Astronomy magazine editors share their unique insight from behind the scenes of the science, hobby, and magazine.
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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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A look back in time

Posted 11 years ago by Anonymous
When I first visited Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, in 2004, I was afforded a behind-the-scenes tour of the 24-inch Alvan Clark & Sons refractor. It’s a gigantic telescope housed in its original 1896 dome. I was graciously allowed to move the beast around and climb the ladder at the tube’s front end to peer inside. The lens I saw there is a masterpiece of craftsmanship — made even more remarkable because it’s the product of a self-trained telescope-maker. ...
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Where's Orion's belt?

Posted 11 years ago by Michael Bakich
In the last installment, I outlined the history of the constellations. Now it's time to learn them. Well, at least some of them.Start with no more than three major constellations per season. In no time at all, you'll know your way around the sky in a general sense. You can fill in smaller and fainter constellations later. Anybody really interested in the sky can learn a dozen patterns.As I write this, winter is around the corner, so let's start here. Go outside in the early evening ...
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Mars and why we’ll get there

Posted 11 years ago by Dick McNally
Recently a learned scientist called me to tell me why we’ll never make it to Mars. According to this fine gentleman, humans will not be able to stand up to the assault of solar radiation while traveling to the Red Planet or while on Mars’ surface, especially because of the extended length of time such a mission would take.His argument made sense.  It seems there is currently no way to adequately shield humans from the lethal radiation outside Earth’s magnetic field (Apollo...
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Previewing our trips and tours

Posted 11 years ago by David Eicher
Astronomy magazine is fortunate to have commenced a partnership with a world-class travel firm whose owner, Melita Wade Thorpe, is an active and enthusiastic amateur astronomer. Melita’s company, MWT Associates, is based in San Jose, California. Melita has more than 24 years’ experience in organizing and executing tours for amateur astronomers. Among the exotic locales from Melita’s previous trips are Egypt, Italy, Turkey, Botswana, and Tunisia.      &n...
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Turn left at M8

Posted 11 years ago by Anonymous
Firefly Books has published 300 Astronomical Objects (A Visual Reference to the Universe), a new road map for a tour of the universe. Designed for those getting into the science and hobby of astronomy, the book follows a logical path from the solar system, through the Milky Way, and out to other galaxies. Pictures make the book. Although the text gets to the point and admirably covers subjects in a compact format, kudos to the art team that selected the photos. The book pulls in the best so...
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More on meteorites

Posted 11 years ago by David Eicher
A few weeks ago the staff of Astronomy commenced what is a very popular feature on our web site — the podcasts. We’ve received a large response telling us how much they are enjoyed and appreciated. We’ll certainly keep them going once a week. The first podcast featured Senior Editor Michael Bakich and me sitting around, talking about meteorites. You know, one of those things we sometimes go into at lunchtime around here. Well, a number of you told us how much better it would be...
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Are scientists self-serving or public servants?

Posted 11 years ago by Anonymous
I heard it mentioned more than once at this week’s American Astronomical Society (AAS) Division of Planetary Sciences (DPS) meeting in Pasadena that scientists are a self-serving lot interested only in their own narrow research topics. Are they? The issue became front and center almost immediately during NASA night, a DPS evening event featuring a panel of three NASA members and the AAS’s executive director. Panelists included NASA Deputy Associate Administrator Colleen Hartman,...
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The big question

Posted 11 years ago by Francis Reddy
Is there life elsewhere in the galaxy? Science-fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke broke it down this way: “There are two possibilities, Maybe we’re alone. Maybe we’re not. Both are equally frightening.”Clarke’s summation concludes Bruce Jakosky’s new book, Science, Society, and the Search for Life in the Universe, (University of Arizona Press, 2006). The book is an accessible introduction to the burgeoning field of astrobiology, study of the origin, evolution, a...
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The American Astronomical Society Division of Planetary Sciences annual conference

Posted 11 years ago by Anonymous
The American Astronomical Society Division of Planetary Sciences (AAS DPS) held a full day of sessions October 9 at its annual conference in Pasadena, California. Monday’s sessions included talks on extrasolar planets, the origin of satellites, outer-planet atmospheres, and comet nuclei. Scientists gave mission highlights on Venus Express, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity, and asteroid 1 Ceres. A 90-minute session is composed of 9 speakers, with each...
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Neptune and William Lassell

