Dr. Rogers Clowes of the University of Central Lancashire in England, leading a team of astronomers working on the Sloan Digital Sky Survey to map the universe, has discovered a group of quasars so immense that it violates a fundamental precept of the Cosmological Principle first proposed by Einstein. This is homogeneity, the concept that at a large enough scale, the universe will look the same in all directions.
Quasars are far distant, extremely luminous objects that give off huge amounts of energy. They are believed to be galaxies with supermassive black holes at their center. Quasars are known to cluster in groups, but on nothing like the scale of the cluster found by Clowes. It is over 4 billion light years from end to end, meaning it would take 4 billion years for light to traverse it.
The Cosmological Principle holds that structures larger than 1.2 billion light years should not exist. Clowes said the find is hugely exciting “because it runs counter to modern theory. The universe doesn’t seem as uniform as we thought.”
Focus on the planets
Mercury is low in the west-southwest about a half hour after sunset as February opens and climbs higher each night until midmonth, when it starts its descent into the sun’s glare and is lost by month’s end.
Venus rises very low in the southeast about 40 minutes before the sun at the start of the month but disappears in the morning twilight within a few days.
Mars is faint and low in the west-southwest about 45 minutes before sunset. The best way to spot Mars is to zero in on Mercury and scan for the dim Red Planet just below it.
Jupiter is the brightest point of light in the southern skies as darkness falls. Telescopes reveal the planet’s belts and zones plus the antics of its four moons. On Feb. 9 all four moons lie to the west of the planet while on Feb. 14 they are all clustered in the east.
Saturn rises in the east-southeast as Jupiter sets in the west. By midmonth Saturn rises around midnight and is high in the south at morning twilight. The ring tilt is at its maximum for the year, making it easy to spot the Cassini Division separating the two brightest rings. Saturn’s major satellite Titan is also an easy target as it orbits the planet.
Uranus sets at 10 p.m. as the month opens and earlier each successive night. By month’s end a telescope will reveal Uranus very low in the west before setting around 8 p.m.
Neptune is lost in the glow of twilight during February.
1: Sunrise, 6:55 a.m.; sunset, 4:43 p.m. The bright star to the upper left of the moon tonight is Spica.
2: Candlemas or Groundhog Day, a cross-quarter day marking the midpoint between the winter solstice and spring equinox.
3: Moon in last quarter, 8:57 a.m. Saturn stands to the upper right of the moon on the southwestern horizon at dawn.
5: The distinctive orange-colored star Antares can be seen to the lower right of the moon just before dawn.
7: The moon is at perigee or nearest approach to Earth today.
10: New moon, 2:22 a.m.
11: Mars is low in the west-southwest about an hour after sunset with brighter Mercury directly above. A thin crescent moon stands just to the upper right of the pair.
14: Happy Valentine’s Day.
16: The sun enters Aquarius on the ecliptic.
17: The moon at first quarter, 3:30 p.m. Cream-colored Jupiter is to the upper left of the moon while ruddy Aldebaran, the “red eye” of Taurus, lies directly to the lunar left.
18: The sun enters the astrological sign of Pisces however astronomically has just entered Aquarius. The difference is due to precession. The moon and Jupiter are separated by less than a degree in the south around 7 p.m.
19: The moon is at apogee or farthest distance from Earth.
25: Full moon, 3:28 p.m. The full moon of February is known variously as the Snow Moon, Hunger Moon, Wolf Moon, and Lenten Moon.
28: The bright star Spica and the moon are extremely close together high in the east around 11:00 p.m. Saturn hovers far below to the pair’s left and will be visited by the moon the next night, March 1. Sunrise, 6:15 a.m.; sunset, 5:22 p.m.
Send astronomical queries to Clair Wood at firstname.lastname@example.org or care of the Bangor Daily News, Style Desk, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor 04402.