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December 2012 Extra: Past, Present, Future

December 2012 Extra

In the show this time, Dr Dave Jones tells us about an unusual planetary nebula, Professor Phil Diamond talks about the new Square Kilometre Array headquarters at Jodrell Bank in this month's JodBite and Dr Iain McDonald answers your astronomical questions in Ask an Astronomer.

JodBite with Prof. Phil Diamond

Prof. Phil Diamond is the Director General of the Square Kilometre Array Organisation, which is designing and creating the World's largest radio telescope. He tells us about the new SKA Project Office at Jodrell Bank Observatory in the UK, which is the headquarters of the organisation, and the siting of the telescope in both South Africa and Australia. He also talks about the current design of the SKA and how this may change, the timetable for bringing it into operation and the new astronomical frontiers that it will investigate.

Interview with Dr Dave Jones

Dr Dave Jones, formerly a PhD student at the University of Manchester, now works on planetary nebulae (PNe) at the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in Santiago, Chile. He recently co-authored a paper for the journal Science on the PN known as Fleming 1, which was discovered in 1910 and has intrigued astronomers ever since. A PN is formed by the heating of material lost as a relatively small star dies, and those with a non-spherical shape, like Fleming 1, are often thought to host a binary star system. Dave tells us how the team at ESO were able to use the Very Large Telescope to measure the Doppler shift of the spectrum of a star at the centre of Fleming 1 and show that it was in a 1.2-day orbit, from which they surmised that it was one of two white dwarfs. These are the remnants of the burnt-out stars that created the PN, with the first white dwarf consuming material from its companion to leave a second. Dave also discusses how they used computer modelling to show that the twisted outflows of material from Fleming 1 were produced as the two stars orbited within the ejected stellar material and were drawn together by friction.

Ask an Astronomer

Dr Iain McDonald answers your astronomical questions:

Odds and Ends

Researchers at the European Space Agency have been conducting a novel experiment to determine the effect of space travel on ageing. Twelve 'pillownauts' have had to spend 21 days in tilted beds with their heads at the lower end. The idea is that, under these conditions, the body begins to change as if it were living in space. The research team hopes to use the study to develop exercise and nutritional programmes to counteract the effect of staying in space.

Fly me to the Moon: a number of ex-NASA administrators have set up a company planning to offer paying customers their own chance to emulate Neil Armstrong. It comes with a hefty price tag, though: 1.4 billion US dollars. Expect sponsored lunar landings at a moon near you by 2020, if everything goes right.

NASA's Cassini spacecraft has discovered a river composed of liquid hydrocarbons on the surface of Saturn's largest moon, Titan. It has tributaries and a mouth, and appears to have formed through a process similar to Earth's water cycle - the main differences being that Titan's cycle takes place in an environment of around -180° centigrade and involves compounds such as ethane and methane.

Peering further than anyone has before: scientists working with the Hubble Space Telescope have discovered seven of the oldest objects ever seen in the sky, with estimated ages of less than 3% of the Universe's current age. The astronomers were working on improving the Hubble Ultra Deep Field, imaging objects with redshifts of 8.2-11.9, corresponding to a time 600 million to 380 million years after the Big Bang.

Show Credits

JodBite:Prof. Phil Diamond and Mark Purver
Interview:Dr Dave Jones and Mark Purver
Ask An Astronomer:Dr Iain McDonald and Libby Jones
Presenters:Philippa Hartley, Indy Leclercq and Mark Purver
Editors:Mark Purver, Liz Guzman and Indy Leclercq
Producer:Mark Purver
Segment Voice:Cormac Purcell
Website:Mark Purver and Stuart Lowe
Cover art:The planetary nebula Fleming 1 and its bipolar outflows, as seen by the Very Large Telescope. CREDIT: ESO/H. Boffin

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