell Nebula (M27), or
an unresolved globular star
The Herschel siblings plot-
ted the positions of 1,000
objects and published the
Catalogue of Nebulae and
Clusters of Stars in 1786. Their
observations and documenta-
tion continued; by 1810, the
Catalogue was up to 2,500
objects from the skies visible
from northern latitudes. Unlike
the catalog of French astrono-
mer Charles Messier, the
Herschels’ efforts were not con-
nected to comet hunting.
The Herschel family did not
stop documenting the heavens
in the early 19th century.
William’s son, John, added
more objects — especially with
his extensive observations
from South Africa. The result
was a list twice as large as his
father’s. When published in
1864, the General Catalogue of
Nebulae and Clusters recorded
5,079 objects.
Observers continued to add
their discoveries to the astro-
nomical world over the next 20
years. John Louis Emil Dreyer,
a Danish-born astronomer,
moved to Ireland and eventu- NGC 1973,
ally became director of the NGC 1975 and
Armagh Observatory, where he
NGC 1977
became the “compiler-in-chief.”
He gathered data from some 50
Part of the Orion Nebula
sources, chief among them the complex, this trio consists
General Catalogue, to publish of a glowing cloud surrounding
the New General Catalogue in bright, blue-white stars.
1888. For a very brief time, UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA
with 7,840 objects, the NGC
listed every known nebula and
cluster visible in the sky from NGC 1097
any latitude.
Dreyer realized that the This barred spiral is bright
enough for small telescopes
NGC was the tip of a very large and sports a companion
celestial iceberg. More objects galaxy, NGC 1097A, tucked
came to his attention in short close by. R. JAY GABANY
order. He published the first
volume of the Index Catalogue
in 1895 and a second volume
in 1908. Together, they indexed
another 5,386 objects in the optics, most are visible from objects as the 20th century newer systems of designations.
known universe. Those are dark-sky locales, given suffi- unfolded. Telescope mirrors Among the better known
recognizable from the prefix cient aperture. with diameters of 100 to 200 include the Shapley-Ames list
IC. For observers, IC objects The advent of astronomical inches, coupled with improving of bright galaxies, Zwicky’s
tend to be more challenging. photography brought out tens film sensitivity, didn’t render Morphological Catalogue of
But with today’s excellent of thousands of additional the NGC obsolete, but required Galaxies and Clusters of

56 A ST R O N O M Y • S E P T E M B E R 2018
NGC 457
Also known as the Owl Cluster,
this birdlike formation of
bright stars sparkles in small

NGC 2903

The bright galaxy in Leo

has sweeping arms and a
condensed nucleus. TONY HALLAS

Galaxies, Vorontsov- two numbers in right ascension Eleven prime range. By far, most are galaxies.
Velyaminov’s Morphological or declination, and the galaxy, NGC objects The fewest of any type — five
Catalogue of Galaxies, nebula, or cluster “disappears.” A primer is a book or instruc- — are planetary nebulae.
Ruprecht’s lists of open clusters, American astronomer Jack tions providing help. A prime I have selected a prime
Perek and Kohoutek’s planetary Sulentic began the effort to is a number divisible only by 1 number of these, 11, for your
nebula list, and Sharpless’ com- review the accuracy of the and itself. The NGC contains observing pleasure. (See
pendium of gaseous nebulae. NGC in 1964. His colleague 7,840 objects, and there are 990 “Eleven NGC objects,” below.) I
The list goes on and on. William Tifft worked on the prime numbers within that picked the following objects
final effort in 1969 using the
Taking on the NGC Palomar Observatory Sky
Many amateur astronomers
start with observing objects in
Survey (POSS). Their first
Revised New General Catalogue
the Messier catalog, but quickly of Nonstellar Astronomical NGC Number Object Type Constellation Magnitude
expand their horizons by tack- Objects was published in 1973.
NGC 281 Emission nebula Cassiopeia —
ling the NGC objects. For most, The RNGC was a major
the NGC catalog provides the improvement over the NGC. NGC 457 Open cluster Cassiopeia 7.5
visual observer with sufficient Some objects rejected by NGC 1097 Spiral galaxy Fornax 10.2
targets to last a lifetime. Sulentic and Tifft have been NGC 1973 Emission nebula Orion —
The NGC is not perfect — located by experienced observ- NGC 2903 Spiral galaxy Leo 9.1
far from it. It is awash with ers like American geodesist NGC 3079 Spiral galaxy Ursa Major 11.5
mistakes. Dreyer did not make Brent Archinal, who identified NGC 4027 Spiral galaxy Corvus 11.7
the effort to visually confirm things that simply didn’t show
NGC 4649 Elliptical galaxy Virgo 9.0
the existence of each object up in the POSS. For example,
from its source; he assumed it star clusters with weak con- NGC 5897 Globular cluster Libra 10.9
to be accurate. As a result, there densations were nearly invis- NGC 6781 Planetary nebula Aquila 11.5
are many missing and mis- ible and blended into the NGC 7027 Planetary nebula Cygnus 10.4
placed objects. Just transpose background.

NGC 4649
and NGC 4647

NGC 4649, more commonly

known as M60, is a bright
elliptical galaxy in the Virgo
Cluster. Its massive halo abuts
the spiral galaxy NGC 4647,
visible in the same telescopic
field of view. ADAM BLOCK/MOUNT

NGC 3079
This bright edge-on galaxy
in Ursa Major offers fine
details in a rich star field.


