BBC Sky at Night

BBC Sky at Night March 2020

Sky at Night magazine is your practical guide to astronomy. Each issue features the world’s biggest and best night sky guide complete with star charts, observing tutorials and in-depth equipment reviews to ensure that amateur astronomers never miss those must-see events.

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1 min

With the Moon already high in the sky as twilight falls, this month is a great time to see a new side to it and to marvel at the rich landscapes of pitted lava plains and rugged mountain peaks that telescopes reveal at every phase other than full. This month Pete Lawrence is your guide to doing more with your lunar observations, from using the Moon’s own version of latitude and longitude to the spectacle of occultations, when background objects slip behind its disc. Read the article on page 37. The second half of the month sees the Moon’s new phase, when lunar light recedes from the night sky, the perfect time for our feature all about dark nebulae. Caches of antimatter these are not, rather these intriguing lanes of interstellar…

1 min
this month’s contributors

Michael Lachmann Producer and author “It’s not easy flying close to the Sun. Discovering how the Solar Orbiter engineers have solved those problems using technology from unexpected sources has been a treat.” Michael looks at the Solar Orbiter mission, page 30 Elizabeth Pearson News editor “The nations of Europe have been making giant leaps in terms of space operations – looking out at the cosmos and down on Earth – and ESA is set to continue for years.” Elizabeth finds out about ESA’s plans in the next decade, page 67 Nisha Beerjeraz-Hoyle Astronomy writer “It was an immense pleasure to recount Alexei Leonov’s first spacewalk – a truly remarkable moment in space history and a wonderfully vivid tale.” Nisha chronicles the first spacewalk, page 72…

3 min
gentle giant

HUBBLE SPACE TELESCOPE, 5 JANUARY 2020 It may be the largest galaxy in our local Universe, but UGC 2885 isn’t throwing its weight about. Sitting quietly in a vacant area in Perseus, its beautifully intact disk suggests peaceful millennia have passed without it consuming smaller nearby galaxies or colliding with them. Benne Holwerda of the University of Louisville, Kentucky, who observed the giant with the Hubble Space Telescope, has dubbed it Rubin’s Galaxy, in honour of pioneering American astronomer Vera Rubin (1928–2016). It was her studies of unusual rotation rates in UGC 2885 and other galaxies that pointed to the existence of something invisible at play, an unseen substance with a gravitational influence – dark matter. Rubin’s Galaxy contains a trillion stars, although the bright star blazing near the centre of this picture…

1 min
brightest stellar explosion caused by colliding stars

Over 13 years ago, astronomers saw the brightest supernova ever witnessed, SN2006gy. Now, more than a decade later, a new study might have uncovered the explosion’s cause – two stars colliding in a cosmic crash. Back on 18 September 2006, astronomers from Kyoto University spotted an extremely bright supernova in the galaxy NGC 1260. They took several spectral measurements of the explosion site. These had several lines identifying elements within the cloud, one of which defied explanation, until a recent analysis identified it as neutral iron, with atoms retaining all their electrons. “This low-energy state of iron is typically not seen in supernovae, where the high energies involved tend to strip one or several electrons from the atoms,” says Anders Jerkstrand from the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics, who led the recent…

1 min

As astronomers have built more sophisticated survey instruments with which to hunt for supernovae and other transient objects, their discovery has become almost commonplace. So it’s refreshing to find out that we can still be surprised. SN2006gy was such an unusual event that it’s still making waves, 13 years later, and there may be much more to find. Projects such as the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope are expected to alert us to tens of thousands of transients a night, and the hope is that among them will be whole new categories that go bang. Radio astronomers have had a happy decade trying to understand fast radio bursts; the rest of us might now have our own mysteries to chase. Chris Lintott co-presents The Sky at Night…

1 min
citizen scientists help discover new aurora

Finnish amateur astronomers have helped identify a new shape of aurora – dunes. Minna Palmroth, a space weather scientist from the University of Helsinki, was examining the hobbyists’ images to classify their features when she discovered dune-like shapes which didn’t fit the standard categories. In late 2018, the astronomers saw the feature again and photographed them from several locations. Using these, Palmroth was able to measure the altitude they occurred at: 100km – in a region called the mesosphere. The atmosphere at this height sometimes forms a cold layer of air which traps the aurora, forming the dunes. “It was like piecing together a puzzle or conducting detective work,” says Matti Helin, one of the aurora hunters who took the photographs. “Every day we found new images and came up with new ideas.…