In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries it became possible to believe in the existence of life on other planets on scientific grounds. Once the Earth was no longer the center of the universe according to Copernicus, once Galileo had aimed his telescope at the Moon and found it a rough globe with mountains and seas, the assumption of life on other planets became much less far-fetched. In general there were no actual differences between Earth and Venus, since both planets orbited the Sun, were of similar size, and possessed mountains and an atmosphere. If there is life on Earth, one may ponder why it could not also exist on Venus. In the extraterrestrial life debate of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the Moon, our closest celestial body, was the prime candidate for life on other worlds, although a number of scientists and scholars also speculated about life on Venus and on other planets, both within our solar system and beyond its frontiers. Venusians: the Planet Venus in the 18th-Century Extraterrestrial Life Debate (PDF), from The Journal of Astronomical Data (JAD) Volume 19, somewhat via NPR and their mention of amateur astronomer Thomas Dick's estimations of the populations of the other planets in our solar system (Archive.org online view of Celestial scenery, or, The Wonders of the planetary system displayed, 1845).
GLaDOS teaches fusion and fission for NASA. Ellen McLain lends her autotuned voice to IRrelevant Astronomy, a video series produced as part of the education & public outreach mandate of the NASA Spitzer Space Telescope. [via]
The United States Department of Defense has generously "decided to give NASA two telescopes as big as, and even more powerful than, the Hubble Space Telescope." They apparently had some antiquated spy satellite hardware sitting around unused and unwanted. NASA still needs to find money to outfit them with recording instruments and pay a team to manage them, which may take 8 years
Astronomers using NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope have detected gamma-rays from a nova for the first time, a finding that stunned observers and theorists alike. (via)
On July 17th, NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) satellite completed its first survey of the entire sky viewable from Earth. After just seven months in orbit, WISE -- a precursor to the planned James Webb Space Telescope -- has returned more than a million images that provide a close look at celestial objects ranging from distant galaxies to asteroids. The first release of WISE data, covering about 80 percent of the sky, will be delivered to the astronomical community in May of next year, but in the meantime we can see some of the images and animations that NASA has released to date: Galleries (containing just a small selection of images): 1, 2, 3, 4. Videos and Animations: 1, 2 [more inside]
Planck telescope reveals ancient cosmic light. "The picture is the first full-sky image from Europe's Planck telescope which was sent into space last year to survey the oldest light in the cosmos. It took the 600m-euro observatory just over six months to assemble the map. It shows what is visible beyond the Earth to instruments that are sensitive to light at very long wavelengths - much longer than what we can sense with our eyes." [more inside]
Sunday morning amateur astronomer Anthony Wesley captured a photo of an apparent asteroid or comet strike on Jupiter. Alerted by the announcement on the ALPO-Jupiter email list, other amateurs soon posted follow-up images. [more inside]
A liquid mirror telescope is made by spinning a reflective fluid, such as mercury, at a constant rate. This rotation produces a parabolic surface, which is an ideal shape for a telescope mirror. (You can try this yourself.) While these mirrors can be built to be large and orders of magnitude cheaper than solid mirrors, they have the disadvantage that they can only look straight up. Creating mirrors this way is not new; they have a history [.ps] that dates back to Newton. However, they have recently regained attention as the technology behind proposals to build an enormous (20m+) telescope on the moon. (A less technical treatment here.)
Mark VandeWettering makes telescopes, and has written a set of guides for those who would like to build their own. Francis O'Reilly has made a similar set of guides, except as a series of videos.
“Here was an object brand new. At first we didn’t recognize it.” Dr. Alicia Soderberg on the discovery of Supernova 2008D, using the Swift satellite telescope....
Microsoft's much anticipated WorldWide Telescope was released today (in the past hour actually). Article in New York Times and TED speech.
See Saturn this Saturday April 12 is the second annual International Sidewalk Astronomy Night, a worldwide event coordinated by the Sidewalk Astronomers. The group, founded in 1968 by John Dobson (subject of this documentary), is dedicated to a sort of guerrilla astronomy -- experienced stargeeks bringing their really good telescopes out to places where people are. So even on your way to the bars, the shows, and the honky-tonk you can see stuff like this and this - like these people did.
HobbySpace hosts an exhaustive collection of information and links about space-related hobbies, including amateur astronomy, satellite design, and rocketry for both beginners and experts.
In addition to his work on the design of the 200-inch Hale telescope, amateur astronomer Russell W. Porter (1871-1949) designed and produced a remarkable, bronze-cast garden telescope in the 1920s. Fewer than 60 of these unusual Newtonian reflectors were ever made, and they're even harder to find now: earlier this year, one went for $18,000 at auction. But a reproduction of the Porter Garden Telescope is now available, for a mere $59,000 (it's cast bronze on a marble pedestal); a local cable station has a profile of the people behind it. Via Sky and Telescope.
To celebrate the 17th birthday of the Hubble Space Telescope, please feast your eyes on a very detailed (Flash) picture of the Carina Nebula.
Play with the big boys of astronomy by accessing a high powered telescope online.
Hubble harvests 100 new planets during a 7-day sweep of the bulge of the Milky Way.. If confirmed it would almost double the number of known planets to about 230. "I think this work has the potential to be the most significant advance in discovering extra-solar planetary systems since the first planets were discovered in the mid-1990s."
The first images from the Spitzer Space Telescope, formerly known as the Space Infrared Telescope Facility and renamed after astrophysicist Lyman Spitzer, Jr., were released on Thursday. Launched on August 25, it obtains images by detecting the infrared energy radiated by objects in space, and it will drift behind the Earth as the planet orbits the sun.
The Best of Hubble Its mission will end in 2010. Four years later it will re-enter the atmosphere and burn up. Many astronomers are calling for Hubble to be refurbished and its mission extended to 2020. Here are some of it's best pictures.
Breathtaking Hubble picture of the Sombrero Galaxy (also identified as M104). The Hubble Heritage team took the original images during May and June of this year using the Advanced Camera for Surveys and multiple color filters. They then stitched 6 images together to make the final composite image.
It's nice to know that people can still have big dreams. This is not hallucination; these guys are very serious and very practical and their credentials suggest that they know exactly what they're doing. It's the same team which is just finishing the Very Large Telescope project, which when complete will be the biggest scope in the world, and will be more sensitive and get better pictures than the Hubble. Scopes #1 and #2 are now online, #3 is in engineering shakeout, and first light for #4 is coming shortly. All four scopes will work together to generate images using interferometry.
Speaking of retrotech, the latest group of space shuttle jockies just upgraded the Hubble to a rockin' Intel 486 chip, replacing the apparently inadequate 386 that previously provided the brains to the wobbly eye in the sky.