June 2017 DFAC Update

quidnoviNewsletter of the Desert Foothills Astronomy Club
Captain’s Log: June 12, 2017

Greetings Fellow Stargazers,

My apologies for this late update. I was holding off till I could include Jay’s Treasurer’s Report, and Jay was holding off on that until he knew how many members renewed. Dues were due May 31, and to date we have 12 renewals out of last year’s 19 members. We need to send our club dues to the Astronomical League by June 30 along with a current club roster. Only those members on the roster will receive the League newsletter Reflector. Of course, if you don’t mind missing out on that newsletter, we’re happy to take your renewal at any time. Thanks.

So now, on to our abbreviated update. Not much happens for club events over the Summer, but there’s one event of note next Saturday that you might be interested in …

1. Star Barn Social:
If you only check our website occasionally you might have missed that the June 17 speckle interferometry demo at Brilliant Sky Observatory had to be cancelled. In its place (albeit on short notice) is a social event hosted by Ron & Julie Walker at the Star Barn in Cave Creek. Grilled bratwurst, potato salad, and other goodies (including beer/wine/soda) will be provided. That will be followed by a movie (yet to be determined) on the big screen in their home theater. More details on our DFAC Events page. Hope to see you there!

2. Wrap-up of club business for the year:
As explained earlier, our Treasurer’s Report will be included in a later DFAC Update. All existing officers have been confirmed and remain unchallenged. We thank them for their continued service:

President: Dan Heim
Treasurer: Jay Chatzkel
Media Liaison: Diann Smith
Social Media Manager: Bill Tacon

3. This just in from Lowell:
I received a press release from Roger Serrato one hour after posting this Quid Novi, so here’s a quick edit …


Flagstaff, AZ. – A new study led by Michael West of Lowell Observatory reveals that the most massive galaxies in the universe have been aligned with their surroundings for the past ten billion years. It is the furthest back in time that this phenomenon has ever been seen.

While most galaxies are randomly oriented in space, astronomers have long known that the biggest ones often point towards their neighbors. But when and how these alignments occurred remains a mystery. Looking to the past can shed new light on the origin of galaxy alignments.

To peer across cosmic time, West and an international team of collaborators used the Hubble Space Telescope to observe 65 giant galaxies whose light has taken billions of years to reach earth. The team found that the most massive galaxies were already aligned with their surroundings when the universe was only 1/3 of its current age. “It’s an important new piece of the puzzle,” says West, “because it says that whatever caused these alignments happened early.”

There are different theories for why such alignments occur. One is that giant galaxies grow by accreting smaller neighbors along preferred directions that reflect the cosmic web, a vast network of filaments connecting galaxies on large scales. Another theory suggests that, given enough time, gravity’s relentless tug will slowly reorient the largest galaxies until they are aligned with the surrounding distribution of galaxies. While the discovery of galaxy alignments at early epochs does not rule out either scenario, it does place increasingly tight time constraints.

West and team are eager to look further into the past by observing more remote galaxies, which will allow them to see if there was a time before they were aligned. But studying galaxies at the dawn of time is not easy, even with Hubble. According to West, “We’re trying to measure the shapes and orientations of galaxies that appear very faint and very small because of their great distances, which is challenging.”

In addition to West, the team consists of Roberto De Propris of the University of Turku, Malcolm Bremer and Steven Phillipps, both at the University of Bristol. Results of the study were published on June 12, 2017 via Advance Online Publication on Nature Astronomy’s website at http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/S41550-017-0157.

4. Astronomical Eye Candy
I visited Mauna Kea back in 1986 with the intent of photographing Halley’s Comet from near the summit. Got an inside tour of the facilities thanks to my connections with some Jesuit astronomers. Alas, we were forced off the mountain (along with many astronomers) by a freak snowstorm. I know a few of our members have also been there, but for those that haven’t, enjoy this beautiful time-lapse from the Mauna Kea summit. Go full-screen and turn on your sound.

Till next we meet, clear skies.

Dan Heim
Desert Foothills Astronomy Club

May 2017 DFAC Update