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EWASS/NAM 2018

EWASS/NAM 2018

In this special episode we have an EWASS/NAM extravaganza, brought to you from the floor of the cross-over event held in Liverpool in April 2018, where the European Week of Astronomy and Space Science (EWASS) met the UK's National Astronomy Meeting (NAM). We also have time for Tana Joseph to round up the latest news and find out what we can see in the May night sky from Ian Morison and Gaby Perez.

The News

On the 18th of April, NASA's latest exoplanet research satellite was launched. The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, TESS for short, was sent into orbit on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. The launch was initially scheduled for two days prior, but had to be delayed due to a technical issue with the rocket.

TESS will use its thrusters, and even a gravitational assist from the Moon, to settle into its correct orbit around the Earth. This process will take several weeks. Once in its proper orbit path, the satellite will undergo a further 60 days of technical tests before starting its science observing.

This will be the first space-based all-sky monitoring observatory to search for planets outside our solar system. TESS will specifically be searching for Earth-like planets that could potentially harbour life. In order to find these exoplanets, TESS will observe stars and look for the slight dimming and re-brightening that indicates that a planet has passed in front of the star, called the transiting method. This is the same search method used by the highly successful planet-hunting mission, Kepler, which was launched in 2009 and is now running out of fuel.

TESS will be able to observe an area 400 times larger than what was covered by Kepler. In addition, it will be observing stars that are close enough for astronomers to be able to do follow-up studies, something that was possible with the systems Kepler studied. Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate had this to say about the mission, "We are thrilled TESS is on its way to help us discover worlds we have yet to imagine, worlds that could possibly be habitable, or harbor life."

Supermassive black holes that are millions to billions of times more massive than our Sun are known to reside in the centre of most galaxies. Some of these enormous black holes eject immense jets of charged particles travelling at nearly the speed of light. However, it is not currently known exactly how these jets are launched from the black hole.

Earlier this month, an international team of astronomers announced that they have observed jets being launched only 12 light days from their source around the supermassive black hole in the radio galaxy Perseus A. This is only the second time a jet has been observed so close to a supermassive black hole. The observation immediately surprised scientists as the jets were seen to be much wider than predicted by current theories of jet formation. This may mean that the jets originate further away from the black hole than previously thought. These extremely detailed images of the jets were made possible by using Very Long Baseline Interferometry, or VLBI. This observational technique works by linking several radio telescopes together to form a telescope that is effectively as large as the distance between the individual instruments. For this particular experiment, the VLBI configuration - which is called RadioAstron - consisted of more than twenty of the world's largest ground-based radio telescopes as well as a 10m Russian space-based radio telescope, resulting in a virtual telescope of 350 000 km across.

The Very Large Telescope, or VLT, in Chile has been used to take images of the disks of material around stars from which planets form. These disks are usually not visible due to the brightness of the host star. But, by blocking out the star's light in the obsertvations, astronomers were able to get a look at the circumstellar disks, which are made up of gas, dust and planetesimals, or proto-planets.

The study focussed on a type of young star called T Tauri stars. These stars are less than 10 million years old and have masses less than about three times the mass of our Sun. Only stars that are between 230 and 550 light years away were included, as their proximity makes the circumstellar disks easier to observe. The images revealed that these disks come in various shapes and sizes, from dense and puffed up, to small and faint. By studying these proto-planetary disks, we can learn more about how planets and solar systems form.

Interview with Hayden Goodfellow

Hayden Goodfellow is currently working at Kielder Observatory in Northumberland, one of the UK's dark sky sites. He talks to Emma about working with actual telescopes, the public outreach done at Kielder and maybe moving towards targeting transiting exoplanets.

Interview with Dr. Amy Tyndall

Josh interviews Dr. Amy Tyndall of the University of Edinburgh, who has since moved from her PhD at Jodrell Bank into full-time outreach, both for the University of Edinburgh's biomedical research program Proteus and as Editor for the magazine Popular Astronomy.

Interview with Prof. Chris Lintott

During EWASS/NAM, we caught up with an old friend of the Jodcast, Prof. Chris Lintott. In his 8th (!) appearance on the Jodcast, he tells us how his students and co-workers have been combining citizen science and machine learning within the Zooniverse. We also chat about exoplanet news and the Exoplanet Explorer - coming soon to a Zooniverse near you!

Interview with Dr. Matt Taylor

Another Jodcast friend had a stand at EWASS/NAM - Dr. Matt Taylor, ESA Project Scientist for the Rosetta Mission. With the mission now concluded, he and Josh look back at the story Rosetta and Philae, and forward to the science that is still coming from the data gathered.

Interview with Dr. Claire Burke and Maisie Rashman

Emma interviews Dr. Claire Burke and Maisie Rashman from Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU), the host institute for this cross-over event. Their recently-publicised research concerns the novel application of astronomical techniques and software to the world of conservation, to find and detect endangered animals using drone-mounted infra-red cameras.

Interview with Dr. Robert Massey

In our final interview from the floor of EWASS/NAM, Josh successfully corners Dr. Robert Massey of the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS). He discusses the ongoing work of the RAS both within and beyond the astronomical community, including taking action on the results of the recent RAS Diversity Survey and working to preserve scientific collaborations in a post-Brexit universe.

The Night Sky

Northern Hemisphere

Ian Morison tells us what we can see in the Northern Hemisphere night sky during May 2018.

The Planets

Southern Hemisphere

Gabriela Perez from the Carter Observatory in New Zealand speaks about the Southern Hemisphere night sky during May 2018.

Show Credits

News:Tana Joseph
Interview 1:Hayden Goodfellow and Emma Alexander
Interview 2:Dr. Amy Tyndall and Josh Hayes
Interview 3:Prof. Chris Lintott and Emma Alexander
Interview 4:Dr. Matt Taylor and Josh Hayes
Interview 5:Dr. Claire Burke, Maisie Rashman and Emma Alexander
Interview 6:Dr. Robert Massey and Josh Hayes
Night Sky:Ian Morison and Gabriela Perez
Presenters:Josh Hayes and Nialh McCallum
Editors:Emma Alexander, Shruti Badole, Beth Jones and Tom Scragg
Segment Voice:Tess Jaffe
Website:Jake Morgan and Stuart Lowe
Producer:Jake Morgan
Cover art:The new Jodcast team - beyond the visible spectrum! CREDIT: Ant Holloway + George Bendo

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