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

Posted 10 years ago by Anonymous
  Many publishers have released books celebrating 50 years of space exploration since Sputnik's launch October 4, 1957. Among these pictorial collections, no one has done it better than Smithsonian Books. Edited by Smithsonian curator Martin Collins, After Sputnik: 50 Years of the Space Age presents the best pieces and images from the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum's spaceflight collection — some not currently displayed at the museum. This unique perspective provides a ...
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Risen from the dead

Posted 10 years ago by Rich Talcott
  Phoenix's robotic arm digs a trench in the ice-rich martian soil, seeking signs as to whether Mars may be hospitable to life. Corby Waste (JPL) If the weather holds along Florida's Atlantic coast, NASA's Phoenix spacecraft should blast off from Cape Canaveral this Saturday. Its target: the frozen plains of northern Mars. After a voyage of nearly 10 months, the probe will set down in the Red Planet's polar region next May to study the history of water at the landing ...
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Loony science

Posted 10 years ago by Daniel Pendick
There's something about the Moon that makes people crazy. No, let me rephrase that: There's something about the Moon that makes people believe dumb stuff.For instance, have you received an e-mail yet saying that during the opposition of Mars in December — during which the Red Planet will be closer to Earth than at other times — its disk will look as big as the Full Moon? No? You will.In the November 2008 Astro News section, we report on a somewhat loony proposal by police in ...
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Don't fear the filter, part 3

Posted 10 years ago by Michael Bakich
This week, I conclude my three-part series on filters by discussing specialty filters. Everyone's welcome to their opinion, but, to me, any filter that's not a color filter is a specialty filter. Most specialty filters fall into the category of "light-pollution-reduction" (LPR) filter. Two exceptions are neutral density and polarizing filters. A neutral density (ND) filter reduces the amount of light (by absorbing it) but doesn't filter any of the colors. ND filters have t...
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What effect does opposition have?

Posted 10 years ago by Rich Talcott
  Saturn's rings glint brightly thanks to the "opposition effect" in this June 12 image, taken by the Cassini spacecraft.NASA/JPL/SSIWhile I was out walking Wednesday evening, brilliant Jupiter stood slightly above the gibbous Moon. With the Moon waxing toward its full phase this weekend, I couldn't help but think about how quickly our satellite brightens as Full Moon approaches. As if to drive the point home, NASA has just released an image of Saturn that shows the same e...
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Let go of that Lunar Equipment Conveyer!

Posted 10 years ago by Daniel Pendick
Q: What's the difference between trash and important archaeological artifacts?A: About 100 years. Where people tossed their garbage a century ago, archaeologists can often find revealing remnants of culture. On the Moon, the transformation from trash to treasure took less than 4 decades.U.S. astronauts left a lot more behind on the Moon than their footprints as they took small steps for man and giant leaps for mankind. The detritus at Tranquillity Base, where the first humans landed on the M...
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Don't fear the filter (part 2)

Posted 10 years ago by Michael Bakich
This week, I continue my three-part series on filters by giving specific recommendations about planetary observing through color filters. Mars lies at opposition as 2007 ends, and it's already on most observers' minds, so let's start with the Red Planet.As I mentioned last week, choose the filter density that's correct for your telescope. For example, if I suggest a red filter for a certain feature, choose 1) a #21 (orange) filter if your scope's aperture is 4 inches or less;...
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The next martian crater - us?

Posted 10 years ago by Daniel Pendick
I just read, with a mixture of fascination and embarrassment, writer Nancy Atkins' compelling article — posted on the Universe Today web site — about the realities of landing humans on Mars. The article asks the simple question of how we would land a crewed spacecraft on Mars. She does a beautiful job with it, and you should stop right here and read the article for yourself.My embarrassment is in regard to the fact that the whole question never even occurred to me, after all thes...
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A date for the ages

Posted 10 years ago by Rich Talcott
  The first photo ever taken from the surface of Mars showed lots of rocks and sand — and the footpad of the Viking 1 lander. NASA/JPLVirtually everyone who reads this blog knows what happened on this date in history. But I'm not going to spend much time talking about Neil Armstrong's and Buzz Aldrin's small steps. Instead, I want to recall a lesser leap in human history, one that launched our search for life elsewhere in the universe.On July 20, 1976, the Viking 1 lander ...
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Spidey senses to tingle in orbit?

