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May 2009: May the 4th be with you

May 2009

It's Roy's last episode of the Jodcast and we welcome some of the new Jodcast Juniors who were our roving reporters at the Joint European and National Astronomy Meeting (JENAM) this year.

The News

In the news this month:

JENAM 2009

Jen and Neil at JENAM

The European Week of Astronomy and Space Science incorporating the RAS NAM 2009 and the EAS JENAM 2009 took place at the University of Hertfordshire from 20-23rd April. A crack team of Jodcast roving reporters were there and brought back the following interviews:

Interview with Professor Andy Fabian (Institute of Astronomy)

Jen, Neil and Kerry talked to Andy Fabian (Institute of Astronomy, President of the RAS) about the Joint European National Astronomy Meeting held at the University of Hertfordshire

Interview with Dr Jane Greaves (University of St Andrews)

Following up on an interview at NAM last year, Jen and Kerry talked to Jane Greaves (University of St Andrews) about the eMERLIN legacy project PEBBLES (Planet Earth Building Blocks - a Legacy eMERLIN Survey) to observe circumstellar disks around stars and try to find planets forming.

Interview with Dr Joeri van Leeuwen (ASTRON)

Neil talked to Joeri van Leeuwen (ASTRON) about ASTRON, LOFAR and pulsars.

Interview with Dr Chris Benn (ING)

Adam talked to Chris Benn, Head of Astronomy at the Isaac Newton Group of Telescopes, about the facilities at ING, new instruments at the telescopes and finding exo-planets.

Interview with Dr René Oudmaijer (University of Leeds)

Neil talked to René Oudmaijer (University of Leeds) about an attempt to find very young stars in our galaxy.

Interview with Dr Linda Tacconi (Max-Planck-Institut für extraterrestrische Physik)

Dandan talked to Linda Tacconi (Max-Planck-Institut für extraterrestrische Physik) about star-forming galaxies in the deep universe which are different from galaxies nearby. Her research helps us to understand how the first galaxies started to grow in the early universe.

Interview with Dr Andrew Levan (University of Warwick)

Neil talked to Andrew Levan (University of Warwick) about short gamma ray bursts.

The Night Sky

Ian Morison tells us what we can see in the night sky during May 2009.

Northern Hemisphere

In order to see a dark sky in May you have to wait up quite a bit but when it does get dark you'll see Gemini, with its bright stars Castor and Pollux, setting towards the south west. Leo is holding pride of place in the south and below it is the planet Saturn. Below Gemini is the constellation of Canis Minor. Over to the south east is the constellation of Virgo with the bright star Spica. Between Spica and the tail of Leo is the Realm of the Galaxies. Here you'll find the Virgo Supercluster of galaxies. Our own local group of galaxies is on the outskirts of this supercluster. On the night sky pages you'll find some of the nice things you can see in these constellations with binoculars or a small telescope.

Jupiter is a morning object. It rises before the Sun but because the ecliptic is fairly low, it will only be around 20 or so degrees above the horizon before dawn. Even so, you'll have a chance to look at the Galilean moons. On May 17th Jupiter is just below the last quarter Moon in the pre-dawn sky. Mars is also low in the pre-dawn sky and is beginning to rise increasing earlier than the Sun as the month progresses. It has a magnitude of about +1.2. Venus passed between the Earth and the Sun in March. It will only lie 12 degrees above the horizon as the Sun rises on the first of May, so will be easier to spot later in the month. It is at magnitude -4.4 at mid month, up and to the right of Mars. In the middle of May, a small telescope will show a crescent phase equivalent to just before a first quarter Moon. An interesting fact about its brightness is that it stays pretty constant at about -4.4 (not +4.4) for most of the time that it is visible even though the apparent phase changes greatly. When the phase is thin, Venus is nearer to us and the effective reflecting area of Venus as seen from Earth remains pretty constant. May is prehaps the last month to see Saturn well in the evening sky. It starts the month at magnitude +0.8 and that falls to about +0.9 as the month progresses. On May 2nd we have the best chance to see Mercury next to the Pleiades Cluster about half an hour after sunset if you have a good low western horizon. On May 21st there is a chance to see Venus, Mars and the thin crescent Moon in the hour before dawn.

Southern Hemisphere

The New Zealand Astronomical Year Book has some lovely maps for each month showing you what you can see. Low in the south is a fairly empty part of the sky but the Small Magellanic Cloud is roughly due south around 9pm in early May. Above that to the right is the Large Magellanic Cloud. As we go through summer towards autumn, the Milky Way gets higher in the sky. The centre of our galaxy - towards the constellation of Sagittarius is just rising in the south-east. Above that is the constellation Scorpius. One way to find the Southern Cross is to use the Pointers - alpha and beta Centauri - which point up towards it. Beta Centauri does not appear as bright as Alpha Centauri but is actually about 100 times further away so is actually a very bright star. Up to the left of Beta Centauri past another bright star you should see a fuzzy glow with binoculars. This is Omega Centauri and was thought to be a globular star cluster. Recent analysis of the stars ages in Omega Centauri indicate that it may be the core of a galaxy that had its outer parts ripped off as came close to the Milky Way.

Odds and Ends

On the Forum and on Twitter there is a discussion about Jodcast live.

Show Credits

News:Megan Argo
Noticias en Español - Mayo 2009:Lizette Ramirez
Interview:Professor Andy Fabian, Jen Gupta, Neil Young and Kerry Hebden
Interview:Dr Jane Greaves, Jen Gupta and Kerry Hebden
Interview:Dr Jeuri and Neil Young
Interview:Dr Chris Benn and Adam Avison
Interview:Dr Rene Oudmaijer and Neil Young
Interview:Dr Linda Tacconi and Dandan Xu
Interview:Dr Andrew Levan and Neil Young
Night sky this month:Ian Morison
Presenters:Megan Argo, David Ault, Jen Gupta, Stuart Lowe, Roy Smits and Neil Young
Editors:Stuart Lowe, Jen Gupta, Neil Young, Kerry Hebden, Adam Avison and Dandan Xu
Intro script/editing:Roy Smits
Margo:Megan Argo
Luke:Roy Smits
Rat Vader:Nick Rattenbury
Jodbot:Stuart Lowe
Voice-over:David Ault
Professor Obey:Ian Morisson
Star wars sound effects:William Young
Woman's scream sound:thanvannispen under Creative Commons Sampling Plus 1.0
Caged birds sound:batchku under Creative Commons Sampling Plus 1.0
Caged birds sound:batchku under Creative Commons Sampling Plus 1.0
Vinyl intro sound:schluppipuppie under Creative Commons Sampling Plus 1.0
Record scratch sound:Halleck under Creative Commons Sampling Plus 1.0
Kiss sound effect:Royalty free from
Segment voice:Danny Wong-McSweeney
Website:Stuart Lowe
Cover art:Artist's impression of a gamma ray burst Credit: ESO/A. Roquette

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