NGC Number Object Type Constellation Magnitude
NGC 157 Galaxy Sbc Cetus 10.4
NGC 751 Elliptical galaxy Triangulum 12.5
NGC 1579 Emission nebula Perseus —
NGC 2237–9 Emission nebula Monoceros —
NGC 3389 Spiral galaxy Leo 12.5
NGC 4051 Seyfert galaxy Ursa Major 11.0
NGC 5189 Planetary nebula Musca 8.2
in moderate apertures under O NGC 3079 in Ursa Major is
NGC 6553 Globular cluster Sagittarius 8.3 dark conditions. A small ellipti- a nearly edge-on spiral visible
NGC 6709 Open cluster Aquila 6.7 cal galaxy companion, NGC in 6-inch and larger telescopes
NGC 7331 Spiral galaxy Pegasus 9.7 1097A, is reminiscent of the as a thin asymmetric ray with
NGC 7789 Open cluster Cassiopeia 6.7 Andromeda Galaxy’s NGC 205. a bright center. Its claim to
O NGC 1973 belongs to the fame is its proximity (¼°
Orion Nebula complex, along north) to the first gravitation-
with NGC 1975 and NGC 1977. ally lensed quasar, QSO
because they are bright, inter- telescope, under a sky free from Together, the three objects are 0957+561, visible only through
esting, and lie scattered across light pollution, you’ll find it known as the Running Man. large instruments.
the heavens. They include clus- 1.7° east of magnitude 2.2 This bright cloud of ionized O NGC 4027 is No. 22 in
ters, nebulae, and galaxies. Alpha [α] Cassiopeiae. hydrogen and dust is visible Halton Arp’s Atlas of Peculiar
O NGC 281, discovered by O NGC 457, a spectacular with small telescopes. Light Galaxies. Located in Corvus,
American astronomer Edward open cluster in Cassiopeia, was pollution filters bring out this distorted spiral galaxy is
Emerson Barnard five years named the Owl Cluster in 1978 details like brightness varia- visible through small scopes.
before Dreyer published the by Astronomy Editor David J. tions throughout the cloud. One spiral arm is much larger
NGC, is called the Pacman Eicher. This loose assemblage O NGC 2903 is one of the than the other, giving it a “C”
Nebula because a dust cloud of stars includes a body, legs, brightest galaxies in Leo, a spi- shape. Observing structure in
gives it a “mouth” like the open wings and two bright ral with a weak bar and wide galaxies is not easy through
video game icon. With a small “eyes”(Phi1 and Phi2 sweeping arms. Messier missed small scopes, but those star sys-
Cassiopeiae), and is a wonder- it in his catalog while fainter tems undergoing collisions are
Alan Goldstein has been ful sight in small telescopes. objects made the list. The gal- more conspicuous than most.
observing and writing about O NGC 1097 is a barred spiral axy’s fine detail requires larger O NGC 4649, also known as
deep-sky objects since 1976. He galaxy in Fornax. It has a high instruments, but the hub is M60, is a giant elliptical galaxy
has been a frequent contributor surface brightness, which bright enough to spot in subur- on the edge of the Virgo
to Astronomy since 1981. makes the galaxy’s arms visible ban skies. Cluster of galaxies. An easy

58 A ST R O N O M Y • S E P T E M B E R 2018
NGC 5897
This sparse globular cluster
in Libra is challenging in
small telescopes, and it
appears as a uniform haze
sprinkled with faint stars in
large backyard instruments.

NGC 6781
One of the sky’s most unusual
planetary nebulae, NGC 6781
in Aquila shows a ghostly ring
of light that is brighter on one
side than the other, and a faint
bluish central star. ADAM BLOCK/
object for small telescopes, it show a slightly dimmer center MESSIER OBJECTS
appears as a round glow with than the outlying ring.

a brighter core. With a modest O NGC 7027 is a compact WITH NGC PRIME
telescope and better skies, look rectangular planetary nebula in NUMBERS
for NGC 4647, a face-on spiral Cygnus. It is a relatively close
galaxy practically in apparent (3,000 light-years) and young M4 (NGC 6121)
contact. Nine Messier objects (900 years old) object of its M37 (NGC 2099)
are prime-number NGCs. (See type. Roughly 18" by 11" in M41 (NGC 2287)
“Messier objects with NGC extent, it has a high surface M56 (NGC 6779)
prime numbers,” at right.) brightness, giving observers the M59 (NGC 4621)
O NGC 5897 is a globular chance to see color (blue-green)
M60 (NGC 4649)
cluster in Libra with a low sur- from ionized oxygen.
M65 (NGC 3623)
face brightness, making it a
more challenging object than Give the NGC M69 (NGC 6637)
its magnitude (8.5) would sug- a workout M93 (NGC 2447)
gest. It lacks the bright core At 130 years old, the New
common in many globulars General Catalogue is hardly
but is relatively easy to resolve “new.” Yet it isn’t just an opportunity to explore myriad
NGC 7027 into stars. anachronism from a time clusters and galaxies within it.
O NGC 6781 rates as Aquila’s before photography, when the This should be your go-to cata-
The peculiar planetary nebula
in Cygnus appears boxlike
best planetary nebula. Larger universe was fresh to observ- log. Observations add a new
in shape, its gas squeezed than Lyra’s more famous Ring ers. Tonight, whether you are layer to the rich observation
out around a ring of dust Nebula (M57) but more than using binoculars or a behe- history common to each object.
surrounding the central star. two magnitudes fainter, it is moth telescope, the NGC offers Your first views should be as
visible in small telescopes as a you prime opportunities to exciting as they were for the
ghostly disk. Modest scopes explore the heavens. Grab the discoverers.

All HR eyepieces
feature five lens
elements in three groups.
This arrangement
produces 10 millimeters
of eye relief and an
Each eyepiece apparent field of
in Vixen’s HR line has view of 42°.
fully multicoated optics
to achieve 99.5 percent
light transmission.

These high-resolution eyepieces,

specifically designed for planetary
observing, minimize optical
aberrations. by Phil Harrington

Vixen’s HR
PICK UP ALMOST ANY BOOK that talks about telescopes, Optical considerations
eyepieces, and magnification, and the author will probably expound In conventional eyepieces, such extreme
the “60x-per-inch rule” or “2.4x per millimeter.” This means you focal lengths would result in eye relief
distances that would be far too short for
shouldn’t pump up the magnification more than 60x for every inch comfortable viewing. But these are any-
of your telescope’s aperture. So a 4-inch (102mm) telescope should thing but conventional eyepieces. Vixen’s
not be pushed beyond about 240x, and so on. proprietary design provides 10 mm of eye
relief in all three. While that can be a bit
I’ve always thought there were too many Vixen Optics shares this philosophy. tight for those who must wear glasses, it is
variables to come up with a rule for deter- Because of all the high-quality telescopes more than adequate for those who don’t.
mining the maximum usable magnifica- available today, Vixen introduced a series At the same time, the apparent field of
tion. The key factors include the optical of high resolution (HR) eyepieces aimed at view through each is 42°.
quality of the telescope and eyepiece; how ultra-high magnification. In most of these Perhaps best of all, Vixen does all
well collimated (aligned) it is; the observer’s telescopes, each of the eyepieces violates this with a minimalist design. As experi-
vision; and the seeing (atmospheric steadi- the conventional wisdom of 60x per inch enced planet-watchers will attest, less is
ness). So, given excellent optics, you may be by a wide margin. more when it comes to viewing. Many of
able to exceed 100x per inch on some This trio of eyepieces has focal lengths today’s eyepieces use more than a half-
nights, while on others, 30x per inch may of 2.4mm, 2.0mm, and 1.6mm. Yes, you dozen lens elements to render an image.
cause the view to crumble. read that right — an eyepiece with a focal Even with the finest coatings, a little bit
length below 2mm. Vixen created all three of light scatters every time it strikes a
Phil Harrington is an equipment guru and for fast, top-end apochromatic refractors lens surface, lowering image contrast
contributing editor of Astronomy. and Newtonian reflectors. and brightness.