Posted 10 years ago by Anonymous
  Dava Newman models her BioSuit on the MIT campus. Donna CoveneyEver since NASA has launched people into space, astronauts have worn bulky, gas-pressurized outfits. Over time, these suits have increased in weight to 300 lbs. — limiting mobility. Thanks to MIT, astronauts could don a sleeker outfit on future missions.Dava Newman, Jeff Hoffman, her students, and design firm Trotti and Associates have designed a Spandex and nylon BioSuit. According to MIT, this isn't your grandfathe...
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Roving Mars animation

Posted 10 years ago by Daniel Pendick
Do you want a little help appreciating the utter inherent coolness of the Mars Exploration Rover missions? Check out the video created by up-and-coming digital artist Daniel Maas. The 9-minute video, accurate to the smallest detail, depicts the launch, landing, and surface meanderings of a rover. Two of the robotic buggies, Spirit and Opportunity, remain alive and well on Mars. My favorite sequence is the rover's bouncy air-bag landing, after which the rover's triangular carrier opens li...
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Don't fear the filter (part 1)

Posted 10 years ago by Michael Bakich
With Mars beginning to brighten to its best appearance of the year (which will happen Christmas Eve), I thought I'd blog about filters. Lots of articles will explain the best way to observe Mars — you can catch mine in December's Astronomy — and they'll all have something to say about color filters. It's a big subject, so I'm breaking it down into three parts.First, a small point about filters. No filter makes any part of any astronomical object brighter. Because ...
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A lucky anniversary

Posted 10 years ago by Rich Talcott
  Several dark spots mar Jupiter’s atmosphere after Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 smashed into it between July 16 and 22, 1994. NASA/Hubble Space Telescope Science TeamWhere were you 13 years ago? If you're like me, you were eagerly anticipating a once-in-a-lifetime event — with no clue as to how it would play out. Astronomers and backyard observers around the globe had their sights set on Jupiter. More than 20 fragments of a rogue comet known as Shoemaker-Levy 9 were steaming towa...
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Are you sure ... ?

Posted 10 years ago by Michael Bakich
My wife and I maintain a running gag. Let's say she and I are observing a meteor shower. Perhaps I saw a nice meteor and exclaimed, "There's one through Triangulum, heading south; magnitude –1; 10° trail." If she didn't see it, her response, based on our gag, would be, "That's an unconfirmed observation." This all started at the 1999 Texas Star Party (TSP), which is held in the Davis Mountains. My observing buddy Mike Marcotte (who now occasiona...
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Life as we don't know it

Posted 10 years ago by Daniel Pendick
Could NASA's current approach to exobiology — the study of alien life forms — end up with astronauts stumbling across extraterrestrial life and not even realizing it? A report by the National Research Council (NRC) released Friday raises this provocative question. (The NRC is part of the National Academies, nonprofit institutions that provide independent, expert advice to the nation on science, engineering, and medicine.) You can read the report online, or buy it for $24.95.For m...
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The Vatican Observatory Summer School (part 3)

Posted 10 years ago by David Eicher
The past two blogs I've posted described the Vatican Observatory Summer School and its activities. What a tremendous group of students — I had a wonderful time visiting with them, seeing the Vatican Observatory's treasures, and meeting the skilled faculty who lead these grad students in their quest for knowledge. Each year at the VOSS, the students study hard, but they also have an opportunity to absorb a bit of Italian culture by traveling to some of that nation's greatest cities. W...
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Exoplanet preview from Santorini

Posted 10 years ago by Daniel Pendick
I just caught some hot news about exoplanets on the "Centauri Dreams" blog by Paul Gilster, a veteran science and technology writer and author of Centauri Dreams: Imagining and Planning Interstellar Exploration. If you have never seen Paul's blog, try it. In his own words, it's "a review of research issues in deep space exploration, with an eye toward interstellar possibilities."On Friday, June 29, Paul reported on some blog postings from astronomer Steinn Sigurðs...
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The Vatican Observatory Summer School (part 2)

Posted 10 years ago by David Eicher
As I mentioned in my last blog, 27 graduate students from 22 countries are attending the Vatican Observatory Summer School (VOSS) this year. It continues until July 6. During my visit last week, I talked with many of the students, who represented such diverse nations as New Zealand, Armenia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Brazil, the Ukraine, Taiwan, South Africa, Mexico, and Indonesia.  The students were all effervescent in voicing their opinions about what VOSS means to them. "It'...
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The Vatican Observatory Summer School (part 1)

