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SkyNews November - December 2018

SkyNews, the magazine of astronomy and stargazing, features complete observing information, expert equipment reviews, star chart — everything beginners and intermediate amateur astronomers and astrophotographers need. Edited by astronomy author Terence Dickinson, published in Canada, writers include equipment guru Alan Dyer, comet hunter David Levy, wilderness astronomer Peter McMahon, Ken Hewitt-White, Gary Seronik, Ray Villard

Royal Astronomical Society of Canada
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across the atlantic to the sea of tranquility

NEXT SUMMER, two important anniversaries occur within a few weeks of each other. The one that most SkyNews readers are likely anticipating is the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing. The second commemoration is just as noteworthy but is destined to be overlooked: the 100th anniversary of the first nonstop transatlantic flight. Unless you’re an aviation buff, you might be thinking, wait a minute—Charles Lindbergh didn’t fly across the Atlantic until 1927! True. Yet such is the selective nature of history that Lindbergh’s solo crossing in the “Spirit of St. Louis” is better remembered than the pioneering accomplishment of British aviators John Alcock and Arthur Brown. It was a cloudy afternoon on June 14, 1919, when Alcock and Brown squeezed into the cockpit of their Vickers Vimy IV twin-engine biplane,…

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me and the rasc

THIS DECEMBER, The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada celebrates its 150th birthday. It’s impossible to guess how many astronomy enthusiasts have benefited from the Society’s presence in the past century and a half, but I know of at least one individual whose life was changed by his association with that organization. Me. Ottawa, 1966. I was an indifferent high school student whose mantra was “cram for the exam.” Truth to tell, I was coasting with little sense of direction. I’d resisted classroom comradery, didn’t participate in extracurricular activities and was scraping by with poor to average grades. The subject that interested me most—astronomy—wasn’t on the curriculum. I learned the constellations on my own. My first decent resource was Olcott and Mayall’s venerable Field Book of the Skies. Later, it was the more…

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set the controls for the heart of the sun

DURING THE EARLY-morning hours of Sunday, August 12, 2018, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe blasted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Its seven-year mission: to boldly go where no spacecraft has gone before—the Sun. Getting there is complicated. The probe doesn’t just “fall” toward the Sun; rather, it will fly past Venus seven times, using the planet’s gravity to adjust its orbit to bring the craft closer and closer to its target. On its final three orbits in 2025, Parker Solar Probe will pass a mere six million kilometres above the Sun’s surface—roughly one-tenth the average Sun-Mercury separation. One of the most vexing issues the mission will investigate is the dramatic jump in the solar wind’s temperature as it departs the Sun’s surface (the photosphere) and enters its atmosphere (the corona). Across an…

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congrats! it’s a hot baby planet

THE YOUNG (10-MILLION-YEAR-OLD) DWARF STARPDS 70, located just 370 light-years from Earth, is surrounded by a disc featuring a distinctive gap. In July 2018, scientists announced that they’d directly imaged and confirmed the presence of a newborn planet (PDS 70b) carving a path through the primordial disc of gas and dust surrounding the star. The presence of Hydrogen-alpha (Hα) emission at the location of PDS 70b would mean shocked, hot, infalling hydrogen gas—a “smoking gun” indicating that this planet is still accreting matter. Sure enough, Kevin Wagner of the University of Arizona and his collaborators have detected an Hαsignal at the location of PDS 70b. It seems fairly safe to say this baby planet is still growing. Its mass is several times that of Jupiter, and its orbit is a bit…

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an frb chimes up

THE Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME), located at the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory, near Penticton, British Columbia, is a unique telescope. It’s not your typical radio astronomy dish. Rather, it consists of four static, 100-metre-long, troughlike collectors that scan the heavens by letting the sky sweep over them. Inaugurated in late 2017, the telescope continues to undergo commissioning tests—but that doesn’t mean it’s not listening. On July 25, 2018, CHIME picked up a fast radio burst (FRB), now labelled FRB 180725A. FRBs are powerful, millisecond-long bursts of radio energy appearing randomly in the sky (see SkyNews, January/February 2018, page 41). Their cause is unknown; their origin is likely extragalactic. A mere 36 FRBs have been found since 2007, and only one (FRB 121102) is known to repeat. CHIME’s detection is…

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a thin, briny martian lake

DURING THE 1970s, three Mars orbiters sent back thousands of images that revealed Martian channels carved as if by rivers and outwash plains scoured as if by floods. The only water known to exist on Mars today is in the form of subsurface ice, primarily at the poles. But this past July, scientists announced that the European Space Agency’s Mars Express orbiter had found evidence of a thin layer of liquid water under the Martian surface. Using the spacecraft’s Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding (MARSIS) instrument, whose radio waves can penetrate up to five kilometres beneath the Martian surface, scientists noticed unusually bright subsurface reflections coming from a region near the south pole. In one particular area, the radar suggested something that was neither ice nor rock trapped…