BAN #329: Citizen Science panel video, Cluster perspective

7 June 2021   Issue #329

[The planetary nebula M 2-9, winds from a dying star. Credit: NASA / ESA / Hubble Legacy Archive / Judy Schmidt]

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Upcoming Appearances/Shameless Self-Promotion

Where I’ll be doing things you can watch and listen to or read about

Back in BAN Issue #323 I talked about being the moderator of a panel about citizen science that NASA was sponsoring as part of SciStarter. The panel was on May 21, and we had three scientists promoting their projects looking for planets and planet-forming features around other stars.

Well, good news! It’s now available to watch on YouTube.

(The panel itself starts at the 5:40 mark)

I had fun moderating, despite having had some sinus issues that day and trying not to cough constantly while talking.

Remember: You — yes, YOU — can find planets in real astronomical data, and it’s not only extremely helpful scientifically but it’s also fun! And you might get your name on a paper, too. Pretty cool.

Get started at!

Blog Jam

What I’ve recently written on the blog, ICYMI

[The galaxy cluster WHL J095921.0+011752, from Monday’s article. Credit: Dark Energy Survey/DOE/FNAL/DECam/CTIO/NOIRLab/NSF/AURA Acknowledgments: T.A. Rector (University of Alaska Anchorage/NSF’s NOIRLab), M. Zamani (NSF’s NOIRLab) & D. de Martin (NSF’s NOIRLab)]

Monday 31 May, 2021: Deep sky survey shows the Universe is a teeny tiny bit smoother than expected

Tuesday 1 June, 2021: Neutron stars may be quite a bit bigger than previously thought

Wednesday 2 June, 2021: When two galaxies love each other very much…

Thursday 3 June, 2021: We know just how far away a magnetar is

Friday 4 June, 2021: The delicate beauty of illuminated dust

Pic o’ the Letter

A cool or lovely or mind-bending astronomical image/video with a short description so you can grok it

It’s rare to get a sense of actual perspective in astronomy. I don’t mean the soul crushing existential perspective from seeing and comprehending the vast awesomeness of the cosmos, though hey, that’s cool too.

I mean literal perspective, like actually getting a feel that one thing is farther away than another. Usually everything is so far away it’s all just at infinity as far as our ape minds are concerned.

But that’s not the case of course. It’s rare to get a good example, though, but Astronomy Picture of the Day recently had one: The star clusters M35 and NGC 2158:

[The clusters M35 (lower left) and NGC 2158 (upper right). Credit: Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope / Coelum / Jean-Charles Cuillandre & Giovanni Anselmi]

Oooo, pretty! This was taken using the Canada-France-Hawai’i Telescope, or CFHT, on top of Mauna Kea.

M35 is a relative nearby open cluster, a loose grouping of stars all born from the same cloud of gas and dust. M35 is a close one, just under 3,000 light years away, and bright enough to see easily with binoculars. In fact, it’s one of my favorite deep sky objects, easy to find in a telescope at the foot of the constellation Gemini. The cluster is about 30 light years across and has a few thousand stars in it. It’s young, a couple of hundred million years old, so it still has lots of relatively massive blue stars in it, which tend to blow through their nuclear fuel in a few hundred million years.

NGC 2158 is a different story. While it’s also an open cluster, it’s more like 18,000 light years away! It’s much older, 2 billion years or so (unusual to see one this old, frankly), and all its blue stars are long gone, exploded as supernovae. What’s left are less massive stars which are yellow, orange, and red. The color difference between the two is obvious.

I love how the more distant NGC 2158 really does look like it’s way, way in the background here! You have to be careful, because it could be a much smaller cluster much closer to us than M35, and without measuring their distances you can’t know. But in fact measurements show it to be much farther away from us.

Sadly, the pair are best seen in the northern hemisphere winter, and are slipping behind the Sun as summer approaches. I’ll have to wait until fall at least to take a look at them again. It’s been awhile (winters here in Colorado make observing a real choice) but this image makes me itch to get out there again.

Et alia

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