The Galactic Times Newsletter #5 - July 16 - 31, 2021

Astronomy News, Sky Planning Calendar, Podcast-Exoplanets, Astronomy in Everyday Life

Cover—Editorial—Branson’s Flight

(photo credit Virgin Galactic)

“We open space for everyone,” said Richard Branson. Color me not impressed.

Everyone? If you happen to have two or three hundred thousand dollars in spare change. All of you readers who have that, please hit my Patreon button a few times, okay? No? Hmmmm.

It is not that I wouldn’t mind going to space, or being weightless, or seeing the stars from above the Earth….or doing some lessons with the Earth as a background NON-virtual image in Zoom. But Branson’s (and Bezos’) flights are just overpriced ego trips and carnival rides for the 1%. Forget about the ecological damage some have written about (see CNN and others). I could live with that if these had a real purpose! At least Alan Shepard and Gus Grissom’s suborbitals were true test flights, to make sure the next steps could be done. Do Branson and Bezos have next steps? Do they plan to do orbital flights? Will there be a Virgin Station in Low Earth Orbit (LEO)? Maybe an Amazon Prime LEO Hotel? Not that I have heard. These are just expensive one-hump roller coasters.

Now if the Three Celestial-naires want to let me do an article on what it is like to ride their machines, and maybe do some educational lessons, I’ll go up. I’m not a fan of any of them, not even Musk (DON’T get me started on how Starlink is killing optical astronomy as the price of getting your Netflix and Instagram anywhere on Earth!). But at least Elon gets space and is not doing a tip toe into the ocean like Richard and Jeff. Guys, dive in and do something, and make it the price of an airplane ticket. THEN it is for everybody. Until then, quit calling them and their passengers astronauts; it is an insult to astronauts. And it isn’t for everybody either. The three are just expensive carnival barkers and their overpriced tickets are accomplishing nothing useful for society but a few moments of weightlessness for wallets. -LK

In This Issue:

  • Cover Story - Editorial on Mr. Branson’s Flight

  • This Just In —Who Can See Us?; A Drunk Comet; A Lot of Spilt Milk Made Our Galaxy

  • Sky Planning Calendar

  • The Galactic Times Podcast - Harmony of the Spheres 2 (Exoplanetary Systems)

  • The Classroom Astronomer Newsletter Highlights

  • Astronomy in Everyday Life - Birthdays


Welcome to the fifth issue of The Galactic Times Newsletter! Critical info:
Homepage, with indexes, and Podcast homepage: http://www.thegalactictimes.com

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If you are enjoying this twice-monthly newsletter, please support it by 1) using the link at the end to spread copies to your colleagues and friends and urge them to subscribe (why should you do all the emailing, right? We’re glad to do it!) and 2) buy us a lemonade —it’s hot in Alabama!— at our Patreon site. Thanks!

Dr. Larry Krumenaker.

This Just In—Astronomy News

* Can You See Me Now? Or Ever? Stars That Can See Earth Transiting the Sun.

A June 23rd article in Nature by L. Kaltenegger (Cornell University) and J. Faherty (American Museum of Natural History, NYC) provides an extremely interesting look at the reverse problem of transiting exoplanets—-who in space could actually detect us by transits. What stars are within about one-fourth of a degree of our orbital plane (i.e. the ecliptic) such they could detect the Earth passing in front of the Sun. They identified just over 2000 such stars that could do so during the past or future 5000 years, covering the technological past (loosely defined) and, hopefully(?) future, including stars that, because of stellar motions have moved into range that weren’t before, or will do so in the future, or have moved out of range after having been in range in the past. The idea is that now we are looking for biosignatures as well as just planetary detection so could someone detect OUR biosignatures, in the past, now, or in the future. Biosignatures include technological signs, like radio signals, or changes we make to the environment, like having oxygen atmospheres instead of carbon dioxide.

Of these stars, 117 are within 30 parsecs (about 100 light years). Most are cool M dwarf stars, which is what our solar neighborhood is predominately made of anyway. They are all within range not only to detect us by transit, but also by radio signals we have broadcast into space over the past century.

Seven of the 2000+ are known exoplanet hosts, and four of those are in that 30 pc distance. Out of those….the nearest is Ross128b, but that star has moved out of transit range. Three stars that fulfill both requires are all Kepler Mission 2 findings, all quite faint. But that doesn’t mean the other stars could not have planets; they just have not been seen in transits or wobbles in the stars’ motions, perhaps. Highly inclined orbits?

The authors estimate, given a potential for rocky planets, that maybe 29 habitable worlds could have seen us and heard us by now, and 75 stars (with known or unknown worlds) could have detected us already. Too late to hide from the universe.