60 A ST R O N O M Y • S E P T E M B E R 2018
The HR eyepieces consist of five ele- More details
ments set in three groups, all with Vixen’s PRODUCT INFORMATION As I used the eyepieces, their small exit
premium AS (Astronomy Special) coatings pupils intensified my eyes’ floaters, those
that claim 99.9 percent transmission. That Vixen HR eyepieces black or gray specks and strings that drift
means the ultimate throughput to the Size: 1¼" through your vision as you move your
observer’s eye is 99.5 percent of the light Focal lengths: 2.4mm, 2.0mm, 1.6mm eyes back and forth. These age-related
entering the eyepiece. Apparent field of view: 42° annoyances were especially apparent when
Have you heard of the Strehl ratio? It’s a Light transmission: 99.5 percent I viewed the Moon.
measure of the quality of an optical image Eye relief: 10 millimeters All three HR eyepieces are nearly parfo-
against a theoretically perfect system. The Weight: 0.3 pound (136 grams) cal. That means that once you focus one,
higher the percentage (the closer to 1.0, or Price: $239 each the others will require little or no refocus-
100 percent), the better the optical design Contact: Vixen Optics ing when switching back and forth between
and execution. Vixen says the Strehl ratio 1050 Calle Amenecer, Suite C them. The 2.0mm and 2.4mm were spot
of each HR eyepiece is 100 percent on-axis San Clemente, CA 92673 on, while the 1.6mm needed only a minor
and more than 97 percent at the outer edge 949.429.6363 tweak of the fine focuser knob.
of the field of view. Numbers like this As of this writing, word has it that
promise ultra-sharp images. Vixen is about to add a 3.4mm eyepiece to
But there’s more to these eyepieces than the HR line. Its optical design, eye relief,
just outstanding optics. Vixen’s designers and apparent field of view will match the
put just as much thought into the mechani- eyepieces (which I used to locate the Moon other three.
cal aspects. For instance, the company in the field of view) for the 2.4mm HR and
painted all interior surfaces flat black to took a peek, the only word that came to my Power to the people!
stifle unwanted reflections. Even the por- mind was “Wow!” Viewing the lunar sur- I greatly enjoyed my time with these eye-
tion of the barrel top surrounding the eye face at a whopping 529x defies description. pieces. Owing to the seeing where I live,
lens is flat black to squelch any light trying I wasn’t just viewing the Moon; I was prac- the 2.4mm proved to be my favorite. If I
to infiltrate from the side. At the other end tically there orbiting it. lived in an area that offered consistently
of the barrel sits a removable baffle, also to As I toured the lunar surface, I stopped better seeing, all three would be equally
suppress stray reflections. Unscrewing the at some of my favorite ports of call, includ- valuable additions to my eyepiece case.
baffle reveals standard filter threads. ing the crater Copernicus, the Alps and Do note, however, that these are defi-
Making full use of these extraordinary Apennine mountain ranges, and Sinus nitely niche eyepieces. Their relatively nar-
eyepieces requires a top-notch telescope on Iridum. I then swapped the eyepiece for the row apparent fields, coupled with their
a night of steady seeing. For the scope end 2.0mm (635x in my scope) and finally the high magnifications, do not make these the
of this test, I chose my 10-inch f/5 1.6mm (794x). first choice for general viewing. But if
Newtonian reflector. It consistently pro- While the views through the 2.4mm you’re searching for high-resolution eye-
duces sharp images at “sane” magnifica- were sharp, images through the 2.0mm pieces specifically designed for high-
tions within the limits of the 60x-per-inch were not quite as crisp due to the power lunar and planetary
rule. Would this be the case when pushed Moon’s low altitude. The The company viewing, then Vixen’s HR eye-
beyond its conventional limit? image through the 1.6mm threaded and blackened pieces are the new standard
Waiting for that night of steady seeing was softer still, but incred- the inside of each eyepiece by which all others are
to prevent deterioration of
proved to be the biggest challenge. In my ibly impressive nonethe- the image. Inner baffle rings
neck of the woods on Long Island, espe- less. The gradual effectively stop any stray
cially in the early spring when I was testing degradation of image light. Even a hint of
these, the sky is often a cauldron of turbu- quality is more reflective reflection that might occur
on the tip of the sleeve
lence due to fluctuating temperatures and of my local seeing condi- is eliminated.
strong winds. Several nights passed with tions at the time rather than
unsatisfactory results until one special the optical performance of the
night in April. eyepieces.
I then moved on to Jupiter. Just the
Under steady air sheer apparent size of the planet was strik-
I set up my telescope in the early evening ing. It was huge! The gas giant’s cloud
to allow it to cool to ambient temperature, bands were clear, showing subtle
but I waited until early morning to use it, details that were not apparent
after the Moon, Jupiter, and Saturn had through some of my long-
risen. All were positioned relatively low focal-length eyepieces.
in the southern sky even when they were Saturn’s rings were even
at their highest, which made seeing a more impressive. The Cassini
concern. Fortunately, on this night, every- Division was easy to spot, as
thing came together perfectly. was the subtle inner C (Crepe)
I began by observing the Moon, which ring. I suspected seeing the Encke
was near Last Quarter. As soon as I Division, a low-contrast zone in the
swapped out one of my long-focal-length middle of the A ring.

