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New PBS Special on Astronomy and Interactive Web Site

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

"Seeing in the Dark," a dramatic new PBS special by award-winning journalist and author Timothy Ferris, premieres at 8 pm September 19th on most PBS stations (check local listings for exact dates and times.) It explores the delights and rewards of amateur astronomy and chronicles the contributions that amateurs are making to the science and art of astronomy. The program was produced in state-of-the-art high definition and features beautiful images and animations that range from the planets to depths of space.

Accompanying the show is a new interactive web site. Among the many things you can do at the web site are:

  • view or print "Your Sky Tonight" sky chart
  • watch introductory "how-to-videos" on getting started with the hobby of astronomy
  • read more about the astronomers featured in the show and get background information about the astronomy it covers
  • explore a series of class-room tested, hands-on activities for students in grades 2 through 12
  • browse through a gallery of beautiful color images of the cosmos
  • find a star whose light left on its journey toward us in the year you were born
  • discover some fun projects and games for families
  • watch the amazing special effects videos from Seeing in the Dark on your computer
  • browse through links to some of the best web sites for learning more about astronomy, and finding an astronomy club near you
More: PBS - Seeing in the Dark

Google the Heavens!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

hubble orion picture
Screenshot of detailed description of the Hubble Orion Nebula Image in Sky in Google Earth. Image credit: NASA, ESA, Digitized Sky Survey Consortium, and the STScI-Google Partnership.

Exploding stars and faraway galaxies are now just a mouse click away through Sky in Google Earth. The program is modeled after Google Earth, which allows you to tour our planet. With Sky in Google Earth, you can travel across the vastness of the night sky, making tour stops at all the popular Hubble images. Though these celestial objects are far away from Earth, you can reach them in a few seconds with Sky in Google Earth. This new, free, downloadable browser is produced by Google through a partnership with the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, the science operations center for the Hubble Space Telescope.

Google: Sky in Google Earth Information and free download

NASA: Hubble Teams With Google to Bring the Cosmos Down to Earth

STScI Hubble: Hubble Teams With Google to Bring the Cosmos Down to Earth

STScI Hubble: Gallery

Mars Close Encounter?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Earth and Mars are converging, and right now the distance between the two planets is shrinking at a rate of 22,000 mph. Ultimately, this will lead to a close approach in late December 2007 when Mars will outshine every star in the night sky. Contrary to rumor, though, Mars is never going to outshine the Moon.

For more information, see the article NASA: Hurtling Towards Mars

Lunar Eclipse, 28 August 2007

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

A total eclipse of the Moon will occur during the early morning of Tuesday, August 28, 2007. The event is widely visible from the United States and Canada as well as South America, the Pacific Ocean, western Asia and Australia. In Arizona (GMT-7), the eclipse will begin around 1:51AM, reach totality around 3:37AM, and end around 5:24AM.

NASA: August 2007 Total Lunar Eclipse Information and Schedule

NASA: 2007 Lunar Eclipses

Comet McNaught visible in morning and evening skies

Friday, January 12, 2007

Comet McNaught
Comet McNaught from Hammerfest, Norway Jan. 6, 2007.
Credit: Roger Johansen
If you watch the morning or evening sky these days and have a clear view of the horizon, you will be able to spot Comet McNaught, a bright object with a prominent tail.

Instructions for viewing the comet in the morning from Spaceweather.com:

  1. At dawn, go outside and face east
  2. Using binoculars, scan the horizon
  3. The comet is located just south of due east

Instructions for viewing the comet in the evening from Spaceweather.com:
  1. At sunset, go outside and face west
  2. Using binoculars, scan the horizon
  3. The comet is located low and to the right of Venus
  4. A clear view of the horizon is essential

More: NASA - A Bright Comet is Coming - information about Comet McNaught

More: Spaceweather.com - Comet McNaught Photo Gallery

Soyuz Fireball seen over Colorado

Friday, January 5, 2007

Something from space disintegrated over Denver, Colorado, this morning around 6:20 am MST (1320 UT). Witnesses describe it as "brilliant, slow, twinkling, sparkly and full of rainbow colors." It was not a meteor. The fireball was the decaying body of a Soyuz U rocket that launched the French COROT space telescope on Dec. 27th. The re-entry caused no damage on the ground--just a beautiful display in the sky.


