Astronomy magazine editors share their unique insight from behind the scenes of the science, hobby, and magazine.
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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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Mercury on the mind

Posted 11 years ago by Rich Talcott
  Mercury stands above the western horizon after sunset in this view from 2005. Lee CoombsLast evening was clear in Wisconsin and, with the temperature hovering in the single digits, relatively balmy compared with the past few nights. I took the opportunity to view Mercury. The solar system's most elusive bright planet, Mercury is never easy for us northerners to see. Luckily, the innermost planet was at greatest eastern elongation yesterday, so it was about as high in the sky as it cou...
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My kind of observing

Posted 11 years ago by Anonymous
For me, the best kind of observing is naked eye — and before bedtime. This week, Mercury and Venus fit that bill. Before dinner tonight, check out the planetary pairing in the west-southwest. Even a sub-zero wind chill tonight won't dissuade me from tracking down these inner planets — in fact, it's certain to keep me awake....
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Baby, it's cold out there

Posted 11 years ago by Daniel Pendick
The top story this week in our part of the country is the Arctic air mass that has settled over the land, cracking water pipes, chapping lips, and closing schools for fear that students would turn into popsicles waiting for the bus. Forecasters whipped the populace into a frenzy with threats of wind chills in the negative double digits. For cosmic irony perhaps, note that the latest global-warming forecast by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was unleashed in the midst of the big chi...
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Astronomy's great tool

Posted 11 years ago by Michael Bakich
  SpringerA new book just arrived at the office, and I'm pretty jazzed about it because it covers a topic not often addressed — interpreting stellar spectra. Spectroscopy: The Key to the Stars by Keith Robinson (Springer, New York, 2007) is part of Sir Patrick Moore's Practical Astronomy series.Spectroscopy, the study of stellar spectra, is astronomy's great tool. It's so far beyond photography for providing important information about celestial objects, they shouldn&#...
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How much wood would a woodchuck chuck?

Posted 11 years ago by Rich Talcott
Among life's many mysteries, the answer to the question above has to rank pretty low. Higher on my list: Why are woodchucks also called groundhogs? After all, wood and ground are hardly synonymous, and a "chuck" has nothing to do with a "hog."But the biggest question about woodchucks and groundhogs has to be why these furry rodents became associated with weather forecasting. Today is Groundhog Day, and tradition holds that if the groundhog sticks his head out of his burro...
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A sunscreen for Earth

Posted 11 years ago by Daniel Pendick
The mainstream medium is already calling it the "smoking-gun report." Today, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a summary of its findings to a worried world. (Don't forget that 2006 was the warmest year in the United States on record.)According to the IPCC report, the effects of rising global average temperatures are being seen throughout the world; some of this change is due to human activity;  and the degree of future warming could have dire consequenc...
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More trouble for Hubble

Posted 11 years ago by Anonymous
The Hubble Space Telescope's Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) went into "safe mode" January 27. The space-based telescope's instrument has operated on backup electronics since June 30, 2006, and now doesn't work. The problem calls into question whether NASA's upcoming servicing mission 4, planned for September 2008, will be a "go." Not going ahead with the servicing mission would a disappointment, considering the bounty of awe-inspiring images Hubble has alre...
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What did the satellite ever do to you?

Posted 11 years ago by Anonymous
  Will fragments of a Chinese satellite threaten Hubble and other orbiting instruments? NASA/ESAOn January 11, China launched a missile that destroyed one of its weather satellites. Although Beijing may tell the U.S. State Department and the world that the action isn't a threat, it actually is. Surely, this will spur greater militarization of space. Should China — or any other nation — continue experiments like this, there could be grave consequences.  On October 2006, ...
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NASA’s disaster week

Posted 11 years ago by Daniel Pendick
January 28 to February 3 has been a tough week for NASA and the United States public. On January 27, 1967, the Apollo I capsule caught fire during a pre-flight test, killing astronauts Edward White, Virgil (Gus) Grissom, and Roger Chaffee. On January 28, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds into flight, killing all seven crew aboard. On February 1, 2003, the space shuttle Columbia burned up on reentry, claiming another seven NASA astronauts.The fact that three fatal aerospace a...
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Star party do's and don'ts (Part 3)

