astronomy Newsletter


June 15 2011 Astronomy Newsletter

Hi everybody!

Here's the latest article from the Astronomy site at

Stellar Misunderstandings
If stars aren't white, why isn't the night sky more colorful? If it's 93 million miles to the Sun, how many times farther away is the next nearest star? Will the Sun become a black hole and suck us in? Here's a short explanation of some common misconceptions about the stars.


James Clerk Maxwell, Scottish physicist, was born on June 13, 1831. He wasn't an astronomer, but his formulation of the electromagnetic theory was certainly important for astrophysics. Another contribution, which isn't so well known, was his paper explaining how color photography could be achieved using the three primary light colors, red, blue and green. Using an understanding of the three basic color receptors in the human eye, he showed how all the colors in a photograph could be created.

James Couch Adams, English astronomer and mathematician, was born on June 15, 1819. He predicted the existence and location of the planet Neptune based on the its effects on Uranus. Urbain LeVerrier did the same thing, independently, but he was able to get an astronomer to look for the planet. Galle, at the Berlin Observatory, did this and found Neptune. There is still some controversy about dividing the credit for the discovery, but the fact is that Galle made the discovery based on LeVerrier's work.

William Lassell, English astronomer, was born on June 18, 1799. Among his other discoveries, less than three weeks after Neptune was discovered, Lassell discovered its largest moon Triton. He was awarded the gold medal of the Royal Astronomical Society in London and also served as its president.

*Women space pioneers*

On June 16, 1963 Valentina Tereshkova was the first woman in space. Tereshkova flew on the Vostok 5, spending close to 71 hours in orbit. She is still the only woman to have made a solo space flight. When she made her flight the combined time in orbit of all the American Mercury astronauts was less than 54 hours.

Although Tereshkova's flight was a brilliant propaganda coup for the Soviets, they didn't take women in space any more seriously than the Americans did. It was another nineteen years before the second woman went into space. That was cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya in 1982, the year before the first American woman.

Sally Ride flew on the shuttle Challenger, launched on June 18, 1983 - almost exactly twenty years after Tereshkova's historic flight. I'm glad they didn't wait another twenty years before women were finally able to take a full part in the exploration of space.

*The Earth rotates*

A few weeks ago, I put a link in the newsletter to a beautiful time lapse video taken by Guisard and Salgado at ESO's Very Large Telescope. Here it is again, but this time it's been digitally altered so that the stars stay fixed and the Earth rotates. Very interesting. Here's the link to the video at Astronomy Picture of the Day:

*Lunar eclipse*

The eclipse is nearing the end now. As my local skies are – predictably – clouded over, I've been looking at a live feed from a robotic telescope in the Canary Islands. I hope some of you were able to see it in person.

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

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Mona Evans,
Astronomy Editor

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