Astronomy magazine editors share their unique insight from behind the scenes of the science, hobby, and magazine.
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Houston, we have a baby

Posted 11 years ago by Anonymous
Typically, parents use video baby monitors when they want to keep a remote eye on their precious flesh blobs. Chicagoland mother Natalie Meilinger received a different picture when looking at her receiver: Her baby had aged more than 50 years and obtained a Ph.D. in geosciences.No, this isn't a variation of the Bugs Bunny classic cartoon when the unknowing rabbit harbored fugitive bank robber Babyface Finster. Meilinger's monitor televised video of astronaut Jim Reilly's spacewalk. T...
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Venus whips the stars

Posted 11 years ago by Rich Talcott
That bright point of light you see hanging in the western sky after sunset is none other than Venus. Aim your telescope at it, and you'll find it's more than a point. The "evening star" currently displays a disk some 25" across and just under half-lit.Sure, Venus appears bright. Even a casual stargazer can see it beats Jupiter, the second-brightest light in the evening sky. (Jupiter now stands low in the southeast during the early-evening hours.) Venus seems to shine even ...
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Sacred objects

Posted 11 years ago by Daniel Pendick
How much would you pay for the telescope Galileo used to observe Jupiter's moons? Or how about the eyepiece through which Halley peered at his comet for the first time?Such astronomical objects — if you could get your hands on them — would be akin to religious relics. And they would be fantastically expensive and difficult to acquire.Good news: You, too, can own your own astro-relic. The organizers of Stellafane, the famous telescope-making conference held in Vermont every year, ...
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Help with buying and using a scope

Posted 11 years ago by Michael Bakich
  Springer-Verlag London LimitedA new book from a longtime observer has come to my attention. If you're new to amateur astronomy, thinking about buying a telescope, or wondering what you can point your new telescope at, pick up James Mullaney's A Buyer's and User's Guide to Astronomical Telescopes & Binoculars (Springer-Verlag London Limited, 2007).Rather than select a specific piece of equipment for you, Mullaney introduces you to the universe of binoculars, telescopes,...
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La Cosa Astra

Posted 11 years ago by Anonymous
Because I work for Astronomy magazine, one might assume my favorite show would be Carl Sagan's Cosmos or any of the Shatner, Stewart, or even Bakula varieties of Star Trek. Actually, my top pick is HBO's The Sopranos, which ends this Sunday night. If you've never viewed an episode, it is a crime drama featuring mob boss Tony Soprano and his New Jersey families — both the one he shares a house with and the one better known as La Cosa Nostra. Really, there isn't any connectio...
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Mercury or bust

Posted 11 years ago by Rich Talcott
After a weeklong stretch of off-and-on clouds, Tuesday evening dawned clear in Wisconsin. There, gleaming in the west as it has for the past several months, brilliant Venus dominated the sky. But Venus had added allure this evening: A new spacecraft was skimming just above its cloud tops.No, I couldn't see it. As someone who has explained countless times why the Apollo lunar modules can't be seen from Earth, I'm not about to claim a spacecraft of similar size can be glimpsed across i...
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Astronomy at Arecibo may soon be off the radar

Posted 11 years ago by Anonymous
Pulsars, quasars, radio galaxies — these are all astronomical objects we know about thanks to radio astronomy. Giant dishes, like the 305-meter (1,000 feet) Arecibo Telescope in Puerto Rico, are necessary to gather faint and invisible radio-frequency whispers from the cosmos. Arecibo, completed in 1963, remains the largest and most powerful radio telescope in the world.Radio-astronomy facilities like Arecibo have also made important contributions to the study of asteroids. In a recent and ...
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Walking the lava line

Posted 11 years ago by David Eicher
What do astronomers do the day after a 13-hour trip up and down Mauna Kea, Hawaii? A few of them, led by expert volcanologist Stephen James O'Meara, spent the day exploring erupting lava from the Kilauea volcano. Each month, Steve writes the highly popular "Stephen James O'Meara's secret sky" in Astronomy, and he is renowned as a skilled astronomical observer. Less known to Astronomy readers is the fact that Steve and his wife Donna are highly accomplished students of Hawai...
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Your home observatory (part 7)

Posted 11 years ago by Michael Bakich
In this last installment of my mini-series on building your own observatory, I'll talk about permanent piers. Most amateurs install a pier upon which to place their main telescope. If this is the route you're taking, you'll need a footing, a block of reinforced concrete set into the ground. Any concrete column (or, in certain cases, steel tube) above the ground is called the pier. The telescope mount attaches to bolts pre-set into the concrete pier. Alternately, you can attach a stee...
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A dream trip up the mountain

Posted 11 years ago by David Eicher
Every activity has its sacred ground. For sports fans, it may be Yankee Stadium or Lambeau Field. For history buffs, perhaps the Giza Plateau or Rome would make the list. For astronomy enthusiasts, one site that consistently tops the list is the summit of Mauna Kea, Hawaii. Not only is Mauna Kea the most expansive collection of important professional telescopes in the world, but, at an elevation of 13,796 feet, it offers possibly the best observing site on Earth. The combination simply cannot ...
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Planets are common - duh!

