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  Night Sky

Enjoy the starry night skies
Be a considerate neighbor. Reduce nighttime glare. Shield your outside lights downward. Let the stars light up the night.

jUly 2014 night sky

—Charlie Christmann

A Galactic Tour

Away from the bright city lights, the farther out in the wilderness, the better, is something receding from view. Known only from textbooks by many school children, the Milky Way shines brightly in summer months. Get away from the bright lights and take a quick tour of our galaxy.

The swath of dense starlight we call the Milky Way, extending from Cassiopeia in the north, arching eastward, and plunging toward the southern horizon disappearing in Scorpius, contains more than half of the stars in the Milky Way. The center of this star mass roughly follows the galactic equator. The constellations of the Zodiac cross the galactic equator near the stinger of Scorpius making an angle of about sixty degrees. Interestingly, Earth’s equator, which lies along the Zodiac, is not lined up with the galaxy.

From our viewpoint, much of our galaxy is obscured by dust, hiding many of the stars behind dark blotches. Were it not for this dust, the light from the billions of stars would cast shadows here on Earth on a moonless night. Much of what we know about our home galaxy comes from infrared and radio observations. Not much is known about the far side of our galaxy because of the intervening dust.

To orient ourselves, let us find our place on the galactic map. Our solar system sits about twenty-six thousand light years from the center of a swirling pinwheel. A thin, elongated oval, or “bar,” of stars crosses the center of the galaxy, extending some ten thousand light years on either side. From each end of the bar emanates spiral arms. Two major spirals, the Scutum-Centaurus Arm, beginning on the bar end closest to us, and the Perseus Arm, beginning on the far side of the galaxy. Several minor arms also flow from the central bar. We live in a small group of stars off the minor Sagittarius Arm called the Orion Spur.

Sweeping the star field from north to south, we first see the stars of Perseus Arm from the northern horizon to just south of the “W,” forming the constellation Cassiopeia. Beyond this arm, toward intergalactic space, is the Outer Arm of our galaxy. At Cygnus, the swan, we are looking down the Orion Spur as it curves into the Sagittarius Arm spiraling toward the galactic center. From Aquila we see the bulk of the stars in the Sagittarius Arm. Looking at the Sagittarius constellation down to the southern horizon, we mostly see the Scutum-Centaurus Arm star field. Beyond this thick veil of stars and dust in the northern part of the constellation Sagittarius is the central bulge and a voracious black hole at the center of the galaxy called Sagittarius A Prime. Finally, at the horizon, if we could see through the foreground stars, a minor arm named Norma, for the constellation Norma, would be visible as it falls below the horizon.

Anything beyond the curtain of stars we call the Milky Way is still mostly a mystery. The structure of the far side of the galaxy is almost completely unknown and mostly inferred from studying other spiral galaxies such as Andromeda.

Chasing a Comet

After ten years of hibernation, the European Space Agency’s Rosetta probe is awake and sending back science data. Launched in March 2004, the mission is targeting comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The goal is to catch up to and send a lander down to the surface of the comet. By August, Rosetta should be within two hundred kilometers of the surface to begin surveying the surface and looking for a good landing spot.

The lander must just kiss the surface as it touches down. Being only about two miles across, there is not much gravity to hold the lander on the surface. So, to securely anchor itself to the surface, a set of spikes will spear the comet. Hopefully, the surface will be solid, but no one really knows.

If all goes well in November, we should see some interesting pictures from the surface of the comet.  As the comet approaches and rounds the sun, the lander could be in for a spectacular view as the nucleus comes to life with geysers spewing gas and steam into space to form the coma and tail. 

Flying saucers and alien abductions: the evidence

—Terrie Erskine

On July 7, from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., at Loma Colorado Main Library Auditorium (755 Loma Colorado Blvd., NE), award-winning authors and researchers, Stanton T. Friedman and Kathleen Marden, will present an illustrated joint lecture discussing their views about flying saucers and alien abduction and some highlights of their substantial research.

Mr. Friedman has been studying UFOs for 56 years. He is the original civilian investigator of the Roswell Incident. He is convinced that the evidence that some UFOs are intelligently controlled extraterrestrial spacecraft is overwhelming.

Ms. Marden is a prominent UFO abduction researcher, author and lecturer with 24 years of experience in the field and is MUFON’s (Mutual UFO Network) Director of Abduction Research. She will present evidence that convinces her that these experiences are physically real. She is recognized as the world’s leading expert on the extraordinary 1961 abduction case of her aunt and uncle, Betty and Barney Hill. Admission is free, no ticket or registration required. For more information, call 891-5013, Ext. 3033.

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