The Eclipse Feeling

It was like someone turned down the Sun with a dimmer switch.  The tempurate dropped quickly, enhanced by the lack of moisture in the dry mountain air.  In a span of an hour, the Sun looked the same, but was very different, as totality approached.  I was taking photos through my telescope with an attached solar filter, so I could see the Moon slowly covering the Sun.  But as the environment changed in Northern Wyoming, I grew more excited for what was to come.  Over a year of preparation for this event, and clear skies greeted me with the confidence...

Mercury Transit with Bonus ISS

Mercury crossed the face of the Sun this past Monday, a relatively rare event that occurs only a dozen (give or take) times a century.  Being able to see it in real time was excellent, but seeing the photos taken by professionals and amateurs alike made the event truly memorable. And look! The International Space Station flew by. Compare this to 2012’s transit of Venus and you get a sense of how much closer to Venus the Earth is than Mercury. In both cases, the most beautiful thing is that you get a sense of just how immense and powerful...

Mercury Transit Now!

The Transit of Mercury is happening right now here on May 9th, 2016.  If you want to watch live, check out the NASA feeds from the Solar Dynamics Observatory. For the small size of Mercury, it makes a pretty stark contrast against the bright Sun, and is easy to see, even in a small telescope.  Of course, you need a solar filter.  Don’t look directly at the Sun without proper eye protection, you won’t see Mercury and you’ll damage your vision. I managed to snag a photo on my phone through a small telescope.  Please excuse the lack of quality...

Mercurian Monday

If you haven’t already heard, Mercury is going to transit the Sun this coming Monday! It’s like a solar eclipse, except Mercury is covering the Sun instead of the Moon.  And since Mercury is tiny and far away, it’s not so much ‘covering’ the Sun as it is passing across the face of the Sun in a barely perceptible way. The transit takes approximately 7 hours start to finish, and will occur on Monday, May 9th, 2016 from 7:12am to 2:42 pm EDT. If you miss this one, you can catch the next one in 2019.  They happen a dozen times a...

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...

Lunar and Martian Farming

Can we grow crops on the Moon? How about Mars? If you saw the movie “The Martian,” it seems you could grow potatoes on Mars with a supply of water, oxygen, and some fertilizer, but without these necessities (soil nutrients, water, oxygen) they just wouldn’t last. If we eventually want to colonize places like the Moon and Mars, finding a way to live off the land is a must. The sunshine will help, but can we really grow crops on alien soil? As it turns out, Earth scientists have been working on this problem, by simulating the soils of the...

1000 Things You Didn’t Know About The Universe #6: Earth’s Moon is Big

When we see the Earth’s only Moon up in the sky, we often think about how small it is.  It’s only about 1/4 the diameter of the Earth, and at a distance of 384,000 Km, it looks small in the sky.  But often size is entirely a matter of perspective.  What we compare something to, that’s what determines it’s size.  When the Moon is high in the sky we easily compare it to the size of the window we are looking through, or to a nearby tree, or our outstretched hand.  All of this can make the Moon seem pretty tiny....

Five Planet Alignment Starts This Weekend!

When were the planets discovered? Uranus and Neptune were definitely not found until modern science began, since a telescope was required to see them.  The other five planets were not actually discovered per se.  Since they are visible to human eyes, they have been observed since prehistoric times, and we see examples of cultures across the ancient world who observed them.  The five visible planets are Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.  Starting this weekend, you can see them all across one part of the sky, a visual alignment that hasn’t occurred since 2005. Planets are so-named because of the Greek...

The Universe through my Eyes

Let me ask you, when you look at the stars on a cold, clear night, what do you see? Diamonds sparkling? Shapes? I do see those things, but I also see so much more. When I look at the stars, I see a thousand generations of humans looking up in wonder, writing shapes in the dirt and telling incredible stories of brave heroes, ferocious beasts, and important lessons.  I see our common ancestors using the sky to predict the weather, the seasons, and even the coming of the end of the world.  They were looking at a comet in the...

Planets to See: October 2015

The month of October has some promising sights for Astronomers and the public, though only if you are an early riser.  The intricate pre-dawn dance of the Planets Venus, Mars, and Jupiter continues from it’s initial soiree in September, with a couple of close passes throughout the month that are must-see.  Early on in the month, the waning crescent moon passes the group and gives us a perspective on the plane of the Solar System.  By month’s end, the planets will continue to shift around as they are joined by Mercury, slowly rising above the morning Sun.  Here are a...