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The Last Month in Astronomy


APR-4-2012 • Centaurus A • The closest giant elliptical galaxy is Centaurus A, a mere 12 million light-years from Earth. It has a massive black hole at its core and emits blasts of radio waves. A new image combining infrared and x-ray data adds credence to the idea that this galaxy is the result of the collision of two older galaxies. The infrared image came from the ESA’s Herschel Space Observatory and the X-ray observations are from the ESA’s XMM-Newton space telescope. The data also show intense star creation activity near the center of the galaxy and two jets coming from the core. The jets suggest a black hole with the mass of 10 million suns. Credits for the image are: Far-infrared: ESA/Herschel/PACS/SPIRE/C.D. Wilson, MacMaster University, Canada; X-ray: ESA/XMM-Newton/EPIC.

APR-1-2012 • No foolin’ - Asteroids! • A number of asteroids have been buzzing overhead. Two small asteroids came close on March 26. Asteroid 2012 EG5 passed by on April 1. It came within 143,000 miles. The moon is twice as far away. Asteroid 2012 FA57 was just discovered March 28 and it got about as close as the moon on April 4. These asteroids range in size from a car to a Boeing 727. These asteroids passes are not the result of a new assault on our planet. Scientists are just getting better at detecting them.

MAR-31-2012 • Mystery Mars Cloud • A cloud on Mars was noticed by amateur astronomers. This was unusual because the cloud appeared to be very large and very high considering the thin Martian atmosphere. Instruments onboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter could not find the cloud suggesting that it was very transient and very thin. The amateur images showed the cloud near the edge of Mars so the view is edge-on. The MRO is looking straight down on the cloud and not seeing it. Most likely it is a high-altitude cloud of water vapor that often appears in the Martian morning and quickly dissipates.

MAR-30-2012 • New naked eye comet • It is possible that a comet discovered last year will be visible to the naked eye in 2013. It is far from certain that comet C/2011 L4(PANSTARRS) will be that bright but astronomers are hopeful. PANSTARRS stands for Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System. It is a 1.8 meter telescope in Hawaii that is a prototype for the military. Perihelion for the comet will occur around spring equinox next year, give or take a month. When discovered the comet was about 19 magnitude and now it is at 14.5. It may get as high as magnitude 0, the brightness of Vega.

MAR-20-2012 • RSCC Satellite Deorbits • The Russian Satellite Communications Company is deorbiting a satellite called Expres-AM4. Several salvage plans were considered since the partial failure of the Proton rocket. The satellite went into an eccentric orbit from 600 to 12,000 miles. This took it through the Van Allen belts and the radiation damaged components in the satellite.

MAR-14-2012 • A WISE catalog • NASA has released the full catalog of images from the WISE infrared space observatory. Launched December 14, 2009 the spacecraft took 2.7 million images taken in 4 different sections of the infrared spectrum. From these an atlas of 18,000 images has been created. The catalog lists infrared properties of 560 million individual objects. Many of these objects, mostly stars and galaxies, have never been seen before. It also looks at asteroids and helps NASA determine that 90% of the largest near-Earth asteroids have already been found. Roc Cutri, leader of WISE data processing says “It will be exciting and rewarding to see the innovative ways the science and educational communities will use WISE in their studies now that they have the data at their fingertips.” For information on how to access the archive go to The press release with other useful links can be found at


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