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July 2012: Amity

July 2012

In the show this time, we find out about Ian Morison's trip to observe the transit of Venus, Dr Paolo Padovani tells us about active galactic nuclei and we talk to Jakub Bochinski about exoplanets. Stuart rounds up the latest astronomy news and we find out what's in the July night sky from Ian Morison and John Field.

The News

In the news this month:

Interview with Ian Morison

Our own night sky expert, Ian Morison, followed in the footsteps of Captain Cook by observing a transit of Venus at Astronomer's Point in the Dusky Sound fjord of New Zealand on the 6th of June. In this interview, he tells us about his voyage and how he attempted to measure the astronomical unit by combining his transit timings with those of a fellow observer in Alaska. He also explains why a Venus transit is a special event, and talks about historical attempts to measure the distance from the Earth to the Sun such as that by radar observations of Venus from Jodrell Bank Observatory.

Interview with Dr Paolo Padovani

Liz talked to Dr. Paolo Padovani from the ESO headquarters in Munich, Germany about radio-quiet and radio-load active galactic nuclei (AGNs). He explained to us the different components of the AGNs and how they are observed and classified, depending on their radio, optical and x-ray emission. He also talked about the ELT (Extremely Large Telescope) and what can we detect with it.

Interview with Jakub Bochinski

Jakub Bochinski from the Open University, tells us about observing exoplanets with the PIRATE observatory. PIRATE (Physics Innovations Robotic Astronomical Telescope Explorer) is a semi-robotic telescope in Majorica which can be controlled by astronomers using their mobile phones. Jakub goes on to tell us about the SuperWASP telescope and its search for exoplanets using the transit method, where the exoplanet passes in front of the parent star causing a dip in the light observed from the star. Jakub also mentions the number of planets currently discovered by Kepler and Superwasp and for the most current planet discoveries, click here: Kepler and SuperWASP.

The Night Sky

Northern Hemisphere

Ian Morison tells us what we can see in the northern hemisphere night sky during July 2012.

Leo, containing the planet Mars, and Virgo, hosting Saturn, are setting in the west as darkness falls at the beginning of the month. The bright star Arcturus, in Boötes, is higher in the north-west. To its left is the circlet of stars called Corona Borealis, the Northern Crown. The Keystone asterism, in Hercules, is further up and left. Two-thirds of the way up the right-hand side of this trapezium of four stars, binoculars allow you to see the fuzzy glow of the globular cluster M13, the biggest and brightest in the northern hemisphere sky. Further over still is the Summer Triangle of the stars Vega in Lyra, Deneb in Cygnus and Altair in Aquila. Moving up from Altair towards Vega with binoculars, you reach a dark area called the Cygnus Rift, which contains cosmic dust that obscures part of the Milky Way. The asterism Brocchi's Cluster, or the Coathanger, is within this region. The small constellation of Delphinus, the Dolphin, is to the left of Altair.

The Planets


Southern Hemisphere

John Field from the Carter Observatory in New Zealand speaks about the southern hemisphere night sky during July 2012.

New Zealand now contains a newly recognised dark sky area, the Mackenzie Starlight Reserve. From this area, which contains the Mount John Observatory, faint phenomena such as the zodiacal light can be observed.

The brightest region of the Milky Way, between Scorpius and Sagittarius, is in the south-east after sunset. It is rich in bright star clusters and nebulae, even though much of it is obscured by interstellar dust. The Milky Way, as we see it in the sky, consists of two spiral arms: the Perseus Arm, away from the galactic centre in the west, and the Sagittarius Arm, towards the galactic centre in the east. Many of the stars which appear away from the Milky Way are part of the Orion-Cygnus Arm, in which our Solar System resides. Crux, the Southern Cross, sits atop the Milky Way. Appearing as a kite shape, to the Māori of Aotearoa (New Zealand) it is Te Punga, the Anchor. To one side is the dark and dusty Coalsack Nebula, while moving east along the Milky Way brings you to the stars Alpha and Beta Centauri in Centaurus, the Centaur. Lupus, the Wolf, is in front of it. Its two brightest stars are the blue giants Alpha and Beta Lupi, and near to the latter is the remnant of a supernova observed in the year 1006. A medium-sized telescope shows the open globular clusters NGC 5824 and NGC 5986 and the open clusters NGC 5822 and NGC 5749 in Lupus.

The Planets

Odds and Ends

NASA astronaut Don Pettit has taken some amazing star trail images from the International Space Station.

The Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition is taking place in London between the 3rd and 8th of July and includes astronomy stands about ALMA, Herschel and cosmic rays.

The NuSTAR X-ray telescope was successfully launched on the 13th of June. The "first light" image was released on the 28th of June and shows the bright X-ray source Cygnus-X1.

Show Credits

News:Stuart Harper
Interview:Ian Morison and Mark Purver
Interview:Dr Paolo Padovani and Liz Guzman
Interview:Jakub Bochinski and Libby Jones
Night sky:Ian Morison and John Field
Presenters:Megan Argo, David Ault and Jen Gupta
Editors:Jen Gupta, Claire Bretherton, Liz Guzman, Mark Purver and Christina Smith
Segment Voice:Cormac Purcell
Website:Christina Smith and Stuart Lowe
Producers:Libby Jones, Christina Smith and Jen Gupta
Cover art:A composite star trail image taken from the International Space Station. CREDIT: NASA/Don Pettit

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