* I’ll Have My Comet Sour With A Splash of Water

(Photo credit NASA)

Not all news happens during an event and not all comets are just ice and rocks, it seems. In December 2018, periodic comet Wirtanen passed by Earth and now some of the observers’ data has come out. It appears the comet was driving drunk.

Spectral observations announced by astronomers who used the Keck Observatory back then showed that the comet was releasing far more alcohol than most comets ever do. Comets are not pure ices, we know that. They do often have some organic molecules mixed in, evidence of their formative years in the very early days of the solar system. Sometimes, these get released into the gases that make the coma of the comet, the gassy head we see for virtually all comets (not all grow tails but almost all have comas, if they get close enough to the Sun).

What was also unusual was that there appeared to be some extra heat, beyond solar heat. One theory is that larger chunks of ice are released which do not sublimate immediately in the coma but wait until they are further from the comet’s nucleus, giving the coma a larger heat signature. This also releases water as a liquid, at least for a while, rather than going from solid straight to a gas. This well suits the idea that comets supplied the Earth and other planets with liquid water early in the formation of the solar system. Though probably didn’t supply much of the alcohol in early taverns…..

  • A Lot of Spilt Milk Went Into Making Our Galaxy

Ah, it used to be so simple a picture to talk about our Milky Way. A disk containing spiral arms, a halo, a galactic core, a couple of ‘large’ satellites, a few insignificant small ones like cloud puffs. Gone are those days.

A whole bunch of sessions at various recent conferences were devoted to Galactic Archaeology, figuring out how our Milky Way was formed by determining where its various stars come from, by analyzing their spectral compositions and motions, all courtesy of the massive data results of the Gaia satellite that is measuring millions of stars to unprecedented accuracies. By sifting the “star sands,” streams of stars are uncovered that are the remnants of the small (and not so small) galaxies that have fallen into our galaxy, leaving a trail of debris, mostly in the large outer halo around us.

Three interesting results:

  1. There was one BIG collision about 8-10 Gyrs ago (gigayears, one Gyr is a billion years) that is still rocking the boat of the main disk, and may even have caused the bar of our galaxy to form.

  2. There is evidence for between 12 and 24 such streams/collisions, some with quite interesting names, such as the Sausage and the Kraken (no relation to the voter fraud Kraken….)

  3. Somewhere from 300 million years ago to 1.5 Gyrs, a galaxy smashed into the Milky Way and is still inside it, and it has left behind what is called the Sagittarius Stream. It, in turn, is co-interacting against the Milky Way in coordination with the Large Magellanic Cloud which has made more than one in-fall into our galaxy in ‘recent’ times, galactically speaking.

Yes, the Milky Way hasn’t been all that placid a place, nor all that large all on its own. It has been drinking the milk of other smaller clumps of stars, lots of them, and growing because of that. And still is….but one day, it will be the collider, with the Andromeda Galaxy. What a messy splash that will make!

Sky Planning Calendar

Moon-Gazing

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.

July 19 The Moon is just west of the red giant star Antares, in the South/SSW.

July 23 Full Moon. Saturn is to its left (east).

July 25 The Moon is below brilliant Jupiter, rising in the ESE. And…it is the Moon’s perigee, closest point this month to us in its orbit, making it a supermoon night!! Yes, a Super-Waning-Gibbous-Moon!! (By tomorrow morning, Jupiter will be more to the right of the Moon than above it.)

July 31 Last Quarter Moon. See it during your pre-noon jogs.

Border Crossings

Traditionally, the Sun is said to enter Leo the Lion on the 23rd of July, which should make you say “then how could I see Regulus, the star of its heart near Venus?”. That’s because the Sun really is in Gemini, until the 21st of July, when it enters Cancer the Crab, the constellation BEFORE Leo.

Observing---Plan-et….                                    

The Southern Delta Aquarid Meteors, — usually a warm-up for the August Perseids, where you can find all your equipment from last summer: lounge chair, star charts, pencils, red flashlight, spare batteries, bug spray, water bottles, etc., and get some practice counting meteors by the hour, and marking their paths on a star chart — will be active the 28-29th. But though you’ll see all sorts of reports in your local and online media about this, the waning Gibbous Moon will pretty much swamp all but the very brightest once it rises into the usually muggy July evening skies. Go ahead and get your practice in, better the second night than the first, and better more just the hours before dawn. They will appear to be coming out of the south or southeastern horizons.

Mercury: barely visible, and essentially on vacation after the 26th.

