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Author Topic: Citizen Sky  (Read 704 times)

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Offline Spookie MonsterTopic starter

Citizen Sky
« on: February 07, 2010, 07:23:09 PM »
You can contribute to the understanding of the universe that we all share.

Help us solve the mystery of epsilon Aurigae, a star that has baffled scientists since 1821.  You don't need any prior scientific training -- we will give you all of the tools you need to become a citizen scientist.

Do you have the ability to watch epsilon Aurigae?  Are you interested in helping to study a strange eclipse?  Check out Citizen Sky!*


* O.K., O.K., I must admit that I get frustrated by the arbitrary delineation between 'scientist' and 'person who employs the scientific method.'  In my opinion, it's one thing to possess the knowledge associated with a given branch of science -- say, biology, chemistry, or geology.  It's another thing entirely to employ the scientific method -- most anybody can do that.  And although a biologist will likely know more about chemistry than the man on the street, although a chemist will likely know more about geology than the man on the street, although a geologist will likely know more about biology than the man on the street, it seems to me that despite their training biologists and chemists and geologists aren't inherently capable of employing the scientific method more skillfully than the man on the street.  Moreover, I don't believe that being a scientist automatically enables one to arrive at accurate conclusions about any particular branch of science -- I mean, sure, a biologist is a scientist, for example, but that doesn't mean that he or she is qualified to make assertions about optics, seismology, or, in this case, astrophysics.  Therefore, the term 'citizen scientist' turns me off: It's as though some priestly scientists have magnanimously stooped to accept acolytes.

Maybe the term 'citizen astronomer' wouldn't have bugged me as much...

Soapboxing aside, I do feel that this is a pretty cool project -- a step in the right direction -- and I likewise feel that it would be a shame to cut off the nose to spite the face.  Here's hoping that we get some hints as to what's going on out there!

There's a star, man, waiting in the sky...

Offline DrFier

Re: Citizen Sky
« Reply #1 on: February 09, 2010, 06:16:23 PM »
It's a cloaked shield world. Scatters light in every direction unless directly viewed, and has the mass of a star. :p

Offline Sabby

Re: Citizen Sky
« Reply #2 on: February 11, 2010, 09:45:11 PM »
This is the kind of thing that'll bug me until I have an answer.

I saw a CGI documentary when I was young, on black holes... ever since then, unexplained phenomeon in space just frightens me. Seriously, scares me to death. Last year, there was this hyped up documentary on space... saw it on a HD tv. It was nothing but flythroughs of things like black holes, comets tails, the surface of the sun... looked amazing, really, but I was getting a lil unnerved by it. Just the vastness and the alien nature of everything...

So I'm browsing this website, and the information is so poorly set out >.< I can't make out anything from it. Could someone please explain to me wtf this thing may be?

Offline Spookie MonsterTopic starter

Re: Citizen Sky
« Reply #3 on: March 11, 2010, 08:37:24 PM »
Thanks for the replies, guys!  I'm glad that you consider it interesting.

So I'm browsing this website, and the information is so poorly set out >.< I can't make out anything from it. Could someone please explain to me wtf this thing may be?

Agreed: It could be a bit better presented.  That actually surprises me, given that the people involved in the project seem pretty savvy.  If anybody's got any specific suggestions about how to improve the site, I seriously suggest dropping them a note -- I bet that they'd appreciate the input.  I also suggest trying to get a date with Project Manager Rebecca Turner, because she's super cute.

With regard to what exactly might be causing the phenomenon... good question!  The website discusses some ideas here.  The website of the American Association of Variable Star Observers discusses some ideas here.  Basically, most of the astronomers and astrophysicists involved believe that there's something really hot and bright, like a star or stars, at the center of a disk of cool junk, like asteroids and dust, and we're looking at the disk's edge.

Here's a visual representation of the prevailing model:

The website of the American Association of Variable Star Observers offers this:

Epsilon Aurigae: What we think we know

Our understanding of this mysterious variable has grown along with the sophistication of astronomical technology, and while we still don't fully understand the system, we do know a lot more now than we did at the start of the 20th Century.  Epsilon Aurigae has been observed in nearly all wavelengths of light; it is known to be bright in the infrared, optical, and ultraviolet, and the star is photometrically and spectroscopically variable at many wavelengths.  The primary star has also been resolved using optical interferometry, and has an apparent diameter of about 2.2 milliarcseconds; its absolute size isn't known because there's no reliable distance measure, but it is assumed to be a giant or supergiant star.

In their 1991 paper in
The Astrophysical Journal, Carroll et al. neatly summarized the state of our understanding at that time:
  • the primary is an F0I supergiant, possibly well over 10 solar masses, and is itself pulsating,
  • the secondary is a cool, thin disk of varying opacity, probably with a hole in the center, and tilted or warped with respect to its orbit about the F star,
  • at the center of the disk, there is a hot object -- most likely a massive close binary system rather than a black hole, and
  • the combined mass of the disk and central object of the secondary is nearly the same as that of the primary.
Most recent interpretations of the observations seem to confirm the model set forth in 1991...

I hope that that helps!  Just for the record, it's only the prevailing model, albeit a reasonable one -- it would be a mistake to assume a priori that it's correct and that Citizen Sky exists just to confirm it.  Who knows what the observations will reveal?

Thanks again!


Will it blow our minds?