Noctuary Volume 2, Number 2 (June 2013)

Noctuary Volume 2, Number 2 (June 2013)

Table of contents.
Gallery: Other Worlds . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 02
An infographic of the 840 confirmed exoplanets (as at December
2012), showing their relative sizes, distribution of masses,
discovery methods and discovery time-line.

From the Archimedes Archives . . . . . . . . . . . . 03
Interesting bits and pieces to pique the astronomically curious.

Southern Milky Way . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 07
The spectacular stretch of sky from the Coal Sack to eta Carinae,
imaged by Johann Swanepoel.

Astrophotography tutorial (Part 3) . . . . . . . . . . 09
The third installment of Brett du Preez’s astrophotography tutorial
discusses polar alignment.

Unveiling the mask of Venus . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12
Earth’s evil twin sister exposed.

Three Galaxies in the Centaur . . . . . . . . . . . . 15
Three deep-sky gems in Centaurus to be enjoyed.

The Rich Man’s Jewel Box . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17
Think the Jewel Box in Crux is a stunner? You ain’t seen nuthin
yet. Plus: internet hoax exposed!

Briefly Noted . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20
Some housekeeping announcements and other stuff that didn’t
fit in elsewhere.

Go here to download the entire issue of Noctuary or go here to download previous issues

Kepler’s Tally of Planets

NASA’s Kepler mission has so far discovered more than 100 confirmed planets orbiting distant stars. In the New York Times Kepler’s impressive record is depicted in a very interesting interactive graphic which you will find here.  All the planets, with a known size and orbit, are shown in the graphic, including the five planets orbiting Kepler 62, which were announced on April 18.  You can read the full article here.

Astronomers have announced finding a pair of planets which seem to have all the characteristics required to support life.  The pair are situated 1 200 light years away in the northern constellation Lyra.  As far as astronomical distances are concerned this is “just around the corner” but, taking into account the current technical abilities of human space flight, going there is currently only possible in the science fiction realm.

Nevertheless the discovery is very important as it adds to our growing knowledge and understanding of the universe. These two planets are the outermost two of five worlds circling a previously anonymous  yellowish star, slightly smaller and dimmer than our Sun, which will now go down in the cosmic history books as Kepler 62. These planets are apparently about half as large as Earth and initial indications are that they are rocky planets covered by oceans with humid, cloudy skies, although that is at best a highly educated guess.

William Borucki of NASA’s Ames Research Center, head of the Kepler project, described one of the new worlds as the best site for Life Out There yet found in Kepler’s four-years-and-counting search for other Earths. He treated his team to pizza and beer on his own dime to celebrate the find. “It’s a big deal,” he said.

Sadly, as things stand now, it is unlikely that anybody will ever know if anything lives on these planets. The odds that humans will travel there any time soon without some “Star Trek” technology are negligibly small, but the news has certainly sent astronomers over the Moon.

NASA’S Kepler Mission Discovers 461 New Planet Candidates

On Monday NASA’s Kepler mission announced the discovery of 461 new planet candidates. Four of the potential new planets are less than twice the size of Earth and orbit in their sun’s “habitable zone,” the region in the planetary system where liquid water might exist on the surface of a planet. Christopher Burke, Kepler scientist at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, who is leading the analysis, said: “There is no better way to kickoff the start of the Kepler extended mission than to discover more possible outposts on the frontier of potentially life bearing worlds.”

The Kepler catalog now lists a total of 2,740 potential planets orbiting 2,036 stars and there has been a dramatic increase in the number of Earth-size and super Earth-size candidates; up by 43 and 21 percent respectively. Current data increases the number of stars observed to have more than one planet from 365 to 467. As things now stand 43 percent of Kepler’s planet candidates appear to have neighbor planets. Go to the NASA press release to read the rest of the story.

Planets Abound: Astronomers Estimate That at Least 100 Billion Planets Populate the Galaxy

The conclusion of a new study by astronomers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) is that planetary systems are the norm in our galaxy and very probably in the cosmos. The team’s estimate is based on the analysis of the planets orbiting a star called Kepler-32. These planets are, according to the team, representative of the vast majority of planetary systems in the galaxy and may therefore be taken as a perfect case study for understanding how most planets form.  John Johnson, assistant professor of planetary astronomy at Caltech, who is the co-author of the study says: “There’s at least 100 billion planets in the galaxy — just our galaxy,  That’s mind-boggling.”  Their paper was recently accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal.  The rest of the article can be read on ScienceDaily..

How Young Star and Planets Grow Simultaneously

Using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) radio telescope, astronomers have got their first glimpse of a fascinating stage of star formation in which planets forming around a young star are helping the star itself continue to grow. Astronomers have always had a problem reconciling  the growth of a young star with the simultaneous formation of it’s planets.  Planetary formation, so it was believed, should cut off the inflow of material required to allow continued star growth.  The picture has now changed, courtesy of a young star system about 450 light-years from Earth.  This system is the subject of a study by astronomers, using  the ever-sharpening vision of ALMA, that is uncovering the answers to the problem of simultaneous star and planetary growth.  Go here to read the rest of the article on ScienceDaily,