Story Credit: Spaceweather.com, January 4, 2007

More: Cloudbait Observatory January 4, 2007 Fireball

Link: CNES - COROT Space Telescope

Meteor impacts on the Moon

Friday, January 5, 2007

"On Dec. 14, 2006, we observed at least five Geminid meteors hitting the Moon," reports Bill Cooke of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office in Huntsville, AL. Each impact caused an explosion ranging in power from 50 to 125 lbs of TNT and a flash of light as bright as a 7th-to-9th magnitude star.

The explosions occurred while Earth and Moon were passing through a cloud of debris following near-Earth asteroid 3200 Phaethon. This happens every year in mid-December and gives rise to the annual Geminid meteor shower: Streaks of light fly across the sky as rocky chips of Phaethon hit Earth's atmosphere. It's a beautiful display.

More: Science@NASA - Lunar Geminids

Hubble Captures a Rare Eclipse on Uranus

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Uranus Eclipse
Arial traverses Uranus
click for larger image

This NASA Hubble Space Telescope image is a never-before-seen astronomical alignment of a moon traversing the face of Uranus, and its accompanying shadow. The white dot near the center of Uranus’ blue-green disk is the icy moon Ariel. The 700-mile-diameter satellite is casting a shadow onto the cloud tops of Uranus. To an observer on Uranus, this would appear as a solar eclipse, where the moon briefly blocks out the Sun as its shadow races across Uranus’s cloud tops. Though such "transits" by moons across the disks of their parents are commonplace for some other gas giant planets, such as Jupiter, the satellites of Uranus orbit the planet in such a way that they rarely cast shadows on the planet's surface. Uranus is tilted so that its spin axis lies nearly in its orbital plane. The planet is essentially tipped over on its side. The moons of Uranus orbit the planet above the equator, so their paths align edge-on to the Sun only every 42 years. This color composite image was created from images at three wavelengths in near infrared light obtained with Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys on July 26, 2006. Dr. Kathy Rages, of the SETI Institute, made the identification of the bright spot as Ariel.

Credit: NASA, ESA, L. Sromovsky (University of Wisconsin, Madison), H. Hammel (Space Science Institute), and K. Rages (SETI)

Pluto joined by two "new" members of the dwarf planet club

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Pluto
Artist's rendering of Pluto with the Sun in the background
317x200

Pluto, formerly known as the ninth planet of our solar system, has been reclassified to a new category called "dwarf planet." The vote by the International Astronomical Union officially upgrades Earth's neighborhood from the traditional nine planets to eleven -- eight classical planets, and three dwarf planets. The eight classical planets of our solar system are: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. Pluto, Ceres, and 2003 UB313 (temporary name) are the first members of the new "dwarf planet" category.

Clyde Tombaugh at Flagstaff's Lowell Observatory discovered Pluto in 1930. Pluto's designation as a dwarf planet was caused by the new rule, which says a planet must orbit the sun and be large enough to assume a nearly round shape, and must "clear the neighborhood around its orbit." Pluto's oblong orbits overlap Neptune's.

Nevertheless NASA plans to carry on with its New Horizons spacecraft mission, which in January 2006 began a journey to the dwarf planet and its moon, Charon whether Pluto is a planet or not. The seven science instruments on the piano-sized New Horizons probe will shed light on Pluto’s surface properties, geology, interior makeup and atmospheres.

For more information about the IAU ruling, see the IAU 2006 General Assembly: Result of the IAU Resolution votes.

The Meaning of Planet

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

What is a planet? For years, astronomers have been debating that question, with the status of tiny Pluto hanging in the balance. Finally, an answer is in the offing. Today, the International Astronomical Union's Planet Definition Committee announced their proposal for a new, official definition of "planet." If the proposal is approved by a vote of IAU astronomers on August 24th, the number of planets in the Solar System would swell from nine to twelve. And, yes, Pluto would be among them. Get the full story at http://spaceweather.com .

