Ray burst gives new meaning to ancient

Posted Oct. 30, 2009, at 8:03 p.m.

How far into the universe is it possible for astronomers to observe? A distance record was set this year when the Swift satellite spotted a gamma ray burst emitted by a dying star when the universe was 640 million years old or less than 5 percent of its estimated age.

“We’re seeing the demise of a massive star,” said Derek Fox, one of the discoverers, “and the probable birth of a black hole.”

The ray’s red shift, a measure of its distance, was 8.2, which equates to looking back 13 billion years into time. The previous record was held by a burst with a red shift of 6.7, placing it 180 million light-years closer than the current one.

Focus on the planets

Mercury makes a rare pass behind the sun in November and will be unobservable until December.

Venus rises in the east-southeast about an hour and a half before sunrise on the first of the month. Venus is on the far side of the sun from Earth and, by month’s end, will be rising only an hour before the sun, making it difficult to spot in bright twilight.

Mars rises in the east around midnight on Nov. 1 and earlier each night thereafter. Mars is rapidly gaining in both size and brightness and can be spotted as a reddish-orange “star” among the stars of the Beehive Cluster.

Jupiter reigns in solitary splendor high in the south at sunset. Jupiter is the brightest object in the evening sky except for the moon. Jupiter’s four major moons are on display as they gyrate around the planet.

Saturn rises around 3:30 a.m. early in November and some two hours earlier by month’s end. The rings are now opening, increasing by about one-third in November, and have gone from a thin line to a narrow bar. It will be awhile before the rings associated with Saturn regain their full glory.

Uranus is a blue-green disk high in the southeast at nightfall. Find the Square of Pegasus and then lower your gaze to the Circlet of Pisces where Uranus lies just to the south.

Neptune is a blue-gray disk just to the east of Jupiter.

November events

1 Change your clocks back one hour as we leave daylight saving time and return to standard time. Sunrise, 6:13 a.m.; sunset, 4:24 p.m. Mars is very near the center of the Beehive Cluster.

2 Full moon, 2:14 p.m. The full moon of November is known as the Hunter’s Moon, Frost Moon and Beaver Moon.

3 The moon and the Pleiades star cluster are very near together tonight.

7 The moon is at perigee or nearest approach to Earth today.

8 Mars stands to the upper left of the moon around 11 p.m.

9 The moon and Mars are low in the east shortly after midnight.

15 Look for Venus next to a thin crescent moon low in the southeast about 30 minutes before sunrise.

16 New moon, 2:13 p.m.

17 This is the peak night for the Leonid meteor shower. This is a favorable year due to the new moon having just occurred. Look for 20-30 meteors per hour but possibly higher coming from the direction of Regulus in Leo.

22 The sun enters the astrological sign of Sagittarius but astronomically is just entering Scorpius. The moon is at apogee or farthest distance from Earth today.

23 Note Jupiter immediately below the moon at dusk.

24 Moon in first quarter, 4:38 p.m.

29 The sun enters the constellation of Ophiuchus, which is not one of the traditional houses of the zodiac.

30 Sunrise, 6:51 a.m.; sunset, 3:57 p.m.

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