The 2019 Nobel Prize for Physics was announced this morning and the three winners were cited for advancing our understanding of the cosmos. So this week’s blog raises its eyes to the heavens. (Even if you hate science class, please continue reading.) Billions of stars are there, and the darker it is where you’re viewing, the more of them you’ll see. Binoculars help, and a telescope helps more.
But beware of black holes. NASA celebrated Black Hole Week in September, releasing the first-ever actual image of a black hole. It’s not 2000 light years from home, as the Rolling Stones sang, but a whopping 55 million! What’s equally exciting is that there may be a black hole in our very own solar system. We know Pluto was debunked as a planet, but scientists still believe — because of so many orbital irregularities — there’s a massive Planet 9 out there, waiting to be discovered. And a lot of them think it may really be a black hole. A link at the bottom of this blog offers the 4-1-1 on black holes.
Andromeda, the closest galaxy to ours (the Milky Way), is the most distant object you can see with the naked eye. It’s elliptical in shape and hard to find if you don’t know where to look. Internet to the rescue: a link below gives directions and illustrations for finding it. Did you know, Andromeda and the Milky Way are rushing towards each other at about 68 miles per second? They will collide in about 4.5 billion years!
The Draconid Meteor Showers can be seen Oct. 6-10. They peak on the 8th, producing about 10 meteors per hour. Best viewing is early evening. The meteors radiate from the constellation Draco. The Orionid Meteor Showers arrive later in the month, peaking Oct. 21 with about 25 meteors per hour. They originate near the constellation Orion, which is easy to spot. Best viewing is just before dawn. Trivia: if a meteor enters the Earth’s atmosphere, it becomes a meteorite.
October 13 is the full moon. This month’s is called the Hunter’s Moon, because leaves are falling and game animals are fat. By Oct. 31, the moon will be fairly dark, making Halloween spookier. Our largest planet, Jupiter, is close to the moon and appears brighter compared to the dim moon.
In other planet news, early in October, just after dusk, look low on the horizon to see Saturn and its rings skirting the moon. If you have a good telescope and a dark place from which to view, look for Uranus on Oct. 27, when it will be at its closest approach to Earth. It will be visible all night as a blue-green dot in the distance.
Many Arizona State Parks host regular Star Parties, with guest speakers and a chance to view celestial objects through various telescopes. Park entry fees may apply. This month’s parties are at:
- Kartchner Caverns, 2-8pm, Oct. 19
- Homolovi State Park, 30 min. after sunset, Oct. 26
You can download a free computer program called Stellarium. It turns your computer into a planetarium. Enter your latitude, longitude and altitude and it displays the sky in real time, with the principal stars, planets and constellations identified. Apps are available for Android and iOS smartphones but the display is not as dramatic as what you’ll see on a larger computer screen.
So get out there and wish upon a star … or the moon, a planet, a meteor, or some debris from the Big Bang, from interstellar collisions, or from all the stuff humans have blasted into space.
Links for this blog: