Astronomy magazine editors share their unique insight from behind the scenes of the science, hobby, and magazine.
2

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, ...
3

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...
2

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...
3

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...
0

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...
1

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...
1

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...
0

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...
0

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...
5

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...
2

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...
1

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...
0

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...
0

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 “...
0

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...
1

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...
3

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...
0

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...
4

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...
1

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...
0

Fallen stars in Tucson

Posted 10 years ago by David Eicher
A piece of the rock that struck Earth 50,000 years ago, creating the Barringer Meteor Crater, this 235.4-gram iron is a classic for all meteorite collections. The meteorite was recognized in 1891; it is an iron octahedrite, coarse (IA). The main mass was vaporized, and about 30 tons have been found. David J. Eicher Last week, I spent several days in Tucson, Arizona, and the surrounding area. Not only was it a welcome relief from the near-constant snow and frigid temperatures of Milwaukee,...
1

I am woman, watch me observe

Posted 10 years ago by Michael Bakich
Those of you who have followed my blogging know that I’m crazy about old astronomy books. My personal fetish is first-edition, 19th-century books in English. But within my library, my favorite subcollection is astronomy books written by 19th-century women. Women astronomers and science writers of this period were pioneers, and titles by them are uncommon. One of the women represented in my collection is American astronomer Maria Mitchell (1818–1889). Now a new book by Renée Bergland, Maria Mitc...
2

Keeping time

Posted 10 years ago by Anonymous
This morning, I was looking through images of the current shuttle mission on NASA’s site. I came across the photograph posted to the right.  In it, STS-122 Commander Steven Frick is writing on a tablet in front of a control panel.  I’m a gadget freak, so although the operations portion of the image is beyond my comprehension, I noticed what adorns Frick’s wrist: a Yes Watch. For me, this is cooler than noticing a “Roman centurion” wearing a wristwatch in a movie. If you don’t know wha...
0

Jumper

Posted 10 years ago by Anonymous
Have you seen the trailers for the film Jumper? It releases nationwide tomorrow and stars Hayden Christensen (best known for his portrayal of Anakin Skywalker in the Stars Wars series) as David Rice, a man who learns he can use wormholes to jump through the space-time fabric and teleport himself around the world. The film also features Samuel L. Jackson, Rachel Bilson, and Jamie Bell. From what I can tell, there is plenty of action in this movie. What about the science in the sci-fi? Teleportat...
0

Explore the sky through classic glass

Posted 10 years ago by Michael Bakich
I love old telescopes. Unfortunately, there aren’t many left you can observe through. Luckily, you can find a great one at Chabot Space & Science Center in Oakland, California. This year, Chabot’s 8-inch refractor, made by the famous telescope manufacturing firm of Alvan Clark and Sons, marks its 125th birthday. In 1883, Anthony Chabot, a wealthy hydrologist, purchased the telescope and donated it to the people of Oakland. The telescope originally resided in an observatory in downtown Oakl...
3

Winter Star Party (Day 3)

Posted 10 years ago by Anonymous
Location, location, location. This maxim isn’t only reserved for real estate, but also holds true for vendors at star parties. This year, Astronomy holds another great position at the Winter Star Party (WSP). Best of all, right next door is Tele Vue’s booth, commanded by the company's founder, Al Nagler.For amateur astronomers, the name “Nagler” is synonymous with “high- quality optics.” Nagler’s latest masterpiece, the Ethos, has been the rage among those who visited the Tele Vue tent.An un...
1

Winter Star Party 2008 (Day 2)

Posted 10 years ago by Anonymous
The Southern Cross Astronomical Society is the gracious host of the Winter Star Party (WSP). Many folks you run into at the WSP come from this group or another of the several astro communities throughout Florida. However, participants aren't limited to the Sunshine State. Walking through the camping grounds, you find flags celebrating astronomy groups from California to Connecticut. Among the parked cars, license plates range from Quebec to Texas. The folks who stopped by our table includ...
1

Winter Star Party 2008 (Day 1)

Posted 10 years ago by Anonymous
Yesterday, I left Wisconsin and the promise of 10 inches of snow for the Florida Keys and the promise of sunny skies, 78°, and the Winter Star Party (WSP). After landing in Ft. Lauderdale, I trekked down state highway 1 for several hours to West Summerland Key and the WSP site. For the entire trip, the sky was filled with fluffy whiteness. Fortunately for WSP attendees, the clouds parted and the richness of the clear sky glowed overhead. I’m off to wander the scope field. Check back later to r...
0

Extreme Weather

Posted 10 years ago by Anonymous
I’m happy to see January leave. This absurd month brought spring-like temperatures, a –30° F wind chill, fog as thick as pea soup, various ice and snow storms, and a tornado. When a twister forms in Wisconsin during January, that’s a bizarre weather month — even by Midwest standards. But, my complaining aside, this isn’t the most intense weather by a long shot. Hopefully, you haven’t rolled your eyes, thinking, “Great, someone dull enough to talk about weather AGAIN.” The great Hoosier humorist...
1

Plan out your observing year

Posted 10 years ago by Michael Bakich
Pick any date in 2008. Astronomy magazine highlights the coming year’s main celestial events in its December issue. And, each month, we detail what’s happening in the sky. But what if you’re an astronomy buff who wants a night-by-night guide to sky events? Judging by the book on my desk, you’re in luck. Ohio amateur astronomer Tammy Plotner’s new book, The Night Sky Companion: A Yearly Guide to Sky-Watching 2008-2009 (Springer, 2007), is a 669-page treasure of celestial events, historical astro...

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