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March 2016: United In Radio Silence

March 2016

For the second time in history we are recording live with a studio audience in celebration of a decade of Jodcasting! In the show this time, we talk to Stuart Lowe and David Ault about how they founded the show, Mark Purver and Jen Gupta return to tell us about their lives since their Jodcast tenure ended and Chris Lintott was interviewed for the 7th time about the Zooniverse and his recent wildlife-counting trip to the Antarctic. We find out what we can see in the march night sky from Ian Morison and Haritina Mogusanu and our live studio audience pose their questions to the largest ever Ask An Astronomer panel

Click here to see the Jodcast Live gallery by Michael Peel.

Interview with David Ault and Dr Stuart Lowe

Stuart Lowe and David Ault are the reason you're listening to this! They, along with Nick Rattenbury, had an idea for an astronomy podcast way back in 2006 whilst they were research students/associates at Jodrell Bank. And now they are back with us! Stuart and David tell us how they came up with the idea, how they went about building and developing the show and share some of their memories as the first executive producers of the Jodcast.

Interview with Dr Jen Gupta and Dr Mark Purver

Jen and Mark have had a long history with the show. Mark has been there almost since the beginning, and Jen was the second executive producer of the show. They tell us about their Jodcast memories and what they've been up to in their post-research careers. Mark talks to us about his new life as a statistician for the UK government and how the skills he developed as an astronomer are being but to use on crime data. Jen is now Outreach Officer for the Institute for Gravitation and Cosmology at the University of Portsmouth where she spends her working (and non-working!) life telling others about the science she loves.

Interview with Prof. Chris Lintott

Well Chris is back with us yet again. It wouldn't have been right to do this without him now would it!? We talk to Chris for the 7th (and certainly not last) time. This time we hear about the latest developments in the Zooniverse, his recent foray into hunting for pulsars at this year's BBC Stargazing Live and his trip to the Antarctic to count seals and penguins (which he was barely off the plane from).

Ask An Astronomer

This is the video I made of the mystery Green object it covers a time period from 22:20 until 23:Hrs on 12:12;2015

Posted by Chris Walker on Wednesday, 20 January 2016

The Night Sky

Northern Hemisphere

Ian Morison tells us what we can see in the northern hemisphere night sky during March 2016.


The Stars

The Early Evening March SkyThis map shows the constellations seen in the south during the early evening. The brilliant constellation of Orion is seen in the south. Moving up and to the right - following the line of the three stars of Orion's belt - brings one to Taurus; the head of the bull being outlined by the V-shaped cluster called the Hyades with its eye delineated by the orange red star Aldebaran. Further up to the right lies the Pleaides Cluster. Towards the zenith from Taurus lies the constellation Auriga, whose brightest star Capella will be nearly overhead. To the upper left of Orion lie the heavenly twins, or Gemini, their heads indicated by the two bright stars Castor and Pollux. Down to the lower left of Orion lies the brightest star in the northern sky, Sirius, in the consteallation Canis Major. Up and to the left of Sirius is Procyon in Canis Minor. Rising in the East is the constellation of Leo, the Lion, with the planet Saturn up and to the right of Regulus its brightest star. Continuing in this direction towards Gemini is the faint constellation of Cancer with its open cluster Praesepe (also called the Beehive Cluster),the 44th object in Messier's catalogue. On a dark night it is a nice object to observe with binoculars.

The Late Evening March SkyThis map shows the constellations seen in the south around midnight.

The Planets

The Moon

New moon
First quarterFull moonLast quarter
9 March14 March23 March1 and 31 March

Southern Hemisphere

Welcome to the month of March. My name is Haritina Mogosanu and tonight I'm your starryteller from Space Place at Carter Observatory in Aotearoa, New Zealand.

