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.
In the news this month:
- a possible new class of supernova
- a runaway star in 30 Doradus
- Hubble spots a planet-eating star
- astronomers have connected up the largest array of radio telescopes in the southern hemisphere
SETI with LOFAR
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.
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.
- Jupiter will rise in the east about 2:30am and, at magnitude -2.3, will be seen low in the south east before dawn. During the month it will gradually rise earlier and, by the end of the month, will rise about 1:00am and brighten to -2.5 magnitude. Best wait a month or so to see it well though.
- Saturn may be seen high in the south after sunset lying in Virgo down to the lower left of the constellation Leo. It can then be seen for much of the night with a magnitude +1.0 rising (which means getting fainter) to +1.1 during the month.
- Mercury is still visible during the first week or so of June, rising ~1 hour before sunrise whilst brightening from magnitude 0 to -1. However, the ecliptic is at a very shallow angle to the horizon and so Mercury will only lie about 5 degrees above the horizon half an hour before sunrise. You might just be able to pick it out with binoculars given a very low eastern horizon.
- Mars remains visible (at magnitude +1.1 changing to +1.3 during the month) in the south-west after sunset and at the beginning of June is close to the star Regulus in Leo.
- Venus is now prominent in the evening sky after sunset in the west north-west and, this month, is highest in the sky after sunset. At magnitude -3.9, it will be easily spotted - the brightest object in the night sky after the Moon.
- During the first week or so of June, Mars and the star Regulus will close together coming to a minimum distance on June 6th when Mars will be just less than 1 degree to the upper left of Regulus. The orange-yellow of Mars will make a very nice contrast to the blue-white of Regulus!
- Given a good low western horizon on the 20th June you should be able to spot Venus pass in front of M44, the Beehive Cluster, as shown in the accompanying diagram.
- These are two good nights to observe an interesting feature on the Moon if you have a small telescope. Close to the limb (on the 19th June) is the Appenine mountain chain that marks the edge of Mare Imbrium. Towards the upper end you should see the cleft across them called the Alpine valley. It is about 7 miles wide and 79 miles long. As shown in the image a thin rill runs along its length which is quite a challenge to observe. Over the next two nights the dark crater Plato and the young crater Copernicus will come into view. This is a very interesting region of the Moon!
- In the early hours of the morning this month, binoculars should help you spot a comet. During June, Comet McNaught passes low in the north-east through the constellations of, first, Andromeda,then Perseus and finally through Auriga. By the beginning of June it should have reached magnitude 8, so will be fairly obvious in binoculars. Probably the best time to observe it will be around the 14th, 15th and 16th of June when there will be no moonlight and it is still reasonably high in the sky.
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.
|Noticias en Español - Junio 2010:||Lizette Ramirez|
|Interview:||Dr Alan Penny and Jen Gupta|
|Interview:||Prof Bob Gerhz and Jen Gupta|
|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|
|Cover art:||SOFIA Credit: NASA/Tom Tschider|