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November 2010: Good Vibrations

November 2010

In this show we talk to Professor Yvonne Elsworth about solar and stellar vibrations. As always, Megan brings us the latest astronomical news and we hear what can be seen in the November night sky.

The News

Interview with Professor Yvonne Elsworth

Professor Yvonne Elsworth is the head of the Octave research group at the University of Birmingham. Her research is in the fields of helioseismology and astroseismology, studying the oscillations of the Sun and other stars.

Acoustic waves travelling through the interior of the Sun will disturb the solar material and be seen as oscillations of the solar surface. Professor Elsworth uses the BiSON telescopes spread across the world to obtain continuous observations of the Sun. These observations allow the solar interior to be probed.

Professor Elsworth is also involved in astroseismology research, studying the oscillations of other stars. This is done by using data from space-based missions such as CoRoT and Kepler. Since recording this interview, the first results from the Kepler data have been released. You can read more about this on Universe Today and even listen to a Red Giant Symphony!

The Night Sky

Northern Hemisphere

Ian Morison tells us what we can see in the northern hemisphere night sky during November 2010.

The Summer Triangle of Deneb in Cygnus, Vega in Lyra and Altair in Aquila sets in the west during the early part of the night. The Square of Pegasus is upside-down in the south at this time of year. Above and left is Andromeda, the constellation containing our nearest neighbouring spiral galaxy, which is called by the same name or by the reference M31. The ‘W’ of Cassopeia is overhead, while Perseus lies in the east. The Double Cluster is situated between them, two open clusters visible as a fuzzy glow with binoculars or the unaided eye and resolvable using a telescope. The winter constellations are beginning to appear, with Taurus the Bull visible after dusk. The bright star Aldebaran is the bull's eye, while the more distant Hyades Cluster makes up his face. The Pleiades Cluster, or Seven Sisters, is up and to the right of this, and many more than seven stars can be made out with binoculars or a telescope. Orion follows close behind Taurus, rising in the south-east. Its stars have varied colours, with red Betelgeuse at the top left and blue Rigel at the bottom right, both giants of more than ten times the mass of our Sun.

The Planets


Southern Hemisphere

John Field from the Carter Observatory in New Zealand speaks about the southern night sky during November 2010.

Summer is approaching, and the nights are getting shorter. Canis Major, Orion and Taurus rise in the east after sunset, all upside-down. They formed a hunting scene in the eyes of the Ancient Greeks and Romans. Sirius, the brightest star in the sky and part of Canis Major, is one of the nearest to us, at 8.6 light-years’ distance. It has a faint white dwarf companion, Sirius B, referred to as the Pup, which is the remnant of a now-dead star. The open star cluster M41, as numbered in the Messier Catalogue, lies just to the south. It can be seen as a haze with the unaided eye, while binoculars reveal individual stars in its population of around 100, including red giants. The Messier Catalogue was first published by Charles Messier in the 18th century as a list of night-sky objects which could be mistaken for comets. In the northern hemisphere, where all these objects are visible, astronomical societies often attempt to observe the whole catalogue in a one-night ‘Messier marathon’. In 1995, Sir Patrick Moore produced a similar compendium, the Caldwell Catalogue, containing objects from both hemispheres. M42, the Orion Nebula, is the outer edge of a molecular gas cloud about 1200 light-years from us and is visible as a haze above the three stars of Orion’s Belt. Stars are forming there, some of which can be seen to blow the edge of the cloud outwards. The nebula appears through binoculars as a bright knot with ‘wings’ on either side, illuminated by intense radiation from the star Theta Orionis, which is one of four stars in the central knot known collectively as the Trapezium. These can be seen using a small telescope. To the Māori, Orion’s Belt is known as Tautoru, and represents a tree branch that is part of a bird snare. Māori astronomers arranged stars into different constellations depending on the time of year. For native people on the east coast of New Zealand, the Pleiades and Hyades Clusters and Orion’s Belt and Sword form Te Waka o Tama-rereti, a canoe, which rises from the sea. The Pleiades are the prow, the Hyades the sail, the Belt the stern and the Sword the sternpost. In Māori mythology, Tama-rereti sailed across the heavens in this canoe and seeded the sky with Na Fetu, the stars, leaving in his wake Te Ikaroa, the Milky Way. The Southern Cross is low in the south at this time of year, but the bright star Achernar is high in the sky, and the Magellanic Clouds can easily be seen.


The Planets

Odds and Ends

Two spacecraft from the NASA THEMIS mission have now been brought back to life as the ARTEMIS mission.

At the time of recording, the space shuttle Discovery was due to be launched at the beginning of November. However, the launch has now been pushed back to the end of the month due to various problems. As well as carrying six human astronauts, Discovery will be taking the robot astronaut Robotnaut 2 up to the International Space Station. November 2 also marks the 10th anniversary of people living permanently on the ISS. At the time of the anniversary, the ISS will have completed 57,361 orbits of the Earth, traveling about 1.5 billion miles.

Show Credits

News:Megan Argo
Interview:Professor Yvonne Elsworth and Jen Gupta
Night sky:Ian Morison and John Field
Presenters:Adam Avison, Jen Gupta and Libby Jones
Editors:Adam Avison, Megan Argo, Claire Bretherton, Mark Purver and Chris Tibbs
Father Ted:Perry Whittle
Father Dougal:Richard Casto
Father Jack:David Maciver
Mrs Doyle:Fiona Thraille
Intro/outro music:Shepherd's Call by Nathan Pinard available at
Intro/outro editor:Fiona Thraille
Intro/outro script:David Ault
Segment voice:Lizette Ramirez
Website:Stuart Lowe, Jen Gupta and Mark Purver
Cover art:Nearby Galaxies seen by Herschel in constellation of Draco. Credit: ESA/SPIRE/H-ATLAS/S.J.Maddox

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