Continuing the tour and the 'Faint and Fuzzies'

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Hope you had a nice Autumn Astronomy Day last Saturday. The sky was perfect in Nebraska, and Colorado too. Good opportunity to view the first quarter moon.

As we continue our tour of the Perseus/Pegasus/Andromeda group I want to focus this week on one of those famous "Faint Fuzzies" I always talk about.

This particular one is the very famous Andromeda Galaxy. It is listed as number 31 on French astronomer Messier's list of things that are not comets.

The Andromeda Galaxy is the closest galaxy to our own Milky Way. Located at a mere 2.9 million light years, and since light travels at 186,000 miles per second I will let you do the math to see how many miles that is, my calculator keeps crashing.

The really neat thing is, we can see this object with just our eyes alone. It is the farthest thing we can see with just our eyes and no optical assistance.

To find this jewel of the sky go to your favorite dark-sky place. Look east at about 8 p.m. local time. Find our old friend Pegasus and locate the star Alpheratz on the left corner of the square (right now Pegasus really looks like a baseball diamond).

As we discussed last week, the Andromeda constellation is two lines of stars extending to the left from Alpheratz out toward Perseus.

Starting at Alpheratz, count out two sets of two stars. Select the star on the upper line and look up above it about the same distance as the star below it for a very faint, fuzzy glow, that is the Andromeda Galaxy.

For a better view, use a pair of binoculars. It will still be fuzzy, but it will be a bigger fuzzy glow and you should be able to see the disc shape of the galaxy.

Of course, in a telescope it will be bigger, but still a fuzzy shape. To get a view as published in books and magazines you will need a very large telescope which can take hours and hours of photographs, so just be happy with the fuzzy you have.

The Andromeda Galaxy has been known since ancient times, but no one knew for sure what it was. It was thought to be an object that was inside our own Milky Way and was classified along with other faint fuzzy objects.

It wasn't until 1923 that an astronomer named Edwin Hubble demonstrated that it was an object outside our own galaxy.

It has been named and "Island Universe." In many aspects it is. Billions of stars, lots of gas and dust, new stars being created, older stars exploding. It is an island unto itself, just as we are.

And our galaxies are two in the billions of other galaxies being discovered. Kind of gives us a new appreciation of the concept of space doesn't it.

SKY WATCH: Full moon, Monday, Oct. 29. No, there will not be a full moon on Halloween. That only happens on greeting cards and pictures. The next time Halloween will have a full moon won't be until the year 2020. Mars is still hanging on by a thread in the western sky but will soon be below the horizon. Giant planet Jupiter rises in the east at about 9 p.m. local time and is located between the horns of Taurus, the Bull. The nice little star cluster Pleiades is just up and to the right. The bright star up and to Jupiter's left is Capella, the brightest star in Auriga, the Charioteer.

NEXT WEEK: The King and the Queen, And more astronomical blathering.

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