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

My window on the urban night sky

Posted 10 years ago by Daniel Pendick
  Urban skies: The blaze of Venus (upper left) poses with the thin crescent Moon above downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin on April 19, 2007. Daniel PendickI took this photo at about 8 P.M. last Thursday April 19. I live near downtown Milwaukee, at the south edge of the Brady Street neighborhood. My west, third-floor window looks out over Cass Park. The small raised area between the flowerpots is Brewer's Hill, a gentrified version of an old neighborhood, once known as Uiehlein Hill, where ma...
0

Your home observatory (part 1)

Posted 10 years ago by Michael Bakich
One of the best things I've done in amateur astronomy is to construct a small observatory in the backyard of a former house. It's not that hard to do, and for this and the next six blogs, I'll outline how you can build your own observatory.When I began to think about what I wanted in an observatory, convenience ranked high on the list. I wanted to be able to step out into my yard and, with little preparation, observe. One night after I finished construction, I timed myself from the t...
0

Some men see things as they are and ask why ...

Posted 10 years ago by Anonymous
In a previous blog post, I celebrated Wisconsin as an astronomical center. Forward-thinking politicos in the Dairy State want to create Spaceport Sheboygan — a private spaceport that will launch spacecraft carrying satellites, space-station payloads, and tourists. Why not? Sheboygan is more than a sibling of Walla Walla and Cucamonga as funny-sounding city names delivered by comedians working the Borscht Belt .While researching the spaceport's evolution, I found that Wisconsin formed a...
0

Saturn, nice to see you again!!!

Posted 10 years ago by Daniel Pendick
Setting: a lakeshore in southeastern Wisconsin. Saturday evening. 9 P.M.Dramatis personae: Susie; her husband, Tony; Susie's Mom; Susie's children, Hazel and Hannah; and Saturn, the ringed planet.Equipment: Tele Vue Ranger, a small but mighty 70 mm (2.75-inch) refractor.We have been hanging out by the bonfire most of the day, playing music and shooting the bull. It's now dark, and people are gradually drifting inside the house as the bonfire burns out and the spring evening cold sets...
0

The toxic space race

Posted 10 years ago by Daniel Pendick
Now that humans have broken the green barrier — launching fabulously wealthy people into orbit — the Russian aerospace firm RKK Energia has proposed the next advance in commercial spaceflight: exporting toxic waste and other harmful processes off-world.The bearer of this bad news will be Energia's proposed Kliper/Parom launch system, envisioned as a replacement for the aging Soyuz system. It consists of two parts: a reusable glider (Kliper) and a jumbo "space tug" (Paro...
0

You can observe from a city

Posted 10 years ago by Michael Bakich
If you're just getting interested in amateur astronomy, you may read with dismay statements like, "best seen from a dark site," "get away from city lights," and "galaxies cannot be seen under light-polluted skies." Well, I'm here to say you can observe lots of objects from a city.Galaxies, unfortunately, are not among them. I'm sorry, there's nothing I can do about this. Even wonderful astronomical devices called "light-pollution filters" c...
0

Things in the sky

Posted 10 years ago by Daniel Pendick
As I write this, I'm looking out my office window at a raging snowstorm. A week ago, I was reaching for the AC knob in my car on the evening commute. Holy malevolent meteorology!Meteorology's province is the atmosphere, specifically the study and forecasting of the weather. As for the "meteor" in meteorology, Greek amateur astronomer Grigoris Maravelias explained it this way on an Internet discussion group about meteors: Meteor and meteorology come from the root "meteor,&q...
0

First man, first shuttle

Posted 10 years ago by Rich Talcott
  The first space shuttle flight came April 12, 1981, when the shuttle Columbia roared off the launchpad at Cape Canaveral. NASA"I see Earth. It's so beautiful!"Although these words don't resonate quite the way "That's one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind" do, they hold a special place in space-exploration history. Forty-six years ago today, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin uttered the words — the first ever spoken from space.Gagarin spen...
0

Running 26.2 miles more than 200 miles above Earth

Posted 10 years ago by Anonymous
Next Monday, astronaut Sunita Williams will attempt a first-ever feat while many of us are stationed in front of computer screens or TVs — she plans on running the Boston Marathon from the International Space Station (ISS).Williams, has trained for the Boston Marathon for months while serving as a flight engineer aboard ISS. The Boston Athletic Association, the group that operates the marathon, has sanctioned Williams' plan. The group issued a runner's number to NASA, to be sent to...
0

The space tax

Posted 10 years ago by Daniel Pendick
Dona Ana County, New Mexico, is home to some pretty forward-looking folks. Last week, the county's 200,000 residents passed a local sales-tax increase to support a brand-new industry: space tourism. Sir Richard Branson, head of Virgin Atlantic Airways, is also head of the new space tourism company Virgin Galactic. He wants to build a launch complex in New Mexico — called Spaceport America — with $198 million in state, local, and federal money. And last week, Dona Ana residents ap...
0

Observing lists: friend or foe? (part 2)

