When to see The Geminids - one of the best meteor showers of the year
- Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto
What’s in the sky this month?
December is a fantastic month for backyard astronomy! The early sunset and longer nights means more time for you to see what’s in the night sky. The nights will only get longer until the winter solstice on December 21st, though, so get your maximum stargazing while you can!
This month we have the King of Meteor showers to look forward to! The Geminids is widely considered one of the best meteor showers, with up to 120 meteors an hour! While the event will start on December 7th and run until the 17th, your best chance to see some multi-coloured meteors is on the 13th and 14th. To find the shower, look to for the constellation Gemini in the east.
Astronomy at the University Hertfordshire
Where do all the elements in the universe come from? Many of the elements we see today were created in the interior of stars or when stars go supernova. However, there are a few elements where the requirements for their creation are still a mystery to be solved. An ongoing one is fluorine, the ninth element on the periodic table. When stars go through their lifecycle, nucleosynthesis in stellar interiors can create elements up to iron, the twenty-sixth element.
However, stellar nucleosynthesis does not make an abundant amount of fluorine, so the fluorine we see in the universe must come from some other process.
There are three major theories about fluorine creation in astronomy at the moment, creation via supernova, creation from AGB stars, and creation from a special class of stars called Wolf-Rayet stars.
Research conducted at the University of Hertfordshire by Dr. Maximilien Franco, Dr. James Geach, Dr. Chiaki Kobayashi, Dr Kristen Coppin, and their collaborators has tried to better constrain what could be creating fluorine in the universe. Their study, using data from the ALMA telescope array, has shown that AGB stars and supernova are likely not sufficient to create the amount of fluorine seen in young galaxies
Instead, Wolf-Rayet stats are likely the main producer of fluorine, with the other two creation mechanisms becoming more important as galaxies evolve. This discovery was possible by studying fluorine in a distant galaxy, more than 12 billion light years away.
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On December 22nd, 30 years of work and £7.5bn of technology development all come together to launch to launch the James Webb Space telescope. While this telescope is often heralded as the successor to the Hubble Telescope, they are very different kinds of space telescopes. Hubble was an optical telescope, using mirrors and lenses to focus light that our eyes can see to create the fantastic pictures we know today. The JWST is an infrared telescope, this is light that is beyond the red portion of the electromagnetic spectrum.
Why is infrared light important to see? Some of the most distant objects in the universe appear in the infrared. The JWST’s mission is to help reveal some of the oldest galaxies and help us understand how the universe formed while it was young.
Light from the early universe has been stretch out as the universe expanded, what once was light visible to us now lies in the infrared. JWST will allow us to see light from the earliest stars in the universe.
The telescope will also use infrared signals to look at more nearby objects like exoplanets. The telescope can look for signs of ammonia, which may be an indicator of life on these planets.
Unlike Hubble, the JWST will not be a telescope we can send astronauts to. The telescope will sit at the L2 point in the Earth’s orbit, a stable location where the gravitational forces from the Earth and the Sun are balanced so the telescope does not drift.
It will take the telescope roughly 30 days to reach L2, and then more time to unfold and begin testing. However, once it gets up and running, a whole new view of the universe will be revealed to us!