New burst vaporizes cosmic distance record. "NASA's Swift satellite and an international team of astronomers have found a gamma-ray burst from a star that died when the universe was only 630 million years old, or less than five percent of its present age. The event, dubbed GRB 090423, is the most distant cosmic explosion ever seen."
Astronomers searching for amino acids in space have discovered something unexpected -- the center of our galaxy tastes like raspberries and smells like rum. [more inside]
Around the World in 80 Telescopes Starting at 09:00 UT on April 3 (figure out what time that is for you here) join in for a 24 hour webcast visiting 80 of the world's astronomical observatories. What are the astronomers up to? What is it like to spend a night at a telescope? [more inside]
Tonight NASA is scheduled to launch the Kepler Mission (named after planetary legislator Johannes Kepler) with the goal of finding Earth size planets in orbit around stars in the Cygnus-Lyra region of the sky. Over the next 3 and a half years it will maintain a nearly unblinking gaze on the approximately 100 thousand stars in the region. NASA expects it to find about 50 Earth size planets, as well as hundreds that are larger. You can watch the launch live on NASA TV. [more inside]
Hacking the Sky: Robert Simpson writes astronomy tools for use with Google Earth, Google Sky, and Twitter.
World of Science contains budding encyclopedias of astronomy, scientific biography, chemistry, and physics. This resource has been assembled over more than a decade by internet encyclopedist Eric Weisstein with assistance from the internet community. MeFi visited Weisstein's Mathworld a couple years ago.
Star Viewer ― merging Google Earth (Sky) with Hubblecast videos to learn more about what you're seeing in the night sky. [more inside]
A fascinating talk about the composition of the universe [Youtube, approx 1 hour], presented by Sean Carroll, theoretical physicist at CIT. [via] [more inside]
Astronomer Tycho Brahe was one of the more colorful characters of the scientific Renaissance. He lost his nose in a duel; flouted the rules of Danish nobility and married a commoner; built, on the island of Hven, Uraniborg, the best astronomical observatory of his day; kept a beer-drinking pet moose; and amassed the data that would ultimately allow Johannes Kepler to derive the three laws of planetary motion. His chief sponsor had been Danish king Frederick II, but Frederick's heir, Christian IV, quarreled with Tycho and kicked him out of Hven. Insulted, Brahe left Denmark for Prague and the sponsorship of Rudolph II. New evidence has emerged suggesting that the offended king may have had Tycho assassinated. [more inside]
Once every 27 years or so, the mysterious binary star system of Epsilon Aurigae undergoes an eclipse, lasting nearly two years. This gives this system the distinction of having both the longest eclipse and the longest period of any known binary system. However, it is not clear why the eclipses last so long, or even what the structure of the system actually looks like--the main star is a supergiant, with a radius as big as the distance from the earth to the sun, and yet its light is dimmed for two years by something yet bigger. The next eclipse is due to begin in August of 2009, and as part of the International Year of Astronomy in 2009, amateur astronomers are being called on to make their own observations of the changing brightness of Epsilon Aurigae. If you want to try it yourself, you can read the training guide to find out how to do your own observations and report them. In addition, the two scientists who organized observations of the previous eclipse both have webpages [1, 2] which are coordinating the organization for the upcoming observation. If you want to learn more about the science behind ε Aurigae, a good rundown with links to papers is available here.
Time to turn off the lights. "Cities needlessly shine billions of dollars directly into the sky each year and, as a result, a fifth of the world's population cannot see the Milky Way. Malcolm Smith explains why a dark sky has much to offer everyone." [Via]
Where did Venus’s water go? Water may have once been as abundant on Venus as it is on Earth. New data from the Venus Express suggests that the planet's lack of a magnetic field has allowed water in the atmosphere to be stripped apart and carried into space by the solar wind.
At dawn on the winter solstice, the passage and chamber of the megalithic passage tomb at Newgrange are illuminated for 17 minutes by a shaft of sunlight entering through the roofbox above the entrance. The builders of Newgrange achieved this precise alignment over 5,000 years ago, 1,000 years before Stonehenge. You can watch the sunrise illumination on a live webcast between 08:30 and 09:30 UTC on Sunday, December 21st.
Confused about the cosmos? Can't tell a planet from a star? Then give us just five minutes, and we'll show you what they are.
