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.

Planets Buzzin’ in the Beehive

Artwork of Planets in Beehive Cluster

NASA Astronomers have just announced that they have found planets orbiting Sun-like stars in the Beehive Cluster, (M-44). These planets are being described as a ‘hot Jupiter’ meaning that they are large like Jupiter, composedof gases, but closer to their star than the planet Mercury is to the Sun.
The Beehive Cluster is an open-star cluster within the constellation of Cancer the Crab. Both of which rise before sunrise. The Beehive Cluster is visible as a smudge of light to the naked-eye and through binoculars or a telescope using a low-power eyepiece appears as a nice sprinkling of stars. The planet Venus just recently passed close to M-44 as I had recently posted.

Be sure to visit the Plane Quest web site where you will find a lot of information about the Planet Quest project like 3,130 exo-planets have been discovered so far, although not all have been confirmed.
For the educator there are several interactives where you and students could design a planet for example.