Astronomy magazine editors share their unique insight from behind the scenes of the science, hobby, and magazine.
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...
0

How much wood would a woodchuck chuck?

Posted 10 years ago by Rich Talcott
Among life’s many mysteries, the answer to the question above has to rank pretty low. Higher on my list: Why are woodchucks also called groundhogs? After all, wood and ground are hardly synonymous, and a “chuck” has nothing to do with a “hog.” But the biggest question about woodchucks and groundhogs has to be why these furry rodents became associated with weather forecasting. Tomorrow is Groundhog Day, and tradition holds that if the groundhog sticks his head out of his burrow and sees his shad...
2

Sorry, Mr. Bowie, there's still no life on Mars

Posted 10 years ago by Anonymous
In 1967, Roger Patterson and Robert Gimlin captured the famous footage of what many cryptozooligists and kooks believe is Bigfoot. Perhaps sick of urban sprawl, the Patterson-Gimin Sasquatch relocated to the Red Planet. In a panoramic image captured by the Mars Exploration Rover Spirit in November 2007, a Bigfoot-like figure appears among the surface formations. The Internet grabbed hold of this photo around the beginning of 2008, and bloggers have been nuts over it. For some, this proves life ...
2

Enjoy some constellation trivia (part 2)

Posted 10 years ago by Michael Bakich
In my last blog post, I presented a 25-question constellation trivia quiz. Here are the answers. 1) Serpens occupies two regions of sky. Ophiuchus the Serpent-bearer separates Serpens.2) Unlike the Southern Cross, whose long axis points to the South Celestial Pole, the “False Cross” gives only bad directions. Two of its stars come from Carina (Iota and Epsilon) and Vela (Delta and Kappa).3) Before astronomers formalized the constellation boundaries in 1928 both Taurus and Auriga lay claim ...
4

Annihilation from space: the video

Posted 10 years ago by Daniel Pendick
Duck! There’s another near-Earth asteroid coming! You may have noted the media reports this week about the asteroid 2007 TU24, which makes a close pass by our home planet next Tuesday (January 29). But don’t worry too much, because I mean “close” in astronomical terms, which in this case is 1.4 lunar distances (334,000 miles). Or perhaps a friend of yours forwarded a goofball hoax e-mail to you about the government conspiracy (only one?) to hide the fact that OH! MY! G...
1

Setting our sights on Mercury (part 6)

Posted 10 years ago by Rich Talcott
On January 14, NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft flew past Mercury. MESSENGER — short for MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging — made the first close-up observations of the innermost planet in 33 years. This flyby marked the first of three encounters with the planet, providing gravity assists necessary to place the probe in orbit around Mercury in March 2011. January 25, 2008 As Mercury fades in the distance, MESSENGER continues along its predetermined path. The innermost pl...
0

Hollywood Science

Posted 10 years ago by Anonymous
I interviewed physicist Sidney Perkowitz about his book Hollywood Science. This publication looks at more than 100 films throughout cinematic history that have covered scientific topics. Columbia University Press, the publisher, sums up the book as: Sidney Perkowitz questions how much faith we can put into Hollywood’s depiction of scientists and their work; how accurately these films capture scientific fact and theory; whether cataclysms like our collision with a comet can actually happen; and ...
0

Enjoy some constellation trivia (part 1)

Posted 10 years ago by Michael Bakich
In the past 8 months, I’ve given a talk titled “How the Constellations Came to Be” three times. At the end of the talk, I give a few bits of trivia related to the constellations. I thought it might be fun to expand on those bits and made them into a blog quiz. Don’t worry, it’s self-graded. Because you’re reading this blog on a computer screen, you have the Internet at your disposal. Humor me, though, and take a crack at these questions without the help of cyberspace. I’ll provide the answers i...
2

Setting our sights on Mercury (part 5)

Posted 10 years ago by Rich Talcott
On January 14, NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft flew past Mercury. MESSENGER — short for MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging — made the first close-up observations of the innermost planet in 33 years. This flyby marked the first of three encounters with the planet, providing gravity assists necessary to place the probe in orbit around Mercury in March 2011. January 17, 2008 Less than a week ago, terra incognita — Latin for “unknown territory” — aptly described mo...
2

Setting our sights on Mercury (part 4)

Posted 10 years ago by Rich Talcott
On January 14, NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft flew past Mercury. MESSENGER — short for MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging made the first close-up observations of the innermost planet in 33 years. This flyby marked the first of three encounters with the planet, providing gravity assists necessary to place the probe in orbit around Mercury in March 2011. January 16, 2008 The first close-up images of Mercury have made their way to Earth from the MESSENGER spacecraft, and...
0

Setting our sights on Mercury (part 3)

Posted 10 years ago by Rich Talcott
On January 14, NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft flew past Mercury. MESSENGER — short for MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging — made the first close-up observations of the innermost planet in 33 years. This flyby marked the first of three encounters with the planet, providing gravity assists necessary to place the probe in orbit around Mercury in March 2011. January 15, 2008 It’s okay to exhale. Everyone involved with the MESSENGER flyby breathed a sigh of relief yesterday ...
0

NASA and NASCAR

Posted 10 years ago by Anonymous
Astronaut Andrew Feustel was at the Daytona International Speeedway in Florida last week for the kickoff of NASCAR’s 2008 season. NASA and the racing league are both celebrating 50th milestones: the space agency’s anniversary and the running of the Daytona 500. The astronaut toured the pits and garages and met some drivers. Feustel also drove a few laps in a stock car, reaching 100 mph. That’s fast, but on his August 2008 shuttle flight, Feustel will travel about 175 times faster.  On th...
0

Cabinet of (astronomical) curiosities

Posted 10 years ago by Michael Bakich
If you’re a fan of strange tales, curious quests, and questionable observations, you’ll enjoy Richard Baum’s The Haunted Observatory (Prometheus Books, 2007). As an astronomy trivia buff, I found a lot to keep me reading. In his first chapter, “A World Rumored Beyond,” Baum examines one of astronomy’s great mathematical detective stories: the prediction and subsequent discovery of Neptune. Baum is an accomplished writer who knows how to weave a tale. Although I’m familiar with this historical e...
0

Setting our sights on Mercury (part 2)

Posted 10 years ago by Rich Talcott
On January 14, NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft flies past Mercury. MESSENGER — short for MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging — will be making the first close-up observations of the innermost planet in 33 years. This flyby marks the first of three encounters with the planet, providing gravity assists necessary to place the probe in orbit around Mercury in March 2011. January 14, 2008 This afternoon, NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft will skim just 125 miles (200 km) above Mercur...
1

Setting our sights on Mercury (part 1)

Posted 10 years ago by Rich Talcott
On January 14, NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft will fly past Mercury. MESSENGER — short for MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging — will be making the first close-up observations of the innermost planet in 33 years. This flyby marks the first of three encounters with the planet, providing gravity assists necessary to place the probe in orbit around Mercury in March 2011. January 11, 2008 This morning, NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft closed to within a million miles (1.6 million...
1

A black hole named Edd

Posted 10 years ago by Francis Reddy
One of the pleasures of attending American Astronomical Society meetings is strolling through a sea of poster papers. A poster paper is exactly what it sounds like — it’s an oversized page that summarizes the results of a single study. Now and then, you spot displays where the science comes mixed with whimsy. Such is the case with “Discovery and Interpretation of an X-ray Period in the Galactic Center Source CXOGC J174536–2856,” a study led by Valerie Mikles at the University of Florida. The p...

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