Welcome to the night sky report for September 2019 -- Your guide to the constellations, deep sky objects, planets, and celestial events that are observable during the month. In September, Pegasus becomes increasingly prominent in the southeastern sky, allowing stargazers to locate globular star clusters and a double star, Alpha Capricorni. Look for lovely crescent Moons at the start and end of the month. The September equinox brings the beginning of fall in the Northern Hemisphere. And Mars is at solar conjunction, meaning it has disappeared from night skies. The night sky is truly a celestial showcase. Get outside and explore its wonders from your own backyard.
On the 50th anniversary of the first Apollo landing on the moon, American adults cite the 1969 lunar landing as NASA’s most important achievement in its 60 year history. In a national survey conducted by the University of Michigan, 35% of American adults (age 18 or older) mention the first lunar landings as one of the two most important achievements of NASA when asked in an open-ended format. “This level of public recall and recognition reflects the deep-seated impact of the first moon landing in American culture,” said Jon Miller, director of the International Center for the Advancement of Scientific Literacy at University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research. It is important to recognize that only 45% of today’s adults were alive at the time of the first lunar landing on July 20, 1969.
At the center of active galaxies are supermassive black holes of such tremendous brightness that they can outshine the rest of their galaxy by a factor of ten thousand -- that’s four orders of magnitude. Radiation ejected from these objects comes from an accretion disk of hot gas swirling around the black hole like water swirls around a drain. The gas becomes hotter and hotter as it swirls inward, so most of the emitted light comes from the inner parts of the accretion disk. Our understanding of these Active Galactic Nuclei (AGN) has progressed by leaps and bounds over the past several decades. Recently, debate has centered on the similarities and differences between some of these objects. Quasars, Blazars, Seyfert Galaxies, and Radio Galaxies are all examples of active galaxies. Active galaxies contain an accretion disk around a central black hole with two perpendicular jets. An active galaxy's appearance to an observer on Earth depends on the orientation of the accretion disk to the observer. Now, a team of researchers at UC - Santa Barbara has settled some important questions and exposed exciting new findings about one class of these cosmic monsters – The Seyfert Galaxies.
Welcome to the night sky report for August 2019 -- Your guide to the constellations, deep sky objects, planets, and celestial events that are observable during the month. In August, look for the constellation Lyra, which points to Epsilon Lyrae and the Ring Nebula. You can also spot three bright summer stars: Vega, Deneb, and Altair, which form the Summer Triangle. This month, the main focus for meteor watchers is the Perseid meteor shower, but you will have to contend with a bright Moon on the peak nights. The night sky is truly a celestial showcase. Get outside and explore its wonders from your own backyard.
Our local Friday Harbor, WA High School's Aerospace Design Team, also known as Island Orbital Technologies (IOTech), became World Champions, at the 2019 International Space Settlement Design Competition World Finals.
More than 100 years after Albert Einstein published his iconic General Theory of Relativity, it is beginning to fray at the edges, said Andrea Ghez, UCLA Professor of Physics and Astronomy. Now, in the most comprehensive test of general relativity near the monstrous black hole at the center of our galaxy, Ghez and her research team report that Einstein’s theory still holds up… At least for now.
It’s July 16, 1969 -- Just a little over eight years have passed since the flights of Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin and Astronaut Alan Shepard in 1961, followed in 1962 by President Kennedy's challenge to put a man on the moon before the end of the decade. It’s only two and a half years since the horrific Apollo 1 fire during pre-launch testing in 1967 at Cape Kennedy that took the lives of Astronauts Virgil Grissom, Edward White, and Roger Chaffee. And it’s only seven months since NASA made the bold decision to send the Apollo 8 Astronauts -- Frank Borman, James Lovell, and William Anders -- all the way to the moon, achieving orbit on Christmas Eve 1968 on the first manned flight of the massive Saturn V rocket. Now, on the morning of July 16th, Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins sit atop another Saturn V rocket that will use its 7.5 million pounds of thrust to propel them into space and into history. It was 50 years ago that Neil Armstrong took the first small step onto the surface of the moon that changed the course of history. We now stand now on a new horizon, poised to take the next giant leap deeper into the solar system, extending a path to Mars and beyond. It gives us pause to consider that the first woman or man to set foot on Mars is already walking the Earth today.
