Babe Among the Stars

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Galaxy Babe's column banner, showing a full moon and some little folk looking up at the sky

Mortal as I am, I know that I am born for a day. But when I follow at my pleasure the serried multitude of the stars in their circular course, my feet no longer touch the earth - Ptolemy

Babe Among the Stars 4 Dec 2008

This Babe Among the Stars edition will be on the theme of nine in honour of The Post's 9th birthday.

Nine light years

There is a star in the constellation Sagittarius 'the Archer' which is just over 9 light years distant. It's catalogued V1216 Sagittarii, and the more user-friendly Ross 154. The star itself is classified a red dwarf, but it's no common-as-muck ordinary red dwarf, this one is a UV Ceti-type flare star. That means it varies on the same scale as UV Ceti which is the prototype for this kind of star, brightening in magnitude above its usual +10 for a short time before settling down again. Ross 154 has been the subject of science fiction, no doubt due to its close proximity to Earth, notably by The Night's Dawn Trilogy author Peter F Hamilton.

Andromeda IX

Recently-discovered dwarf spheroidal galaxy Andromeda IX gets its name because it is a satellite of the Andromeda Galaxy, aka M31. The diffuse galaxy is a relative neighbour of ours in cosmological terms, at just 2.9 million light years distant. Andromeda IX is 3,000 light years in diameter, and measuring just +16.2 magnitude gave it the title of 'dimmest galaxy yet found' when it was identified in a survey in May 2004.

Nine Supernovae

We are lucky enough to be able to see the fabulous Fireworks Galaxy (NGC 6946) in Cepheus 'the King' face on. From the beginning of the 20th Century to date, nine supernovae (explosive deaths of stars) have been detected in this galaxy.

Nine Planets and a Nine-headed Monster

From 1930 until 2006 our Solar System boasted nine planets but a debate arose about the status of Pluto, the ninth planet. Before it was downgraded to the category of 'dwarf planet' in 2006, Pluto was known to have one moon, Charon. Two more moons, eventually named Nix and Hydra, were discovered only very recently. In Greek mythology Nix was the goddess of darkness and the night, and mother to Charon, the ferryman of the dead to the underworld, after whom Pluto's main moon is named. The Hydra was a nine-headed monster which has a constellation named after it: Hydra 'the Sea Serpent' is the largest in area of all the 88 internationally-recognised constellations.


M9 (also catalogued NGC 6333) is a globular cluster in the constellation Ophiuchus 'the Serpent Bearer'. Globular clusters are tight balls of ancient stars, all gravitationally bound to each other. M9 was discovered by 'comet ferret' Charles Messier in 1764, who recorded that its stars were of 14th magnitude.

Nine Billion Light Years

The most distant galaxy cluster ever seen is located 9 billion light years1 away. The galaxy cluster was imaged by the Spitzer Space Telescope in March 2006, and the data continues to be analysed at the Keck Observatory. With the Universe believed to be 13.7 billion years old, astrophysicists are hopeful that even this record-breaker can be bettered some day.


NGC 9 is a magnitude +15 peculiar spiral galaxy located millions of light years away in the direction of the constellation Pegasus 'the Winged Horse'. It is classified 'peculiar' because is so distorted; this galaxy is either interacting with its neighbour NGC 8, or it is reforming following a collision with another galaxy many eons ago.

Figure 9-shaped Galaxies

I did try to find some images of galaxies shaped like the figure 9, and I'll leave it up to you to decide whether or not I succeeded: Galaxy Photo Gallery

  • Hyperactive galaxy NGC 7673 is 150 million light years beyond the constellation Pegasus. NGC 7673 is the blue central galaxy; the two other reddish-gold spirals featured are much further distant and not interacting gravitationally, this is a pure fluke line-of-sight alignment from our vantage point with the superimposed NGC 7673 still in early spiral formation.
  • Peculiar galaxy NGC 3256 is actually a pair of galaxies, post collision; this is what astronomers call a 'cosmic trainwreck'. While it's happening over hundreds of millions of years, it can look quite a startling mess, although some engage in something more akin to a cosmic ballet and are quite astonishingly beautiful. The end of the dance is generally the same after gravity has done its job, one massive galaxy, with barely any trace of the prior collision.

December 08 Diary Dates

  • 12 Dec: The December full moon is known as the 'Cold Moon' or the 'Long Nights Moon'
  • 13 Dec: Geminids  meteor shower maximum
  • 19 Dec: Saturn 6° north of the Moon
  • 21 Dec: Winter Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere
  • 22 Dec: Ursids meteor shower maximum
  • 27 Dec: New Moon
  • 27 Dec: Venus 1½° south of Neptune
  • 29 Dec: Mercury 0.7° south of the Moon
  • 29 Dec: Jupiter will be half a degree north of the Moon, but if you are viewing from South Australia then you'll be able to witness an occultation.
  • 31 Dec: Mercury 1.3° south of Jupiter
  • 31 Dec: Venus 3° south of the Moon — and if you have an optical aid see if you can also pinpoint Neptune which will be halfway between Venus and the Moon.

  • Chat about your celestial observances by starting a new conversation below!

Babe Among the Stars Archive

Galaxy Babe

04.12.08 Front Page

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1A light year is the distance light travels in one year, roughly 5.88 trillion miles or 9.46 trillion km.

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