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February 2020: A Fond Farewell

February 2020

In the show this time, we talk to Anais Moller about machine learning to find supernovae for cosmology, Alice Humpage rounds up the latest news, and we find out what we can see in the February night sky from Ian Morison, Haritina Mogosanu and Samuel Leske.

The News

This month in the news: The Spitzer telescope reaches its final days, the National Science Foundation releases the most detailed images of the Sun ever, and SpaceX launches 60 new starlink satellites, with one “experimentally darkened” to lower the light pollution impact.

First, the Spitzer space telescope has now reached the end of its life. The infrared telescope took its final set of data on the 28th of January, and was retired 2 days later on the 30th. The space telescope was launched in 2003, its mission initially supposed to last around 5 years, when the liquid helium cooling the system ran out. Since then, because of its lowered sensitivity, it has been unable to take measurements in the far infrared, and instead has been operating at its lowest possible wavelengths. On the 30th of January, NASA put Spitzer into safe mode, where the telescope’s non-essential systems are shut down.

Next, the National Science Foundation’s Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope has released its first images of the Sun . These images are in a higher resolution than ever before and show lots of details of its surface. The image shows a pattern of granules which are convection cells, superheated plasma rising from within the Sun. While these granules look small, they are each about the size of Texas.

Lastly, SpaceX launched 60 new Starlink satellites this month , one of which has been experimentally darkened. Astronomers have been raising concern over the number of satellites being launched as part of the constellation, increasing light pollution and having an impact on observations, as well as increasing the amount of space debris.

There also are concerns within SpaceX about the possible effect on the performance of the telescope. It is unknown how effective the darkening will be until the satellite reaches its destination at the end of February.

Interview with Anais Moller

Dr Anais Moller (Universite Clermont-Auvergne) talks about her work in using machine learning to detect type 1a supernovae. She discusses the expansion of the universe and why type 1a supernovae are useful for measuring this, then explains her work using machine learning to find them. Anais also discusses the some of the challenges of working with large datasets in astronomy, in particular the LSST (Large Synoptic Survey Telescope), a planned optical telescope made to survey the southern sky. Finally she talks about citizen science as a way to work with large datasets.

The Night Sky

Northern Hemisphere

Ian Morison tells us what we can see in the Northern Hemisphere night sky during February 2020.

The Planets


Southern Hemisphere

Haritina Mogosanu and Samuel Leske from the Carter Science Centre in New Zealand speaks about the Southern Hemisphere night sky during February 2020.

Odds and Ends

A recent paper announced the discovery of a fast radio burst, FRB191108, with the Westerbork Synthesis Radio Telescope array. They found that the FRB emission passed through the circumgalactic material of the Local Group galaxies M31 and M33. The Faraday rotation measured for FRB signal was very high, which means that its signal must have been interfered with by strong magnetic fields somewhere along its path.

Looking at the Faraday rotations of other sources within a few degrees of M31 and M33 showed that the galaxies can’t account for a large proportion of it. This must mean that the strong magnetic fields must exist somewhere close to the FRB’s host galaxy. This gives us a clue about the environment required to create FRBs.

Show Credits

News:Alice Humpage
Interview:Anais Moller, Fiona Porter and Michael Wright
Night sky:Ian Morison and Haritina Mogosanu
Presenters:Tiaan Bezuidenhout, Bart Wlodarczyk-Sroka
Editors:Joseph Winnicki, Lizzy Lee, Haritina Mogusanu and Michael Wright.
Segment Voice:Tess Jaffe
Website:Michael Wright and Stuart Lowe
Producer:Michael Wright
Cover art:Astronomers using NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope created this infrared image of the spiral galaxy M74, as seen by Spitzer's Infrared Array Camera. The blue dots represent hot gas and stars. The galaxy's cool dust is shown in red. The image is a false-color, infrared composite, in which 3.6-micron light is blue, 4.5-micron light is green, and 8-micron light is red CREDIT: NASA/JPL-Caltech/B.E.K. Sugerman (STScI)

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