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Science
Astronomy

Astronomy December 2020

The world's best-selling astronomy magazine offers you the most exciting, visually stunning, and timely coverage of the heavens above. Each monthly issue includes expert science reporting, vivid color photography, complete sky coverage, spot-on observing tips, informative telescope reviews, and much more! All this in a user-friendly style that's perfect for astronomers at any level.

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Country:
United States
Language:
English
Publisher:
Kalmbach Publishing Co. - Magazines
Frequency:
Monthly
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12 Issues

in this issue

1 min.
quick takes

DEEP DIVE By training machine-learning algorithms to recognize signals of real planets among false positives, astronomers at the University of Warwick have confirmed the existence of 50 exoplanet candidates found by the Kepler space telescope. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED NASA’s latest planet hunter, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, has successfully completed its primary mission. It scanned roughly 75 percent of the sky, uncovering 66 new exoplanets and more than 2,000 planet candidates. QUANTUM BOTTLENECK Radiation from space in the form of cosmic rays will wreak havoc on the planned next generation of quantum computers, scientists have determined. More advanced radiation shielding will be required to prevent computer errors. PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT In August, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission performed two landing rehearsals above asteroid Bennu. The craft came as close as 131 feet (40 meters) to the asteroid’s surface, testing the…

2 min.
betelgeuse’s stellar sneeze

For over a century, astronomers have known that Betelgeuse, the famous red star in Orion, regularly varies in brightness, usually over a period of about 420 days. But starting in late 2019, the star underwent dimming so extreme that it was noticeable to the naked eye. By February 2020, the star was two-thirds its normal brilliance, and direct imaging revealed that it appeared bent out of shape. The cause of Betelgeuse’s dip in brightness initially baffled astronomers, leading some to speculate the star was about to explode in a supernova. But new research published August 13 in The Astrophysical Journal outlines the likely cause: the ejection of hot, dense gas that quickly cooled into dust, blocking our view of much of the star’s southern hemisphere. Beginning in early 2019, the Hubble Space…

1 min.
arecibo dish damaged after cable snaps

Early on August 10, a 3-inch-thick cable that supports a platform high above the famed Arecibo observatory radio telescope failed. The cable struck and damaged the dome that houses the telescope’s receiver and tore a 100-foot (30.5 meters) gash in its main dish. No one was injured in the incident, which occurred about 2:35 A.M. local time, while the observatory was in use. At the time of this writing, Arecibo is offline while staff and other engineers assess and model the structural state of the entire telescope. Observatory officials say they are confident the damage will be repaired, but don't yet have a schedule. The cable failure is the latest setback for the iconic observatory. Its budget was slashed in November 2017, just two months after Puerto Rico was struck by Hurricane…

1 min.
vader’s tie fighter?

Cue “The Imperial March”: Scientists using the Very Long Baseline Array of radio telescopes have zoomed in on a galaxy far, far away to find it resembles Darth Vader’s TIE fighter from Star Wars. TXS 0128+554, which sits some 500 million light-years away, is shooting out powerful jets of material that glow brightly in many wavelengths, from radio waves to gamma rays. The two lobes, seen here in radio light, are created as particles in the jets plow into intergalactic gas, causing the jets to flatten and spread out. Because the galaxy is angled with respect to our line of sight, it takes light from the farther lobe (left) longer to reach Earth. This means astronomers are studying it at a younger point in its lifetime than the closer lobe. 100 The…

1 min.
adaptive optics

Images taken with ground-based telescopes are distorted by Earth’s turbulent atmosphere. But powerful optical telescopes can remove most of this effect using adaptive optics. Here’s how it works: 1. Parallel light waves from a “guide” star — a bright star in the same field of view as the celestial target — pass through turbulent layers in Earth’s atmosphere. 2. The distorted light is strategically bounced off several mirrors to direct it into the adaptive optics system. 3. Multiple actuators behind a deformable mirror change the mirror’s shape to correct the light. 4. A beam splitter divides incoming light, sending half through to an image detector and half into a wave-front sensor. 5. The wave-front sensor continuously analyzes how the incoming light is being distorted, passing that information along to a control system. 6. The control system…

4 min.
the best conjunction ever

Brilliant, close planetary conjunctions have always been celebrated or feared, even if we rarely get to see them. But our luck may soon change: This month’s conjunction is the best of our lives. On the very day of the winter solstice, Saturn comes as close to Jupiter as Jove’s own moons. And, unlike previous conjunctions, this one’s not obscured by solar glare. The astrological world will go nuts. From time immemorial, a meeting of Jupiter and Saturn has been considered the most auspicious of them all — the only such planetary meeting called a Great Conjunction. It’s the rarest type of conjunction between any of the five bright planets, with an incidence just once every two decades. Jupiter-Saturn meetings have been traditionally viewed with alarm, with numerous purported earthly effects, none of them…