#44 - Hearing the 40 Million Variables of the Universe - Citizen Science Options - & 3 more [Free Post]
TCA 1/27/23: Sonification of 40M Variables and Transients; Diaries of Discoveries; Sky Lessons--Update on Comet ZTF; Two Citizen Science Projects--Are We Alone? and Exoplanet Watch; Trek Worlds
Cover Photo - Variability in the Universe
In This Issue:
Cover Photo - Variability in the Universe
Welcome to Issue 44!
- An Update on Comet 2022 E3 ZTF
- AAS: Citizen Science Options
- Are We Alone in the Universe?
- Exoplanet Watch
Connections to the Sky -
- AAS: Audio Diaries of the Cosmos
- AAS: Sensing the Dynamic Universe (SDU) (Cover Story)
The Classroom Astronomer Newsletter-Inbox Magazine #43 [Paid Post] Highlights
The Galactic Times InDepth Newsletter-Inbox Magazine Highlights and Preview of Issue 3
Welcome to The Classroom Astronomer Newsletter-Inbox Magazine #44!
We are back from the American Astronomical Society January meeting (AAS) and took some time (and dodged more storms!) to get organized. Here (and in the Paid Post TCA #42) we start reporting on educational things we found. There’s more coming!
We start with an update on Comet ZTF, getting brighter than predicted and more easy to see. We have a pair of Citizen Science options for your students, and two resources for BVI (and sighted) ones, too.
For Trekkies, we have a preview of The Galactic Times InDepth Issue 3’s article, an astronomical look at the homeworlds of its main heroes and villains. Enjoy!
We’ll be back soon with more TCA issues and reports from AAS. Get a Premium subscription and get more!
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Key websites: Homepage for The Classroom Astronomer, with its index to all Inbox Magazine issues’ contents, by celestial object, educational subject area, grade level or venue, and with complete Tables of Contents:
https://www.classroomastronomer.com . The ultimate home of our Universe — Hermograph Press — has its homepage at: www.hermograph.com and its Store, for educational materials and books, at: www.hermograph.com/store .
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Publisher -- Dr. Larry Krumenaker
An Update on ‘Comet ZTF’
On a (rare) very clear morning this past week between what seems like an incessant march of storms, I managed to get out in the pre-dawn to view Comet 2022 E3 (ZTF). It was crossing Draco’s tail forward and below (chartwise, above-right alt-az-wise) the bowl of the Little Dipper. In moderate light pollution, the large coma was distinctly visible, but any tail was obscured in the somewhat bright sky.
What I wish to report is a) the coma is far from difficult to see in binoculars! If you locate it, there will be no doubt. It is no small cloud and bright (enough) and big. I can’t tell you if any tail COULD be visible in a dark sky, but the coma is no problem to find; b) it appears to be a bit brighter than predicted. The latest prognostications indicate that it will get to at least magnitude 5.0! Just don’t expect to see green as reports overemphasize.
Being near Ursa Minor makes it circumpolar, i.e. visible all night, which means it starts rather low but gains altitude by dawn. But it is moving fairly quickly and will enter the winter constellations at lower declinations soon and be out of the dawn.
That means its best times to observe will also change, to strictly evenings. Here are the parameters for Washington, DC, from in-the-sky.org.:
This should be fairly comparable for the rest of the northern hemisphere. By the end of January it is highest (and HIGH) around 7 or 8 PM local time, and visible until around midnight or 1 AM. Much more convenient, good for night sky telescoping on public nights, and student observations. Enjoy!
Repeat: What can you do with a passing comet?
The most obvious thing is to have students make nightly observations, most likely with binoculars or small scopes. It is likely that this comet will not be brilliant enough to give oohs and aahs with the unaided eye, but it should be easy to find and track. It can be a motivator to students to get truly interested in astronomy and science and be a record to keep for years. Astrophotography can be something to be tried as well.
Nightly changes in appearance could be something to watch for. Normally comets beyond 1 AU aren’t much subject to changes from solar wind influences but the Sun is rather active so you never know what can happen.
Advanced students can make positional measurements, getting right ascension and declination measures, and try making orbital calculations. Warning—it won’t be an ellipse. This comet is a one-and-done visitor.
AAS: Citizen Science Options
One thing about school during these rounds of terrible winter storms…you can still observe if you are involved with a Citizen Science astronomy project. It is all done online.
