astronomy Newsletter


May 4 2011 Astronomy Newsletter

Hi everybody!

This week is the first anniversary of my writing about astronomy for BellaOnline. More importantly, it's Astronomy Week, and Saturday is spring Astronomy Day. You can read about it here:

Astronomy Day - Bringing Astronomy to the People
Astronomy Day has been an annual celebration of astronomy for over thirty-five years of "bringing astronomy to the people." See if you can find an event near you. If not, create your own event by skywatching with a friend - our Absolute Beginners guides will help you out.

Also this week, an article about the work of Copernicus. Later this month I'll be following this up with a new article on his life, death and the discovery of his remains.

Copernicus - the Revolution
In the 16th century everyone knew that Earth was the center of the cosmos. But this made it impossible to predict the motions of heavenly bodies, even if they moved in elaborate circles within circles. Copernicus turned the idea on its head and put the Sun at the center. A revolution had begun!


Lots to see this week. Here are a few things to look out for:

(1) See bits of Halley's Comet. The Eta Aquarid meteor shower began last month, but is expected to peak tomorrow night/Thursday morning (May 5-6). Southern Hemisphere observers will get a better show, but everyone will have the advantage of an early moonset. (The Moon is only a thin crescent anyway.)

The radiant – the place where the meteors seem to be coming from – is in the constellation of Aquarius. Earth is currently going through a debris trail from Comet Halley which is where the meteors are coming from. You can find out more about meteor showers here:

(2) The International Space Station has been making some good passes over North America and parts of Europe. There are several more days of them, depending on where you live. I saw a lovely one the other night by the Thames. Unfortunately, it was made more memorable by my brushing against some stinging nettles in the dark while leaving the river front. Ouch. The perils of astronomy. You can check out the passes at

(3) There's a big planetary alignment on show. If you missed the conjunction of the four planets and the Moon last weekend, all is not lost. The Moon gets around, but the planets will still be lined up for several weeks. Uranus and Neptune are also in the alignment, so there are six planets on view: Look for Venus first, as it's the brightest. Be aware that to see Neptune you'll need a telescope, but with good conditions and good eyesight, binoculars might do for Uranus.

*Moon Phase Calculator*

New toy . . . erm . . . educational aid from Sky & Telescope.  If you put in the date, it shows the phase of the Moon on that date.  It says it will work for the dates between 4000 BC to 6000 AD.  (It doesn't say how it takes calendar reform into account, but we won't get picky about that).  All you need to do is press "calculate" to get the current phase or type in another date followed by "calculate."  You can find it at  (It needs Java to work.) 


It seems that the earliest launch date for SS Endeavour is now May 10th. You can get updates at The shuttle – British spelling and all – was named for HMS Endeavour, the ship in which Captain James Cook made his first great voyage of exploration. The official remit for Cook's voyage was to observe a transit of Venus.


Tom Lowe was the Astrophotographer of the Year 2010. (You can read more about this competition here: Here is one of his latest time lapse videos. Shot in the American southwest, unbelievable skies, and music by John Stanford. It's about two minutes long and absolutely gorgeous.

*Cinco de Mayo*

On May 5, 1961 Alan Shepard became the first American in space. I doubt that it was to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, but if you are celebrating, I hope you have an great day.

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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