Archive for the ‘What’s up?’ Category

  • What’s Up: Black Holes May 2019

    May 5, 19 • ndemarino • 5enses, What's up?Comments Off on What’s Up: Black Holes May 2019Read More »

    By Adam England Recently, the science community has been filled with chatter about the first ever image of a black hole. But what is a black hole? And if it is truly a “black hole,” how can we see it? The idea was first conjectured in 1784 by English astronomer and clergyman John Michell, who hypothesized that a body in space with a mass much greater than the sun, yet occupying a similar sized area, may have a gravitational pull so strong that not even light could escape. It would only be detectable by its effect on orbiting bodies in its vicinity. A mind-boggling concept for his time, Michell’s theory defined light as a particle, and excitement waned when light was learned to be wavelike in the early 1800s. The next mind to delve into the realm of super-dense gravity wells, and the potential effect on light, was Albert Einstein in 1915. His thinking opened up a “Golden Age” of black hole thought, with a slew of scientists studying these new concepts: the “event horizon” (the edge of a black hole’s gravity field beyond which not even light can escape); “gravitational lensing” (the way light curves around a strong gravitational field); and “gravitational waves” (a disturbance in space and time resulting from the interactions of such large masses). The technology to study and prove such theories, however, still had a

  • What’s Up? Mercury

    Apr 3, 19 • ndemarino • 5enses, Prescott Astronomy Club Presents:, What's up?Comments Off on What’s Up? MercuryRead More »

    By Adam England Mercury – “The Messenger of the Gods” – races around the Sun every 88 days, and was observed by nearly every known ancient culture for being the most mobile object in the sky. It reaches its greatest Western elongation on April 11th, making it most visible and highest above the horizon in the morning sky. It can be spotted low on the Eastern horizon just before sunrise. Mercury was so named after the Roman deity who was the god of communication and travel, among other things. The very root of the name is thought to stem from the prefix merĝ- meaning border, as he guided souls to the underworld. As viewed from Earth, the planet Mercury never strays far from the horizon, moving along the border of day and night in its quick orbit of the Sun. The closeness to the sun has proven a double-edged sword to the little planet, stripping away its atmosphere and baking the surface, which is heavily cratered and similar in appearance to the Moon. This indicates little or no tectonic activity for billions of years. The temperatures on the surface range from 800°F in daytime to below -280°F at night. Being so close to the sun has also made it very difficult to study from Earth or with spacecraft. NASA probes Mariner 10 visited in 1974-75 and MESSENGER collected over 100,

  • What’s Up?: The Heart of Pluto February 2019

    Feb 7, 19 • ndemarino • 5enses, What's up?Comments Off on What’s Up?: The Heart of Pluto February 2019Read More »

    By Adam England February 14th we celebrate Valentine’s Day and the birthday of our Great State of Arizona. One astronomical discovery in early Arizona history is that of Pluto at Flagstaff Lowell Observatory. Percival Lowell had begun the hunt for his “Planet X” in 1906, and died in 1916 unaware that he had actually imaged Pluto. 23-year-old Clyde Tombaugh continued taking photographs and comparing them under a blink-comparator, eventually locating what would later be called Pluto on Feb. 18th 1930. In 2006, NASA launched the New Horizons probe to explore Pluto, which culminated in the July 2015 flyby of the dwarf planet and its five moons. As the probe approached the planet, it began to take images, and the Heart of Pluto immediately stood out. Named the Tombaugh Regio, it is a smooth area of mostly nitrogen ice, surrounded by rock and ice mountains soaring over 11,000 feet from the surface. Data revealed glacial activity along these mountain ranges, similar to what we see on earth in the polar climates. New Horizons continues to operate, and recently flew past Ultima Thule, an object 25% further from us than Pluto. Data continues to come in from the edges of our Solar System, with the initial images showing a snowman shaped object likely from the collision of two separate objects. ***** If you would like to learn more about the sky, telescopes,

  • What’s Up?: Taurus and the Crab Nebula January 2019

    Jan 6, 19 • ndemarino • 5enses, What's up?No CommentsRead More »

