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June 2010: Leaving on a jet plane

June 2010

We have an interview with Dr Alan Penny about searching for life using the Low-frequency Array (LOFAR) and we talk to Dr Bob Gerhz about the SOFIA telescope mounted on a plane. With the Māori new year approaching, we get a New Zealand view on some familiar celestial objects from Ron Fisher. As ever we have the latest astronomical news, and what you can see in the March night sky.

The News

In the news this month:


At the UK National Astronomy Meeting, Jen talked to Dr Alan Penny (University of St Andrews) about using LOFAR to search for extra-terrestrial intelligence. LOFAR is a very new telescope, spread across several countries, and observes the Universe at long wavelengths (low frequencies). Alan talks about a pilot programme to see if it is possible to link telescopes in the array together to search for alien signals. The project was given its first observing time in January and got software working to get a very narrow frequency response just before the National Astronomy Meeting. Within a year they hope to have completed a survey of nearby stars.


Jen talked to Professor Bob Gerhz (University of Minnesota) about SOFIA - a new NASA project which puts a 2.5m diameter infrared telescope in the back of a 747 to observe from the stratosphere. The plane has been specially adapted to be able to fly with the side open so that the infrared telescope can see the sky unobstructed. Bob tells us about the modifications to the plane, the telescope and the instruments.


The Māori new year is marked by the rising of Matariki (The Pleiades) and begins this year on June 14th on the following new moon. Ron Fisher from the Cosmodome podcast describes Matariki and some other familiar celestial objects from a New Zealand perspective.

The Night Sky

Ian Morison tells us what we can see in the night sky during June 2010.

Northern Hemisphere

In the Northern parts of the UK it never gets totally dark around mid-summer day. Once it has got dark, to the right of the south is the bright star Arcturus. To the left of that are the four stars making up the keystone of Hercules. Using binoculars, going up the right-hand side of the keystone you should see a little fuzzy object which is the globular cluster M13. Below Hercules is the constellation of Ophiuchus and below that you should see the red star Antares in Scorpius. Over to its left is Sagittarius with Aquila the Eagle to the left of that. The stars Altair, Deneb, and Vega make up the Summer Triangle. Sweeping from Altair up to Vega with binoculars you might see Brocchi's Cluster against the dark cloud of the Cygnus Rift.

The Planets


Southern Hemisphere

Looking towards the south at around 9pm you have a lovely view of the Milky Way arcing across from east to west. Highest up is the southern cross. Carina and the false cross will be fairly high in the sky. Below them, almost due south, will be the Small Magellanic Cloud with the Large Magellanic Cloud up to its right. Setting towards the west is the very bright star Sirius. Scorpius and Sagittarius rising in the east. In Scorpius, just above Zeta 1 and Zeta 2 Scorpii is a lovely little cluster of stars NGC6231 with the nebula IC4628 nearby making the false comet.

Odds and Ends

Jodrell Bank Visitor Centre has had some good news about funding for a new 'live science' discovery centre.

On 21st May, the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) launched the Akatsuki mission to Venus. The mission contains five instruments covering the infrared and ultraviolet parts of the spectrum. The instruments should shed light on the super-high speed winds on Venus as well as look for active volcanos.

A listener asked for recommendations for astronomy podcasts suitable for children. Stuart suggested Cool Cosmos who have produced a series of videos titled "Ask an Astronomer".

Show Credits

News:Megan Argo
Noticias en Español - Junio 2010:Lizette Ramirez
Interview:Dr Alan Penny and Jen Gupta
Interview:Prof Bob Gerhz and Jen Gupta
Matariki:Ron Fisher
Night sky this month:Ian Morison
Presenters:Stuart Lowe and Jen Gupta
Editors:Stuart Lowe, Adam Avison and Mark Purver.
Intro concept:David Ault
Segment voice:Nadya Kunawicz
Website:Stuart Lowe
Cover art:SOFIA Credit: NASA/Tom Tschider

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