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

Posted 11 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...
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Movie day memories from NASA

Posted 11 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...
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How to pick a landing site

Posted 11 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...
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Currently visible comets

Posted 11 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...
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The Northern Lights and Lava Fields of Iceland (part 4)

Posted 11 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...
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The Northern Lights and Lava Fields of Iceland (part 3)

Posted 11 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...
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Extra! Extra! Global warming on Mars!

Posted 11 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...
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The Northern Lights and Lava Fields of Iceland (part 2)

Posted 11 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 ...
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Cold eclipse

Posted 11 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...
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The Northern Lights and Lava Fields of Iceland

Posted 11 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'...
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Go for the dream!

Posted 11 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 ...
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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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