"Some people hustle pool; some people hustle cars. Then there's that man you've heard about, the one who hustles stars!" Greetings, greetings, fellow stargazers! Looking toward your computer screen today, you'll find Jack Horkheimer: Star Gazer, a five-minute show that has been in weekly production for over thirty years, airing in-betweensies on many PBS stations. Contrary to the cheeky bio on Jack's website, it wasn't always easy for Jack to "keep looking up!" This 9/19/1982 Miami Herald article reveals that he grew up as a sickly boy, eventually meandering to Florida to stumble into his avocation and vocation as Director of the Miami Space Transit Planetarium, only to watch his life's work almost crumble due to a PR nightmare. Since then, however, things have been much better: Star Gazer (originally called Star Hustler, then changed in 1997 due to internet search engines leading people to Hustler Magazine's website) has been nationally syndicated since 1985 (and internationally since 1989), chalking up over 1500 episodes. A book of his monthly cartoons has been published. The Astronomical League sponsors The Jack Horkheimer Award for Exceptional Service by a Young Astronomer. (2008's winner.) So whether you find Jack avuncular or creepy, Jack Horkheimer is, to many, the face of popular backyard astronomy. [more inside]
A sixteen year long astronomical study, led by Dr. Reinhard Genzel of the Max-Planck-Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, has provided what is considered to be the best empirical evidence yet of the existence of supermassive black holes, specifically one a relatively cozy 27,000 light years away.... "The stellar orbits [QT] in the Galactic Centre [QT] show that the central mass concentration of four million solar masses must be a black hole, beyond any reasonable doubt." [more inside]
Source Of Geysers On Saturn's Moon Enceladus May Be Underground Water. Earlier this year the Cassini spacecraft detected organic material in the geysers of Enceladus. The question now is, how's the fishing?
Discovered just last night by the Catalina Sky Survey at Mount Lemmon Observatory, asteroid 2008 TC will enter the upper atmosphere (and should explode spectacularly) over Northern Sudan in around 30 minutes.
In 1992, Aleksander Wolszczan discovered the first planets outside our solar system. Now, the Penn State professor been accused of spying for SB, the Polish Secret Police. He calls it a "smear campaign."
Mysterious New 'Dark Flow' Discovered in Space. "As if the mysteries of dark matter and dark energy weren't vexing enough, another baffling cosmic puzzle has been discovered. Patches of matter in the universe seem to be moving at very high speeds and in a uniform direction that can't be explained by any of the known gravitational forces in the observable universe. Astronomers are calling the phenomenon 'dark flow.' The stuff that's pulling this matter must be outside the observable universe, researchers conclude." [more inside]
Pickering and the Female Computers. In 1881, Edward Pickering, the director of the Harvard College Observatory, became so impatient with a male lab assistant’s work that he famously declared his maid could do a better job. Rather than take offense, his 24-year-old maid, Williamina Fleming, instead took him up on the offer. She ended up working at the Observatory for the next 30 years, supervising the tedious work of cataloging photographic plates, but also discovering variable stars and novae, helping to develop a classification system—and, perhaps even more importantly, hiring nearly 40 female assistants, many of whom went on to have distinguished scientific careers. [more inside]
The "terminator" is the dividing line between day and night as seen from on high. This shadow line is diffuse and shows the gradual transition to darkness we experience as twilight. [more inside]
An Interactive Space Simulator "Smash planets together, introduce rogue stars, and build new worlds from spinning discs of debris. Fire a moon into a planet or destroy everything you've created with a super massive black hole. You can simulate and interact with our solar system: the 8 planets,160+ moons, and hundereds of asteroids, the nearest 1000 stars to our Sun, and our local group of galaxies." [31Mb, Windows only, sorry, but see inside for similar Mac and Linux apps] [more inside]
Today is the first birthday of Galaxy Zoo. The largest astronomical collaboration in history, Galaxy Zoo has enlisted nearly a 150,000 volunteers to help classify over a million galaxies and released four science papers. It's made a number of interesting discoveries such as a large number of ring galaxies, Hanny’s Voorwerp, and a large number of visually (but not physically) overlapping galaxies. You can help classify galaxies or classify galaxy mergers. Don't miss the visual catalog of over 250 Objects of the Day--pretty much every one of them stunning.
Earth is not a quiet planet. It transmits a rather hideous sound [flash] into space that is 10,000 times greater in strength than any man-made radio transmission. The Earth also quietly hums with seismic Love Waves (hear them), while the Magnetosphere is alive will all sorts of sounds (check out the creepy-sounding Chorus Emissions). Also, stars sing out in middle C before they explode as supernovae, and the Perseus Cluster black hole has droned a B-flat for the past 2.5 billion years.
