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S&T October 2012

S&T October 2012

When I first heard about the subject of Robert Zimmerman’s feature article this month, it captivated me. Bob writes about the Magellanic Clouds, dwarf galaxies visible as entrancing celestial fuzz balls in the Southern Hemisphere sky. For decades astronomers have thought the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds were long-term satellites of our galaxy, orbiting the Milky Way many times in the last several billion years. But as Bob reports, careful measurements of the Clouds’ velocities now suggest that they’re only recent arrivals — they might not have even completed an orbit.

That totally changes how we imagine the history of our galactic system. Particularly, it creates all sorts of problems for explaining the spastic star formation in the Clouds, as Bob explains.

Also in this issue, my colleague Monica Young discusses NASA’s NuSTAR mission, a high-energy X-ray telescope that is already probing the universe with exceptional resolution. Monica worked on the NuSTAR science team before joining us here at S&T, and she gives a wonderful and insightful look at the mission. She, Kelly Beatty, and I also put together a brief video on how NuSTAR works, which we hope you’ll enjoy.

In our Observing section, Fred Schaaf continues his look at how trees and buildings can actually enhance your enjoyment of the sky. They actually improve your sensitivity to faint stars — but I’ll let him explain why. (Hint: it’s not just that they block nearby lights.)

If you can grab at least a 4-inch scope or larger with smooth optics, it’s a good time to check out Jupiter, too. Recently the King of the Planets has had a belt resurgence, with cloud belts that have long been faint growing dark again. The Great Red Spot looks pretty pale these days, though; to see it, you might need to stare a while and wait for good seeing: the planet might look quite blurry at first.

Info on excellent portable telescope mounts, a binocular tour of famous sky sights, and what astronomers hope to learn from the recent transit of Venus across the Sun’s disk all await you in our October issue.

To find out more, read our online Table of Contents.


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