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62 A ST R O N O M Y • S E P T E M B E R 2018

Mars Clear your mind the next time
you look at the Red Planet. The author created this sketch of Mars
on September 14, 1988, at the eyepiece
of the 9-inch Alvan Clark refractor at In August 1988, the author observed
Monkey see, Harvard College Observatory. Note the

his month I’d Mars with a clear mind through the
canal-like wisps extending from Sinus
like you to do the monkey do? Meridiani, and other festoonlike
60-inch reflector at Mount Wilson
Observatory. He attempted to use
unthinkable. Now Around the turn of the 20th features. STEPHEN JAMES O’MEARA the eyes of a 19th-century observer
that Mars is starting century, it was probably more to record what he saw without
to shrink in apparent like monkey see, monkey do by Clyde Tombaugh, the dis- preconceived notions. Among the many
features he drew in this regional sketch
size as it recedes from Earth, with Mars. For instance, after coverer of Pluto, in a 1950 issue of the Mare Sirenum/Mare Cimmerium
try losing your mind before you Italian astronomer Giovanni of The Astronomical Journal: area was a striking diffuse linear streak
look at the planet through your Schiaparelli introduced his “The canals cannot be entirely running parallel to both maria. The
telescope. Let me explain. canali to the world in 1877, relegated to the realm of illu- author informally dubbed this feature
“Valhalla.” Many amateur astronomers
Boston businessman Percival sions. … The radial pattern of using CCDs later recorded the long
Meet the Lowell picked up the torch and the canals with respect to the canal-like marking. STEPHEN JAMES O’MEARA
“monkey mind” carried it well into the 20th oases is attributed to fractur-
During the pre-spacecraft era, century, outperforming his ing of a thick crust under how the eye-brain system
many observers saw (and strain by the impact of transforms the border between
drew) canals on Mars. In asteroids which cre- two high-contrast areas of dif-
the post-spacecraft era, ated the oases.” fering brightness into a linear
it’s hard to find anyone What I find fasci- demarcation (a canal). Rather,
who does. I find that nating is that it’s about how the mind inter-
fascinating. Even though Tombaugh’s theory prets what it sees, in this case
we know that the canals came almost five waterways built by an intelli-
are illusory, why have decades after Andrew gent civilization.
observers suddenly failed Ellicott Douglass — So I’m curious. Try to forget
to record the illusion? Lowell’s first assistant, everything you know about the
That could be a thought- who initially helped planet Mars, and observe it
provoking study in itself. Lowell to fan the fire with the eyes of an early
But you could argue that, of the canal fervor of explorer. What wonders do you
in general, both periods that period — wrote a see? Don’t try to fathom them,
are separate phenom- paper in a 1907 issue just accept them as they appear
ena linked to the same of The Popular Science to you at the moment. See a
psychological and physi- Monthly, titled canal? Excellent, go ahead and
ological factors that can “Illusions of Vision draw it. Yes, it may be illusory,
override what is seen, By November 1988, Valhalla had become quite diffuse and and the Canals of but our visual world is filled
and replace it with what continued to fade over the years. Its remains can be seen in Mars.” In it, he says, with illusions, and they are
this Rosetta spacecraft image of Mars taken during its
is expected to be seen. February 2007 flyby. ESA/MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/RSSD/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA
“The ray illusion [of wonders unto themselves.
That’s why I’m asking the eye] is to me a very Observing Mars without any
you to meditate — clear satisfactory explana- preconceived notions cleanses
your mind — before you put predecessor by introducing tion of many faint canals radi- the mind and helps you to
your eye to the eyepiece. As the hundreds of canals. ating from those small spots on enjoy the beauty of observing
late Sōtō Zen monk Shunryu Later observers upped the Mars, called ‘lakes’ or ‘oases.’ ” your Mars — no one else’s.
Suzuki alluded, it is our buzz- ante to more than 500. He also suggested that an astig- You can even keep it as your
ing and thinking mind that Astronomers even photo- matic eye may see two parallel own personal secret. But if you
deludes the natural mind, graphed some of the canals, rays as double. He went on to wish to share it with me at
which is free from thought. back in the days of grainy say, “We have here the medi-, I
Buddhists call this condition black-and-white emulsions. cine to prevent this disease in promise not to tell.
“monkey mind,” and I wonder This lent a bit of credence to the the future.”
how much control it has over visual phenomenon, breathing Stephen James O’Meara
visual Mars observers today new life into a dying belief. Do you dare? is a globe-trotting observer
who know how the planet The viability of this phe- Actually, the “disease” of the who is always looking for the
next great celestial event.
should appear. nomenon was even addressed martian canals is not about


64 A ST R O N O M Y • S E P T E M B E R 2018
VOID WHERE PROHIBITED. Through cutting edge engineering of GC/MS and magnifi-
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Farpoint Astronomical Research . . . . . . . 67
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The Coathanger
Check out one of the sky’s best asterisms.

