The Galactic Times Newsletter #21 - April 1, 2022
This Just In: Ring Around the Rosy Star, Farthest Star Lensed?, Astronomy's Big Carbon Footprint??, Pluto's Not Dead Yet?; Planets Dance Close in Dawn, Mercury Enters Evening; What's a Martian Year?
Cover Photo - Rings of Death
In This Issue:
Cover Photo — Rings of Death
Welcome to Issue 21
This Just In —
* Death Throes of a Red Star (Cover Story)
* Space Missions and Astronomy Research Facilities Contribute Heavily to Climate Change??
* Pluto’s Not Quite Dead Inside Yet
* Hello, Earendel! Farthest Star Ever?…
Sky Planning Calendar —
* Moon-Gazing - Moon’s Last Pass Through the Bull
* Observing—Plan-et — Venus is the Queen-Pin:
Mars and Saturn Switch Places, Narrowly Missing Each Other;
Jupiter Appears in First of Three REAL CLOSE Conjunctions with a Planet;
Mercury Peeks Into the Evening.
* For the Future — Two Eclipses Coming Up
* Border Crossings — None…
Astronomy in Everyday Life - It’s my 37th Year Orbiting the Sun….What Do They Call That on Mars?
The Classroom Astronomer Inbox Magazine Issue 23 Highlights and a Birthday Sale!!!!!
Welcome to The Galactic Times Newsletter-Inbox Magazine, #21 !
Holy Planitia Planum! How many Sols are there in an Ord? Or an Ls? Sound Greek to you? Or Latin? Not up on your Barsoomian? Or Planetary Society lingo? Tsk, tsk.
It’s yours truly’s Martian 37th birthday. I’ve gone 37 times around the Sun on a Martian calendar. There’s a real definition for a Martian *day* — it’s a Sol — but a year? Not quite. We’ll talk about that later on in Astronomy in Everyday Life, and also celebrate it. Financially…
Meanwhile, there is sky news to see. If you have a decent telescope, you can find a carbon star that’s on a massive weight loss diet (like I should…). A star from 900 million years after the Big Bang with a ‘veddy British name’, indications that Pluto may be demoted but not dead yet, and complaints that astronomy has too big a carbon footprint…what?? All in This Just In.
In the sky, Mercury ends the evening planet-less drought, and the morning planet show gets full of worlds getting chummy, as in “I dare you to get closer to me than the other planet did.” [Obviously they hadn’t heard of staying six feet away…’] Check out Observing — Plan-et for those details.
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This Just In—
* Death Throes of a Red Star
We normally think of dying stars as Red Giants but Red Giants aren’t the reddish stars around. Those would be the Carbon stars. While cool like Red Giants, they can be a bit warmer, yet they are red because their atmospheres are full of carbon soot, so full that their spectra are showcases of carbon line absorption instead of the usual cool-star TiO (Titanium Oxide) lines.
One of the earliest to be found, but not brightest, Carbon stars in the spring sky is V Hydrae, rising low in the southeast shortly after sunset in April, to the right (west) of Virgo’s bright Spica, and south (but to the right in early evening) of the dim constellation of Crater, the Cup. You’d need a telescope of moderate size to find it — it is faint, max at 10th magnitude, and dimmer than that often — but once you do, you’ll know it, it will be fiery red or deep orange, like in the photo below. Others are redder still.
But V isn’t a quiescent red giant star. It is in the process of shedding mass and becoming a white dwarf right in front of astronomers eyes.
Astronomers have seen that it has shed six rings of materials, each blowing outwards at an average of 240 years apart, plus two polar-based outbound hourglass shaped ejections and a jet (see Cover Photo). We are seeing the (cosmic time scaled) short term death throws of a giant star in the act, say the researchers, in an Astrophysical Journal article.
* Space Missions and Astronomy Research Facilities Contribute Heavily to Climate Change??
