The Nightly News
An Astronomy blog by Joe Bauman, Salt Lake City
Blog
  1. Blog 75: Gravity's shadow
    17 Apr, 2019
    Blog 75: Gravity's shadow
    April 10, 2019, should be recorded in the annals of science as one of the most significant dates. It's when the first photo of a black hole was released. Phenomena of such extreme conditions that their existence was questioned a few decades ago, black holes are among the strangest products of nature. They are gravity wells that nothing can escape, that may have no material substance but exert crushing gravity; they are cosmic beasts so powerful that they distort space and time. Anything
  2. Blog 74: Science and spirituality
    07 Apr, 2019
    Blog 74: Science and spirituality
    We humans can experience profoundly spiritual feelings when thinking about celestial objects -- and we always have, from the times of the earliest belief systems that we know much about, right up to this minute. But does spirituality have a legitimate place in astronomy? ** The Sun The official worship of the Sun as a giver of life originated in the deep past. The pharaoh Akhenaton (father of Tutankhamun), who ruled Egypt from 1353 BC to 1336 BC, imposed a new cult of the Aton, the solar disk,
  3. Blog 73: A poisonous, violent, searing atmosphere
    27 Mar, 2019
    Blog 73: A poisonous, violent, searing atmosphere
    Today the European Southern Observatory announced a stunning breakthrough. Its four huge telescopes took spectra of the atmosphere of an exoplanet 129 light-years away, discovering a violent worldwide storm of blazing-hot carbon monoxide, iron vapor and dust. About 30 times as distant as the nearest star to our solar system, the planet is dubbed HR8799e, one of at least four exoplanets orbiting the star HR8799 in the constellation Pegasus. The relatively young star is about 1 1/2 the mass of
  4. Blog 72: Depth
    27 Dec, 2018
    Blog 72: Depth
    Sometime in the early-to-mid 1960s, when I was a teenager on the American missile base at Kwajalein, Marshall Islands, I snorkeled beyond the drop-off on the lagoon side; this is the descending slope where the water gets deeper the farther you swim from the reef. The sandy bottom tilts gradually until suddenly it plunges. Beyond that, the lagoon is too deep to see the bottom. Shimmering dim green shafts of sunlight sliced down all around me, reaching farther and farther into the depths, until
  5. Blog 71: Bennu
    17 Dec, 2018
    Blog 71: Bennu
    The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft arrived at the asteroid called Bennu on Dec. 3, and already has made scientific discoveries: Bennu has few craters, boulders litter the surface like chocolate in a chocolate chip cookie, and the asteroid shows signs of the presence of water at some time in the past. NASA’s ludicrously-named spacecraft -- the acronym stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer -- cruised past the asteroid, having traveling 1.2 billion
  6. Blog 70: A beautiful green comet
    07 Dec, 2018
    Blog 70: A beautiful green comet
    Friday night was a great one for comet peepers and conditions should only improve throughout the next week. Comet 46P/Wirtanen has reached naked-eye visibility from dark sites in the northern hemisphere. The short-period comet is approaching closer than usual to Earth, brightening by the night on its orbit, and should be  most easily seen on December 16, according to NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day. On December 16, the comet will be only 7.2 million miles away. It should be simple to find,
  7. Blog 69: Landing on Mars
    27 Nov, 2018
    Blog 69: Landing on Mars
    Around three dozen visitors were scattered throughout a University of Utah auditorium Monday witnessing first-hand one of NASA's greatest triumphs, the descent and landing of the InSight Mars probe. The program was hosted by the U.'s Department of Physics and Astronomy and its South Physics Observatory. Some sat with laptops or notebooks; some checked out displays about physics and space, which had been set up at the entrance and at the front of the auditorium; others stood chatting. The voice
  8. Blog 68: The Pleiades' 3,000 sisters
    17 Nov, 2018
    Blog 68: The Pleiades' 3,000 sisters
    The lovely open star cluster, the Pleiades, has been called the Seven Sisters since antiquity. But nobody sees seven stars in this showpiece of the late autumn and winter, not by unaided eyeball and certainly not by telescope. Like a tiny kite of bright points, in November the Pleiades are visible in the east after sunset and are easily seen until dawn. They lodge on the shoulder of the constellation Taurus the bull. Bruce McClure, in an article posted by EarthSky.org, says November is often
  9. Blog 67: Where is everybody?
    07 Nov, 2018
    Blog 67: Where is everybody?