ot long after my to spot through binoculars, and
childhood interest even with the unaided eye if
in stargazing was you know exactly where to look.
first sparked, my Begin at Altair, the Triangle’s
parents enrolled southernmost star. Draw an
me in a summer astronomy imaginary line between it and
program at the Stamford the two fainter stars set to
Museum in Connecticut. Each either side. Extend that line
week, we would gather in the toward the northwest for about
museum’s planetarium to learn twice its length into the neigh-
about the night sky. In between boring constellation Vulpecula. The Coathanger, also known as Brocchi’s Cluster, is not a cluster at all, but one of the
sessions, we were encouraged There, you should spot a tiny sky’s prettiest chance arrangements of stars. JOSÉ J. CHAMBÓ
to view the sky both by eye flock of about 10 stars.
alone as well as with a telescope Atwood went on to say, fields of their long-focal-length his honor. That chart also led to
or binoculars, if we owned one. “When I stare straight at the telescopes caused them to scan the Coathanger being included
To help guide us at night, we cluster with just my eyes, I can right over it unrecognized. as Collinder 399 (abbreviated
were given a newsprint star only detect a few twinkles. But Sorry, guys, your loss! Cr 399) in the 1931 catalog of
atlas that showed the sky’s through binoculars, the stars Of the 10 stars in the scattered open star clusters
brighter deep-sky objects plot- are bright and easy to count. It’s Coathanger’s upside-down out- compiled by Per Collinder.
ted among the stars. The atlas amazing how these stars hap- line, most appear pure white But guess what? Brocchi’s
was published by American pen to line up in such a way through binoculars. Two, how- Cluster isn’t a cluster at all!
Education Publications and from our perspective on Earth.” ever, may show a slight yellow- Data gathered in 1997 by the
written by the 20th century’s Take a careful look through ish or orangish glint to European Space Agency’s
preeminent amateur astrono- your own binoculars. The observers with keen color per- Hipparcos astrometry satellite
mer and author, Walter Scott Coathanger’s crossbar is drawn ception. The brightest star in showed it to be an asterism, just
Houston. from six stars in a row, while the pattern, 5th-magnitude a chance alignment of random
I kept that atlas with me another four curve away to the 4 Vulpeculae, is an orange spec- stars. They range in distance
whenever I went out at night south, creating the hook. The tral type K0 sun, while the star from 220 to 1,100 light-years
that summer. It helped intro- away.
duce me to the beauty of the I was disappointed when I
binocular sky. While many tar- Historical records show that first read this, but it doesn’t
gets seemed small and faint, the Coathanger was known in any way diminish the
one particular special pattern as far back as A.D. 964. Coathanger’s sparkling beauty
of stars, the Coathanger, drew through binoculars. Be sure to
my attention. It continues to be visit it on the next clear sum-
one of my favorite summer wide fields of 7x to 10x binocu- directly adjacent to it in the mer’s eve.
sights. lars give the best view, framing hanger’s hook is a spectral type Do you have a favorite bin-
I’m not alone in that opin- the Coathanger against a rich K5 star. ocular target that you’d like to
ion. Recently, I received an backdrop of stardust. The Coathanger is also share? I’d love to hear about it
email from Leilani Atwood. She Historical records show that known as Brocchi’s Cluster. In and possibly feature it in a
wrote in part, “I thoroughly the Coathanger was known as the 1920s, Dalmiro Brocchi, an future column. Do as Atwood
enjoy your Binocular Universe far back as a.d. 964, when amateur astronomer from did and drop me a line through
articles, and I happened to have Persian astronomer Al-Sufi Seattle, became famous for my website,
a favorite object as well. In the noted its misty appearance. drawing detailed finder charts Until next time, remember
constellation Vulpecula, there is Giovanni Battista Hodierna for hundreds of stars in the that two eyes are better than
an attractive grouping called rediscovered the group in the American Association of one!
Brocchi’s Cluster or the mid-1600s, but it was skipped Variable Star Observers pro-
Coathanger.” entirely by Messier and the gram. One particular chart Phil Harrington is a longtime
Have you ever seen the Herschels. That was probably showed this area in detail, cap- contributor to Astronomy and
Coathanger? It lies inside the because the Coathanger spans turing the group in print for the the author of many books.
Summer Triangle, and it is easy 1°. It’s likely that the narrow first time. It was later named in

66 A ST R O N O M Y • S E P T E M B E R 2018
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M16 Eagle Nebula

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Alpha Piscium is a close-separation

binary system located about
150 light-years from
Earth. Residing in the
constellation Pisces,
Alpha Piscium marks
the knot in the

The Double Star rope that ties the

two fish


Add these six stellar pairs to the standard marathon

for the ultimate list.

t’s time to close the bluish.” The latter impression
books on the Double Star must have been illusory, as the
Marathon that I intro- secondary’s F7 spectral class
duced in this column in would indicate a soft yellow This is a notable binary star address the concern, I asked
March 2016. I wanted to color. What colors do you see? with a period of 269 years. for reader input. Opinions were
create a double star observer’s Alpha (α) Piscium (R.A. When Herschel discovered evenly split, so I assumed the
answer to the annual Messier 2h02m, Dec. 2°46'; magnitudes: them in 1835, the two were 3.0" role of tiebreaker.
Marathon. To that end, I com- 4.1, 5.2; separation: 1.8") apart. They closed to a tight Although I had some dif-
piled a matching list of 110 This binary system has an 0.9" and then widened to their ficulty locating this pair low in
notable stellar pairs that are uncertain period of more than current separation of 5.4". the still twilit western sky, it
visible around the time the 700 years. The pair has closed Zeta (ζ) Aquarii (R.A. was bright enough to be easily
Messier Marathon is held. The dramatically from a separation 22h20m, Dec. –00°01'; magni- found with a low-power sweep
goal, of course, was to notch all of 5.1" at the time William tudes: 4.3, 4.5; separation: 2.3") of the target area. Moreover,
of them in a single evening. Herschel discovered it in 1779, This binary has an uncer- Psi1 Psc proved to be an eye-
A number of you were not to a current separation of 1.8". tain period of around 500 to catching sight — certainly eas-
interested in tackling an all- I’ve resolved this pair with a 600 years. In 1977, I split this ier to spot than its nearby
night event, instead requesting 3-inch scope at 120x, but a near-twin system with a 3-inch Messier counterpart M74. I
the Double Star Marathon list higher magnification is recom- reflector at 120x when the two reluctantly removed Struve 163
as a guide to the finest stellar mended for a clean split. were 1.8" apart. Currently sep- from the original list to make
pairs observable from mid- Omega (ω) Fornacis (R.A. arated by 2.3", the pair is room for Psi1 Psc.
northern latitudes. A caveat: 2h34m, Dec. –28°14'; magni- within the grasp of a common If you’d like more double
The list omits pairs not visible tudes: 5.0, 7.7; separation: 1.0") 60mm refractor. star lists, try the one the
during Messier/Double Star Astronomical League uses
Marathon time. Absent are a for its double star certificate
handful of notable doubles So without further ado, here are a half-dozen program. Get the list at
that inhabit parts of the con- of the best “missing” doubles.
stellations Pisces, Aquarius, dblstar2017.pdf. Those of
and all of Fornax. you with access to back issues
So without further ado, here I have a confession: While 94 Aquarii (R.A. 23h19m, of Deep Sky magazine also
are a half-dozen of the best scanning the charts in Dec. –13°28'; magnitudes: 5.3, can refer to issues No. 2
“missing” doubles. Add them Mullaney and Tirion’s 7.0; separation: 12.2") through 5 (spring to winter,
to the original list, and you Cambridge Double Star Atlas, This pair, easily split at a 1983), when I showcased the
have a pretty good sampling of I discovered that I’ve viewed magnification of 60x, has finest 25 double stars for
the finest double stars visible nary a single double star in closed slightly since a measure- each season.
from mid-northerly latitudes. Fornax. Two are worth men- ment made in 1821 put it at Questions, comments, or
Zeta (ζ) Piscium (R.A. tioning, and I’ll be checking 14.2" apart. The primary sports suggestions? Email me at
1h14m, Dec. 7°35'; magnitudes: them out now that Fornax is in a pale yellow hue, in keeping Next
5.2, 6.3; separation: 22.9") the evening sky. The compo- with its G5 spectral class. month: We celebrate the
I first viewed this amply sep- nent stars of Omega Fornacis By the way, I made one final autumn version of Astronomy
arated pair with a 3-inch f/10 appear to be relatively fixed, tweak to the Double Star Day with a look at #popscope.
reflector and magnification of having shown little change in Marathon list. As mentioned Clear skies!
60x. In notes that accompanied separation since a measure- here last March, I was debating
a more recent observation with ment made in 1836. whether to add Psi1 (ψ1) Glenn Chaple has been an
a 3.5-inch f/11 refractor, I Alpha (α) Fornacis (R.A. Piscium because it’s rather low avid observer since a friend
wrote, “Wide pair. Primary 3h12m, Dec. –28°59'; magni- in the west around sunset at showed him Saturn through a
small backyard scope in 1963.
white; companion slightly tudes: 4.0, 7.2; separation: 5.4") the time of the Marathon. To


68 A ST R O N O M Y • S E P T E M B E R 2018
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ASKASTR0 Astronomy’s experts from around the globe answer your cosmic questions.