A report in Nature for March 21st states that ground- and space-based facilities contribute heavily to sciences’ carbon footprint, equivalent to 1.2 million tons of CO2 emissions per year. The researchers recommend a slower pace of construction and publication of results(!) and the use of more sustainable materials in construction.
The researchers used figures for 50 space-based missions [Ed.—but were these all science-based missions or did they include simply rockets going up with commercial satellites, too?] and 40 ground-based facilities. As for work-related costs, they include flights to conferences, [Ed.—the one conclusion this editor would agree with—virtual conferences with adequate coverage of **papers,** not just PR-gathering press conferences—are or were a boon!] and paper publishing are a major carbon usage we can minimize.
The authors state that using data archives over acquiring new data would be preferable.
[TGT Editor comments: First, the authors admit that their figures have an **80%** uncertainty value, which I find ghastly and unworthy of publication, even in a science like astronomy where such uncertainties can be commonplace in some measures. Second, by itself, the numbers are meaningless. How do these compare to research facilities in physics? Biochemistry? Science as a whole? Astronomy could be a drop in the bucket compared to physics! As for using data archives versus gathering new data, I am sure the Roman Catholic church would have told Galileo the same thing.]
* Pluto’s Not Quite Dead Inside Yet
It may be cold way out Pluto-way, but not quite yet cold enough. Analysis of some crater-free New Horizon photos showed apparently—craters….which could only come from ice volcanoes, so say Kelsi Singer and a large research team in Nature Communications for March 29th. Quoting them, “An analysis of images of Pluto from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft reveals an area of the dwarf planet dominated by relatively recent ice volcano activity, which contains volcanoes up to 7km tall.
Cryovolcanism (ice volcanism) has been observed at several places in our Solar System and describes the placement of icy material via volcanic processes. Pluto has a rocky core but previous research has suggested interior heating would be at a low level for most of Pluto's history.”
Singer and colleagues analysed an area lying to the south-west of the Sputnik Planitia ice sheet, which covers an ancient impact basin of approximately 1,000km and is dominated by large rises with irregular flanks. The authors examined the geomorphology and composition of the area and suggest it was created by cryovolcanism and the material consists mostly of water ice. They describe many volcanic domes in the region, ranging from a few kilometres up to 7km tall, and around 10km to 150km across, with some domes merging to form larger structures. The authors suggest the inferred volume of a large structure known as Wright Mons is similar to the volume of Mauna Loa in Hawai’i — one of the biggest volcanoes on Earth. They indicate that creation of the terrain would have required several eruption sites and a large volume of material to create the ice volcanoes.
The authors observed the terrain is free from impact craters, which is in contrast to some other areas of Pluto’s surface. The authors hence propose that the cryovolcanic activity in this area must be relatively recent in Pluto’s history and may indicate that Pluto’s internal structure has residual heat or more heat than previously anticipated, to drive such cryovolcanic activity.
* Hello, Earendel! Farthest Star Ever?…
It sounds like something out of “Lord of the Rings” but in fact it is a star from a galaxy far, far away…..
Normally, we associate gravitational lensing with distant galaxies and maybe quasars but this particular circumstance picked up a lensed star at an extraordinary redshift of z=6.2 or a distance of around 25 billion light years (a light time of travel of about half that).
The researchers, led by Brian Welch of Johns Hopkins, Baltimore, MD, USA, found it on a lensed arc known as the Sunrise Arc and therefore took the objects decidedly boring catalog name of WHL0137—zD1 and renamed it “Earendel,” an Old English word for “Morning Star” or “Rising Light.” It was considered a star because during several years of observations, its light remained steady, unlike that of other lensed objects like star clusters or galaxies, which would change as the arc or lensing object would move over time. All they can tell is that this is a single or binary star, hot—in the O, B or A spectral type range—and of a single or combined mass of 50 to 100 Suns. It is estimated to have formed a mere 900 million years after the Big Bang. Earendel is scheduled already for an examination by the James Webb Telescope, once it becomes operational. (Nature, March 30th).