    By Adam England One of January’s premier constellations is Taurus the Bull. Most famous for its bright red giant star Aldebaran, records of the Bull go back over 5,000 years through the mythologies of Sumer, Akkad, Assyria, Babylon, Egypt, Greece, and Rome. Gracing the sky from late fall to early spring, the death of the Bull signified the spring equinox and return of the growing season to these ancient cultures. Many statues and surviving cultural artwork show the Bull in a religious capacity associated with this concept. Chinese astronomers in 1054 recorded a bright supernova in the constellation, later viewed through a telescope in 1840 by William Parsons, whose drawing looked like a crab. The first astronomical object to be identified as relating to an historical supernova explosion, the Crab Nebula, or Messier 1 (M1), is a favorite of amateur astronomers for both visual observing and astrophotography. ***** Visit Prescott Astronomy Club at PrescottAstronomyClub.Org. Contact them at Contact@PrescottAstronomyClub.Org. Adam England is the director-at large and in charge of public relations for the Prescott Astronomy Club. IMAGE: Courtesy of Jeff Stillman. For more of his work and information on astrophotography visit www.stillmanimaging.com

  • What’s Up?: The Geminids meteor shower

    Nov 30, 18 • ndemarino • 5enses, What's up?No CommentsRead More »

    By Adam England Recently, we experienced two relatively small meteor showers, at just 5-15 meteors per hour. While any meteor event can be exciting, “the more, the better” mantra certainly applies to these shooting stars. The December Geminids hits that mark, producing up to 120 multicolored meteors per hour at its peak in the chilly early morning hours of Dec. 14. But what exactly is a meteor shower? Ancient cultures attempted to describe these celestial events, but the irregularity of meteor showers proved to be more difficult to predict than the orbits of the planets and seasonal migrations of the stars. Plutarch likened this unpredictability to that of experiencing pleasures, which, “Like gales of soft wind, move simpering, one towards one extreme of the body and another towards another, and then go off in a vapor. Nor are they of any long durance, but, as so many glancing meteors, they are no sooner kindled in the body than they are quenched by it.” The Maya predicted meteor showers and timed significant cultural events to coincide with their arrival. By 900 C.E., Asian cultures were accurately predicting the annual return of the Perseids. The first modern study of meteor showers was after the Leonids event in November 1833. Estimates give 200,000 meteors over the nine hours of the storm that blanketed Western North America. Speculation as to why this was only

  • What’s Up?: Mercury & meteors

    Nov 2, 18 • ndemarino • 5enses, What's up?No CommentsRead More »

    By Adam England Mercury – “The Messenger of the Gods” – races around the Sun every 88 days, and was observed by nearly every known ancient culture as being the most mobile object in the sky. It reaches its greatest eastern elongation on Nov. 6, making it the visible and highest above the horizon in the evening sky. It will be low on the western horizon just after sunset. November gives us the opportunity to view two meteor showers stemming from the tail streams of two comets and an asteroid. Peaking on Nov. 5, the Taurids Shower will see 5-10 dust grains enter our atmosphere each hour, best viewed around midnight. A second shower, the Leonids, peaks after midnight on Nov. 17 and is the remnants of comet Tempel-Tuttle, which most recently visited the inner solar system in 2001. As with most meteor showers, the name is based on the constellation from which the “shooting stars” appear to stem from, with the former coming from the constellation Taurus, and the latter from the constellation Leo. A new moon on Nov. 7 means that the lit portion of our celestial satellite will set on both nights to allow for optimal dark sky viewing. Nov. 23 brings the Beaver Moon, so called by early Native American tribes for the time of year that beavers built their dams, and the last opportunity to

  • What’s Up?:Aquarius & the Helix Nebula

    Oct 5, 18 • ndemarino • 5enses, What's up?No CommentsRead More »

    By Adam England As early as 2,000 B.C.E., the Babylonian and Egyptian cultures predicted the seasons by the changing of the night sky. One of the most important events in these changing seasons was the regular flooding of their respective great rivers, which could bring not only destruction, but also nutrient rich sediments to their fields, and ensure another season of fertile and life-sustaining crops. Thus, the Water Bearer came to be known as the bringer of waters, both good and bad. The Hindu zodiac labeled this cluster of stars Kumbha or “water pitcher.” The Babylonians knew it as GU.LA — “The Great One” — being the god Ea holding an overflowing vase. Ancient Egyptians first named it “Aquarius,” who, dipping his jar into the river, began the season of Akhet or the Inundation of the Nile River. Along with the modern constellations “Cetus” the whale, “Pisces” the fish, and “Eridanus” the river, the water themed region of the sky that Aquarius resides in is oft times called “The Sea.” Most of the stars in Aquarius are dim and not of great mention, but we have recently found that several of its stars do host planetary systems. Of these, the closest to Earth is Gliese 876, just 15 light years distant, and hosting four known planets, three gas giants and one possibly a rocky terrestrial body about six times the

