Astronomy magazine editors share their unique insight from behind the scenes of the science, hobby, and magazine.
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Hunting Herschel's best objects

Posted 10 years ago by Michael Bakich
  Springer The definitive work on a famous list of deep-sky objects is now in print: The Herschel Objects, and how to observe them by James Mullaney (Springer, 2007). Why definitive? Because, in 1976, Mullaney was the first to propose an observing list based on Herschel's catalog. Mullaney packs an incredible amount of information into this 166-page book. He gives us a brief history of English astronomer Sir William Herschel (1738–1822), a list of the telescopes Herschel used, and t...
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How low can the Moon go?

Posted 10 years ago by Rich Talcott
If you've been watching the Moon after sunset this week, you may have noticed it lies lower in the sky than usual (at least if you live at mid-northern latitudes). It's not your imagination — the Moon is figuratively scraping the treetops this week. Although this is no great mystery, it never hurts to remind yourself about the Moon's monthly and yearly cycles. The Moon's maximum altitude from any given location depends on its declination — how far north or south of the celestial...
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Griffin cedes new race to the Moon

Posted 10 years ago by Anonymous
When asked about the importance of beating the Soviet Union to the Moon, then Vice President Lyndon Johnson replied, "What American wants to go to bed by the light of a Communist Moon?" Of course, unless you are a conspiracy nut, you know the United States landed a dozen men on the Moon, including the first ever. No other nation has stepped foot on our satellite. Winning this race must have placed a Texas-sized smile on Johnson's face. Today, LBJ must be doing cartwheels in his g...
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Seeing clearly

Posted 10 years ago by Daniel Pendick
One thing's for sure about being a reporter: You can go out of your mind trying to get to the heart of the most complex issue and, in the end, trip over the simplest facts. Eyepiece pioneer Al Nagler, CEO of Tele Vue Optics, Inc., pointed that out to me today. My article about the pros and cons of laser eye surgery appears in the November issue of Astronomy. I enjoy medical reporting, and jumped at the chance to combine astronomy and medical science. I hope I put this complex issue in persp...
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The excitement of observing, part 2

Posted 10 years ago by Michael Bakich
Last week, I shared the first part of a short essay by one of my astronomy friends, Susan Carroll. Susan observes through an 18-inch Starmaster Dobsonian-mounted reflector. To read the first installment, click here. NIGHTFALL (part 2)by Susan S. Carroll, Bradenton, Florida Finally, the first stars in my deep southern object peek above the horizon; it won't be long now. I stare at them, hoping that I can raise them higher with my own eagerness. This doesn't happen, and I content myself ...
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Those magnificent roving machines

Posted 10 years ago by Dick McNally
  On September 11, 2007, NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity entered Victoria Crater on the rover's 1,291st martian day, or sol. NASA/JPL-Caltech Note to carmakers: Find out who the people were who built those fantastic rovers on Mars and hire them. They know how to make electric vehicles. The rovers Spirit and Opportunity have now been operating 40 months beyond their initial 3-month planned missions.  Admittedly, NASA probably set the endurance goals for the ma...
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Five favorite deep-sky objects

Posted 10 years ago by David Eicher
Here's something I'll strive to do with this blog every once in a while: provide you with suggestions for deep-sky observing. I'd like to suggest viewing some of my favorite objects, some of which are a little off-the-beaten-path. If you observe these objects, image them, or sketch them at the eyepiece, be sure to send us your material and we'll publish as much of it as we can in Astronomy or on our web page. Feel free to contact me at editor@astronomy.com. Autumn deep-sky...
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Fair and balanced space exploration

Posted 10 years ago by Daniel Pendick
Astronomers meet this week in Washington to discuss the future of Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, the largest radio telescope in the world. The leading item on the agenda is how to prevent the telescope — 1,000 feet wide (300 meters) — from going to the scrap yard. In November 2006, the National Science Foundation (NSF) advised cuts of 20 to 25 percent in Arecibo's funding to free up money for new NSF initiatives. The National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center, which runs Arecibo, needs ...
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A worthy cause

Posted 10 years ago by Anonymous
If you've ever spent time behind an eyepiece, it's a good bet that you've held a copy of Burnham's Celestial Handbook in your hands. First published in 1978 by Dover Publications as a three-volume series, the book represents the meticulous work of astronomer Robert Burnham, Jr. The author committed himself to writing this book while working at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona. Tony Ortega best summarized Burnham's influence in a 1997 story in the Phoenix New Times: &q...
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The excitement of observing (part 1)

Posted 10 years ago by Michael Bakich
This week and next, I'm sharing a short essay by one of my astronomy friends, Susan Carroll. Susan has been a dedicated observer for more years than most. Her 18-inch Starmaster Dobsonian-mounted reflector is a familiar sight at star parties across Florida and the Southeast (and the Midwest, when she lived there). If you're a telescopic observer like me, I'm sure you will relive the moments Susan describes. If you haven't yet taken the plunge and turned a telescope toward the sk...
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Behind the scenes at Yerkes