Sky Planning Calendar
Moon passages by a star, planet or deep sky object are a good way to find a planet or other object if you’ve never located it before.
April 1 New Moon, just after midnight CDT so for points east this is the night, but for points west and over the Pacific, New Moon was March 31st.
April 4 The crescent Moon makes one final easy passage through Taurus before calling it a winter. Tonight it lies below and left of the Pleiades star cluster in the deepening twilight…..
April 5 …then it can be found to the right of the Hyades, the V-shaped star cluster that makes up the face of Taurus the Bull on this night….
April 6 …and finally between the horn stars of the bull this evening.
April 7 The Moon is at its apogee tonight, its farthest point in its orbit, and thus its smallest angular size. It is nearly a First Quarter moon but about as small as one as it can be (it was a micro-First Quarter last month!).
April 8-9 It is the night of the First Quarter! The night is the 8th if you are in the Pacific Rim area; it is on the 9th if you are in the Atlantic Basin or Europe..
April 15 The bright star near that big round moon isn’t a planet, it is the bright blue star Spica, the alpha star of Virgo. It is west (above when rising in early evening) of the star on the 15th, below and left and east of Spica on the 16th, the night of the Full Moon.
The evening planetary drought will temporarily end towards the end of this two weeks, when Mercury begins its best Northern Hemisphere evening show of 2022. It will be at its best the last week of April, and first two weeks of May, but it will be no slouch after April 11th. It sets more than 45 minutes after the Sun starting the 11th and that time increases through the end of April, staying visible even after twilight ends, a rarity. More on Mercury in the next Galactic Times…. It starts out brilliant enough to be picked out easily in binoculars, for some, the unaided eye, even in twilight, being at greatest brilliancy on the 15th, when it passes near the Pleiades, a beautiful photographic and binocular, if not naked eye, sight (use the Moon on the 4th to find the Pleiades if you aren’t familiar with it, and then watch it nightly until Mercury passes by it ten days later).
Meanwhile, all the other planets are dancing around each other dramatically in the dawn skies, including the two outermost and usually telescopic planets, Uranus and Neptune.
Venus maxed out its distance from the Sun last month but is still literally the star of the morning show, far outshining the other planets. It has conjunctions with other worlds a lot at month’s end and next month, but for now it acts as a key reference point for everybody else.
For example, starting on the 1st, you’ll find a line heading up and to the right of Venus made up of first Saturn and farther out, Mars. But the combination of Earth’s orbital motion and the positions of Venus and Mars in theirs makes Saturn do a screaming passage past them both. On the 4th Saturn is just one-third of a degree North of Mars which is worth a look because they are nearly identical in brightness but distinctly different in color! By the 8th, the two planets have switch positions; now Mars is the central one in the line of three.
Meanwhile, another line-up begins to take hold, and the first of a set of three tight conjunctions. First, bright Jupiter is rising out of the twilight glow, but before it gets too far out and easy to see, on the 12th, it makes an easy marker for telescope observers to locate Neptune, just 0.1-degree away. [Later on Venus gets even closer to Neptune, and then makes a brilliant double star with Jupiter, but that’s for the next TGT.]
By the 14th, Jupiter and Venus are 15 degrees apart, Venus and Mars 10, and Saturn has galloped more than 6 degrees from Mars already. In two more weeks, Mars and Jupiter will be equally far from Venus, 14 degrees.
Uranus will be joining the conjunction parade shortly.
For the Future
There will be a solar eclipse….if you happen to be touring Tierra del Fuego or cruising north of Antarctica in the South Atlanta or South Pacific…near the last day of April. If not, you have a much better total lunar eclipse coming up May 16th. We’ll give you details shortly, and things you can do with a total eclipse for fun.
The Sun is in Pisces these two weeks and has been for some time, it being one of the largest constellations along the Ecliptic. Horoscopically, the Sun is in Aries the Ram all these days. I’m not sure if the Ram would like some fish….
