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May 2013: Breakable

May 2013

In the show this time, we talk to Dr Rubina Kotak about supernovae, Stuart rounds up the latest news and we find out what we can see in the May night sky from Ian Morison and John Field.

The News

In the news this month: stormy Saturn days.

Interview with Dr Rubina Kotak

Dr Rubina Kotak, from Queen's University Belfast, talks to us about her research into supernovae arising from massive stars. She explains that more and more objects are being found that defy the current supernova classification system, from very bright, distant objects to very dim ones, and tells us what is being done to try explain them and to fit them into our framework for understanding supernovae.

The Night Sky

Northern Hemisphere

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

The constellation of Taurus is setting in the west at dusk, with Leo moving across the southern sky. To the south-east are Virgo and Coma Berenices, between which the 'Realm of the Galaxies' provides a rich area for telescope observations. The planet Saturn is near to Virgo's brightest star, Spica. Boötes, with its bright star Arcturus, lies to the east, above Hercules. The four brightest stars in Hercules make a trapezium known as the Keystone, on one side of which is the largest and brightest globular cluster in the northern hemisphere, M13. Lyra, Cygnus and Aquila rise later in the evening, with their bright stars Vega, Deneb and Altair forming the 'Summer Triangle'. Near to Vega, in Lyra, is what appears through binoculars to be a double star. A telescope reveals that each component is itself a double star, lending the system the name of the 'Double Double'. Jodrell Bank's Astronomical A-list gives details of some the night sky's nicest objects.

The Planets


Southern Hemisphere

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

May sees Orion the Hunter in the western sky in the evening. Above it is Sirius, the brightest night-time star, which often twinkles in different colours as shifting air currents refract its light. Sirius is known as the Dog Star because it is part of Canis Major, one of Orion's two dogs. To Māori it is Takarua, the Winter Star, while to Egyptians it is Sothis, whose dawn rising heralds the annual floods of the river Nile. Orion is on his side, with a line of three stars forming his Belt. These three are part of the Bird Snare, Te Manu Rore, in Māori star lore. A fainter line of stars above the Belt marks the Orion's Sword. The Sword and Belt together are nicknamed the Pot or the Saucepan.

On the opposite side of the sky, Scorpius and Sagittarius rise in the east after sunset, containing a wealth of night-sky objects. Crux and the Pointer Stars are high overhead in the south. Near to the star Beta Crucis is a star cluster called the Jewel Box, visible as a hazy glow to the naked eye. Individual stars can be seen with binoculars, while a telescope reveals more detail. The constellations of Carina, the Keel, and Vela, the Sails, run along the Milky Way between Crux and Sirius, and host many bright stars, clusters and nebulae. The brightest nebula, the Eta Carina Nebula, covers a larger area of sky than the Orion Nebula, and binoculars show star clusters nestling among glowing clouds of gas that are intertwined with dark lanes. The star Eta Carinae is there, and has interested astronomers by brightening from magnitude +8 in 1940 to +4.6 today.

Now is a good time to observe the Aurora Australis, or Southern Lights. The phenomenon is caused by the interaction of the solar wind with the Earth's magnetic field and atmosphere, and its colourful glow is sometimes visible from southern parts of New Zealand, Australia and South America. It is governed by the Sun's activity, which is currently increasing towards a probable peak in the spring. You can check a number of websites for an aurora forecast.

The Planets


Odds and Ends

As of last week, Ireland has a new mini LOFAR station. It consists of four low-band dipole antennae, as compared to the 96 in a full LOFAR station. The I-LOFAR group took four 'unrepairable' antennae from the UK LOFAR station in Chilbolton, damaged in storms last year, and repaired them. They have set them up in the grounds of Birr Castle, once the site of the world's largest telescope. Birr Castle is located in the centre of the country and has extremely low levels of radio frequency interference, making it ideal for radio astronomy. Already the group has used the station to observe radio bursts from the Sun and plan to do solar, planetary and pulsar observations in the future.

Up to 95% of the water currently in Jupiter's stratosphere may have been deposited there by Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9, according to observations made with the Herschel infrared telescope. The comet provided a unique sight to astronomers in 1994 when it crashed into Jupiter, and now water can be seen in the areas where its fragments struck. With water known to be relatively abundant in the Solar System, this appears to be a novel mechanism by which it can be deposited onto a planet.

The Zooniverse is a collection of online citizen science projects, including the hugely popular Galaxy Zoo. Galaxy Zoo users can now explore their classifications in more detail using the Navigator tool, which allows you to make plots and see how your classifications compare to everyone else's. Another site, Zooteach, contains lesson plans to bring Zooniverse projects into the classroom.

Show Credits

News:Stuart Harper
Interview:Dr Rubina Kotak and Indy Leclercq
Night sky:Ian Morison and John Field
Presenters:Jen Gupta, Evan Keane and Mark Purver
Editors:Indy Leclercq, George Bendo, Claire Bretherton and Mark Purver
Segment Voice:Mike Peel
Website:Mark Purver and Stuart Lowe
Producer:Libby Jones
Cover art:A map of water in Jupiter's stratosphere, produced using infrared spectrometry with the Herschel Space Observatory. CREDIT: ESA/Herschel/T. Cavalié et al.

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