Posted 11 years ago by Daniel Pendick
Honolulu is a planet-hunter's paradise this week. If you've read Dave Eicher's blog posts from Hawaii, you already know an army of astronomers is basking in the balmy heat of Honolulu at the annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS). And if you've read a newspaper, scanned news sites on the web, or watched national TV news this week, you know researchers at AAS reported the discovery of an additional 28 exoplanets , bringing the grand total to 236.Part of my daily...
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Once in a Blue Moon

Posted 11 years ago by Rich Talcott
Head outside this evening, and you can't help but notice a Full Moon rising in the southeast. Nothing unusual about that — Full Moons occur, on average, every 29.5306 days. But if you look at your calendar for May, you'll see the previous Full Moon fell May 2, making tonight's the second Full Moon of the month.Can everyone say "Blue Moon"?Modern folklore holds that the second Full Moon in a given calendar month should be called a Blue Moon. This tradition began in the...
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When stars attack

Posted 11 years ago by David Eicher
On Tuesday morning, May 29, I sat in one of many of the week's paper sessions at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Honolulu, Hawaii. Not all of them turn out to be unusually interesting; this one did. "I'm going to talk about cosmic WMDs," said Brian Fields, an astronomer at the University of Illinois. His target was supernovae, nearby supernovae in particular, and gauging how dangerous they could be — and have been — to living things on Earth. "This is a hobb...
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New Local Group dwarf galaxy surprises astronomers

Posted 11 years ago by David Eicher
Astronomers have announced the discovery of a Local Group dwarf galaxy, designated Andromeda XII, that formed far out on the edge of the group and is falling into our system for the first time in its history. Jorge Peñarrubia of the University of Victoria made the announcement Monday morning at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Honolulu, representing a team that included Scott C. Chapman of the University of Cambridge and others. The Local Group of galaxies, our cloud of about 35 ob...
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Pearl Harbor on the eve of Memorial Day

Posted 11 years ago by David Eicher
This week, beginning Monday morning, the American Astronomical Society will meet in Honolulu, Hawaii. Vast numbers of scientific papers, press conferences, oral presentations, poster sessions, and commitee meetings will fill the next few days. No doubt some significant news will be made public, and I'll be here to bring it all to you. On the eve of the meeting, astronomers checked into hotels, stood around at a reception, and talked about exoplanets and other exciting things bubbling in the ...
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Your home observatory (part 6)

Posted 11 years ago by Michael Bakich
The door of your observatory will get plenty of use. I suggest a solid-core door with good hinges, a tough lock, and a good seal. To improve security, add a dead-bolt.Some amateur astronomers who live in cold climates have attached a "warm room" to their observatories. This idea is more practical when the observatory is far from home. For a backyard observatory, you can always dart into your (darkened) house to warm up.If you are planning a warm room, be sure to insulate the wall betwe...
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Saturn gets the blues (and yellows)

Posted 11 years ago by Rich Talcott
  Saturn’s rings tell a story regardless of their color. This image, created from Cassini spacecraft observations of stellar occultations, reveals ring particles clump together far more than astronomers previously thought. NASA/JPL/University of ColoradoMost of the time, Saturn's splendor appears to us in pastel shades of yellow and tan. But beauty knows no color boundaries. Even when converted to garish shades of blue and yellow, Saturn's rings retain their attraction —...
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Big, bigger, biggest

Posted 11 years ago by Daniel Pendick
The Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT), with a planned light-gathering surface 24.5 meters (80.3 feet) across, has a rival to the title of "biggest proposed telescope in Chile." Pieces of the GMT are under construction, and it's generally assumed the telescope will be constructed at Las Campanas Observatory in Chile's Atacama Desert. Now, a consortium led by Cornell University and Caltech says it will build a 25-meter instrument in the same Atacama region of Chile, with its excepti...
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Your home observatory (part 5)

Posted 11 years ago by Michael Bakich
Realistically, you have two options for flooring: wood or cement. A poured-cement floor is virtually maintenance free. Make certain you use (or demand) a high-quality grade of cement and a proper mix. I wish I had. The only complaint I had about my observatory was that the contractor who poured the cement floor used far too much sand.If you use wood for your floor, choose pressure-treated lumber. Elevate the floor to allow sufficient air circulation to prevent mold and mildew. Also, having the s...
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In space, no one can hear you sue

Posted 11 years ago by Daniel Pendick
The Personal Spaceflight Federation — space tourism's trade group — wants its customers to enjoy the thrill of a lifetime: a joyride into suborbital space. But if something goes wrong, no lawyers allowed.The Federation is currently advocating legislation to give space tourism companies immunity from being sued by the families of passengers injured or killed in accidents. One such piece of legislation is making its way through the Virginia State Legislature. The Federation would l...
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Dangerous liaisons

