ABC of Astronomy – A Is for Astronomy
In the ABC of astronomy, astronomy itself is the first and most important item. What is astronomy and how does it differ from astrology? What are the main specialist areas in astronomy and how do they contribute to the overall picture?
ABC of Astronomy – B Is for Bok Globule
B is for Bok globule, a kind of dark nebula studied by Bart Bok. B is for Bayer who invented a handy system of star designations beginning with a Greek letter. And B is for Baily's beads. You won't find them in a jewelry shop, but you might see them in a solar eclipse, as Francis Baily did.
ABC of Astronomy – C Is for Cosmic Rays
Hundreds of cosmic rays zip through your body every minute. They're a danger to astronauts, and may damage the electronics of satellites and spacecraft. Some aren't cosmic, none are rays, and a few seem to be impossible. What are they and where do they come from?
ABC of Astronomy – D Is for Double Star
We´re used to having just one Sun, so the planet Tatooine in George Lucas´s Star Wars seems exotic with its double sun. Yet at least half the stars we can see in the sky are doubles. But a "double star" can be a true binary or just an optical double, which is a chance alignment of unrelated stars.
Google doodles are little drawings and animations that incorporate the Google name into a presentation of a person or event of note. Here are five doodles with an astronomy theme, including asteroids, a lunar eclipse and how the speed of light was calculated by observing Jupiter and Io.
Here’s a collection of astronomy jokes for kids, adults and geeks of all ages. Laughter helps to keep us young and healthy, so see if anything tickles your fancy. (And how *does* the Man in the Moon cut his hair?)
Celestial Sleuth – book review
A "celestial sleuth" solves puzzles in art, history and literature using astronomy. Why did Munch have a blood-red sky in "The Scream"? How did British sentries miss Paul Revere rowing across Boston Harbour under a full Moon? Which meteor shower did the characters in James Joyce's "Ulysses" see?
Citizen Science in the Electronic Age
How many, and what kinds of birds are there around? How do we classify a million galaxies in sky survey images? How dark is the sky? Citizen scientists help to find out all of these things - and more. You could be a citizen scientist too.
We no longer see the heavens as perfect and the stars as eternal and unchanging. Even the Universe had a beginning, and everything that we observe changes and evolves. Many of these changes involve cosmic collisions.
Horses galloping and flying; creatures half human, half horse; dark horses invisible but for their silhouettes against the stars behind them. Find out about the cosmic equines that are features of our skies.
Distances in Space
You wouldn´t want to know the distance from Boston to San Francisco in inches. And for the same reason, miles aren´t very useful in space. After all, it´s 26 trillion miles to the next nearest star. So how do astronomers deal with these enormous distances?
Five Astronomical Non-events 2016
The astronomical delights of 2016 are wonderful discoveries and beautiful heavenly events. Not so delightful are the flaky stories and shaky science and “intelligent aliens” as the answer to any mystery. Here's my selection of five such non-events from 2016.
Five Astronomy Non-events of 2017
The year 2017 was favored with dire predictions of destructive giant impacts, and the 15 days of darkness “forecast by NASA” was back again. Unusually, there was no sign of the “Mars will look as big as the full Moon” that's been a regular since 2003. But there's also a new non-event.
Four Big Astronomy Non-events of 2015
In 2015 we learned a lot about the Solar System and beyond. And the splendid sky events included a solar eclipse and two lunar eclipses. Yet, as ever, people on social media people who delight in disaster were declaring doom. Should we be apprehensive? Let's see.
Four Historic Eclipses
An empire lost, an empire saved, lives lost, lives saved. Read about some unexpected outcomes of solar and lunar eclipses.
Gravity - Cosmic Glue
Aristotle's perfect cosmos didn't need gravity to hold it together. However a system with planets orbiting the Sun called for an explanation. In the process, Newton was inspired by a falling apple, but Galileo's experiments with falling bodies didn't involve dropping them off the Tower of Pisa.
How to Tell a Planet from a UFO
Two English policemen chased a UFO through the Devon countryside. It was the planet Venus. A news reporter had quite a scoop when she found a UFO hovering over New York City. It was the planet Jupiter. Why are planets and stars often mistaken for spacecraft or aircraft?
Light pollution isn't just a problem for astronomers. It means the loss of an amenity for all of us now and the generations that follow. It affects the natural world, can ruin our health, wastes resources, and what's more, we're paying for it!
Light Pollution - Facts for Kids
Thieves are stealing something that belongs to you. It´s something you inherited from countless generations of your ancestors: a view of the night sky. The unnecessary lighting that hides it also damages wildlife, increases air pollution and can damage your health. What can we do?
Merlin´s Tour of the Universe - book review
Does the Earth really wobble on its axis? How does the Sun make its heat? What would happen if I fell into a black hole? If you want to know the answers to these and many other questions, this book is a good collection of the things that people have asked "Merlin."
