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The sky this week for June 22 to July 1

Saturday, June 23rd 2018 09:42 AM

Friday, June 22This week offers a good opportunity for binocular users to track down the northern sky’s brightest globular cluster. M5, whose 100,000 stars glow at a combined magnitude of 5.7, lies in the southwestern corner of the constellation Serpens the Serpent. You can locate it just 0.4° north-northwest of the 5th-magnitude star 5 Serpentis. Binoculars show the cluster as a hazy ball of light punctuated by a bright core.Saturday, June 23The waxing gibbous Moon passes near Jupiter tonight. From North America, the two were closest this afternoon (when they were below the horizon), though they remain within 5° of each other after darkness falls. Despite Luna’s brilliance dominating the scene, you should have little trouble picking out the magnitude –2.4 planet to its lower right. The best time to observe Jupiter through a telescope is when the Moon doesn’t lie so close. This week, the gas giant spans 42" and displays a wealth of detail in its cloud...

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Albert Einstein’s name is synonymous with intelligence, but he’s more than earned his rep. The man revolutionized physics when he was in his 20s and 30s. He came up with a whole new way of understanding reality, not as a fixed grid against which events occur, but as fundamentally intertwined with time and perception. Trying to prove Einstein wrong, somehow, is a perennial goal of budding and experienced physicists alike.Well, they’ll have to keep trying. A new study in Science today shows that Einstein was so good, even in distant galaxies he’s still right.   Warp Zone It all has to do with general relativity, Einstein’s theory of gravity, which posits that anything with mass warps the fabric of spacetime. The bigger the mass, the more the very universe deforms around it. This explains why massive objects attract less massive objects: they’re just following spacetime’s curves. Light also follows...

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The Aftermath of GW170817: Neutron Star or Black Hole?

Thursday, June 21st 2018 09:15 AM

Artist’s illustration of the merger of two neutron stars. A new study suggests that the neutron-star merger detected in August 2017 might have produced a black hole. NASA/CXC/M.Weiss   A Fuzzy Division Artist’s illustration of the black hole that resulted from GW170817. Some of the material accreting onto the black hole is flung out in a tightly collimated jet. NASA/CXC/M.Weiss Based on gravitational-wave observations, we know that two neutron stars of about 1.48 and 1.26 solar masses merged in GW170817. But the result — an object of ~2.7 solar masses — doesn’t have a definitive identity; the remnant formed in the merger is either the most massive neutron star known or the least massive black hole known. The theoretical mass division between neutron stars and black holes is fuzzy, depending strongly on what model you use to describe the physics of these objects. Observations fall short as well: the most massive neutron star...

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Quest for the Green Flash

Thursday, June 21st 2018 09:13 AM

Some sky phenomena are fairly common but rarely noticed because of their supposed difficulty or appearance at odd hours. Like the planet Mercury: Once you know when and where to look, it’s easy to find it at dusk or dawn multiple times each year. I've found the same is true for the green flash, a brief but colorful atmospheric phenomenon that occurs at the moment of sunrise and sunset. For a second or two, the Sun’s upper rim can appear intensely green. Although called a “flash,” it's more a vividly green coloration to the first or last blip of the Sun visible at the horizon. A friend of mine saw the flash for the first time while watching a sunset along the north shore of Lake Superior. He wasn’t even looking for it, but when it was over a second later, he turned to his paddling partner and asked “Did we just see the green flash?” Yes, they did! My first sighting was through a camera viewfinder, and I was equally surprised. A mi...

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Summer Star Party Season Is Here!

Wednesday, June 20th 2018 09:48 AM

Texas Star Party, upper field.Ron Ronhaar and Todd Hargis I moved to New England from Florida last August. Even if everybody warned me about Massachusetts winters — and even if I’ve lived in northern climes in the past — nothing quite prepared me for the nor’easters slingshotting one after the other into Cambridge, dumping more snow in one go than I’ve ever seen in a 24-hour period. (And I’ve lived in Finland.) But just as surely as night follows day, so does summer follow winter (at least one hopes). As I breathe a sigh of relief, and revel in the fact that I can now get out on really clear nights and leave the house without piling on clothes, I still think to myself, wouldn’t it be nice if I could spend even more time looking at objects in the sky? And then I realize I can! I can go to a summer star party! They’re held all across the continent throughout the summer season. What’s required to attend a star party? W...

