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An independent monthly newspaper serving the community since 1988
  Night Sky

Turn off or shield your outside lights downward 
Left unshielded, they ruin the starry night sky and annoy your neighbors. Light glare going upward doesn’t help deter crime. Keep the night sky available for everyone.

November Night Sky

~Charlie Christmann

New eyes in orbit:

I’m not sure too many people will want to travel with me during hurricane season. Since September, my wife and I have enjoyed being in the path of two hurricanes: Irma and Nate. At least we were able to receive the latest updates from the newest National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) satellite, soon to be named GOES 16. Thanks to this new and yet to be fully operational satellite, the weather service was able to give us better weather data from the tropics.

We were enjoying a Disney World trip in September when Irma zigged instead of zagged and came directly over the Magic Kingdom as a category one hurricane. Fortunately, the new, state-of-the-art GOES 16 was on the job letting us know how bad things really were with more frequent images from orbit. Fortunately, Disney is hardened for hurricanes and only sustained minor damage to its landscaping. Then in October, we were in Washington, D.C., for the rain-out from the remnants of hurricane Nate. And, just for more fun, in August we booked a cruise for early next year to our favorite islands, St. Thomas and St. Marten, which, along with several great islands we enjoy visiting, were obliterated by hurricane Maria.

The National Weather Service expects the new GOES satellite to allow better hurricane and severe weather forecasting across the country and the western hemisphere of Earth. It is scheduled to be fully operational this month. Good thing, too… Sounds like I need some help with hurricanes.

Planet Nine: where are you?

Even as more observational and computer simulated evidence mounts, the discovery of an unknown proposed giant planet in our solar system eludes astronomers. Still a mystery is how this planet ended up ten times further away from the sun than Pluto or where it might be in the sky.

It all started in 2014—it amazes me that with all of our technology on the ground and in orbit that a giant planet could exist undetected today—when astronomers Chad Trujillo and Scott S. Sheppard saw a relationship between a few newly discovered small icy bodies in the Kipper belt that seemed out of place. Konstantin Batygin and Michael E. Brown at Caltech did some calculations to show that a massive planet far outside Neptune’s orbit could produce the effects Trujillo and Sheppard were seeing. From there, the race to find this planet was on.

What makes finding Planet 9 so difficult is its distance from the sun. Current predictions place it in an elliptical orbit tilting above and below the plane of the other planets coming no closer than 19 billion miles from the sun and possibly extending more than one hundred trillion miles away. Even with its estimated size, close to that of Neptune, at that distance, not much sunlight will be reflected back to Earth. The best hope is to find its infrared signature, since it should still be warmer than the background of space. It could be quite a while before the planet swings back closer to the sun in its ten thousand year orbit.

Since Batygin and Brown’s evidence, there have been more and more studies indicating Planet 9 must exist. The latest is from a team led by Juliette Becker, a graduate student with the University of Michigan’s Department of Astronomy. Using up a lot of electricity in computers, they simulated several scenarios for Planet 9 to try and explain why those icy bodies have not been ejected from our solar system or flung toward the sun by the proposed planet’s gravity. Their studies indicate Planet 9 may have preserved the many trans-Neptunian objects in the Kipper belt through gravitational resonance.

A resonance forms when one orbiting body has an orbit that circles the sun an integer number of times with reference to another body. An example would be one planet orbiting the sun three times for every two orbits of another planet. This allows orbital energy to be exchanged between the bodies and to stabilize the orbits, especially if one body is much larger than the other. This would explain why icy Kipper objects remain and why they orbit as they do.

The Dark Energy Survey collaboration—a group of four hundred scientists from 26 institutions in seven countries, including several members from the University of Michigan—has also found additional objects that seemed to be in resonance orbits with Planet 9 and tilted at 54 degrees with respect to the eight known planets. This places them almost perpendicular to the proposed Planet 9 orbit and another good indication that the planet, according to simulations, exists.

”The ultimate goal,” according to Becker, “would be to directly see Planet Nine—to take a telescope, point it at the sky, and see reflected light from the sun bouncing off of Planet Nine. Since we haven’t yet been able to find it, despite many people looking, we’re stuck with these kinds of indirect methods.”

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