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Kiss the Sky Tonight -- Month of December 2021
Welcome to the night sky report for December 2021 -- Your guide to the constellations, deep sky objects, planets, and celestial events that are observable during the month. Step outside on a cold December night when the stars shine bright to find the Big Dipper, Cassiopeia, and Cepheus. They will help you locate a binary star system (Eta Cassiopeiae), a fan-shaped open star cluster (M103 or NGC 581), and a variable star (Mu Cephei). See three planets after sunset, and then say goodbye to Venus as the "Evening Star" at the end of the month. Hunt for newly discovered Comet Leonard in the early morning through mid-month. Finally, get up early on December 14th to watch for Geminid meteors after local moonset, around 2:00 AM. The night sky is truly a celestial showcase. Get outside and explore its wonders from your own backyard.
Astronomers Detect an Exoplanet in Another Galaxy
Exoplanets are defined as planets outside of our Solar System. Until now, astronomers have found all other known exoplanets and exoplanet candidates in the Milky Way galaxy -- Almost all of them less than about 3000 light-years from Earth. Now, signs of a planet transiting a star outside of the Milky Way galaxy may have been detected for the first time. The possible exoplanet candidate is located in the spiral galaxy Messier 51 (M51), also called NGC 5194 or the Whirlpool Galaxy because of its distinctive profile. This intriguing and unprecedented result, using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, opens up a new window to search for exoplanets at greater distances than ever before.
"Tastes Great! -- Less Filling!" Is it an Asteroid or a Comet? It’s Actually Both
The newest known example of a rare type of object in the Solar System – a comet hidden among the main-belt asteroids – has been found and studied by Planetary Science Institute (PSI) Senior Scientist Henry Hsieh. Discovered to be active on July 7, 2021, this asteroid (248370) 2005 QN137 is just the eighth main-belt asteroid, out of more than half a million known main-belt asteroids, confirmed to not only be active, but to have been active on more than one occasion. This behavior strongly indicates that its activity is due to the sublimation of icy material. As such, it is considered a so-called main-belt comet, and is one of just about 20 objects that have currently been confirmed or are suspected to be main-belt comets.
Kiss the Sky Tonight -- Month of November 2021
Welcome to the night sky report for November 2021 -- Your guide to the constellations, deep sky objects, planets, and celestial events that are observable during the month. In November, hunt for the fainter constellations of fall, including Pisces, Aries, and Triangulum. They will guide you to several galaxies and a pair of white stars. Look for spiral galaxy M74 and the Triangulum Galaxy. Enjoy the Moon and planets after sunset all month, plus a lunar eclipse. A partial lunar eclipse will be visible to much of the world on Nov. 18th and 19th.The night sky is truly a celestial showcase. Get outside and explore its wonders from your own backyard.
The Earth Wobbles Back and Forth like a Top
Earth is like a wobbling top spinning in space and the angular momentum keeps it pointing with the same orientation relative to its orbital plane over time. This spinning, however, is affected by numerous forces, including the gravitational tugs of the Moon and the Sun… and the distribution of the continents on the surface of the planet. Geologists have now found new evidence that the solid outer shell of the Earth may have shifted relative to its spin axis about 84 million years ago, causing the planet to wobble back and forth like a top. The new research suggests that the Earth tipped over significantly during the late Cretaceous period due to the distribution of mass on its surface and this could have implications for the evolution of life on Earth.
That’s Strange – Polarized Radio Waves Being Emitted from the Center of the Milky Way
Astronomers have discovered unusual signals coming from the direction of the Milky Way’s center. The radio waves fit no currently understood pattern of variable radio source and could suggest a new class of stellar object. The strangest property of this new signal is that it is has a very high polarization. This means its light oscillates in only one direction (but for this object, that direction rotates over time). The brightness of the object also varies dramatically, by a factor of 100, and the signal switches on and off apparently at random. Astronomers have no any idea as to what the source is.
Kiss the Sky Tonight -- Month of October 2021
Welcome to the night sky report for October 2021 -- Your guide to the constellations, deep sky objects, planets, and celestial events that are observable during the month. The crisp, clear October nights are full of celestial showpieces for the backyard sky gazer. Find Pegasus, the flying horse of Greek myth, to pinpoint dense globular star clusters and galaxies. Look for M15, NGC 7331, and M31 - the Andromeda Galaxy. The night sky is truly a celestial showcase. Get outside and explore its wonders from your own backyard.
