Astronomy magazine editors share their unique insight from behind the scenes of the science, hobby, and magazine.
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...
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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...
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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...
1

Darkness and dogs

Posted 10 years ago by Daniel Pendick
From the darkness of Reykjavík, see my report on Iceland's unique riding dogs. See this video here. ...
0

Google’s new Sky

Posted 10 years ago by Francis Reddy
On Wednesday, at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Austin, Texas, Google engineering director Andrew Moore introduced a new version of the company’s Sky application in Google Earth. Of particular interest to me is the inclusion of historical star maps from the ginormous collection of David Rumsey at Cartographic Associates. He’s amassed some 150,000 maps of Earth and sky. Google Earth added the first terrestrial maps November 2006. Now, Google Sky adds historical sky maps dati...
4

A wall-sized M31

Posted 10 years ago by Francis Reddy
I was checking out the exhibitors at this week’s American Astronomical Society meeting in Austin, Texas, and trying hard to avoid information overload. The booth for the Pan-STARRS project stopped me in mid-stride. In fact, I may have actually done a double-take. There, a giant poster of the Andromeda Galaxy (M31) formed the booth’s backdrop. Only this wasn’t a poster. It was an image taken with the 1.4-billion-pixel charge-coupled-device camera on the Pan-STARRS prototype telescope. And&nbs...
2

Red sky lights and rotten shark

Posted 10 years ago by Daniel Pendick
Have you ever seen the road to heaven in the sky? Have you ever eaten a rotten fish and lived to tell about it? Here's what it's like. ...
0

Off to Iceland

Posted 10 years ago by Daniel Pendick
I'm headed off to Iceland for the Northern Lights and Lava Fields Tour. I'll report from the tour, letting you know about the aurorae we see and the sites we visit. See my video here. ...
3

Just a bit outside?

Posted 10 years ago by Anonymous
Update from January 9:  Since our last update, we have received numerous tracking measurements of asteroid 2007 WD5 from four different observatories. These new data have led to a significant reduction in the position uncertainties during the asteroid's close approach to Mars on Jan. 30, 2008. As a result, the impact probability has dropped dramatically, to approximately 0.01% or 1 in 10,000 odds, effectively ruling out the possible collision with Mars.  Astronomers firs...
0

Happy New Year

Posted 10 years ago by Anonymous
For many, a new year brings self-examination and commitment to self-improvement. Sometimes, promises of personal development are kept, but in my experience, they are typically forgotten by spring. Usually, New Year’s resolutions include goals of weight loss, exercise, fiscal responsibility, or quitting a vice. What about observing? Have you dedicated yourself to improvement as a skywatcher in 2008? Whether you are a newbie or know the sky like the back of your hand, there might be an area in...
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Easter egg hunt

Posted 10 years ago by Francis Reddy
Okay, it’s the wrong season, but bear with me.   Easter eggs, at least the software kind, are everywhere — from a hidden menu in a DVD to an obscure demo in an application program. In the software game, some rules apply as to what legitimately can be called an Easter egg. They can’t be documented or obvious, they must be reproducible by any user performing the right combination of actions, and they must be entertaining.   I've gone down this road because — you guessed it — our...
0

What could have been

Posted 10 years ago by Anonymous
With President Bush’s call for a return to the lunar surface, dozens of titles about the Moon have hit bookstores. From the volumes that have crossed my desk, most are nostalgic or historic accounts that showcase the people behind earlier lunar missions. Robert Godwin has assembled one of the more original books from this genre.  The Lunar Exploration Scrapbook: A Pictorial History of Lunar Vehicles (Apogee, 2007) shows readers the designs for rovers, orbiters, and landers destined for the ...
4

Is Orion the Hunter calling you?

Posted 10 years ago by Michael Bakich
Recently, I stood in a foot of snow when the Fahrenheit temperature was barely in the teens. I dressed warmly (or so I thought), but I wasn’t doing anything physical, so the cold was biting at my extremities. Yes, I was observing. As much as I despise cold weather (see, for instance, my blog “The weather gods hate me”), there’s a lot to be said for observing during the winter. When the temperature dips well below freezing, the crunchy snow pack seems to absorb all the atmosphere’s moisture. Not...
0

Bottom of the world

Posted 10 years ago by Francis Reddy
One place I’ve always wanted to visit is Antarctica. It’s a continent seemingly designed for science geeks and natural-history buffs. Here’s a sampling of scientists now scattered across the bleak landscape: Cosmologists tweak the 10-meter South Pole Telescope, just completed last February; geologists study volcanos and drill deep cores beneath the sea; glaciologists camp on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet to study the interconnected rivers and lakes below; and biologists monitor Adelie penguin col...
3

Astronomylogy

Posted 10 years ago by Anonymous
With more than a week left until what many North Americans consider as official start of winter, a nasty winter blast moved through the Midwest yesterday. Thanks to this weather emergency, our office closed, and most employees spent the day shoveling snow. Snowed in, I caught up on web browsing. My search began at Yahoo, where I noticed a prominent listing for the Geminids. How great is that? One of the world’s top search engines devotes a prime spot for an astronomical event. Although avid sky...
3

Seeing the light (or not)

Posted 10 years ago by Anonymous
Today started off as one of those Midwestern winter days where I’d rather go back to bed and start over sometime in spring 2008. Here’s the pre-9 A.M. highlights: a dead car battery, 5 inches of snow to shovel, a broken water heater, an extra 45 minutes added to my commute, and a painful fall on an ice patch. When I finally reached work, I started to sift through my e-mail inbox and came across a fantastic message from Contributing Editor Phil Harrington that allowed me to quickly forget the mo...
0

Eclipse musings

Posted 10 years ago by Michael Bakich
This week, the SciFi Channel is running a miniseries called Tin Man. I haven’t watched it (you can view all three episodes at www.scifi.com), but one of my astronomy friends tells me tonight’s episode features a double solar eclipse — two moons covering the fictional planet’s two suns. This got me thinking about eclipses, both past and future. On August 1, 2008, I’ll be in Novosibirsk, Russia, enjoying 2 minutes 18 seconds of totality. This promises to be a great trip, and I’ll blog about it in...
0

The measure of success

Posted 10 years ago by Francis Reddy
How do you make astrometry fun? Well, you don’t, of course. Astrometry is the precise measurement of the position and motion of astronomical objects. It is not something one takes lightly. It requires skill, exactitude, and lots and lots of math. Nevertheless, the good folks at Astrometry.net are working on automated methods to do astrometry. They envision sharing their creation with … well, with everyone. They may even succeed in making it fun. Here’s the game plan. Take any digital image — ...
1

The right type of light pollution

Posted 10 years ago by Michael Bakich
Not all light passing in front of our beloved stars and deep-sky objects is bad. Sometimes cosmic dust motes enter our atmosphere, super-heat, and create streaks called meteors. And the more, the merrier. When lots of streaks come from the same point in the sky, astronomers call the event a meteor shower. Amateur astronomers observe lots of meteor showers. This type of observing is easy: You don't need any special equipment; it's cheap; it's fun, and, if the sky's clear, it'...
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Extra! Extra! Hobbit solar system discovered!

Posted 10 years ago by Daniel Pendick
They've discovered Earth ... again.  The astronomy blogosphere is abuzz with news of "shrunken versions of our solar system" and "miniature worlds in the making," at least according to the press releases I've been reading. Nobody has called them "Hobbit solar systems" yet, but give them time. Alexander Scholz of the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, and Ray Jayawardhana from the University of Toronto reported discovery of 18 planet-mass objects (...

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