Here are two you can get done in your classroom when you can not get OUT of your classroom!
Are We Alone in the Universe?
The ultimate search! This UCLA SETI group project is one of many searching for technosignatures—radio signals from technologically competent civilizations around other stars. Specifically, narrow band radio signals from over 40,000 stars. More than 99.5% of the 60,000,000 signals detected have been eliminated by computers using Machine Language-trained filters. But that leaves some hundreds of thousands of signals that need checking. Even that is too much for humans to check but there is something humans CAN do….they can train The Machines.
What the citizen scientists will do is examine signal records for RFI, Radio Frequency Interference, i.e. noise from Earth-based or satellite-based sources that the computers at first could not match up with known patterns. The project will show project workers past known signals and have a training set of 20,000 to 100,000 for them to practice on. The signals have various characteristics—vertical, horizontal, regular spacing…or not.
Afterwards they will attack the ones the Machine couldn’t figure out. This will train the Machine on the hard ones it couldn’t figure out. Maybe it will find something?
Get more information and find out how to join by clicking to https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/ucla-seti-group/are-we-alone-in-the-universe.
Aliens have to live somewhere. We already know of over 5000 exoplanets, but not all of them have good orbital data. Exoplanet Watch is a citizen science program that means to do just that…get good timings of transits of those planets across the stars’ disks in order to get good orbital data.
The scientific goals of Exoplanet Watch are to “discover and confirm new exoplanets, monitor stellar variability, and ensure efficient use of large telescopes.”
Citizen scientists here are truly considered part of the team and have use of a real piece of scientific software called Exotic to find the light curve and periodicity of transits. Users plan their observations, observe objects, analyze, upload, and if scientists get useful value from the observations, users are listed as coauthors, an excellent start for high school and undergraduate astronomy students.
In the other direction, when there is an urgent request for a monitoring campaign from astronomers, a worldwide network of users can be arranged and provide 24 or more hours of virtually continuous observation of an object and see if, for example, a prediction for transits is correct or off.
For more information, click to exoplanets.nasa.gov/exoplanet-watch .
Connections to the Sky
AAS: Audio Diaries of the Cosmos
This is a NASA Universe of Learning project where you receive audio stories on astronomers, primarily women, minorities and those of other cultures, who have made significant progress in some astronomical discovery. Each episode concerns one such discovery, what it is, how it was discovered, the techniques of observation and analysis of it, and the people behind the science. The audio contains a narrative and a subject matter expert, plus an activity for listeners to engage in on the subject. It is audio only, but transcripts are available.
At this writing there are three episodes:
Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin - discoverer of the composition of stars through spectra.
Elizabeth Gutierrez - a Harvard Data Science Analyst.
Dr. Antara Basu-Zych - on starburst galaxies.
See, or rather, hear these at http://www.universeunplugged.org/diaries .
AAS: Sensing the Dynamic Universe (SDU)
The sky has ~4 billion detectable objects, most fainter than the unaided eye, and ~1% vary, making ~40 million variable stars, objects and transients. And in all different kinds of ways (see the Cover Photo for the Variability Tree). That’s far more than currently known, or manageable. To do so requires constant monitoring…and analysis.
There are now numerous “time domain” surveys in operation or planned, says Center for Astrophysics astronomer Paul Green, where the whole sky gets (or soon will be) surveyed in its entirety every few days, leading to a massive database where variability of objects can be so monitored—and discovered—wholesale. SDSS, ZTF, VRO (Rubin, formerly LSST), PAN-STARRS, are just a few of the acronyms twisting off tongues of time-domain astronomers. What we want is to get each object’s light curve, its spectra, and a census of how many of each kind of variable there are.
Enter sonification. Photos, graphs, and even some videos of light changes have been made, and converted to sound recordings, mostly for educational purposes, and for aesthetic enjoyment. So far scientific usage, by blind and visually impaired (BVI) and sighted researchers, has been minimal. SDU is hoping to change that.
The SDU project makes videos that sonify and visualize real astronomical data of light curves and spectra of variables and transients. The website in English and Spanish (and Chinese soon) at http://cfa.harvard.edu/sdu has key concepts, 40 types of variables, and a glossary, and info on sonification. There are light curves that can be listened to, and tutorials. Hopefully these will ultimately be useful in training both sighted and BVI persons to listen to this new building mountain of data, and analyse the new variables.
