Category Archives: Astronomy

Videos: Night sky highlights for April 2020

** What’s Up: April 2020 Skywatching Tips from NASANASA JPL

What are some astronomy highlights in the sky in April 2020? This month, Venus visits the Pleiades; Mars, Jupiter and Saturn begin their breakup; and we ask, “What is the Moon illusion?” Additional information about topics covered in this episode of What’s Up, along with still images from the video, and the video transcript, are available at…

** Tonight’s Sky: AprilSpace Telescope Science Institute

Clear April nights are filled with starry creatures. Near the Big Dipper, you will find several interesting binary stars. You can also spot galaxies like the Pinwheel Galaxy, M82, and M96—the last of which is an asymmetric galaxy that may have been gravitationally disrupted by encounters with its neighbors. Keep watching for space-based views of these celestial objects.

** What’s in the Night Sky April 2020Alyn Wallace

** What to see in the night sky: April 2020BBC Sky at Night Magazine

Pete Lawrence and Paul Abel guide us through April’s stargazing highlights.

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The Planet Factory:
Exoplanets and the Search for a Second Earth

The Space Show this week – Mar.30.2020

The guests and topics of discussion on The Space Show this week:

1. Monday, March 30, 2020; 7 pm PDT (9 pm CDT, 10 pm EDT: No special programming.

2. Tuesday, March 31, 2020; 7 pm PDT (9 pm CDT, 10 pm EDT): Author Rod Pyle will talk about his latest commercial space work and more.

3. Wednesday, April 1, 2020: Hotel Mars TBA pre-recorded. See upcoming show menu on the home page for program details.

4. Thursday, April 2, 2020; 7-8:30 pm PDT (9-10:30 pm CDT, 10-11:30 pm EDT): No special programming.

5. Friday, April 3, 2020; 9:30-11 am PDT (11:30 am-1 pm CDT, 12:30-2 pm EDT): We welcome back Dr. David Kipping to discuss his work on the Earth as a telescope concept

6. Sunday, April 5, 2020; 12-1:30 pm PDT (3-4:30 pm EDT, 2-3:30 pm CDT): We welcome back Dennis Wingo to talk about his recent SLS history post and more.

Some recent shows:

** Sun, 03/29/2020 Dr. Paul Jaffe of the US Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) discussed space solar power.

** Fri, 03/27/2020Dr. Tina Highfill discussed “the BEA satellite economic analysis of the space industry”.

** Tue, 03/24/2020Robert Zimmerman talked about “multiple topics including SpaceX, SLS, COVID19 and more”.

** See also:
* The Space Show Archives
* The Space Show Newsletter
* The Space Show Shop

The Space Show is a project of the One Giant Leap Foundation.

The Space Show - David Livingston
The Space Show – David Livingston

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Moon Rush: The New Space Race

ESO: On exoplanet WASP-76b it rains metal cats and dogs

A new report from ESO (European Southern Observatory):

ESO Telescope Observes Exoplanet Where It Rains Iron

This illustration shows a night-side view of the exoplanet WASP-76b. The ultra-hot giant exoplanet has a day side where temperatures climb above 2400 degrees Celsius, high enough to vaporise metals. Strong winds carry iron vapour to the cooler night side where it condenses into iron droplets. To the left of the image, we see the evening border of the exoplanet, where it transitions from day to night.

Researchers using ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) have observed an extreme planet where they suspect it rains iron. The ultra-hot giant exoplanet has a day side where temperatures climb above 2400 degrees Celsius, high enough to vaporise metals. Strong winds carry iron vapour to the cooler night side where it condenses into iron droplets.

One could say that this planet gets rainy in the evening, except it rains iron,

says David Ehrenreich, a professor at the University of Geneva in Switzerland. He led a study, published today in the journal Nature, of this exotic exoplanet. Known as WASP-76b, it is located some 390 light-years away in the constellation of Pisces.

This strange phenomenon happens because the ‘iron rain’ planet only ever shows one face, its day side, to its parent star, its cooler night side remaining in perpetual darkness. Like the Moon on its orbit around the Earth, WASP-76b is ‘tidally locked’: it takes as long to rotate around its axis as it does to go around the star.

