This Week's Amazing Sky

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About this Blog

Welcome to “This Week’s Amazing Sky,” the Almanac’s blog on stargazing and astronomy. Bob Berman, longtime and famous astronomer for The Old Farmer’s Almanac, will help bring alive the wonders of our universe. From the beautiful stars and planets to magical auroras and eclipses, he covers everything under the Sun (and Moon)! Bob, the world’s mostly widely read astronomer, also has a new weekly podcast, Astounding Universe

February 2, 2016

There’s something special about the new Moon.  We’ve all felt it.  For astronomers, new Moon means no Moon.  It’s when the Moon is in line with the sun.  Lost in the solar glare, it’s also lit up from behind, showing us its dark side.  It’s doubly invisible. For many cultures, the New Moon means something else.  It’s the first sighting of the thin, returning crescent one or two days after astronomical new Moon.  This very thin crescent is always low in evening twilight. After the Moon’s absence... more

January 24, 2016

Every naked eye solar system object now appears at the same time. Like a string of pearls, the Moon and five planets are arrayed across the heavens.  Dates to View Five Planets This planet line-up is good from Monday, January 25 right through February 6 or so. Ignore the media which reported it was happening a week prior—when only four of the five planets were visible. Mercury was only 2nd magnitude (it’s always dim when it first emerges from the Sun’s glare, on the near side of its orbit). No... more

January 19, 2016

Statistically, the coldest week falls about now— in late January—for most places in Europe and North America. Some of us who live in rural areas heat with wood, which may sound romantic until you’ve done it for awhile. You grab icy logs barehanded and lug them to the house, where any remaining wrist hairs are burned off as they’re tossed in the stove. En route, one sometimes peers up at the frosty January sky, its stars seemingly detached from our self-inflicted exercise in hot and cold abuse.... more

December 22, 2015

Everyone loves comets.  When we get a bright one every 15 or 20 years the world goes nuts.  We thought we had one.  Two years ago, the automated Catalina sky survey, using a large telescope, discovered a strange new comet whose origin was the faraway Oort cloud.  Astronomers closely monitored it and by last spring had high hopes that this month would deliver a worthy naked eye spectacle. But in September, “Comet Catalina” (Comet C/2013 US10) stopped brightening. By the time it whipped around... more

December 17, 2015

What is the Star of Bethlehem, and what is its significance? Every holiday season, planetariums present their “Star of Wonder” show, which offers astronomical explanations for the most famous star of all—the Star of Bethlehem. The show suggests that the star was either a comet, a conjunction of bright planets, or maybe a supernova. Or perhaps it was Jupiter alone in the constellation Aries, according to a newer thesis that got New York Times headlines a few years ago. What the public doesn’t... more

December 10, 2015

Sunday, December 13 brings 2015’s best meteor shower—the Geminids. It’s also the most mysterious. This year, the Moon is absent and conditions are perfect to see a meteor-a-minute all night long if you’re away from city lights! Geminid Oddities Oddity number one: Other major meteor showers require observers to wait until midnight for the best fireworks. And even then the meteors are easy to miss because they’re super-fast. Not the Geminids. They’re in full swing by 9 PM and lope along at 22... more

December 3, 2015

The darkest afternoon—our earliest sunset—is upon us. For most of us, the darkest day of winter will feel like December 8. Whoa, hold on. That must be a mistake. Isn’t that a bit early?  No, mistake. It’s a strange, reliable yearly sequence. First comes the earliest sunset on December 8 this year, if you live around latitude 40 degrees. Then comes the Winter Solstice on December 21. This is the shortest day, with the fewest minutes of sun. But by then, in typical US, European, and Canadian... more

November 16, 2015

Only in astronomy does “half” and “quarter” mean the same thing. At least, when we’re talking about the Moon. Read on … Beginners, usually pointing telescopes at the full Moon, are often disappointed—unaware that the full Moon offers a bare cupboard because the sun then shines straight down like a flash camera to erase all shadows and highlights. But all phases are not created equal. Sky watchers, take note: A fabulous Moon appears all this week. It’s now exploding with breathtaking detail for... more

November 4, 2015

Look straight up at a star—and see where you are heading! Something very cool is overhead. Next clear night, look straight up just as full darkness falls. (No other time will work because the stars move as the night wears on.)  A single bright star sits at the zenith or (if you’re in a southern state) pretty darn close.  Not to be confused with an even brighter star—Vega—which is quite high but not really overhead. What Star is Directly Overhead? The overhead star is Deneb.  It’s the most... more

October 30, 2015

Should Pluto be a planet? Having now seen some of our first-ever close-up pictures of Pluto, let’s re-visit what to many people is a sore subject. In 2006, the International Astronomical Union (the world body that names the contents of the universe)  demoted Pluto to a Dwarf Planet because it really does not match the other eight. It’s far smaller, with only 4% the mass of even tiny Mercury. And it has a very unplanetlike orbit from every angle. B ut the clincher was finding more Plutos out... more

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