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  Night Sky
 

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Keep the starry skies available to everyone.

Febuary 2017 night sky

—Charlie Christmann

WTF (Where’s the Flux) Star:

Tabby’s Star, the easier name for KIC 8462852, is still an enigma. Over the last couple of years since Tabetha Boyajian discovered this weird star while looking through the Kepler Space Telescope data, the star’s unusual dimming remains unexplained. As you may remember from previous articles, several proposed reasons for the unusual dimming have been proposed: a cometary swarm of unusual size, an intervening black hole, or an alien mega structure.

SETI researchers have been looking for radio and laser emissions from the star system, but so far, have not found anything with any intelligent properties—only static. While that does not rule out aliens, and more searches are ongoing, it does give some astronomers reason to dismiss this proposal. Yet, Tabby’s Star has been dimming since it was first observed in 1890. Though they did not realize it at the time, observations using photographic plates taken by several astronomers over the years were used to confirm the steady decline in overall brightness from 1890 to 1989. Over that time, the star dimmed by twenty percent.

Kepler’s data showed several small non-periodic dips in brightness and two major dips. If a planet were the cause of the smaller dips in brightness, the dips should be periodic, or occur at regular intervals. Planets orbiting Tabby’s Star are not ruled out, but are not a plausible explanation for the light deficit seen by Kepler.

The two larger dips, 15 percent in March of 2011 and 22 percent in February of 2013, might indicate a planet with an orbit of around 750 days. Yet, a Jupiter size planet around Tabby’s Star would only change the brightness by about one percent. Astronomers predicted another major dip, based upon the 750 day number, for February 2015. No dip in the star’s light was observed. The next date in the 750-day series should occur in May 2017.

The latest theories for the star’s unusual behavior include dust from either a large collision between two planets or the star itself consuming a large planet. But, no infrared signature for dust has been found to support this or the comet swarm ideas.

A second idea, recently proposed, says Tabby’s Star is undergoing some type of phase change. To what, is still somewhat of a mystery. Perhaps in a few decades, or even centuries, the spectrographic signature will change significantly. Until something significantly changes that we can observe, conjecture is all science has to explain Tabby’s Star, and the ideas are beginning to run thin.

A new star:

Coincidentally near Tabby’s Star in Cygnus, Calvin College professor Larry Molnar and his team are predicting a new, bright star will appear in the constellation near Deneb. Two stars, jointly named KIC 9832227, are orbiting each other very closely and will soon merge into a new naked eye star. Whatever it is we are going to see happened around 1700 years ago, but the light will reach us sometime in 2022 if predictions hold.

If our understanding about stellar mergers is correct, look toward Delta Cygnus in the northeast between September 2021 and September 2022. You should see a second magnitude red nebula for a few weeks. When the star’s cores merge, a large amount of energy will be released, throwing off a large amount of the stellar atmosphere. That will form the red nebula. The amount of energy released in the moments of the merger may rival that of our sun over its entire lifetime.

Astronomers have seen the aftermath of this type of collision before but have never observed the process before or during the merging. Molnar has not only found a merging candidate, he also has predicted when it will happen in our night sky. Astronomers are excited about this event and hopeful the prediction come true.

Lunar eclipse:

The Moon will slide into the penumbra of the Earth and become partially shaded during a lunar eclipse on February 10. Near Albuquerque, we will only see the end of the event after sunset. The eclipse ends at 7:53:25 p.m. MST. The next total lunar eclipse visible here will be January 31, 2018.

Total solar eclipse 2017:

Not since 1918 has the United States experienced a coast-to-coast total eclipse. On August 21, 2017, we will have one. Yes, in 1979, there was a total eclipse visible in parts of the U.S, but this one will run completely across the middle of the country.

The event begins in the middle of the Pacific Ocean at 9:46 a.m. MDT and ends in the Atlantic off the coast of Africa at 3:04 pm MDT. Here near Albuquerque, we can see the event starting at 10:21 a.m. when the moon begins to slide over the solar disk. While we will not see a total eclipse here, about two-thirds of the sun will be covered at 11:45 a.m. By 1:13 p.m. the event will be over.

To see the path of totality, check out the video at www.read.bi/2k9O2T2 and find a map and timeline at bit.ly/2iUnl3D.

Your next opportunity to see a near total eclipse will be in October of 2023 when the moon will slide over, but not completely cover the sun during an annular eclipse. Albuquerque should be near the center of this event. The next total eclipse near New Mexico will be April 2024.

If you feel up to traveling this month, an annular solar eclipse will occur on February 26, 2017. Unfortunately, the best, closest location to see it is Coyhaique, Chile.


 
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