    Enrico Fermi, the Nobel-winning nuclear physicist who was one of the fathers of the atomic bomb, arguably is best remembered for a lunchtime comment that has no connection to his specialty. In 1950, he and three other scientists were chatting about the possibility of advanced alien civilizations when he asked something like, "Where is everybody?" The question has come to be known as the Fermi Paradox, the most famous query about extraterrestrial civilizations, one that is recited and argued
  10. Blog 66: Comets, Part 2
    27 Oct, 2018
    Blog 66: Comets, Part 2
    Of the comets I've seen, no two were alike, ranging from a monster that, counting its coma of particles, was the biggest thing in the solar system, to a puny streak that -- once it had dipped out of view from the northern hemisphere -- turned into a dazzling spectacle with multiple tails. As NASA points out, comets are "dirty snowballs" that coalesced when the solar system formed about 4.6 billion years ago, mostly "ice coated with dark organic material." The agency also describes them as
  11. Blog 65: Comets, Part 1
    17 Oct, 2018
    Blog 65: Comets, Part 1
    Earthlings should be treated to a beautiful holiday surprise in December, Comet Wirtanen 46P. Dr. P. Clay Sherrod, the researcher, educator and author whose Arkansas Sky Observatories are renowned as "America's oldest private research science and observatory facility," wrote, "As this comet is slowly closing in on perihelion this December 16 (closest pass by the sun) it will also swing closely by Earth four days later in December and it perhaps might be as bright as 3rd magnitude, or even a bit
  12. Blog 64: Nature's laws
    07 Oct, 2018
    Blog 64: Nature's laws
    During my years as a newspaper science reporter, I sometimes asked astronomers and physicists a question that still puzzles me: natural laws govern everything from radiation released by atomic bombs to the combinations of molecules, from galaxy shapes to ripples in a pond -- were these rules present at the time of the Big Bang, before a single atom had formed? That is, do the rules predate the objects they govern? A saying by the rebel priest John Ball (who lived from about 1338 until his
  13. Blog 63: NASA gets serious about alien civilizations
    27 Sep, 2018
    Blog 63: NASA gets serious about alien civilizations
    As I write, NASA is in the midst of a three-day workshop in Houston discussing ways to detect alien civilizations. Thomas Zurbuchen, the agency’s associate administrator in the Science Mission Directorate, tweeted on Tuesday: "I’m excited to announce that #NASA is taking the 1st steps to explore ways to search for life advanced enough to create technosignatures: signs or signals, which if observed, would let us infer the existence of technological life elsewhere in the universe. …" The NASA
  14. Blog 62: Astronomy in the time of fire
    17 Sep, 2018
    Blog 62: Astronomy in the time of fire
    Utah is suffering the worst summer in many years, in terms of conditions for astronomy. Wildfires that are exacerbated or caused by global warming have been burning up the West, including this state, contributing to a sometimes-dangerously smoky atmosphere. Smoke will soften astronomy images into blurred messes and throw off color balance. When I found sites where the smoke had cleared, by an unfortunate coincidence windy skies made the stars twinkle and bounced my telescope around too wildly
  15. Blog 61: The Moon
    07 Sep, 2018
    Blog 61: The Moon
    On September 30, 1854, readers of the Illustrated London News were treated to an astonishing view of something they had seen all their lives but never in such detail, the Moon. Assembled from photographs by John Hartnup, astronomer at the Liverpool Observatory, and by the Photographic Society of Liverpool, the double-page woodcut showed maria, craters, mountain ranges and debris rays. Most of these geological features weren't well understood at the time. Speaking of a lecture by Professor John
  16. Blog 60: Secrets of the first galaxies
    27 Aug, 2018
    Blog 60: Secrets of the first galaxies
    The first galaxies formed in two stages, according to a scientific paper published Aug. 16 -- and some of them remain in the Milky Way's orbit. Mysterious "dark matter" played a vital role in the process, the paper maintains. Dark matter is the name given to material or an effect that was present after the Big Bang and about which little is known other than its gravitational pull on ordinary matter. Findings are presented in "The Imprint of Cosmic Reionization on the Luminosity Function of
  17. Blog 59:  Pulsars
    17 Aug, 2018
    Blog 59: Pulsars
    I remember the discovery of pulsars; or maybe I don’t recall the actual announcement but discussions about them soon afterwards. With the passage of half a century, it’s hard to sort out. Word came in February 1968 that scientists had detected radio beacons in the cosmos, of the strangest type ever recorded, signals that repeated rapidly and at precise intervals. Nobody could resist wondering if the signals were the product of a spacefaring civilization. The findings came through the operation
  18. Blog 58: Nature's geometry
    07 Aug, 2018
    Blog 58: Nature's geometry
    The first time I read Walden all the way through, I thought Henry David Thoreau was stretching a comparison beyond its breaking point. In the chapter "Spring," he writes, with quotations chosen from two separated paragraphs, "Few phenomena gave me more delight than to observe the forms which thawing sand and clay assume in flowing down the sides of a deep cut on the railroad through which I passed on my way to the village. ... Innumerable little streams overlap and interlace with one another,
  19. Blog 57: Messier 33, a hard-to-see giant
    27 Jul, 2018
    Blog 57: Messier 33, a hard-to-see giant
    The galaxy Messier 33 is a beautiful spiral star-city that is relatively close and therefore huge from our viewpoint, but it has such low surface brightness that it can be hard to find by telescope. M33 is also unusual for other reasons, including that a New General Catalog object resides within it. A quick explanation of the Messier (M) and New General Catalog (NGC) numbers: *** Charles Messier, 1730-1810, who served as chief astronomer at the Marine Observatory, Paris, searched diligently
  20. Blog 56: Serenity and chaos
    17 Jul, 2018
    Blog 56: Serenity and chaos
    Sunday night presented one of those astronomical alignments that can soothe the mind: Venus and the Moon were nearly cuddling, about one degree apart. [Here and above: telephoto view of the conjunction of Venus and the Moon, taken by Richard Garrard of the Utah Astronomy Club about 9:30 p.m., June 15, 2018. This exposure was made to show the part of the moon illuminated by Earthshine.] Cory and I were out to shop and walk in the park. We first noticed the lovely conjunction as we prepared to

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