Orion's Inner Beauty

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Sword of Orion
360X450

This infrared image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows the Orion nebula, our closest massive star-making factory, 1,450 light-years from Earth. The nebula is close enough to appear to the naked eye as a fuzzy star in the sword of the popular hunter constellation.

The nebula itself is located on the lower half of the image, surrounded by a ring of dust. It formed in a cold cloud of gas and dust and contains about 1,000 young stars. These stars illuminate the cloud, creating the beautiful nebulosity, or swirls of material, seen here in infrared.

This image shows infrared light captured by Spitzer's infrared array camera. Light with wavelengths of 8 and 5.8 microns (red and orange) comes mainly from dust that has been heated by starlight. Light of 4.5 microns (green) shows hot gas and dust; and light of 3.6 microns (blue) is from starlight.

Take a look or download Orion's Portrait at medium or high resolution.

Credit: NASA-Spitzer Space Telescope

Universe Might be Bigger and Older than Expected

Thursday, August 10, 2006

A project aiming to create an easier way to measure cosmic distances has instead turned up surprising evidence that our large and ancient universe might be even bigger and older than previously thought.

If accurate, the finding would be difficult to mesh with current thinking about how the universe evolved, one scientist said.

A research team led by Alceste Bonanos at the Carnegie Institution of Washington has found that the Triangulum Galaxy, also known as M33, is about 15 percent farther away from our own Milky Way than previously calculated.

The finding, which will be detailed in an upcoming issue of Astrophysical Journal, suggests that the Hubble constant, a number that measures the expansion rate and age of the universe, is actually 15 percent smaller than other studies have found.

Currently, most astronomers agree that the value of the Hubble constant is about 71 kilometers per second per megaparsec (a megaparsec is 3.2 million light-years). If this value were smaller by 15 percent, then the universe would be older and bigger by this amount as well.

Scientists now estimate the universe to be about 13.7 billion years old (a figure that has seemed firm since 2003, based on measurements of radiation leftover from the Big Bang) and about 156 billion light-years wide.

The new finding implies that the universe is instead about 15.8 billion years old and about 180 billion light-years wide.

credit:Space.com, Ken Than More:Universe Might be Bigger and Older than Expected

Meteor Shower Friday (7/28/2006)

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

This week, Earth is passing through a meteoroid stream from--where? Its source is unknown. Every year in late July, the mystery stream produces a mild but pretty meteor shower, the Southern Delta Aquarids. The best time to look is Friday morning, July 28th. These meteors tend to be faint, so dark country skies are recommended.

Visit SpaceWeather.com for sky maps and more information.

A Heavenly Sky Show on the 4th of July

Friday, June 30, 2006

Sky
The Moon and Jupiter
(side by side in May 2006)
Photo credit: Jason A.C. Brock of Wichita Falls, Texas
270x299

June 29, 2006: This drives astronomers crazy. Every summer, on the one night when millions of Americans are guaranteed to be outside at nightfall, necks craned upward watching the sky, almost no one pays attention to the heavens. It's all fireworks, fireworks, fireworks. Stars and planets don't stand a chance.

But this 4th of July is different.

At sunset, just as the fireworks are about to begin, the Moon and Jupiter will pop out of the twilight side-by-side: sky map. These are the brightest objects in the night sky, easily beaming through the flash and smoke of a fireworks display.

Sidewalk astronomers, deploy your telescopes! Here is a wonderful opportunity to show off Jupiter's moons, the Great Red Spot, lunar craters and mountain ranges, and the long creeping shadows at the Moon's day-night divide. Bonus: Point your telescope at blank sky and wait for some fireworks. A good starburst at 25x magnification can be very entertaining.

And don't forget to watch out for spaceships.


Continue reading "A Heavenly Sky Show on the 4th of July"

HERE THEY COME

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

More than 60 fragments of dying comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 are racing toward Earth. There's no danger of a collision. At closest approach on May 12th through 16th, the mini-comets will be 6 million miles away.

That is close enough, however, for a marvelous view through backyard telescopes. Many of the fragments are themselves crumbling, producing clouds of gas and dust mixed with boulder-sized debris. As some fragments fade, others brighten, surprising onlookers. It's an amazing display.

Credit:Spaceweather.com More: Sky maps, updates and images from around the world.