Glenn Cooperman, Carmel Valley, California

A: Your suspicion is right. (magnitude 8.5), is a mere

White dwarfs, the Earth-sized 10,000 times fainter than its
remnants of Sun-like stars, are companion Sirius A (magni-
hot and bright compared with tude –1.4), and currently about
planets, which are cool and 10" away from it on the sky. It
dim. Imaging planets is diffi- never gets closer to Sirius A
cult because the planet’s signal than about eight times the
is overwhelmed by its parent Earth-Sun distance. For an exo-
star, which can be billions of planet in Earth’s orbit around
times brighter. its star at the same distance as
For astronomical imaging the Sirius system — 8.6 light-
purposes, “contrast” can be years away — an astronomer’s Globular clusters such as M5 maintain their shapes because their stars
defined as the ratio of a planet’s instrument would need to reach have angular momentum as they orbit the cluster’s center. ESA/HUBBLE AND NASA
flux to its star’s flux, where flux contrasts of 10-10 for objects
is essentially an object’s appar- separated by 0.4". (The angular their own as they form and advanced age indicates they are
ent brightness as we see it from separation between a star and contract. Some may even be stable, which seems at odds
Earth. To image an Earth-like planet is based on the planet’s brown dwarfs. None of these with the idea that over time,
planet at Earth’s distance from distance from the star, its approaches Earth-sized planets. the gravitational influence of
a nearby star, astronomers need eccentricity, and the system’s They were imaged by blotting all those stars crammed in so
an instrument capable of seeing distance from Earth.) out the parent star’s light; this small a space should cause the
contrasts of 10-10 (the contrast The current list of directly technique still has significant entire thing to collapse.
of the Earth-Sun system, a dif- imaged exoplanets contains limitations, but astronomers The key is that a globular
ference of 25 magnitudes) at a objects several times Jupiter’s are working hard to push it to cluster’s stars are all moving,
separation of 0.1". A white mass and about 10 to 100 times spot fainter, smaller, and closer- orbiting the cluster’s center of
dwarf in a binary system is farther from their stars than in planets. mass. The energy of that
likely not only brighter, but also Earth is from the Sun. Many of Alison Klesman motion — specifically, each
farther from its companion these planets are extremely Associate Editor star’s angular momentum —
star. For example, the nearest, young and still generating some offsets the gravitational pull of
brightest white dwarf, Sirius B heat — and thus, light — of all that mass and prevents the
Q: IN THE MAY ISSUE, stars from falling toward the
We cannot yet directly PHIL HARRINGTON SAYS M5 center and coalescing. When
image Earth-sized “MAY CONTAIN AS MANY AS you average out all these orbits,
planets. GQ Lupi (A) has
a substellar companion
500,000 STARS CRAMMED they’re essentially random,
A (b) 250 times fainter INTO A SPACE ABOUT which is why the cluster
than the star itself, 165 LIGHT-YEARS ACROSS.” appears spherical.
orbiting about 0.7" WHY DON’T THEY ALL Globular clusters do, in fact,
away, or 100 times the COALESCE INTO ONE evolve. Over time, gravitational
Earth-Sun separation.
b The companion’s radius GIANT STAR? interactions between two pass-
is between three to six David Pippin ing stars can “pass” angular
times that of Jupiter. Its Dearborn, Missouri momentum from one to the
mass may be up to 30 other, with more massive stars
times Jupiter’s mass,
placing it in possible A: Globular clusters are old donating energy to those that
brown dwarf territory. objects; for example, M5 is are less massive. This leads to
ESO about 13 billion years old. Such two effects: The first is mass

70 A ST R O N O M Y • S E P T E M B E R 2018
segregation, which causes more (2 kilograms) — the weight of
massive stars to fall toward the an old laptop. A tablespoon of
center, while less massive stars neutron star weighs more than
are boosted toward the cluster’s 1 billion tons (900 billion kg)
outer edges. The second is — the weight of Mount Everest.
evaporation — stars can be shot So while you could lift a spoon-
out of the cluster altogether. ful of Sun, you can’t lift a
This process could, over spoonful of neutron star.
extremely long timescales, If we were concerned only
cause the cluster to fly apart, about the weight, putting a
rather than coalesce, as it loses spoonful of neutron star on
more and more total mass to Earth’s surface wouldn’t affect
ejected stars. our orbit or the tides. It’s like
Alison Klesman adding another mountain.
Associate Editor While scientific instruments Neutron star
can measure how a mountain-
sized mass affects local gravity,
Q: IF A TABLESPOONFUL the effects are too small for Neutron stars are incredibly dense objects about 10 miles (16 km) across.
Only their immense gravity keeps the matter inside from exploding;
OF A NEUTRON STAR people to feel. So unless you
if you brought a spoonful of neutron star to Earth, the lack of gravity
WERE PLACED ON EARTH’S stood right next to the spoon, would cause it to expand rapidly. X-RAY: NASA/CXC/UNAM/IOFFE/D.PAGE, P. SHTERNIN ET AL;