Posted 10 years ago by David Eicher
This summer, starting June 9, the Vatican Observatory hosted a summer school for graduate students who are studying a particular theme in astronomy or astrophysics. The seventh Vatican Observatory Summer School (VOSS), held at the Vatican Observatory at Castel Gandolfo south of Rome, focuses on extrasolar planets and brown dwarfs. On the first day of school, the 27 students from 22 countries who were chosen to attend gathered at the historic observatory, overseen by director José Funes and this ...
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Serendipitous science

Posted 10 years ago by Daniel Pendick
The sweetest discoveries in science are often the ones nobody ever expected to make. Such is the story of the discovery of pulsars 40 years ago by Irish physicist Jocelyn Bell-Burnell and her Ph.D. thesis advisor, Antony Hewish. To earn her doctorate in physics, Bell-Burnell was to use a new radio telescope at the University of Cambridge, England, to study quasars, about which little was known at the time. About a month into her project, Bell-Burnell noticed an "annoying bit of scruff&...
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Astronomical League Webmaster Award

Posted 10 years ago by Anonymous
The Astronomical League has announced their winners of the Webmasters for the 2007 Webmaster Award. 1st place: Travis Swaim of the Oklahoma City Astronomy Club. 2nd place: Ken Slater of the Springfield Telescope Makers. 3rd place: Chris Reich of the Etna Astros.  ...
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Space tourism skeptics come out of the woodwork

Posted 11 years ago by Daniel Pendick
So far, the nascent space-tourism industry has enjoyed a global media cuddle. In my own blogs, I've been pretty positive about the idea, seeing a potential boost to interest in space, in general, and the start of a new industry and new wealth. But not everybody is so impressed, judging from a few fascinating tidbits that came across my media radar recently. A surprisingly class-conscious critique comes to us courtesy of Günter Verheugen, the European Union's commissioner for en...
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From 0 to 60 light-years through the eyepiece

Posted 11 years ago by Anonymous
  The Visio 8x25 binoculars retail for $199. William OpticsMany of us will never be able to afford a high-performance sports car. Instead, we pretend while driving our low-end autos by gripping the steering wheel with Porsche gloves, sitting on Lamborghini seat covers, or sporting a Corvette satin jacket. Thanks to William Optics, skygazers can now combine that ownership fantasy with observing.William Optics has partnered with automaker Ferrari S.p.A. to create the Racing series of binocula...
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Sketch-pad astronomy

Posted 11 years ago by Michael Bakich
  SpringerIf you've read any of my observing stories in Astronomy, you know I'm a big fan of sketching what you see through a telescope. I think it's the foremost activity that can make you a better observer. Sketching causes you to look for minute details, and it teaches you patience while observing.Imagine my joy, then, when this book crossed my desk: Astronomical Sketching — A Step by Step Introduction by Richard Handy, David B. Moody, Jeremy Perez, Erika Rix, and Sol R...
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A room with no view

Posted 11 years ago by Francis Reddy
Looking for a different sort of vacation? Consider a trip to Mars. The European Space Agency (ESA) wants you. The mission, slated to begin next summer, is to work and live in a simulated spaceship for a 520-day round-trip to the Red Planet. Aside from weightlessness and radiation, the simulation will follow a real Mars mission as close as possible. ESA's call for candidates went out Tuesday. By late Thursday, the agency had received 2,000 applications. If selected, you'll first jet to Mo...
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I hope his math is correct

Posted 11 years ago by Anonymous
We know Isaac Newton as a mathematician, physicist, astronomer, and philosopher, but a doomsayer debunker? The Hebrew University of Jerusalem recently released papers from Newton in which he detailed the earliest date of the Apocalypse. According to his calculations, the world will end no sooner than 2060."It may end later, but I see no reason for its ending sooner," explains Newton. "This I mention not to assert when the time of the end shall be, but to put a stop to the rash con...
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All about aurorae

Posted 11 years ago by Michael Bakich
  SpringerMost observers I know love atmospheric phenomena almost as much as deep-sky objects. And if these airborne effects occur after sunset, so much the better. The classic example of a nighttime atmospheric occurrence is the aurora borealis, or, for Southern Hemisphere observers, the aurora australis. If you'd like to learn more — and I mean a lot more — about this phenomenon, pick up Neil Bone's new book, Aurora: Observing and Recording Nature's Spectacula...
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There’s a little Jansky in all of us

Posted 11 years ago by Daniel Pendick
This week, scientists from around the world are gathering in Charlottesville, Virginia, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO). The NRAO, headquartered on the campus of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, designs, builds, and operates radio telescopes. Scientists all over the world use NRAO instruments to explore the universe in wavelengths not visible to optical telescopes. Pulsars were first detected by a radio telescope, for example, in...

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