Distant gravitational wave event gets noticed

Local UTRGV astronomer Richard Camuccio enthralled students in Ashley Saenz’s after-school astronomy club last week as he shared data and information about one of the most powerful gamma-ray burst explosions ever recorded, Gamma-Ray Burst GRB221009A. This record-shattering event, which was first detected on October 9, 2022 by orbiting X-ray and gamma-ray telescopes, occurred 2.4 billion light-years from Earth and was likely triggered by a supernova explosion giving birth to a black hole. There is a great deal of excitement about detecting this event because little is understood about them, and of course, inquiring people want to know. Teens who are totally excited about science were bombarding Camuccio with astute probing questions not usually seen in a regular classroom.

Astronomers are no longer glued to the gigantic telescope in a remote observatory somewhere. The UTRGV program exploring space using LiGo and gravitational wave studies has been providing important support to cutting-edge science internationally for many years under the guidance of Mario Diaz, PhD, who has headed the Physics & Astronomy program for many productive years.

October is winding down; I am sure you are noticing evidence of this in the lengths of the shadows cast by yourself as you walk out the door to head to work each day. The sun may not be shining directly in your eyes now as you drive the east/west streets and highways because our star is slowly edging along the horizon as it appears to rise and set. The sun is appearing a few degrees south of east as it rises and a few degrees south of west as it sets, meaning a lower arc across the sky and also lower at its zenith at midday. If we lived close to the Arctic circle, we would lose sight of the sun entirely within a few more weeks for many months. Conversely if we were in Antarctica the sun would not set for weeks.

Have you managed to glimpse one of the stray Orionid or Taurid meteors this week? Ambient light from almost everywhere seriously diminishes our opportunities for really enjoying meteor showers. But it is possible to catch a glimpse once in a while. Do make some opportunities to spot one. The probability of glimpsing a fireball increases during meteor showers, so don’t be discouraged. I remember driving home up McAllen Road one night and waiting at a stop light a beautiful blue-green fireball streaked across the southern sky just above the tree line as I looked out the windshield waiting for the green light.

Between due east and northeast and high in the sky you may be in a dark enough site to see the W of Cassiopeia. To her lower right are the stars coming off the Great Square of Pegasus that are part of her daughter Andromeda. Adjacent to Andromeda is Perseus who is coming to rescue her. So what?

Well, there is a particular star in Perseus named Algol that draws excitement from dedicated sky watchers because of its behavior. Algol, also called the demon star, changes its brightness every 68 hours and 46 minutes and it is a triple star. That’s what. Surprise. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z4Mkr7c-bHU If you look at this video and wonder about Pickering, HIS report was based on detailed work by Henrietta Swan Leavitt who dedicated her life to studying variable stars. https://www.aavso.org/henrietta-leavitt-%E2%80%93-celebrating-forgotten-astronomer. Pickering was the director of the Harvard University Observatory. Ms. Leavitt was one of the women “computers” hired to count specks on glass plates for a pitiful wage, just because they loved learning more about the stars, and they were considered “less” worthy of a man’s wage at that time. What marvelous they did. You might enjoy reading about their discoveries in Dava Sobel’s book The Glass Universe.