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The Last Month in Astronomy



JUN-13-2012 • Nu-STAR is the new star • NASA successfully launched Nu_STAR, an X-Ray telescope. Images from this telescope are expected to be “10 times crisper and a 100 times more sensitive” according to Fiona Harrison, the Nu-STAR PI from Caltech. The rocket was launched using the Pegasus XL booster - a rocket that is launched from an L-1011 jet at a height of nearly 8 miles.

JUN-07-2012 • NASA stops GEMS • The Gravity and Extreme Magnetism project has effectively been cancelled. The $119 million project failed a review that found that it could be not done within that budget.

JUN-05-2012 • Venus Transit • Even without magnification and using solar eclipse viewing glasses you could still make out the small shadow as Venus transited the sun. With solar binoculars you could see a number of sunspots as Venus slowly moved “down” the sun. Others using solar telescopes were treated to wonderful images of the sun complete with Venus in the view - a view that won’t be seen again for 105.5 years. Photos from the SJAA’s support of the Venus transit are courtesy of Mark Wagner. #1 Val Dunne - Vice President of the Irish Astronomical Society, who was here to observe the TOV with us! He is shown here presenting a book on ancient Irish astronomy to SJAA club president Mark Wagner. #2 - a couple of youngsters view the transit using the club’s new solar telescope. #3 - a projection box set up by Jim Van Nuland. #4 - a view of the crowd and #5 - a photo showing a “solar funnel” set up by Pete Santangeli.

MAY-31-2012 • M31 Heading Our Way • For a long time, astronomers have known that the Andromeda Galaxy is getting closer to us. The galaxy known as M31 is heading in our direction at a speed of about 250,000 miles per hour. Recently astronomers have announced that they know Andromeda is heading directly toward us, it won’t sweep by along side of us. The collision will occur in 4 billion years if you want to update your day planner. Interestingly, another galaxy called M33 (The Triangulum galaxy) may actually collide with the Milky Way galaxy first. Regardless, the Earth is almost certainly going to be unaffected because the space between stars is so large. The galaxies will dance around each other until they form a single elliptical galaxy which will take another 2 billion years. Photo is #6 (from NASA)

MAY-24-2012 • Organic but not biological C • Scientists have found evidence that organic chemistry occurs on Mars but that doesn’t imply biological processes. Instead, the carbon probably is the result of volcanism. You might recall the hub-bub caused by the Martian meteority called Allan Hills 84001 because it suggested the possibility of biology. But a new paper shows that chemical reactions involving graphite could have been involved.

MAY-20-2012 • Annular Eclipse • Two weeks before this eclipse we had the so-called supermoon, the result of a full moon occuring very near the moon’s perigee. So it stands to reason that the moon’s apogee would occur during a new moon, and solar eclipses happen during a new moon (not always of course). An eclipse at lunar apogee means that the moon’s visage is smaller than the sun’s, thus a ring (or annulus) is seen. In San Jose, the eclipse was partial. Folks traveling to Redding or near that area got the full ring effect. In the photo #7, Mary Kohlmiller is looking at the advanced stage of the eclipse using eclipse viewing glasses while the shadow from a tree creates crescent shaped shadows on the wall behind her. Photo by Paul Kohlmiller.The photo #8 shows part of the crowd viewing the eclipse through a myriad of technologies. Photo courtesy of Hsin I. Huang

MAY-17-2012 • Herschel finds filament • The Herschel space observatory has discovered a filament containing hundreds of galaxies and billions of stars. According to Kristen Coppin (McGill University) “We are excited about this filament because we think the intense star formation we see in its galaxies is related to the consolidation of the surrounding supercluster.” The filament spans 8 million light-years and the light Herschel sees has been traveling for 7 billion years.

MAY-16-2012 • NASA’s Loaner Program • We don’t know if NASA was inspired by the SJAA’s telescope loaner program but they are loaning the space observatory called GALEX (Galaxy Evolution Explorer) to Caltech. The unprecedented agreement allows the university to take over spacecraft operation using private funds.


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