Dave Eicher, editor of Astronomy magazine and science popularizer, brings you thoughts about astronomy, cosmology, nature, the hobby of astronomy, the sometimes disturbingly pseudoscientific culture we live in, and more.
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Supernova in M101 imaged by Kevin Boucher

Posted 6 years ago by David Eicher
As first I described on Friday that a supernova discovered on Wednesday, August 24, in the nearby galaxy M101 in Ursa Major is the nearest type Ia supernova astronomers have found since 1972. The brightness of this exploding star is on the rise, and it could be visible in binoculars within a week or so. On Monday evening, August 29, Kevin Boucher of the Aldrich Astronomical Society Imaging Group in Massachusetts shot this fine portrait of M101 and its supernova. “There wasn’t a lot ...
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Supernova in M101 imaged by Jimmy Westlake

Posted 6 years ago by David Eicher
As I first described on Friday, a supernova discovered August 24 in the nearby galaxy M101 in Ursa Major is the nearest type Ia supernova astronomers have found since 1972. The brightness of this exploding star is on the rise, and it could be visible in binoculars within a week or so. Yesterday, Jimmy Westlake, a professor of astronomy at Colorado Mountain College in Alpine (and a longtime astroimager), sent these “before and after” images of the supernova, which now hovers aro...
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Supernova in M101 imaged by Anthony Ayiomamitis

Posted 6 years ago by David Eicher
  As I described on Friday, a type Ia supernova discovered Wednesday, August 24, in the nearby galaxy M101 in Ursa Major is the nearest type Ia supernova astronomers have found since 1972. The brightness of this exploding star is on the rise, and it could be visible in binoculars within a week or so. Late on Friday, our good friend Anthony Ayiomamitis in Greece, a superb astroimager, sent his latest picture of the galaxy and its attendant supernova, which is reproduced here. Anthony shot ...
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HOT NEWS! Supernova in M101 could be visible in binoculars

Posted 6 years ago by David Eicher
A type Ia supernova discovered Wednesday, August 24, in the nearby galaxy M101 in Ursa Major is the nearest type Ia supernova astronomers have found since 1986. The brightness of this exploding star is on the rise, and it could be visible in a 6-inch telescope within a week or so. Astronomers at the Palomar Transient Factory project on California’s Palomar Mountain discovered the supernova using the Oschin Schmidt telescope at Palomar Mountain Observatory. The supernova is designated SN 2...
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Cool video of Hurricane Irene from the International Space Station

Posted 6 years ago by David Eicher
As East Coast residents prepare to be hammered by Hurricane Irene, check out this amazing video of the storm shot yesterday from 230 miles (370 kilometers) above Earth’s surface by the crew of the International Space Station. The movie shows the storm as it washed over the Bahamas at about 3:10 p.m. EDT on August 24, 2011. Irene is currently moving northwest and is classified as a Category 3 storm, with winds of 120 mph (193 km/h). It is heading toward North Carolina’s Outer Banks a...
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John Chumack nails Comet Garradd

Posted 6 years ago by David Eicher
There’s a reasonably bright comet in the sky right now — Comet C/2009 P1 (Garradd), discovered by Australian amateur astronomer Gordon Garradd. The comet is now visible through binoculars and small telescopes, an evening object glowing at around magnitude 8, and showing a nice, intense, bright green coma. The comet is in the tiny constellation Sagitta in the summer Milky Way, and will continue to be visible for some time to come. Astronomy magazine contributor John Chumack captured ...
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Sizzling hot image of the week: Heckathorn-Fesen-Gull 1

Posted 6 years ago by David Eicher
Rarely do you get a look at a planetary nebula that’s this old. The endgame for Sun-like stars, planetary nebulae — so named because many years ago their disks appeared like planets in the eyepiece — are clouds of gas slowly dissipating into surrounding space. They’re one of the methods the universe uses for its stellar recycling program. Noted astroimager Don Goldman recently captured an amazing planetary nebula, Heckathorn-Fesen-Gull 1. What sounds like the first case o...
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How young people can influence astronomical research — part two

Posted 6 years ago by David Eicher
Today I’m sharing part two of a guest story by 16-year-old Benjamin Palmer of Queensbury, New York (you can find part one here) . Benjamin is an active amateur astronomer, won this year’s Astronomy magazine Youth Essay Contest, and is chair of a committee on Youth in Astronomy for the Astronomy Foundation.* * * *Surfing the web, surfing the cosmosAs the Internet has expanded over the decades, a novel breed of observers has emerged. These individuals depend not on eyepieces, filters, ...
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How young people can influence astronomical research — part one

Posted 6 years ago by David Eicher
Today I’m sharing part one of a guest story by 16-year-old Benjamin Palmer, of Queensbury, New York. Benjamin is an active amateur astronomer, won this year’s Astronomy magazine Youth Essay Contest, and is chair of a committee on Youth in Astronomy for the Astronomy Foundation. Please enjoy the first part of this great article written by Benjamin, with the conclusion to come tomorrow. * * * *When pondering the mystique of the cosmos, one unequivocal truth prevails: The only thing cer...
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How you can help save the next space telescope

