Observatory Corner: Friday, Oct. 2

Hello everyone, and welcome back for another exciting edition of Observatory Corner for Friday, Oct. 2! Weather forecasts for the coming week look very poor, with clouds and rain storms predicted Monday through Thursday. However, Michigan weather is very changeable, so rather than take my word for it, look for yourself at http://www.wunderground.com/US/MI/Grand_Rapids.html. The observatory is now open by 8 p.m., giving a solid three hours to come up and take a look at the starry sky.

The Summer Triangle is still high in the sky, and M45, also known as the Pleiades, an open star cluster comprised of several thousand stars, is now visible and is the most easily visible star cluster in the night sky. My personal favorite constellation, Cygnus the Swan, currently sits directly overhead, and its flight path traces out the galactic equator. Now is also a great time to catch a view the Ring Nebula, M57. A hop, skip and a jump up from the body of the constellation Pegasus is the core of Andromeda, our galactic neighbor.

This week’s featured Calvin astronomy image of the week is of NGC 2024, the Flame Nebula, taken by Calvin alumna Brittany Lally in 2011. It is an emission nebula, meaning that the young, massive and extremely bright star just beyond the right side of the image, Alnitak, is releasing ultraviolet radiation into the surrounding gas, ionizing it and causing it to glow. It is between 900 and 1,500 light-years away, and houses an estimated 800 stars. It is a region of active new star formation, which is indicated by the presence of pinkish clouds, which are ionized clouds of hydrogen.

The cycle of birth, death and rebirth in stars is not unlike that of a phoenix, with the new phoenix rising from the ashes of the old one, just as stars do. It is truly a remarkable sight to see. If you want to know more, you can read up on the Flame Nebula at http://www.calvin.edu/academic/phys/observatory/images/Astr111.Spring2011/Lally.html.

Remember, dear audience, space is a very big place, filled with awe-inspiring sights and truly humbling constructs, and there’s always more to see. Be sure to join us again next time on Observatory Corner!