astronomy

By Anirban Nandi (Own work) [<a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0">CC BY 3.0</a>], <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AOrion_constellation_with_star_labels.jpg">via Wikimedia Commons</a>

The first constellation most of us are able to find in the night sky is Ursa Major, the Great Bear.  Most people know the brighter stars as the Big Dipper asterism.  For many of us, the next constellation we discover is Orion, the Hunter.  At this time of year you can see it in the southern sky shortly after sunset.  The brighter stars include Betelgeuse, Rigel, and the easy-to-identify three stars of the belt.

CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

If any of you have attended an astronomy event during the warm season, then you may recall the stars of summer, such as Antares, Vega, and Albireo.  There are several bright stars in winter that are of interest on our cold, clear nights.  One advantage to winter viewing is that dark skies arrive early.


NASA/JPL (Public Domain)

The planet Mercury is the closest planet to our Sun.  Its average distance from the Sun is only 35 million miles. Mercury has the fastest orbital speed in the Solar System…88 days.  Perhaps this is why the planet is named after the speedy messenger to the Roman gods!

The New Year is well upon us. This is always a good time to reflect on the year gone by and look to the new adventure that is about to begin. By now you’ve probably set your resolutions for 2016. The national parks are no different. 2015 was a banner year for dark skies throughout the Colorado Plateau, but we still have much work to do in 2016.

Art Trevena

Comets are small, icy and rocky bodies that orbit the Sun. Many comets have highly elongated orbits that extend to the farthest reaches of our solar system, out to a sizeable fraction of the distances to the nearest stars. Out there, in what astronomers have termed the Oort Cloud, a vast collection of comets is thought to exist.

Art Trevena

In late December the Sun follows a southerly path across our Western Slope skies, and daylight hours are short.   December 21 at 9:48 p.m.

Brocken Inaglory - This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license.

A Primer on Meteor Showers

Typically, meteor showers occur when the Earth passes through particle clouds left by the passage of a comet.  The particles burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere, resulting in a brief streak of light.  The particles can range in size from dust to 33 feet in diameter.

The terms “meteor,” “meteoroid,” and “meteorite” are related, but are not identical terms.

Ken Crawford

This is a continuing series on Women in Astronomy.  Today we meet Williamina Fleming.

It's getting harder to see the stars in North Dakota's Theodore Roosevelt National Park, and it's due to flares, drilling rigs and all the lights from the Bakken oilfield.

Since 2010, scientists with the National Park Service have measured a 500 percent increase in the amount of anthropogenic light there — no other national park in America has seen such a rapid increase in light pollution.

Kent Friesen is standing in a dark field in the North Dakota Badlands, peering into a huge telescope.

It is easy to see that the sky above is blue. So why blue?  

If you rise early on these crisp October mornings, you may see an eye-catching planetary sight in our pre-dawn sky. 

Many earthlings were treated to a rare sight last night, as a "supermoon" coincided with a lunar eclipse. It was a bad night to have clouds obscuring the view, as the last total eclipse that had these qualities occurred in 1982, and the next won't happen until 2033.

This lunar eclipse ticked many boxes for sky watchers: It was a supermoon, when the moon is both full and in perigee, or close to Earth, making it loom large in our sky. It was also a blood moon (the fourth and final lunar eclipse). And because it occurred days after the fall equinox, this was also the harvest moon.

Daniel V. Schroeder

It’s that time of year again… Watching the leaves change color with cooling temperatures, warm apple cider, a pumpkin patch, light seems to slip away sooner.  What marks the fall season for you?

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Courtesy of Greg Owens

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park has long been known for some of the steepest cliffs, oldest rock, and craggiest spires in North America. The Gunnison River has sculpted this vertical wilderness of rock, water, and sky.  A grand piece of this wild landscape includes the pristine dark skies.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Courtesy of Greg Owens

The Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is now an International Dark Sky Park. 

"Being an international dark skies park means the Black Canyon has exceptional starry nights [and] an environment that's great for people and wildlife, but it’s also a place where an exceptional amount of astronomy education takes place," said Nick Myers, a lead interpreter at the site.


NAOJ, JAXA, NASA, Lockheed Martin

What is that brilliant light in the sky? If you are an early riser you may see a jewel in the east. Called the “morning star” as well as the “evening star” by cultures the world over, this light flickers a bit less than stars. It is not a star but the planet Venus. Had you looked about a month ago, Venus would have been the “evening star,” ripe for viewing by night owls. This planet is often referred to as our “sister” planet.