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Observe Changes on Mars

Tuesday, June 19th 2018 09:36 AM

Ever since mid-2017, Earth has been steadily closing in on Mars. The approach culminates July 27th in opposition. As the closest rocky planet to Earth whose surface is visible in modest telescopes, Mars easily garners the most attention of all the inner planets. The Red Planet often reveals subtle changes from year to year that stand out to the patient observer. But occasionally, big changes can occur from one apparition to the next.   Part of the great attraction Mars has for observers is that the planet once looked more like Earth. Even today, with white cirrus clouds, dust storms, and ice caps that grow and shrink with the seasons, Mars is the most Earthlike of any planet in our solar system. Although the planet’s thin atmosphere and dry environment make it look desolate, Mars is far from an unchanging, dead world. As the planet approaches opposition, keep an eye out for some of these differences. The Shrinking South Polar Cap Among the first features e...

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This Week’s Sky at a Glance, June 15 – 23

Friday, June 15th 2018 02:47 PM

Friday, June 15 As twilight fades after sunset, look very low in the west-northwest for the thin crescent Moon under Venus, as shown here. It's almost summer. But as twilight fades, look very low in the north-northwest for wintry Capella very out of season. The farther north you are, the higher it will appear. You may need binoculars. If you're as far north as Portland Oregon and Portland Maine, Capella is actually circumpolar.   Saturday, June 16   Look west as twilight fades for Venus and the thin waxing crescent Moon, as shown below. They're about 8° apart at the times of twilight for North America. Higher to their upper left, look for much fainter Regulus coming out as twilight fades further.   Sunday, June 17   The crescent Moon, far upper left of Venus, shines near Regulus tonight. Almost as bright as Regulus is orange Gamma Leonis (Algieba), higher above the Moon as shown here.   Monday, June 18   Now Regulus shines to the Moon...

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Surprise! Jupiter's Lightning Looks a Lot Like Earth's

Wednesday, June 6th 2018 11:21 AM

    Lightning storms on Jupiter are much more frequent, and much less alien, than previously thought, a pair of new studies suggests. The first evidence of lightning on Jupiter was detected nearly 40 years ago. Electrical currents in lightning bolts generate a broad range of radio frequencies known as atmospherics, or "sferics" for short. And in 1979, NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft detected very low-frequency radio emissions from the solar system's largest planet — emissions that one might expect from lightning. The radio emissions that Voyager 1 detected from Jupiter — dubbed "whistlers" because they resemble descending, whistled tones — were the first signs of lightning in the giant planet's atmosphere. Subsequently, cameras on NASA's Jupiter-orbiting Galileo spacecraft, the agency's Cassini Saturn probe (which cruised past Jupiter on its way to the ringed planet), and other spacecraft confirmed lightning on Jupiter in the form of flashes of l...

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June 2018 - Sky Guide

Wednesday, May 30th 2018 04:10 PM

Welcome to the night sky report for June 2018 -- Your guide to the constellations, deep sky objects, planets, and celestial events that are observable during the month. The warm nights of June are perfect for sky watching. Don’t miss the constellations Bootes (the Herdsman), Corona Borealis (the Northern Crown), and Draco (the Dragon) -- or the planets Venus, Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn, all of which grace the night sky this month. The night sky is truly a celestial showcase. Get outside and explore its wonders from your own backyard.   Brilliant Venus dominates the western sky at dusk, joined by the crescent moon during the middle of the month. With a backyard telescope, Venus looks like a miniature moon. It is clear that we see only part of the sunlit side of the planet.   Jupiter dominates the southern sky, shining in the dim constellation of Libra, the scales. A backyard telescope readily reveals its cloud bands and orbiting moons.   Saturn rises later in...

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Tele Vue NP127fli Imaging the Skies Over Austria

Wednesday, May 30th 2018 03:31 PM

Check out these images utilizing the Tele Vue-NP127fli astrograph. The strength of this scope is wide-field imaging and the work in this area is exemplary.    For instance, the NP127fli  was able to perfectly frame and capture the spirit of the NGC 869 and NGC 884 in Perseus as twin clusters of sparkling blue-white diamonds, with a smattering of glowing red-rubies, punctuating the black velvet sky background. The Double Cluster never looked so good!   What is a Tele Vue-NP127fli?The NP127fli is a 127mm / 5-inch, f/5.3, APO (Nagler-Petzval) astrograph with an optical arrangement of 5-elements in 3-groups. Its sole purpose is to create wide-field images —  4.3-degrees on the diagonal of the 52mm diameter image circle. From the image below you’ll note that this scope lacks a traditional focuser. This astrograph is designed to operate with the Finger Lakes Instrumentation (FLI) Atlas electronic focuser – hence...

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