Posted 11 years ago by Anonymous
Today marks the 160th anniversary of Neptune's discovery by English astronomer William Lassell. Lassell also discovered Ariel and Umbriel, satellites of Uranus;  Triton, a satellite of Neptune; and Hyperion, a satellite of Saturn. William Bond and George Bond also independently discovered Hyperion. William Lassell was a Liverpool businessman-turned-astronomer who had made his fortune in brewing. If you would like to take a look at Neptune, by midevening on October nights, bin...
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Space junk: faster than a speeding bullet, and more dangerous

Posted 11 years ago by Dick McNally
If you think litter is a problem here on Earth, consider the junk that orbits our planet. From nuts and bolts to gloves and other stuff left over from space missions, this trash is downright dangerous.    Add to that the natural debris (meteroids) that orbit our planet, and you can see we have to be careful with our spacecraft and crews. That was demonstrated when a radiator on space shuttle Atlantis was punctured by a tiny piece of space debris during its recent mission. The hole was...
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Our podcasts

Posted 11 years ago by David Eicher
I want to draw your attention to our weekly podcasts, coordinated and hosted by Assistant Editor Jeremy McGovern. Available under the “perspectives” section on our home page, the podcasts have commenced to rave reviews from listeners. Thus far, we have featured such diverse topics as Pluto’s demotion (addressed by Mike Brown of Caltech, Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute, and discoverer Clyde Tombaugh’s widow Patsy); the latest on exoplanets from Senior Editor...
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Close call for an Iraqi friend

Posted 11 years ago by David Eicher
In the December 2004 Astronomy, then-Assistant Editor Matt Quandt profiled Raad Ali Abdulaziz, an Iraqi amateur astronomer, engineer, and humanitarian. Just as the story was getting ready to go to press, our whole staff experienced a chilling morning when we learned that Raad, along with three other aid workers, was kidnapped in Baghdad by Islamic extremists. Just before the issue went to press, we suddenly learned the drama concluded well, with the group, Raad included, being released unharmed....
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Out-of-this-World Award

Posted 11 years ago by David Eicher
Congratulations to Celestial North, Inc., an astronomy club based in Freeland, Washington! Last September, Celestial North became the recipient of Astronomy magazine’s first annual Out-of-this-World Award, which recognizes ongoing astronomy club outreach efforts. The $2,500 prize rewards Celestial North’s sustained efforts to involve the Puget Sound community in the science and hobby of astronomy. Astronomy magazine editors chose Celestial North from 32 clubs throughout the United S...
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Don’t worry, OnStar should still work

Posted 11 years ago by Anonymous
Scientists at Cornell University have found strong solar flares can cause Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers to fail. These generally unpredictable and abnormal solar belches could be devastating for “safety-of-life” GPS operations, such as navigating passenger jets, stabilizing floating oil rigs, and locating mobile-phone distress calls. “Soon the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] will require that every plane have a GPS receiver transmitting its position to air tra...
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It's a man holding a snake. No, really

Posted 11 years ago by Anonymous
Eighty-eight constellations cover the sky. No gaps exist between them, and there's no overlap. It's a logical system where every object — star, planet, or galaxy — resides within one constellation's boundaries. This arrangement resembles a map of the United States. Everything in the country belongs to one state (or the District of Columbia). A few quirks exist. For example, you can find a small Kansas City in Kansas and a huge Kansas City in Missouri. Don't ask.The co...
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Satire from the Prophet of Science

Posted 11 years ago by Anonymous
Bison Books has published the first-ever English translation of The Meteor Hunt by Jules Verne. The French writer left the novel to us when he passed away in 1905. In this novel, a meteor of pure gold heads toward Earth, setting off excitement and chaos. The Meteor Hunt provides Verne’s view of turn-of-the-century science. Of particular interest to the investigative reader are notes from editors and translators Frederick Paul Walker and Walter James Miller following the translated text. S...
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A close-up of the “Face of Mars”

Posted 11 years ago by Anonymous
The European Space Agency’s Mars Express orbiter recently captured a view of the Cydonia region, site of the famous “Face on Mars.” NASA’s Viking I revealed this ruddy mug to us back in July 1976. This region isn’t only of interest to sci-fi fans and alien life-form speculators, but to planetary geologists. In areas adjacent to Cydonia, gently sloping areas surrounding hills or reliefs, formations known as “debris aprons,” are frequently found. The...

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