Astronomy magazine editors share their unique insight from behind the scenes of the science, hobby, and magazine.
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The new stars

Posted 13 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 13 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 13 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 13 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 13 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 13 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 13 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 13 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 13 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 13 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 13 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 13 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 13 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 13 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 13 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 13 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 13 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 13 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 13 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 13 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 13 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 13 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 13 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 13 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 13 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 13 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 13 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 13 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 13 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 13 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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