What is the Age of Kapteyn’s Star?

Question: I’m interested in Kapteyn’s Star. July 2014 popular news reports about the discovery of Kapteyn b & c mentioned an age for the system of 11.5 GY. However, the EU exoplanet database lists an age of 8 GY. (For some reason, it also lists a few stars with ages older than 13.8 GY.) Can you provide a definitive age? Kotoneva’s quite thorough 2005 study of the star did not provide an age; the authors did use a 10 GY estimate for temperature purposes.  My guess is that the EU had an old list of stellar characteristics, and when someone finds a planet, they tack the new planet info onto the old star info. Did something happen to change the dating of Kapteyn?  Thanks for your help.  – Andrew

Answer: I am not sure what database the “EU exoplanet database” is, but I have reviewed a recent analysis by Anglada-Escude etal. (2014) which includes a nice description of the limitations associated with determining the age of Kapteyn’s Star.  Anglada-Escude etal. (2014) list the age as greater than 10.0 GY, but less than 13.8 GY (the upper limit set by the current value for the age of the universe).  I believe that this is the best current estimate for the age of Kapteyn’s Star.

Jeff Mangum

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Astronomer Career Interview

Question: Sorry for disturbing. I have to make an interview with an astronomer for my school project. You have already answered these questions 2 years ago but questions have to be asked by me. I asked the same questions again sorry for that and also sorry for grammar mistakes. Thank you.  – Selin

Q:What is your name ?
A: Jeff Mangum

Q: What is your job title?
A: Scientist

Q: What is your upcoming salary?
A: In general, astronomers are not paid extremely well, but well-enough to “get by”…

Q: How many years it took you to finish your university [education]?
A: I was an undergraduate in astronomy at the University of California at Berkeley for 4 years, which was followed by 5 years of graduate study at the University of Virginia.

Q: Do you like or dislike your job?
A: Like most astronomers, I do like my job.  What is there not to like about trying to figure out how the universe works every day!

Q: Was it hard to get your job?
A: Permanent jobs in astronomy are rather difficult to obtain.  It can sometimes take several years to “land” a permanent position.

Q: What university did you study in?
A: As I mentioned above, I was an undergraduate at the University of California at Berkeley and a graduate student at the University of Virginia.

Q: How many years you have been working on this job?
A: I have been on the Scientific Staff at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory for 20 years.

Q: Do you enjoy your job? Why?
A: Absolutely!  I have a fair amount of freedom to work on a wide-variety of interesting problems.

Q: How many hours do you spend working?
A: Most scientists spend quite long hours doing their work and research.  My typical week can consume up to 60 or more hours at work.

Q: When do you have free time?
A: Mostly on weekends and holidays, like most people.


Jeff Mangum

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Advanced Deep Space Communications Methods

Question: I am seeking recommendations for learning about advanced deep space communication methods. I visited several libraries and found little about how we presently and are preparing for the future of super fast and high speed communication approaches, including encryption, packet integrity, theories on limits and methods, and organizations now involved in developing the technologies.  Please help. Thanks so much.  – Lyndon

Answer: Although it is now a bit dated, the proceedings from a conference on Advanced Methods for Satellite and Deep Space Communications from 1992 might have some useful information on this subject.  Also, the book Satellite Communication Engineering (second edition) might be of use.  These two references are about all I could find on this subject.  Hope this helps.

Jeff Mangum

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What Does an Astronomer Do?

