Astronomy Blogs

May 16, 2018

Sunspots are disappearing more rapidly than usual as the Sun prepares to enter the solar minimum. The last time the absence of sunspots was so prolonged was the “Little Ice Age,” which happened back in the 1600s. Will Earth experience another cold snap? First, understand that the Sun normally follows sunspot cycles of roughly 11 years; think of sunspots as storms on the Sun. See more about sunspots. The cycle starts out hot with a “solar maximum” littered with solar storms and sunspots; then... more

May 10, 2018

The night’s brightest object is the Moon, of course. But the second-brightest? Surprisingly, most people don’t know. That’s why a dazzling apparition can now dominate the western sky, shining a hundred times more brightly than the brightest stars, and yet travel incognito. It’s Venus, the Evening Star, and she’s in her glory from now through August. Where is Venus? She will be higher up and brighter as spring unfolds. But right now Venus is worth our attention because it’s in such a strange... more

May 3, 2018

This is Jupiter month! On the night of May 8–9, the Giant Planet will be at its brightest for the entire year as it reaches opposition—meaning Jupiter is opposite the Sun in the Earth’s sky. And one and a half days later, on May 10, Jupiter reaches its closest point to Earth. Here is more viewing information. When we say it’s Jupiter closest approach comes closest to Earth, it’s still 409 million miles! However, this is actually five million miles closer than last year, so it should be... more

April 27, 2018

What is the most distant object humans have ever seen in the known Universe? The latest record-holder is a galaxy that is about 13.4 billion light-years away! Or, is it? Something screwy is going on when we talk about distances in an our ever-expanding Universe. The Universe itself is roughly 13.8 billion years old, so this distant galaxy (MACS0647-D) is indeed old, since its light has been traveling to us for 13 billion years. In comparison, our Solar System is only about 4.6 billion years old... more

April 12, 2018

Space is famous for zippy activity, like streaking meteors that sail through the night sky. But space has another face—a slow-and-easy side. In reality, Venus, the Moon, and many of our most beloved sky objects are as slow as molasses. What’s the slowest-moving planet? Slowest-spinning star? Read on for some fun space facts. What is the Slowest Planet Venus, which is floating higher each evening in twilight, low in the west, is the slowest-spinning body in the known universe. If you walked... more

April 4, 2018

Sometimes the actual sky is so compelling, we’re forced to simply look out the window. Such is the case on early Saturday morning (April 7) when the Moon will meet Saturn and Mars. And you don’t need dark, unpolluted conditions to see it; city skies will do just fine. Where to Look We’re talking an hour before dawn. Figure 5:30 or so. Happily it’s Saturday morning. No school, maybe no work that day. Perhaps you’re still up from Friday night revelries. Maybe you’re an insomniac. If not, set the ... more

March 27, 2018

When is the next Blue Moon? And exactly what is a Blue Moon? There’s some confusion about this popular phrase. Here’s the scoop. Why is it a Blue Moon? We got a lot of letters about this. Some folks imagine that it actually appears the color blue. Others assume it’s a term that originated with Native American folklore. Neither is true. Also, Blue Moon is not an astronomical term. This term only started in the 1940’s as a result of a mistake in an astronomy magazine. But it slowly went viral in... more

March 20, 2018

This year, the vernal equinox falls on Tuesday, March 20. Are day and night equal today? Does the Sun rise exactly east and set exactly west? Learn about the March equinox from Bob Berman, Almanac astronomer. Why Does the Spring Equinox Fall on Different Dates? If you thought that the Spring Equinox was only on March 21, you may be dating yourself. Spring arrived on the 21st of March during most of the 20th century, but the event slides earlier and earlier during the 400-year Gregorian calendar... more

March 14, 2018

On Wednesday, March 14 (3/14), Pi Day is celebrated. It’s the sort of holiday only celebrated by number freaks like yours truly. Of course, to honor the never-ending number 3.14159, many of us pi lovers do end up celebrating by eating the actual pie dessert. Let’s have fun with numbers and a nice piece of π … The date 3/14 reminds everyone that the Greek letter π, always representing the ratio between any circle’s circumference to its diameter, is about 3.14. Pi or π which has infinite digits (... more

March 9, 2018

An unusual thing happens Sunday evening at 7:30 P.M.—a beautiful meeting of the three closest worlds to Earth. The Moon, the planet Venus, and the strange planet Mercury will all be in alignment. And you don’t need a telescope! But you do need a clear view of the west. If you have a window that faces the sunset all the way down with no hills or trees or houses, that’s perfect. Otherwise go to such a place and be there at around 7:30— or, a half hour after your local sunset. And If you have... more

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