Art Trevena

The summer night sky elicits an extra sparkle of excitement when we see the silvery, arcing band of the Milky Way, a beautiful cross-cut view of our home galaxy. 

Brocken Inaglory - This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license.

I remember being bundled in a blanket and being taken outside into the chill midnight air as a child. I would be sleepy and warm, held in my father’s arms. He would extend his arm and point, “look at the sky!”

Pluto looks to be a far cry from the dead body that many scientists had long presumed. As the New Horizons probe continues to report back from the fringes of the solar system, a word that Mr. Spock might have used sums up the reaction: fascinating.

"Astronomy Amateur 3 V2" by Halfblue at the English language Wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Astronomy_Amateur_3_V2.jpg#/media/File:Astronomy_Amateur_3_V2.jpg

By definition, Astronomy is a natural science which is the study of celestial objects.

It all started with humans looking at the night sky with just their eyes, and contemplating all those gleaming lights above them.

Today there is the Hubble Space Telescope which brings us brilliant photos of far off galaxies, space probes reaching out and sending back images of planets, asteroids and comets, and huge land based telescopes, that since Galileo’s time have grown from 1.5 centimeters, to 1 meter, to 10 meters in diameter.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration

On February 18th, 1930, a 24-year-old Kansas farmhand-turned-astronomer made a discovery that forever changed our understanding of the Solar System. On that evening, Clyde Tombaugh, who had grown up on family farms in Illinois and Kansas, discovered Pluto. Tombaugh’s discovery nearly doubled the size of the known solar system overnight.

Spring is quickly shifting into summer. For us at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, this means that the busiest visitation days of the year are just around the corner. Folks from all over the world will soon fill the visitor center, planning adventures into the canyon and asking about park wildlife. Rangers will begin presenting geology walks along the rim and talks out at Chasm View. It’s an exciting time of year in the park.

Women in Astronomy – Sydney Wolff

This is a continuing series on Women in Astronomy.  Today we meet Sidney Wolff.

Our closest star, the Sun, is a middle-aged star.  This is good for us, but what exactly does ‘middle-aged star’ mean? 

Throughout their lives, stars are in a battle between gravity trying to collapse the star and pressure of the internal nuclear reaction trying to expand the star.

Make a note… It may take time, but gravity always wins!! 

Star formation begins with a massive cloud of dust and gasses.  The large majority of the cloud is hydrogen. 

You may know the Greek myth of Perseus, a young hero who slew the petrifying Medusa and the sea monster Cetus, in order to rescue the beautiful Andromeda from her cruel mother Cassiopeia.  The ancient Greeks saw fit to immortalize the story in the sky, by tracing constellations resembling these characters. We recognize these constellations today-- in particular, Andromeda with its legendary naked-eye galaxy M31, our closest spiral galactic neighbor.

Hubble Space Telescope - NASA

The winter evening sky was dominated by two exceptionally bright “stars” that are actually planets — resplendent Venus, nearest of planetary neighbors, in the west, and regal Jupiter, largest of the planets, in the east. As we enter spring, Venus and Jupiter remain celestial highlights, and will treat us to a special double-feature in mid-April — each planet will be very close to a prominent open star cluster.

If you rise early on Saturday, April 4 you will be treated to an unusual event:  the third of four total lunar eclipses occurring within a period of just two years.  This has been called a lunar eclipse tetrad. 

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, near Montrose, CO, is an excellent place to observe night skies free from light pollution. When it comes to constellations, one of the most famous is Ursa Major, meaning “The Big Bear,” which includes “The Big Dipper.”

Saturn's moon Enceladus is a mystery. From Earth it looks tiny and cold, and yet it's not a dead hunk of rock. Passing spacecraft see trenches and ridges, similar to Earth's, and in 2005 NASA's Cassini mission spotted ice geysers streaming from its south pole.

2015 is a banner year for solar system exploration.  Although the European Venus Express Mission and NASA’s Messenger Mission to Mercury are ending, other missions will be gearing up in 2015.  NASA’s New Horizons probe will fly by Pluto in July, and in March, another NASA probe, called Dawn, will enter orbit around Ceres, the l

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