NASA Helped Rescue Chilean Miners
In the Chilean winter of 2010 thirty-three miners were trapped half a mile below the surface. They were in a hostile environment, a confined space, reliant on supplies from outside - similar to the problems of a space mission. Find out how NASA's decades of experience helped the Chilean rescuers.
Night Sky Olympic Tribute
Planet Earth presents a grand international sporting spectacular every four years, the Olympic Games. Even if you're not fond of sports, it's a majestic pageant and a set of unfolding dramas that a scriptwriter couldn't hope to emulate. Here is my astronomical tribute to this magnificent saga.
Phantom Planets and Moons
Moons of Venus and Mercury? An unknown planet nearer the Sun than Mercury? Astronomers can misinterpret what they see, too. Happily, other observers, better instruments and new theoretical understandings can put it right. Here are some phantom objects that many astronomers once thought existed.
These articles contain a wide selection of astronomical information, but each is based around a seasonal or topical theme.
Sky of Grand Central Terminal – It´s Backwards
A splendid starry sky crowns the concourse of Manhattan´s Grand Central Terminal. It´s a 1940s reworking of the original that Paul César Helleu designed after consultation with a prominent astronomer. Yet a month after the station opened, a starwise commuter claimed that the sky was backwards.
Star-gazing – Seeing in Dim Light
How can you see an object by not looking at it? Why do aurorae and deep-sky objects tend to look grey? How can an eyepatch and a red flashlight be useful to an astronomer? Why can a camera flash ruin a night's observing? Answers to all these questions are related to the way our eyes react to light.
Syzygy - When Heavenly Bodies Align
Syzygy may look like the letters on a dreadful Scrabble rack, but it just means three heavenly bodies lined up. When this happens, there are eclipses, transits, conjunctions, oppositions and occultations.
Tales of the Northern Lights
The aurora is an ethereal, shifting light in the northern sky and is associated with many tales and beliefs. It can look like the dawn, so Galileo named it after Aurora goddess of the dawn. It has reminded others of dragons, spirits, dancers, shield maidens, herrings or the legendary fire fox.
The Bluffer´s Guide to the Cosmos - book review
Here is an entertaining overview of astronomy small enough to put in your pocket. Not only the Big Bang, black holes, exploding stars, visiting Mars and all the rest of the cosmos, but plenty of laughs along the way. I enjoyed it - you must know someone who would too.
Top Astronomy Stories 2012
What were the big astronomy stories of the year 2012? Here is my choice of the top ten plus a non-story. What do you think?
Top Five Dubious Astronomy Stories 2014
Have you read about the Top Ten Astronomy Stories for 2014? This article is complementary to it. Here are my choices for the top five debatable stories of the year. They were widely reported, but there isn't really enough evidence to accept their conclusions.
Top Ten Astronomy Stories 2013
What were the big astronomy events of 2013? Here are my top ten choices and they include a big bang over Russia, a Moon goddess and Jade Rabbit, a telescope in the high Andean desert to look for the first galaxies, and the launch one of the most ambitious space missions ever.
Top Ten Astronomy Stories 2014
What happened in the skies in 2014? Here's my top ten. Some hints: it takes in stories all the way from a tiny lander alone on a comet to a supercluster of galaxies 500 million light years across, perhaps another Earth, and an ocean on one of Saturn's moons.
Top Ten Astronomy Stories 2015
Some called 2015 "The Year of the Dwarf Planet" because space missions visited both Pluto and Ceres. Elsewhere Philae briefly awoke on a comet. Water was found on Mars, and so was Beagle 2. But how did astronomers predict a supernova, and what is the most distant known object in the Solar System?
Top Ten Astronomy Stories 2016
Nothing in astronomy in 2016 topped the February announcement that the LIGO collaboration had finally detected gravitational waves, ripples in space-time predicted by Einstein. However this wasn't the only story in astronomy for 2016, and they range from the Solar System to a distant supercluster.
Top Ten Astronomy Stories 2017
2017 was an exciting one for astronomy, full of interesting events and discoveries. There was a fantastic solar eclipse that swept across North America, a star system with 7 Earth-sized planets, a quasar from the early Universe, Cassini's Grand Finale, a dwarf planet with rings, and much more.
What's in a Name
Things aren't always what they seem. Many discoveries aren't named for - or by - their discoverers. Halley didn't discover Comet Halley. Kuiper said the Kuiper Belt didn't exist. The Herschels called Uranus "the Georgian planet" after George III of England, but no one else did.
Who Let the Dogs out?
Someone must have left the door open, because the skies are full of dogs. You can see the dogs of Orion and the hunting dogs of the shepherd Bootes in pursuit of the Great Bear. There is also the Running Dog Nebula and the memory of poor Laika, the first cosmonaut, who perished in space.
Top Ten Articles
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