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Australian Sky & TelescopeAustralian Sky & Telescope

Australian Sky & Telescope February/March 2019

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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the days of diy astronomy

IF THERE’S ANYONE WHO KNOWS a thing or two about amateur telescope making, it would have to be Mel Bartels. Famous for his innovations over the years, Mel just keeps them coming with his new design for a mount that eliminates the annoying ‘Dob’s hole’ effect (as you can see in Jerry Oltion’s Astro Workbench column in this issue, page 70). This, combined with a clever new style of Crayford focuser (from Pierre Lemay) has produced a superb new large-aperture, fairly compact instrument for serious deep sky work. Seeing Mel’s new scope and all the other marvellous and ingenious gadgets that Jerry features in his column, got me wondering about how much amateur telescope making still goes on out there. ATMing used to be the main way in which amateurs acquired…

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mission to mercury on its way

THE BEPICOLOMBO SPACECRAFT launched late last year from French Guiana on an Ariane 5 rocket, beginning a seven-year journey to Mercury. The voyage began perfectly, atop towering pillars of flame that lit up the early morning sky and remained visible until the side boosters burned out 2 minutes later, leaving the steady light of the main rocket stage visible as a greenish point in the sky. BepiColombo’s journey will return it to Earth, past Venus twice, and take it by Mercury six times before finally settling in to orbit on December 5, 2025. Getting to Mercury is difficult — so difficult that fewer spacecraft have visited Mercury than have visited Saturn. NASA has previously sent two spacecraft: Mariner 10, which flew by three times in 1974 and 1975, and Messenger, which…

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low-key blast marks possible birth of neutron star duo

LAST YEAR, A TSUNAMI of gravitational waves washed over Earth, heralding the ancient collision of two neutron stars in a far-off galaxy. Such collisions appear to be the birthplace of many of the heaviest elements such as gold, platinum and uranium. Now an unusual, rapidly brightening supernova might help researchers understand just how such neutron star duos arise in the first place. The supernova, designated iPTF14gqr, went off in the outskirts of a galaxy some 900 million light-years away. Detected in October 2014, this supernova seemed odd right away. Most supernovae take a few weeks to hit their peak brightness. This one did so in less than 7 days, suggesting it had only a relative paucity of debris to clear out of the way. Kishalay De (Caltech) and colleagues estimate that SN…

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evidence mounts for mighty magellanic collision

THE PAST DECADE HAS seen astronomers’ understanding of the Magellanic Clouds — two dwarf galaxies near the Milky Way — completely overthrown, resulting in new revelations about the violent and ongoing formation of our own galaxy. Now, a team led by Sally Oey (University of Michigan) has made a discovery that bears out predictions that these two galaxies once collided: A big chunk of the Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC) is moving toward the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) and the Magellanic Bridge of gas and stars that joins them. Astronomical wisdom once held that the LMC and SMC had been orbiting the Milky Way for billions of years, but a landmark study in 2007 showed that the dwarf galaxies are likely falling toward the Milky Way for the first time. That realisation…

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the kepler era comes to an end

AFTER A NINE-YEAR historic mission, the Kepler space telescope has finished its job. Exhausted of fuel and hobbled with inoperative reaction wheels, Kepler’s exoplanet hunting days are over. “As NASA’s first planet-hunting mission, Kepler has wildly exceeded all our expectations and paved the way for our exploration and search for life in the Solar System and beyond,” said Thomas Zurbuchen (NASA) in an October 30th press release. Launched on March 6, 2009, Kepler took up station in an Earth-trailing heliocentric orbit. The telescope’s initial mission was to stare at a patch of sky overlapping the constellations Lyra, Draco and Cygnus, looking for rhythmic dips in starlight that betray the presence of transiting planets as they passed in front of their suns. To this end, Kepler monitored about 150,000 stars during its 3.5-year…

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sunset for dawn

SHORT ON FUEL, the end has come for NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, the first and only mission to visit the dwarf planet Ceres and the asteroid Vesta. It was the first mission to orbit more than one body beyond Earth and the Moon. It was NASA’s first deep space mission to use ion propulsion. And Dawn was also the first spacecraft to visit a dwarf planet, beating the New Horizons flyby of Pluto by just a few months. Launched in 2007, Dawn eventually arrived at asteroid 4 Vesta on July 16, 2011. Dawn revealed the misshapen world in dramatic detail, mapping it from pole to pole while probing it from core to surface. One key finding was that Vesta seems to be a remnant of the rocky planetesimals from the early days…