Astronomy magazine editors share their unique insight from behind the scenes of the science, hobby, and magazine.
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NASA Night at the DPS

Posted 10 years ago by Rich Talcott
I'm in Orlando, Florida, attending the annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society's Division for Planetary Sciences. This is where the world's planetary scientists report their latest findings. One of the meeting's traditions is "NASA Night," where the space agency's top planetary science administrators answer questions from the assembled scientists. Occasionally, you don't feel a lot of love at these exchanges - not surprising when you consider the vas...
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Arecibo Telescope fights for the right to hunt killer asteroids

Posted 10 years ago by Daniel Pendick
  The Arecibo Telescope uses radio and radar energy to explore the universe. Its massive dish, built in a natural depression in the jungles of Puerto Rico, measures 1,000 feet (305 meters) across and 167 feet (51m) deep. Its 40,000 perforated aluminum panels cover some 20 acres. Suspended 450 feet (137m) above the reflector is the 900-ton receiver platform.   NAIC/NSF/Arecibo Observatory/David Parker/Science Photo LibraryWhat do radio astronomy, Medicare, and Voice of America radi...
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Does physics matter to you?

Posted 10 years ago by Francis Reddy
It does if you like smaller, higher-capacity hard drives. But the road from landmark paper to an iPod often is longer than we like to think. Such is the case of Albert Fert (Université Paris-Sud, Orsay, France) and Peter Grünberg (Forschungszentrum Jülich, Germany), who just won the 2007 Nobel Prize in physics for a discovery that makes micro hard drives possible. In 1988 — when 60,000 computers comprised the Internet, and the World Wide Web lay 7 years away — the ...
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Of baseballs and meteors

Posted 10 years ago by Michael Bakich
I love baseball, and I love observing. Unfortunately, you won't find any constellations honoring the boys of summer; at least, no traditional constellations. During October, as the fall classic decides baseball's champion, go out one clear night and find the Baseball Diamond in the sky. To form the Baseball Diamond, find the Great Square of Pegasus, which lies high in the sky during mid-fall. The Great Square's northwestern star (Beta [β] Pegasi) is the Baseball Diamond's home p...
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Astrologer hits a homer ... sort of

Posted 10 years ago by Anonymous
Before last night, I always thought astrological predictions were made of the stinky stuff you use to fertilize flower beds. I suppose I've been naïve, thinking one's actions and fate have more to do with conscious choices and free will, rather than celestial bodies' positions at particular times. However, thanks to his soothsaying ability, Chicagoland astrologer Grant Wylie may have converted me to the dark side.In a Chicago Sun-Times article, Wylie went out on a limb, predicti...
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Asteroid named for George Takei

Posted 10 years ago by Anonymous
George Takei, Star Trek's Hikaru Sulu and Heroes' Kaito Nakamura, has the honor of having a star named for him, albeit on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Now the actor and civil rights activist has a real celestial object named for him: 7307 Takei. Discovered by two Japanese astronomers in 1994, the asteroid is located between Mars and Jupiter. Many noteworthy people have asteroids named for them, from physicist Isaac Newton to painter Jackson Pollock to novelist Kurt Vonnegut. Astronomy...
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Waiting for Chang'e-1 to launch. And waiting. And waiting.

Posted 10 years ago by Daniel Pendick
  The Chang’e-1 lunar probe will explore the Moon from orbit. The mission includes mapping lunar topography, surveying the distribution of chemical elements, and gathering high-resolution photos of the lunar surface in preparation for future surface exploration. China National Space Administration I don't know about you, but I just can't wait for China to launch its lunar orbiter, Chang'e-1. Not because I'm a big fan of the Chinese space program, although I ho...
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One of my favorite subjects

Posted 10 years ago by Michael Bakich
  Springer If you've followed my blogging, you know I love the constellations. It follows, therefore, that I also love star maps — old, new, it doesn't matter. And along with the maps themselves, I like their stories and those of the men who created them. Lucky me. I just received Star Maps: History, Artistry, and Cartography by Nick Kanas (Springer, 2007). This is one thorough and highly illustrated book! Kanas begins with a short chapter about constellation and cosmological m...
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The War comes to America

Posted 10 years ago by Rich Talcott
  The Andromeda Galaxy, like all spirals, shows a population of older, redder stars near its center (lower right) and younger, bluer stars in its surrounding spiral arms. Walter Baade discovered the different populations through observations made during World War II. NOAO/AURA/NSFIf you've been watching Ken Burns' World War II documentary, The War, this week, you've seen the key role science played during that global conflagration. But there was more science involved in the effo...
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The real Andromeda Strain? Space Shuttle scientists breed virulent Salmonella strain in space and inadvertently strengthen the case for the International Space Station

Posted 10 years ago by Daniel Pendick
There I go again, nattering on about the dangers of spaceflight. Laugh if you will, but this is pretty interesting: Salmonella bacteria grown aboard the space shuttle turned out to be more harmful to its hosts — "virulent," for all the microbiology geeks out there. Salmonella is a leading cause of food poisoning in humans. Stock up on surgical masks. SARS and Swine Flu, stand aside. The REAL Andromeda Strain is here. In Michael Crichton's 1971 science-fiction thriller, The Androm...
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Your chance to buy a piece of the rock

Posted 10 years ago by Anonymous
  The specimen extracted from the Willamette meteorite. Bonhams If you ask any visitor who has ever wandered the halls of New York's American Museum of Natural History what his or her favorite piece is, you'll get a variety of answers. Some have fond memories of the 94-foot-long blue whale model, suspended from the ceiling. Others will celebrate the dioramas showcasing Earth-bound creatures. Overall, I'd wager most visitors, especially those with cosmic tastes, hold great r...
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Hunting Herschel's best objects

Posted 11 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 11 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 11 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 11 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 11 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 11 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 11 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 11 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 11 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 11 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 11 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 11 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 11 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 11 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 11 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 11 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 11 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 11 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 11 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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