Astronomy magazine editors share their unique insight from behind the scenes of the science, hobby, and magazine.
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Will the next solar cycle please stand up?

Posted 11 years ago by David Eicher
Astronomers at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco are debating predictions of what the next solar cycle, number 24, which will start next year and will peak in 2011, will be like. Ironically, with new techniques to analyze solar cycles and with more observations than ever before, solar physicists are predicting a wider range of possibilities than ever before. As astronomer Bill Murtagh of NOAA's Space Environment Center says, "The next solar cycle might among the bi...
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Ringworlds: under the hood

Posted 11 years ago by Francis Reddy
Larry Esposito knows planetary rings. In 1979, as a member of the imaging team for the Pioneer 11 Saturn flyby, he discovered the planet’s kinked and braided F ring. He’s also a member of the science team for the Cassini probe, now orbiting Saturn. Who better, then, to serve as guide on a tour of ringed planets?Esposito’s Planetary Rings is not a book aimed at a broad audience — its $110 list price alone prevents that — but much of the text is accessible to general ...
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More evidence for global warming on Earth

Posted 11 years ago by David Eicher
Sitting around in the office at Astronomy 20 years ago, our editors used to joke about stories in the magazine centered on Earth. But then it struck us, why limit ourselves to just the other planets? Why not study important Earth stories in the pages of Astronomy? After all, Earth is a planet, too! Stories about planet Earth used to be pure science pieces. Now, in the last decade or so, they have become increasingly political as well. On the first day of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) meet...
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The weather gods hate me

Posted 11 years ago by Michael Bakich
The onset of winter heralds many things amateur astronomers love: maximum darkness, high Full Moons, and Orion the Hunter at its summit. Add to these the sights and sounds of the Christmas season. Bah, humbug!Don't get me wrong. I like even the tackiest commercialism of Christmas. It's astronomy, however, that puts me in a bad mood this time of year. You see, I live in Milwaukee, and, like most locations in the northern U.S., winter brings bitter cold and the cloudiest skies this side of...
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Science in the round

Posted 11 years ago by Francis Reddy
What do you get when you combine four video projectors, five computers, and a suspended, 6-foot-wide white sphere? An entirely new way to tell visual stories, says Michael Starobin, senior media producer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center outside Baltimore.Starobin and the Goddard visualization team have produced the first true movie for this new medium. Their 16-minute film Footprints dramatically depicts Earth, the Moon, and the planets as if you’re floating above them. The...
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Discovery - will it transit the Moon?

Posted 11 years ago by Rich Talcott
NASA hopes to launch the space shuttle Discovery this evening. If it blasts off on schedule, observers in northeast Florida may witness a rare, perhaps unprecedented event: a shuttle's passage across the face of a nearly Full Moon.Discovery looks like it will be ready. By yesterday afternoon, engineers had resolved two last-minute technical issues, and NASA cleared the shuttle for flight. Now, all we need is cooperative weather. As of this morning, there appeared to be a 60-percent chance of...
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The Barnyard Constellation

Posted 11 years ago by Dick McNally
I had a flying instructior once - his name was John - who told about some of the darkest skies in the United States - over North Dakota.John was flying cross-country in his Cessna 172 at night.  It was so dark that he couldn't see the horizon. The yard lights on the farms below looked like stars.All of a sudden the cookie tin John had in the back seat started floating up into the air. Then John realized he had so confused the yard lights with the stars that he was starting to turn the a...
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All I need is the air that I breathe

Posted 11 years ago by Rich Talcott
"All I need is the air that I breathe," to quote from a top-10 Hollies song from 1974. (Full disclosure: Love was also a required commodity for songwriters Albert Hammond and Mike Hazlewood.) But how did that air - or at least the oxygen vital to our existence -get into the atmosphere? It's a question that has troubled scientists for decades.At one level, it's pretty straightforward. More than 2 billion years ago, organisms suddenly developed the capacity to release molecular o...
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Early astronaut menus

Posted 11 years ago by Anonymous
Trail-blazing astronauts should be commended for enduring NASA’s early menus.According to the space agency, John Glenn, America's first man to eat while orbiting Earth, found the task of eating fairly easy, but found the selection limited. During the 1960s, other Mercury astronauts endured bite-sized cubes, freeze-dried powders, and semi-liquids stuffed in aluminum tubes. Most astronauts agreed the foods were unappetizing and they disliked the process of eating: Freeze-dried foods were...
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The sky is falling

Posted 11 years ago by Michael Bakich
“Why should people observe meteor showers?” A reporter writing a story about an upcoming meteor shower asked me this question. He seemed satisfied with my answer, but as I thought about the question, more reasons came to mind. Let’s see how many I can remember: 1) Meteor-watching is easy. This is not an expedition to a remote mountaintop in an attempt to detect an ephemeral galaxy at your telescope’s limit. For meteor showers, just set up a lawn chair (preferably a recliner), grab a blanket, an...
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But could he dunk?