Astronomy in Everyday Life
It’s my 37th Year Orbiting the Sun….What Do They Call That on Mars?
It’s my birthday! I am 37 years old! On Mars! The actual equivalent date on Earth for my Martian birthdate is April 4th. How do I get that when my real Earth birthdate…ahem…isn’t in April?
This is actually meant as a serious question. Mars’ day is about 39 or so minutes longer than an Earth day and to keep all the mission operators of Curiousity, Spirit, Zhurong, etc. on Mars time, they schedule things on Mars days, which are called Sols. There are 688 Sols in a Mars year….but what do you call a Mars year?
A “Mars Year” is accurate but pretty bland. After all, mapping Mars isn’t Martian cartography, it’s areography. There have been a number of attempts in literature to create Martian time units. Fans of Edgar Rice Burroughs will recall the units of Martian days weren’t hours, minutes and seconds but Xats, Zodes and tals. He did have a year unit, an ord; does that make me 37 ords old? I only wish I could dress like John Carter but I’m afraid I wouldn’t hack that wardrobe now, nor I doubt any Martian princesses would go for me as is….
The Planetary Society does indicate that there is a definition for a Martian year, covering the modern Space Age, but it doesn’t have a decent name. It was defined as starting at April 11, 1955 (or, in some places, as April 1953) when the planet was at heliocentric longitude 0-degrees. Why there and then? Because that was when the planet was near aphelion—its farthest distance to the Sun in its rather elliptical orbit—AND it was beginning its northern hemisphere spring, which is when there is (almost?) always the start of a global dust storm, and there was a big one on that date which predates the first launches of satellites and probes into space. Sort of like how the astronomical Julian Day calendar is set for a date so far back in history that Day 0 is before anything in recorded history and there are no historical negative dates. Except in Mars history, we can have negative dates. My birthday is in Mars year -1. I’m sort of born in Mars BCE….
The Mars years, in Planetary Society lingo, are called Ls (as in L-sub-ess [sorry, Substack doesn’t do subscripts…..]). For short, you can say I am 37 L’s old on Mars (37 ells). I was born when Mars was at Longitude 202 degrees in its orbit, which is in the seventh Martian month as the P.S. defines that. (I am so NOT going into that now….)
Still, though my name makes me an “L”, I’m not sure I’d like be “L of 37 L’s old” any more than being Mars’ Years old. MY’s? How about Areographic Years? AYs? What happens when we have Orbital Space Stations floating between the planets? Are they just Station Y Years? How do we make conversions? Would people near Jupiter be orbiting in Jovians? Jovials? Yeah, I like being only 5+ Jovials old right now, that’s rather funny when you think about it…..
Which is better than being aged one Uranian Year old although some folks do consider me already a PITA….
My Martian birthday does allow me to at least bring in one special thing for TGT Readers……
…..The Classroom Astronomer Inbox Magazine is a subscribers-only publication; Issue 23 is out now. To celebrate my Martian birthday, TCA’s normal subscription rate will be reduced to $37 USD for 9 Martian Sols, from March 31st until Saturday April 9th, Earth Time. This sale won’t happen again for another (Martian) year (Ls? Ord?) so act now! Click the button below to get this special rate, good up to and including, but not after, April 9th….After April 9th, you’ll be signing up for it here at its usual rate of $55. Holy Planitia Planum!
Meanwhile here is the Table of Contents for Issue 23:
Cover Photo - Astronomy Games
Welcome to Issue 23
Connections to the Sky -
- Astro Labs Resources DeLuxe
- Observing Workshops for Graduating HS Seniors and Undergraduates at Mt. Wilson
- Global Astronomy Month
The RAP Sheet – Research Abstracts for Practitioners
- Designing Physics Board Games: a Practical Guide for Educators
- A Comparison of Short and Long Einsteinian Physics Intervention Programmes in Middle School
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