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December 2008: VIDEO killed the radio star

December 2008

Oh no it didn't, but it will produce infrared surveys of galaxies.

The News

In the news this month: more clues in the hunt for dark matter, testing the fundamental fuzziness of time, more exoplanets images and Copernicus's body may have been discovered.

Interview

Matt Jarvis talks to us about the VIDEO survey on the VISTA infrared telescope in Chile. VIDEO, the VISTA Deep Extragalactic Observations Survey, is a wide-field infra-red survey to study galaxy evolution as a function of galaxy age and environment to a redshift of ~4. The survey will observe active galactic nuclei, galaxy cluster evolution, and very massive galaxies. Matt tells us about how the VIDEO survey will improve our understanding of these galaxies, how they form and evolve.

The Night Sky

December gives us a chance to see two beautiful areas of the sky. The first is the region around Cygnus, Lyra and Aquila which make up the Summer Triangle. As the night moves on we see the area of the sky centred on the constellation of Orion the Hunter. To the lower left of Orion is the constellation of Canis Major with its bright star Sirius. Up to the right of Orion you come to the constellation Taurus which contains two lovely clusters. First of all is the Hyades cluster with the star Aldebaran apparently at its heart. Aldebaran is actually only about halfway between us and the cluster. Higher in the sky still is the Pleiades cluster or the Seven Sisters. Up to the left of Orion is Gemini, below that is Canis Minor, and above Orion is Auriga with its bright yellow star Capella.

It isn't a brilliant month for planets. Jupiter is fairly low in the south-west as seen from the north of England. It is about 34 arcseconds across and is still pretty bright. During December it will be lost in the Sun's glare. Saturn is now a morning object but rising in the east before midnight. Mercury will become visible again during the last week of December. Mars has gone around the back of the Sun so we will have to wait a few more months to see it. Venus is shining at magnitude -4.2 low in the west after sunset.

On December 29th there is a nice line-up of Venus, Jupiter and Mercury with the Moon. Neptune is only around 2.5 degrees away from Venus on the same night so it will give you a good chance to spot it with binoculars. There is a finder chart for Neptune on the night sky pages for December. In the mid early evenings you can see the Andromeda galaxy. To the left of the tiny constellation Triangulum is the Star Algol in Perseus. It is an eclipsing binary and every 2.87 days its brightness drops by more than a magnitude and then rises again. In December you can watch this happen over a period of hours around 20:17 UT on the 7th and 17:06: UT on the 10th and 18:50 on the 30th. The early morning of December 14th may give us the chance, if clear, of observing the brighter meteors of the Geminid meteor shower. Sadly, this year, the Moon is just one day past full moon and is in Gemini so its glare will obscure most of them.

In the evening, in the southern hemisphere, looking fairly high up in the south at around 9 or 10 pm you can see the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds. The Large Magallenic Cloud (LMC) is nearer the star Canopus and towards the horizon is the Small Magallenic Cloud (SMC). These are two irregular galaxies that are currently thought to be by-passing the Milky Way. The LMC contains the open star cluster 30 Doradus. Looking at the SMC with binoculars, you should be able to see 47 Tucanae which is one of the brightest globular clusters.

Odds and Ends

At local noon on 1st January the Centro de Astrofísica da Universidade do Porto (CAUP) and the IYA2009's Solar Physics Group (SPG) would like people to take part in the Dawn of the International Year of Astronomy by calling on all professional and hobby astronomers to participate in what will be the largest Sun observation event in the world.

We reviewed the book Mars 3-D by Jim Bell. You can find it on Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com, Barnes & Nobel as well as other book shops. The UK release date is 31 January 2009 and in the US it is already out. Check out other reviews at Tom's Astronomy Blog, The Spacewriter's Ramblings and MSNBC's Cosmic Log.

Ian produced a review of a Celestron NexStar 130SLT telescope back in May 2006.

The latest Jodcast video on gravitational waves is now live.

Show Credits

News:Megan Argo
Interview:Dr Matt Jarvis and Nick Rattenbury
Night sky this month:Ian Morison
Presenters:Nick Rattenbury and Stuart Lowe
Editors:Stuart Lowe and Nick Rattenbury
Intro script:David Ault
Narrator:Tom Muxlow
Nicky Bucket:Nick Rattenbury
Grandpa Tim:Tim O'Brien
Dave Wonka:David Ault
Stuart PC:Stuart Lowe
Megan Newshound:Megan Argo
Roy:Roy Smits
HAL:Mark Bruzee
M&S lift & Servelan:Fiona Waller
Segment voice:Danny Wong-McSweeney
Website:Stuart Lowe
Cover art:VISTA and VLT: Aerial view of Paranal, home of the VLT, with VISTA in the foreground. Credit: G. Hüdepohl

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