Astronomy magazine editors share their unique insight from behind the scenes of the science, hobby, and magazine.
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Child's play

Posted 10 years ago by Anonymous
People love to jump on NASA when things aren’t going so hot for the space agency. Do you remember the reaction of some when the Hubble Space Telescope had its early hiccups? This is the same crowd that ignores NASA’s amazing successes, such as the twin rovers on Mars, Stardust catching a comet, Cassini revealing the saturnian system, and years of amazing images from Hubble. Recently, the media picked up a story about a 13-year-old German student who identified a miscalculation in NASA’s estimat...
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See a star die

Posted 10 years ago by Michael Bakich
Today, I wrote a web-news story about a “new star” in the constellation Cygnus the Swan. In a bit of cross-promotion, I’d like to share the information as a blog. Late at night on Thursday, April 10, Japanese amateur astronomers Koichi Nishiyama and Fujio Kabashima discovered a possible nova in the Swan. Astronomers initially catalog such events as variable stars. This one received the label V2491 Cygni. Follow-up observations by other astronomers confirmed the object was a nova. Recent estimat...
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John Archibald Wheeler (1911–2008)

Posted 10 years ago by Francis Reddy
Best known to astronomical trivia buffs as the man who coined the term “black hole,” University of Texas physicist John A. Wheeler died this morning at the age of 96. Wheeler “was legendary for his way with words, coining such terms as wormholes, quantum foam, black holes, and the wave function of the universe,” writes Wheeler’s former student and current University of Chicago physicist Daniel Holz over at Cosmic Variance. Wheeler’s scientific resume extended from quantum mechanics — he collabo...
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007 at Atacama

Posted 10 years ago by Anonymous
Actor Daniel Craig, director Marc Forster, and actor Mathieu Amalric on the Atacama Desert set. Sony Pictures/ESO When astronomy and cinema come together, you may think of the space views presented in 2001: A Space Odyssey and Alien. Astronomy and movies also mix on Earth. Filmmakers use observatories, planetaria, and other astro-facilities in their productions. One of the most popular astronomical locations used is Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles. Griffith played host to angst-ridden Jame...
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All about darkness at noon

Posted 10 years ago by Michael Bakich
The greatest natural occurrence you can witness — bar none — is a total solar eclipse. If one of these spectacular events is in your future, you owe it to yourself to pick up Martin Mobberley’s new book, Total Solar Eclipses and How to Observe Them (Springer, 2007). Mobberley has packed this book with specific information on this topic. This book comprises two sections. Part 1, “Eclipse Mechanisms, Statistics and Tracks,” contains six chapters. Part 2, “Observing and Traveling to Total Solar Ec...
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The Moon joins the Seven Sisters

Posted 10 years ago by Rich Talcott
On Tuesday evening, April 8, you can experience one of the most beautiful events the sky can deliver. Head outside no later than an hour or so after sunset (around 8:30 P.M. local daylight time) and look to the west. Your eyes should land immediately on the slender crescent Moon, oriented with its cusps standing nearly straight up from the horizon. Point your binoculars at the Moon to reveal a stunning sight: the bright Pleiades star cluster (M45) sparkling like a clutch of tiny diamonds ac...
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Must-see TV

Posted 10 years ago by Anonymous
I have something to look forward to on the idiot box.  OK, Battlestar Galactica returns this week with the launch of season four, so two things, actually. The other: PBS will rerun Timothy Ferris’ 60-minute masterpiece on stargazing, Seeing in the Dark, June 11 (check your local listing for times). When the special first ran last November, I didn’t know PBS aired a high-definition broadcast. Imagine, scanning deep-sky images on a crystal-clear, big-screen HDTV. Oops, one problem: I stil...
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Yakking to the Midwest

Posted 10 years ago by Michael Bakich
On Sunday night, Astronomy teamed up with St. Louis radio station KMOX for the first in an ongoing monthly series of informal chats about the night sky, the space program, and other happenings in the universe. The program is “Reality Check,” and its host, Jon Grayson obviously loves astronomy. We had a wide-ranging discussion on a variety of topics. The first item we talked about was the recent space-shuttle mission and its results. Later, we reviewed discoveries made by the Cassini spacecraft...
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Outreach in a digital age

Posted 10 years ago by Anonymous
Outreach programs sustain the hobby of astronomy. Typically, these have been hands-on activities at brick and mortar locations. Dedicated volunteers visit classrooms and hold open houses at venues ranging from observatories to planetaria to nature centers. Old school outreach still thrives, but some groups are popularizing astronomy through new media. Search the Internet and you’ll find dozens of groups that provide general web sites, blogs, podcasts, and videos that introduce web surfers to th...
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Encounters with Arthur C. Clarke

Posted 10 years ago by Francis Reddy
On Saturday, March 22, friends and family bid farewell to science-fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke, who died March 19 at his home in Sri Lanka. Best known for the novel and screenplay 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Clarke wrote fiction that often juxtaposed themes as audacious as humanity’s destiny with prophetic visions of coming technology. Little wonder that his work influenced generations of scientists and engineers. “All of us who have been entertained and inspired by Sir Arthur Clarke's...
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What do I look at next?