Posted 11 years ago by Michael Bakich
Here's the last installment of my tips for beginning star-party goers.Never move someone's telescope without permission. If the object you're observing seems to be drifting out of the field of view, briefly mention this to the telescope's owner. He or she will more than likely show you how to adjust for that, either manually with slow-motion controls or with an electronic hand paddle. Sometimes, especially if the scope's balance isn't the best, the owner will trade places...
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Can't get enough of Mars

Posted 11 years ago by Rich Talcott
  Mars Express captured this view of the northern branch of Kasei Valles, one of the biggest outflow channels on Mars. ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum) Three years ago this week, the Mars rover Opportunity landed in a tiny crater in a largely featureless plain known as Meridiani Planum. It had already been preceded 3 weeks earlier by its twin, Spirit, which bounced to a stop in Gusev Crater. NASA designed the rovers to survive 3 Earth months. So, surviving — and thriving — for 3 ye...
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Rating deep-sky objects

Posted 11 years ago by David Eicher
What are the best objects to observe in the sky, outside our solar system? For years, the front runners were always, invariably, the Orion Nebula and the Andromeda Galaxy. Telescopes, technology, and observers' information sources have changed so much over the past several years, however, that I wonder if the objects Astronomy readers favor have now shifted around. Among open clusters, do you see the Pleiades, Beehive, and Double Cluster as the greats? How about standout globulars — Om...
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Cool web-cam action

Posted 11 years ago by Anonymous
A historic telescope is now very modern: the 200-inch (5.1 meters) Hale Telescope on Palomar Mountain in California has a web cam.The Hale was the world's largest telescope for 45 years (1948–1993), and it still performs science. This morning, around 9 PST, engineers will lift off the top of the telescope and bring it down to the observing floor in order to aluminize the secondary mirror. Check it out. If you miss it, don't worry — the web cam will run 24/7, so you'll hav...
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Space tourism: economy seats available

Posted 11 years ago by Daniel Pendick
In a recent blog, I told you about the contest for a free ride into suborbital space sponsored by Microsoft Corp. and chipmaker Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) Inc. Ticket prices for such adventures run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars and even the millions.  DreamSpace’s XF-1 is a one-person spaceship that will take off like a plane and soar into suborbital space using a liquid-fuel rocket engine. The prototype XF-1 could be ready for flight by the end of 2007 and will be launc...
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Star party do’s and don’ts (Part 2)

Posted 11 years ago by Michael Bakich
Following up on last week's start, here are a few more suggestions I hope you'll consider before you attend a star party.With regard to viewing through someone else's telescope — focus! I have suggested this to thousands of people, young and old, beginning and advanced, and I repeat it here. Our eyes are not all the same. Even a minute amount of focusing can reveal details within Saturn's rings that were invisible before. It's that critical. If you're unfamiliar wit...
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A revised future for astronomy at Mauna Kea

Posted 11 years ago by Daniel Pendick
Astronomers and native Hawaiians both worship Mauna Kea, but for very different reasons. The 13,796 foot (4,205 meter) peak of the volcano is the Mecca of ground-based astronomy. It hosts 12 observatories, including the Keck, Gemini North, and Subaru telescopes.  This aerial view shows sunrise on Mauna Kea. Part of the shadow of Mauna Kea can be seen in the background. The observatories seen here are (from right to left): Keck I and II (large twin white domes), NASA Infrared Telescope Facil...
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Gouge me a crater

Posted 11 years ago by Rich Talcott
"Water on Mars!" Headlines like this almost write themselves. The media jump at the opportunity to trumpet such reports — and what the implications may be for life on other worlds. It happens with Mars (frequently), Jupiter's moon Europa (often), and even Saturn's moon Enceladus (the latest entry in the water/life sweepstakes).  Mars Global Surveyor imaged a fresh impact crater with a dark debris pattern (left image) March 13, 2006. The 65-foot-wide (19.8m) crater fo...
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Big universe

Posted 11 years ago by Daniel Pendick
How many times have you looked up at the night sky — or at a stunning image in Astronomy magazine of a single galaxy containing billions of stars — and thought: "There has just got to be life out there"?The trick is finding it. The SETI program listens for radio-frequency whispers from the vastness of space. Rasmus Bjørk at the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen, Denmark, reaches for his calculator.Bjørk 's paper, "Exploring the Galaxy using space pro...
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The universe the way we see it

