Welcome to Tri-State Astronomical Society
Tri-State Astronomical Society is a Private Members Only Astronomy Club located in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. We are a group of astronomers that are interested in promoting Astronomy and teaching the general public the basics of astronomy.

NASA Space Place July 2016

Venus and Jupiter prepare for their close-up this August
By Ethan Siegel

As Earth speeds along in its annual journey around the Sun, it consistently overtakes the slower-orbiting outer planets, while the inner worlds catch up to and pass Earth periodically. Sometime after an outer world—particularly a slow-moving gas giant—gets passed by Earth, it appears to migrate closer and closer to the Sun, eventually appearing to slip behind it from our perspective. If you've been watching Jupiter this year, it's been doing exactly that, moving consistently from east to west and closer to the Sun ever since May 9th.

On the other hand, the inner worlds pass by Earth. They speed away from us, then slip behind the Sun from west to east, re-emerging in Earth's evening skies to the east of the Sun. Of all the planets visible from Earth, the two brightest are Venus and Jupiter, which experience a conjunction from our perspective only about once per year. Normally, Venus and Jupiter will appear separated by approximately 0.5º to 3º at closest approach. This is due to the fact that the Solar System's planets don't all orbit in the same perfect, two-dimensional plane.

But this summer, as Venus emerges from behind the Sun and begins catching up to Earth, Jupiter falls back toward the Sun, from Earth's perspective, at the same time. On August 27th, all three planets—Earth, Venus and Jupiter—will make nearly a perfectly straight line.

As a result, Venus and Jupiter, at 9:48 PM Universal time, will appear separated by only 4 arc-minutes, the closest conjunction of naked eye planets since the Venus/Saturn conjunction in 2006. Seen right next to one another, it's startling how much brighter Venus appears than Jupiter; at magnitude -3.80, Venus appears some eight times brighter than Jupiter, which is at magnitude -1.53.

Look to the western skies immediately after sunset on August 27th, and the two brightest planets of all—brighter than all the stars—will make a dazzling duo in the twilight sky. As soon as the sun is below the horizon, the pair will be about two fists (at arm’s length) to the left of the sun’s disappearance and about one fist above a flat horizon. You may need binoculars to find them initially and to separate them. Through a telescope, a large, gibbous Venus will appear no more distant from Jupiter than Callisto, its farthest Galilean satellite.

As a bonus, Mercury is nearby as well. At just 5º below and left of the Venus/Jupiter pair, Mercury achieved a distant conjunction with Venus less than 24 hours prior. In 2065, Venus will actually occult Jupiter, passing in front of the planet's disk. Until then, the only comparably close conjunctions between these two worlds occur in 2039 and 2056, meaning this one is worth some special effort—including traveling to get clear skies and a good horizon—to see!

Image credit: E. Siegel, created with Stellarium, of a small section of the western skies as they will appear this August 27th just after sunset from the United States, with Venus and Jupiter separated by less than 6 arc-minutes as shown. Inset shows Venus and Jupiter as they'll appear through a very good amateur telescope, in the same field of view.

To teach kids more about Venus and Jupiter, visit the NASA Space Place webpages titled “All About Venus” [http://spaceplace.nasa.gov/all-about-venus/en/] and “All About Jupiter” [http://spaceplace.nasa.gov/all-about-jupiter/en/].

NASA Space Place June 2016

Hubble's bubble lights up the interstellar rubble
By Ethan Siegel

When isolated stars like our Sun reach the end of their lives, they're expected to blow off their outer layers in a roughly spherical configuration: a planetary nebula. But the most spectacular bubbles don't come from gas-and-plasma getting expelled into otherwise empty space, but from young, hot stars whose radiation pushes against the gaseous nebulae in which they were born. While most of our Sun's energy is found in the visible part of the spectrum, more massive stars burn at hotter temperatures, producing more ionizing, ultraviolet light, and also at higher luminosities. A star some 40-45 times the mass of the Sun, for example, might emits energy at a rate hundreds of thousands of times as great as our own star.

The Bubble Nebula, discovered in 1787 by William Herschel, is perhaps the classic example of this phenomenon. At a distance of 7,100 light years away in the constellation of Cassiopeia, a molecular gas cloud is actively forming stars, including the massive O-class star BD+60 2522, which itself is a magnitude +8.7 star despite its great distance and its presence in a dusty region of space. Shining with a temperature of 37,500 K and a luminosity nearly 400,000 times that of our Sun, it ionizes and evaporates off all the molecular material within a sphere 7 light years in diameter. The bubble structure itself, when viewed from a dark sky location, can be seen through an amateur telescope with an aperture as small as 8" (20 cm).

As viewed by Hubble, the thickness of the bubble wall is both apparent and spectacular. A star as massive as the one creating this bubble emits stellar winds at approximately 1700 km/s, or 0.6% the speed of light. As those winds slam into the material in the interstellar medium, they push it outwards. The bubble itself appears off-center from the star due to the asymmetry of the surrounding interstellar medium with a greater density of cold gas on the "short" side than on the longer one. The blue color is due to the emission from partially ionized oxygen atoms, while the cooler yellow color highlights the dual presence of hydrogen (red) and nitrogen (green).

The star itself at the core of the nebula is currently fusing helium at its center. It is expected to live only another 10 million years or so before dying in a spectacular Type II supernova explosion.

Image credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA), of the Bubble Nebula as imaged 229 years after its discovery by William Herschel.

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