Astronomy

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Category archives for Astronomy

No Mistaking Astronomical Objects

On Starts With a Bang, Ethan Siegel makes headway on his tour of “110 spectacular deep-sky objects” first cataloged by Charles Messier in 1758.  Before powerful telescopes were developed, the heavens consisted of the sun, moon, stars, a few bright planets, and the rare passing comet.  Comets were actively sought by men like Messier, who…

No Star Unturned

On Dynamics of Cats, Steinn Sigurðsson sifts through Hubble’s vast catalog of stars, gas, and galaxies, looking for a diamond in the rough. Many images captured by the Hubble Space Telescope have never really been looked at; Sigurðsson says “In some cases the PI died before doing so. More usually these are engineering test images,…

Bringing Knowledge into Focus

The Universe is a little less than 14 billion years old. Humanity, maybe 200,000. We have reached for knowledge at every step, and recorded what we could. The pace of our knowledge seems to accelerate; the 20th century tranformed our understanding of reality, as had the previous millenium. In 2011, we gather more information than…

What Makes a Planet?

Greg Laden draws our attention to an object named Vesta, which by itself makes up 9% of the asteroid belt. Greg says “if you take the largest handful of objects in the asteroid belt, Ceres, Vesta, Pallas and 10 Hygiea, you’ve got half of the mass of the entire thing, according to the most current…

We are All Scientists

On Uncertain Principles, Chad Orzel differs with Neil Degrasse Tyson, saying that scientific thinking isn’t that new, or that exclusive, and in fact has defined humanity from the very beginning. Chad describes science as “a method for figuring things out: you look at some situation, come up with a possible explanation, and try it to…

Still in the Dark

The universe remains a mysterious place, and one of the biggest mysteries confronting astronomers today is that “the amount of mass we can see through our telescopes is not enough to keep galaxies from spinning apart.” Since the 1930′s, this shortfall has been covered by dark matter, a hypothetical substance which has never actually been…

Astro News Near and Far

On Life at the SETI Institute, Dr. Franck Marchis shares the latest results from Kepler, a telescope in an Earth-trailing heliocentric orbit which keeps a distant eye on 156,453 stars. Kepler watches for tell-tale reductions in brightness, which “could be due to the transit of an exoplanet passing between its star and us.” As of…

Remembering Challenger

January 28th marked the 25th anniversary of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, when one of the rocket boosters separated from the external fuel tank after liftoff and aerodynamic forces tore the shuttle apart. Like millions of Americans, Ethan Siegel and Greg Laden watched the orbiter disintegrate live on TV. Ethan writes that while “we found…

The science song is a strange beast; people have surely converted information to rhythms or rhymes as a mnemonic device for millennia, though the idea of “educational music” as a genre has only recently crystallized. Its target audience has oscillated since then; while Tom Lehrer was playing for adults in the 50s and 60s, a…

Perseid Meteor Shower Peaks Tonight

Every August, the Earth passes through a patch of space that’s a tad grittier than usual; the planet’s orbit intersects with that of the comet Swift-Tuttle, the latter being filled with the cast-off from the slowly melting ice-ball. When this detritus hits Earth’s atmospheres, the massive energy of the collision is enough to produce a…