Posted 11 years ago by Anonymous
I was watching my favorite sport, basketball, on television a few nights after NASA announced the fifth service mission to Hubble. UCLA legend and NBA great Bill Walton was the analyst during the game. As Walton made one of his trademark hyperbolic comments, I remembered a connection he holds with Edwin Hubble.Both played center on college basketball teams that won the national title. Although Hubble wasn’t as prominent as Walton, he was a strong presence on the hardwood. At 6’2&rdq...
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Fun in the Sun

Posted 11 years ago by Michael Bakich
On November 8, Mercury crossed the Sun’s disk in an event astronomers call a solar transit. Here at Astronomy magazine, the day was warm and clear, with only a few passing clouds blocking our view for brief periods. In our parking lot, the staff set up four telescopes — three with visual solar filters plus one Hydrogen-alpha scope. We observed from first contact, at 1:12 P.M., until the Sun set behind our building, shortly before 4:30 P.M. And we had a blast!This event reminded me ho...
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Exciting news at Astronomy

Posted 11 years ago by David Eicher
Dear Readers,I want to thank you for reading Astronomy magazine and let you in on some exciting news about additions that will be coming to our magazine and web site.Your loyal support has helped make Astronomy the world’s best-selling magazine dedicated to your passion — the science and hobby of astronomy. Leading the field with 137,688* subscribers, more than 50,000 better than the competition, and with 247,838** readers altogether, Astronomy magazine proudly stands as the lea...
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Out with the old and in with the new

Posted 11 years ago by Rich Talcott
In these days of ever-quickening technology development and new gaming consoles, it’s a mantra we all seemingly embrace. But it seems a little harder this week, as we face the possibility that the Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) spacecraft may be nearing its end.Sure, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has just started returning glorious and detailed images of the martian surface, revealing objects 10 times smaller than MGS could. But it was Global Surveyor that detected young gullies eviden...
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Moon madness hits publishers

Posted 11 years ago by Anonymous
Yesterday, we commemorated Apollo 12’s launch back in 1969. The lunar module landed on the Moon’s surface five days later. Over the past year or so, publishers have released a number of Moon-mission books in a rush that rivals the Space Race. Since President Bush’s call for a lunar mission, thoughts of the Moon, seemingly dormant since Gene Cernan’s return to the lunar module, again have a pulse. If you are feeling nostalgic for the past, here are four titles you might wa...
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Expensive eating: $5,000 a pound

Posted 11 years ago by Dick McNally
When I read recently that the International Space Station received more than 2 tons of supplies, including food, water and fuel, I got to thinking how expensive some of that stuff is when you include the shipping. Keep in mind that it costs some $5,000 to $10,000 a pound just to get stuff in orbit. That would make a hamburger ring up the register at about $3,000. Super-size me, indeed. And a glass of that famous Tang orange drink that astronauts love so much? Add another $3,000. Please don&rsquo...
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Number 6: Ten things to do before you die, part 3: numbers 3 through 1

Posted 11 years ago by Michael Bakich
3. Plan to be surprised by an astronomical event.My list's cryptic and somewhat variable item requires you to be in the right place at the right time. In such cases, you're either surprised by how terrific an astronomical event turns out, or you're surprised because something unplanned happens. Some examples from my recent past include viewing the aftermath of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 striking Jupiter, observing a brilliant daytime fireball, seeing Comet Hyakutake at its brightest, mar...
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Who’s keeping track of space debris?

Posted 11 years ago by Anonymous
Touring the space-surveillance unit at White Sands Missile Range near Socorro, New Mexico, was a rare treat I was glad to experience while attending the Enchanted Skies Star Party in Socorro. U.S. Air Force Capt. Charles M. Holland, Commander of Detachment 1, 21st Operations Group, led our group on a tour of the Air Force's lead Ground-Based Electro-Optical Deep Space Surveillance (GEODSS) system.Capt. Holland and his detachment detect, track, identify, and report on all human-made objects o...
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The gods smiled on Wisconsin yesterday

Posted 11 years ago by Rich Talcott
After abnormally cold and cloudy weather during September and October, November 8 saw mostly sunny skies and temperatures in the 60s. You couldn’t ask for better weather (in November, that is) to view Mercury’s transit of the Sun.Mercury always seems so small when it crosses the Sun. With an angular diameter only 0.5 percent that of the Sun, the planet’s petite disk doesn’t come as a surprise. But Venus was only 6 times larger during its 2004 transit, and it appeared obv...
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Mercury schmercury

Posted 11 years ago by Anonymous
The United States is captivated by a cosmic event today. Mercury crossing the Sun’s face? Who cares? People are more interested by pop-sensation Britney Spears divorcing her hubby Kevin Federline.And rightly so. Doesn’t a planet crossing the Sun happen every day? Especially Mercury, it is the innermost planet, after all. A mega-celebrity divorcing a celebrity-by-association … now there’s something to get excited about. That’s something as rare as a celebrity sluggi...
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Ten things to do before you die, part 2: numbers 6 through 4

Posted 11 years ago by Michael Bakich
6. Spend at least one entire night at a true-dark site.I think Brian Skiff, astronomer at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, coined the term "true-dark" site. Such a location lies between 6,500 and 8,000 feet (2,000 and 2,500 meters) above sea level, remains relatively cloud-free for long periods, enjoys a weather pattern that produces good seeing, and mostly is unpolluted by atmospheric aerosols. In the United States, this means a trip to a mountaintop in the Desert Southwest. ...
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Hubble lives!

