Astronomy magazine editors share their unique insight from behind the scenes of the science, hobby, and magazine.
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The Vatican Observatory Summer School (part 2)

Posted 11 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 11 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 11 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 11 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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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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