Category Archives: Education

Free Astronomy Magazine – July-August 2020 Issue Available For Reading And Download

And Happy 4th, fellow astrophiles!

The most recent issue of Free Astronomy Magazine (July-August 2020) is available for your reading and downloading pleasure at www.astropublishing.com (click the link to go directly to the issue).

July-August 2020 includes a selected survey of astronomical content of local and cosmological interest from NASA/ESA, ESO, ALMA, as well as three feature articles from our fearless leader/editor Michele Ferrara. The feature articles in this issue discuss:

  1. “All the planets of Proxima Centauri” – the science for this article was quite literally being published as the article itself was being put together, about as fast a processing of journal-article-to-magazine as one can do while putting others together.
  2. “A supernova or Sagittarius – which should we thank?” – I’ve mentioned in many lectures that our own Sun is either the second or third stellar inhabitant in our vicinity, with a local supernova sparking the formation of it and our Solar System way back when. Recent studies indicate that other events 5-ish billion years ago might have instigated the events that lead to “us.”
  3. “The principle of mediocrity and the habitability of galaxies” – lump this use of the word “mediocrity” with the scientific use of the word “theory,” please. It is a joy to know that fundamental debates are being had in the astronomy and astrophysics literature and that there remains plenty, plenty yet to know for those pondering their futures in STEM.

For those wanting a quick look at what the issue has to offer, the Table of Contents is reproduced below.

The web browser-readable version: www.astropublishing.com/4FAM2020/

Jump right to the PDF download (15 MB): July-August 2020

NASA Night Sky Notes: Summer Triangle Corner – Vega

Poster’s Note: One of the many under-appreciated aspects of NASA is the extent to which it publishes quality science content for children and Ph.D.’s alike. Your tax dollars help promote science! The following article was provided for reprinting by the Night Sky Network in June, 2020.

By David Prosper and Vivian White

If you live in the Northern Hemisphere and look up during June evenings, you’ll see the brilliant star Vega shining overhead. Did you know that Vega is one of the most studied stars in our skies? As one of the brightest summer stars, Vega has fascinated astronomers for thousands of years.

Vega is the brightest star in the small Greek constellation of Lyra, the harp. It’s also one of the three points of the large “Summer Triangle” asterism, making Vega one of the easiest stars to find for novice stargazers. Ancient humans from 14,000 years ago likely knew Vega for another reason: it was the Earth’s northern pole star! Compare Vega’s current position with that of the current north star, Polaris, and you can see how much the direction of Earth’s axis changes over thousands of years. This slow movement of axial rotation is called precession, and in 12,000 years Vega will return to the northern pole star position. Bright Vega has been observed closely since the beginning of modern astronomy and even helped to set the standard for the current magnitude scale used to categorize the brightness of stars. Polaris and Vega have something else in common, besides being once and future pole stars: their brightness varies over time, making them variable stars. Variable stars’ light can change for many different reasons. Dust, smaller stars, or even planets may block the light we see from the star. Or the star itself might be unstable with active sunspots, expansions, or eruptions changing its brightness. Most stars are so far away that we only record the change in light, and can’t see their surface.

NASA’s TESS satellite has ultra-sensitive light sensors primed to look for the tiny dimming of starlight caused by transits of extrasolar planets. Their sensitivity also allowed TESS to observe much smaller pulsations in a certain type of variable star’s light than previously observed. These observations of Delta Scuti variable stars will help astronomers model their complex interiors and make sense of their distinct, seemingly chaotic, pulsations. This is a major contribution towards the field of astroseismology: the study of stellar interiors via observations of how sound waves “sing” as they travel through stars. The findings may help settle the debate over what kind of variable star Vega is. Find more details on this research, including a sonification demo that lets you “hear” the heartbeat of one of these stars, at: bit.ly/DeltaScutiTESS

Interested in learning more about variable stars? Want to observe their changing brightness? Check out the website for the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) at aavso.org. You can also find the latest news about Vega and other fascinating stars at nasa.gov.

Vega possesses two debris fields, similar to our own solar system’s asteroid and Kuiper belts. Astronomers continue to hunt for planets orbiting Vega, but as of May 2020 none have been confirmed. More info: bit.ly/VegaSystem Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Can you spot Vega? You may need to look straight up to find it, especially if observing after midnight.

The Night Sky Network program supports astronomy clubs across the USA dedicated to astronomy outreach. Visit nightsky.jpl.nasa.gov to find local clubs, events, and more!

NASA Night Sky Notes: Become A Citizen Scientist With NASA!

Poster’s Note: One of the many under-appreciated aspects of NASA is the extent to which it publishes quality science content for children and Ph.D.’s alike. Your tax dollars help promote science! The following article was provided for reprinting by the Night Sky Network in May, 2020.

By David Prosper

Ever want to mix in some science with your stargazing, but not sure where to start? NASA hosts a galaxy of citizen science programs that you can join! You’ll find programs perfect for dedicated astronomers and novices alike, from reporting aurora, creating amazing images from real NASA data, searching for asteroids, and scouring data from NASA missions from the comfort of your home. If you can’t get to your favorite stargazing spot, then NASA’s suite of citizen science programs may be just the thing for you.

Jupiter shines brightly in the morning sky this spring. If you’d rather catch up on sleep, or if your local weather isn’t cooperating, all you need is a space telescope – preferably one in orbit around Jupiter! Download raw images straight from the Juno mission, and even process and submit your favorites, on the JunoCam website! You may have seen some incredible images from Juno in the news, but did you know that these images were created by enthusiasts like yourself? Go to their website and download some sample images to start your image processing journey. Who knows where it will take you? Get started at bit.ly/nasajunocam

Interested in hunting for asteroids? Want to collaborate with a team to find them?? The International Astronomical Search Collaboration program matches potential asteroid hunters together into teams throughout the year to help each other dig into astronomical data in order to spot dim objects moving in between photos. If your team discovers a potential asteroid that is later confirmed, you may even get a chance to name it! Join or build a team and search for asteroids at iasc.cosmosearch.org

Want to help discover planets around other star systems? NASA’s TESS mission is orbiting the Earth right now and scanning the sky for planets around other stars. It’s accumulating a giant horde of data, and NASA scientists need your help to sift through it all to find other worlds! You can join Planet Hunters TESS at: planethunters.org

Intrigued by these opportunities? These are just a few of the many ways to participate in NASA citizen science, including observing your local environment with the GLOBE program, reporting aurora with Aurorasaurus, measuring snowpack levels, training software for Mars missions – even counting penguins! Discover more opportunities at science.nasa.gov/citizenscience and join the NASA citizen science Facebook group at facebook.com/groups/Sciencing/ And of course, visit nasa.gov to find the latest discoveries from all the research teams at NASA!

GREAT SOUTHERN JUPITER: Incredible image of Jupiter, submitted to the JunoCam site by Kevin M. Gill. Full Credits : NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Kevin M. Gill
Light curve of a binary star system containing a pulsating (variable) star, as spotted on Planet Hunters TESS by user mhuten and featured by project scientist Nora Eisner as a “Light Curve of the Week.” Credit: Planet Hunters TESS/NASA/mhuten/Nora Eisner

The Night Sky Network program supports astronomy clubs across the USA dedicated to astronomy outreach. Visit nightsky.jpl.nasa.gov to find local clubs, events, and more!