Venus and Spica
There’s much more to most stars than meets the eye. A good example is Spica, the brightest star of the constellation Virgo. It’s in the east at dawn tomorrow, just to the right of Venus, the brilliant “morning star.” Spica is pretty impressive to the...
A couple of nice conjunctions bracket the sky tonight, one in early evening, the other at dawn. And a third skywatching treat will fill the hours between them — a meteor shower. The action begins as evening twilight drains from the sky, with the Moon...
Moon and Mars
The planet Mars has more or less parked itself in the evening sky right now. It’s quite low in the southwest as night falls, and sets a couple of hours after sunset. Tonight, it’s not far to the upper left of the crescent Moon, so it’s a little easier...
Some discoveries are just sweeter than others — sometimes literally. Earlier this year, for example, astronomers discovered a type of sugar molecule close to a distant star. The discovery is especially sweet because sugars form some of the basic...
Mars is passing in front of the center of the Milky Way galaxy this week. The planet looks like a modest orange star in the southwest in early evening, above the “spout” of teapot-shaped Sagittarius. The galaxy’s center is about 27,000 light-years...
If you happen to find yourself along Australia’s Great Barrier Reef around sunrise tomorrow, Nature will offer up one more spectacle in addition to the clear waters and colorful fish: a total solar eclipse. It’ll last a couple of minutes before the...
FORTIN: We have each telescope send a signal when each telescope thinks that there's a nice gamma-ray. Then we combine the signal from all four telescopes... Pascal Fortin is an astronomer with VERITAS -- an odd-looking array of four telescopes in...
Namibian Astronomy II
Five telescopes rise from the Khomas Highland of Namibia like giant alien bugs. Their red steel structures look like exoskeletons, their multi-faceted mirrors like compound eyes, and their camera masts like sharp snouts. Also like some other-worldly...
Namibia is one of the poorest countries in the world. But among the country’s natural resources are great beauty and dark night skies. The beauty is bringing in tourists, while the night skies are bringing casual skywatchers and professional...
The Milky Way soars high across the sky as twilight fades this evening. It stretches from the brilliant yellow-orange star Capella in the northeast, to the graceful outline of Cygnus, the swan, high overhead, to teapot-shaped Sagittarius in the...
After the Sun goes down, a dome of light covers every city and town — the combined glow of the fixtures that illuminate streets, businesses, and our own yards. The light reflects off molecules and particles in the atmosphere, creating a glare that...
Most of the life of a star like the Sun is pretty dull. It spends billions of years steadily “fusing” the hydrogen its core to make helium, releasing energy as it does so. When the hydrogen runs out, though, the star undergoes a series of big changes...
A thin wedge of stars climbs the eastern sky on November evenings. It fills an otherwise dark space between the well-known constellations Aries, Perseus, and Andromeda. None of its stars is all that bright, but the distinctive triangular pattern will...
A white dwarf would seem to be one of the most innocuous objects in the universe. It’s the small dead core of a once-normal star like the Sun. It no longer produces energy through nuclear reactions, but it continues to shine because it’s extremely...
Moon and Jupiter
Cirrus clouds are a common sight at this time of year — high, thin streamers of ice. Clouds are common sights on other worlds, too. But many of those clouds aren’t made of water. The clouds on Venus, for example, are made of sulfuric acid, while those...
Halloween Star II
An astronomical demon creeps up the northeastern sky this evening — a close pair of stars in which one is cannibalizing the other. The system is known as Algol. It’s in Perseus, the hero, which is in the northeast at nightfall and directly overhead in...
To fans of the Batman movies and comic books, the name Ra’s al Ghul is well known. The character is a supervillain who’s intent on saving the planet through rather nasty means. But the name didn’t originate with Batman. Instead, it was first given to...
Perseus, the celestial hero, strides boldly across the northeastern sky on autumn evenings. The constellation stands close to the horizon as night falls, and high overhead in the hours after midnight. The figure is outlined by three streamers of stars...
To the eye alone, the stars that sparkle in the night sky are mere pinpricks of light in the dark cosmic background. And many of them are so small and so far away that they remain pinpricks even when you view them through a good-sized telescope. One...
You can’t feel it, but Earth is wobbling on its axis like a spinning gyroscope that’s running down. It’s a very slow motion though — it takes about 26,000 years to complete a single wobble. We can see the effects of the wobble in the changing tableau...
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