As autumn starts in the southern hemisphere, at nightfall, half of our galaxy, the Milky Way, arches across the night sky from NNE to SSW like a river flowing through the heights of the heavens. Its edge is towards the western horizon and its centre rises in the east. At the fringe of our milky city of stars, on the north-western horizon, the Pleiades, the Shining Ones (Te Tawhiti) are preparing for the journey to the underworld. They are to disappear shortly behind the Sun and will stay there for a while.

And the explanation goes that since people of old did not really have an explanation about space, in trying to figure out where exactly the Pleiades went, they invented an underworld. This is probably one of the reasons why this group of stars is so linked to stories of death, rebirth and ancestors, and used to mark the beginning of the year in some cultures. The Pleiades are a very special group of stars. They are located in the zodiacal constellation of Taurus, one degree from the ecliptic, which is the width of your pinky if you hold it at arm's length. That is if you can find the ecliptic, of course!

The ecliptic is an imaginary line. It marks the path of the Sun in the sky. Therefore you can see the Pleiades practically from any place on Earth, any place where you can see the Sun. They are very famous. People of old measured the quality of their eyesight by counting how many stars they could see there. Probably still six, even if they are called the seven stars, as the seventh married a mortal about two thousand years ago and was demoted from the heavens (according to an ancient Greek legend). Being so bright, packed, and visible most of the time, makes them unique among the objects that we can see in the night sky.

But what do we see when we look at the sky? I always have been fascinated observing children looking at the sky. First they see the Moon, then as they get used to that, they start to see the planets as the brighter dots of light. The Pleiades are among the first stars in children's stories and they are indeed cyphered in many cultures of the world, almost all of them referencing the cluster.

However, one culture above all has given it different names at different times of the year. This is the Maori culture. The following saying can be found in Taumata O Te Ra Marae: "Ko Ranginui te atua matua, ka tuku taku ihi he atua, ka tuku taku ihi he tangata." - The many stars adorn me. Puanga, Rehua, Takurua. They are here. - But Matariki only comes once a year and at the same time each year. It is the sign of the Maori New Year. We shall await the return of Matariki - Pleiades and watch them rising before the Sun, after the longest night of the year, here in Aotearoa. Until then, we should bid farewell to Te Tawhiti - Pleiades as they slowly drop from the western horizon into the world of light.

Above the Pleiades, orange Aldebaran is also descending from the heavens. Climbing up on the Milky Way, Betelgeuse and the big Egyptian dog Sirius lie on one side of the celestial river whilst Procyon, the small Egyptian dog, lies on the other side. The three make a beautiful triangle. Its tip, marked by Sirius, the brightest star in the sky, points at Canopus - Atutahi, the cat star, as I call it, the second brightest in the sky, which, like a good cat, is watching over the Earth from above. High in the sky, Canopus marks the midpoint between the centre of our galaxy and its edge. The Milky Way then flows down from the sky through the False Cross, the Diamond Cross and the Southern Cross. The pointer stars hang from it: Beta Centauri, and the third brightest star in the sky and our closest neighbour, Alpha Centauri. Low on the eastern horizon the Milky Way ends in Sargas the first brightest star to rise from Scorpius. Theta Scorpii (θ Sco, θ Scorpii) has the traditional name Sargas, which it is believed to be of Sumerian origin. Sargas appears on the flag of Brazil, symbolising the state of Alagoas.

The Milky Way splits the sky in two: through the northeastern horizon runs the ecliptic, a lower arch, the plane of our solar system bearing the zodiacal constellations. They intersect the Milky Way right on the horizon. Taurus (just setting), Gemini, Cancer, Leo, carrying the bright planet Jupiter, then Virgo, Libra and the first stars of Scorpius rising. The ecliptic is, as I said before, the apparent path of the Sun on the celestial sphere. It also refers to the plane of this path, which is coplanar with the orbit of Earth around the Sun (and hence the apparent orbit of the Sun around Earth). The orbits of the planets are also coplanar because during the Solar System's formation, the planets formed out of a disk of dust which surrounded the Sun. Because that disk of dust was a disk, all in a plane, all of the planets formed in a plane as well. Rings and disks are common in astronomy. And since our eight planets orbit roughly in the same plane, if you ever wonder where to see them in our sky, turn your gaze towards the ecliptic. Chances are that bright stars that shine on roughly the same path where you would normally see the Sun in the daytime, are in fact planets. Planets are wanderers through the ecliptic, which is exactly what the name planithos meant in Greek: wanderer. They are following their own avenues in the celestial silence, and their positions are given by coordinates called ephemerides. And since we put astro into biology, or the other way around, you might wish to know that there are insects in the Amazon jungle also called ephemerides, which only live one day.

