astronomy Newsletter


March 19 2014 Astronomy Newsletter

Hi everybody

Here's the latest article from the Astronomy site at

Vernal Equinox
You've made it through the winter and watched the food stores diminish. But the days are getting longer and green shoots are appearing. Spring is on the way. The festivals of the vernal equinox emphasize rebirth and renewal. In many cultures the equinox is also the New Year.

Here is a short time lapse video showing the shadow on the pyramid at Chichen Itza at the spring equinox:

(1) March 13, 1855: Percival Lowell, American astronomer
He founded the Lowell Observatory in Arizona where Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto many years after Lowell's death. Lowell was convinced that there was an alien civilization on Mars. The evidence for this was the giant “canals” that could be seen through the telescope.

(2) March 14, 1835: Giovanni Schiaparelli, Italian astronomer
During the close opposition of Mars in 1877 he observed what seemed to be a network of linear features which he called “canali” (channels). This was translated as “canals” in English, suggesting that they were artificial structures.

Even at the time some astronomers saw the canals, some didn't. Lowell was a believer and wrote three books about life on Mars. Martian orbiters and landers have since definitively resolved the question: no canals.

(3) Albert Einstein, who was born in 1879, shares a birthday with Lowell.

(4) March 15, 1713: Nicolas de Lacaille, French astronomer
He spent two years in the southern hemisphere where he cataloged ten thousand stars and introduced 14 new constellations that are still in use.

(5) March 16, 1750: Caroline Herschel, German-English astronomer
I wrote about her in last week's newsletter.

*Inflation . . . Yes!*
What we know about some of the features of the Universe would make sense if it had undergone an exponential expansion in the first fraction of a second after the Big Bang. Andrei Linde and other cosmologists worked out a theory of inflation several decades ago. It seems to work nicely, but there was no observational evidence to support it. Until now. Here is an account by a BBC science writer:

And if you wonder what it's like to be a cosmologist whose theory has been strongly supported at last,
see how Professor Andrei Linde reacts to the news brought by Assistant Professor Chao-Lin Kuo:

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I wish you clear skies.

Mona Evans, Astronomy Editor

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