BAS Observer November 2017

2 BAS OBSERVER Club representatives PRESIDENT Peter Allison Ph: 0488 140 755 Email: VICE-PRESIDENT Stephanie Williams SECRETARY Colin Gale TREASURER Subbarao (Siva) Sivakumar GENERAL COMMITTEE MEMBERS Ken Wishaw, Caroline Williams and Syed Uddin ASTRO-IMAGING OFFICER Tony Surma-Hawes CATERING OFFICER Caroline Williams DEEP SKY OFFICER Stephanie Williams EDUCATION OFFICER Peter Allison EQUIPMENT OFFICERS Cheryl-Ann Tan and Ashley Ruaux FUNDRAISING/GRANTS OFFICER Mike Lewis LIBRARIAN Stephanie Williams LUNAR AND PLANETARY OFFICER Stephanie Williams MEMBERSHIP OFFICER Caroline Williams MERCHANDISE/SALES OFFICER Vacant PUBLICITY OFFICER Tony Surma-Hawes WEBMASTER/FACEBOOK ADMIN Ashley Ruaux and Peter Allison NEWSLETTER EDITOR Darryl Nixon Ph: (07) 3219 3839 Email: Layout and design: Sunset Publishing Services Pty Ltd ABN 90 130 679 791 POSTAL ADDRESS PO Box 15892 City East, QLD 4002 WEBSITE EMAIL No material may be reproduced from this publication without the written permission of the Brisbane Astronomical Society Inc. © BAS 2017 Cover image: This image from the Hubble Space Telescope, a composite of exposures taken with visible and infrared cameras, captures star cluster Messier 5 in stunning detail. The image features over 100 000 stars. An artist’s impression of gravitational waves generated by binary neutron stars. ( Image courtesy of R. Hurt/Caltech-JPL ) NOBEL PRIZES IN PHYSICS . . . AND MEDICINE Okay, I know what you’re thinking: ‘Our editor has finally taken leave of his senses. Writing an astronomical newsletter editorial about physics is one thing – but medicine ?’ Read on, however, and all will be revealed. Let’s deal with the Nobel Prize in Physics first. The first direct observation of gravitational waves has been mentioned in these pages before, and I can think of no more deserving winners of a Nobel Prize than the three leading scientists responsible: Kip Thorne, Rainer Weiss and Barry Barish. Gravitational waves were first predicted by Albert Einstein in 1 9 16, but it was not until a century later – and, beginning in the 1960s, 50 years of painstaking research and technological advancement – that the twin detectors of the Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) recorded the first unambiguous signature of a gravitational wave. The date, 14th September, 2015, will surely go down in history as one of the most significant in physics and cosmology. For astronomers, the detection of gravitational waves has opened up a whole field of research. While direct (light-based) observations allow us to look no further back in time than the first 380 000 years of the known Universe’s history , gravitational wave astronomy has no such problem (except for the occasional intervening black hole). As new and even more sensitive gravitational wave detectors come online, we will have the ability to look back to the very origins of the Universe! And so, to the Nobel Prize in Medicine . . . and again, three researchers have been honoured: Dr Jeffrey C. Hall, Dr Michael Rosbash and Dr Michael W. Young. It has been known for centuries that we (and all multicellular organisms) have a ‘biological clock’ that is in synch with the rotation of the Earth – a process known as the circadian rhythm . For humans and other mammals, metabolism, behaviour, hormonal levels, body temperature and sleep patterns are all subject to the circadian rhythm. But while it has been recognised that this rhythm plays an important role in our physical and mental health, the mechanism involved has remained elusive – until now. Through their work on fruit flies, Hall, Rosbash and Young have been able to isolate a gene that encodes a protein that accumulates in our bodies’ cells during the night, only to be degraded during the day. Subsequently, they identified additional protein components of this process, exposing the mechanism governing the self-sustaining clockwork inside the cell. So, when late-night observing has thoroughly disrupted your biological clock, there’s the reason! Darryl Nixon