Posted 11 years ago by David Eicher
Humans now live in a world of complete oversaturation. You see it everywhere you go. Everyone wants to drive faster, get places, do things, see people, make deals, move on down the road. We can't go anywhere without the latest cell phone, need 24/7 access to CNN and iPods and SIRIUS Radio, and God help us if we can't find the BlackBerry. We've culturally turned up the volume in the movies, on TV, in print, and everywhere else so that we're a culture of watchers of over-hyped sens...
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Back to Barsoom

Posted 11 years ago by Daniel Pendick
The entertainment media are abuzz today with reports that Disney is in final negotiations to create a new movie franchise — a la "Pirates of the Caribbean" — from the famous Edgar Rice Burroughs "John Carter of Mars" series of 11 novels. The muscular, steely-eyed Virginian was transported to Mars via astral projection. The planet, known as Barsoom to the locals, conveniently imparted heroic strength to Carter due to its weaker gravity. When Disney finally run...
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Star party do's and don’ts (Part 1)

Posted 11 years ago by Michael Bakich
In my last blog, I talked about the many reasons to head out to a star party. I'm following up in this blog (and the next two) by outlining some tips that will keep you from incurring the wrath of fellow star-partiers.First, follow all posted instructions. Many star parties provide a sheet of general nighttime rules. If you've not been to that particular star party, read and memorize the list.Avoid using light. Please note I didn't say "avoid using white light." While it...
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Amateurs go online to assist researchers

Posted 11 years ago by Anonymous
So you want to contribute to the science of astronomy, but you haven't yet gotten around to earning your Ph.D.? No problem. Amateur astronomers have more opportunities than ever to participate in professional research. If you have a computer and an Internet connection, you're there.Professional astronomers collect a multitude of data each year using some of the world's largest telescopes. The data are typically stored in online databases. Increasingly, many researchers are turning to...
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Everything old is wonderful again

Posted 11 years ago by Daniel Pendick
The other day, I was interviewing Harvey Richer, a professor of astronomy at the University of British Columbia. He and one of his former Ph.D. students, Jason Kalirai, recently discovered the most distant star clusters ever observed. The press material included a lovely image of the clusters, so I jumped on the story. After all, one of the things that drives the popularization of astronomy — and, at least in part, subscriptions to Astronomy magazine — are the pretty pictures.But it&...
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Soccer-ball space science

Posted 11 years ago by Francis Reddy
With its exciting operations at asteroid Itokawa in late 2005, Japan's Hayabusa showed the time has come for on-site exploration of near-Earth asteroids and comets. Dennis Ebbets and his colleagues at Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp. in Boulder, Colorado, presented a novel design concept for such missions at this week's American Astronomical Society meeting in Seattle.   A spherical lander opens its petals and sets to work on an asteroid in this illustration. In the distance, a...
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Winter deep-sky challenges

Posted 11 years ago by David Eicher
The next time you're out observing and you find yourself checking out the same objects one too many times, consider branching out into some new territory. Find a level of object that pushes your equipment and your observational skill, and draw up a list of new things to see. Try sketching the objects carefully with a pad of paper, a dim red flashlight, and a soft pencil (an Eberhard Faber Ebony pencil works best for smudging the faint light of nebulae and galaxies). Many years ago, an old ob...
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Fly me to the Moon

Posted 11 years ago by Daniel Pendick
You're a Silicon Valley god. You developed the most killer "killer app" in history. You just sold it to Google for a few billion dollars and change. You can have anything you want. What will it be? Diamond-encrusted cell phone? Nightly caviar bath? Health insurance with no deductibles or co-pays?How about a thrill ride into suborbital space?A surprisingly large number of the conspicuously wealthy have already paid their fares to a variety of companies offering "space tourism&q...
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Dusk and dawn delights

Posted 11 years ago by Rich Talcott
The big news in the observing world this past week has been the remarkable brightness of Comet C/2006 P1 (McNaught). It has now reached magnitude -2 — as bright as the planet Jupiter — and makes an impressive sight shortly after sunset.  Comet C/2006 P1 (McNaught) hangs low in evening twilight, just above some encroaching clouds, from Astronomy’s headquarters in Waukesha, Wisconsin. Ernie Mastroianni The comet took most astronomers by surprise. It was a 17th-magnitude obje...

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