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November 2011: Mischievous

November 2011

In the show this time, we talk to Prof. Rob Izzard about the mischievous J-stars. As always, Megan rounds up the latest news and we hear what we can see in the November night sky from Ian Morison and John Field.

The News

In the news this month:

Interview with Prof. Rob Izzard

Prof. Rob Izzard is an astrophysicist in the Stellar Astrophysics group at the Argelander Institute for Astronomy, part of the University of Bonn. In this interview, Rob talks about J-type stars, carbon stars which are rich in the carbon 13 isotope. Here he proposes a new theory for how these stars are formed, discusses their odd chemical abundances and explains why these stars are mischievous.

The Night Sky

Northern Hemisphere

Ian Morison tells us what we can see in the northern hemisphere night sky during November 2011.

The Square of Pegasus is in the south-east after sunset. An arc of stars forms the mane and head of Pegasus, the Winged Horse. The globular cluster M15 is up and right of Enif, the nose of the Horse. The top-left of the Square is the star Alpheratz, from which your unaided eye can locate 2.5-million-year-old photons coming from the Andromeda Galaxy. Under a dark sky, the Triangulum Galaxy, our smaller neighbour, can also be found. The w-shaped constellation of Cassiopeia is high in the sky, with Perseus slightly lower to the north-east. Between them, where the Milky Way runs, the Perseus Double Cluster can be made out with binoculars or a telescope. Taurus, the Bull, is lower in the east, containing the Pleiades Cluster. The V-shaped Hyades Cluster marks the head of the Bull. The Bull's eye is the bright red giant star Aldebaran, which is not part of the Hyades. Orion rises in the east later in the evening, and moves across the southern sky during the night.

The Planets


Southern Hemisphere

John Field from the Carter Observatory in New Zealand speaks about the southern hemisphere night sky during November 2011.

The winter constellations of Scorpius and Sagittarius are descending towards the western horizon, while the rise of Taurus, Orion and Canis Major in the east heralds the arrival of summer. Early in the month, Mercury and Venus are close together in the west after sunset, and by the middle they approach to the red star Antares, the heart of the Scorpion. Jupiter rises high in the northern sky by midnight, appearing at its brightest as it is close to the Earth, having just passed opposition (when it was on the opposite side to the Sun in the sky). Binoculars or a small telescope reveal its four largest moons, which change position from night to night. Banding on its surface is also visible, as is its Great Red Spot at certain times. Jupiter's rapid rotation and fluid composition make it appear wider than a sphere at its equator.

The three brightest stars in the night sky - Sirius, Canopus and Alpha Centauri - line the south-eastern horizon near the Milky Way. The brightest is Sirius in upside-down Canis Major (the Great Dog), which shines at magnitude -1.46 and is intrinsically around 26 times more luminous than our Sun. The second-brightest star in Canis Major is Adhara, at magnitude +1.5, which is intrinsically some 20,000 times more luminous than the Sun and one of the brightest ultraviolet sources in the sky. The Great Dog's third-brightest star is at the Wezen, at the tip of its tail; it is a yellow supergiant 50,000 times more luminous than the Sun. The open star cluster M41 is in the belly of the Dog, and can be seen with the naked eye or resolved into individual stars using binoculars or a telescope.

Crux, the Southern Cross, is in the south-west after sunset and descends during the night but never sets. Taurus the Bull and Orion the Hunter stand to the north-east of Sirius, with the Hyades Cluster forming the Bull's head. The brightest star in this region is Aldebaran (the Follower), which lies between Earth and the Hyades, and is named for following the Pleiades Cluster across the sky. The Pleiades are part of the Bull's back, and are also known as the Seven Sisters in Greek mythology, as Matariki to the Māori and as Subaru to the Japanese. Near to where the Bull's horns point to the northern horizon is the Crab Nebula, an expanding cloud of gas and dust resulting from a supernova observed in 1054. Orion has his shield and sword raised, and a Belt of three aligned stars with a fainter Sword slightly higher in the sky. A faint haze in the Sword marks the Orion Nebula, a star-forming region 1200 light-years from us. To most southern hemisphere observers the Belt and Sword are called the Pot, the Iron Pot or the Saucepan, while to Mā they are Tautoru. The Maya visualised Orion as a turtle with three stone glyphs on its back, while they saw the stars Alnitak, Rigel and Saiph as a triangular hearth from which the Orion Nebula was rising smoke.

Odds and Ends

The Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank has been chosen to represent the letter 'J' in a new set of Royal Mail Stamps featuring iconic UK landmarks. This is not the first time Jodrell Bank has been featured on a stamp around the world but marks the first time since 1966 the Jodrell Bank radio telescope has been on a stamp in the UK.

The VLA (Very Large Array) in New Mexico has been undergoing a substantial upgrade of its systems over the past ten years and, as a celebration of their completion, a competition has been opened to rename the VLA. Members of the public are being encouraged to submit suggestions for the new name for the upgraded VLA (which many have been calling the e-VLA) via the website: The closing date for entries is 1st December 2011 at 23:59 EST and the new name will be announced at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Austin in January.

Ancient volcanic tunnels on the moon, discovered in images from Japan's Kaguya mission, could provide the main structure for a lunar colony. Russian space scientists think they could seal the tunnels with an inflatable shell, avoiding the need to dig into the lunar surface or build walls and ceilings. Such a base could become a reality by 2030.

The new Virgin Galactic spaceport in New Mexico has been dedicated by Sir Richard Branson by absailing down the side of the building drinking champagne. Onlookers were also given a flyby from the commercial crafts being used for the flights (WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo). The spaceport is the world's first "built from scratch" commercial spaceport and will be the departure and alighting points for passengers taking the $200,000 trip into space and back. The flights aboard WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo will last 2.5 hours in total, including five minutes of weightlessness.

Show Credits

News:Megan Argo
Interview:Prof. Rob Izzard, Libby Jones and Christina Smith
Night sky:Ian Morison and John Field
Presenters:Jen Gupta, Leo Huckvale, Libby Jones, and Christina Smith
Editors:Adam Avison, Megan Argo, Claire Bretherton, Mark Purver and Joel Radiven
Segment Voice:Liz Guzman
Website:Libby Jones and Stuart Lowe
Producer:Libby Jones
Cover art:A multi-wavelength view of the oldest known supernova, RCW 86. CREDIT:: NASA/JPL-Caltech/B. Williams (NCSU)

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