Mars and Saturn appear in the late night sky. Mars rises after 11pm, a little south of due east. It looks like an orange-red star. Well to its right is the star Antares, also orange but a bit fainter than Mars. 'Antares' is Greek for 'rival to Mars'. Now Mars is brighter than its rival and will continue to brighten as we catch up on it. Over the month Mars will move down and right as it passes Antares.

Saturn is directly below Antares, looking like an off-white star a little brighter than Antares. Saturn stays put through March, rising a little earlier each night. A telescope with a 20x magnification can show Saturn's rings. By the end of the month, Mars, Antares and Saturn make a large triangle in the east at 11pm.

Venus, the brightest planet, rises due east around dawn. At the beginning of the month Mercury is below and right of Venus. Mercury slips lower as it moves to the other side of the Sun. It disappears mid-month.

A total solar eclipse occurs on 9 March but is not visible from New Zealand. The moon's shadow crosses Indonesia and the western Pacific. On 23-24 March the full moon grazes the edge of the Earth's shadow. Around midnight the top edge of the Moon will look a little darker than the lower edge.

Back to the evening sky, lower on the eastern horizon and close to the ecliptic, the third brightest star in the constellation of Scorpius is just barely visible. It was the Euphratean Sargas, lying in the Milky Way just south of lambda (λ Shaula) and upsilon (υ Lesath), with which it formed one of the seven pairs of Twin Stars; as such it was Ma-a-su. And it may have been, with iota (ι), kappa (κ), lambda (λ Shaula) and upsilon (υ Lesath), the Girtab of the lunar zodiac of that valley, the Vanant of Persia and Vanand of Sogdiana (an Iranian people), all meaning the "Seizer," "Smiter," or "Stinger"; but the Persian and Sogdian words generally are used for our Regulus. In Khorasmia these stars were Khachman, the Curved.

Sargas is the most southerly bright star in the Scorpion, closely anchoring the southern curve of the scorpion's tail, and is invisible north of latitude of 50° N. The star's southerly position has allowed northern observers to use its visibility as a test of the night-sky brightness near the horizon.

I said earlier that at this time of the year, the Milky Way is splitting the sky into two almost equal sides. We just looked at the part that holds the ecliptic, which in the Southern hemisphere, here in Wellington New Zealand, is located on the North part of the sky. Let's do some star hopping to get to the other side, in the South. One of my favourite sports, star hopping is jumping from bright star to bright star, to reach fainter stars. Ready, set, go! We'll start just above Virgo's brightest star, Spica, and try to locate Corvus, the raven, one of my favourite constellations. Corvus is now flying on the eastern horizon at 20 degrees of south declination but 2000 years ago it lay equally on each side of the celestial equator. Spica and the two stars of Corvus, Algorab and Gienah are in a line. The other side of the quadrilateral that is Corvus, Algorab and Kratz (Beta corvii) make another line that extends all the way to the grand Omega Centauri globular cluster, which is still on the Northern side of the Milky Way. Further down, following the same line, you find Alpha Centauri, the third brightest star in the sky and our closest neighbour. Alpha Centauri and its pointer companion, Beta Centauri, point at the Southern Cross. Don't be fooled... there are many crosses in the Milky Way, only one is the Southern Cross. Higher up than the Southern Cross, the Diamond Cross carries a mirror image of the Pleiades. As they prepare for their journey to the underworld at the fringe of our milky city of stars, on the north-western horizon, the Pleiades, the Shining Ones (Te Tawhiti) leave behind, here in the southern hemisphere a doppelganger, the look alike, fake twin that never leaves the sky. Circumpolar to Wellington, the Diamond Cross can also be found by climbing up the milky river, two thirds from the side and one third from the center this is where you will find the optical asterism (pattern of stars) of the diamond cross. At the eastern end of it, a pair of binoculars will reveal 'the Southern Pleiades', which is a group of stars that at first sight look like the letter M to me. Theta Carinae cluster, also called the "Southern Pleiades" has an astronomical resemblance to the famed northern star cluster M45 in Taurus. Even though the cluster is not dipper-shaped like the Pleiades, it is also easily visible with the naked eye (but best with binoculars), quite young (about 30 million years old) and at almost the same distance from Earth (500 light years away). And just like M45, the Southern Pleiades is 15 light years across.

