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.
More than a year has passed since the discovery of 1I/2017 U1 Oumuamua, a bizarre interstellar asteroid that burst onto the scene and then disappeared into the distance just as quickly as it arrived. Once detected, astronomers scrambled to observe the intriguing asteroid as it zipped through the Solar System at a steep trajectory from interstellar space – The first confirmed object from another star. Data revealed the interstellar interloper to be a rocky, cigar shaped object with a somewhat reddish hue. The asteroid, about one quarter mile (400 meters) long and highly elongated, is ten times as long as it is wide. While its elongated shape is quite surprising and unlike asteroids seen in our Solar System, it may provide new clues into how other star systems form. New observations and analyses suggest that this unusual object has been wandering through the Milky Way, unattached to any star system, for hundreds of millions of years before its chance encounter with our star system. But many unsolved questions remain. What are Oumuamua’s structure, composition, and shape? Where did it come from? How was it launched onto its journey to our Solar System? And now a new question – Why is Oumuamua accelerating as it leaves the Solar System?
Welcome to the night sky report for May 2019 -- Your guide to the constellations, deep sky objects, planets, and celestial events that are observable during the month. In May, we are looking away from the crowded, dusty plane of our own galaxy, toward a region where the sky is brimming with distant galaxies. Locate Virgo to find a concentration of roughly 2000 galaxies. Then search for Coma Berenices to identify many more. The night sky is truly a celestial showcase. Get outside and explore its wonders from your own backyard.
What makes up the tenuous gas and dust that pervades our galaxy, filling the space between stars? What kinds of complex molecules form naturally in our universe? Where might these molecules form? And how are they distributed throughout space? Over the vast, empty reaches of interstellar space, countless small molecules tumble quietly though the cold vacuum. Forged in the fusion furnaces of ancient stars and ejected into space when those stars exploded, these lonely molecules account for a significant amount of all the carbon, hydrogen, silicon, and other atoms in the universe. In fact, some 20 percent of all the carbon in the universe is thought to exist as some form of interstellar molecule. Many astronomers hypothesize that these interstellar molecules are responsible for an observed phenomenon on Earth known as "diffuse interstellar bands," spectrographic proof that something out there in the universe is absorbing certain distinct colors of light from stars before it reaches the Earth. But since we don't know the exact chemical composition and atomic arrangements of these mysterious molecules, it remains unproven whether they are, in fact, responsible for the diffuse interstellar bands. Now, from a jumble of confusing clues in Hubble observations, scientists have picked out evidence of a celebrity molecule in interstellar space – the soccer-ball shaped ionized Buckminsterfullerene molecule, or buckyballs.
Magnetars are some of the most extreme objects in the Universe. They are extremely compact objects with masses like our Sun, but with radii of only about 12 miles. One teaspoon of neutron star/magnetar matter weighs as much as Mount Everest. Magnetars generate extremely powerful magnetic fields -- the most intense magnetic fields observed in the Universe. When two neutron stars merge to become a magnetar, the resulting magnetic field is a quadrillion (that is, a million billion) times stronger than the magnetic field that deflects compass needles at the Earth's surface. The field strength is so intense that it heats the surface to 18 million degrees Fahrenheit. Magnetars are born rotating very quickly, which causes their magnetic fields to get amplified. But after a few thousand years, their intense magnetic field slows their spin to a more moderate period of one rotation every few seconds. The magnetic fields both inside and outside the star twist, however, and according to the theory, these intense fields can stress and move the crust much like shearing along the San Andreas Fault in California. The shear moves the crust around along with the magnetic fields tied to the crust, generating twists in the magnetic field that can sometimes break and reconnect in a process that sends trapped positrons and electrons flying out from the star, annihilating each other in a gigantic explosion of X-rays and hard gamma rays. By observing an outburst of these X-ray emission from a galaxy approximately 6.5 billion light years away, researchers found that this was due to the merger of two neutron stars to produce a magnetar. Based on this observation, the researchers were able to calculate that mergers like this happen roughly 20 times per year in each region of a billion light years cubed.
M87 (also known as Virgo A or NGC 4486) is one of the most massive galaxies in the local Universe. To give you an idea of its size, M87 has a large population of globular clusters (about 12,000) compared with the 150 to 200 orbiting our Milky Way galaxy. It also has a jet of energetic plasma traveling at relativistic speed that originates at the core and extends at least 4900 light-years. It is one of the brightest radio sources in the sky and a popular target for both amateur and professional astronomers. As in most, if not all, spiral galaxies, M87 has a supermassive black hole at its center. Black holes are extraordinary cosmic objects with enormous masses but extremely compact sizes. The extreme density of these objects affects their immediate environment in peculiar ways, warping space-time and super-heating any surrounding material. To date, no one has ever imaged a black hole. But that has now changed with the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT), a planet-scale array of eight ground-based radio telescopes forged through an international collaboration. The EHT was designed specifically to capture images of a black hole. In coordinated press conferences across the globe, EHT researchers revealed the first direct visual evidence of a supermassive black hole and its shadow. The image shows the black hole at the center of M87.
Welcome to the night sky report for April 2019 -- Your guide to the constellations, deep sky objects, planets, and celestial events that are observable during the month. Clear April nights are filled with starry creatures. Look for the Great Bear and Leo the Lion. You can also spot galaxies like M101, M81, and M82. The night sky is truly a celestial showcase. Get outside and explore its wonders from your own backyard… Let’s follow the advice of James Marshall Hendrix (apparently a fellow admirer of the heavens), who famously proclaimed "Excuse me while I kiss the sky."
An international team of researchers has put a theory speculated by the late Stephen Hawking to its most rigorous test to date, and their results have ruled out the possibility that primordial black holes smaller than a tenth of a millimeter make up most of dark matter. Scientists “know” that 85 percent of the matter in the Universe is made up of dark matter. Its gravitational force prevents stars in our Milky Way from flying apart. However, attempts to detect such dark matter particles using underground experiments, or accelerator experiments including the world’s largest accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider, have failed so far. This has led scientists to consider Hawking's 1974 theory of the existence of primordial black holes, born shortly after the Big Bang, and his speculation that they could make up a large fraction of the elusive dark matter scientists are trying to discover today. The team’s results showed primordial black holes can contribute no more than 0.1 percent of all dark matter mass. Therefore, it is unlikely the theory is true.
Aristotle described the five basic human senses as vision, hearing, taste, smell, and touch. Now, it seems we can add another sense – magnetoreception. Many animals have magnetoreception, so why not humans? Honeybees, salmon, turtles, birds, whales, and bats use the geomagnetic field to help them navigate, and dogs can be trained to locate buried magnets. Apparently, many humans are also able to unconsciously detect changes in Earth-strength magnetic fields, according to scientists at Caltech and the University of Tokyo.
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