Contact Paul Green at email@example.com .
The Classroom Astronomer Newsletter-Inbox Magazine #43 [Paid Post] Highlights
Cover Photo - Mainstream(?) Sources of Science News
Welcome to Issue 42!
Deeper Looks -
- AAS: Storytelling the Story of Astronomy
- AAS: Astronomy Media Literacy
Astronomical Teachnique - Earth-Moon to Scale
The Galactic Times InDepth Newsletter-Inbox Magazine
Longer, deeper looks at ONE topic of the Universe, a New York Times Magazine level article in each monthly issue.
Issue 3 - January 2023 — Red Alert! An Astronomical Look At Star Trek’s Heroes and Villains
Issue 4 - February 2023—The Story of the Star That’s’a-Comin’ and a-Goin’
For Information and Previews, click…
Discounted Subscription Offer Ends February 15th!
Preview of Issue 3!
Red Alert! An Astronomical Look at Star Trek’s Heroes and Villains.
One of the driving questions of astronomy has been “Are we alone?” We’ve been looking out in space for other civilizations lately amongst the burgeoning numbers of exoplanets seeking biosignatures or technosignatures—signs in the light or spectra or radio domains that only a sentient species could produce. We’ve come up dry there but perhaps we haven’t looked in the right places.
Not so in our imaginations. In one of those science fictional universes, that of Star Trek, a highly speculative yet remarkably cohesive and organized alternative universe from the mind of Gene Roddenberry, a United Federation of Planets went exploring our galaxy “seeking out strange new worlds, new civilizations, going where no man had gone before” in the vernacular of the Apollo era of the 1960s. This Federation of humans and aliens, sometimes in conflict with other empires, also made alliances with other planetary systems, was ever expanding.
Surprisingly, for a three-year series (meant to go five) it was deeply organized with rules and, unlike many past science fiction shows, attempted to be based on some realities, following science as best it could. It inspired a generation of scientists and astronauts and fans hopeful of a better future in space with its alternative universe.
Though it may have been Earth-centered, was it as galaxy-wide as it claimed? Was there any organization to the Federation? Do the stellar and planetary systems bear any resemblance to reality or are they just all made up in the heads of writers? Are there any real technosignatures we can detect for the Star Trek universe?
Searching for Evidence
As almost anyone who has watched television knows, the show Star Trek was originally a series of five programs, from the 1966 to 1974, a gap until 1987 and then on until 2005, producing hundreds of hours of episodes:
the original Star Trek (TOS, The Original Series, featuring Captain James T. Kirk, Lt. Cmdr. Spock, etc.),
Star Trek:The Next Generation (TNG),
Star Trek:Deep Space Nine (DS9),
Star Trek:Voyager (STV) and,
originally entitled Enterprise (ENT), later Star Trek:Enterprise, a kind of prequel.
Additionally, there are the several movies made with the casts of the first two shows, and a set of animated episodes (Star Trek:The Animated Series—TAS) between TOS and TNG that are now considered part of the canon. All the episodes took place in numerous locales, among planets, space stations, other ships, and around numerous stars.
For our purpose, we need know if Federation activity took place around any real celestial stars. This would be done by doing what one might do if you could be a fly-on-the-wall in an alien Earth culture, watching and listening to what was being said and done in front of you to learn about that culture, without actually being a part of what is happening. Here this means using—and ONLY using—the videos of the shows, and nothing else, and looking and listening for stars known to earthly astronomers today.
These originally constituted the evidence I examined, way back in 2012-14, using what is called an ethno-anthropological method. [Some researchers may consider what we are going to do to be more of an historical approach or a hermeneutics approach, which is to analyze the writings (or recordings) of a culture at a distance.] Because of this research method of choice, we can not use any stories that were NOT part of our recordings, our ‘canon.’ Furthermore, this study can not use after-the-fact materials, such as book adaptations, where authors take liberties or make assumptions about the spellings or names or locations. Episode background graphics, such as a personal file on a computer screen or map on a wall do not count; the characters do not actually mention these nor does any action take place there. Materials developed later by the producers to ‘fill in gaps’ such as Okudagrams don’t count either; they aren’t in the show dialog. If it ain’t in the canon, it ain’t fodder we can use!
