STARGAZING: Winter solstice and another year passes

Ken Tapping is an astronomer with the National Research Council's Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory, Penticton.

Another year has passed, and once again we are on the threshold of Christmas.

What astronomical presents did Santa bring us in 2015?

Actually so many new discoveries and innovations have come during the year that it is hard to decide what to mention. There is room here for just a few. The most dramatic must be our first close-up view of Pluto. The things still being revealed to us by the New Horizons spacecraft show a world unlike anything we could have expected. Then there is our first really close look at a comet. The Rosetta spacecraft actually arrived at its target comet in November, 2014, but the discoveries have been steadily flowing out during this year. However, the most astounding thing that has been growing over the last few years, but burgeoned even more quickly in 2015 has been something more subtle: something marking what we could call the maturing of astronomy as a science.

Unlike other sciences, astronomy has for most of its history been restricted to looking at things from afar, and in many ways still is. However, thanks to increasingly sensitive instruments and improved means of processing data, we are now starting to see the cosmos in similar detail to how we see our own world. We are increasingly able to duplicate many cosmic processes in the laboratory or with particle accelerators. Radio telescopes can show us the composition of the dark dust and gas clouds in space and the chemical reactions taking place in them. Sciences which were originally focussed exclusively on the Earth, such as meteorology, climatology, geology, and even oceanography and biology are now being applied to other planets and their satellites. In addition, we now know that most stars have planets and some of those planets are similar to ours. Some scientists have suggested that since there must be many Earth-like planets out there, yet our skies are not filled with the spaceships of alien visitors, we are probably alone in the universe. The rest of us question that conclusion. It does not sound reasonable to assume the rest of the universe is lifeless, and just there for astronomers to study.

Although not exactly a Christmas present, one of the most exciting things to happen here at our observatory over the last year is the construction of the biggest single-antenna radio telescope in Canada and possibly in the world. It consists of four huge metal trough antennas lying on the ground and facing upwards. It is the main part of a project called CHIME — the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment. This project is a partnership between Canadian universities and the National Research Council and is intended to map the beginnings of structure in the early universe. Our ability to put CHIME here, along with radio experiments from other organizations, and of course operate our own radio telescopes is due to our electronically quiet site. Almost all manmade signals, including the interference we as a civilization seem to like making, are immensely stronger than the cosmic radio emissions we study. The fact that we have so far managed to maintain this quiet environment in a world of Wi-Fi, smart phones and all sorts of new electronic devices is due to hard work at the observatory and support by local municipalities and Government Regulators, and of course our understanding neighbours. They constitute the hundreds or thousands of Santas who have given us the best Christmas present of the lot ñ our ability to study the universe from our location in the Okanagan.

At 8:48 p.m. PST on Dec. 21 the Sun reached the most southerly point in its yearly travels — the winter solstice. In the predawn southeastern sky we have four planets: Venus, shining like a searchlight, with Saturn below, fainter and hard to see in the glow. Above Venus is Mars, also faint. Further up, more or less in line with the other planets, lies Jupiter, also very bright. The Moon will reach Last Quarter on the 2nd.

Ken Tapping is an astronomer with the National Research Council’s Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory, Penticton.

 

Just Posted

Wade Cudmore, seen here with his mother Kathy Richardson, had his first court appearance in relation to first degree murder charges in the deaths of Erick and Carlo Fryer Tuesday, June 22, 2021. (Kathy Richardson/Facebook)
Man charged in Naramata double homicide appears in Penticton court

Wade Cudmore appeared for the first time in relation to first degree murder charges

(John Arendt - Black Press)
Penticton wants to give you money to make something fun happen in the city

City launches community grant program to help post-COVID recovery

Penticton mayor John Vassilaki and Minister of Housing David Eby have been battling over the Victory Church shelter and BC Housing projects in the city. (File photos)
Penticton heads to court over homeless shelter as BC Housing audit begins

The city was not satisfied with the response from Minister David Eby regarding the ongoing situation

With high temperatures forecasted for the week and into the next, Interior Health is offering some tips on how to keep yourself safe from heat-related illness. (Pixabay)
Interior Health offers safety tips as temperatures soar

‘Too much heat can be harmful to your health’

The proposed design of the five-storey building on Front Street. (City of Penticton)
5-storeys still too tall for Penticton’s downtown, votes city council

Vote against new development leaves one councillor questioning validity of city’s zoning restrictions

A person stands in a tower on the perimeter of the Number 3 Detention Center in Dabancheng in western China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region on April 23, 2021. Human rights groups and Western nations led by the United States, Britain and Germany accused China of massive crimes against the Uyghur minority and demanded unimpeded access for U.N. experts at a virtual meeting on Wednesday, May 12, 2021 denounced by China as “politically motivated” and based on “lies.” THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Mark Schiefelbein
VIDEO: Trudeau demands truth from China about Uyghurs

PM says Canada has admitted broken Indigenous relationship, unlike China on Uyghurs

CELEBRATING INDIGENOUS PEOPLES DAY
Council members and witnesses from the Hupacasath First Nation, left, and Tseshaht First Nation, right, prepare to raise their respective flags in front of Port Alberni City Hall on Monday, June 21, 2021. The flags will permanently fly as part of the city’s reconciliation work. See more coverage from the flag raising ceremony on page A5. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
Vancouver Island First Nations flags to fly permanently at city hall

Addition of flags are one Port Alberni response to reconciliation

Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran, middle right, participates in a ribbon-cutting ceremony in honour of the launch of Kelowna’s plasma donor centre at Orchard Plaza Mall on June 22. From left to right: Canadian Blood Services’ business development manager Janna Pantella, Canadian Blood Services’ operational excellence manager Tyler Burke, Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran and Canadian Blood Services’ centre manager Janine Johns. (Aaron Hemens/Capital News)
B.C.’s first dedicated plasma donor centre opens in Kelowna

The Kelowna location is the third dedicated plasma donor to open in Canada

Susan Kootnekoff is the founder of Inspire Law, an Okanagan based-law practice, and provides Kelowna Capital News with weekly stories from the world of local, national and international law. (Contributed)
Kootnekoff: Access to justice and residential schools in Canada

Susan Kootnekoff is the founder of Inspire Law, her diverse legal career spans over 20 years

Children walk with their parents to Sherwood Park Elementary in North Vancouver for the first day back to school on Sept. 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Study reassures parents, teachers that COVID-19 infrequently shared at school

Federally funded study in Vancouver finds risk in the classroom and in the community identical

Conservative MP Kevin Waugh rises during Question Period in the House of Commons Tuesday April 13, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Single-game sports betting about to become legal in Canada

Senate passes bill to take sports gambling away from overseas agencies

Point Roberts is part of the mainland United States but not physically connected to it, to reach the community by land one must pass through Canada. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Closed Canadian border leaves Point Roberts’ only grocery store on verge of closure

‘We’re Americans but we’re not attached to America. It’s easy to forget we’re here,’ says owner Ali Hayton

Mayla Janzen and Ashley Hoppichler, with her daughters Lily and Sophia, are bringing a Friday evening market to Polson Park, starting July 2. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
Entrepreneurs craft up Vernon night market

Friday evening Polson Park event to take place throughout the summer

Splatsin Chief Wayne Christian and Tina William lead the Every Child Matters March in Enderby Monday, June 21. (Lyndsey Leon photo)
Hundreds march with Splatsin in Enderby for #215

300 orange-shirt wearing people of all backgrounds turned out in support

Most Read