“Space: The final frontier
These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise
Its 5 year mission
To explore strange new worlds
To seek out new life and new civilizations
To boldly go where no man has gone before.”
-Neil deGrasse Tyson, Cosmos
What advice does the universe have for you? To find out, we consulted with the heavens to compile this month’s horoscope:
Aries: Many of the objects in the constellation Aries are not single stars at all, but binary star systems, in which nearby stars orbit one another. They appear from earth as being a single object in the night sky. There are objects that can be observed within the constellation Aries are not stars at all, but are distant galaxies. These are known as “deep-sky objects” and include objects like open clusters, globular clusters, nebulae, and other galaxies.
Taurus: The Constellation Taurus hosts two of the nearest open clusters to Earth, the Pleiades and the Hyades, both of which are visible from Earth to the naked eye. An open cluster, also known as galactic cluster, is a group of up to a few thousand stars that were formed from the same giant molecular cloud and have roughly the same age. More than 1,100 open clusters have been discovered within the Milky Way Galaxy, and many more are thought to exist. At first magnitude, the red giant Aldebaran is the brightest star in the constellation. In the northwest part of Taurus is the supernova remnant Messier 1, more commonly known as the Crab Nebula. One of the closest regions of active star formation, the Taurus-Auriga complex, crosses into the northern part of the constellation.
Gemini: To observe Gemini is to face away from the galactic center of the Milky Way, and as such there are few deep-sky objects contained within it. So this month let’s set our sights on Saturn’s moon Titan. Also known as Saturn VI, Titan is the largest moon of Saturn. It is the only natural satellite known to have a dense atmosphere, and the only object other than Earth where clear evidence of stable bodies of surface liquid has been found. Titan is larger by volume than the smallest planet, Mercury, although only 40% as massive. The atmosphere of Titan is largely nitrogen; minor components lead to the formation of methane–ethane clouds and nitrogen-rich organic smog. The climate—including wind and rain—creates surface features similar to those of Earth, such as dunes, rivers, lakes, seas (probably of liquid methane–ethane), and deltas, and is dominated by seasonal weather patterns as on Earth. With its liquids (both surface and subsurface) and robust nitrogen atmosphere, Titan’s methane cycle is analogous to Earth’s water cycle, although at a much lower temperature.
Cancer: Helping create the constellation Cancer, YBP 1194 is a G5V star in the open cluster M67. It is the best solar twin found to date, having the same temperature, mass, and chemical abundances as our sun. On December 19, 2013, it was announced to have an extrasolar planet with a period of 6.9 days, an eccentricity of 0.24 and a mass of 0.34 MJ. Two more planets were later discovered.
Leo: The Leonids are a prolific meteor shower associated with the comet Tempel–Tuttle. The Leonids get their name from the location of their radiant in the constellation Leo: the meteors appear to radiate from that point in the sky. They peak in the month of November. Earth moves through the meteoroid stream of particles left from the passages of a comet. The stream comprises solid particles, known as meteoroids, ejected by the comet as its frozen gases evaporate under the heat of the Sun when it is close enough – typically closer than Jupiter’s orbit. The Leonids are a fast moving stream which encounter the path of Earth and impact at 72 km/s. Larger Leonids which are about 10 mm across have a mass of half a gram and are known for generating bright (apparent magnitude-1.5) meteors. An annual Leonid shower may deposit 12 or 13 tons of particles across the entire planet.
Virgo: The Virgo Supercluster (Virgo SC) or the Local Supercluster (LSC or LS) is a mass concentration of galaxies that contains the Virgo Cluster in addition to the Local Group, which in turn contains the Milky Way and Andromeda Galaxies. At least 100 galaxy groups and clusters are located within its diameter of 33megaparsecs (110 million light-years). It is one of millions of superclusters in the observable universe.
A 2014 study indicates that the Virgo Supercluster is only a lobe of a greater supercluster, Laniakea, which is centered on the Great Attractor.
