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Australian Sky & TelescopeAustralian Sky & Telescope

Australian Sky & Telescope November/December 2018

Australian Sky & Telescope is a world-class magazine about the science and hobby of astronomy.  Combining the formidable worldwide resources of its venerable parent magazine with the talents of the best science writers and photographers in Australia, Australian Sky & Telescope is a magazine produced specifically for the Southern Hemisphere’s astronomers.

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explorers of the southern sky

WHEN I WAS IN MY TWENTIES, I lived quite close to the Sydney headquarters of the Anglo-Australian Observatory (AAO). Upon launching my astronomy magazine, Southern Astronomy (which later became Sky & Space), I used to regularly visit the AAO to delve into its fabulous library, speak with the astronomers, and — most enjoyably — call in on astrophotographer extraordinaire David Malin, to see what wonders he had come up with since my last visit. In those heady days of the 1980s, when the AAO was in its second decade, David was one of the people most responsible for helping bring astronomy to the masses by virtue of his colour images of the cosmos. I remember him showing me his new technique of unsharp masking — done manually with photographic plates…

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water lake discovered on mars

THE SECOND-OLDEST OPERATIONAL Mars orbiter, the European Space Agency’s Mars Express, has discovered evidence of stable, present-day liquid water on Mars. How is this discovery of water on Mars different from past announcements of the same? For one, the data come from a different instrument examining a new location on Mars. But most importantly, it’s the first time the observations support a present-day body of water that stays liquid. The results come from the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding (MARSIS) instrument. This radar sounder emits radio waves using a pair of 20-metre-long booms that extend on either side of Mars Express and measures the time it takes for the radio waves to travel to Mars, bounce and travel back to the spacecraft. The long radio waves from the instrument’s 40-metre…

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parker solar probe launches to ‘touch the sun’

TOUTED AS THE ‘mission to touch the Sun,’ the Parker Solar Probe is the first to be named after a living person, solar physicist Eugene Parker (University of Chicago, emeritus). The spacecraft will carry a suite of instruments to study the origin of the solar wind and the dynamics of the solar corona, looping around the Sun 24 times in its seven-year mission. After its launch on August 12, the probe is due to swing by Venus on September 28, entering an initial, 150-day-long orbit around the Sun. Passing 34.7 solar radii from the Sun on November 1, it will complete six additional Venus flybys to further decrease its period to 88 days. Ultimately, the spacecraft will reach it closest approach, passing within 9 solar radii of the Sun’s surface, on…

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first direct image of newborn planet

ASTRONOMERS USING A NEW instrument on the Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile have directly imaged the youngest planet known to date. The data suggest that giant planets come together quickly and, once formed, regulate further growth of their host star. The star PDS 70 is only about 5 million years old and is still growing, accreting mass from a surrounding disk of gas and dust. Within the gaseous swirl, researchers had previously found a dark gap. But while disk gaps are often taken to be the signature of a newborn planet, other processes can create gaps, too. To explore further, Miriam Keppler (Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, Germany) and colleagues used VLT’s SPHERE adaptive optics system, discovering a point source dubbed PDS 70b within the disk’s gap. The astronomers estimate the…

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icecube neutrino linked to cosmic source

FOLLOW-UP OBSERVATIONS ACROSS the electromagnetic spectrum have helped scientists pinpoint the source of a single high-energy neutrino — a particle that has no electrical charge and almost no mass. The IceCube collaboration announced the probable birthplace of the neutrino, dubbed IceCube-170922A, in the July 13 issue of Science. The neutrino ghosted through our planet on September 22, 2017, before crashing into an atom in the Antarctic ice. The collision produced a heavy cousin of the electron called a muon, which left a track of dim, bluish light in the IceCube detector. Backtracking from the muon’s trajectory, a computer cluster calculated the source’s location on the sky and sent an automated alert to telescopes around the world just 43 seconds after the event. Within hours the space-based Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory had identified…

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source of present-day dust on mars found

NEW RESULTS SHOW that the Medusae Fossae Formation (MFF), a set of broad and enigmatic plains straddling the planet’s equator, has provided most of the fine dust found everywhere on the Martian surface. By one estimate, some 3 billion tons of dust cycle between the planet’s surface and atmosphere each year. These particles must be extremely small to become airborne, microscopic motes no more than 50 to 100 microns across. For decades researchers have struggled to find geologic processes on Mars that operate efficiently enough and long enough to generate all that silty grit. Now, researchers think they know the answer: Ever since the MFF’s formation after a supervolcano erupted 3 billion years ago, its gradual but incessant erosion has created most of the present-day dust on Mars, say Lujendra Ojha (Johns…