A weekly discussion of what's new and interesting in astronomy with astronomer Derrick Pitts and WHHY FM's Dave Heller.

A weekly discussion of what's new and interesting in astronomy with astronomer Derrick Pitts and WHHY FM's Dave Heller.
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A weekly discussion of what's new and interesting in astronomy with astronomer Derrick Pitts and WHHY FM's Dave Heller.




International Space Station Grounded?

The Trump administration’s NASA budget proposal for 2019 recommends $19.9 billion dollars, which is $370 million above last year. However, the plan cuts out funding for International Space Station by 2025, as well as for the Office of Education. Dave and Dr. Pitts discuss the implications. There is a panoply of planets in the pre-dawn sky; Saturn, Mars, Jupiter. In the evening: Venus is very bright but low in the West-Southwest.


Planets, Planets A-Plenty

Planets have been observed for the first time orbiting stars in a distant galaxy 3.8 billion light years away. Einstein suggested that this form of detection might be possible. At The Franklin Institute, the monthly Night Sky Observatory program featured author Richard Paul, who with Steven Moss wrote the book, “We Could Not Fail: The First African-Americans in the Space Program,” a nuanced description of the early history of NASA and the deep involvement of people of color. NASA was one of...


Countdown to the Super Bowl, and the Super Moon!

On Wednesday, January 31st, don’t miss the Super Blue Blood Total Lunar Eclipse Moon! This lunar event means that the second full moon in a calendar month coincides with a lunar eclipse, and that the full moon appears slightly larger than usual. A moon like this one has not appeared in the sky since 1982. Superbowl Sunday is also the 112th birth anniversary of Clyde Tombaugh, discoverer of Pluto.


Forecast Calls for Dust

Continue your lunation observations: The first quarter moon is on Wednesday Jan. 24. Here’s what to look for: a. The line that separates the illuminated half from the not-so illuminated half is called the “terminator.” b. Craters- the record of early solar system bombardment. The Moon absorbed a lot of what could’ve rained down on Earth. Space material still rains down even on Earth – 100 tons of space dust every day, 36,500 tons per year. Sounds like a lot, right? Well, not so much…...


Happy Birthday, Buzz!

Of the remaining cohort of Earthlings privileged to set foot on the moon, let’s extend 88th birthday greetings this week to Buzz Aldrin. As the Lunar Module Pilot on Apollo 11, he was one of the first two humans to land on the Moon, and the second person to walk on it, in July of 1969. On January 15th, 1973, the Soviet Union launched their second lander and rover to the moon, just a month after the final Apollo lunar mission returned. Lunokhod 2 spent 3 months traversing, testing, and...


What’s in a Name?

Eighty-six new star names have been approved by the International Astronomical Union, an association of professional astronomers. The names are drawn from ancient mythologies and historical star names from indigenous cultures around the world, including China, Australia, and Southern Africa.


New Year’s Revolutions

Dr. Pitts and Dave Heller recap their top astronomy stories of 2017: Astronomers were elated this year when the three operational gravitational wave observatories around the world all reported detecting gravitational waves from the collision of neutron stars and interactions between super-lightweight black holes in the outer reaches of the universe, adding yet another layer to our understanding of how the universe was created and has evolved. This year, the continental United States...


The Winter Solstice is At Hand

Monday, December 18 is the new moon of the year’s last lunar cycle. The moon will be in the 1st quarter by Christmas Eve. If you’re up late wrapping presents on Christmas Eve, or up early to open gifts on Christmas morning, in the East there will be lots of stars visible, as well as Mars, Jupiter and Mercury. President Donald Trump signed a space policy directive last week formally directing NASA to return humans to the moon, then to use that experience to attempt a visit to Mars. This...


Geminid Meteor Shower

The Geminid meteor shower peaks Wednesday and Thursday this week with upwards of 100 meteors per hour. The moon is a very thin waning crescent and should look really nice under a clear sky. Orville Wright flew the first powered flight 114 years ago, on December 17th, 1903.


