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June 2013: Flight

June 2013

In the show this time, we talk to Prof. David Neufeld about Hydrides, Indy rounds up the latest news and we find out what we can see in the June night sky from Ian Morison and John Field.

The News

In the news this month: neutron stars, the cosmic web and a black hole.

Interview with Prof. David Neufeld

Prof. David Neufeld from Johns Hopkins University, USA, talks to us about hydrides, discussing what they are and how we can observe them using both Herschel and SOFIA, an airborne infrared observatory. He discusses hydrogen fluoride (HF) specifically and talks about its uses in deriving abundances of molecular hydrogen. He also goes on to tell us about SH, also known as a mercapto radical, why it was absent from previous interstellar observations and what it can tell us.

The Night Sky

Northern Hemisphere

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

Leo the Lion is in the west after sunset. Between Leo's hindmost star, Denebola, and the bright star Arcturus, in Boötes, is the constellation of Coma Berenices, which hosts part of the Virgo Galaxy Cluster. Corona Borealis, the Northern Crown, is an arclet of stars near between Boötes and Hercules. The four brightest stars in Hercules make a trapezium shape called the Keystone, and the globular cluster M13 can be found two thirds of the way up one side of it. The bright star Vega, in Lyra, is towards the east, and near to it is the Double Double - Epsilon Lyrae - which appears as a double star in binoculars but as a pair of double stars through a telescope. Cygnus the swan rises high into the sky later in the night, with its bright star Deneb. Altair, in Aquila, is lower to the south-east and completes the Summer Triangle of Vega, Deneb and Altair. About a third of the way from Altair to Vega is the dark region of the Milky Way called the Cygnus Rift, as well as the asterism called Brocchi's Cluster or the Coathanger.

The Planets


Southern Hemisphere

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

The south-eastern evening sky is dominated by the zodiacal constellations of Scorpius the Scorpion and Sagittarius the Archer. The red star Antares marks the Heart of the Scorpion, and its name means 'The Rival of Mars'. To Māori, and some Polynesians, Scorpius is seen as a fishing hook. Rehua is one Māori name for Antares, showing the blood of Māui staining the eye of the Hook. Straddling the Milky Way, the region around Scorpius is home to a number of nebulae and star clusters. The globular clusters M4 and NGC 6144 are near to Antares and can be observed using binoculars, while a number of double stars can be found along the body of the Scorpion. The open star cluster NGC 6231 appears rather like a comet to the naked eye and is near to the Scorpion's stinger, as is the hazier-looking open cluster M7. M6, the Butterfly Cluster, is in the same region but is fainter. Sagittarius also contains a wealth of nebulae and star clusters, while its brightest stars form the asterism known as the Teapot. Using binoculars, the globular cluster M22 can be found near to Lambda Sagitarii, which marks the top of the Teapot. M8 and M20 - otherwise known as the Lagoon Nebula and the Trifid Nebula - make spectacular sights in Sagittarius. M8 is a compact open cluster surrounded by a circle of nebulosity containing a dark rift. M20 is similar, but is distinguished by dark lanes that split the nebula into three segments. The constellation of the Archer also hosts M23, an open cluster forming arcs of stars, M24, a looser cloud of stars, M25, an open cluster containing several deep yellow stars, and M55, a globular cluster. The Milky Way is at its brightest, widest and densest around Scorpius and Sagittarius because we are looking towards the centre of our Galaxy, some 30,000 light-years away. In Arabic it is Al Nahr, the river, to the Chinese it is the River of Heaven, and to Māori it is Te Ika Roa, the Long Fish. It contains dark bands consisting of gas and dust which may eventually form new clusters of stars.

The planet Saturn is easily spotted in the northern sky after sunset, while Venus appears with Mercury in the west. The Moon will also be in the west as the Sun sets on the 10th, while Venus and Mercury will be only 2° apart on the 20th. The 21st marks the winter solstice, when the Sun rises and sets at its most northerly points and the night hours are at their longest. This date was celebrated in many cultures. In Aotearoa (New Zealand), the dawn rising of Matariki (the Pleiades Cluster) and Puanga (the star Rigel) coincide with the winter solstice, and mark the beginning of the new calendar year in the Māori system known as Te Maramataka.

Odds and Ends

The International Space Station welcomed three new crewmembers on the 29th of May. Russian Fyodor Yurchikin, American Karen Nyberg and Italian Luca Parmitano formed Expedition 36 and joined the three astronauts already on board to complete the crew. Parmitano is the first of ESA's new batch of astronauts to go up to the ISS. The spacefarers have a busy schedule ahead, with over 70 hours of experiments a week to conduct.

Seats on a Virgin Galactic space flight with a "mystery guest" were auctioned at the Cannes film festival auction for the amfAR Cinema Against AIDS charity. The mystery guest is reported to be Leonardo DiCaprio and the seat next to him sold for 1.2 million Euros. A second pair of seats on the same flight sold for 1.8 million Euros. The 'normal' price for seats on a Virgin Galactic space flight is $250,000 and around 550 people have already paid for (either partially or fully) tickets. Commercial flights could happen as early as 2014.

Late in May, the European Space Agency (ESA) collected ideas from astronomers for the next two large (or L-class) ESA missions. ESA only plans to fund three of these L-class missions in the next two decades. Last year, ESA selected the JUpiter ICy moons Explorer (JUICE) as its first L-class mission in this time period; the spacecraft is scheduled to be launched in 2022. The next two missions, which will be selected over the course of the next few years, would be scheduled for launch in 2028 and 2032. ESA could select from a variety of mission concepts, including a mission ot other planets, asteroids, or comets; a spacecraft that can be used to measure gravitational waves from binary pulsars and merging black holes; a new X-ray space telescope, a new infrared/millimetre all-sky survey telescope; or a high-resolution infrared telescope. More information on the selection process as well as ESA's Cosmic Visions program can be found here .

Show Credits

News:Indy Leclercq
Interview:Christina Smith and David Neufeld
Night sky:Ian Morison and John Field
Presenters:George Bendo, Indy Leclercq and Christina Smith
Editors:Adam Avison, George Bendo, Claire Bretherton, Indy Leclercq and Mark Purver
Segment Voice:Mike Peel
Website:Indy Leclercq and Stuart Lowe
Producer:Indy Leclercq
Cover art:The Galactic centre, seen here in infrared from the 2MASS project. Obscured by dust clouds in viible light, the galactic centre is home to a plethora of stars and a supermassive black hole around 4 million times as massive as the Sun. Atlas Image obtained as part of the Two Micron All Sky Survey (2MASS), a joint project of the University of Massachusetts and the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center/California Institute of Technology, funded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the National Science Foundation. CREDIT: 2MASS/G. Kopan and R. Hurt

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