Name A Planet

   An organization with goals for enhancing/enriching (my words) space exploration, research, and education, Uwingu, has just released their first product with a focus on the many exo-planets discovered so far, and those yet to be discovered. While not actually a product in the physical sense it is an attempt to raise funding for use as grant money in the coming months. Grant applications will become available early next year with funds raised through this product. So in order to raise funding the public is encouraged to propose a planet name to be added to a database of possible names to be used for the many exo-planets being discovered. Each name nominated, or each vote cast for a name costs $0.99 (99 cents).
   Keep in mind that while this database of names will be made available for Astronomers to choose from, whatever name or names one proposes are not official names, nor is it implied that they are official names, unlike the ‘name a star‘ scams. The naming of celestial objects is the the responsibility of the International Astronomical Union (IAU).
   Also on the web site are, under the Educate link, are some resources relevant to the search for exo-planets and are arranged by grade level.

   Click here to read a short story about how Uncle Ron and Aunt Nan learned about naming stars.

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information.

A Galaxy Far, Far Away

   With a combination of the Hubble Space Telescope, the Spitzer Space Telescope, and a technique called gravitational lensing, NASA astronomers have been able to image what is so far the most distant galaxy. This galaxy is estimated to be somewhere around 13.2 billion light years distant, and at that distance the age of the galaxy would be about 200 million years old.
   Gravitational lensing is the term used to describe what happens when light from distant objects passes another celestial object like a galaxy or a cluster of galaxies lying in our line of sight direction – between us and the more distant object. That light is magnified and refracted by the gravitational field of the ‘between’ object. Think of this as being able to use a magnifying lens to enlarge the object being viewed.
   In a related topic the galaxy may actually be about 30 feet closer. Huh?!
   At the recently ended International Astronomical Union (IAU) meeting in China members adopted a resolution that agrees with Resolution B2 approved in 2009 which established the Astronomical Unit (au) as a distance of 149,597,870,700 meters, ± 3m (92,955,807.273 miles). This is the mean, or average Earth to Sun distance, or as my students should know, is the semi-major axis of Earth’s slightly elliptically shaped orbit. However they have learned that the value for 1 au is 149,597,870,691 meters. That is a whopping 9 meter (29.5 feet) difference from the IAU’s newly adopted value.