While hydrogen and helium were formed in the Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago, heavier elements like carbon and oxygen were formed later in the cores of stars through nuclear fusion of hydrogen and helium. But this process can only build elements up to iron. Making the heaviest elements, like gold, platinum, or uranium, requires a special environment in which atoms are repeatedly bombarded by free neutrons. As neutrons stick to the atomic nuclei, elements higher up the periodic table are built. Where and how this process of heavy element production occurs has been one of the longest-standing questions in astrophysics. Recent attention has turned to neutron star mergers, where the collision of the two super-heavy stars ejects clouds of neutron-rich matter into space, where they assemble into the heavy elements. Based on the brightness and color of the light emitted following the merger, which closely match theoretical predictions, astronomers can now say that the gold or platinum in your wedding ring was in all likelihood forged during the brief but violent merger of two merging neutron stars somewhere in the universe. This discovery was made possible by the detection of gravitational waves from the cataclysmic merger of two neutron stars, and the observation of the visible light in the immediate aftermath of that merger.
Welcome to the night sky report for July 2019 -- Your guide to the constellations, deep sky objects, planets, and celestial events that are observable during the month. In July, find the constellation Scorpius to identify the reddish supergiant star Antares, which will lead you to the globular star cluster M4 (NGC 6121). M22 (NGC 6656), in the constellation Sagitarius, another globular cluster, is one of the brightest clusters in the sky and is visible with the naked eye. Keep observing around the group of stars commonly known as the Teapot and you’ll see the Lagoon Nebula (M8, NGC 6523), the Omega Nebula (M17, NGC 6618), and the Trifid Nebula (M20, NGC 6514). The night sky is truly a celestial showcase. Get outside and explore its wonders from your own backyard.
In our Solar System, Jupiter is the largest planet, being about 318 times as massive as the Earth and lying about five times farther from the Sun than does the Earth. Brown dwarfs are similar in many ways to Jupiter-like gas giants, but range from 13 to 90 times the mass of Jupiter… And while they can be up to a tenth the mass of the Sun, they lack the nuclear fusion in their core to burn as a star, so they lie somewhere between a diminutive star and a super-planet. Based on preliminary results from a new Gemini Observatory survey of 531 stars with the Gemini Planet Imager (GPI), it appears more and more likely that large planets and brown dwarfs have very different roots. While massive planets form due to the slow accumulation of material surrounding a young star, brown dwarfs come about due to rapid gravitational collapse.
An extraordinary 57 percent of all Americans believe Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs) are real. Many of these people are convinced that the US Government (and particularly the CIA) is engaged in a massive conspiracy and cover-up of the issue. According to the CIA, the UFO issue probably will not go away any time soon, no matter what the US Government does or says. The belief that we are not alone in the universe is too emotionally appealing and the distrust of governments around the world is too pervasive to make the issue amenable to traditional scientific studies of rational explanation and evidence. But now, in an ironic twist of fate, UFO sightings have become so commonplace by Navy pilots patrolling coastal waters, that the US Navy has updated its guidelines for reporting these newly dubbed Unexplained Aerial Phenomena (UAPs). By formalizing the process, the US Navy has reduced the stigma for pilots who witness this unusual activity.
Welcome to the night sky report for June 2019 -- Your guide to the constellations, deep sky objects, planets, and celestial events that are observable during the month. Though the nights are shorter in June, they are filled with fine sights. Look for the Hercules constellation, which will lead you to a globular star cluster with hundreds of thousands of densely packed stars. You can also spot Draco the dragon, which will point you to the Cat’s Eye Nebula. Jupiter is at its biggest and brightest this month, rising at dusk and remaining visible all night. The night sky is truly a celestial showcase. Get outside and explore its wonders from your own backyard.
The Friday Harbor High School Aerospace Design Team has just received results from the qualifying round of the International Space Settlement Design Competition. Based on the judges’ evaluation of our work, Friday Harbor produced one of the top four design proposals in North America and are now invited to the World Finals held at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in late July.
Detection of a Type Ia supernova with an unusual chemical signature by a team of astronomers at the Carnegie Institution for Science, may hold the key to solving a longstanding mystery of how these violent explosions get triggered. Type Ia supernovae originate from the thermonuclear explosion of white dwarfs that are part of a binary system. But what exactly triggers the explosion of the white dwarf -- the dead core left after a Sun-like star exhausts its nuclear fuel -- is still a great puzzle. A prevailing idea is that, the white dwarf gains matter from its companion star, causing the explosion. But whether or not this is the correct theory has been hotly debated for decades. Although hydrogen is the most abundant element in the Universe, it is almost never seen in Type Ia supernova explosions. That is why seeing hydrogen emissions in this specific supernova, called ASASSN-18tb, was so surprising and may provide a key clue to understanding what triggered the explosion.
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