Earliest Sunset

Sunset comes at 4:35pm this week, then gradually later and later, though it won’t be until early January before we really start to see gains in hours of daylight. 5 weeks ago, astronomers across the world were surprised to find a sizable interloper zipping through the solar system. It’s not unusual to discover a new comet but it really raises eyebrows – and telescopes – when that object seems to come from an entirely different star system! Oumaumau’s trajectory, velocity, shape and...


Getting Closer to Finding Another Earth

The planet Ross 128 is 11 light-years away and 1.35 times the mass of Earth and orbits its red dwarf star every 9.9 days. Initial data suggest this is a liquid water planet, inside the star’s habitable zone – a very important requirement for finding life. The upcoming new generation of giant ground-based telescopes should be able to image Ross 128 and study its atmosphere for methane, oxygen and other telltale signs of either life (as we know it), complex compounds or just the conditions...


Where there’s water…

Scientists have discovered a new suggestion of habitability in the ocean of Saturn’s moon Enceladus. Early doubts about tidal friction providing adequate heating for water jets is now supplemented by the suggestion that an unconsolidated core would allow penetration of water from the surrounding ocean and frictional heating derived from tidal interaction with Saturn. It’s valid to surmise this mechanism has been been functioning for a billion years and so a (relatively) warm ocean...


Water, Water Everywhere!

Studies of asteroids are revealing that they might have a watery history. The DAWN spacecraft orbiting Ceres has provided data that suggests water was a major ingredient in the formation and evolution of the crust and mantle of the dwarf planet. This suggests that water is a much bigger player in the solar system than ever thought before. A Philadelphia-sized lava tube has been identified on the moon, by the Japanese lunar orbiting satellite Selene. Gravity studies indicated its presence....


Rogue Comet Comes a-Calling

Not merely out-of-this-world, a comet from beyond our solar system came and went earlier this month. Cross-quarter-day approaches…wait, what’s cross-quarter day? A NASA program invites subscribers to become ‘Martians’ by sending their name to Mars on the next exploratory mission, Insight. The mission launches in May 2018, lands November 2018. InSight will study the interior of Mars.


Pluto: The non-ringed non-planet

We begin with the story of Spitz Laboratories, based in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. In the 1960s, the space race kicked off a nationwide surge of interest in astronomy. Schools began to build planetariums, and in Pennsylvania Spitz Laboratories built so many that in the 60s and 70s Pennsylvania had more in-school planetariums than New York and California combined. Scientists have declared conclusively that Pluto has no rings. This is good news for their Horizons mission, as it means fewer...


Out-of-this-world show

This Saturday marks the 94th anniversary of the first public planetarium show given at the German model for The Franklin Institute, the Deutches Museum in Munich. Our planetarium opened on January 1st, 1934 as the second planetarium in the United States, after the Adler planetarium in Chicago (1930). An apocryphal story is that Sam Fels traveled to Europe with Max Adler in the late 20’s where he saw the star projection system. He was so taken with the idea that he ordered one for...


Elon Musk wants to get off this planet

Elon Musk has released a new proposal for becoming a multi-planet species. He is advocating phasing out Falcon 9, Falcon Heavy and Dragon in favor of SpaceX’s BFR (Big F*****g Rocket-yes, really) project, which can serve as Mars transport, Lunar transport, ISS transport, and satellite delivery as well as SST Earth transport. The rockets will be reusable, bigger and cheaper to operate than any other rocket system ever. Supposedly. Musk says SpaceX can send the first two to Mars by 2022, and...


Mercury runs hot and cold

Today, Dave and Dr. Pitts are stopping by the ice craters of Mercury, the planet closest to the Sun. Temperatures on Mercury typically hover around a balmy 800 degrees Fahrenheit, on the side facing the Sun. Yet there are at least 100 billion tons of ice on the little planet. How is this possible? The answer lies in Mercury’s lack of atmosphere. Without an atmosphere, heat is not conducted to the parts of the planet that aren’t getting direct solar radiation. The side of Mercury that...


Spin Cycle

A Netherlands astronomy team discovered a star spinning 42,000 times every minute!


Say Goodbye to Summer

Dave and Dr. Pitts count down the final days of summer as the Autumnal Equinox approaches.


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