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In the summer of 1977, NASA launched the Voyager 1 and 2 space probes.  Their original 5-year mission was to study Jupiter and Saturn.  Voyager 2 was actually launched 2 weeks before Voyager 1, but arrived at Jupiter after Voyager 1. Both probes are still functioning today after more than 40 years.

Peering upward on late September evenings, the sky is dominated by the Milky Way, which arches from the southwest to the northeast.  High overhead, we can easily view the Great Rift, an area within the Milky Way but, seemingly, almost completely devoid of stars.  In fact, this absence of stars is due to the gas and dust, common in spiral galaxies such as our own, which obscures the stars beyond.

Tyler Nordgren

Consider how the night sky has influenced life on Earth. What have the darkness, the stars, and the moon helped create?

Trying to find the official constellations can be a challenge, but most of us saw shapes in the clouds without even trying as children. In the same way, we can see new shapes in the stars, if we simply slow down and look. In doing so, we can reconnect with all the people who for millennia passed the time after dark by simply looking up at the stars, and coming up with their own constellations. 

The summer night sky is teeming with bright stars, but one outshines them all and has stories to tell that rival its brightness. Head outside at nightfall and look almost straight overhead to spot the brightest star in the summer sky, the red giant, Arcturus.

NASA

“As one great furnace flamed, yet from those flames / No light, but rather darkness visible,” wrote English poet John Milton in Paradise Lost, describing the infernal realm into which the archangel Lucifer fell. Milton’s words could equally describe a more astronomical sort of descent-- the whirling dervish and collision of orbiting black holes, warping the very fabric of space and time around them. Such events are detectable from Earth in the form of gravitational radiation, a phenomenon offering a novel way of seeing the Universe.

What value can be found in a truly dark, star-speckled sky? Simply put, there is no universal answer.

My husband is an amateur astronomer and we are fortunate to have great dark skies at home and at other Western Slope venues.

Most people assume that we use telescopes for observing and ask how many we have and what kind. We explain that we have several telescopes, but some of our favorite viewing is with binoculars.

To us, the Sun seems like a constant source of heat and light. Compared to many other stars, that’s pretty much true. Since accurate, space-based measurements have been recorded, the total irradiance of the Sun has varied by less than 0.2%.

Many people are familiar with finding Polaris, the North Star, by using the two end stars in the Big Dipper Bowl as ‘pointer stars.’ However, you may not know that if you follow these same two stars in the OPPOSITE direction during spring and summer, you will find the constellation Leo, the Lion. Early in May, Leo is directly south and high in the sky at about 9 pm.

Joyce Tanihara

Have you ever seen a star-like object moving across the night sky over several minutes?  You may have seen an artificial satellite. 

Zach Schierl

Every Boy Scout knows how to find the North Star; just follow the two stars on the end of the Big Dipper’s bowl, and voila… you’re there! The North Star might be the most famous star in the entire sky, yet also the most misunderstood.

Mercury, the innermost and speediest planet, can be hard to see, because it never appears very far from the brilliant Sun in our sky.

By Denys (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

This year, on August 21st, there will be a total solar eclipse. So what’s the big deal? The big deal is that the event will be accessible to millions right here in the U.S!

Have you ever seen a comet?  In coming weeks we may have a chance to see two interesting comets. 

NASA/JPL-Caltech/ESO/R. Hurt

Now is a great time to gaze into our dark skies and to contemplate the Milky Way, our home galaxy.   After twilight ends on late September evenings, the luminous band of the Milky Way stretches from the southwest to overhead and beyond, into the northeastern sky.   To the southwest in the direction of Sagittarius, the Milky Way’s clouds of stars and glowing gas are brightest.  This is the direction of the galactic center, where stars are most concentrated.   As we trace the Milky Way from overhead in Cygnus and into Perseus in the no

September 8th marked the beginning of NASA’s launch window for OSIRIS-Rex, a mission to study an asteroid called Bennu and return a sample of the asteroid’s surface material to Earth for further analysis. This mission is particularly exciting because it will not only give us a peek back in time towards the beginnings of our planet and our solar system as a whole, but also might provide clues as to how life began here on Earth. (Ed.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle

Exciting research in the field of astronomy has been the search for exoplanets. An exoplanet is a planet that is orbiting a star other than our Sun.

Public Domain (CC0)

A clear evening in late August offers much to contemplate, both near, relatively speaking astronomically, and far.

Today, I thought you might like to hear how any young person can get started on a career path to astronomy.

NASA

One year ago, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft made its historic flyby of Pluto.

Joyce Tanihara

It’s a dark area broken by the faint glow of red lights, and your eyes are just adjusting to make out a figure, hunched over what vaguely looks to be a telescope.

“Hey, I’ve got Saturn!” exclaims the figure. “I’ve got a double star,” shouts another voice. “I’ve got the Andromeda galaxy. Come take a look!” says someone toward the back.

If you look to the east after sunset, you will notice a bright, reddish-orange object.  This is the planet Mars, 4th rock from the Sun.  Less than one month ago, Mars was at opposition.  This means that it is directly opposite from the Sun, as we view it.  This also means that it is very bright, because it is reflecting light directly back to us.  Opposition is the planetary equivalent of a full moon. 

The diameter of Mars is about 4200 miles, compared to Earth’s diameter of about 8,000 miles and its mass is just 11% of Earth’s.  On May 30, Mars was 47 million miles from Earth.

Imagine… You are on an exo-planet circling a star in the Hydra Galaxy Cluster.  Your powerful telescope zeroes in on a planet 150 million light-years away.  The planet is called Earth, but you won’t be seeing 2016 human inhabitants, you will be seeing images of dinosaurs… Images carried on light that left the Earth 150 million years ago.

You will be looking back in time.

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!

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.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/yellowstonenps/14582291897/in/photostream/
NPS photo by Neal Herbert - https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Today I am going to discuss a few simple tips that will allow you to take pictures of the night sky.  These may not compare with professional images, but they will be YOUR images!

Ken Crawford

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

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