On its day side, it receives thousands of times more radiation from its parent star than the Earth does from the Sun. It’s so hot that molecules separate into atoms, and metals like iron evaporate into the atmosphere. The extreme temperature difference between the day and night sides results in vigorous winds that bring the iron vapour from the ultra-hot day side to the cooler night side, where temperatures decrease to around 1500 degrees Celsius.

Not only does WASP-76b have different day-night temperatures, it also has distinct day-night chemistry, according to the new study. Using the new ESPRESSO instrument on ESO’s VLT in the Chilean Atacama Desert, the astronomers identified for the first time chemical variations on an ultra-hot gas giant planet. They detected a strong signature of iron vapour at the evening border that separates the planet’s day side from its night side.

Surprisingly, however, we do not see the iron vapour in the morning,

says Ehrenreich. The reason, he says, is that

it is raining iron on the night side of this extreme exoplanet.

[María Rosa Zapatero Osorio, an astrophysicist at the Centre for Astrobiology in Madrid, Spain, and the chair of the ESPRESSO science team, adds,]

The observations show that iron vapour is abundant in the atmosphere of the hot day side of WASP-76b

A fraction of this iron is injected into the night side owing to the planet’s rotation and atmospheric winds. There, the iron encounters much cooler environments, condenses and rains down.

This result was obtained from the very first science observations done with ESPRESSO, in September 2018, by the scientific consortium who built the instrument: a team from Portugal, Italy, Switzerland, Spain and ESO.

ESPRESSO — the Echelle SPectrograph for Rocky Exoplanets and Stable Spectroscopic Observations — was originally designed to hunt for Earth-like planets around Sun-like stars. However, it has proven to be much more versatile.

We soon realised that the remarkable collecting power of the VLT and the extreme stability of ESPRESSO made it a prime machine to study exoplanet atmospheres,

says Pedro Figueira, ESPRESSO instrument scientist at ESO in Chile.

What we have now is a whole new way to trace the climate of the most extreme exoplanets,”

concludes Ehrenreich.

This comic-book-style illustration by Swiss graphic novelist Frederik Peeters shows a close-up view of the evening border of the exoplanet WASP-76b. The ultra-hot giant exoplanet has a day side where temperatures climb above 2400 degrees Celsius, high enough to vaporise metals. Strong winds carry iron vapour to the cooler night side where it condenses into iron droplets. Theoretical studies show that a planet, like WASP-76b, with an extremely hot day side and colder night side would have a gigantic condensation front in the form of a cloud cascade at its evening border, the transition from day to night, as depicted here.


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More Things in the Heavens:
How Infrared Astronomy Is Expanding Our View of the Universe

Videos: Night sky highlights for March 2020

** Tonight’s Sky: MarchSpace Telescope Science Institute

In March, the stars of spring lie eastward: Look for the constellations Gemini and Cancer to spot interesting celestial features like star clusters M35 and the Beehive Cluster, and NGC 3923, an oblong elliptical galaxy with an interesting ripple pattern. Keep watching for space-based views of the galaxies.

** The Virtual Planetarium: what to see in the night sky, March 2020BBC Sky at Night Magazine

The Sky at Night presenters Pete Lawrence and Paul Abel reveal their astronomy guide to March 2020.

** The Night Sky | March, 2020The Astrophotographer Judah

This video lists several upcoming conjunctions. In astronomy a Conjunction is defined (Britannica) as

an apparent meeting or passing of two or more celestial bodies. The Moon is in conjunction with the Sun at the phase of New Moon, when it moves between the Earth and Sun and the side turned toward the Earth is dark. Inferior planets—those with orbits smaller than the Earth’s (namely, Venus and Mercury)—have two kinds of conjunctions with the Sun. An inferior conjunction occurs when the planet passes approximately between Earth and Sun; if it passes exactly between them, moving across the Sun’s face as seen from Earth, it is said to be in transit. A superior conjunction occurs when Earth and the other planet are on opposite sides of the Sun, but all three bodies are again nearly in a straight line. Superior planets, those having orbits larger than the Earth’s, can have only superior conjunctions with the Sun.