Posted 10 years ago by Michael Bakich
In September 2001, I attended the Great Plains Star Party in Scopeville, Kansas. One night, as I was walking across the observing field, a friend called down from the top of his observing ladder. “Hey, Michael, I’ve run out of things to look at. Got any suggestions?” As I looked up, I realized he was using a brand-new 24-inch Starmaster Dobsonian-mounted reflector. He had the telescope, but he didn’t have a plan. Someday, you may find yourself in the same situation. The sky is clear and dark, ...
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You can fool some of the people all of the time ...

Posted 10 years ago by Anonymous
If there is a hoax involving anything in the sky, Astronomy staff members will receive questions about it. Do you remember the “Mars as big as the Full Moon” prank? Lately, I’ve received a few inquiries asking if “moonvertising” is real. This comes from recent billboard and web advertising from the firm Goodby, Silverstein & Partners. This tongue-in-cheek campaign claims Latrobe Brewery Co. will use a ginormous laser to place the Rolling Rock Brewery logo on the next Full Moon. Will you s...
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Arthur C. Clarke (1917–2008)

Posted 10 years ago by David Eicher
Arthur C. Clarke, one of the world’s most renowned science-fiction author, passed away March 19 in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Most people know Clarke from his book, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Beyond its literary value, his work greatly influenced public interest in space exploration during the 1950s and '60s. Recently, Clarke was excited about what he viewed as a golden age of space travel: the birth of commercial space flight. It is unfortunate he passed away before he could see ordinary folks — like...
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Visit an astro-software goldmine

Posted 10 years ago by Francis Reddy
There’s no better place to find astronomy related software than the web archive created by Astro Events Group of Ostend, Belgium. “Our compilation will actually never be complete,” says Patrick Jaecques, a member of the group. “We have updates about every week. It’s also the only part of our Dutch web site that is translated into French, German and English.” There you’ll find hundreds of programs for a wide variety of computing environments, including Java, Pocket PC, Palm, and — the usual susp...
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Stars that shoot and fall

Posted 10 years ago by Michael Bakich
In previous blogs, I’ve written about my love for meteorites, including my trip to the Center for Meteorite Studies at Arizona State University. I also have a small but enjoyable meteorite collection. As an observational astronomer, I enjoy viewng meteor showers. A recently published book combines these interests and adds a lot more. Meteors and Meteorites: Origins and Observations by Martin Beech (The Crowood Press, 2006) begins in space with Chapter 1, “The Particulate Sea.” Beech’s writing s...
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Space hardware, the name game, and famous dead white guys

Posted 10 years ago by Daniel Pendick
As NASA engineers prepare the gamma-ray observatory GLAST for launch in mid-2008, the agency has put out a call for help from the public: Please think of a better name for the high-tech space telescope. “Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope” aptly describes the satellite’s function, but doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue. “We’re looking for name suggestions that will capture the excitement of GLAST’s mission and call attention to gamma-ray and high-energy astronomy,” according to S. Alan Stern...
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In need of some respect

Posted 10 years ago by Rich Talcott
It seems to me that Saturn’s moon Rhea is a leading candidate for Rodney Dangerfield of the solar system. I tell you, it doesn’t get much respect. Even in the Saturn system, where Rhea is the second-largest moon, it ranks pretty low. You hear about Titan, with its thick atmosphere and methane lakes. Enceladus is known for its liquid-water geysers and Iapetus for its strange black and white hemispheres. Even tiny Mimas, with its cute “Death Star” crater, gets more ink than Rhea. Maybe all R...
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Out-of-this-world HDTV

Posted 10 years ago by Rich Talcott
On November 7, Japan’s SELENE spacecraft captured this high-definition image of Earth rising over the Moon’s north pole. JAXA/NHK If prime-time television, National Geographic specials, and sports programming don’t get you pumped for seeing TV at the highest-possible resolution, then what else is there? Television may not be the “vast wasteland” it once was claimed to be, but you could make a good case that seeing incredible detail in TV’s moving images isn’t worth the exorbitant cost. Check tha...
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Not seeing the light

Posted 10 years ago by Anonymous
One of the most flattering tribute you can pay to an invention is, “Why didn’t I think of that?” It comes close to a backhanded compliment, but the praise acknowledges the practicality, efficiency, and solution provided. I recently tested a product that provided that slap-in-the-forehead moment. Manufacturer i-Cuffs has created eyecups specifically for binoculars and telescopes. Eyecups are nothing new to optics, but these stand out. I took two i-Cuffs and my Oberwerk 10x50 binoculars to an o...
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Light, mirrors, gravity!

