White dwarfs create large diamonds in the sky

By Clair Wood, Special to the BDN
Posted March 30, 2009, at 6:55 p.m.

Note: Maine Skies will now appear in the last Lifestyle section of each month.

When Carol Channing sang the song “Diamonds are a girls’ best friend,” it is unlikely that even she could have envisioned the white dwarf star BM37093.

As white dwarfs cool, their carbon cores are placed under tremendous pressure, creating a huge carbon crystal, i.e. a diamond. BM37093, which is located in the constellation Centaurus about 50 light years distant, is estimated to contain 5 million trillion trillion pounds of diamond or 10 billion trillion trillion carats. That’s a one followed by 34 zeros! By comparison the largest diamond on Earth is the 530-carat Star of Africa in the Crown Jewels of England.

When you read that astronomers think there may be hundreds of these planet-sized diamonds roaming the universe, it gives a whole new meaning to the Beatles’ tune, “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.”

Focus on the planets

Mercury will make an appearance in mid-April low in the west-northwest about a half-hour after sunset. On the night of April 26, the thin crescent moon is closely paired with the Pleiades star cluster with Mercury directly beneath. This will be the best evening appearance of Mercury in 2009.

Venus is low in the east shortly before sunrise. Venus will climb steadily on the horizon and, on May 21, forms a tight triangle with Mars and the thin crescent moon in the southeast at dawn. The next evening, the moon will pass across the face of Venus briefly hiding the planet from view.

Mars is low in the east all month before dawn; however the “Red Planet” is so low and so dim that it will be difficult to see without binoculars. Look for Venus and Mars is the dim orange-red ‘star’ beneath.

Jupiter rises in the southeastern pre-dawn sky but never rises very high above the horizon. On April 19, look for Jupiter and the moon together in the southeast about an hour before sunrise.

Saturn is high in the southeast at dusk. Saturn’s ring are nearly edge-on giving viewers the opportunity to watch its moons crisscross the face of the planet. Its largest moon, Titan, will make two shadow transits on April 13 and 29.

Neptune can be found by starting at Jupiter and looking due east. By month’s end the two planets will only be apart by 2 degrees.

Uranus is lost in the glow of dawn during April.

April events

1 Sunrise, 6:17 a.m.; sunset, 7:02 p.m.

2 Moon is at perigee or nearest approach to Earth today. Moon is first quarter, 10:33 a.m.

9 Full Moon, 10:55 a.m. The full Moon of April is called the Planter’s, Pink, Egg, Grass or Easter Full Moon.

12 Easter Day — Once calculated as the first Sunday (April 12) following the first full moon (April 9) on or after the spring equinox (March 20).

16 Moon at apogee or farthest distance from Earth today.

17 Moon in last quarter, 9:38 a.m.

18 The sun enters Aries on the ecliptic.

19 The sun enters the astrological sign of Taurus but, astronomically, has just entered Aries.

22 Look in the eastern pre-dawn sky for a close pairing of Venus and the crescent moon with Mars to the lower right. This is the peak night for the Lyrid meteor shower that can produce up to 20 meteors per hour and occasionally much higher. The Lyrids are swift, bright meteors often with persistent trains. The nearly new moon will pose no viewing problems.

25 New Moon, 11:23 p.m.

28 The moon is at perigee for the second time this month.

30 Sunrise, 5:27 a.m.; sunset, 7:39 p.m.

Send astronomical queries to Clair Wood at cgmewood@aol.com or care of the Bangor Daily News, Style Desk, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor 04402.

http://bangordailynews.com/2009/03/30/living/white-dwarfs-create-large-diamonds-in-the-sky/ printed on August 28, 2014