** Superb Stargazing *** Let’s Take a Trip to the Brightest Stars *** March 1-5 2020 – nemesis maturity

Let’s take a trip to the stars, constellations, planets and Moon, and discover the amazing wonders of the night sky. Let the Moon guide you to the brightest stars of the night sky over the next several evenings. Happy New Month and Happy Skywatching!

** [ Update March.2.2020: What’s Up: March 2020 Skywatching Tips from NASA

Looking for astronomy highlights for March 2020? This month, early risers enjoy a planetary grouping of Mars, Jupiter and Saturn in the early morning sky. Plus a closer look at Sirius, the brightest star in the sky, and spot a lovely trio at sunset on March 28. Additional information about topics covered in this episode of What’s Up, along with still images from the video, and the video transcript, are available at… .


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More Things in the Heavens:
How Infrared Astronomy Is Expanding Our View of the Universe

ESO: ALMA spots red giant engulfing companion star

The latest report from the European Southern Observatory (ESO):

ALMA catches beautiful outcome of stellar fight

This new ALMA image shows the outcome of a stellar fight: a complex and stunning gas environment surrounding the binary HD101584. The colours represent speed, going from blue — gas moving the fastest towards us — to red — gas moving the fastest away from us. Jets, almost along the line of sight, propel the material in blue and red. The stars in the binary are located at the single bright dot at the centre of the ring-like structure shown in green, which is moving with the same velocity as the system as a whole along the line of sight. Astronomers believe this ring has its origin in the material ejected as the lower mass star in the binary spiralled towards its red-giant partner. Click for larger images

Astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), in which ESO is a partner, have spotted a peculiar gas cloud that resulted from a confrontation between two stars. One star grew so large it engulfed the other which, in turn, spiralled towards its partner provoking it into shedding its outer layers.

Like humans, stars change with age and ultimately die. For the Sun and stars like it, this change will take it through a phase where, having burned all the hydrogen in its core, it swells up into a large and bright red-giant star. Eventually, the dying Sun will lose its outer layers, leaving behind its core: a hot and dense star called a white dwarf.

“The star system HD101584 is special in the sense that this ‘death process’ was terminated prematurely and dramatically as a nearby low-mass companion star was engulfed by the giant,”

said Hans Olofsson of the Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, who led a recent study, published in Astronomy & Astrophysics, of this intriguing object.

Thanks to new observations with ALMA, complemented by data from the ESO-operated Atacama Pathfinder EXperiment (APEX), Olofsson and his team now know that what happened in the double-star system HD101584 was akin to a stellar fight. As the main star puffed up into a red giant, it grew large enough to swallow its lower-mass partner. In response, the smaller star spiralled in towards the giant’s core but didn’t collide with it. Rather, this manoeuvre triggered the larger star into an outburst, leaving its gas layers dramatically scattered and its core exposed.

The team says the complex structure of the gas in the HD101584 nebula is due to the smaller star’s spiralling towards the red giant, as well as to the jets of gas that formed in this process. As a deadly blow to the already defeated gas layers, these jets blasted through the previously ejected material, forming the rings of gas and the bright bluish and reddish blobs seen in the nebula.

A silver lining of a stellar fight is that it helps astronomers to better understand the final evolution of stars like the Sun.

“Currently, we can describe the death processes common to many Sun-like stars, but we cannot explain why or exactly how they happen. HD101584 gives us important clues to solve this puzzle since it is currently in a short transitional phase between better studied evolutionary stages. With detailed images of the environment of HD101584 we can make the connection between the giant star it was before, and the stellar remnant it will soon become,”

says co-author Sofia Ramstedt from Uppsala University, Sweden.

Co-author Elizabeth Humphreys from ESO in Chile highlighted that ALMA and APEX, located in the country’s Atacama region, were crucial to enabling the team to probe “both the physics and chemistry in action” in the gas cloud. She added:

“This stunning image of the circumstellar environment of HD101584 would not have been possible without the exquisite sensitivity and angular resolution provided by ALMA.”

While current telescopes allow astronomers to study the gas around the binary, the two stars at the centre of the complex nebula are too close together and too far away to be resolved. ESO’s Extremely Large Telescope, under construction in Chile’s Atacama Desert,

“will provide information on the ‘heart’ of the object,”

says Olofsson, allowing astronomers a closer look at the fighting pair.


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