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January 2011: Five

January 2011

The Jodcast reaches its fifth birthday. To celebrate we talk to our first ever interviewee - Professor Michael Kramer - to find out what has happened in pulsar research over the past five years. As always, Megan brings us the latest astronomical news and we hear what can be seen in the northern hemisphere night sky during January. Unfortunately, this fifth anniversary edition is also Dave's final episode as a regular Jodcaster so we say goodbye and wish him well in his future projects.

The News

Interview with Professor Michael Kramer

Dr Michael Kramer was the first Jodcast interviewee five years ago, when he was a lecturer and pulsar researcher at Jodrell Bank Observatory. Now a professor and one of the directors of the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, he heads his own group there as well as maintaining links with Manchester. In this interview he revisits the double pulsar system he originally spoke about, telling us what progress has been made in its investigation over the last five years and why one of the pulars is not currently visible. He also talks about the ongoing effort to detect gravitational waves using pulsar timing arrays, and how the Large European Array for Pulsars (LEAP) will simulate a 200-metre radio telescope to make the next step in timing accuracy.

The Night Sky

Northern Hemisphere

Ian Morison tells us what we can see in the northern hemisphere night sky during January 2011.

The constellation of Orion rises high in the evening sky. The upper-leftmost star, which is the Hunter’s shoulder, is the red supergiant Betelgeuse, a star so large that it would probably swallow Jupiter if placed at the centre of our Solar System. His left knee is the blue supergiant Rigel, 8000 times brighter than the Sun. The three stars of his Belt point up and right towards Taurus and the Hyades Cluster, with the Pleiades Cluster, M45, beyond. The red giant Aldebaran is the Bull’s eye and his brightest star, and lies in our line of sight to the Hyades. Auriga the Charioteer is above the horns of the Bull, with Capella its brightest star. The Milky Way runs through Auriga and is home to three open star clusters within the constellation: M36, M37 and M38, all visible through binoculars. Gemini, the Twins, are below and left of Auriga. Their brightest stars are Castor and Pollux, the names of the twins themselves. The knee of the figure of Castor, near Taurus, is by the open cluster M35, also apparent when using binoculars. Canis Minor, containing the bright star Procyon, is below Gemini. Beneath them is Canis Major, home to the brightest night-time star, Sirius. Sirius, remaining low in the sky, exhibits atmospheric twinkling. Binoculars show the cluster M41 a couple of degrees below it, while a telescope reveals that the cluster contains blue stars surrounding a central red one. Going up again, Orion’s Sword and the Orion Nebula, M42, are below the Hunter’s Belt. The Nebula is a stellar nursery, containing four hot stars collectively called the Trapezium, whose ultraviolet emission excites the surrounding gas and makes it glow red in photographic images.

The Planets

Highlights

Southern Hemisphere

John Field from the Carter Observatory in New Zealand speaks about the southern night sky during January 2011.

Odds and Ends

For our 5th anniversary show we answered some questions from listeners. EarthUnit asked Jen which telescope on Earth she would like to visit. Jen mentioned the "huge and awesome" Arecibo radio telescope as well as the American Very Long Baseline Array. Mark wanted to visit the SKA despite it not existing yet so Megan suggested a trip to the SKA pathfinders in South Africa and Australia. Megan would like to visit ALMA and Stuart suggested the Very Large Telescope in Chile.

The Campaign for Rural England and the Campaign for Dark Skies are holding an Orion star count week between 31 January - 6 February.

Jodcast listener Andrew Glester is involved in The Polar Concert.

The Zooniverse has two new projects that people can participate in. The Milky Way Project uses data from the Spitzer Space Telescope to look for cold, dusty bubbles in our Galaxy and Planet Hunters uses data from the Kepler spacecraft to help find exoplanets.

On the evenings of 3-5 January, the BBC will be broadcasting Stargazing Live from Jodrell Bank on BBC Two and BBC HD. There will be events across the country from the 3rd January onwards.

Jodcaster listener Nick was wondering if it would be possible to use mobile phones to detect meteors in the radio. This probably wouldn't work as it would drain the phone battery, however Stuart mentions the Distributed Observatory, a project which uses mobile phones to detect cosmic rays, and Megan reminds us that you can report meteor detections to the British Astronomical Association.

Show Credits

News:Megan Argo
Interview:Professor Michael Kramer and Mark Purver
Night sky:Ian Morison and John Field
Presenters:Megan Argo, David Ault, Jen Gupta, Stuart Lowe and Mark Purver
Editors:Jen Gupta, Megan Argo, David Ault, Claire Bretherton, Stuart Lowe and Mark Purver
Intro/outro:David Ault with Jen Gupta
Segment voice:Lizette Ramirez
Website:Stuart Lowe, Jen Gupta and Mark Purver
Cover art:Planet Jodrell Credit: Anthony Holloway

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