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.)
The Great Moon Hoax of 1835. During the last week of August 1835, the New York Sun published a six-part article about the discovery - purportedly by renowned astronomer Sir John Herschel - of fantastical life on the moon, including herds of bison, blue unicorns, "a primitive tribe of hut-dwelling, fire-wielding biped beavers, and a race of winged humans living in pastoral harmony around a mysterious, golden-roofed temple." The public's reaction was a mix of credulity and skepticism. Read the full text of the serialized articles: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6.
Five years and 800,000 images went into producing a 4 gigapixel mosaic image of the galactic plane, which when printed out is 180 feet long. But it has been made browser-sized by GLIMPSE, the Galactic Legacy Infrared Mid-Plane Survey Extraordinaire, the research group which, along with MIPSGAL, created the image: A Glimpse of the Milky Way.
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.
page2rss is a simple, effective RSS scraper. For instance, here's an RSS feed for Astronomy Picture of the Day. A powerful feature: "You can add a button to your browser's bookmarks toolbar that will create Page2RSS feed for the page you are currently viewing."
The Atlantic has an interesting article about the high probability of "space rocks" hitting the earth, possibly as high as a 1 in 10 chance of a major catastrophe each century. Not a new theme, but the article has some new developments suggesting it is more common than once thought. Includes a 10 minute video.
Leave the planet to travel into the largest structures of the universe, then plunge into the tiniest. Forty two orders of magnitude in thirty six minutes.... Cosmic Voyage. (single link Google video via) [more inside]
“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....
Vatican's chief astronomer states that belief in alien life does not conradict faith in God. Fr. José Gabriel Funes, a Jesuit preist and chief astronomer for the Vatican, stated in an interview in L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican's official newspaper, that, "Just as we consider earthly creatures as 'a brother,' and 'sister,' why should we not talk about an 'extraterrestrial brother'? It would still be part of creation." [more inside]
Microsoft's much anticipated WorldWide Telescope was released today (in the past hour actually). Article in New York Times and TED speech.
" It looks as if our Milky Way will be subsumed into its giant neighbour, the Andromeda galaxy...." A (not so) little trove of images of galactic collisions has been released to mark the 18th anniversary of the Hubble telescope's launch. Gravitic Mayhem. (via)
The Story of a Comet Hunter (see also his web page which contains a link to the story of his discover of Comet Seki-Lines in 1962). Visual comet hunting has a long and intriguing history. Today visual hunters are adapting their ways to make visual discoveries in an age of automated searches. The amateur can still win. Now, ANYONE can discover a comet(?) Or perhaps 1000. A Guide for SOHO Comet Hunters. More SOHO and Sungrazing Comet Links. [Previously]
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.
Many planets have been found circling other stars, but the prevailing search techniques turn up results encouraging but bizarre. (encouraging, previously) Gravitational micro-lensing has made it possible to OGLE a solar system much like our own.... You're not alone.
How far can the naked eye see? About 7.5 billion light-years. On March 19th, a Gamma Ray Burst was noticed by NASA's Swift satellite and given the name GRB 080319B. It left an optical afterglow estimated at +5 apparent magnitude for 30 seconds, about that of an average star. (Sadly, no one was looking at the area with an optical telescope at that exact time.) Read the original Burst Alert, including the email address of the Burst Advocate, here. [more inside]
Jodrell Bank observatory may shut down according to a UK funding proposal (via Bad Astronomy). The observatory is comprised of several radio telescopes including Lovell, the third largest steerable radio telescope in the world. The proposed budget cuts would save the UK £2.5 million per year. Perhaps Lovell can be converted (again) to an outdoor movie screen.
The World at Night is a collection of astrophotography from around the world.
Over 30 years ago, Robert Burnham Jr. struggled to get his astronomical (in more ways than one) three volume work published. Burnham's Celestial Handbook: An Observer's Guide to the Universe Beyond the Solar System "remains a sort of real-life hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy, a compendium with something to say about nearly every cosmic destination worth visiting. . . It is rarely compared to other books because there simply is none other like it." It remains a beloved and relevant book among star-gazers today. Yet few know much about the life of the author, or of his sad and lonely demise: Sky Writer.