Posted 11 years ago by Rich Talcott
The Space Telescope will live several years longer than it appeared just a few months ago. NASA Administrator Michael Griffin’s announcement Tuesday of a fifth and final Hubble servicing mission brought cheers from scientists and ordinary citizens alike — essentially everyone who appreciates the fundamental science and stunning images Hubble has returned since its 1990 launch.Here at Astronomy, everyone was bouncing off the walls (figuratively, of course) with excitement and anticipa...
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Observatory or museum: Where will future astronomers learn their way around the night sky?

Posted 11 years ago by Anonymous
It seems like a silly question to ask, but the longer I participate in astronomy education and outreach efforts, the more I find the focus tends to be on creating exhibits and entertaining sky-show presentations. Is the actual sky no longer part of the astronomy experience? It’s not that I have anything against teaching astronomy concepts in a classroom or an auditorium setting, but the sky is right outside — all the time. Take, for example, the concept of celestial coordinate system...
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Thirty years of Horkheimer

Posted 11 years ago by Anonymous
This weekend, television viewers will celebrate the 30th anniversary of Star Gazer, a weekly astronomy short produced by Miami PBS station WPBT. For three decades, the one constant on the show has been the infectious enthusiasm of host Jack Horkheimer.Horkheimer, the executive director of the Space Transit Planetarium at the Miami Museum of Science, first appeared on WPBT in the early 1970s. His work was so popular that WPBT invited him to do a weekly show. On November 4, 1976, Star Hustler (lat...
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Ten things to do before you die, part 1: numbers 10 through 7

Posted 11 years ago by Michael Bakich
While wandering through Barnes & Noble the other day, I saw a book 100 Things to Do Before You Die: Travel Events You Just Can't Miss by Neil Teplica. What, I wondered, would that list look like for amateur astronomers? Well, any observer's "top 100" list would contain lots of individual objects. Such catalogs vary according to the observer, and an inventory of 100 objects and events could grow tedious. That didn't stop me from making a list, but I managed to hold the number to 10. To amate...
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Where are the accolades?

Posted 11 years ago by Anonymous
It seems like some members of the media and disinterested public love it when NASA stumbles more so than when the agency succeeds. I suppose this is the case whenever big bucks are involved. There is a direct correlation between the dollar amount and expectations. Just like America’s sports fanatics. If a popular free agent doesn’t respond accordingly after a signing a multi-million deal in the off-season, talk radio, blogs, and water coolers erupt, demanding the team’s coach ...
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Does the space station have a rink?

Posted 11 years ago by Anonymous
Usually professional athletes are targets of autograph seekers. This time, the adoring fan is the athlete.Prior to his trip to theInternational Space Station (ISS) for 6 months, Expedition 14 Cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin autographed his crew photo for another famous Russian: National Hockey League star Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals. A thrilled Ovechkin received the framed photo of the orbiting Tyurin following practice with his Washington Capitals teammates. When Tyurin returns to Ea...
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COSMOS shakes up the newsstand

Posted 11 years ago by David Eicher
Astronomy magazine is blessed with the good fortune to have an amazingly talented staff. The editors, designers, illustrators, and contributors are the best in the business, and your reaction to our product shows the confidence you have in them. The latest special product produced by Astronomy’s staff, COSMOS, hit the newsstands a number of days ago. Featuring an Adolf Schaller illustration of a star cluster surrounded by gas clouds and the cover story “Before there was light,”...
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Yerkes Observatory

Posted 11 years ago by Anonymous
Robber Baron: The Life of Charles Tyson Yerkes (University of Illinois Press, 2006). Yerkes has some name-recognition among skywatchers ― his generosity established the world-famous observatory that bears his name in Williams Bay, Wisconsin.  Yerkes certainly earned the title “robber baron.” His life, thoroughly recounted by Franch, bares many similarities to contemporaries like Andrew Carnegie or J. P. Morgan. The lesson learned from Yerkes and his ilk: No matter how corrupt yo...
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Earthshine

Posted 11 years ago by Rich Talcott
Driving home last night during twilight, I was taken aback by the appearance of our nearest celestial neighbor, the Moon. The strikingly thin crescent hung low in the southwest, well away from the pretty pinks and purples clinging to the western horizon where the Sun had recently set. With a little effort, I also saw the star Antares a bit to the Moon’s right and brilliant Jupiter farther in the same direction.Earthshine beautifully filled out the Moon’s globe. This ashen glow comes ...

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