Friday, October 19, 2012


This has been a busy month for extrasolar planet discoveries.  First amateur astronomers discovered a planet orbiting four stars.  That's right, if you lived there you'd have up to four suns in the sky (of course when you visit, some of them may have set ;).  This planet is about the size and composition of gaseous Neptune - so you couldn't actually stand on the planet.  But imagine the view!    

Second, the planet around Alpha Centauri is doubly cool - first because Alpha Centauri the closest star system to us - and second because it is really a triple star system, two big stars orbiting each other with a tiny third one nearby.  Alpha Centauri A is a star just slightly larger than the Sun and Alpha Centauri B is a smidgen smaller than ole Sol.  The third star is Proxima Centauri which happens to be slightly closer to Earth than the others.  So finding a planet around a triple star system was unheard of just a few months ago.  This planet orbits around Alpha Centauri B every 3.2 days only 3.6 million miles from the star.  It's though that the surface is rocky but boiling at an average temperature 2,240 degrees F!  Hopefully, this is just the first of many discoveries we make in our stellar neighborhood. 

Artist rendition of planet Alpha Centauri Bb
Now before you start packing your bags for Alpha Centauri Bb, remember that it is still over 25 trillion miles away.  The New Horizons space craft would take over 74,000 years to get there!

Monday, October 8, 2012


This small constellation is one of my favorites to find in the summer sky. It can only be seen on very clear nights through the summer haze - a rarity for city dwellers.  But now that the crisper, fall skies are here, you may get lucky and see it.  The Dolphin looks like a small diamond-shape of four stars with an extra star off to the side for a tail.  In fall, it's just above the longest side of the Summer Triangle. With some imagination you may see a faint dolphin, arching its back, jumping out of heavens.  Of course, it's upside-down too!

Delphinus was said to be the messenger of Poseidon. Delphinus won great acclaim for saving Arion’s life (Poseidon’s son) when his ship was attacked at sea. The ancients attributed the Dolphin with great wisdom (I wonder how they knew dolphins were so smart), and also a love for humans. Dolphins were a sailor’s best friends and often got shipwrecked folks out of trouble.

Delphinus also helped Poseidon get a date from a the beautiful Nereid named Amphitrite by delivering her a message in the Atlas Mountains.  I'm not sure how this dolphin-gram reached her since he couldn't exactly swim it there! 

The two brightest stars in Delphinus have an interesting history. They are:

SUALOCIN and ROTANEV - both blueish-white

These stars are the reverse spelling of the name Nicolaus Venator who was an assistant to the Italian astronomer Giuseppe Piazzi – the discoverer of the first asteroid. What a creative way to get your name in history.