Posted 10 years ago by Michael Bakich
Last week, I shared some reasons why amateur astronomers create observing lists before heading out to observe. I also gave some tips for those of you who want to prepare such lists. Here are a few more.Keep a list of challenge objects on hand in case the sky proves to be better than you expected in terms of transparency (darkness) or seeing (steadiness). You don't want to miss such an opportunity.Although it may seem fruitful to concentrate on a small area of sky for one night (I often targe...
0

Bursting with surprises

Posted 10 years ago by Rich Talcott
  The Compton Gamma Ray Observatory appears in the shuttle’s cargo bay shortly before it was deployed April 7, 1991. NASASixteen years ago this Saturday, NASA deployed the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory (CGRO). Astronauts aboard the space shuttle Atlantis, which had roared off the launch pad 2 days earlier, released the observatory from the shuttle's cargo bay. At the time, the 35,000-pound (15,875 kilograms) colossus was the heaviest unmanned spacecraft NASA had launched. The depl...
0

Global warming (part 2)

Posted 10 years ago by Daniel Pendick
Skepticism thrives in a climate of uncertainty. Without the definitive proof to establish the facts of a question, anyone can float a hypothesis — however strained and baseless — and simply say, "Prove I'm wrong."Last week, I wrote about the idea circulating in the blogosphere that warming on Mars and several other celestial bodies points to a solar-system-wide climate trend driven ultimately by an increase in the Sun's output. Mars has been singled out for particul...
0

All things considered, I'd rather be in Philadelphia

Posted 10 years ago by Anonymous
Where do you want to go when you die? I don't mean in the sense of an afterlife. That's too complicated and contentious — the myriad beliefs range from nowhere to reincarnation to paradise (or somewhere considerably warmer). Where do you want to go in a literal sense? An ornate family mausoleum? Davy Jones' locker? Depending on your budget, part of you could end up in space.Celestis, a subsidiary of Space Service, Inc., "makes it possible to honor the dream and memory of y...
0

Observing lists: friend or foe?

Posted 10 years ago by Michael Bakich
Some observers swear by observing lists. Others swear at them. The latter don't want to bother (or don't have the time) to prepare object lists before their observing sessions. Many observers with go-to drives let the computers in their telescopes do the driving.Personally, I want a bit more say in what I'm going to be looking at, so I like working within the structure of a list. On the other hand, I can veer off the list at the drop of a hat if conditions warrant. I define "con...
0

Minor-planet lineup

Posted 10 years ago by Daniel Pendick
Today I want to share with you a really cool solar system image I came across on my daily cruise of the blogosphere. It's a linear arrangement of 88 known bodies in the solar system with diameters larger than 200 miles (320 kilometers). It was created as a hobby project by web developer Alan Taylor and posted on his site Kokogiak.com. To fully appreciate Taylor's minor-planet lineup, open it in software that allows you to zoom in and pan across the image. And here's an interesting ti...
0

Carl, we hardly knew ye ...

Posted 10 years ago by David Eicher
It's hard to believe it's been 10 years since Carl Sagan died. As you know if you've been interested in astronomy for a long time, Sagan brought an enthusiasm for spreading his passion for astronomy to the public like no other astronomer in recent times. Had he lived to defeat the cancer that took his life December 20, 1996, Carl Edward Sagan would now be 72. For me, it's still difficult to accept he's gone. I vividly remember watching the episodes of Sagan's landmark tel...
0

Spring has sprung

Posted 10 years ago by Rich Talcott
Spring officially arrived last week at the vernal equinox, when the Sun crossed the celestial equator heading north at 7:07 P.M. CDT March 20. (Unofficially, spring in Wisconsin began last weekend, when the temperature soared to 80° F (27° C) under sunny skies.) As the name implies, the vernal equinox should feature days and nights of equal length. It doesn't. The actual date when day equaled night came a few days before the 20th (with the exact date depending on your latitude)....
0

Swimming-pool science

Posted 10 years ago by Daniel Pendick
They say that Galileo dropped cannon balls and feathers off the Tower of Pisa to study gravity. It's not true, but the story remains in the collective memory as an example of how to do modern science: You go out and conduct an experiment yourself.These days, lab experimentation isn't the only game in town. High-performance computers all us to run tests without having to drop things off towers. It's possible to simulate all kinds of physical processes using computer models. Decades ag...
0

Scopeless star party

Posted 10 years ago by Michael Bakich
Why do people attend star parties? Reasons include taking advantage of a dark sky, hearing high-quality astronomy programs, trying new equipment, and interacting with like-minded individuals. The top reason, however, is to see stuff.In March, the Messier objects rank highly for observers. Later in the spring, galaxies dominate pre-midnight search lists. In summer, the Milky Way offers countless targets. Northern Hemisphere observers — especially those above 40° latitude — make us...
0

Movie day memories from NASA

Posted 10 years ago by Daniel Pendick
I'm a late boomer, born in 1963 at the tail end of the baby boom generation, which is generally cited as those born 1944-1964. My childhood coincided with the heyday of the U.S. space program, and along with it, a public-relations push we school kids experienced as the occasional and treasured "movie day." You could doodle, or snooze, or, in my case, make origami cranes and frogs.  (OK, I was a geek.) Today I was reminded of those halcyon movie days when I stumbled across a co...
0