It would take DAYS to actually look through all the recordings to list all the planets and stars mentioned and, fortunately, as a Trek fan, I did just that! Alongside this, a number of books and websites have catalogued the stars and planets. Among other sources, I used two editions of Bjo Trimble’s Star Trek Concordance (Ballentine Books) and The Star Trek Encyclopedia by Michael and Denise Okuda (Pocket Books), plus an interesting wiki at en.memory-alpha.org.
All this taken into account, I originally identified 43 real stars or objects in the Star Trek universe that are in our universe, beyond our Sun, Sol, and its planets. The list is in Table 1. Most are stars, but there are several non-stellar objects. There also are three small liberties I chose to take. There are two objects, M43 Alpha and M24 Alpha, that do not exist in our nomenclature. M43 and M24 do exist—it’s the “alpha’s” I have an issue with—but as M24 is described in the canon as a star cluster, and it is one in our universe, I included it. Using that as a protocol, I included M43 because it is a known real nebula. Ceti Alpha is clearly a reversal of Alpha Ceti, a real star, so I included that, too. What I did not include were some objects, such as Regula 1, a stand-in for Regulus, which happens to be a star mentioned elsewhere as Alpha Leonis so we can’t use it twice. Quite a few objects used real names but are not real places, such as Taurus II. Taurus is a constellation, not an object like a star.
After another gap, in the late 2010’s there came several new Trek shows. Among the first two to be added was Star Trek: Picard, a so-far two-season, 20-years later adventure with the former Captain from TNG. At about the same time, Star Trek: Discovery was an adventure swirling around a junior officer who actually became a criminal yet got resurrected into active duty during a major Federation emergency. After its second season it went far into the future where it does not concern this study. An animated series, Lower Decks, and a live (and popular), so-far-one-season prequel, Strange New Worlds, have come into the Star Trek universe. All of these have added at least five new stars (see Table 2) and several others have been re-used, but not any new data affecting this study.
Table 2. Additional Stars from the Newer Series
Hypatia (in Pleiades) or Iota Draconis (sources vary)
In order to use these objects and locate the Federation, its allies and its enemies, in space we need direction information, and distances, and then map them. Back in 2012 the objects could be found in most any astronomy reference book (I used the RASC Observer’s Handbook for most of the information plus Simbad data for the rest [simbad.u-strasbg.fr/simbad/]). Usually you’ll find them in the equatorial system of Right Ascension and Declination (RA, Dec.), an Earth-centered system. But we need these in the Galactic (longitude l, latitude b) system. This has its origin 0 degrees in Sagittarius, and heads ‘eastward’ at a rather extreme angle to the celestial equator, with l=90 degrees in Cygnus, 180 degrees near the border of Taurus and Auriga, and 270 degrees in the sky’s Southern Hemisphere, in Vela. The coordinate conversion isn’t pain-free. Then we need the third dimension, distance R.
Today, it is a bit easier. We can look up all the information in either the Hipparcos or Gaia databases, the latter which certainly gives the distances and galactic coordinates!
But we are not done yet. Though it is a picky point, most stars are near but not in the plane of the galaxy; they are above or below it, though not by too much. The galaxy around here is thin but not paper thin. So when a table says a star is 100 light years (ly) distant from the Sun, it isn’t likely 100 ly away in the plane. Let’s say the star is at latitude b = +30 degrees (North, above the plane); in the plane it’s really at distance r, equal to 100*cosine(30 degrees), or 86.7 ly. Every star in Tables 1 and 2 needs its distance R converted to r.
So where is the United Federation of Planets? What kinds of stars and planetary systems are they? Does the Trek universe match the stars in the real universe? How about those of the Klingon, Romulan, and Borg Empires?
You’ll have to subscribe and thendownload the rest of the story in the PDF file to find out!
In the rest of the story, we will:
plot the stars and see the beginnings of the structure of the Milky Way galaxy—the UFP is not in random space;
We will visit the homeworlds of the Vulcans and the border worlds of the Andorians, in Trekworld and the real universe;
We will do the same with the Romulan Empire, the Klingons, and the Borg battle site at Wolf 359.
How is the UFP organized? It is constrained on several points!
After analyzing all we know, we shall find them all in the January night sky.
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Dr. Larry Krumenaker, Publisher...