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September 2013: Telescopey

September 2013

In the show this time, we talk to Prof David Kirkby about measuring the universe with cosmic sound, Stuart rounds up the latest news and we find out what we can see in the September night sky from Ian Morison and John Field.

The News

This month in the news: Gamma-Ray Bursts and Flickering stars.

Interview with David Kirkby

Prof. David Kirkby tells us about measuring the Universe with cosmic sound. Cosmic sound isn't really a sound you can listen to, but more of a 'scientists definition' of sound. These 'sound waves' were created by the Big Bang but only lasted a short time. At the point the universe began to change phase, the 'sound waves' got frozen in. These sound waves allow Prof. Kirkby to examine the expansion history of the universe. He goes on to tell us how it is possible to measure these 'frozen sound waves' in the universe from the jumble of information we get from observations, and what the future holds for this field.

The Night Sky

Northern Hemisphere

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

The bright star Deneb is high in the evening sky, with Vega nearby and Altair lower down forming the Summer Triangle. The asterism of Brocchi's Cluster, or the Coathanger, lies a third of the way up from Altair towards Vega in front of the dark region of the Milky Way known as the Cygnus Rift. Below is the small constellation of Delphinus the Dolphin. Pegasus is rising in the east, next to Andromeda and M31, the Andromeda Galaxy. To find M31, begin at the bright star Alpha Andromedae (Alpheratz) at the top-left corner of the Square of Pegasus, move one star to the left, curve slightly to the right to a second bright star, then take a right-angle to the right, pass a fairly bright star, and move the same distance again to reach the milky glow of the galaxy. Above Andromeda is the W-shaped Cassiopeia, whose lower V-shape also points towards M31. Perseus is lower down in the east as the evening wears on, and between Perseus and Cassiopeia is the Perseus Double Cluster, a pair of star clusters that look lovely in a telescope.

The Planets


Southern Hemisphere

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

As the spring equinox approaches on the 22nd, the winter stars set earlier in the west and the summer constellations begin to rise in the east. Scorpius is overhead after sunset. To Māori it is a fish hook, while to the chinese it is a dragon breathing out the Milky Way. The constellation contains many bright stars, double stars and star clusters. The Milky Way runs north to south and provides a wealth of targets. Cygnus the Swan, or the Northern Cross, is in the north with its neck stretching along the Milky Way and its brightest star, Deneb, marking the tail on the horizon. The stars Deneb, Vega and Altair form the Winter Triangle. Beta Cygni marks the Swan's head, and its alternative name, Albireo, derives from 'beak star'. With a magnitude of +3, a telescope show it to be a lovely double star, with gold and blue components. Gamma Cygni is the chest of the Swan and the centre of the Cross, shining at magnitude +2.6. A dark band on the Milky Way, known as the Cygnus Rift, can be spotted on a moonless night. Sometimes called the Northern Coalsack, it is a large cloud of dust around a million times the mass of the Sun. North-east of Deneb is the open cluster M39, larger than the full Moon and visible to the unaided eye. Binoculars or a wide-field telescope reveal a loose, triangular cluster of over 30 stars.

The bright star Fomalhaut is near the eastern horizon, forming the mouth of Piscis Austrinus, the faint constellation of the Southern Fish. Between Fomalhaut and Altair is the long string of stars making up the zodiacal constellation of Aquarius, the Water-carrier. Its second-brightest star is Alpha Aquarii, while Beta Aquarii is very slightly brighter at magnitude +2.87. Zeta Aquarii, at magnitude +3.6, is a double star which crossed the celestial equator into the northern sky in 2004. Nearby are the globular cluster M2, a hazy star to binoculars but partially resolvable with a 20-centimetre telescope, and NGC 7293, a nearby planetary nebula known as the Helix Nebula which can also be resolved with a telescope. Crux, the Southern Cross, nestles in the Milky Way midway down the south-western sky, with the two pointer stars following behind. The Jewel Box, a 4th-magnitude haze to the naked eye, appears as a lovely star cluster in binoculars beside the second-brightest star in Crux. It is partially obscured by a cloud of dust called the Coalsack Nebula. Canopus, the second-brightest night-time star, moves along the southern horizon.

The planets Venus and Saturn are in the west after sunset, and are joined by Mercury early in the month. The Moon sits between Saturn and Venus on the 9th, while Mercury is near to the bright star Spica on the 25th. Venus moves past Saturn during September, setting around 23:30 NZST (New Zealand Standard Time, 12 hours ahead of Universal Time) by month's end. Saturn moves closer to the Sun, setting earlier and becoming fainter. Jupiter climbs high into the morning sky, while Mars hides in the early-morning twilight. The summer constellations of Taurus, Orion, Canis Major and Canis Minor shine above Jupiter.

Odds and Ends

Last month marked the 10th anniversary of the launch of the Spitzer Space Telescope. In the 10 years of the telescope's existence, it has performed multiple groundbreaking observations. Even though it ran out of coolant for its mid- and far-infrared instruments, it can still make images at 3.6 and 4.5 microns. More details as well as some of the more interesting images from the mission are available from NASA's press release here

The Kepler space telescope has had to finally cease operations due to a second faulty reaction wheel that stabilise the telescope. The wheel broke down in May, and NASA engineers have tried but ultimately failed to find a workaround. The telescope was launched in 2009, and its primary mission was to search for earth-like exoplanets, which it has done very successfully: 135 new planets have been confirmed so far, and the telescope has collected data on 3,500 more candidates which have yet to be fully analysed excitingly, scientists expect most of these will yield confirmed planets.

The Mars Curiosity Rover has driven on its own for the first time. Usually the rover gets instructions from Earth and carries them out, but there was a dip in its route. The total distance which couldn't be seen in advance of the rover driving into it was 33ft (out of the 141ft it travelled that day). It jinked to avoid something it determined was a hazard but had an otherwise uneventful route.

Show Credits

News:Stuart Harper
Interview:Christina Smith and David Kirkby
Night sky:Ian Morison and John Field
Presenters:George Bendo, Indy Leclercq and Christina Smith
Editors:Indy Leclerq, Mark Purver and Christina Smith
Segment Voice:Mike Peel
Website:Christina Smith and Stuart Lowe
Producer:Christina Smith
Cover art:The CMB projected into the Lovell Dish at Live from Jodrell Bank CREDIT: Indy Leclercq

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