astronomy Newsletter


March 30 2011 Astronomy Newsletter

Hi everybody!

Here's the latest article from the Astronomy site at

Absolute Beginners – Spring Skies
Days lengthen, flowers blossom and it's starting to get warmer. Even if your spring weather is late, daffodil-colored star Arcturus says it's spring. Use the Big Dipper to find Arcturus, Polaris the pole star, the constellation of Leo the lion, and a number of galaxies and nebulae.

Something else that appeared this week was a new article on Mars – aimed at kids and all the family.

Mars Facts for Kids
The red planet has no little green men, but it's a fascinating place. It has a mountain three times the height of Everest and a deep valley that dwarfs the Grand Canyon. Although Mars has no liquid water on the surface, if the southern polar icecap melted, it could cover the planet 36 feet deep.

*Wow - Mars*
I set up the Mars article on Saturday and on Sunday the Astronomy Picture of the Day had this amazing picture from NASA's Viking Project of the Valles Marineris.

*Pierre Laplace*
His full name and title was Pierre-Simon, marquis de Laplace and he was born towards the end of March 1749 (exact date uncertain). He was a French mathematician and astronomer who made tremendous contributions to both fields. His five volumes on Celestial Mechanics helped establish the modern science of astronomy.

*Olbers and the asteroids*
Heinrich Olbers (1758 – 1840) was a German medical doctor and astronomer. On March 28, 1802 he discovered the asteroid which he named Pallas (for the goddess Pallas Athene). Almost five years to the day (March 29, 1807) he discovered another asteroid which was named Vesta for the Roman goddess of the hearth. He made other discoveries, but no more asteroids. However in 1923 an asteroid was named Olbersia in his honor.

*Hurray Messenger!*
About two weeks ago the Messenger probe went into orbit around Mercury. The only other probe ever to visit Mercury was Mariner 10 which did three fly-bys in 1974-5. Here is an annotated version of the first photo sent back by Messenger from orbit, courtesy of NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington. You can see bright rays coming out of the crater Debussy, showing that it is a relatively young crater.

*Sub Zero*
This is a breath-taking time lapse video of the winter sky. Randy Halverson made it in South Dakota and has appropriately named it "Sub Zero." Look at all the stars! If you live in an urban area, as I do, this is a treat. I was able to pick out some familiar winter constellations, but sometimes just watched the changing sky – and I didn't even have to freeze to do it.

*Sing along with NASA*
Time to vote for an original song to wake up the astronauts on the last space shuttle mission, STS-134, scheduled to launch (all going well!) on April 19th. I've been listening to the ten top songs. One of them is by a Spanish group who sing in English. I quite liked the opening lyrics of "Sunrise Number 1," but found it a bit too Eurovision Song Contest for my taste. Although I was dancing to "Boogie Woogie Shuttle," I finally went for "Rocket Scientist." How could I resist a cool, bluesy song which includes the lyrics "I dream at night of a jet-powered kiss. My baby's a rocket scientist." What do *you* think?

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

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Mona Evans, Astronomy Editor


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