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Having written a lot of posts on this website on amateur astronomy my next aim was to put some of them together into an ebook. The ebook would consolidate a lot of the posts into an easy to read and follow format. You see the problem with a blog is that posts are ordered by date, so a lot of the good stuff gets lost as the blog ages and grows.
Before I embarked on bringing this book together I had a look at what was already out there and that is when I came across this ebook “Secrets of the Deep Sky” by the authors of One-Minute Astronomer. Although the cover was very uninspiring I purchased a copy and had a look at the contents page. …
Many Expeditions Have Gone to the Moon. Here's Where They Landed and Why We've Never Been to the Far Side.
Image credit: National Space Science Data Center
Many amateur astronomers have become students of the Moon. They can not only tell you that many of the dark grey areas that face the Earth are called "Seas" or the Latin "Maria," but their locations and names. Of course they really aren't seas but large plains of dark basalt that spread across the surface during a period of volcanism interrupted by a few significant craters including Tycho and Copernicus.
Where Did People Land On The Moon?
It's Fascinating to See Jupiter. Here's a quick guide our Biggest Planet and Her Moons.
How To Find Jupiter
Starting in March of 2014 Jupiter is going to emerge into the night sky as one of the most dramatic celestial objects. Its dominance will continue for years to come fulfilling its name as the dominant god of the Romans. In fact the Greeks referred to Jupiter as Zeus which further demonstrates its prominence in the sky.
It will rise in the east, move across the sky high in the south, set in the west and will be easy to view during the early evening hours into the early morning. Its four major moons…
They are Rare and Will be Gone Soon in Astronomical Time. These Seven Sisters are a Great Destination for Your Celestial Observations.
The Pleiades are a unique cluster of stars that burst into light 75 to 150 million years ago and will disperse across the sky in a little more than 250 million years. This is due to both the gravitational effects of the Milky Way Galaxy and giant, molecular clouds in the vicinity. That number of years is a fairly brief event in cosmological time. At a distance of a little less than 400 light years away from our Sun, it's relatively close as a group. There is some …
88 official Constellations currently define our night sky. At one point in time there were many more and both the Chinese and the Maya developed their own interpretations. The classical foundation for our current set of constellations goes back to the Greeks when Ptolemy defined 48 fundamental star groupings including the 12 constellations that define the Zodiac. Much of his work was based on past identification of constellations developed by the Babylonians and the Sumerians.
Image by : NASA
The Changing Constellations
Two factors affect our view of the constellations. One is how they have been identified and named, and a second is how they have evolved. …
There's more than 100 moons in our Solar System and you can actually see many of them with binoculars... if you know where to look.
At this point in time, 146 moons have been confirmed in our solar system. An additional 28 are still under review. There sizes vary but a few are easily visible to the amateur astronomer. In fact, many of the moons that can be seen don't require sophisticated nor expensive equipment. A few can actually be viewed with binoculars if you know what to look for and where to look.
Earth is unique in the sense that it has only one moon. Venus and Mercury have none while Mars has two. …
Beyond the moon, the planets and the moons of many planets there is deep-space. An infinite assembly of galaxies, nebulae and distant comets. Intriguing stuff, but not easy to find and sometimes very hard to see. Here's how to explore deep-space and some of the fundamental equipment and conditions you'll want to consider.
To begin with, your ability to observe deep-space objects requires the darkest sky you can find. This usually means a remote location without domestic "light-pollution." It also means you'll want to schedule your viewing time during a new moon or before the moon has risen high into the night sky regardless of its phase. …
There are Some Remarkable Apps for Wireless Devices that Allow You to Hold Your Smartphone or Pad to the Sky and Identify Celestial Objects in Real-Time from Anywhere on the Planet.
It's magic. Imagine holding your smartphone or a Pad device to the sky and not only seeing clear identification of celestial objects and events, but actually tracking as you move your wireless device from horizon to horizon. In fact, if you point it at your feet it will show you what is in the sky on the other side of the earth. It's remarkable stuff and many of these apps are very inexpensive. Some are even free.
