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October 2013: Splash

October 2013

In the show this time, we talk to Prof Andrew Jaffe about probing the early universe with Planck, Stuart rounds up the latest news and we find out what we can see in the October night sky from Ian Morison and John Field.

The News

This month in the news we get to the core of the matter:

Interview with Andrew Jaffe

Prof. Andrew Jaffe from Imperial College London talks to us about probing the early universe with Planck. He begins by telling us what he means by the "early universe" and how we observe it, especially the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB), and how maps of the CMB are produced from what Planck initially observes. He discusses the science that can be obtained from these observations, including temperature fluctuations and patterns in the CMB and, in the future, the polarisation of the CMB and why polarisation is important. He goes on to tell us about how these observations can be used to constrain models of the Universe and what we hope to gain from this in the future.

The Night Sky

Northern Hemisphere

Ian Morison tells us what we can see in the northern hemisphere night sky during October 2013.

Cygnus, with its bright star Deneb, is high overhead in the evening. Lyra, containing the star Vega, is nearby. The star Altair, in Vega, completes the Summer Triangle. Hercules in lower to the west, with its four brightest stars making the Keystone. Two-thirds of the way up the right-hand side of the Keystone is the globular cluster M13. Pegasus is in the south-east. The constellation of Andromeda, hosting the Andromeda Galaxy, is nearby. The Milky Way runs down towards the north-east, along which can be found Cassiopeia and Perseus. In between these two constellations is the Double Cluster, which can be seen with the naked eye but looks spectacular in a telescope. Taurus and the Pleiades rise later in the evening.

The Planets


Southern Hemisphere

John Field from the Carter Observatory in New Zealand speaks about the southern hemisphere night sky during October 2013.

October sees Scorpius and Sagittarius in the western sky after sunset, and these constellations begin to set around midnight New Zealand Daylight Time (NZDT, 13 hours ahead of Universal Time). The Milky Way runs north to south in the evening, and covers the western horizon by midnight. On the 5th, the lack of moonlight gives the best chance of observing the zodiacal light in the west. This faint, triangular glow can be seen after sunset, and is caused by sunlight reflecting off dust particles in the plane of our Solar System. The planet Saturn and the star Spica are low in the west, and will soon be lost in the twilight sky. Venus is high in the evening sky, with a crescent Moon joining it on the 8th. It will be close to the red star Antares on the 17th, in the constellation of Scorpius. Both Uranus and Neptune are in the evening sky, but are too faint to spot with the naked eye.

The brightest star currently visible in the evening, Canopus, is in the south-east and climbs higher in the southern sky during the night. While low down, it twinkles in a variety of colours due to the passage of its light through our turbulent atmosphere. To Māori the star is Atutahi, the high chief of the heavens. Sirius, the only star which outshines Canopus at night, rises after midnight. At this time Alpha Centauri, the third-brightest night-time star, is also in the sky. All three appear along the Milky Way, and Alpha Centauri is the brighter of the two stars that point towards Crux, the Southern Cross. While appearing to the unaided eye as a single yellowish star, a small telescope reveals that it is a binary system. Its component stars take 80 years to orbit around one another. Crux gets lower in the sky during the evening and is close to the horizon at midnight, but never sets over New Zealand. Travelling along the Milky Way from the pointers and Crux, we come to the Carina Nebula, a vast star-forming region which appears as a bright haze in the sky. Binoculars or a small telescope show dark lanes and star clusters among numerous stars. One of the most massive stars in the Galaxy, Eta Carinae, sits within this nebula. It is bright orange and has brightened over the last 20 years to become visible to naked eye. The two Magellanic Clouds are high in the south, near the bright star Achernar. They are irregular dwarf galaxies relatively close to our own Milky Way, and look like fuzzy clouds moving around the southern celestial pole. Very low in the north is our nearest neighbouring giant galaxy, Andromeda. It is faintly visible to the eye and can be easily seen in binoculars if the sky is dark.

Jupiter rises around 03:00 NZDT early in the month and is low to the north at sunrise, while Mars appears as a red 'star' in the morning twilight. Comet ISON is now rapidly approaching the Sun and passes by Mars and the star Regulus in the sky this month. It is below and to the north of Mars for the rest of October, probably becoming visible to binoculars - and perhaps even to the naked eye - by month's end. Next month, it will make its closest approach to the Sun.

Odds and Ends

The Kepler space telescope may not have reached the end of its life quite yet! As touched on previously in the Jodcast, the space telescope can't search for exoplanets any more due to faulty stabilisation components. NASA has since put out a call for ideas on how to use the telescope in its current state, interesting stellar astronomers.

The Mars rover Curiosity has detected water! By examining a pinch of dirt the scientists found the dirt contained 2% water by mass. This holds huge implications for man missions as there is a large source of water already there.

Back in 2003, the Space Telescope Science Institute released Hubbleglobular clusters, most of which are found around the large elliptical galaxy in the core of Abell 1689. For comparison, the Milky Way contains about 150 galaxies. Moreover, the group found that more globular clusters are found in locations with more dark matter, which implies that they form more effectively in these regions. More information can be found here .

Warning: some links may not work due to the US Government shutdown!

Show Credits

News:Stuart Harper
Interview:Christina Smith and Andrew Jaffe
Night sky:Ian Morison and John Field
Presenters:George Bendo, Indy Leclercq and Chris Wallis
Editors:Mark Purver and Sally Cooper
Segment Voice:Mike Peel
Website:Indy Leclercq and Stuart Lowe
Producer:Indy Leclercq
Cover art:Hubble Wide-Field Image of Galaxy Cluster and Gravitational Lens Abell 1689 CREDIT: NASA, ESA, J. Blakeslee and K. Alamo-Martinez

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