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Mercury magazine

Spring 2009 - Volume 38, Number 2

Spring 2009 - Volume 38, Number 2

Table of Contents



[16] Is Space Art Dead?, Lynette R. Cook
Is the field of space art doomed by the rise of spectacular imagery from Hubble and other space telescopes, and a corresponding decline in demand for "artistic" views of the cosmos?

[24] Globular Clusters and Satellite Galaxies: Companions to the Milky Way, Duncan A. Forbes, Pavel Kroupa, Manuel Metz, and Lee Spitler
An interactive model of the Milky Way region lets the user investigate, in three dimensions, the locations of some 30 dwarf satellite galaxies and about 150 globular clusters.

[28] Astronomy in the News
Tracking the source of a meteorite, the challenges of finding Earth's twin, and what the color of quasars tells us about the universe -- these are some of the discoveries that have recently made news in the astronomical community.

[40] The Society at 120, Bruce Partridge (President, ASP)
We may be more than a century old, but innovative programming has helped transform the Society.


[4] Editorial, Paul Deans
Where's the Science?

[5] First Word, James G. Manning
Paying Attention

[7] Astronomer's Notebook, Jennifer Birriel
Origin of Giant Elliptical Galaxies

[8] Planetary Perspectives, Daniel D. Durda
Cold Water On Global Wildfires?

[9] Armchair Astrophysics, Christopher Wanjek
Galaxies Born Free of Dark Matter?

[10] Echoes of the Past, Katherine Bracher
40 Years Ago: The Age of the Universe

[11] Annals of Astronomy, Clifford J. Cunningham
A Princely Star Catalog

[12] Education Matters, David Bruning
Do We Do Too Much?

[13] Societal Impact, Michael G. Gibbs
The Future of the US Economy

[34] Society Scope/ASP Supporters

[36] Sky Sights, Paul Deans
The Sky of May, June, and July

Is Space Art Dead?

by Lynette R. Cook

For nearly three years I've been haunted by a headline in the Los Angeles Times that read, "Imagine That: NASA's Photos Eclipse Space Art." Befuddled and dismayed, my space-art colleagues and I wondered at the time how this message could have bubbled to the surface from the series of informational interviews the writer had conducted about our work and experiences. Was this an attempt to sell more newspapers, or had she picked up on a real trend in astronomy and astronomical education that spelled doom for this small group of specialized artists?

Whether or not this is the proverbial "writing is on the wall," the field of space art -- the youngest member under the broad umbrella called scientific illustration -- has changed since its inception and continues to adapt as technology advances. Just as earlier artists feared that the advent of the camera foretold their demise, the wondrous success of the Hubble Space Telescope and other technological marvels created ripples of uncertainty among space artists. While there is no doubt that space art and artists still exist -- after all, look around…space art is everywhere, right? -- what is the state of its health? I determined to find out.

Globular Clusters and Satellite Galaxies: Companions to the Milky Way

by Duncan A. Forbes, Pavel Kroupa, Manuel Metz, and Lee Spitler

Our Milky Way galaxy is host to a number of companions. These companions are gravitationally bound to the Milky Way and are stellar systems in their own right. They include a population of about 150 globular clusters (GCs) and some 30 dwarf satellite galaxies (DSGs).

Globular clusters -- dense, spherical collections from about 10,000 to as many as one million stars -- are well known to amateur astronomers. Satellite galaxies include the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, visible to the naked eye in the Southern Hemisphere, and a host of smaller, fainter galaxies. These DSGs are more extended and diffuse compared to GCs. In fact the larger satellites of the Milky Way (and other galaxies, for that matter) host their own small systems of GCs.

Astronomy in the News
Black Hole Outflows From Centaurus


Astronomers have a new insight into the active galaxy Centaurus A (NGC 5128), as the jets and lobes emanating from the central black hole have been imaged at submillimetre wavelengths for the first time. The new data, from the Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX) telescope in Chile, which is operated by ESO, have been combined with visible and X-ray wavelengths to produce this striking new image.

Centaurus A is our nearest giant galaxy, at a distance of about 13 million light-years in the southern constellation of Centaurus. It is an elliptical galaxy, currently merging with a companion spiral galaxy, resulting in areas of intense star formation and making it one of the most spectacular objects in the sky. Centaurus A hosts a very active and highly luminous central region, caused by the presence of a supermassive black hole is the source of strong radio and X-ray emission.

In the image, we see the dust ring encircling the giant galaxy, and the fast-moving radio jets ejected from the galaxy centre, signatures of the supermassive black hole at the heart of Centaurus A. In submillimetre light, we see not only the heat glow from the central dust disc, but also the emission from the central radio source and -- for the first time in the submillimetre -- the inner radio lobes north and south of the disc. In the X-ray emission, we see the jets emerging from the centre of Centaurus A and, to the lower right of the galaxy, the glow where the expanding lobe collides with the surrounding gas, creating a shockwave.

The Society at 120

by Bruce Partridge

As was true in 1889, the Astronomical Society of the Pacific is the only professional organization that welcomes the full range of those who love astronomy -- from research scientists at colleges and national observatories to devoted amateurs, teachers at all levels, and members of the small but growing cadre of professional astronomy educators. Other organizations surround us, serving specific groups, but the ASP stands at the center. That has not changed in 120 years.

What has changed, I believe, is the increasingly outward focus of the Society. We are not so much a society for astronomers as a society of astronomers, with an overt goal of using astronomy -- and our love of it -- to further science literacy in the US and internationally. We interpret "science literacy" broadly.