astronomy Newsletter


March 23 2011 Astronomy Newsletter

Hi everybody!

Here's the latest article from the Astronomy site at, a new look at nebulae.

Nebulae are titanic clouds of gas and dust - celestial gossamer in the spaces between the stars. They're stellar nurseries, stellar graveyards and dark constellations. Some of their mysteries have been penetrated by infrared telescopes, but the cloaking dust still keeps some secrets.

Also here's one I put up last week after I sent out the newsletter.

Tales of the Northern Lights
The aurora is a ethereal, shifting light in the northern sky and is associated with many tales and beliefs. It can look rather like the dawn so Galileo named it after Aurora goddess of the dawn. It has reminded ohers of dragons, spirits, dancers, shield maidens, herrings or the legendary firefox.

*Shannon Lucid went to Mir*

On March 22, 1996 Space Shuttle Atlantis took astronaut Dr. Shannon Lucid to the Mir space station, where she ended up spending six months. This was about six weeks longer than intended when delays extended her stay. Between her other missions and her long stay on Mir, Dr. Lucid once held the record for the most time in orbit by any non-Russian.

Here is a video where you can find out more about Shannon Lucid, her preparation for the mission and what it was like on board Mir. I found it slightly annoying that the sound isn't in synch with the people speaking, but overall it's an interesting video. It also seems to be aimed at young women, so educators might find it useful for equal opportunities discussions.

*Mir : R.I.P.*

Mir, which means both "peace" and "world," was launched into low Earth orbit in 1986. It lasted longer than was originally expected and certainly had some scary emergencies. Eventually, the Russians ran out of money to support the aging spacecraft and Mir ran out of reprieves. The safest thing to do with it was a controlled deorbit so that most of it burned up in the atmosphere and the rest fell harmlessly into the Pacific Ocean. This happened on March 23, 2001.

*The Great Comet of 1997*

I wonder how many of you remember comet Hale-Bopp? A year to the day after Atlantis took Shannon Lucid to Mir, Hale-Bopp was at its closest point to Earth. It had been discovered two years before, independently, by Alan Hale and Thomas Bopp. The comet turned out to be one of the brightest of the twentieth century and amateur telescopes were still able to see it until around the year 2000. You can find out more and see a fantastic photograph at Exceptionally bright comets are referred to as "Great Comets."

*Beautiful Moon, no related disasters*

The Moon at perigee was full on Saturday and I hope you got to see it. It didn't look larger to me, but it was a lovely, clear night and the Moon was very bright. A friend of mine, Dr. Francisco Diego, took this photo over Tower Bridge in London. It was up on SpaceWeather.Com.

I was amazed by the person online who predicted that from the 16th to the 22nd, there would be, amongst other things, "a surge in extreme tides" "a rash of moderate-to-severe seismic activity (including Richter 5+ earthquakes" "volcanic eruptions" "powerful storms."

OK. Today is March 23 and I didn't hear about any of that happening. In fact, since I'm about to teach a geology unit, I've been looking around on the website of the US Geological Survey site. I found the average annual figures for earthquakes of different magnitudes. Adding up the figures for Richter 5+ earthquakes, I got 1469, about 28 a week.

There is also an actual quake map for the previous 7 days at I looked late last night and counted 24 that were Richter 5+. In fact, none was stronger than 6. This isn't exactly what I'd call a surge in seismic activity.

That's all for this now. Wishing you clear skies.

Please visit for even more great content about Astronomy.

To participate in online discussions, this site has a community forum all about Astronomy located here -

I hope to hear from you sometime soon, either in the forum or in response to this email message. I welcome your feedback!

Do pass this message along to family and friends who might also be interested. Remember it's free and without obligation.

Mona Evans, Astronomy Editor


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