HAPPEN? However, we’re not just wor-

Caroline Adams ried about the mass in the Q: IN THE APRIL ISSUE, look for cycles. In one attempt
Portland, Oregon spoon. The neutron star matter MICHAEL RAMPINO WROTE to find cycles, samples of lunar
got as dense (and hot) as it did ABOUT CYCLES OF COMET soil were analyzed by scientists
A: Before we can know what because it’s underneath a lot of COLLISIONS WITH EARTH at the University of California,
happens when our spoonful of other mass crammed into a EVERY 26 MILLION TO Berkeley. Their work was pub-
neutron star comes to Earth, relatively tiny space. When we 30 MILLION YEARS. IS THERE lished March 10, 2000, in the
let’s think about what’s in our take our spoon and transport it EVIDENCE OF CYCLICAL journal Science.
spoon: a superdense collection to Earth, the rest of the star’s BOMBARDMENT ON OTHER By dating tiny glass spher-
of neutrons. mass — and the gravity associ- PLANETS OR MOONS? ules — microscopic beads of
A neutron star is the rem- ated with it — is gone. Inside a Robert Harrison glass produced from rocks
nant of a massive star (bigger neutron star, the neutron Albuquerque, New Mexico melted by lunar impacts — in
than 10 Suns) that has run out degeneracy pressure is fighting the soil, they determined that
of fuel, collapsed, exploded, and gravity, but without all that A: On Earth, the age of a cra- the rate of asteroid impacts on
collapsed some more. Its pro- gravity, the degeneracy pressure ter can be measured in several the Moon (and presumably on
tons and electrons have fused takes over! ways, with varying degrees of Earth as well) has increased
together to create neutrons Imagine you have a can of accuracy. Dating the sediments in the last billion years, but
under the pressure of the col- soda, and it’s all shaken up. You that appeared earliest after the they could not detect any
lapse. The only thing keeping know the moment you pop that event, or the youngest rocks cyclical changes.
the neutrons from collapsing tab, the pressure will be gone, targeted by the impactor, gives Michael Rampino
further is “neutron degeneracy and it will explode. When we a rough estimate of a crater’s Professor of Biology,
pressure,” which prevents two bring our spoonful of neutron age. Alternatively, some craters New York University, New York
neutrons from being in the star to Earth, we’ve popped the can be more accurately dated
same place at the same time. tab on the gravity holding it using the decay of radioactive
Additionally, the star loses a together, and what’s inside elements in the rocks melted Send us your
lot of mass in the process and expands very rapidly. A spoon- by the impactor. questions
winds up only about 1.5 times ful of neutron star suddenly The 26 million- to 30 million- Send your astronomy
the Sun’s mass. But all that appearing on Earth’s surface year cycle noted is based on questions via email to
matter has been compressed would cause a giant explosion, several analyses of different,
to an object about 10 miles and it would probably vaporize craters around the globe. We or write to Ask Astro,
(16 kilometers) across. A nor- a good chunk of our planet can date craters on Earth using P. O. Box 1612, Waukesha,
mal star of that mass would be with it. these methods because we have WI 53187. Be sure to tell us
more than 1 million miles Valerie Mikles direct access to them. your full name and where
(1.6 million km) across. National Oceanic and Atmospheric The impact cratering histo- you live. Unfortunately, we
A tablespoon of the Sun, Administration Contractor, ries of the Moon and the other cannot answer all questions
depending on where you scoop, Quality Assurance, I.M. Systems Group, planets in the solar system are submitted.
would weigh about 5 pounds College Park, Maryland not known well enough to



Star trails mingle with a tree’s branches
in this 2-hour exposure taken April 3,
2018, near Springfield, Oregon. The
photographer used a 7.5mm lens.
• Dave Horton


Reflection nebulae abound in this
image. NGC 6726 and NGC 6727
form the cloud to the right. Above
and to the left of them is NGC 6729,
which also contains some reddish
emission nebulosity. Another dusty,
reflective cloud, IC 4812, surrounds
the gorgeous, blue double star at
lower left. • Warren Keller

72 A ST R O N O M Y • S E P T E MB ER
Mars (the brilliant orange-white
spot) shines at magnitude 0.5 as it
passes between the Lagoon (M8,
bottom) and Trifid (M20, top) nebulae
March 18, 2018. By the time it reached
its peak July 27, the Red Planet blazed
more than nine times brighter.
• Damian Peach


Most amateur astronomers will tell
you that elliptical galaxy M89 is
fairly boring to look at. But stack 960
minutes of exposures taken through a
17-inch telescope, and you get a much
different picture! Beyond the main
target, look at all the distant galaxies
visible. • Mark Hanson
Although known in the West as the
Big Dipper, these same stars were the
Seven Brothers in ancient Persia. Here
we see them rising above the snow-
covered Alborz mountain range in Iran.
• Jianfeng Dai


Copernicus Crater looks terrific in this
February 24, 2018, compilation taken
near Columbia, South Carolina. The
photographer captured 9,000 frames
of video through a Baader blue filter,
out of which he selected the best 300
to create this image. • Brian Ford

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

Diving into
the Lagoon
Although the Milky
Way’s spiral arms teem
with pockets of intense
star formation, few of
these stellar nurseries
can match the frenzied
activity in the Lagoon
Nebula (M8). This recent
Hubble Space Telescope
photo homes in on the
nebula’s central region,
4 light-years across. Here,
dense pockets of gas and
dust collapse under their
own weight to form
new stars. The most
impressive of these
newborns, Herschel 36,
peeks through the dust
at center. This behemoth
is 32 times more massive,
eight times hotter, and
200,000 times more
luminous than our Sun.

74 A ST R O N O M Y • S E P T E M B E R 2018
Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Venus—there’s no shortage of MARS SATURN JUPITER
brilliant targets for your telescope this summer. It’s not too late BY DAMIAN PEACH BY CHRIS GO BY CHRIS GO
to enjoy unique views of our celestial neighbors and capture
your own astroimages, too.

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SKY MARTIN GEORGE describes the solar system’s changing landscape
as it appears in Earth’s southern sky.