How to pick a landing site

Posted 10 years ago by Rich Talcott
  MRO snapped this image of boulder-strewn terrain in the martian arctic. Originally, this area was the top candidate for the Phoenix spacecraft’s landing site. Mission planners have now shifted focus to less-rocky terrain. NASA/JPL/University of ArizonaIf you were in charge of landing the next spacecraft on Mars, where would you choose to go? The scientist in you likely would argue for a geologically or biologically attractive site. But the flight engineer in you would hesitate to sp...
0

Currently visible comets

Posted 10 years ago by David Eicher
Backyard astronomers long for the next really bright comet. There's hardly anything to equal a brilliant comet's magnificence in the sky. For those who caught a glimpse of Comet McNaught in the January twilight sky, the view was great. But you have to go back to comets Hale-Bopp and Hyakutake in 1996 and 1997 to recall a jaw-dropping, stunningly bright comet hanging in a dark sky.  While no really bright comets are now visible, several moderately-bright comets are. They can be gorge...
0

The Northern Lights and Lava Fields of Iceland (part 4)

Posted 10 years ago by Anonymous
Despite our best efforts to track down the northern lights, the weather didn't cooperate for us last night either: Wind gusts blew in clouds from over the ocean, blocking our view of the sky. While we're all a little disappointed, no one in our group is terribly saddened. This morning, before heading to the airport, some group members are taking a final art tour of the city. Reykjavik is filled with sculptures, both in designated gardens and on street corners. This will be a final...
0

The Northern Lights and Lava Fields of Iceland (part 3)

Posted 10 years ago by Anonymous
  As a breed, Icelandic horses are virtually unchanged since Viking times. Laura BairdThe northern lights have still eluded us, but the group has kept busy with other activities. Yesterday, part of our group set out to Thorsmork Valley, a nature preserve, but had to turn back due to heavy snow and white-out conditions. Others in the group, myself included, used the day to explore downtown Reykjavik, which is within walking distance of our hotel. We all met for dinner at the Pearl, a revolvi...
2

Extra! Extra! Global warming on Mars!

Posted 10 years ago by Daniel Pendick
For 3 weeks, an angel and a devil have perched on my shoulders. The devil whispers in my left ear, "Blog about the global-warming-on-Mars thing! C'mon, it'll be fun!" The angel on my right shoulder says, "Don't do it! You can't win this one, bub."OK, the devil wins. But, mind you, I will not use the following words: global-warming deniers; liberal climate-change agenda; Rush Limbaugh; Al Gore. That would be politics. We don't do politics; we do science. So...
0

The Northern Lights and Lava Fields of Iceland (part 2)

Posted 10 years ago by Anonymous
  The Skogar folk museum preserves these 19th-century homes. Laura BairdToday we traveled to the south shore, where we saw black-sand beaches, took close-up looks at the snow-covered volcanoes that dominate the view from our hotel room, and spied the Westman Islands, which lie some 5 miles off the coast in the Atlantic.  We also stopped at the Skogar folk museum and learned what life was like 2 centuries ago. The curator has single-handedly amassed the museum's collection over the ...
0

Cold eclipse

Posted 10 years ago by Michael Bakich
The total lunar eclipse March 3 was a test. I'm sure of it. The question was, "How much do you love astronomy?" Or, maybe I could rephrase it to, "What are you willing to endure to observe a minor astronomical event?"For amateur astronomers, lunar eclipses usually don't garner the attention of meteor showers, bright comets, or planetary lineups, and they pale in comparison with that "other" type of eclipse. Still, if your location is one where a lunar eclips...
0

The Northern Lights and Lava Fields of Iceland

Posted 10 years ago by Anonymous
  The water plunging over the "golden falls," Gulfoss, is from one of Iceland's glaciers. Laura BairdI'm traveling on Astronomy and MWT Associates' Northern Lights and Lava Fields of Iceland Tour, in search of the aurora borealis. We haven't seen any northern lights yet, but we'll be out the next 3 nights, traveling in the countryside, away from city lights, to track them down. So far, we've enjoyed 2 days of fantastic sights around Reykjavik, where we'...
0

Go for the dream!

Posted 10 years ago by David Eicher
This past week was a special one watching television at the Eicher household. Yeah, The Office was on again, the much-treasured Curb Your Enthusiasm reruns and travel shows on European destinations for next year. But something really special was also on: Tuesday night's episode, March 13, on the Travel Channel, of John Ratzenberger's Made in America. Each week, Ratzenberger, former costar of the sitcom Cheers, takes his crew across the nation to highlight interesting stories surrounding ...

Join our Community!

Our community is FREE to join. To participate you must either login or register for an account.

ADVERTISEMENT

FREE EMAIL NEWSLETTER

Receive news, sky-event information, observing tips, and more from Astronomy's weekly email newsletter.

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
Find us on Facebook