Meteor Showers Occur Throughout the Year. Here Are the Key Dates and Locations in the Night Sky.
It's always exciting to see a meteorite flash across the sky, but it's often a random event. Fortunately, there are periods of time throughout the year when meteorites are both predictable and frequent. These "meteor showers" are often named for the constellations that define the location of their appearance in the night sky. The "Geminids" are a good example. They emerge from the constellation Gemini in mid-December and are traditionally one of the more dramatic meteor showers. But we don't have to wait until next December to see them. …
This video demonstrates the Orion StarShoot Camera for taking images of planets and the moon. The camera has a 1 shot colour chip for solar system imaging in beautiful colour detail.
The small 2.2 micron sized pixels allow for a high resolution 5 megapixel image. The video states that you should be able to see the Great Red Spot on Jupiter and the Cassini division on Saturn.
It comes with its own software and connects to your computer with a USB cable. The software is compatible with a Mac or PC and allows live view video and hot pixel removal in addition to the usual camera exposure controls.
There is something humbling about seeing the vulnerability of our home planet Earth from distant space. The bright ‘dot’ in the sky seems so miniscule and insignificant, and yet that is our whole world. Everybody we know lives there (except for the 6 or so Astronauts in space at any one time of course). It really brings home how large the universe is and how small our part in the universe appears to be.
This latest Earth portrait comes from our nearest planetary neighbour, Mars. The excellent rover, Curiosity took this for us about 88 minutes after sunset on Mars. Our planet and Mars were about 99 million miles apart when this was taken and yet if you stood on the surface of Mars you would be able to see Earth and the Moon with your naked eye.
It's fun to lay on a blanket and talk about the stars and the Constellations. Here's a few tips about where to start.
It's easy to learn the constellations, and for the serious amateur-astronomer - necessary.
Many of us are familiar with the twelve constellations that define the Zodiac, but there are in fact 88 official constellations. Astronomers haven't created many new constellations for hundreds of years, and when a new star or star group is discovered they are usually associated with the constellation in closest proximity to their location.
Why Learn the Constellations
The Constellations are fundamental for any Astronomer. …
One of the best things about amateur astronomy as a hobby is that every now and then a very rare, once in a lifetime celestial event occurs. Recently, we have been very lucky with comets, close encountering asteroids and now a supernova in a nearby galaxy. Not just any galaxy but the cigar galaxy, messier 82. This galaxy is visible in small telescopes under urban skies and is easily found, being located close to the the Plough. These make it a favourite target for amateur astronomers, but now there is even more reason to look at it as, at the time of writing, a supernova explosion has occurred.
On January 21st the cigar galaxy otherwise known as messier 82 demonstrated a type 1a supernova explosion. This bright explosion of a dying star can be seen in telescopes and may be possible in good binoculars too. This is a rare astronomical event and well worth the time spent trying to observe it. It is thought that this supernova may have occurred when two white dwarf stars collided together. It is a bonus that is has occurred in a galaxy that is a favourite observing target for amateur astronomers. If you want to have a go at seeing this incredible and awe-inspiring event then have a look at this guide on …
Here’s a chance to become part of a NASA mission. You can send your name which will be etched on a microchip aboard the OSIRIS-REx mission that will travel to the 500m wide asteroid called Bennu in 2016. The mission will collect samples of the asteroid and return them to Earth for analysis.
If you like or follow the mission on Facebook or Twitter you will receive updates on where your name is in space.
Find out more here:
If you want your name to travel in space you can submit your details here before the 30th Sept:
We're in luck. Digital photography gives us all a chance to record what we see in minutes if not seconds.
There was a time when astrophotography was highly limited. We used 35mm cameras with low light speeds like ASA 160 for colour and higher light speeds like ASA 400 for black and white. Worse, we never knew what we were going to get so we bracketed shots with various exposures; were never quite sure if our motor drive was tracking properly, and we were genuinely thrilled when 2 or 3 exposures out of 36 looked good. That's all changed.
