Astronomy Blogs

August 22, 2017

One of the most frequent topics letter-writers contact us about is meteors. Also known as shooting stars or falling stars, they usually appear as fast streaks across the sky. People gasp when they see them. Although most are rather dim, they are occasionally brilliant and sometimes regarded as UFOs. Many wrong ideas abound. So here’s the true story. What is a Meteor? The average meteor is the size of an apple seed. It is a tiny fragment of a distant comet or asteroid and screams into our... more

August 18, 2017

Lately, several people have asked me what exactly to look for during a total solar eclipse. So if you’re traveling to this one on August 21, here’s what you’ll see at 10 minutes, 5 minutes, 2 minutes, 1 minute, and totality! Or if you are planning to travel to the upcoming solar eclipse totalities—in Chile in 2019 or 2020, in Australia in 2023, or here in the Northeastern U.S. in 2024—save this page. When and Where Can You See It? The answer depends on your location. This NASA interactive... more

August 14, 2017

The great solar eclipse is now just days away. I hope you will travel to where the eclipse is total, such as Carbondale, Illinois, or Stanley, Idaho, because totality offers an astounding, unforgettable experience. Nevertheless, you can still experience something magical outside the path of totality: a partial solar eclipse. In both cases, you will need specialized eye protection. If you stay home August 21, all mainland U.S. and Canada regions will see a partial eclipse. This is the kind of... more

August 8, 2017

Take your vitamins and stick around for the next century’s super-spectacles, including the longest total solar eclipse in U.S. history (2045) or the spectacular return of Halley’s Comet in 2061. The Magnificent Seven (Four for Canada) Total Eclipses Totality causes humans and animals alike to moan and babble, as normally invisible deep-pink prominences leap from the Sun’s edge like nuclear geysers. Alas, this ineffable experience of totality happens just once every 360 years, on average, from... more

July 21, 2017

Away from city lights in mid-July, one could see as many as 2,500 naked eye stars. But only one star stands out because it’s the only bright star directly overhead—and that’s Vega. This brilliant blue-white star is a favorite of stargazers and astronomers. For those living at a latitude between 39 and 44 degrees, meaning the region encompassing Denver, Philadelphia, New York city, Boston, Salt Lake City, Topeka, and Springfield, Vega is the only bright summer star that ascends to within a few... more

July 15, 2017

Is it dangerous to stare at the Sun—or, a solar eclipse? As we prepare for the 2017 total solar eclipse, here are eclipse safety tips to protect your eyes—from eclipse sunglasses to welder’s goggle filters—and a few things they don’t tell you. First, if you are NOT on the path of totality—that ribbon of darkness—on eclipse day, then a partial solar eclipse will unfold for you on August 21. (Learn about different types of eclipses.) You cannot safely look at any of it. Not even for a minute. You... more

July 10, 2017

For the first time in nearly four decades, a total solar eclipse will sweep across the mainland United States! Are you ready? 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... more

June 26, 2017

Independence Day (U.S.) is the evening when most Americans are watching the sky. While you wait for fireworks, gaze at Jupiter, the Moon, and Saturn! What’s in the Sky the 4th of July As twilight deepens around 9:30 PM on the 4th, the very brightest “star” is the planet Jupiter, to the left of where the Sun set.  At the same time, far to the left of the Moon hover two stars of equal brightness. The orange one is the famous Scorpius star Antares. The other is Saturn.  If you’re in doubt, point... more

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

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