  • What’s Up?: Beehive Cluster

    Aug 31, 18 • ndemarino • 5enses, What's up?No CommentsRead More »

    By Adam England On the evening of 6 September, the moon will make a close (1˚04’) approach to one of the oldest studied star clusters, the Beehive Cluster, in the constellation Cancer. Ancient Chinese astronomers labeled the accompanying constellation as the Ghost, with the cluster itself known as Jishi Qi or “exhalation of piled-up corpses” as the breath coming from the ghost. In the Mediterranean civilizations, Hipparchus listed it in his 130 BC star catalog as Nephelion, meaning “Little Cloud,” and the Greek poet Aratus as Achlus or “Little Mist,” while the average Greeks and Romans saw it as a manger from which two neighboring donkeys were eating, with its fuzzy naked-eye appearance being the loose straw. Galileo famously turned his eye and telescope to the cluster in 1609, resolving 40 individual stars in the cluster. Charles Messier took a gander in 1769 and added it to his famous list of sky objects, cataloging it as Messier 44 or M44. To the naked eye, we can see the same thing that our ancient counterparts observed — albeit through a little more light pollution. It will appear as a fuzzy spot in the sky, commonly mistaken for a nebula of gas. But with even the smallest telescope or binoculars, you can begin to see the individual stars. In the center of the cluster are the larger, brighter red giants with the

  • What’s Up?: Sagittarius

    Aug 3, 18 • ndemarino • 5enses, What's up?No CommentsRead More »

    By Adam England August in Northern Arizona gives us some of the best views of the galaxy in which we reside — the Milky Way. So-called since ancient times, the Milky Way is named for its dense clusters of stars that create a “milky” swath across the sky. From our study of other galaxies, we’ve deduced that our own is a barred spiral galaxy with arms of star systems and nebulae stretching up to 180,000 light years from end to end. At the center of the Milky Way — as well as at the center of almost all other known massive galaxies — lies a super-massive black hole named Sagittarius A* (pronounced “Sagittarius A-Star”). The many stars in relatively close proximity to each other and in perpetual orbit around Sagittarius A* form the basis of one of the longest recognized constellations, Sagittarius. Sagittarius is the archer in Babylonian and Greek mythology, usually depicted as a half-man/half-horse, i.e. a centaur, drawing his bow. His arrow points to the heart of Scorpius — the bright red star Antares — should the scorpion ever attempt to attack Hercules after his triumph over the hunter Orion. The most recognizable stars of the constellation form what is known as “The Teapot,” with a handle and spout. The Milky Way rises to the Northwest as a puff of steam rising from the kettle. The handle of

  • What’s Up?: Scorpius

    Jun 29, 18 • ndemarino • 5enses, What's up?No CommentsRead More »

    By Adam England The night skies of Prescott in July offer some amazing sights — at least on the nights that aren’t obstructed by seasonal monsoon storms. One of the easiest constellations to find in the summer months is Scorpius, the Scorpion. With references to the scorpion coming from ancient Babylonian and Hindu cultures, it’s one of the 48 constellations identified in second-century writings by the Greek astronomer Ptolemy. Other cultures viewed the collection of stars differently. In Java, it was seen as both a swan and a leaning coconut tree, while in Hawaii it was the fishing hook of the demigod Maui. Greek mythology tells how Orion, great hunter that he was, boasted that he would kill every animal on Earth. The goddess Artemis offered protection to the creatures, sending a scorpion to do battle with Orion. The scorpion prevailed in the fight, and Zeus raised the pair to the heavens — the triumphant scorpion for his valiant fight, and the hunter as a visual reminder to humans not to be prideful. Easily identifiable in the early evening by looking above the Southeastern horizon, the hooked tail and scorpion’s claws meet at the bright red star Antares, often dubbed the “rival of Mars” for its intense coloring. Other notable features in the constellation include: U Scorpii, the fastest known recurrent Nova (which could brighten to a magnitude of

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