Posted 6 years ago by David Eicher
I’m sure most of you are well aware of the danger the James Webb Space Telescope faces from Congressional budget cutting. Now is the time to rise to action to save JWST, which represents the next generation of our exploration of the distant universe. Here is an informational email from the American Astronomical Society (AAS) that suggests how you can get involved now to help the future of astronomy and science. Please read it and take action. It is all up to you. JWST: What Can We Do Now?...
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More Perseids from Ohio

Posted 6 years ago by David Eicher
A few days ago, I shared an image of some Perseid meteors captured by John Chumack at his observatory near Dayton, Ohio. Although the Moon was very close to Full and, therefore, the conditions hardly ideal this year, observers did catch quite a few Perseids over the past several days, and I hope you were one of them. I have the pleasure of sharing another image of John's, this one taken August 12, when he captured more than 100 meteors. For more on John's astroimaging, see http://www.g...
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A new phase for the Astronomy Outreach Foundation

Posted 6 years ago by David Eicher
Many of you are familiar with the telescope industry’s first trade association, the Astronomy Outreach Foundation, which was created in late 2009 to spread interest in astronomy, especially to younger folks. The group has recently undergone a reorganization. Now named simply the Astronomy Foundation (AF), the organization consists of telescope manufacturers, clubs, magazines, and devoted amateur astronomers who wish to spread the joy of our hobby. See the group’s website at astronomy...
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Welcome Sheldon Reynolds as contributing editor

Posted 6 years ago by David Eicher
I have the distinct pleasure of welcoming a new contributing editor to Astronomy magazine, Sheldon Reynolds, amateur astronomer, astroimager, and entertainer. Those who know the music business may be aware of Sheldon’s career as a member of the Commodores, as lead guitarist and vocalist for Earth, Wind & Fire, and as a writer and producer of many other musical ventures. A native of Cincinnati, Ohio, Sheldon followed his 14-year career in EWF with several years of involvement managing E...
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Here come the Perseids!

Posted 6 years ago by David Eicher
I hope you are looking forward to the peak of the Perseid meteor shower, which takes place Saturday, August 13, the same day as the Full Moon. Although the Moon phase stinks this year for the shower, you still may see as many as 20 decent meteors per hour under clear skies. Well, whether you go out or you don’t, you can still enjoy this fantastic image of pieces of Comet Swift-Tuttle captured by astroimager John Chumack last night. John had meteor cameras running at his observatory near D...
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Stars and lava in Hawaii

Posted 6 years ago by David Eicher
You may have heard about the major breakout of lava at Kilauea volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii that took place last week. On Thursday and Friday, crater walls collapsed and sent rivulets of lava trickling down to the ocean in a spectacular scene that made the ordinary lava viewing seem very ordinary. It constituted another stage in the eruption of Kilauea’s middle east rift zone. Astronomy Contributing Editor Steve O’Meara and his wife Donna live on the Big Island and are volcano...
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Meet Comet Garradd

Posted 6 years ago by David Eicher
If you haven’t looked at Comet C/2009 P1 (Garradd) yet, you might want to check it out. Discovered by Australian amateur astronomer Gordon Garradd, the comet is currently a respectably bright binocular object, at magnitude 8.7, located in the late evening sky in the constellation Pegasus. Here, I present to you two fresh images of the comet from July 29 from our great astroimaging friend Anthony Ayiomamitis in Greece. His shots depict the comet tracked on the nucleus, which trails the sta...
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More awesome shuttle shots to share

Posted 6 years ago by David Eicher
Astronomy contributors Imelda Joson and Edwin Aguirre were fortunate enough to be down at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida for the launch of the now fabled last space shuttle mission, STS-135, this past month. Atlantis lifted off July 8, 2011, and returned to Earth July 21, just 13 days ago. Imelda and Edwin shot a flurry of outstanding photos of the launch, and I wanted to share a few of them with you here. Enjoy! ...
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A tale of two stories

Posted 6 years ago by David Eicher
The August issue of Astronomy magazine contains two special articles. For those who have not seen or read them yet, I want to share them with you here — because they are important to the future of astronomy as an interest. The first was written by 14-year-old astronomy enthusiast Ayla Besemer, an energetic young lady who travels the globe with her parents on a ship (see threeatsea.com) and is very devoted to observing the sky. Ayla penned a great story about why astronomy interests h...
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The sweetest shuttle landing shot

Posted 6 years ago by David Eicher
OK, I know I've thrown lots of shuttle images at you over the last couple of weeks, but pretty soon there won't be any more to celebrate from recent history, so bear with me. I had to share the greatest image I've seen of Atlantis' landing, which concluded the STS-135 mission and the Space Shuttle Program, from friend and astroimager Chris Cook, who was in Florida covering the event for Astronomy. What a striking image this is! Enjoy!    ...
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More great shuttle shots

