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

Posted 11 years ago by Daniel Pendick
Yesterday was pi day. I knew because it was March 14, or 3/14, or 3.14 — the crudest approximation of ∏ (pi), the number that describes the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter. As most of us learned in grade school, pi is a weird number. It just goes on and on, like a Senate filibuster, as in 3.14159265358979323846 (etc., etc.). Click here to see pi calculated out to a million digits. The other reason I knew it was pi day was that Dave Eicher, editor-in-chief of Astr...
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Pluto, you've got a friend in New Mexico

Posted 11 years ago by Daniel Pendick
State legislators in New Mexico vote today whether to declare March 13, 2007, "Pluto Planet Day." Up for consideration is a "joint memorial" sponsored by Representative Joni Marie Gutierrez, Democrat of Doña Ana County: "Declaring Pluto A Planet And Declaring March 13, 2007, 'Pluto Planet Day' At The Legislature." It was 77 years ago today that Clyde Tombaugh and Lowell Observatory reported Pluto's discovery.Joint memorials are not laws. They simp...
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A worldwide star party

Posted 11 years ago by Anonymous
Since 1968, the Sidewalk Astronomers have literally brought astronomy to the people. Beginning in California, the group has set up equipment in public venues throughout the word, showing passersby night-sky delights.Now the group is organizing the International Sidewalk Astronomy Night. On May 19, 2007, amateurs in about 25 countries will invite the public to take a peek through 1 of a 1,000 telescopes set up on streets.  The idea for the event began with a member group of the Sidewalk Astr...
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Planetary defense or lack thereof

Posted 11 years ago by Daniel Pendick
Experts met at the Planetary Defense Conference in Washington earlier this week (March 5–8) to discuss how to protect Earth from asteroid and comet impacts. The good news, according to Simon Worden, director of the NASA-Ames Research Center, is "We know how to do it." The bad news: "We just don't have the money."Near-Earth objects are asteroids and comets whose orbits cross Earth's and could therefore collide with us at some point. Earth has been hit before; it&...
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Eclipse regrets

Posted 11 years ago by Rich Talcott
  Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Joshua Valcarcel snapped a series of 15 eclipse portraits March 3/4 from the deck of the USS Boxer, which is conducting Maritime Security Operations in support of the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet. U.S. Navy/Joshua ValcarcelI have a confession to make: I've lost track of how many lunar eclipses I've seen. Sure, a few stand out above the rest. The most memorable was the July 5/6, 1982, total eclipse that I saw from the Marietta College Observatory i...
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A planetary feature by any other name ...

Posted 11 years ago by Daniel Pendick
  Hubert Curien (1924–2005) ESAPerhaps as long as humans have had language, we've been naming stuff after ourselves. It's a way of conferring immortality. This holds true for the solar system at large. Major craters on the Moon, deep valleys on Mars, towering volcanoes on Venus — all have names. Famous deceased scientists abound, as do deities from a multitude of world cultures. Some heavenly bodies have naming themes assigned to them. Venus, not surprisingly, is littere...
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Who should own Yerkes?

Posted 11 years ago by Anonymous
  Nineteenth-century refractors employed high magnifications. Astronomers observing with the 40-inch telescope at Yerkes Observatory typically used in magnification higher than 400x. Ernie MastroianniLast week, the University of Chicago announced the formation of a committee to find alternatives for selling the historic Yerkes Observatory. This all but kills the university's intent-to-sell agreement with Mirbeau Corporation. The New York-based hotelier wanted to open a spa and resort an...
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In memoriam: Vic Winter

Posted 11 years ago by Michael Bakich
Amateur astronomy lost one of its ambassadors Sunday, January 28, 2007. Vic Winter, just about the friendliest person you'll ever meet on an observing field, passed away in his sleep. He was 53.I first met Vic January 28, 1989, 18 years to the day before his passing. I had just moved to Kansas City, Missouri, and that Saturday night I attended the monthly meeting of the Astronomical Society of Kansas City (ASKC). When I walked through the door, a guy of medium build with glasses, a moustache...
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The forgotten art of astronomical sketching

Posted 11 years ago by David Eicher
  David J. EicherBack in the day, I would go out to a cornfield astride the neighborhood where I grew up with my 8-inch scope, my dog Oscar, a box of cookies, a star atlas, and a pad of paper. We would explore the sky all night long, uncovering deep-sky objects that, it seemed, no one had ever heard of. In those mid and late 1970s, easy astrophotography and CCD imaging were not yet part of the vocabulary of amateur astronomers. What was the cutting edge of "discovery" then? By tak...
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Happy anniversary, baby!