Posted 10 years ago by David Eicher
The University of Chicago's historic Yerkes Observatory, one of the great astronomical institutions of the world, recently hosted Astronomy staff members for a behind-the-scenes tour. The observatory's Rich Dreiser, a longtime staff member and expert on Yerkes history, walked us through the familiar facilities and back rooms filled with past memories. Joining me were Managing Editor Dick McNally, Senior Editors Frank Reddy and Rich Talcott, and friend and Astronomy contributor Bob Miller...
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Chile diary (part tres)

Posted 10 years ago by Rich Talcott
I recently returned from a 9-day trip to Chile — one of more than 30 participants in a tour sponsored by Astronomy magazine and organized by MWT Associates. We all had a great time, despite long plane rides from the States down to Santiago. Our two main reasons for going were to experience the clear skies of the Atacama Desert and the giant telescopes at Cerro Tololo Interamerican Observatory, but plenty of other sites kept us busy. Last week I wrote about the stunning scenery and beautiful suns...
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An artist's tour of the cosmos

Posted 10 years ago by Anonymous
  Regardless of your artistic ability, Space Art will help develop your ability to illustrate alien worlds. Watson-Guptill Publications One of the best ways to hone your skills as an amateur astronomer is to sketch the sky. Sketching the Moon, planets, and deep-sky targets on paper trains an observer to detect subtle detail in observations, helps keep the initial thrill from a first observing experience, and can bring back wonderful memories of an observing session. For many of us, ...
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Pretty pictures

Posted 10 years ago by Daniel Pendick
It is just a routine NASA press release, but one with a sort of "beginning of the beginning of the end" feel to it: "NASA and Internet Archive of San Francisco are partnering to scan, archive and manage the agency's vast collection of photographs, historic film and video. The imagery will be available through the Internet and free to the public, historians, scholars, students, and researchers." Nothing to worry about there. Everybody from grade-schoolers to science-mag...
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How bright is yonder star? (part 2)

Posted 10 years ago by Michael Bakich
With this blog, I'll finish my discussion of the magnitude system, which I began last week. I'm aiming this installment at observers. When you observe, sky conditions are everything. But even when it's clear, the sky's transparency can vary. Amateur astronomers standardize their observations by estimating the limiting visual magnitude (LM). Not only will this help you determine how good (or bad) the sky is at that particular time, it also will allow you to judge the quality of y...
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Chile diary (part dos)

Posted 10 years ago by Rich Talcott
  After the Sun sets over the Atacama Desert’s Valley of the Moon, the 19,400-foot volcano Licancabur catches the last rays of sunlight. Richard TalcottI recently returned from a 9-day trip to Chile — one of more than 30 participants in a tour sponsored by Astronomy magazine and organized by MWT Associates. We all had a great time, despite long plane rides from the States down to Santiago. Our two main reasons for going were to experience the clear skies of the Atacama Desert an...
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Google turns its attention to the sky

Posted 10 years ago by Anonymous
  In this screen shot, Google profiles the constellation Orion. Google Last week featured the rare occasion when an astronomy-related announcement resonated with skywatchers and the general public. Did SETI make contact with extrasolar life? Nope. Did astronomers find an asteroid on a collision course with Earth? Not even close. Instead, the Goliath of search engines released a beta version of Google Earth with a "sky" function. This enhanced tool turns the focus from our blue ...
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Mars, the next Everest?

Posted 10 years ago by Daniel Pendick
Once upon a time, barnstorming over the countryside in a biplane was sufficiently thrilling and expensive for the idle rich. Then, the only thing that would do was taking a steamer to Africa to blast away at lions for the season. Then there was (and remains) the curious habit of paying a small fortune for the privilege of expiring on Mt. Everest from hypothermia, oxygen deprivation, or stumbling into a crevasse. Much later, attempting to circumnavigate the globe in a balloon, a la Sir Richard Br...
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How bright is yonder star? (part 1)

Posted 10 years ago by Michael Bakich
In this blog and my next, I'm going to try to demystify the magnitude system — the scale astronomers use to measure the brightness of a celestial object. Let me start with a little history. The first known observer to describe and catalog differences in star brightnesses was Greek astronomer Hipparchus (ca. 190–120 B.C.). He divided his catalog of roughly 850 visible stars into six brightness ranges, or magnitudes. He called the brightest 1st magnitude and the faintest 6th magnitude. Observ...
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Chile diary (part uno)

Posted 10 years ago by Rich Talcott
  Early morning steam rises from numerous geysers and fumaroles at El Tatio — the world’s highest-altitude geyser field. Evelyn TalcottI've just returned from a 9-day trip to Chile & one of more than 30 participants in a tour sponsored by Astronomy magazine and organized by MWT Associates. We all had a great time, despite long plane rides from the States down to Santiago. Our two main reasons for going were to experience the clear skies of the Atacama Desert and the gian...
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Lost in translation?

