Astronomy magazine editors share their unique insight from behind the scenes of the science, hobby, and magazine.
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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...
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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 ...
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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...
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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...
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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...
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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...
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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...
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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 — ...
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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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Space: the vinyl frontier

Posted 10 years ago by Anonymous
In my spare time, I collect vinyl albums. My collection mostly includes 45s and LPs from rock's early days and formative years. In my digging through stacks, I've found a few gems, but never a rarity that would compel a collector to sign for a second mortgage. Although it isn't listed in most catalogs, I know where you can find the Holy Grail — or Grails — of record collectors. You'll have to go beyond eBay for these records. These gems are placed aboard Voyager 1 and 2. If yo...
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After the turkey is gone

Posted 10 years ago by Michael Bakich
Happy Thanksgiving! Many of us will take this holiday as an opportunity to reunite with family and friends. We'll cook, enjoy a variety of food, nap, and watch our favorite football teams. Ok, then what? I have a suggestion. If it's clear, pull out your telescope. Better yet, have it already set up and ready to go. If you're like me, you won't be helping out much in the kitchen. Not that I don't want to, mind you. My talent just happens to lie in other directions. If you ha...
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Happy birthday, William Herschel

Posted 10 years ago by Anonymous
Today marks the birth of 18th-century astronomer Frederick William Herschel. Born November 15, 1738, Herschel made many discoveries during his lifetime. Most notable among his contributions to astronomy include determining the shape of the Milky Way, determining the rotation period of Saturn's rings, and sketching changes in Jupiter's atmosphere. Discoveries Mars and Jupiter show axial rotation Planet Uranus (1781) Uranus's two largest moons, Titania and Oberon (1787) T...
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And the winner is ...

Posted 10 years ago by Daniel Pendick
I am devastated. Our blog didn't win the 2007 Weblog Award for best science blog! The competition was pretty fierce. And the other bloggers blog every day, and post lots and lots of pictures and hot links. Show offs! There were 4,000 nominations in 49 categories. Voting for the 2007 Weblog Awards began in October 2007. The winners received their awards at the Blogworld and New Media Expo in Las Vegas November 9. Of interest to sky fans, the winners for best science blog of 2007 ...
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Touring the Moon on DVD

Posted 10 years ago by Anonymous
It's amazing that Tom Hanks has evolved from Bosom Buddies' Kip to an Academy Award-winning actor and a leading proponent of World War II veterans and space exploration. Recently, Hanks reprised his role as a space ambassador by narrating the IMAX film Magnificent Desolation — Walking on the Moon. Unfortunately, you'll be hard-pressed to find the production on an IMAX screen now. Released on November 6, you can now view the movie from the comfort of your home. The film gives a ...
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The four greatest astronomy books

Posted 10 years ago by Michael Bakich
If you've followed my blogging, you know I love books. On Friday, November 2, I visited Linda Hall Library in Kansas City with Astronomy Editor David J. Eicher and contributing editor Raymond Shubinski. Linda Hall ranks as one of the world's finest science libraries, and it has a terrific collection of rare astronomy books. During the visit, we sat at a table and paged through a first edition of Isaac Newton's Principia — the book in which the great mathematician detailed the law of...
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Red Planet fast-track

Posted 10 years ago by Francis Reddy
It’s the year 2030, and humans are finally undertaking interplanetary travel with a historic mission to the Red Planet. This is the premise for Discovery Channel Canada’s 4-hour “Race to Mars” mini-series, which the network describes as its most ambitious project to date. (Watch the trailer.)  The show premiered in Canada September 23, but air dates for the U.S. are not yet available. However, the companion book to the series is. In Race to Mars, writer and artist Dana Berry chronicles the ...
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Brave new words

Posted 10 years ago by Francis Reddy
My recreational reading ebbs seasonally in a manner generally corresponding to the release of select DVD sets. While I prefer to keep my fanboy side from showing too prominently, my recent excuses for letting the books pile up include the second season of Battlestar Galactica and Season 3 of Stargate Atlantis.  For me, the best science fiction explores our relationship with and the limitations of technology, and both TV shows do so in different ways. Echoes of 9/11 add depth and spark to ...
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Easy pretty pictures

Posted 10 years ago by Michael Bakich
Many amateur astronomers enjoy visual observing. A growing number, however, want to take their hobby a bit further and venture into astroimaging. Currently, amateurs distinguish "astroimaging" from the old term, "astrophotography." It's all photography, of course, but the "-imaging" suffix refers to digital pictures and not film. Soon, perhaps within the next 5 years, the two terms will be interchangeable as imagers go 100 percent digital. If you're just ge...
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New book shows our world - and others - on fire