Question: What exactly does an astronomer do? I am 14 and I am planning to become a research astronomer. I would like to know what a research astronomer does… like what does an astronomer trying to find out more about the Big Bang do? Also, how do you know what to do when you first start your job at a University… do a boss or colleagues tell you what to do? Finally, I would like to know some of the most famous Universities for astronomy. Thank you!  – Bethany

Answer: You should check out my Careers in Astronomy page for questions on just this subject that have been answered in the past.  In summary, astronomers are basically physicists that study how the universe works.  Observational astronomers use telescopes to study the properties of things like the Big Bang and interpret those observations, using their knowledge of physics, to help us further understand the properties and evolution of the Big Bang.  Astronomers who specialize in theory use the laws of physics to derived a theoretical understanding of things like the Big Bang which explains it properties and evolution using observations to constrain their theories.  Most astronomers learn “the ropes”, or how to be astronomers, when they are working on their PhD while in graduate school from their research advisor and other faculty and colleagues.  Finally, as for the most “famous” universities for astronomy, there are many.  Different universities with astronomy programs specialize in a wide variety of research areas.  For graduate study one generally chooses a school based on your specific research interests.

Jeff Mangum

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How Far Can a Space Probe Go Before We Lose Contact With It?

Question: Hi, my name is Connor. I’m six years old. I’m doing this for my science fair project. I’m in kindergarten. How far can a probe go before we lose contact with it?

Answer: The only limitation to how far a space probe can travel away from the Earth and still be contacted is its ability to transmit signals to or receive signals from Earth.  For example, the Voyager 1 spacecraft is a little over 2×10^(10) km, or 130 astronomical units, from the Earth and we still receive signals from it.  Eventually we will lose contact with Voyager 1 when its instruments run out of energy to send signals to Earth.

Jeff Mangum

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Did the Big Bang Happen in a Pre-Existing Universe?

Question: Is it possible that the big bang occurred in a pre-existing universe? if not, how do we know?  – Gary

Answer: I think that the best evidence to support the fact that the Big Bang happened in this universe is the fact that we see evidence for its existence in our universe.  There really isn’t any reason to invoke the existence of another universe to explain the Big Bang.

Jeff Mangum

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Could the Accelerating Expansion of the Universe be due to a Pulling Force?

Question: Isn’t it possible that the answer to the increasing speed of the expansion of the Universe is that it is being pulled apart not being pushed apart? If the “unknown” Universe was trillions of light years of dark energy and when the “singularity” appeared, it would have exploded, for lack of a better term, inflation would have occurred, then as gravity was created, the expansion would have slowed down but as the years have gone by the power of all that dark energy, as thin as it is, will eventually overcome the gravity contained in the “known” Universe and pull it into oblivion.  – Philip

Answer: To suggest that the accelerating expansion of the universe is caused by a “pulling” force rather than a “pushing” force would require identifying the source of the “pulling”.  Dark energy is theorized to be a component of the known universe that we had not originally appreciated.  If one wants to incorporate an external force, then one needs to identify from where this force came, which is the difficult part.

Jeff Mangum

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What if the Moon Moved Randomly in its Orbit?

Question: What will happen if the moon moves randomly?  — Ahmed

Answer: Since the Earth’s Moon is an important gravitational influence on the Earth, we would certainly notice if it started to move randomly.  The most noticeable effect of random lunar motion would be unpredictable ocean tides.

Jeff Mangum

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Are UFO’s Real?

Question: What is your opion of UFO’s  observed from ground surface and those observed from space stations and shuttle flights?  I have heard the there is a “Coloney” on the side of the moon we never seen.  Your opinion?  – Kevin

Answer: The fact is that there has never been a confirmed sighting of a UFO that has also been confirmed as evidence of an extraterrestrial presence.  Conspiracy theories are usually based on little or no hard evidence, and are often simply designed to entertain.

Jeff Mangum

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How Difficult is it to get a Job as an Astronomer?

Question: Hi, I am a freshman and I am wondering if it’s hard to get a job as an astronomer because I love everything about space and I am very curious, but I need to know if I will be able to find work?  – Anthony

Answer: Most people who pursue careers in astronomy are able to use the skills they learn in physics, technology, and math in careers in astronomy and related fields.  You might want to look over the careers in astronomy section of this blog for further information on what a career as an astronomer is like.

Jeff Mangum

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