Libra: The Great Attractor is a gravity anomaly in intergalactic space within the vicinity of the Hydra-Centaurus Supercluster at the centre of the Laniakea Supercluster that reveals the existence of a localized concentration of mass tens of thousands of times more massive than the Milky Way. This mass is observable by its effect on the motion of galaxies and their associated clusters over a region hundreds of millions of light-years across. The Great Attractor is moving towards the Shapley Supercluster.
Scorpio: The Shapley Supercluster or Shapley Concentration (SCl 124) is the largest concentration of galaxies in our nearby universe that forms a gravitationally interacting unit, thereby pulling itself together instead of expanding with the universe. It appears as a striking overdensity in the distribution of galaxies in theconstellation of Centaurus. It is 650 million light years away, meaning light reaching us today left the region before the appearance of multicellular life on Earth.
Sagittarius: The Snowball Earth hypothesis proposes that the Earth’s surface became entirely or nearly entirely frozen at least once, sometime earlier than 650 million years ago. Proponents of the hypothesis argue that it best explains sedimentary deposits generally regarded as of glacial origin at tropical paleolatitudes, and other otherwise enigmatic features in the geological record. Opponents of the hypothesis contest the implications of the geological evidence for global glaciation, the geophysical feasibility of an ice- or slush-covered ocean, and the difficulty of escaping an all-frozen condition. A number of unanswered questions exist, including whether the Earth was a full snowball, or a “slushball” with a thin equatorial band of open (or seasonally open) water. The geological time frames under consideration come before the sudden appearance of multicellular life forms on Earth known as the Cambrian explosion, and the most recent snowball episode may have triggered the evolution of multi-cellular life on Earth. Another, much earlier and longer, snowball episode, the Huronian glaciation, which occurred 2400 to 2100 million years ago, may have been triggered by the first appearance of oxygen in the atmosphere, the “Great Oxygenation Event.”
Capricorn: The Great Oxygenation Event (GOE), was the biologically induced appearance of dioxygen (O2) in Earth’s atmosphere. Geological, isotopic, and chemical evidence suggest that this major environmental change happened around 2.3 billion years ago (2.3 Ga). Cyanobacteria, which appeared about 200 million years before the GOE, began producing oxygen by photosynthesis. Before the GOE, any free oxygen they produced was chemically captured by dissolved iron or organic matter. The GOE was the point when these oxygen sinks became saturated and could not capture all of the oxygen that was produced by cyanobacterial photosynthesis. After the GOE, the excess free oxygen started to accumulate in the atmosphere. Free oxygen is toxic to obligate anaerobic organisms, and the rising concentrations may have wiped out most of the Earth’s anaerobic inhabitants at the time. Cyanobacteria were therefore responsible for one of the most significant extinction events in Earth’s history.
Aquarius: The Sixth extinction event or Anthropocene extinction event, is a name proposed to describe the ongoing extinction event of species during the present Holocene epoch (since around 10,000 BCE) mainly due to human activity. The large number of extinctions span numerous families of plants and animals includingmammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and arthropods. Although 875 extinctions occurring between 1500 and 2009 have been documented by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, with widespread degradation of highly biodiverse habitats such as coral reefs and rainforest, as well as other areas, the vast majority are thought to be undocumented. According to the species-area theory and based on upper-bound estimating, the present rate of extinction may be up to 140,000 species per year, making it the greatest loss of biodiversity since the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event.
Pisces: In the geologic record, the K–Pg extinction event is marked by a thin layer of sediment called the K–Pg boundary, which can be found throughout the world in marine and terrestrial rocks. The boundary clay shows high levels of the metal iridium, which is rare in the Earth’s crust but abundant in asteroids . As originally proposed by a team of scientists led by Luis Alvarez, it is now generally believed that the K–Pg extinction was triggered by a massive comet or asteroid impact 66 million years ago and its catastrophic effects on the global environment.