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NASA NIGHT SKY NOTES FOR SEPTEMBER 2020

NASA NIGHT SKY NOTES FOR SEPTEMBER 2020
mercoledì 19 agosto 2020 - 19:01:19 Admin in:Astronomy News
NASANIGHTSKY.png

NASA NIGHT SKY NOTES FOR SEPTEMBER 2020

NASANIGHTSKY

This Article is distributed by NASA Night Sky Network.  The Night Sky Network program supports astronomy clubs across the USA dedicated to astronomy outreach.  Visit nightsky.jpl.nasa.org  to find local clubs, event and more!

Summer Triangle Corner; Altair

David Prosper

Altair is the final stop on our trip around the Summer Triangle! The last star in the asterism to rise for Northern Hemisphere observers before summer begins, brilliant Altair is high overhead at sunset at the end of the season in September. Altair might be the most unusual of the three stars of the Triangle, due to its great speed: this star spins so rapidly that it appears “squished.”

A very bright star, Altair has its own notable place in the mythologies of cultures around the world. As discussed in our previous edition, Altair represents the cowherd Niulang in the ancient Chinese tale of the “Cowherd and the Weaver Girl.” Altair is the brightest star in the constellation of Aquila the Eagle; while described as part of an eagle by ancient peoples around the Mediterranean, it was also seen as part of an eagle by the Koori people in Australia! They saw the star itself as representing a wedge-tailed eagle, and two nearby stars as his wives, a pair of black swans. More recently one of the first home computers was named after the star: the Altair 8800.

Altair’s rapid spinning was first detected in the 1960s. The close observations that followed tested the limits of technology available to astronomers, eventually resulting in direct images of the star’s shape and surface by using a technique called interferometry, which combines the light from two or more instruments to produce a single image. Predictions about how the surface of a rapidly spinning massive star would appear held true to the observations; models predicted a squashed, almost “pumpkin-like” shape instead of a round sphere, along with a dimming effect along the widened equator, and the observations confirmed this! This equatorial dimming is due to a phenomenon called gravity darkening. Altair is wider at the equator than it is at the poles due to centrifugal force, resulting in the star’s mass bulging outwards at the equator. This results in the denser poles of the star being hotter and brighter, and the less dense equator being cooler and therefore dimmer. This doesn’t mean that the equator of Altair or other rapidly spinning stars are actually dark, but rather that the equator is dark in comparison to the poles; this is similar in a sense to sunspots. If you were to observe a sunspot on its own, it would appear blindingly bright, but it is cooler than the surrounding plasma in the Sun and so appears dark in contrast.

As summer winds down, you can still take a Trip Around the Summer Triangle with this activity from the Night Sky Network. Mark some of the sights in and around the Summer Triangle at: bit.ly/TriangleTrip. You can discover more about NASA’s observations of Altair and other fast and furious stars at nasa.gov.

Sept2020

The image on the right was created using optical interferometry: the light from four telescopes was combined to produce this image of Altair’s surface. Image credit: Ming Zhao. More info: bit.ly/altairvsmodel

Sept2020A

Altair is up high in the early evening in September. Note Altair’s two bright “companions” on either side of the star. Can you imagine them as a formation of an eagle and two swans, like the Koori?

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NASA NIGHT SKY NOTES FOR AUGUST 2020

NASA NIGHT SKY NOTES FOR AUGUST 2020
sabato 18 luglio 2020 - 02:49:00 Admin in:NASA
NASANIGHTSKY.png

NASA NIGHT SKY NOTES FOR AUGUST 2020

NightskY

This Article is distributed by NASA Night Sky Network.  The Night Sky Network program supports astronomy clubs across the USA dedicated to astronomy outreach.  Visit nightsky.jpl.nasa.org  to find local clubs, event and more!

NASA's Perseverance Rover

David Prosper

The Summer Triangle is high in the sky after sunset this month for observers in the Northern Hemisphere, its component stars seemingly brighter than before, as they have risen out of the thick, murky air low on the horizon and into the crisper skies overhead. Deneb, while still bright when lower in the sky, now positively sparkles overhead as night begins. What makes Deneb special, in addition to being one of the three points of the Summer Triangle? Its brilliance has stirred the imaginations of people for thousands of years!

Deneb is the brightest star in Cygnus the Swan and is positioned next to a striking region of the Milky Way, almost as a guidepost. The ancient Chinese tale of the Cowherd (Niulang) and the Weaver Girl (Zhinü) - represented by the stars Altair and Vega - also features Deneb. In this tale the two lovers are cast apart to either side of the Milky Way, but once a year a magical bridge made of helpful magpies – marked by Deneb – allows the lovers to meet. Deneb has inspired many tales since and is a staple setting of many science fiction stories, including several notable episodes of Star Trek.

Astronomers have learned quite a bit about this star in recent years, though much is still not fully understood – in part because of its intense brightness. The distance to Deneb from our Sun was measured by the ESA’s Hipparcos mission and estimated to be about 2,600 light years. Later analysis of the same data suggested Deneb may be much closer: about 1,500 light years away. However, the follow-up mission to Hipparcos, Gaia, is unable to make distance measurements to this star! Deneb, along with a handful of other especially brilliant stars, is too bright to be accurately measured by the satellite’s ultra-sensitive instruments.

Deneb is unusually vivid, especially given its distance. Generally, most of the brightest stars seen from Earth are within a few dozen to a few hundred light years away, but Deneb stands out by being thousands of light years distant! In fact, Deneb ranks among the top twenty brightest night time stars (at #19) and is easily the most distant star in that list. Its luminosity is fantastic but uncertain, since its exact distance is also unclear. What is known about Deneb is that it’s a blue-white supergiant star that is furiously fusing its massive stocks of thermonuclear fuel and producing enough energy to make this star somewhere between 50,000 and 190,000 times brighter than our Sun if they were viewed at the same distance! The party won’t last much longer; in a few million years, Deneb will exhaust its fuel and end its stellar life in a massive supernova, but the exact details of how this will occur, as with other vital details about this star, remain unclear.

Discover more about brilliant stars and their mysteries at nasa.gov.

Long exposure shot of Deneb (brightest star, near center) in its richly populated Milky Way neighborhood. Photo credit: Flickr user jpstanley. Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jpstanley/1562619922   License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/ 

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Spot Vega and the other stars of the Summer Triangle by looking straight up after sunset in August!

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