Tag Archives: Kuiper Belt

NASA Night Sky Notes: Chill Out: Spot An Ice Giant In August

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 August, 2019.

By David Prosper

Is the summer heat getting to you? Cool off overnight while spotting one of the solar system’s ice giants: Neptune! It’s the perfect way to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Voyager 2’s flyby.

Neptune is too dim to see with your unaided eye so you’ll need a telescope to find it. Neptune is at opposition in September, but its brightness and apparent size won’t change dramatically as it’s so distant; the planet is usually just under 8th magnitude and 4.5 billion kilometers away. You can see Neptune with binoculars but a telescope is recommended if you want to discern its disc; the distant world reveals a very small but discernible disc at high magnification. Neptune currently appears in Aquarius, a constellation lacking in bright stars, which adds difficulty to pinpointing its exact location. Fortunately, the Moon travels past Neptune the night of August 16th, passing less than six degrees apart (or about 12 Moon widths) at their closest. If the Moon’s glare overwhelms Neptune’s dim light, you can still use the its location that evening to mark the general area to search on a darker night. Another Neptune-spotting tip: Draw an imaginary line from bright southern star Fomalhaut up to the Great Square of Pegasus, then mark a point roughly in the middle and search there, in the eastern edge of Aquarius. If you spot a blue-ish star, swap your telescope’s eyepiece to zoom in as much as possible. Is the suspect blue “star” now a tiny disc, while the surrounding stars remain points of white light? You’ve found Neptune!

Neptune and Uranus are ice giant planets. These worlds are larger than terrestrial worlds like Earth but smaller than gas giants like Jupiter. Neptune’s atmosphere contains hydrogen and helium like a gas giant, but also methane, which gives it a striking blue color. The “ice” in “ice giant” refers to the mix of ammonia, methane, and water that makes up most of Neptune’s mass, located in the planet’s large, dense, hot mantle. This mantle surrounds an Earth-size rocky core. Neptune possesses a faint ring system and 13 confirmed moons. NASA’s Voyager 2 mission made a very close flyby on August 25, 1989. It revealed a dynamic, stormy world streaked by the fastest winds in the solar system, their ferocity fueled by the planet’s surprisingly strong internal heating. Triton, Neptune’s largest moon, was discovered to be geologically active, with cryovolcanoes erupting nitrogen gas and dust dotting its surface, and a mottled “cantaloupe” terrain made up of hard water ice. Triton is similar to Pluto in size and composition, and orbits Neptune in the opposite direction of the planet’s rotation, unlike every other large moon in the solar system. These clues lead scientists to conclude that this unusual moon is likely a captured Kuiper Belt object.

Discover more about Voyager 2, along with all of NASA’s past, present, and future missions, at nasa.gov

Clockwise from top left: Neptune and the Great Dark Spot traced by white clouds; Neptune’s rings; Triton and its famed icy cantaloupe surface; close of up Triton’s surface, with dark streaks indicating possible cyrovolcano activity. Find more images and science from Voyager 2’s flyby at bit.ly/NeptuneVoyager2 Image Credit: NASA/JPL
Finder chart for Neptune. This is a simulated view through 10×50 binoculars (10x magnification). Please note that the sizes of stars in this chart indicate their brightness, not their actual size. Moon image courtesy NASA Scientific Visualization Studio; chart created with assistance from Stellarium.

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!

“Planet 9 From Outer Space” – Thursday, April 19 At Liverpool Public Library

Greetings, fellow astrophiles!

And apologies for the short-ish notice. This is not a showing of the movie “Plan 9,” but risks being just as cheesy. CNYO makes its yearly (if not more often) return to LPL this Thursday with a lecture that actually overlaps nicely with a lecture topic from a few years back that was presented at a CNY Skeptics meetings – We step out from our discussion of Ceres and Pluto into a discussion of Pluto and the theorized Planet IX (not to be confused with Planet X). As always, we check on the state of the binocular loaner program as well, with hopes that all have been reserved and none are available.

Link details can be found at calendar.lpl.org


Caption: The 6 most distant objects known in the Solar System, then the predicted orbit of the unknown 7th. Image courtesy of Caltech/R. Hurt (IPAC)

Planet 9(,) From Outer Space

Event Type: Adult Programs
Date: 4/19/2018
Start Time: 7:00 PM
End Time: 8:30 PM
Description: History, Politics and Physics Out Beyond Neptune

google map directions to LPL.

Pluto had a remarkably good and lucky run as the 9th planet in our Solar System. Its demotion to dwarf planet status in late 2006 was due to a number of factors, driven largely by the discovery that Pluto is not alone either in size or in location out beyond Neptune’s orbit. Modern telescopes have discovered numerous dwarf planets out in the Kuiper Belt – a region of the Solar System for which Pluto is now the most famous member. By determining the orbits of these distant objects, astrophysicists have even made the prediction that something much larger in size must be lurking in the distance – large enough to qualify as a true planet if and when it is officially observed.

Dr. Damian Allis is a NASA Solar System Ambassador, director of CNY Observers and writes the monthly “Upstate New York Stargazing” column for syracuse.com and newyorkupstate.com.

Location: Carman Community Room
Presenter: Cindy Hibbert

Free Astronomy Magazine – July-August 2017 Issue Available For Reading And Download

Greetings, fellow astrophiles!

The most recent issue of Free Astronomy Magazine (July-August, 2017) is available for your reading and downloading pleasure at www.astropublishing.com (click the link to go directly to the issue).

Free Astronomy Magazine was featured as the first of a series of articles on great free online content for amateur astronomers (see A Universe Of Free Resources Part 1) and we’ll be keeping track of future publications under the Online Resources category on the CNYO website.

You can find previous Free Astronomy Magazine issues by checking out our Free Astronomy Magazine Category (or look under the Education link in our menu).

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

July-August 2017

The web browser-readable version of the issue can be found here:

July-August 2017 – www.astropublishing.com/4FAM2017/

For those who want to jump right to the PDF download (27 MB), Click here: July-August 2017