Observing from your backyard

Friday, May 14th 2021 09:52 AM

Observing from your backyard Equipment is important. Easy access is key. Sometimes the best observing site is right in your backyard. Here, the author’s scope is set up in the center of a network of paths shoveled in the snow. This makes it exceptionally easy to both access stored equipment and take quick breaks to warm up in the house.   If you’re an avid backyard astronomer and own a scope, I have a question for you: What’s your home setup like? Let’s say that you’re fortunate enough to live where 6th- or 7th-magnitude stars are visible on a clear, moonless night, and your horizon is wide open in all directions. You own a large, fancy, computer-controlled telescope, as well as all the necessary accessories to capture astroimages worthy of Astronomy’s Reader Gallery section. For you, having some kind of permanent structure is a necessity — unless you don’t mind wasting precious time lugging your telescope and equipment outsid...

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Thursday, May 13th 2021 10:46 AM

THIS WEEK'S SKY AT A GLANCE, MAY 7 – 15 Nova Cassiopeiae 2021 unexpectedly shot up to magnitude 5.4 around May 8th — faint naked-eye visibility in a dark sky — eight weeks after its initial outburst to 7th magnitude. It had remained at 7th or 8th during the interim. As of May 13th it had faded a little to magnitude 5.7. See Nova in Cassiopeia Brightens Suddenly, with finder charts and comparison stars. The nova is low in the north in the evening but high in the northeast before the first beginnings of dawn. Set your alarm to look at least two hours before your local sunrise time. Comet ATLAS (C/2020 R4) continued at 9th magnitude as of April 30th but should start fading rapidly. It's crossing Coma Berenices, conveniently high in the moonless evening sky. You may need at least a 6-inch scope. See Make the Most of Comet ATLAS.   FRIDAY, MAY 7 ■ Greet Mercury and Venus low in the west-northwest in the fading afterglow of sunset. You may first spot Venus, brigh...

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As NASA’s Voyager 1 Surveys Interstellar Space, Its Density Measurements Are Making Waves Until recently, every spacecraft in history had made all of its measurements inside our heliosphere, the magnetic bubble inflated by our Sun. But on August 25, 2012, NASA’s Voyager 1 changed that. As it crossed the heliosphere’s boundary, it became the first human-made object to enter – and measure – interstellar space.  Now eight years into its interstellar journey, Voyager 1’s data is yielding new insights into what that frontier is like. If our heliosphere is a ship sailing interstellar waters, Voyager 1 is a life raft just dropped from the deck, determined to survey the currents. For now, any rough waters it feels are mostly from our heliosphere’s wake. But farther out, it will sense the stirrings from sources deeper in the cosmos. Eventually, our heliosphere’s presence will fade from its measurements completely. “We have some ideas...

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Tuesday, May 11th 2021 09:31 AM

THE ISIM & INSTRUMENTS A rare view of the instruments being lowered into the Webb telescope at NASA/Goddard. Webb's science instruments were installed in a surgically precise operation. Read more about the ISIM installation on Credit: NASA/Chris Gunn   Webb's instruments are contained within the Integrated Science Instrument Module (ISIM) which is one of three major elements that comprise the James Webb Space Telescope Observatory flight system. The others are the Optical Telescope Element (OTE) and the Spacecraft Element (Spacecraft Bus and Sunshield). The ISIM is the heart of the James Webb Space Telescope, what engineers call the main payload. It houses the four main instruments that will detect light from distant stars and galaxies, and planets orbiting other stars. The ISIM Includes The Following Instruments: Near-Infrared Camera, or NIRCam - provided by the University of Arizona Near-Infrared Spectrograph...

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Optical Telescope Element (OTE)

Monday, May 10th 2021 02:01 PM

Optical Telescope Element (OTE)  The OTIS (OTE+ISIM) out of cryovac chamber at NASA Johnson. The OTIS is an acronym that includes the OTE plus the Integrated Science Instrument (ISIM) package - essentially the optics and science instruments. Credit: NASA/Chris Gunn   The Optical Telescope Element (OTE) is the eye of the James Webb Space Telescope Observatory. The OTE gathers the light coming from space and provides it to the science instruments. The OTE consists of the mirrors as well as structures and subsystems that support the optics. The OTE Consists Of : 6.5 meter diameter primary mirror made of 18 hexagonal segments Round 0.74 meter Secondary mirror (image gallery) Tertiary mirror (image gallery) and Fine Steering Mirror, both of which are contained in the Aft Optics Subsystem (image gallery). Telescope structure (image gallery) (which includes the primary mirror backplane assembly, the main backplane support fixture (BSF),...

