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10 Women in Astronomy Everyone Should Know

Thursday, June 15th 2017 12:06 PM

    There is an article buzzing around the Internet that asks: Where are all the women astronomers. Well, you may may not know their names, but they are there, changing the way we look at the Cosmos. In the NASA photo above Tracy Caldwell Dyson, a chemist and NASA astronaut, looks at Earth from the International Space Station. Vera Cooper Rubin: Dark matter detective In the early 1970s, Vera Rubin teamed up with astronomer Kent Ford and others to study the rotation of spiral galaxies, according to the Jewish Women's Archive. To their surprise, they found that the predicted angular motion didn’t match what they were seeing. In fact, galaxies were rotating so fast that predictions showed they should break apart if the only thing holding them together was the gravity from their visible stars. Rubin and her collaborators hypothesized that some invisible glue — an unseen mass — must be at work. The group’s groundbreaking work provided...

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Successor to Hubble: Bigger, Better, Higher

Tuesday, June 13th 2017 03:31 PM

  The Hubble Telescope has been a breathtaking resource for astronomers but it’s about to be replaced by a bigger, better, higher telescope called the Jame Webb Space Telescope. (Photo: NASA, Amber Staughn, NASA, TED Talk) The Webb Telescope will have a mirror that is 6.5 meters. That’s 7 times larger than Hubble. It’s orbit will be 1 million miles out, about 4 times farther out than the moon. It won’t orbit the earth at that altitude, but will rather be in co-orbit with the Earth around the sun.   Lifesize model of Webb Telescope on display in Seattle in 2007 The Webb will see mostly in the infrared spectrum, but will be able to see some red. It will see heat, but it will also be able to see planets. But one of the main advantages of Webb will be its ability to see chemical compositions in atmospheres, such as water vapor, oxygen and other compounds.  

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  He’s not exactly a household word, but Dave Ward know the sky. He’s been an amateur astronomer since an early age. He is strictly an amateur and proud of it and is completely self taught. He gives evening presentations to other aspiring star gazers at Sun Mountain Lodge and Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge in Nevada. He also writes a column for the Methow Valley News, tagged “The Naked Eye.”   In addition to more modern equipment, Ward liked to show off his 130-year-old brass Clarkston, built in England and purchased by his grandfather. The event is free and starts at 8:30. For information call 1-800-572-0493. Photo: Milky Way over Patterson Lake, Winthrop, WA, Dave Ward.

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Wanna Go Pro? Better Learn Code!

Thursday, June 8th 2017 09:24 PM

        Astronomer Meredith Rawls was in an astronomy master's program at San Diego State University in 2008 when her professor threw a curveball. “We’re going to need to do some coding," he said to her class. "Do you know how to do that?” Not really, the students said. And so he taught them—at lunch, working around their regular class schedule. But what he meant by “coding” was Fortran, a language IBM developed in the 1950s. Later, working on her PhD at New Mexico State, Rawls decided her official training wasn’t going to cut it. She set out to learn a more modern language called Python, which she saw other astronomers switching to. “It's going to suck,” she remembers telling herself, “but I'm just going to do it.” And so she started teaching herself, and signed up for a workshop called SciCoder. “I basically lost the better part of a year of standard research producti...

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Physics Prof by Day; Amateur Astronomer by Night

Wednesday, June 7th 2017 09:44 PM

Howard Trottier’s (left, above) day job concerns the teeny-tiniest stuff in the universe. His night gig takes in the whole cosmos. “From the subatomic to the big,” Trottier, a physics professor at Simon Fraser University, said. “They’re intricately linked, as it turns out.” He is a theoretical subatomic physicist by training — research interests include lattice quantum chromodynamics and heavy-flavour physics — but his passion is the night sky. Intrigued as a boy by the experiments carried out by his older brother, Lorne, (right, above) who built a crystal radio before Trottier was even born, he was always fascinated by science. Lorne, 11 years Trottier’s senior, still has a huge influence. Co-founder of a Montreal tech company, Lorne donated $2.7 million of the $4.4-million cost — in effect, fronting the capital cost — of the two-year-old Trottier Observatory and Science Courtyard at SFU. &ldquo...

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The Cassini Division is visable.