How Tall are the Highest Mountains on Neutron Stars? – Not as Tall as You Think
When the core of a massive star undergoes gravitational collapse at the end of its life, protons and electrons are literally scrunched together, leaving behind one of nature's most wondrous creations: a neutron star. Neutron stars cram roughly 1.3 to 2.5 solar masses into a city-sized sphere perhaps 20 kilometers (12 miles) across. Matter is packed so tightly that a sugar cube sized amount of material would weigh more than 1 billion tons -- about the same as Mount Everest. This squashes every feature on the surface to miniscule dimensions and means that the stellar remnant is an almost perfect sphere. (Think of a neutron star as giant ball bearing in space, but much, much denser). So, if a mountain could form on the surface of a massive neutron star, how tall could it be? That’s the question University of Southampton researchers in the UK have tried to answer… And their answer may surprise you. New models of neutron stars show that their tallest mountains may be only fractions of a millimeter high, due to the huge gravity on these ultra-dense objects.
An Unlucky Star’s Fatal Encounter with a Black Hole
When a star ventures too close to a black hole, gravitational forces create intense tides that break the star apart into a stream of gas, resulting in a cataclysmic phenomenon known as a Tidal Disruption Event (TDE). Tremendous amounts of energy are released, causing the tidal disruption to outshine the combined light of every star in the black hole's host galaxy for months, and even years. By analyzing observations of an X-ray flare and fitting the data with theoretical models, University of Arizona astronomers have documented a fatal encounter between an unlucky star and an intermediate-mass black hole and have been able to make the first measurements of both the black hole's mass and spin.
Surprise – The Milky Way Galaxy is Not as Homogeneous as Previously Thought
In order to better understand the history and evolution of the Milky Way, astronomers are studying the composition of the gases and metals that make up an important part of our galaxy. This includes 1) the initial gas coming from outside our galaxy, 2) the gas between the stars inside our galaxy, often enriched with chemical elements, and 3) the dust created by the condensation of the metals present in this gas. Until now, theoretical models assumed that these three elements were homogeneously mixed throughout the Milky Way and reached a level of chemical enrichment similar to the Sun’s atmosphere, called the Solar Metallicity. A team of astronomers from the University of Geneva in Switzerland have observed the composition of these gases in our galaxy and have shown that, contrary to the models established until now, they are not as homogeneously mixed as previously thought. This has an impact on the current understanding of the evolution of galaxies and, as a result, our understanding of the Milky Way’s evolution will need to be revisited.
Accidental Discovery Hints at a Hidden Population of Brown Dwarfs in Our Galaxy
Brown dwarfs aren’t quite stars and aren’t quite planets, and a new study suggests there might be more of them lurking in our galaxy than scientists previously thought. A new study offers a tantalizing explanation for how a peculiar cosmic object, nicknamed “The Accident,” came to be. “The Accident” is a brown dwarf. Though they form like stars, these objects don’t have enough mass to kick-start nuclear fusion, the process that causes stars to shine. And while brown dwarfs often defy characterization, astronomers have a good grasp on their general characteristics… Or they did, until they found this one.
Kiss the Sky Tonight -- Month of September 2021
Welcome to the night sky report for September 2021 -- 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 clusters M2 (NGC 7089), M30 (NGC 7099), as well as a nearby double star, Alpha Capricorni, which is an optical double (but not a binary pair). The night sky is truly a celestial showcase. Get outside and explore its wonders from your own backyard.
Natural Particle Accelerators in Space Leave the Large Hadron Collider Energies in the Dust
Since they were first detected more than a hundred years ago, Cosmic Rays – highly energetic particles that continuously rain down on Earth from space – have posed an enduring mystery. What creates and propels the particles across vast distances? Where do they come from? Using an internationally organized effort, scientist have for the first time located a source of high-energy cosmic neutrinos -- ghostly elementary cosmic particles that travel billions of light years through the universe, flying unaffected through stars, planets, and entire galaxies. The joint observation campaign was triggered by a single neutrino that was recorded by the IceCube Neutrino Telescope at the South Pole in September 2017. The energy of this specific neutrino was around 300 Tera-ElectronVolts – That is more than 40 times the energy produced by the world’s largest particle accelerator, the CERN Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Switzerland. Telescopes on Earth and in space were able quickly follow-up the initial detection with more detailed observations that determined the exotic particle had originated in a galaxy nearly four billion light years away in the constellation Orion, where a gigantic black hole was behaving like a natural particle accelerator.
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