Astronomy magazine editors share their unique insight from behind the scenes of the science, hobby, and magazine.
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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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Your home observatory (part 2)

Posted 11 years ago by Michael Bakich
Last week, I started a series of blogs devoted to helping you construct a home observatory. One of the most important considerations involves choosing a site. Of course, you want the best overall location for your observatory, but is that 50 feet out the back door or 50 miles away at a dark site? The location must work for you. It must allow you the freedom to observe whenever it's clear. Because of that, generally, a closer location works best.Now, setting up an observatory in your yard &md...
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Out of Africa

Posted 11 years ago by Rich Talcott
While most of my friends and colleagues were enjoying beautiful spring weather this past weekend, I was attending the annual meeting of the American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE) in Toledo, Ohio. The weather was beautiful there as well, but I spent most of my time indoors, attending talks by scholars from around the world and delivering one of my own.As always, the topics at the meeting ran the gamut of Egyptology. At various times through the weekend, you could enjoy talks about archaeology, ...
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My window on the urban night sky

Posted 11 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...
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Your home observatory (part 1)

Posted 11 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...
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Some men see things as they are and ask why ...

Posted 11 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...
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Saturn, nice to see you again!!!

Posted 11 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...
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The toxic space race

Posted 11 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...
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You can observe from a city

Posted 11 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...
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Things in the sky

Posted 11 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...
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First man, first shuttle

Posted 11 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...
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Running 26.2 miles more than 200 miles above Earth

Posted 11 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...
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The space tax

Posted 11 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...
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Observing lists: friend or foe? (part 2)

Posted 11 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...
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Bursting with surprises

Posted 11 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...
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Global warming (part 2)

Posted 11 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...
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All things considered, I'd rather be in Philadelphia

Posted 11 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...
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Observing lists: friend or foe?

Posted 11 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...
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Minor-planet lineup

Posted 11 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...
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Carl, we hardly knew ye ...

Posted 11 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...

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