Digital photography gives us immediate results and real-time feedback on our astrophotography efforts. …
The most visible planets in our solar system are a joy to behold. Here's the best equipment and ways to watch our good-neighbours in the sky.
Most of us can recognize the difference between a planet and a star. Sometimes it's because of it's occurrence on the horizon in the western sky like Venus, or its magnitude just seems to be extraordinarily bright relative to the others stars in the night sky, or within the recognizable stars of common constellations.
It's reassuring to be able to look up and instinctively know Venus from Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. It's amazing when we find them and see the rings of Saturn, the bands on Jupiter, the orange and red bloom of Mars, or the yellow haze of Venus.
Saturn is the only planet less dense than water, so it would float if a sea could be found large enough to put it in.
So how dense is Saturn and what makes it like that?
To start off we need to know the density of water. This is measured as 1 g/cm3. Although this value isn’t quite true as water will change its density depending on the temperature of the water. So this is really a rounded up figure. The range of difference isn’t that great though, being about 0.96 g/cm3 at 100 0C and 0.99 g/cm3 at 4 0C when it is at its densest. On a side note water is a fascinating substance as it becomes less dense when it freezes to ice. Hence, ice floats on the top of seas and oceans so they never totally freeze up. …
We are at the end of an 11 year cycle that was supposed to produce significant solar activity. Instead, it's the least active we have seen in 4 centuries. What are the implications?
What is a Solar Cycle?
Our sun goes through something called a "solar cycle." Every eleven years, like clockwork, the sun demonstrates significant activity in terms of solar flares and sunspots... until now. The pattern has many astronomers puzzled.
Sunspot magnetic fields are dropping. If we extrapolate this trend into the future, sunspots could completely vanish around the year 2015.
So what are the implications?…
If you viewed the constellation Cassiopeia from our nearest star system, Alpha Centauri. Our sun would turn the 'W' shaped constellation into a zigzag.
This is a fun one to try to picture in your mind. But first let’s have a look at Cassiopeia and Alpha Centauri.
The constellation Cassiopeia is a northern hemisphere circumpolar constellation. It is very easy to see because it is bright and forms an iconic ‘W’ shape in the night sky. You can find it opposite the Plough (Big Dipper) on the other side of Polaris, the pole star. Some of the treasures of the night sky are found near to Cassiopeia including the famous double cluster. First discovered by Hipparchus in 130 BC these open clusters make for a fantastic view of two deep sky objects close to each other in binoculars or a telescope (although officially the cluster is located in the constellation of Perseus). …
Our hopes were high but the sun chewed up the Comet ISON like a snowball. Maybe that's because most comets are just that.
Comets have provided amazing spectacles that captivated us and was often the stuff of mythos and legend. Our last significant event was the Comet Hale-Bopp. It was clearly visible to the naked eye and was easy to observe through binoculars or a scope. Unfortunately, more comets in our generation have proven to be more of disappointment than a spectacle.
Comet Hale-Bopp (above) in 1997, was one of the best most recent comets (Image by: E. Kolmhofer, H. Raab; Johannes-Kepler-Observatory, Linz, Austria)
In 1 billion years our Sun will be 10% brighter and Earth will be 100 degrees hotter
Yikes that is global warming gone mad. Although unlikely to affect us in our human lifetimes it does throw up an interesting observation. Stars become brighter as they age, this would seem to defy common sense. Fires here on Earth don’t appear to become brighter as they use up their fuel. The embers of a fire are definitely dimmer. So why does the Sun get brighter as it ages? To answer this we need to look at how the Sun burns its fuel.
The Sun’s Fuel Source
The Sun’s main source of fuel is hydrogen. It creates its energy by fusing atoms of hydrogen together to make a new atom, helium. This fusion process makes energy because it turns out that atomic nuclei are most happy when they have a mass equivalent to that of Iron. …
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