Friday, April 2, 2010

Night Sky In April 2010!

-By Rishi Shah


The night skies of this month display the beauty of planets and stars along with the marvels of galaxies and nebulae that are spread all over our universe. As it darkens zodiacal constellation of Aries (ram), Taurus (bull), Gemini (twins), Cancer (crab), Leo (lion), Virgo (maiden) and Libra (scales) are seen stretching across the sky from western to eastern horizon. Puny constellations Canes Venatici (hunting dogs), Coma Berenices (Berenice’s Hair) and Corona Borealis (Northern Crown) are floating close to kite-shaped constellation Bootes (herdsman) in the evening sky. Star Arcturus (Swati) roughly meaning uplifted one or keeper of heaven in Arabic is shining captivatingly in Bootes. It is simply thirty seven light-years away. Keystone-patterned Hercules (legendry strong man) is climbing the eastern sky. Pentagon-alike constellation Auriga (charioteer), Canis Minor (small dog), Canis Major (great dog) and Orion (hunter) are gliding towards western sky. Their important stars Capella (Brahma Ridaya), Procyon (Manda), Sirius (Lubdhak), Betelgeuse (Ardra) and Rigel (Mriga Two) are sparkling fascinatingly. Lengthy constellation Hydra (water serpent) is slithering across southwestern sky. Petit constellations Corvus (crow), Crater (cup) and Sextans (sextant) are straddling snugly on Hydra’s back. Long constellation Eridanus (river) is meandering in southern sky. Broad Cetus (whale) with perplexing variable star Mira is sprawling above western horizon. Mira the red giant variable star is merely 420 light-years away from us. Our galaxy the Milky Way runs mainly through Cassiopeia (queen), Auriga and Monoceros (unicorn) along the western sky. Circumpolar constellations Cepheus (king), Cassiopeia, Ursa Major (great bear) and Draco (dragon) are flying high in northern sky as they circle Polaris (adamant Pole Star or Dhruba Tara) that resides comfortably in Ursa Minor (little bear).

Nicknamed sleek Needle Galaxy for its narrow profile the enticing edge-on unbarred spiral galaxy NGC4565 was first spotted in 1785 by planet Uranus’ discoverer, Sir William Herschel (1738-1822) in faint but well-groomed constellation Coma Berenices. It is modestly thirty million light-years away. Being visible through small telescopes sky-enthusiasts consider NGC4565 a prominent celestial masterpiece that Charles Messier missed in his 18th century catalogue of more than one hundred heavenly bodies (designated with M as M101 for elegant face-on spiral Pinwheel Galaxy dwelling in Ursa Major) that have become favorite must see deep space objects. The pronounced bulging bright central starry core with slender disk of spiral arms and dust is perhaps cut sharply in half by obscuring dust lanes that lace its thin galactic plane. Auriga abounds in nebulae and star clusters. Its emission nebulae of star-forming realms of IC405, IC410 and IC417 with ruddy hue and Barnard’s dark nebulae B34 and B226 (named after famed American astronomer Edward Emerson Bernard) are enthralling telescopic targets. Star clusters M36, M37 and M38 sketch straight line against starry expanse towards northeast of luridly mystique star Elnath alias Beta Tauri (substantially translating to bull’s horn in Arabic) that lies on boundary to Taurus and is circa 131 light-years away.

In queer Dumbbell galaxy (NGC1128) that is housed in arcane galaxy cluster Abell400 a pair of super massive black holes are locked strangely in death dance. Bound together by mutual gravity they are violently spiraling towards each other for a gradual merger. After several million years one of the black holes would invariably devour the other (similar to tragic fate of male black widow spider after mating). This incredible collision and union would inevitably enable them to coalesce into one single super super-massive black hole that would allegedly be capable of swallowing material equal to billions of stars. According to Einstein’s theory of relativity the happening of this quirky event would be associated with baffling burst of gravitational waves which would advance across the universe and produce ripples in the fabric of space that would be manifested by apparent minute changes in the distance between any two points. Each black hole is ejecting a pair of oppositely directed jets of superheated gas (plasma). Although black holes cannot be visualized their presence is inferred by their gravitational effects on their surroundings and by microwave radio jets (colossal radio-emissions source dubbed 3C75) immersed in huge cloud of multi-million-degree X-ray emitting gas that pervades the cluster. These binary black holes are barely twenty five thousand light-years apart and about three hundred million light-years away. This cosmic spectacle could be relished in charming constellation Cetus.

Scientists have conducted record-breaking experiments at conditions mimicking the first split seconds after the Big Bang (hypothesis on creation of universe some fourteen billion years ago) with proton beams travelling almost at speed of light and crashing unimaginably into each other inside Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN). This high-energy collision would attempt to unravel secrets of theoretical particles and micro-forces and help experts understand disintegrating protons after they collided at a combined energy level of seven trillion electron volts. Questions on existence of antimatter and Higgs boson (that supposedly bestows mass to particles and thus to objects and creatures in the universe) would be hopefully answered. LHC is world’s largest ten billion Dollars atom smasher that is built in twenty seven kilometer tunnel beneath Swiss-French border near Geneva.

Elusive planet Mercury and romantic Venus exhibit their resplendent tryst in western sky after sunset in Aries. Ruddy planet Mars gleams alluringly among the dim stars of Cancer. As it hurries towards Leo it skirts the unique Beehive Cluster (M44). Ringed planet Saturn glares gloriously in eastern sky in Virgo soon after nightfall. The blue giant variable star Spica (Chitra) that is fairly 260 light-years away is glistening to its south. Mighty planet Jupiter rises before morning in eastern sky in Pisces (fishes). Far-flung Uranus is sailing in its vicinity. Distant planet Neptune could be perceived in Aquarius (water bearer) at the boarder of Capricornus (sea goat) between 38 Aquarri and Mu Capricorni in eastern sky before daybreak. It rests cozily in that region where it had been first discerned by German Astronomer Johann Gottfried Galle from Berlin Observatory in 1846. Since its orbital period is moderately 164 years, Neptune has travelled around the Sun essentially once after its disclosure. Dwarf diminutive planet Pluto is loitering lazily in Sagittarius (archer). Lyrid meteor shower reaches its peak on 21/22 April in eastern sky before dawn. The thrilling streaks of shooting stars can be enjoyed as they emanate from constellation Lyra (harp) from 16 to 26 April. The probable progenitor of Lyrids is Comet C/1861G1 (Thatcher) with orbital period of sheer 415 years. Comets C/2009O2 (Catalina) and 81P/Wild are tumbling through the starry fields of Taurus and Virgo. Asteroid 4-Vesta is plunging through Leo from the area below sickle asterism. These stunning entities could be detected in western sky after sundown carefully through good telescopes. New moon falls on 14 April (mother’s day) with the beginning of our new year Bikram Sambat 2067, while full moon also popularly called pink full moon enchants us on 28 April. The accompanying star map approximately portrays night sky above Kathmandu at around twenty hours local time during mid-April 2010.

Source: National, The Rising Nepal, April 1,2010

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