astronomy Newsletter


March 23 2013 Astronomy Newsletter

Hi everybody

Here's the latest article from the Astronomy site at

Pleiades - the Seven Sisters
The Pleiades - the Seven Sisters - were shown in star catalogs six thousand years ago. Visible from northern and southern hemispheres, probably every culture that ever watched the sky had a name for them. But what is this group of stars? And are there actually seven of them?

*Northern Lights*

I've just returned from an astronomy tour of northern Norway. You can find out what we saw on an earlier trip in “Hurtigruten – Seeing the Light” at This month's trip wasn't quite so successful and we were twice in the area shown in this fantastic panorama taken by Frank Olsen on March 19: Unfortunately, all we saw was rather a lot of snow on both occasions.

*First day of Spring*

The vernal equinox happened a few days ago. It's spring now – that's official. (Unless you're south of the equator, in which case it's now autumn.) However many of us are definitely not getting springlike weather. In my locale – and elsewhere in Europe and the USA – it's been snowing today. (Good thing I hadn't packed away my clothes for visiting the Arctic.) But here is a lovely picture from brighter days in Ireland showing carvings in an ancient mound which are only illuminated by the Sun on the equinoxes:

*John William Draper*

On this day (03-23) in 1840 John William Draper (1811-1882) took the first successful picture of the Moon. Draper was born in England, but his widowed mother moved with the family to America when he was twenty. He attended medical school, and over a period of time held professorships in chemistry, botany and medicine. His research in photochemistry made portrait photography possible and he was also North America's first astrophotographer.

I mentioned his son Henry Draper a few weeks ago, since his birthday was on March 7th – shared with John Herschel, another pioneer of photography. Like his father, Henry studied medicine and he became a doctor and an academic, but also had a deep interest in astrophotography. When he died at an early age, his wife Anna endowed Harvard Observatory with the funds to complete her husband's star catalogue based on stellar spectra. Find out more from “Photography and the Birth of Astrophysics” at .

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I wish you clear skies.

Mona Evans, Astronomy Editor

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