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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Here come the Perseids!

Posted 7 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 7 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 7 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 7 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 7 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 7 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 7 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 7 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 7 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 7 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 7 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 7 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 7 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 7 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 7 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 7 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 7 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...
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Smoking hot image of the week

Posted 7 years ago by David Eicher
It’s safe to say that everyone who loves astronomy and space exploration is following the last space shuttle mission currently underway. With Atlantis orbiting overhead after its launch last Friday, July 8, the orbiter glides up toward the International Space Station for its final rendezvous. Inside the shuttle’s open bay is the Raffaello Multi-Purpose Logistics Module. More than 125 miles below the shuttle lies Earth’s surface and expanses of ocean blue. ...
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STARMUS astronauts — and a little rock ‘n’ roll

Posted 7 years ago by David Eicher
Yesterday, I wrote about the STARMUS festival that occurred 3 weeks ago on Tenerife in the Canary Islands. It brought together several thousand people to celebrate science and art and focused on a major theme of the 50th anniversary of human space flight. Speakers included former astronauts Buzz Aldrin, Bill Anders, Neil Armstrong, Charlie Duke, Viktor Gorbatko, Alexei Leonov, Jim Lovell, Claude Nicollier, and Sergei Zhukov. It was really a unique event and one that I’m sorry I didn’...
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The STARMUS Festival revisited

Posted 7 years ago by David Eicher
Three weeks ago, an exciting and unique event took place on Tenerife, one of the Canary Islands. The STARMUS Festival drew several thousand people who heard an all-star lineup of speakers on astronomy, space exploration, and celebrating the 50th anniversary of human spaceflight. Speakers included former astronauts Buzz Aldrin, Bill Anders, Neil Armstrong, Charlie Duke, Viktor Gorbatko, Alexei Leonov, Jim Lovell, Claude Nicollier, and Sergei Zhukov. Astronomy-related talks included a wide range o...
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A very grateful young author

Posted 7 years ago by David Eicher
It‘s been a great pleasure recently to see some enthusiastic and highly skilled young astronomy enthusiasts. You may have seen “Why teens should care about astronomy,” a terrific story written by 14-year-old Ayla Besemer and published in the August 2011 issue of Astronomy. This talented young lady travels the world with her parents on a ship (see www.threeatsea.com). She is also an enthusiastic and skilled observer of the sky, and I encourage you to read her story if you haven&...
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Here’s to galling congressional stupidity

Posted 7 years ago by David Eicher
Well, the United States House of Representatives has done some dumb things in its time, but yesterday it may have equaled its best. The House Appropriations Committee proposed killing the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), the centerpiece of NASA’s plans for exploring the universe over the coming decade. The JWST is planned to be an infrared telescope and the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, whose orbit will decay over the next few years until it burns up in our atmosphere. Origin...
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Sizzling hot image of the week

Posted 7 years ago by David Eicher
Ohio astroimager John Chumack sent this phenomenal Hydrogen-alpha that he shot of the Sun July 3, 2011, that shows a magnificent prominence towering over our star’s limb. To capture the shot from his backyard in Dayton, Ohio, Chumack used a Lunt 60mm/50F Hydrogen-alpha solar scope with a DMK 21AF04 firewire camera, and a 2x Barlow lens.The image combines 654 frames. Chumack exposed some at 1/483-second for the Sun’s surface and the rest at 1/45-second for the prominence.Nice shot, Jo...
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On the road: ALCON 2011, Day 2

Posted 7 years ago by David Eicher
This year the Astronomical League’s annual convention, ALCON, took place from June 29–July 2, at the spectacular Bryce Canyon National Park in southern Utah. On Saturday, July 2, I was privileged to spend my second full day there and enjoyed meeting and talking to dozens of amateur astronomers. The attendance was very impressive, with at least 250 people there at any moment (and 400 registered overall) over the weekend for talks, socializing, and of course dark-sky observing like som...
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On the road: ALCON 2011, Day 1

Posted 7 years ago by David Eicher
On Friday, July 1, I enjoyed my first full day at ALCON 2011, the annual convention of the Astronomical League. The first such ALCON I attended was way back in 1978 in Madison, Wisconsin, and it was where I met Richard Berry, then Astronomy’s editor, for the first time. This year features ultra-dark-sky observing at Bryce Canyon National Park in southwestern Utah, where the naked-eye limit is mind-bogglingly faint. Some 250 amateur astronomers have flocked here to enjoy the observing, tal...
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On the road: ALCON 2011 preview

Posted 7 years ago by David Eicher
Tomorrow morning, I’ll leave for the annual Astronomical League convention dubbed ALCON. It’s a real joy to travel to these meetings and meet so many amateur astronomers who are doing observing, imaging, and spreading the joy of astronomy as a hobby. This year, ALCON is being held at Bryce Canyon National Park in southern Utah, so I’ll fly to Las Vegas and drive from there, arriving Thursday evening. Over the next few days, I’ll be reporting from this important meeting an...
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A (possibly) bright comet is coming

Posted 7 years ago by David Eicher
Astronomers using the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope on Haleakala, Maui, Hawaii, have discovered a faint comet whose orbit could bring it close to Earth and the Sun and make it quite bright 2 years from now. Imaged on the night of June 5/6, 2011, the comet is designated C/2011 L4 (PANSTARRS) and was confirmed as a cometary object by astronomers Richard Wainscoat and Marco Micheli with the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope on nearby Mauna Kea. Now some 700 million miles (1.2 billion kilometers) from the Sun...
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Blazing hot image of the week

Posted 7 years ago by David Eicher
OK, I’ve seen a lot of deep-sky objects in my time so it takes something special to be unfamiliar and also a stunning image. This hot picture by Don Goldman of Ellis Grayson Bond 6 is just that — a killer! This obscure planetary nebula in Leo has rarely been imaged — let alone observed — by amateur astronomers. It’s a large object located at 9h53m, 13°45' (2000.0), glowing faintly and measuring 13' by 11'. The planetary lies at a dista...
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A favorite deep-sky object captured

Posted 7 years ago by David Eicher
I have lots and lots of favorite deep-sky objects. But among them, I hold a special place in my heart for a rather ordinary galaxy called NGC 4319 in Draco. It’s an “average Joe” NGC object in that it’s a barred spiral that glows at magnitude 12.8 and spans 3.0’ by 2.3’. So what‘s the big deal? Well, starting in the late 1970s, the galaxy was at the center of an enormous controversy over the validity of distances in the universe that were derived by red...
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The new Adler Planetarium

Posted 7 years ago by David Eicher
A story in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal underscored the just-completed updating and renovation of the oldest planetarium in the United States, Adler Planetarium in Chicago, Illinois. Founded in 1930, Adler has over the past several years undergone a $14 million upgrade that makes it a premier facility, along with the Rose Center and Hayden Planetarium in New York and Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles. On July 8, the planetarium’s Deep Space Adventure show will premiere, taking v...

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