Posted 6 years ago by David Eicher
Amateur astronomer and photographer Pete Lardizabal of St. Johns, Florida, sent some incredible shots he took of space shuttle Discovery’s ascent February 24, 2011. This launch of the STS-133 mission was Discovery’s final journey into orbit. He took the photos from Apollo Beach in Canaveral National Seashore Park, about 18 miles (29 kilometers) north of the launch pad. He used an Astro-Physics 130EDFGT fitted with an AP Barcon and a Canon 7D camera. The first shot shows the launch,...
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Amateur astronomer images water-laden quasar

Posted 6 years ago by David Eicher
Well, Greek astroimager par excellence Anthony Ayiomamitis has done it again. Just a day after I told you about Anthony’s extraordinary image of the brown dwarf LSR0602+3910, he sent me an image and some links regarding another big recent news story. A few days ago, NASA researchers announced the discovery of the largest reservoir of water known in the cosmos. This reservoir, which amounts to 140 trillion times the amount of water on Earth, exists in a cloud surrounding an enormous black h...
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Is this the only amateur photo of a brown dwarf?

Posted 6 years ago by David Eicher
So many cool things are happening as both amateur and professional astroimagers go deeper and deeper into the universe with every passing month. On Friday, I received a message from our great friend and talented astroimager Anthony Ayiomamitis, who lives in Athens, Greece. Anthony mentioned the story that broke a week earlier, on July 14, when astronomers at the Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics in Potsdam, Germany, announced the news concerning two new brown dwarf discoveries, WISE J0254+0223 ...
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Sizzling hot image of the week: Kronberger 61

Posted 6 years ago by David Eicher
This is a cool story. Rarely do amateur astronomy and big-time professional astroimaging coincide so beautifully. Today, astronomers announced new research findings on planetary nebulae at an International Astronomical Union Symposium on the subject at Tenerife in the Canary Islands. What makes this story special is that the obscure planetary nebula in question, Kronberger 61, was discovered by an amateur astronomer, Matthias Kronberger, in Austria. The tiny, faint nebula lies within the same f...
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Parting shots

Posted 6 years ago by David Eicher
Of the numerous images of space shuttle Atlantis I’ve seen over the past few days, I thought perhaps the most stunning were these launch shots taken by Chris Cook. Chris is a good friend and contributor to the magazine and, as you can see, a superb photographer. I wanted to share this launch sequence of these images from July 8, taken while Chris was down covering the event for us, because they are absolutely breathtaking.  ...
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Reflections on the space shuttle from Benjamin Palmer

Posted 6 years ago by David Eicher
This spring, Astronomy ran its second annual Youth Essay Contest, sponsoring a trip to the Northeast Astronomy Forum in Suffern, New York, for the winner. I was delighted to meet the winner, Benjamin Palmer of Queensbury, New York, an enthusiastic astronomy buff who enjoys using his telescope for observing and astroimaging, and whose astronomical interests are wide-ranging. Today the United States space shuttle program came to an end with Atlantis’ landing. Benjamin sent along an excelle...
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One night in a cornfield — Part Five

Posted 6 years ago by David Eicher
In 1687, with the publication of Isaac Newton’s Philosephiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (“Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy”), the telescope’s journey had already lasted 77 years, but really it had just begun. For the first time in history, humans were elevated intellectually to looking up at the sky at night and seeing almost limitless heavens with numerous surprises waiting. Still to come was William Herschel’s discovery of Uranus, the first plane...
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One night in a cornfield — Part Four

Posted 6 years ago by David Eicher
The first national observatory, in Copenhagen, Denmark, was established in 1637. In the Netherlands, Christiaan Huygens described Saturn’s rings, discovered its moon Titan, and found light and dark markings on Mars. Observatories sprang up in Paris and at Greenwich, England. For the first time, astronomers began observing the sky of the Southern Hemisphere, noting a decidedly different group of stars, constellations, and features from that which they saw from the north.Technologically, all...
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One night in a cornfield — Part Three

Posted 6 years ago by David Eicher
It was 400 years ago when Galileo sparked a transformation of thinking on this planet. What Galileo found immediately astonished him and established the first large step in observational astronomy.He saw that the Milky Way, the luminous band in the night sky, was composed of innumerable stars. He observed the phases of Venus and discovered four little moons orbiting Jupiter. He witnessed sunspots and saw Saturn’s rings, although he mistook them for moons that were poorly resolved. When Gal...
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One night in a cornfield — Part Two

Posted 6 years ago by David Eicher
Carefully using a red-filtered flashlight to preserve his eyes’ sensitivity to faint light, the boy made a quick drawing on paper of how the Andromeda Galaxy appeared with his 8-inch telescope on that late summer night. The bushes continued to rustle, the breeze shot through the trees, and Larry King continued to belt out questions on the radio. It was one more tiny moment in the history of the telescope — an instrument that has revolutionized science and our knowledge of the univers...
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One night in a cornfield — Part One

Posted 6 years ago by David Eicher
“The cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be. Our feeblest contemplations of the cosmos stir us — there is a tingling in the spine, a catch in the voice, a faint sensation, as if a distant memory, of falling from a height. We know we are approaching the greatest of mysteries.” — Carl Sagan, Cosmos In the deep dark of a summer night, leaves rustled in the trees, a slight breeze washed overhead, and bright, gemmy stars twinkled in a deep azure sky. It was a moon...