Wednesday, May 10th 2017 05:16 PM

Viewing Saturn: The Planet, Rings and Moons Ask amateur telescope users what's the most beautiful thing in the sky, and lots of them will say Saturn. In fact many say their first sight of it was what turned them on to astronomy. Viewing Saturn in a good telescope often draws gasps from visitors, who after a lifetime of seeing cartoon ringed planets are awed by viewing the original. But you can never see Saturn as well as you want! The planet is tiny as telescopic targets go; it's barely 21 arcseconds in diameter at its most favorable oppositions. Saturn's ring system is 2.25 times as wide as the ball — but that's still smaller than the width of Jupiter near opposition. And the disk itself shows only about 1/6 the area of Jupiter. Try to magnify it too much and it defies you by turning into a blurry mess. Viewing Saturn is indeed a jewel, exquisite but tiny. However, with time, patience, and a top-quality 4-inch or larger telescope, you can tease out more of the plane...

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HELP WANTED: Sharp Eyes To Find Planet 9

Tuesday, March 28th 2017 10:45 AM

Have you ever thought about discovering a planet? It may not be as fanciful as you think. Astronomers at the Australian National University (ANU) want help in searching for a ninth planet thought to be orbiting our Solar System. With a working title of Planet Nine, it is speculated to exist beyond Pluto. Amateur stargazers have been promised input on naming the planet if they spot it on a website showing digital images of space. The website displays hundreds of thousands of images taken by a robotic telescope at the university's Siding Spring Observatory in New South Wales. The website shows images of the southern sky. A similar search of the northern sky was organized by US space agency NASA last month. ANU astronomer Dr Brad Tucker said he hopes Planet Nine will be found in the less-explored southern sky. "If this planet exists, it's already in one of our thousands and thousands of images," he told the BBC. "We said, 'hey, let's have the public help us a...

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Run a Double Star Marathon in One Night

Tuesday, March 14th 2017 05:33 PM

  Here is a finder chart for 55 Eridani generated by TheSkyX by Software Bisque. SkyX is software that can help beginning appreciate what they're learning, help intermediate astronomers find what they're trying to find and help serious and pro-level astronomers reach new heights. For both Mac and Windows.   Object: 55 Eridani, SAO131443, STF590Class: Double StarConstellation: EridanusMagnitude: 5.98 (6.7, 6.8)R.A.: 4 h, 43 m, 35 sDec: -8° 47’ 40”Size/Spectral: F4Separation/PA: 9.2 arc seconds; 317 degreesDistance: 406 lyOptics needed: A small telescope If you’re a reader of Astronomy magazine you may have run across Glenn Chaple’s article in the March, 2017 issue called “Double star marathon redux”. The idea is to create a double star marathon list to complement the Messier list. Most of us know that in March it’s possible to see all the Messier objects in a single night. If a Messier marathon isn’t eno...

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Once Upon a Time on Mars, a Mega-Flood

Wednesday, March 8th 2017 10:48 AM

The Mars Express probe was the European Space Agency’s first attempt to explore Mars. Since its arrival around the Red Planet in 2003, the probe has helped determine the composition of the atmosphere, map the mineral composition of the surface, studied the interaction between the atmosphere and solar wind, and taken many high-resolution images of the surface.   Perspective view looking from an unnamed crater (bottom right) towards the Worcester Crater. The region sits at the mouth of Kasei Valles, where fierce floodwaters emptied into Chryse Planitia. Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin   And even after 14 years of continuous operation, it is still revealing interesting things about Mars and its past. The latest find comes from the Kasei Valles region, where the probe captured new images of the giant system of canyons. As one of the largest outflow channel networks on the Red Planet, this region is evidence of a massive flood having taken place bil...

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Clyde Tombaugh and Pluto, Two Underdogs

Saturday, March 4th 2017 03:23 PM

  Pluto and Clyde Tombaugh are both interesting stories. Pluto, of course, used to be somebody, a planet. It was recently downgraded amid much and continuing controversy to a dwarf planet. Protests, petitions, yadda yadda. We’ll see. Clyde Tombaugh’s story, however, is pretty well settled. He was born in Illinois in 1906. When he was 16, his farming family moved to Kansas. Clyde was interested in the stars, very interested. And of course was counting on going to college. Alas, a hail stormed killed that deal. So he followed the path of a serious amateur, farm chores during the day, reading and observing at night. But he got frustrated with store-bought telescopes of the time and decided to build his own, an 8” Newtonian, out of the crankshaft of a 1910 Buick and a cream separator, grinding the mirrors himself.  With that he zeroed in on Jupiter and Mars and sent his observations in to the Lowell Observatory asking for feedback to help him be...

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