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December 2010: Century

December 2010

In this special 100th episode show, we talk to two Jodcasters, Dr. Megan Argo and Dr. Stuart Lowe about their day jobs. As always, Megan brings us the latest astronomical news and we hear what can be seen in the December night sky from Ian Morison and John Field.

The News

In the news this month:

Interview with Dr. Megan Argo

Mark talks to Dr. Megan Argo about her research and life in astronomy. Megan discusses her interest in starburst galaxies, especially M82. She talks about her long association with Jodrell Bank and Macclesfield Astronomical Society, and her move across the world to Perth in 2008. She tells us about her work in radio interferometry at Curtin University, which is now capturing ever larger fields of view on the sky through the use of powerful computers. We discover her interest in practical radio astronomy via the meteor detector she helped to construct at Jodrell Bank, and she finishes by comparing the relative merits of Cheshire and Western Australia. Let us know whether you think she has developed an Australian accent!

Interview with Dr. Stuart Lowe

Dave interviews our very own Dr Stuart Lowe to find out about his work over the past few years. Stuart tells us about the Low Frequency Instrument on ESA's Planck satellite which he started to work with in 2006. He tells us about the testing efforts from the summer of 2006 leading through to launch in May 2009 and the completion of the first two sky surveys. He also describes Chromoscope which is a web site he created for viewing the sky at different wavelengths. Finally, he tells us about his new job working for the Las Cumbras Observatory Global Telescope.

The Night Sky

Northern Hemisphere

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

The Square of Pegasus is in the south in the early evening, with Andromeda, Perseus and Cassiopeia above it. The Perseus Double Cluster is between the latter two, visible as a glow to the unaided eye. Binoculars or a telescope reveal a wealth of stars in the two adjacent clusters. The right-hand three stars of Cassiopeia point towards our nearest large galaxy, Andromeda, also known as M31, whose light we see more than two million years after it set off. The constellation of Taurus the Bull rises in the east later in the evening. The Hyades Cluster forms the Bull’s head, up and to the right of the its eye, which is the red giant star Aldebaran. The Pleiades Cluster lies above and right of the Hyades, containing a triplet of stars near its centre, an arc of stars to its lower left and a double star system to its lower right. Orion the Hunter is below and left of Taurus. The red supergiant star Betelgeuse forms one of his shoulders, above which more stars mark his hand and club. His shield is to the right, and three stars across his middle make up his belt. His knee is the blue star Rigel. The stellar nursey of the Orion Nebula is a misty glow below the belt, and contains the Trapezium, a group of hot blue stars. The brightest star in the sky, Sirius, is in Canis Major, to the lower left of Orion. The cluster M41 is below this, containing a red star surrounded by many bluer ones.

The Planets


Southern Hemisphere

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

The summer Sun rises high in the south and the nights are short. Orion and Taurus are visible in the southern and northern hemispheres. The brightest star in Orion, Rigel, is one of his feet, and the name is Arabic for ‘foot’. To southern hemisphere observers, the Hunter is inverted and this foot is near the top of the constellation. Rigel is the seventh-brightest star in the sky, with an absolute luminosity 85,000 times greater than that of the Sun shining from a distance of 800 light-years. Its companion, Rigel B, has a magnitude of +6.7 and can be observed with an 8-inch telescope. Rigel B is itself a binary star system, identifiable only through the changing Doppler shift of its chemical spectrum. The Māori refer to Rigel as Puanga, and its rising marks the new year to some on the North Island of New Zealand. The red star Betelgeuse is Orion’s shoulder, and the tenth-brightest star in the sky. As a red giant, it has fused most of its available hydrogen and is now predominantly burning helium. This raises its internal temperature and causes the surface to expand and cool to a red-hot 3500K, barely half the outer temperature of our Sun. Betelgeuse is massive enough to end its life in a supernova, possibly within the next million years. A supernova remnant called the Crab Nebula lies near the fainter horn of Taurus the Bull, and can be seen with a small telescope. It originated in 1054, when its supernova was visible to the naked eye from Earth. A neutron star, the compressed core of the star which produced this supernova, spins at over 30 times per second in the heart of the Nebula. Taurus represents the god Zeus in Greek mythology, and is one of the twelve zodiacal constellations through which the planets appear to pass when viewed from Earth. In the early part of the month the Sun passes through Ophiuchus, the thirteenth constellation in the planets’ path around the ecliptic plane.

The Planets


Odds and Ends

On January 3-5 2011 the BBC will be broadcasting three live programmes from Jodrell Bank Observatory. Stargazing Live will be hosted by Professor Brian Cox and Dara O'Briain and shown on BBC2. You can contribute your astronomical photographs to Stargazing Live (and the Sky At Night) via the BBC's special Flickr group.

ESA's 6 newest astronauts graduated at the end of November and should start going into space in 2013. This is the first time that European astronauts have gone through an ESA programme instead of training in the USA or Russia.

At the time of recording the November 2010 episode, the pace shuttle Discovery was due to be launched at the beginning of December. However the launch was initially delayed due to poor weather conditions and then delayed further as cracks were found. The earliest date for the launch of Discovery is currently December 17.

Although a Spanish woman has claimed ownership of the Sun, citing an apparent loophole in the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, the Bad Astronomer points out that her claims have no legal weight.

Show Credits

News:Megan Argo
Interview:Dr. Megan Argo and Mark Purver
Interview:Dr. Stuart Lowe and David Ault
Night sky:Ian Morison and John Field
Presenters:David Ault, Jen Gupta and Neil Young
Editors:Adam Avison, Stuart Lowe, Mark Purver, Chris Tibbs
Intro/outro script:David Ault
Intro/outro editor:Fiona Thraille
Narrator:Adam Avison
Prince Neil:Neil Young
Eris:Megan Argo
Ceres:Jen Gupta
Haumea:Catherine McGuire
Mirror:Mark Purver
King:David Ault
MakeMake:David Ault
IanMorison:Ian Morison
Mike Brown - Plutokiller:Mike Brown
Segment voice:Lizette Ramirez
Website:Stuart Lowe and Jen Gupta
Cover art:100 cover arts Credit: Stuart Lowe

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