Posted 10 years ago by Francis Reddy
An interesting question hit my inbox this week. How far south can an aurora be seen? Specifically, are the “northern lights” ever visible from Timbuktu? A 2004 New York Times article about medieval Arabic manuscripts triggered the question. The city of Timbuktu, Mali, was one of Africa’s intellectual hubs when the Renaissance was barely a twinkle in Europeans’ eyes. The article focused on efforts to rescue the ancient manuscripts. One 16th-century scholar, Mahmoud Kati, scribbled notes on va...
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Take that, Shelbyville

Posted 10 years ago by Anonymous
Earlier this week, I wrote about an auction to benefit the Stellafane telescope-making convention, held each year in Springfield, Vermont. Last month, Springfield hosted another noteworthy gathering: The Simpsons movie premiere. The July 22 extravaganza featured celebrities, costumed characters, and a yellow carpet matching the family's skin tone. Vermont's Springfield beat 13 other namesake cities in an online vote to host the premiere. The city of 9,300 residents received 15,367 votes,...
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Best of the web this week

Posted 10 years ago by Daniel Pendick
I'm starting something new today: a weekly collection of interesting articles and blog entries I see during the week but don't blog on myself. First, to give credit where it is due, I got the idea from astronomer Pamela Gay's Star Stryder blog. Every week, she posts a "best of the blogs" feature called Space Carnival. Here are a few of my recent picks:Would your head explode in total vacuum? If you watch science fiction on film you might get that impression. But, actually, ...
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Boom! Boom! Out go the lights

Posted 10 years ago by Michael Bakich
  If you like reading about and/or observing the universe's biggest blasts, you'll be interested in a book that just crossed my desk. Supernovae and How to Observe Them by Martin Mobberley is, as the title suggests, a dual-purpose book. In "Part 1 — Supernovae: Physics and Statistics," Mobberley gives a bit of supernova history, introduces the types of supernovae, and tells us what astronomers have learned by studying these massive explosions. Mobberley's writing st...
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Wiki the Moon

Posted 10 years ago by Daniel Pendick
Ever hanker to take a gander at the lunar crater Zwicky? If so, just click over to a slick new site on the web called The-moon. There, you will quickly learn that Zwicky is a 94-mile-wide (150 kilometers) crater at latitude 15.4° south, longitude 168.1° east. You can also find out that Fritz Zwicky (1898–1974) "was an American-based Swiss astronomer. He was an original thinker, with many important contributions in theoretical and observational astronomy." Zwicky and hundreds of other l...
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Ending this Friday

Posted 10 years ago by Anonymous
  Al Nagler, John Gallagher, and Stephen James O’Meara (left to right) pose with the Tele Vue refractor and prototype eyepiece. Springfield Telescope Makers, Inc. In a previous blog, Astronomy Associate Editor Daniel Pendick wrote about an exciting auction that will benefit Stellafane, the telescope-making conference held annually in Springfield, Vermont. Participants will bid on Astronomy author Stephen James O'Meara's Tele Vue Genesis refractor and Al Nagler's prototy...
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Relax, and watch Earth's shadow

Posted 10 years ago by Michael Bakich
Not all observing is difficult and requires lots of specialized, high-priced equipment. Case in point: Tuesday morning, August 28, North America will experience another total eclipse of the Moon. While West Coast and Hawaiian observers have the best seats, the rest of us will at least see the first half of the event, as the Moon slides into the darkest part of Earth's shadow. It's true some amateur astronomers like to push the limits, observing faint, deep-sky targets barely discernible...
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Wired looks at high-tech equipment

Posted 10 years ago by Anonymous
  John Chumack imaged M15 September 9, 2006, from his observatory at the Yellow Springs Research Station in Ohio. John Chumack Fraser Cain, podcaster and web guru behind Universe Today, recently wrote a piece regarding advanced observers' home observatories for Wired's web site. With observer profiles, astrophotography, and instrument shots, the article introduces readers to some of the leading astroimagers and their advanced equipment. Even if you aren't a lifelong re...
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In Herschel's footsteps

Posted 10 years ago by Michael Bakich
  If you're looking for a well thought out, guided, deep-sky observing challenge, this blog's for you. Steve O'Meara's Herschel 400 Observing Guide just landed on my desk. Oh my! German-born English astronomer Sir William Herschel (1738–1822) ranks as one of astronomy's all-time superstars. He discovered Uranus, two moons around both Saturn and Uranus, and the direction in which our solar system is hurtling through space. He was also an indefatigable observer, discove...
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All the dumb stuff

Posted 10 years ago by Daniel Pendick
In a recent blog, I talked about the surprising difficulty of landing heavy crewed payloads on Mars — in fact, its present impossibility, in lieu of new technologies. That's a very big challenge to future Mars exploration, although not at all insurmountable. But what about the dumb stuff? The little things we take for granted on Earth that are actually quite difficult in zero-gravity? No, I don't mean using the toilet, although that's up there on the list. How about this: A dooh...

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