November 2018: Changing of the guard

Venus and Jupiter dominated the Sun, however, and it disap- Although Venus passed Nicolas Louis de Lacaille intro-
the evening sky for more than pears from view after mid- between the Sun and Earth in duced this constellation in the
half of 2018, but with Venus month, reaching inferior late October, it quickly returns mid-18th century.
gone and Jupiter on its last legs, conjunction November 27. to view before dawn. It already Despite the constellation’s
evenings now have a decidedly If you look well above and to appears conspicuous by obscurity, a telescope reveals
different flavor. The month the right of Mercury, you can’t November 15, when it shines several worthwhile objects. The
kicks off with the biggest and help but spy Saturn. The at magnitude –4.7 and stands Silver Coin Galaxy (NGC 253)
smallest planets huddled ringed planet appears as an nearly 10° high in the east 45 ranks among the sky’s brightest
together in the twilight glow. obvious interloper set against minutes before sunrise. You showpiece galaxies. I have
Jupiter stands out largely the backdrop of Sagittarius. At also might see 1st-magnitude found it quite easily through
because it is so bright. Shining magnitude 0.6, Saturn shines Spica, the brightest star in 7x50 binoculars under a dark
at magnitude –1.7, the giant far brighter than any of the Virgo, just 1° to Venus’ upper sky. A 20-cm or larger telescope
world hangs some 10° above the constellation’s stars. left. The planet grows even reveals this edge-on spiral gal-
western horizon 45 minutes The planet stands high more prominent as the month axy as a thin streak of light.
after sunset. Jupiter resides in enough after nightfall for progresses. On the 30th, it Even better, NGC 253 is pretty
Libra, though you’ll be hard- observers to get good looks appears some 6° higher and easy to find. Draw an imagi-
pressed to see this constella- through their telescopes. In blazes at magnitude –4.9. nary line from Alpha Sculptoris
tion’s dim stars in twilight. The mid-November, the planet’s disk November is also a great to Beta Ceti. The galaxy lies a
planet dips lower with each spans 15" while the ring system month to view Venus through a little west of a point 40 percent
passing night and disappears extends 35" and tilts 26° to our telescope because it displays a of the way along this line.
by midmonth as it approaches a line of sight. A 5-centimeter large disk and a pleasing cres- NGC 253 belongs to the
November 26 conjunction with instrument provides enough cent phase. On the 15th, the Sculptor Group of galaxies, one
the Sun. It will return to view aperture to see the Cassini planet appears 52" across and of the closest such systems to
before dawn in December. Division — the dark gap that just 11 percent lit. By the 30th, our Local Group. A second
Look at Jupiter through bin- separates the outer A ring from Venus spans 41" and the Sun member of this collection is
oculars November 1, and you’ll the brighter B ring — during illuminates one-quarter of its also worth targeting through
spot Mercury 4° to its upper moments of good seeing. Earth-facing hemisphere. your scope. NGC 55 lies on
left. The tiny planet glows at The best-positioned evening Sculptor’s border with Phoenix,
magnitude –0.2, four times planet is ruddy Mars. The Red The starry sky just under 4° north-northwest
dimmer than its neighbor. Planet lies two-thirds of the I often make a point to the of Alpha Phe. Through a 20-cm
Unlike Jupiter, however, way to the zenith in the north- audiences in my planetarium instrument, this spiral galaxy
Mercury pulls away from the western sky as twilight fades. that few constellations actually appears rather misshapen with
Sun with each passing day and And it remains far brighter look like the object or creature a bright part at one end.
becomes easier to see. The than any nearby star, even after which they are named. Sculptor also contains some
inner planet reaches greatest though it dims from magnitude Some do, of course — Crux the interesting double stars, though
elongation on the 6th, when –0.6 to –0.1 during the month. Cross, Scorpius the Scorpion, many of them are too close to
it lies 23° east of our star and The planet’s eastward motion and Orion the Hunter are all split easily through small
appears nearly 15° high 45 min- against the starry backdrop recognizable. But no resem- scopes. Perhaps the constella-
utes after sundown. carries it from Capricornus into blance at all exists at the other tion’s best double is Lalande
At greatest elongation, Aquarius on November 11. end of the scale. I would place 192, which lies 1.6° northeast of
Mercury hangs 3.5° below Mars’ apparent size shrinks the rather dim constellation Delta (δ) Scl. Coincidentally, it
1st-magnitude Antares, the in tandem with its brightness. A Sculptor the Sculptor firmly in also goes by the designation
brightest star in Scorpius the telescope shows a 12"-diameter this category. Dunlop 253 — the same three-
Scorpion. Three days later, the disk in early November that Sculptor passes nearly over- digit number as the galaxy
planet slides less than 2° north drops to 9" across at month’s head on November evenings. NGC 253 — from the double
(lower right) of the ruddy star end. This is still big enough to You can find its approximately star catalog of James Dunlop.
with a slender crescent Moon show some subtle surface fea- rectangular shape between Lalande 192’s stars shine at
appearing nearby. Mercury is tures, but the good views won’t Beta (β) Ceti and Alpha (α) magnitudes 6.8 and 7.4, with a
already on its way back toward last much longer. Phoenicis. French astronomer gap of 6.6" between them.
11 P.M. November 1 NG CA
10 P.M. November 15 39 APUS C HA M A
9 P.M. November 30
Planets are shown ES AN
at midmonth O



M VO 6
ST ON 51 2


0 R
207 C O

































AU S T R I N U S Mars














S ARI de


Sirius Open cluster ULUM

0.0 Globular cluster M31 ol
Diffuse nebula ANDRO EU
2.0 M E DA RS
3.0 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
directions: north, south, east, and
west. To find stars, hold the map Calendar of events
overhead and orient it so a
EL direction label matches the 6 The Moon passes 10° north of 17 Mercury is stationary, 5h UT
V direction you’re facing. Venus, 2h UT
The stars above the The Moon passes 3° south of
map’s horizon now Mercury is at greatest eastern Neptune, 6h UT
match what’s elongation (23°), 15h UT
Asteroid Juno is at opposition,
in the sky.
7 New Moon occurs at 16h02m UT 22h UT

9 Mercury passes 1.8° north of Leonid meteor shower peaks


Antares, 6h UT


20 The Moon passes 5° south of



The Moon passes 7° north of Uranus, 20h UT

Mercury, 12h UT
23 Full Moon occurs at 5h39m UT

11 The Moon passes 1.5° north of


Saturn, 16h UT 25 Neptune is stationary, 8h UT


26 Jupiter is in conjunction with the


12 The Moon passes 0.9° north of


Sun, 7h UT

Pluto, 18h UT

The Moon is at perigee


14 Venus is stationary, 3h UT

(366,620 kilometers from Earth),

The Moon is at apogee 12h12m UT

(404,339 kilometers from Earth),

27 Mercury is in inferior conjunction,

15h56m UT
9h UT
15 First Quarter Moon occurs at
E 14h54m UT 30 Last Quarter Moon occurs at
0h19m UT
16 The Moon passes 1.0° south of

Mars, 4h UT




S Stars’ true colors

U depend on surface
TA temperature. Hot
stars glow blue; slight-
ly cooler ones, white;
intermediate stars (like
the Sun), yellow; followed
by orange and, ultimately, red.
Fainter stars can’t excite our eyes’
US color receptors, and so appear white
without optical aid.

Illustrations by Astronomy: Roen Kelly


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