Ukraine Astronomers Send Putin a Cosmic Message

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July 5 2014 7:30 AM

Putin Their Money Where Their Mouth Is

I may be known for standing up in public and telling people Don’t Be a Dick … but sometimes you have to tell people when they’re being one.

As you can imagine, folks in Ukraine aren’t terribly happy with Russia, especially in the form of its President, Vladimir Putin. I would think having part of your country invaded by Russia and then seeing a suspiciously high (96 percent or more affirmative) voter referendum to join the Russian Federation would make anyone a little sore.

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So some Ukrainian activists decided to exact a small bit of revenge. They adopted a star, listing their name as “Putin-Huilo”.

Putin Huilo
The First Annual Vladimir Putin Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence

Photo from the EuroMaydan Facebook page

Why is this funny? Because the name means, um, well, something not terribly flattering toward Putin. I found a few explanations that should draw you a fairly clear picture.  

I have to admit chuckling over this. I’m no fan of Putin, who seems to pine for the good ol’ days of the USSR. And if I have to choose between him and a group of plucky thumbs-to-their-noses astronomy enthusiasts … well.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

The star they adopted was through the Pale Blue Dot project, run by the White Dwarf Research Corp. This is a nonprofit made up of professional astronomers raising money to do real research in asteroseismology and cosmochronometry, fields that deal with the properties of stars. Their work is solid, and they already funded some research that led to the discovery of the smallest known exoplanet in 2013. If you want, you can adopt a star as well and help support real, important research.

Incidentally, I checked with Travis Metcalfe from White Dwarf, and he confirms the story is legit. The star isn't actually named "Putin-Huilo" of course; this is just a fun and unofficial way for the group to raise funding. I’ll note this is different than some less-then-stellar companies that claim to “sell” stars, which are at best deceptive. Donations to White Dwarf go toward the astronomers so they can continue their research.

Out of curiosity I poked around to find the star. Using the Goddard Space Flight Center SkyView page, I made a nice picture of it:

putin_huilo_star
The star adopted is at the center of this picture; it's too faint to see without a telescope.

Photo by Digitized Sky Survey/SkyView

It’s faint, about magnitude 11.5, so you’d need a decent telescope to see it. The colors here aren’t true; I set them such that infrared light looks red, red light looks green, and blue light looks blue. Given its measured colors, it looks to be similar to the Sun, which is rather interesting. I had to chuckle—compared to the Sun, it’s actually a bit redder. That seems fitting.

As for the Ukrainian astronomers, I wish them the best. I think their star is safe. I’m not sure how far away it is, but if it is like the Sun, it’s about 700 light years distant. That’s too far even for Putin to annex.

Tip o’ the babushka to the fantabulous Iszi Lawrence.

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