And finally, on the other side of the Milky Way, in the south western sky, the Magellanic clouds are our neighbouring galaxies, circumpolar here in Wellington and always a little elusive to direct sight. The Magellanic clouds are the best training objects for averted vision, always look for them a little off to the side, while continuing to concentrate on them.

On the first of March, Autumn officially started in the Southern Hemisphere. It's a time of plenty, of harvest and the beginning of the spectacular season of stars.

Clear and dark skies from Space Place at Carter Observatory here in the southern hemisphere.

Special Thanks go to the amazing Rhian Sheehan, Peter Detterline, Chief Astronomer of the Mars Society, Alan Gilmore from University of Canterbury and to Toa Nutone Wii Te Arei Waaka from the Society for Maori Astronomy and Traditions.

Show Credits

Interview:David Ault, Stuart Lowe and Megan Argo
Interview:Jen Gupta, Mark Purver and Fiona Healy
Interview:Chris Lintott and Indy Leclercq
Ask An Astronomer:Sally Cooper with David Ault, George Bendo, Jen Gupta, Ian Harrison, Chris Lintott, Stuart Lowe, Ian Morison and Mark Purver
Night sky:Ian Morison and Haritina Mogosanu
Devised by:Benjamin Shaw and Charlie Walker
Presenters:Megan Argo, Sally Cooper, Fiona Healy, Indy Leclercq, Mark Purver, Benjamin Shaw and Charlie Walker
Special guests:David Ault, Jen Gupta, Chris Lintott, Stuart Lowe and Mark Purver
Floor manager:Ian Harrison
Sound engineer:Megan Argo
Recorded by:Megan Argo and Adam Avison
Music:Adam Avison and Rhian Sheehan
Camera operators:Thomas Scragg and Adam Barr
Art Director:George Bendo
Visuals:George Bendo, Tim O' Brien, Ian Morison, Nick Rattenbury, Benjamin Shaw, Christina Smith and Charlie Walker
Front of House:James Bamber and Adam Barr
Photography:Mike Peel and Mark Shaw
Equipment:Mike Anderson, Megan Argo, Adam Avison, George Bendo, James Jeffrey, Andrew Markwick, Mike Peel, Thomas Scragg and Benjamin Shaw
Transport:Jen Gupta, Ian Harrison, Mike Peel and James Jeffrey
Jodrell Bank liaison:Naomi Smith
University of Manchester liason:Tim O' Brien
Birthday cake:Glennys Wright
Segment Voice:Kerry Hebden
Website:Benjamin Shaw, Saarah Nakhuda, Charlie Walker and Stuart Lowe
Show editor:Alex Clarke
Sub-editors:Adam Avison, Haritina Mogosanu, Benjamin Shaw and Charlie Walker
Executive Producers:Benjamin Shaw and Charlie Walker
Cover art:The Jodcast and listeners, together at Jodrell Bank CREDIT: Michael Peel - Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics

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