Posted 11 years ago by Rich Talcott
  BeppoSAX captured the X-ray afterglow of GRB 970228 just 8 hours after the burst triggered the satellite’s gamma-ray detector (left). The glow had faded considerably just 3 days later (right). ASILast week marked the 20th anniversary of supernova 1987A's appearance in the Large Magellanic Cloud. Cakes were baked, corks were popped, and scientists rejoiced last week at a workshop in Aspen, Colorado, dedicated to 1987A and exploding stars in general. (You can read about the confer...
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Five years of looking back at Earth

Posted 11 years ago by Anonymous
One of the European Space Agency's (ESA) greatest gifts marks its fifth year in space. Launched February 28, 2002, from Kourou, French Guiana, Envisat is the largest and most complex environmental satellite. The spacecraft has gathered more than 500 terabytes worth of images of our home planet. As we witness New Horizons' milestone of reaching Jupiter, consider that Envisat has traveled nearly the equivalent of a jovian roundtrip.The 10 instruments aboard Envisat help paint a global view...
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The new stars

Posted 11 years ago by Daniel Pendick
  This image made by the Chandra X-ray Observatory in 2004 shows SN 1572, the youngest supernova remnant in the Milky Way. It is sometimes referred to as “Tycho’s nova,” after the 16th century astronomer who observed and wrote about it. NASA/CXC/MIT/UMass Amherst/M.D.Stage et al. A lot of stars came out last week for the Oscars, but astronomers were more interested in the two novae, or "new stars," discovered by Japanese observers in the constellation Scorpius. W...
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Observing with the man

Posted 11 years ago by Michael Bakich
I'm not a slouch when it comes to observing. In fact, I'd go so far as to say I'm a pretty good observer. I've recorded a lot of "firsts" and "bests" during my random walk through the sky.I've also observed with some of the world's best observers. Many names advanced amateur astronomers would recognize instantly. Some they would not. Well, add another well-recognized name to my life-list: Dave Eicher.Sound familiar? He's my boss, Astronomy's ed...
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It was 20 years ago today

Posted 11 years ago by Rich Talcott
  Supernova 1987A shines brightly near the center of this photo, taken March 2, 1987. The wispy gas clouds of the Tarantula Nebula lie to the supernova’s left. Marcelo Bass/CTIO/NOAO/AURA/NSF It was 20 years ago today,A shock wave started 87A,Its behavior was pretty wild,Left a core of a dozen miles,So let me introduce to you,A star that launched a million cheers,Supernova 87A.(Lennon-McCartney-Talcott [with apologies to the first two])In the predawn hours of February 23, 1987, a few ...
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Meeting the threat from space

Posted 11 years ago by Daniel Pendick
What do an asteroid and a tsunami have in common? Plenty, it turns out. It seems one of the toughest issues for politicians to address in a timely way is a natural hazard with potentially catastrophic consequences but whose risk of actually occurring is highly uncertain. For a moment, think about the tsunami that left about 230,000 people dead or missing around the Indian Ocean basin. Scientists there and abroad were aware of the tsunami risk. Even a rudimentary tsunami warning system, combined ...
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Skis, snow, and supernovae

Posted 11 years ago by Rich Talcott
  The Sun shone brightly on the snowy slopes of Aspen during this week’s supernova workshop. But the participants, including your humble correspondent, were more interested in exploding stars. Larry MarschallWith 12 inches of fresh powder on the slopes at Aspen, you might think everyone at this week's supernova workshop would be grabbing their skis or snowboards, donning their parkas, and heading off to one of the town's four mountains. You obviously don't know astronomers...
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A new look at the Moon

Posted 11 years ago by Daniel Pendick
  NASA/Philip StookeThree cheers for University of Western Ontario geologist Philip Stooke, who deserves the Photoshop Wizard of the Year award for his painstaking restoration of panoramic images shot by the Lunar Surveyors in the 1960s. In his spare time, between teaching cartography and planetary science, Stooke transformed crude and obscured pans of the lunar surface into crisp, modern-looking images. He did it manually, using the standard image-editing software Photoshop. Previousl...
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Views of the Winter Star Party

Posted 11 years ago by Dick McNally
I've created a gallery featuring some pictures of the Winter Star Party — a sold-out event held February 12–18 at Big Pine Key, Florida.Click here to view these images....
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Happy birthday, Copernicus

Posted 11 years ago by Anonymous
  Walker BooksToday marks the 534th birthday of Nicholas Copernicus, the Polish astronomer who published the first modern heliocentric theory, in the 16th century. Although this should be Copernicus' special day - after all, it's not every day a guy has enough candles on a birthday cake to do more damage than Mrs. O'Leary's cow - let's recognize the person who convinced Copernicus to publish his theory, De revolutionibus.Having heard rumors of Copernicus' theory...
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The Arizona Sky Village

Posted 11 years ago by David Eicher
  Astrophotographer Jack Newton was one of Arizona Sky Village’s first inhabitants. His attached observatory houses a 16-inch Meade Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope. Newton routinely photographs the Sun and searches for supernovae. Michael E. Bakich In an era when really dark skies are increasingly hard to find, a group of diehard observers has set up a retreat catering to the fondest wishes of amateur astronomers. In the deep southern part of Arizona, east of Tucson and near the New Mexi...
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A flood of data from Mars