Posted 11 years ago by Francis Reddy
In 1959, British scientist and novelist C. P. Snow suggested that what slowed progress in solving the world's problems was a communications breakdown: scientists and artists no longer talked to one another. The title of his University of Cambridge Rede Lecture, "The Two Cultures," has become a shorthand for the problem. Some rankled at Snow's extreme characterization of scientists — and most notably, physical scientists — existing at the opposite intellectual pole o...
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Chatting with Don Davis

Posted 11 years ago by Daniel Pendick
From time to time, something happens during my work day to remind me what I love about my job. This week, it was a conversation I had with astronomical artist and animator Don Davis about a project he is working on. We spoke at length about one special-effects shot in particular he worked on for an upcoming film — a 30-second shot of the night sky.No camera exists that can realistically film the night sky in real time, so Don had to animate it based on a still shot. It took weeks of work a...
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Your home observatory (part 4)

Posted 11 years ago by Michael Bakich
Most amateur astronomers who select a dome purchase it ready-made from a manufacturer. If you go this route, you must decide whether to have the manufacturer install the dome or to do it yourself. This choice depends upon your construction skills and level of confidence you have to take on such a project.Unfortunately, you can't just order a dome and be done with it. You'll have to construct the building beneath the dome first, with the "mating ring" made to the manufacturer...
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Something old, something new

Posted 11 years ago by Rich Talcott
  The Spitzer Space Telescope imaged a hot spot on the exoplanet HD 189733b. It marks the first feature ever seen on an exoplanet. NASA/JPL-Caltech/H. Knutson (CfA) When you talk about beauty in the universe, the conversation almost always begins with Saturn. For many people, the discussion also ends there. But odds are, if you're an astronomy buff, you could chat up hundreds, if not thousands, more attractive sights.Last week, a whole new category of beauty was born when astronomers re...
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A late start on the way back to the Moon

Posted 11 years ago by Daniel Pendick
Where I work, as at any daily, weekly, or monthly periodical, deadlines rule. We have a simple rule: Don't break deadlines. At NASA, deadlines rule, too. For some missions, like robotic explorations of the solar system, the most important deadline is sending a ship into space when the alignment of the planets is favorable. Missing this "launch window" could mean the mission doesn't happen at all.In the manned space program, deadlines are softer. That's because NASA uses a p...
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Moving forward by looking back

Posted 11 years ago by Francis Reddy
  NASAFormer astronaut Wally Schirra died May 3 at the age of 84. He was one of NASA's "Original Seven," the first crop of astronauts selected in April 1959, and the fifth man in space. Schirra was the only astronaut to fly in all three of the U.S. space agency's pre-shuttle programs. His Mercury 8, Gemini 6, and Apollo 7 missions all were technically perfect flights. Consider: Schirra's first flight lasted 9 hours; his final one, just 6 years later, carried three time...
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Your home observatory (part 3)

Posted 11 years ago by Michael Bakich
This week, I'll address the size and type of your observatory. You'll need to take three considerations into account when considering your observatory's size. The first involves the available space. How big can you build? This was the limiting factor for my own observatory. Because I had to deal with a fenced-in backyard, my structure's maximum size was predetermined.The number of telescopes is the second consideration. Most observatories house one permanent telescope. Others, ho...
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A possible meteor surprise

Posted 11 years ago by Rich Talcott
It's the first week of May, and that can mean only one thing to naked-eye stargazers: the peak of the Eta Aquarid meteor shower. Normally, that's a pretty big deal. After all, the Eta Aquarids' peak rate ranks fourth among annual meteor showers, behind only December's Geminids, January's Quadrantids, and August's Perseids. Although the shower favors Southern Hemisphere observers, northerners with a penchant for meteor observing rarely pass it up.Most of us were expecting ...
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Urban skies (part 2)

Posted 11 years ago by Daniel Pendick
  Bolts of lightning adorn the urban skies over Milwaukee, Wisconsin, April 30, 2007. Daniel PendickLast week I told you about my west window on the urban sky above Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The sight of Venus and a crescent Moon above downtown at sunset was a real treat. Then, at 2:30 A.M. the following Friday, severe pain slapped me out of my slumber at 2:30 A.M. — the result, I found out a few days later, of a kidney stone stuck I my gizzard. Amidst moans and groans and waiting fo...
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Drat! Earthed again!

Posted 11 years ago by Daniel Pendick
Just in case you've forgotten since last week's hoopla about the newly discovered exoplanet:It's called Gliese 581C. It's the third planet discovered around the star Gliese 581.It's about 50 percent bigger than Earth.It's 5 times more massive than Earth.It's warm enough to host liquid water.Gosh, it's just like home!  You can't swing a dead cat around the media coverage of Gliese 581C without hitting the word Earth. Earth-like. Super-Earth. Earth-like lif...

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