M38 - Open Cluster in Auriga

The third and final, M38 is reasonably diffuse open cluster in the constellation Auriga. Discovered by Giovanni Batista Hodierna before 1654 and later catalogued by Charles Messier in 1764, M38 is of an intermediate age. A notable feature of the cluster is that the brightest stars seem to form a pattern similar to the Greek letter Pi - π. With smaller instruments, M38 may appear as a cross. And, as with many astronomical objects, larger telescopes show absolutely no geometrical shape. The larger the telescope, the more we can discover.

Top: Wide-Field - AstroLab

Bottom: Close-Up - CWRU

When I read about the way in which library funds are being cut and cut, I can only think that American society has found one more way to destroy itself.
Isaac Asimov

European Probe Survives Daring Dive Through Venus Atmosphere

Just recently, the ESA’s Venus Express probe was launched into the venutian atmosphere in order to collect much desired data about the atmosphere on Venus.

This is particularly interesting data because Venus shouldn’t have an atmosphere. Both Mercury and Mars have had their atmospheres stripped by the solar wind or condensed into permafrost. This is because they are small planets and cooled down quickly, loosing their dynamo, which is the mechanism needed to produce and maintain a planetary magnetic field. Venus, however, does not show evidence of a dynamo nor a magnetic field. It is thought that the planet staves off atmospheric obliteration because of the thickness of it’s atmosphere, rich in heavy elements like nitrogen and carbon dioxide. The atmosphere also has a super-fast rotation rate, with winds blowing up to 60 times the rotation rate of the planet itself.

From Space.com:

Specifically, Venus Express found that, between altitudes of 81 and 103 miles (130 to165 km), the atmospheric pressure increased by a factor of 1,000. Also, during several brief periods lasting 100 seconds each, temperatures increased by more than 212 degrees Fahrenheit (100 degrees Celsius), researchers said.

Read more at Space.com!

Messier 37 - Open Cluster in Auriga

Best and brightest, M37 is a phenomenal example of an open cluster. Discovered by Giovanni Battista Hodierna sometime before 1654 and later catalogued by the French comet-hunter Charles Messier in 1764. M37 is a somewhat new cluster, as suggested by its metalicity and star-types. It contains about 500 member stars, which adds to its appearance as the richest of the three open clusters in Auriga.

Top: Wide-Field - Ole Nielsen/NOAO

Bottom: Close-Up - NOAO

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Messier 36 - Open Cluster in Auriga

Discovered by Giovanni Batista Hodierna and catalogued by Charles Messier in 1764, M36 is a modestly sized cluster which has very similar characteristics to the better-known Pleiades cluster. It has roughly 60 confirmed member stars, many of which have fast rotation rates. it is a very young cluster, containing only first-stage stars, unlike it’s neighbouring open clusters M37 and M38, which will be showcased tomorrow and the day after.

Top: Wide-Field - 2MASS

Bottom: Close-Up - NOAO/AURA/NSF

Messier 35 - Open Cluster in Gemini

M35 was first observed by Philippe Loys de Cheseaux in 1745 and later catalogued by the French comet-hunter Charles Messier in 1764. It is a massive cluster in the night sky, taking up about the size of the moon. There is also the nearby compact open cluster NGC 2158 just south of M35. It can be seen clearly without telescopic aid under good conditions. It is such a large object that it is best seen with binoculars, as telescopic power will tend to loose the overall view of the cluster.

Top: 2MASS

Bottom: CFHT/J.C. Cuillandre

The Great Wetherell Refractor

This is quite possibly the coolest *looking* telescope that I’ve ever seen. From the creator, Tim Wetherell:

The Great Wetherell Refractor is a Steampunk telescope on a grand scale. It incorporates the riveted construction and engraved brass circles of many telescopes from the late nineteenth century, yet it’s also modern in it’s use of electronic controls and the best of today’s coated optics. This work is a both a sculpture and a fully functional telescope. It’s not a replica, but a modern working instrument grounded firmly in the tradition of the great Victorian refractors.

Check out more of Tim’s work at http://www.wetherellart.co.uk

Messier 34 - Open Cluster in Perseus

Upon observing M34, the French comet-hunter Charles Messier noted:

"A cluster of small stars a little below the parallel of γ (Andromedae). In an ordinary telescope of 3 feet one can distinguish the stars."

M34 is a loose collection of stars known as an open cluster. Open clusters are generally young regions of stars which formed from the same cosmic stuff, called a molecular cloud. This means that these stars all share the same age, chemical composition, and distance. This being said, they are not of the same size, colour, or brightness. This is because parts of the cloud that condensed to form a star were of different masses, and the colour and brightness of a star is dependent on its mass. Observation has shown that this cluster is rich in metals, which in star-talk means anything besides Hydrogen and Helium, meaning that these stars were born from a molecular cloud which had been enriched by heavier elements (metals) from previously exploded massive stars. There are also at least 19 white dwarf stars within the cluster, a relatively high amount for such a young cluster. With dark skies, M34 is visible with the aid of binoculars!

Top: Wide-Field - REU/NOAO/AURA/NSF

Bottom: Close-Up - Palomar Observatory

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SPACEWALK - LIVE NOW

Watch Russian Cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Artemyev from ISS Expedition 40. Their goal is to deploy a nanosatellite, retrieve and install experiment packages and inspect components on the exterior of the orbital laboratory.. Expected to last over six hours!

Click HERE to watch at NASA Television

2014 Conjunction of Jupiter and Venus

A small selection of the telescopes that I’ve had the fortune to visit!

In order: Loines Observatory Clark 6”, Loines 24”, St Andrews James Gregory 1-metre , St Andrews 16”, Connecticut College Olin Observatory 20”, Frosty Drew Observatory 16”

Messier 33 - The Triangulum Galaxy

M33 is yet another galaxy in our tour of the Messier Catalogue, a series of interesting night sky objects compiled in 1764 by the French comet-hunter Charles Messier. The Triangulum Galaxy is a large spiral galaxy located in the constellation Triangulum. It is visible to the naked eye under dark sky conditions, making it one of the furthest objects visible without a telescope. After Andromeda and our own, it is the third largest galaxy in the Local Group - aka our local galactic neighbourhood. Observations suggest that Andromeda and M33 had a brief encounter some 2 to 8 billion years ago, resulting in streams of stellar material between the two and suggesting that it may be absorbed by Andromeda at some later time. M33 enjoys fame in many fictional works, including the Voyage of the Space Beagle, Star Trek, seaQuest, and many others.

Top: Visible - Alexander Meleg

Middle: IR - Spitzer/NASA

Bottom: Stellar Nursery in M33 - Hubble/NASA

For those of a more stellar nature, this announcement is for you!

Just prior to sunrise, take a look towards the eastern horizon. Make sure there isn’t much blocking the view, as you’ll need to see low down. There will be a rare conjunction between Jupiter and Venus, the two brightest objects in the night sky. They will appear as two very bright dots very near to one another.

Don’t be late - the sun will steal your view!

One had to cram all this stuff into one’s mind for the examinations, whether one liked it or not. This coercion had such a deterring effect on me that, after I had passed the final examination, I found the consideration of any scientific problems distasteful to me for an entire year.
Albert Einstein