Moon Size

I hate the term ‘supermoon’. In fact that is the only time I’m going to use that term during this entire post.  The Moon does appear a tiny bit larger in the sky, but it’s not an uncommon thing.  Here’s why this one was particularly good at driving headlines. The technical term for the full Moon we saw this past week is a ‘perigee syzygy,’ which I think sounds way cooler.  Perigee is the term for the Moon’s closest point to the Earth in it’s orbit, and syzygy is the term for an alignment of bodies in space, in this...

Reflection in a Dark Universe

Like lighthouse beacons in a dark ocean, stars act as tiny islands in the vast universe.  Producing light at the atomic level from the powerful release of energy through fusion, they are the engines that drive the formation of new elements.  But in the darkness there are plenty of other hidden objects that are cold and give off little to no light.  Yet many of them are easily seen.  Here’s Why! The first thing to think about is infrared light, the radiation given off by warm objects.  Large planets and brown dwarf stars are very bright in infrared, much brighter...

Astrophotography: First go at Luna

The Spring has been a bit slower than I would have liked in terms of astrophotography.  I have seen a lot of fantastically clear evenings, but have been plagued by a lack of time and a few technical issues that have kept me from getting the many hours of practice needed to become competent.  I did manage to purchase an inexpensive adapter to use my camera with my telescope, giving me a ton of new options for photography, as well as a ton of new challenges. The two main problems I had, and need to address in the future, are...

Mercury Surprises

One of the most fascinating things happens whenever I show someone the planet Mercury in the sky. Their first reaction is to be surprised at how bright it is.  Most people think of Mercury as a faraway planet, too close to the Sun to see at all. But in reality, Mercury is close to Earth, and when the angles are just right, it’s not hard to find. Mercury is 57 million kilometers from the Sun, more than a third of the way to Earth.  We are also much closer to Mercury than we are to Jupiter and Saturn. When we see the...

Edge-On: Good for Planets, Bad for Galaxies

Every time we see amazing photos of galaxies or planetary disks, we can see most of the detail since we see them face on.  But since the orientation of spiral galaxies in the universe is random, there are a plethora of galaxies ignored by image processors since we just can’t see much of the detail.  We can still learn from edge-on spiral galaxies, just not as much as we can from those that are face on. We can see some fascinating dust lanes in the image above, and a ton of detail considering the view, but we don’t know what...

Supernova is a Good Name

If you listen to an astronomer talk about a supernova, you’ll probably hear something along the lines of ‘A massive explosion of a massive star that is bright enough to outshine an entire galaxy.’  You can imagine how bright it might be, but it doesn’t really give you enough context to get the wow factor from it.  Carl Sagan always said ‘When you make the finding yourself – even if you’re the last person on Earth to see the light – you’ll never forget it.’  Now you, dear reader, have the chance to make the discovery yourself.  A series of images of galaxy...

Two Supermassive Black Holes Discovered in Binary Orbit

If you ask someone what the craziest, most powerful, energetic, and enigmatic thing in the universe is, chances are they will say a black hole.  After all, we know so little about them, we have never directly seen one, and we can see their influence across space and time.  But there is apparently another notch on the crazy powerful cosmic object front.  Like turning the volume knob to eleven, a binary system of supermassive black holes has been discovered in a nearby quasar. A quasar is an incredibly bright core of a distant galaxy, shining brighter than the entire galaxy...

A New Comet, With Old Questions

Every time a comet slowly approaches the inner solar system, astronomers get excited.  We are hopeless romantics, wishing the new comet will brighten enough to be labeled the next ‘comet of the century.’  Yet we have had our hearts broken before, more often than not.  The most recent fizzled comet was nearly two years ago with the burn up of comet ISON as it passed close to the Sun.  It made for a spectacular view for SOHO and SDO looking at the Sun, but for the rest of us it was just another heartbreak.  But once again we have hope; A...

The Universe May be Lonelier than we Thought

If you could see through the lens of a very powerful telescope, to an area of sky the size of a grain of sand held at arm’s length, a new universe would be revealed to you.  For in that tiny patch of seemingly empty sky, there are thousands of galaxies visible, albeit with many hours of light collection.  Observing the most distant of these galaxies, at the edge of the universe, allows us to estimate the number of Galaxies present in the distant past, when the universe was very young.  As our observations improve, and our ability to simulate the conditions of the...