Astronomy Blogs

June 18, 2017

This year, the June solstice falls on two different days: Wednesday, the 21st, for those in Eastern Standard Time, and Tuesday, the 20th, for time zones further west!. Enjoy seven cool (or, is it hot?) solstice facts—and see how many you know! If you ask friends what happens on the summer solstice, they’re likely to get it right. It’s the longest day of the year, meaning, the most minutes of sunshine. And the midday Sun is highest up in the sky, or lowest if you live in the Southern Hemisphere... more

June 7, 2017

When we look up into the sky, we’re looking through dozens of miles of transparent gases, which we breathe from birth to death. So what is the composition of air, exactly? To be more specific, name that top three ingredients. 1. Ask your friends what makes up most of the air, and, odds are, a few will correctly say nitrogen. It makes up nearly 80% of the air. It doesn’t hurt you and it doesn’t help you, which is sort of like the government of Monaco. 2. Air’s second most common component is... more

June 2, 2017

June’s Full Moon is the lowest of the year. This has all sorts of consequences … Technically full on Friday June 9, the Full Moon for June spends the night hovering right next to a bright “star”—the planet Saturn. This is extremely helpful, because unlike Jupiter, say, whose extreme brilliance makes it easy to recognize, Saturn is much harder to identify as a planet unless you know astronomy pretty well. So next Friday, the Full Moon acts as a guide, an usher, so you know where to point a... more

May 31, 2017

Now that NASA’s Juno spacecraft is orbiting Jupiter and sending us spectacular pictures, especially of its polar regions, we can enjoy a happy coincidence: On this Saturday night, June 3, 2017, Jupiter will form a dramatic tight conjunction with the Moon. This Jupiter-Moon conjunction isn’t one of those pre-dawn, insomniac affairs. The Moon and Jupiter are highest up and closest together at nightfall, and can be seen even in evening twilight. Simply venture out after sunset and find the Moon.... more

May 12, 2017

Something special happens in the sky Saturday night, May 13.  The Moon will hover next to the planet Saturn.  And they’ll both be aligned with the center of our galaxy.  Cool stuff. And useful.  You don’t really need the Moon to act as an usher to guide you to Jupiter, because Jupiter is so brilliant it attracts attention on its own.  But Saturn is merely a somewhat bright “star” and doesn’t particularly stand out.  So having the Moon float alongside it is very helpful.  Both celestial bodies... more

May 6, 2017

For the next few days, the sky offers a cool and easy spectacle that requires no astronomy knowledge whatsoever. The dark night’s two brightest objects float together.  Each is fascinating in its own right. A Beautiful Conjunction of Jupiter and the Moon Absolutely everyone can identify the Moon. So it’s easy to spot that bright object next to the Moon—giant Jupiter! And the two join together all night long. They come closest on Sunday, May 7. So at your leisure, just step outside and look... more

April 30, 2017

We’ve grown up with four seasons. But they don’t always match what we experience. What about dividing our season by the strength of the Sun? Think about it. People who go skiing or snowboarding in mid-December have officially hit the slopes during the autumn. Those who ski in mid-March are doing so during winter.  And yet, those March skiers get sunburned six times faster than those on the slopes in December.  This proves that the Sun is much stronger in mid March.  So is there any way to think... more

April 26, 2017

For the first time in nearly four decades, a total solar eclipse will sweep across the mainland United States! Even most backyard astronomers have never seen one. No surprise—they’re rare and expensive. For any spot on earth, totality happens once every 360 years on average. Some places, like Los Angeles, will wait more than a millennium. Everyone’s seen photos. The image of a black Moon surrounded by the solar corona is familiar. But is it merely a lovely natural scene along the lines of a... more

April 11, 2017

This week, the waning gibbous Moon rises an hour later each night, leaving the first part of each night black and ideal for stargazing. The first thing you see is the very brightest “star” in all the heavens—the planet Jupiter. Jupiter came to opposition earlier this month, so it’s at its very brightest of the entire year. Let’s be honest, though. You don’t want to fiddle with charts, and you’d like your astronomy fun and easy. Well, here it is: Just find the brightest star anytime between... more

April 1, 2017

The Big Dipper is an old friend to most of us. Poetically, it is spring itself, the season of renewal, right now, when the Dipper is best seen. Go out between 9 and 10 p.m., and you’ll see that it hovers so high in the north, it’s almost overhead. Where is the Big Dipper? The Dipper floats forlornly in a dark desolate region of the sky. It’s actually a section of the Great Bear high in the North. This realm lies far from the Milky Way. Hence, the Dipper guides our eyes away from the flat plane... more

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