Venus lies between Mars (Venus’ lower right) and the star Regulus (Leo’s heart star, to the upper right and close!) between the 14th and 19th, in conjunction to the star’s upper right 1.1 degrees away on the 21st. In fact, on this evening, all three objects will be at their most compact ‘circle’ of just over 5 degrees, and should likely fit in most common binocular fields of view. On this day, also, Venus is exactly halfway around the sky from Jupiter, so when you see Venus gone from your sky, Jupiter (ta-DA!) appears behind you.

For what it is worth, Mars passes even closer to Regulus a few days later, on the 29th, 0.7 degrees, but the two are so faint compared to brilliant Venus, it may not be worth the trouble, unless you are in the Southern Hemisphere.

Jupiter: rises during evening twilight, after Saturn. We’ll spend more time with it in a month.

Saturn: Though a day, technically, after this newsletter edition expires…Saturn rises at sunset August 1, it is at opposition, and is visible ALL NIGHT! Time for a Saturnalia party! (Oh, wait, that’s in December….)well, get out a telescope and see the rings of Saturn, its bright moon Titan, its disk at its largest even now in late July!

Pluto: Okay, not as easy as Saturn but it is in opposition to the Sun (180 degrees around the sky from it) on the 17th, so it is in the same part of the sky as Saturn. No, you’re gonna need a BIG telescope and a really DEEP star chart to find it, but you can at least say you know it is near the Ringed Planet…..

For the Future

By the beginning of September, we’ll have three first magnitude or brighter planets in the evening sky! Venus setting after twilight ends—until New Year’s, Saturn at opposition August 1 and up all night after that, Jupiter rising like Saturn at sunset but it starts that August 22.


Summertime is here! Check if it is time for a glass of something cool to drink…with the Hermograph Wearable Sundial T-Shirt! Works as a clock or a compass.


The Galactic Times Podcast

Exoplanetary Music, Part 2

In the 21-01 June 29th Episode, Dr. Frederic Hessman explained how Johannes Kepler believed the planets moved with heavenly tones and also showed how he created tones that showed how the planets might have sounded if they did, with their different distances and eccentric, non-circular orbits. In this next podcast at the end of July, Episode 21-02, Dr. Hessman talks on how he does this with Exoplanetary Systems of more than two planets! In the Episode we will be the sounds of Gliese 221, TOI-178—an almost perfect chord of a system, and the Day of Judgement Star, HD10180.

The collection of Dr. Hessman’s sound files are at http://www.astro.physik.uni-goettingen.de/~hessman/TheMusicOfTheExoplanets/ .

Finally, there are 8 stars known to have three or more planets around them that are also brighter than the naked eye limit of sixth magnitude. Three of them have sound files made by Dr. Hessman. The stars are Tau Ceti, HD 219134, and 55 Cancri. Two of them are visible in July’s morning skies; the third will be so later in and after August. On the podcast, you can hear their sound files, but the number of planets you get to guess! (The answers are below—don’t cheat!) Charts of the three stars’ locations are here.

In addition, sky events will be discussed in the feature Skies Over Earth.

Listen on your favorite podcast service. You can also listen via your web browser on The Galactic Times Podcast web-page player, on www.thegalactictimes.com .

Astronomy in Everyday Life

Yours truly celebrates birthdays this month! He will be 286 Mercurian years on the 19th, and 112 Venusians. Can you figure out the exact Terran birth date and age?

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The Classroom Astronomer Newsletter Highlights

This premium newsletter will be for paid subscribers only, but if you click this link, for an introductory time, you can read this for free for a little while longer!

  • Cover Photo - Planet B?

  • Connections With The Sky
    A call to help with Color Impaired Students
    STEAM into LandSat Art

  • Astronomical Teachniques
    The Galactic Times Podcast on The Harmonies of the World—Useful for the
    Visually Impaired, and the Not Visually Impaired
    Teachniques for For “There is no Planet B” Discussions

  • RAP Sheet – Research Abstracts for Practitioners
    Science Center Visitors Attentions to Exhibits, and Usefulness to Science Fairs?
    * Learning Vocabulary Using 360 degree Animation, 2D Animation and 2D Alone, Which Works Better?

  • A Look at Next Generation Science Standards, in Astronomy. Part 2.


Coming Soon!

Learning Astronomy Under The Northern Stars – A 365-Night Per Year Textbook

Use the stars that are ALWAYS visible to understand basic astronomy, stellar evolution, galactic structure, with the naked eye and common binoculars.  EBook and print book coming.  Detail description and advance orders link coming soon.


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Answers to the question—How many planets are around the three stars with mulitple planets with sound files in The Galactic Times podcast? Tau Ceti-4; HD 219134 in Cassionpeia-6; 55 Cancri-5.

Thanks for reading. Until the next newsletter, stay safe.

Dr. Larry Krumenaker

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