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Hubble Gazes at a Cluster Full of Cosmic Clues

Friday, May 7th 2021 02:41 PM

Hubble Gazes at a Cluster Full of Cosmic Clues Image credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, R. Massey   This detailed image features Abell 3827, a galaxy cluster that offers a wealth of exciting possibilities for study. Hubble observed it in order to study dark matter, which is one of the greatest puzzles cosmologists face today. The science team used Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys and Wide Field Camera 3 to complete their observations. The two cameras have different specifications and can observe different parts of the electromagnetic spectrum, so using them both allowed the astronomers to collect more complete information. Hubble also observed Abell 3827 previously because of the interesting gravitational lens at its core.  Looking at this cluster of hundreds of galaxies, it is amazing to recall that less than 100 years ago, many astronomers thought the Milky Way was the only galaxy in the universe. Although astronomers debated the existence...

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What Working With NASA Means to US Small Businesses

Thursday, May 6th 2021 03:08 PM

What Working with NASA means to US Small Businesses Small businesses have worked with NASA to 3D print tissue with living cells in space, research how to grow plants on Mars, improve air traffic management, and more. As their ideas help propel the space and aeronautics technologies of the future, these small businesses accelerate economic benefits closer to home.   Each year NASA contributes hundreds of millions of dollars to the U.S. economy via contracts to small businesses. In turn, hundreds of companies across rural and urban areas, including many minority- and women-owned businesses, research and develop innovations to empower the agency’s work in human exploration, space technology, science, and aeronautics. NASA asked five companies how working with NASA’s Small Business Innovation Research/Small Business Technology Transfer (SBIR/STTR) program has impacted them. Here’s what they said.   NASA Astronaut Christina Koch...

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    The Moon’s surface is covered in craters, and one of the natural like depressions could provide a support structure for a radio telescope dish. As shown in this illustration, DuAxel rovers could anchor the wire mesh from the crater’s rim. Credit: Vladimir Vustyansky     After years of development, the Lunar Crater Radio Telescope (LCRT) project has been awarded $500,000 to support additional work as it enters Phase II of NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program. While not yet a NASA mission, the LCRT describes a mission concept that could transform humanity’s view of the cosmos. The LCRT’s primary objective would be to measure the long-wavelength radio waves generated by the cosmic Dark Ages – a period that lasted for a few hundred million years after the Big Bang, but before the first stars blinked into existence. Cosmologists know little about this pe...

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Our new view of the Milky Way

Thursday, October 15th 2020 04:31 PM

  A lot can change in a year. First came the photo of an orange-and-black ring swirling in a distant galaxy. It splashed across newspapers worldwide last year, announcing the first-ever image of a black hole. Then, early this year, scientists released a data-based picture of our solar system floating at the edge of a towering wave of dazzling molecular clouds and stellar nurseries. The results smashed a venerable model of our spiral galactic arm.Stellar nurseries reveal how stars are born, while black holes represent their final annihilation. Based on these two extraordinary pictures, astronomers are now scrambling to refine theories about both. And, in the process, they are ushering in a new way of seeing our Milky Way galaxy.   The Milky Way’s center is home to more than 100,000 supernovae, hinting that the region must have undergone an intense period of star formation in its past. Today, this area is still packed with stars that formed early...

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Why astronomy is considered the oldest science

Thursday, October 8th 2020 01:35 PM

  Millions of years ago, ancient humans living on the African savanna likely gazed up in wonderment at the bright Moon and star-filled sky. This cosmic backdrop wasn't too different from the one we see today; but how they interacted with it almost assuredly was. It wasn’t until humans came to view the stars as tools that we became masters at understanding their movements. By some 7,000 years ago, a group of nomadic people living on the African savanna became the first-known humans to record the motions of the stars at a site called Nabta Playa. This cattle-worshiping cult of hunters and gatherers built the world’s oldest stone circle to track the arrival of the summer solstice, as well as the seasonal monsoons they depended on for water and food. "This was the dawn of observational astronomy," J. McKim Malville, a professor emeritus at the University of Colorado and archaeoastronomy expert, told Astronomy earlier this year.  ...

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