Posted 11 years ago by Rich Talcott
  Tectonic fractures within Candor Chasma retain their ridge-like shapes as the surrounding bedrock erodes away. The fractures have a light tone presumably because liquid water altered their chemical composition. NASA/JPL/ University of Arizona The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) continues to set records. The sophisticated spacecraft, still only 3 months into its primary science mission, has already returned to Earth more data than any previous spacecraft sent to Mars. The data — en...
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Space tourism and the tax man

Posted 11 years ago by Daniel Pendick
  The C2 suborbital spaceship will take a contest winner 62 miles (100 kilometers) above Earth’s surface for a brief joyride. Space Adventures, Ltd.As ordinary citizens jump into the Space Race, they may notice the tax collector following in hot pursuit. People are starting to win "free" rides into space, like the one sponsored by Microsoft and AMD I mentioned in a previous blog.  Trouble is, under U.S. tax law, contest winnings are taxable income. And with suborbital s...
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Star parties - great for beginners

Posted 11 years ago by Dick McNally
The lack of a telescope is no problem for astronomy beginners. When you attend a star party, just about everyone there is willing to let you look through his or her scope.Last night, here at the Winter Star Party in Big Pine Key, Florida, my wife Mary Lee and I were treated to sights of Saturn and its moons, the Whirlpool Galaxy, M81, M82, the Orion Nebula, and other sights, thanks to generous telescope owners.One astronomer took the time to readjust his scope to let us see three different sky t...
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Winter Star Party opens

Posted 11 years ago by Dick McNally
  Martin Willes sets up his Astrophysics refractor with a Baader Energy Rejection filter and Hydrogen-alpha filter. Dick McNallyFlorida's famous Winter Star Party is up and running with a sold-out crowd enjoying temperatures in the 80s. Many telescopes are set up on the beach, and not just for the night sky. Some observers came equipped with Hydrogen-alpha filters, and they're taking full advantage of the day sky and solar observing.Other attendees are visiting vendors or catch...
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Space stuff

Posted 11 years ago by Daniel Pendick
This year, the number of objects in orbit around Earth 4 inches (10 centimeters) or larger reached 10,000. Many smaller bits of space junk also litter space. All of them — large and small — threaten to start colliding into other bits of junk and set off a chain reaction that could make human activity in space dangerous. Everyone wishes space junk would just disappear. The January 11 shoot-down of a defunct satellite by a Chinese anti-satellite missile only highlighted the growing pro...
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The Tucson Gem and Mineral Show

Posted 11 years ago by David Eicher
Each February thousands of people flock to Tucson to attend the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show, where mineral, gem, and meteorite dealers offer specimens for collectors to take home. The event consists of several overlapping shows held at numerous hotels spread throughout the city, and offers collectors an opportunity to buy stuff at significant discounts. Although the focus of the show centers on mineral specimens and jewelry, several dozen meteorite dealers show their stock of dozens to hundreds ...
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How big is yonder star group?

Posted 11 years ago by Michael Bakich
The sky contains approximately 41,253 square degrees of measurable "surface" area. Trust me, I'm going somewhere with this, and it's not to math class.Since 1930, when astronomers formalized the number of constellations and their boundaries, 88 star patterns have filled this area. No gaps exist between constellations, and there are no overlaps or shared stars.Because constellation boundaries follow lines of right ascension and declination, we can calculate the area each occupie...
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Saturn's great show

Posted 11 years ago by Anonymous
If you want to observe showy Saturn and its ephemeral rings at their best and brightest in 2007, then plan on setting up your scope tonight. That is when the ringed planet reaches opposition — Saturn and the Sun lie directly opposite one another with Earth between the two celestial bodies. Then, the planet will lie 762 million miles from Earth, its closest approach of the year.Visible in the east following sunset on the 10th, Saturn will shine at magnitude 0 and cover about 20.3" of s...
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Planetary graffiti

Posted 11 years ago by Daniel Pendick
Graffiti: we do it on trees, rocks, subway cars, and bathroom stalls. The most popular form of all is simply scrawling our initials, sometimes adding a heart and the initials of that special someone.Now you can send your very own "Kilroy was here" to Mars — in digital form. The NASA spaceship Phoenix, slated to land on the northern polar region of Mars in May 2008, will carry a silica glass DVD encoded with messages from the likes of Carl Sagan and Arthur C. Clark. Until February...
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This is what it takes?

Posted 11 years ago by Anonymous
Thanks to an alleged lovelorn meltdown, NASA has received as much general-media coverage this week since Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin treaded on the lunar surface. According to police reports, astronaut Lisa Nowak went bonkers, drove across the southern United States, and confronted a rival for another astronaut's affections.Obviously, there is a human tragedy with this story, but there's also a tragedy of how low we've sunk in national attention on space science. What has NASA don...

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