“Just So Science” – The Lady of the Night…….Sky

By Elf Eldridge 22/05/2011 5


Well, to give those of us cruelly left behind by the Rapture something to do, I suggest taking a look North-East just after sunset. At this time of the year we’re treated with and excellent (and improving!) view of the constellation of Virgo who, at the moment, is the host to the Planet Saturn. The other easily visible object in Virgo, is it’s brightest star: Spica – which, when combined with Saturn mark the only two bright objects quite high in the North-Eastern Sky (lying on a horizontal line). Lower down, just above the horizon, is the brilliant, orange Arcturus.

Virgo Constellation as seen from NZ
Interesting objects near Virgo as seen from NZ

Why bother looking at Virgo? Well Virgo is packed with galaxies, home to 11 Messier objects and contains more exoplanets than you can “shake a stick at” (i.e. 26).  The three most incredible though are M104 (the ‘Sombrero Galaxy’), M87 (a gorgeous radiogalaxy) and the beautifully named “3C 273” the brightest quasar visible from Earth.

Quasar
Artists impression of a Quasar like 3C 273
sombrero
M104 - Sombrero Galaxy
M87
M87

Each object worthy of an entire blog post by itself, the most visually spectacular is probably the Sombrero Galaxy, so named for obvious reasons! 3C 273 was the first quasar to be discovered, an object over 3 BILLION light years away. So what we actually observe is this quasar as it appeared 3 billion years ago, light has just taken that long to reach us. Quasars themselves are the brightest objects in the universe and are disks of matter surrounding super-massive black holes at the centres of large, ancient galaxies.

Last but not least is M87. A simply magnificent ‘radio-bright’ galaxy with a massive ‘jet’ of material shooting outwards from the black hole at its centre. Sometimes words just don’t suffice so:

M87 as viewed in different parts of the EM Spectrum
M87 as viewed in different parts of the EM Spectrum

“The Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.” – J.B.S. Haldane

If it meant missing out on discoveries like this – then I for one am glad I missed out on being Raptured.


5 Responses to ““Just So Science” – The Lady of the Night…….Sky”

  • Just so. I had the book of this title when I learned to read, & I often am reminded of its message when reading abut the big bang collection of conjectures, with the 56 parallel universes. Again, the astrological signs, or zodiac: very just so.
    How could so many disparate cultures have built up astrological signs that are so similar? Bear, Rabbit, Archers, Winged Horses etc. etc.? Hardly scientific to opine that they just happened to choose the same ones for the same constellations?
    And space aliens: they just happened to bring cells here so we could evolve! The deluded US rapturist is in good company here.

  • Just to make things a little clearer – Saturn is the only planet visible in the evening sky from NZ at the moment. You’re correct Alison; Mars, Mercury, Jupiter and Venus are all brilliant and low in the morning sky at the moment too.

    gjphillip: are you aware that in NZ we have our own set of constellations almost none of which are bears, horses and the like? Scorpius down here is the great fish hook of Maui, the Milky Way is the Waka of Tamareriti, and Sirius (Takurua), the Pleiades (Matariki), Orion’s Belt(Tautoru) and Antares (Rehua) are four pillars of light that hold the heavens separate from the earth. Not quite the same as the greek constellations are they?

  • It’s just really cool that we can see something as it was 3 billion years ago.

    Much better than being Raptured!

    I’ll be looking for Virgo:)

  • gjphilip,

    “How could so many disparate cultures have built up astrological signs that are so similar? Bear, Rabbit, Archers, Winged Horses etc. etc.? Hardly scientific to opine that they just happened to choose the same ones for the same constellations?”

    Could you please clarify your statement by specifying the number of different disparate cultures which, for example, have the same astrological sign (e.g. a rabbit) for the same group of stars?
    Surely any culture will only select animals they are familiar with and have different stars to select from depending on where they are in the world.
    As Elf points out, Maori have quite a different description of the stars.