Posted 10 years ago by Francis Reddy
Yesterday’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel ran a nice summary of efforts by the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee to detect gravitational waves. The article focuses on NEMO, the $1.8 million, 1,560 CPU, Beowulf-class computing cluster built and operated by the school’s gravitational-wave group. (Ah, I love that kind of talk.) NEMO was commissioned in 2006. Since then, it’s been chugging through data produced by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatories (LIGO) in Hanford, Washingto...
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Skygazers go into the wild

Posted 10 years ago by Anonymous
What’s your idea of roughing it? Staying in a 5-star hotel and NOT ordering room service? Or climbing inside a dead camel’s carcass to stay warm, like Bear Grylls of Discovery Channel’s “Man vs. Wild”?If you lean closer to Grylls’ side and are into the night sky, I have your next vacation plan. Boulder Outdoor Survival School (BOSS) offers a low-tech, back-country hiking experience with its “7-Day Desert Astronomer” course. In late May 2008, students will hike through the wilderness of south-cen...
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Titan: The solar system’s gas tank. Hummer drivers, God loves you

Posted 10 years ago by Daniel Pendick
This just in from the hydrocarbon desk at Astronomy.com: Titan’s surface lakes and methane-ice-laden dune seas collectively hold hundreds of times Earth’s bounty of hydrocarbons (oil and gas). It’s a Texas oilman’s dream: hydrocarbons rain from the sky on Titan. To my mind, this could solve a lot of problems. Planetary scientists have been competing with NASA’s fantastically expensive manned space program for decades. Word on the aerospace street is that the critically important sample-return m...
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CNET looks at the WorldWide Telescope

Posted 10 years ago by Anonymous
Last week, Senior Editor Francis Reddy wrote about his experience with Microsoft’s WorldWide Telescope (WWT) at the American Astronomical Society’s January meeting. Reddy summed up this introduction to Microsoft’s latest innovation as such: Imagine terabytes of astronomical imagery, ranging across the spectrum from radio waves to X-rays, seamlessly integrated and available in an easy-to-use interface. Pan left, right, up, down. Zoom in, merge different wavelengths, zoom some more — zoom down...
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Uncentering the Earth

Posted 10 years ago by Anonymous
In the past few years, various publishers have released several titles on or related to Copernicus. Two that stand out for me are Dennis Danielson’s The First Copernican and Jack Repcheck’s Copernicus’ Secret. I interviewed both authors about their books. You can listen to my Danielson interview here and my interview with Repcheck here. One book that I overlooked until recently is Uncentering the Earth by William T. Vollmann (released in paperback last year). This book is a member of Norton’s “...
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The wonderful world of meteorites

Posted 10 years ago by Michael Bakich
Last month, I had the opportunity to visit the Center for Meteorite Studies (CMS) on the Arizona State University campus in Tempe, Arizona. Oh, my! I was there with Astronomy contributing editor Ray Shubinski who will be writing a story about the CMS for the magazine. Our host, CMS director Meenakshi Wadhwa gave us an in-depth tour of the Center’s facilities and collections. For two old-time meteorite hounds like Ray and myself, being in the “vault” at the CMS was akin to being behind the scen...
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A leap of faith

Posted 10 years ago by Rich Talcott
“Slow down, you move too fast.” Paul Simon wrote those lyrics to open “The 59th Street Bridge Song,” from Simon and Garfunkel’s classic 1966 album Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme. As the title suggests, Simon was referring to what New Yorkers’ know better as the Queensboro Bridge. But he could just as easily have been feelin’ groovy about how our calendar runs faster than Earth’s revolution around the Sun. Today — February 29 — marks the day we slow down the calendar so it can keep pace wit...
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The Internet as a telescope

Posted 10 years ago by Francis Reddy
Until now, I couldn’t tell you about one exhibit I saw at January’s American Astronomical Society (AAS) meeting. The embargo lifted yesterday, when Microsoft announced its WorldWide Telescope project at the TED2008 conference in Monterey, California. Imagine terabytes of astronomical imagery, ranging across the spectrum from radio waves to X-rays, seamlessly integrated and available in an easy-to-use interface. Pan left, right, up, down. Zoom in, merge different wavelengths, zoom some more — z...
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What can mom serve us now?

Posted 10 years ago by Anonymous
Before the International Astronomical Union’s (IAU) 2006 demotion of Pluto, many schoolchildren remembered the solar system’s planetary progression with mnemonics, including “My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas.” Following the IAU’s solar system tweaks, kids need a new memory aid. Recently, National Geographic Children’s Books held a contest asking children to submit their new mnemonic. This inclusive contest asked kids to list dwarf-planets Ceres, Pluto, and Eris in the progress...
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Terminate with extreme prejudice

Posted 10 years ago by Anonymous
A Delta II rocket carrying satellite USA-193 takes off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, December 14, 2006.  USAF Tonight, the United States Navy may make its first attempt to shoot down failing spy satellite USA-193. The Pentagon released notification, but conditions must be ideal for the rocket launch. Without planned removal, the satellite would come back down in early March. The satellite, which failed immediately after its December 2006 launch, contains a full tank of f...
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Really-dark-sky observing

Posted 10 years ago by David Eicher
Last week, I traveled to Tucson, Arizona to produce several stories for Astronomy magazine, which you’ll see in upcoming issues. I was privileged to travel with my colleague, Senior Editor Michael Bakich, and his wife Holley, both seasoned sky observers. After our exploration of the meteorite scene at the annual Tucson Gem and Mineral Show (see previous blog), we made our way down to Portal, Arizona, a 2½-hour drive from Tucson, for some dark-sky observing. Tucked beside the Chiricahua Mountai...

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