Posted 10 years ago by Anonymous
Astronomy readers are familiar with Stephen James O'Meara through his column in our magazine and his books. O'Meara's observations convey the brilliance of our universe with amazing detail and keen recognition. Besides being an astronomer, Steve studies volcanos with his wife Donna. Together, the couple founded a research organization, Volcano Watch International, to uncover volcanic mysteries that might someday save lives. Through Cassell Illustrated, Donna has released a new book...
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How time flies (part 2)

Posted 10 years ago by Michael Bakich
Last week, I blogged about my one-year anniversary. In that article, I began listing my favorite celestial objects in several categories. Following are the categories I didn't get to. Planetary nebula — The Ghost of Jupiter (NGC 3242) in Hydra. This bright planetary shows lots of detail through 8-inch telescopes, but in large instruments it's amazing. My wife first saw the Ghost through a 20-inch Newtonian reflector at 650x. She turned to me and said, "When can we get a scope like ...
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The Dutch Youth Association for Astronomy celebrates 40 years of service

Posted 10 years ago by Anonymous
Amateur astronomers in the United States are familiar with organizations like the Astronomical League and Astronomical Society of the Pacific. These groups help educate the public about the sky and decipher the universe's mysteries. Several groups like this exist around the world, including the Netherlands' Dutch Youth Association for Astronomy (JWG, in Dutch). This organization is celebrating its 40th year of serving skywatchers. Some of the JWG's activities include introductory cl...
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Women in space

Posted 10 years ago by Daniel Pendick
The commanders of both space shuttle Discovery (STS-120) and the International Space Station (ISS), the two crewed spacecraft now in orbit, are women. So, this week in the interstellar media, headlines gush with a milestone in the annals of gender. "Women set to take charge of space," said IEEE Spectum Online. "A great leap for womankind," notes Yahoo! News. You get the idea. This raises a complicated question. Is this kind of media coverage harmful or helpful to women? O...
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How time flies (part 1)

Posted 10 years ago by Michael Bakich
This blog marks my one-year anniversary yakking about any astronomical subject that caught my fancy. Blogs were new at Astronomy in 2006, but blogging seemed like a great vehicle for covering lots of topics in a somewhat random manner. Now, many of our editors blog on a weekly basis. I will use this momentous occasion to give you an insight into who I am as an observer. Through the years, many of you have shared with me your favorite objects, observing sites, and more. Here are some of my favor...
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A golden anniversary

Posted 10 years ago by Rich Talcott
This month brings the 50th anniversary of two events that changed the world. The first, of course, needs little explanation: On October 4, 1957, the Space Age began with the Soviet Union's launch of the Sputnik 1 spacecraft. I want to talk about the event you probably aren't aware of. The October 1957 issue of Reviews of Modern Physics contains the article "Synthesis of the Elements in Stars" by Margaret Burbidge, Geoffrey Burbidge, William Fowler, and Fred Hoyle. The authors,...
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So long, Far Ultraviolet Spectroscopic Explorer. Don't forget to turn out the lights.

Posted 10 years ago by Daniel Pendick
At the veterinarian, they do it with an injection. When astronomers want to "put to sleep" one of their pets, they use a mouse click. Yesterday, astronomers at Johns Hopkins University shut down the Far Ultraviolet Spectroscopic Explorer (FUSE) satellite after 8 years of service. The craft operated 5 years past its planned mission, but repeated and worsening malfunctions in its pointing system rendered FUSE inoperable. In several decades, its orbit will decay and send the 3,000-pound ...
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Going once, going twice ...

Posted 10 years ago by Anonymous
The other week I wrote about an auction for those with celestial tastes. I've come across another space-themed auction. On October 28, Boston auctioneer Skinner will host a sale that includes several lots of NASA memorabilia. This auction features a Mercury 7 astronaut's test glove with pen inscriptions "Glenn" and "Schirra," a Project Gemini spaceflight capsule flotation ball referred to as "Unsinkable Molly Brown," and a NASA final Apollo 11 flight plan s...
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Use your scope (almost) forever

Posted 10 years ago by Michael Bakich
For the past 2 days, I've been rearranging the storage areas here at Astronomy magazine. It was lots of work and lots of fun at the same time. And, it got me thinking. Why do some telescopes last 5 years while others last 50? The answer, it turns out, boils down to one word: dust. If you can protect your telescope from dust, it will last a lifetime. Now, I'm not considering killing forces like water damage and blunt-force trauma. Those can end the useful lives of any type of equipment. ...
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Shout outs

Posted 10 years ago by Francis Reddy
Some blogs are fun, some blogs are intellectual, and some provide a handy way to find links. (Okay, mine's an exception.) But here, in no particular order, are a few blogs I try to read regularly.Cosmic Log: Since 2002, MSNBC science editor Alan Boyle has provided his take on a veritable smorgasbord of research news.Cosmic Variance: Five physicists and astrophysicists co-write this weblog. Come for the fun, such as this instructive post outlining how to choose your archnemesis; stay for live...

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