A Single Moment: Was it real?

Yesterday a fascinating press release from the National Radio Astronomy Observatory crossed my inbox. In a re-analysis of 480 hours of data from taken with the 210-foot Parkes radio telescope in Australia, astronomers found a single 5 millisecond burst that resembled nothing anyone has ever seen before. It shifted in frequency from higher radio frequencies to lower frequency in a way that indicated the data may have come from an object 3 billion light years away. This is a single data point from a single telescope. But it’s kinda cool. One of the problems with astronomy is you can’t look at the whole sky the whole time, so rare events are rarely seen. If a galaxy has 1 supernova every 100 years, than if you look at 100 galaxies you’ll see 1...

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Lunar Eclipse Tues, not friendly for North America

Lunar Eclipse Tues, not friendly for North America

Every 6 months-ish there is a lunar eclipse visible somewhere on the planet Earth. While newspapers like to call these things rare, they just aren’t. What is rare is a nicely timed for prime time lunar eclipse. For those of you who aren’t quite sure what causes a lunar eclipse, let me step back a second (everyone else, skip this paragraph). Every 29.53 days the Moon completes one orbit around the Earth relative to the Sun. Kevin Lee has created a neat applet of the moon’s orbit if you want to see things in action. The gist of it is simple. If the moon is between us and the Sun, we can’t see any of the part of the Moon that is being illuminated, so we have a new moon. In order for us to see a full Moon, we need to get out in front of the...

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Google Sky just made teaching astro easier

Google Sky just made teaching astro easier

My Office My Sky Oh, what a wonderful Google world we live in. Today, Google unveiled a new feature in Google Earth, the Sky. That’s right, along side your house, your office, and that mutant strange thing you created in Google Sketchup, you can also look at the stars, galaxies, and planets in Google Earth. In collaboration with ESA and NASA, Google now includes sky maps complete with links to Hubble imagery and all sorts of neat factoids. I’m sure you’ve already heard a bunch a bloggers praise Google (and if you haven’t here’s Phil’s take). Now, while it is uber cool, and is certain to waste many many man and woman hours, my first thought was, “This is gonna make teaching so much easier.” Here’s how: 1) If...

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Citizen Scientists

My Astronomy Cast co-host Fraser Cain wrote an amazingly illustrated piece on amateur astronomers and their observing rigs for Wired online. My first reaction was, “Wow, that telescope as itty bitty wheels,” (seriously, take a look at the scope on the right. It has itty-bitty tiny wheels and looks heavier than my Jeep!) My second reaction was, “Wow, most small colleges don’t have equipment that nice!” The citizen scientists in Fraser’s piece don’t have PhD’s in Astronomy or related fields, but they have the capabilities of obtaining the same high quality images that I was trained to take in graduate school. (And they weren’t forced to take 4 semesters of calculus!) Astronomy historically has been a career only...

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Quantifying the Darkness

Quantifying the Darkness

We’ve all had those magical moments of looking up and suddenly seeing something breathtaking in the sky. Perhaps it was just a moon low in the sky with a planet near and bright. Perhaps it was the Milky Way pouring itself into the horizon over a country road. Whatever the source of wonder, our ability to see and appreciate the sky is directly related to the darkness. To a city dweller, Venus is particularly stunning because often it appears as the only “star.” In the country, however, Venus is just one bright object against a sea of flickering spots, and it the Milky Way that amazes on nights without the moon. Different people have been looking for different ways to quantify how dark various skies actually are. One of the most straight-forward...

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Randomness

1) Harry Potter is 759 pages 2) Jupiter & Venus are high(ish) and gorgeous(!) in the sky – That is a hint you should go out and look at them 3) Sagittarius is at its best. If you have never scanned it with binoculars on a clear summer night, you are missing a great chance to randomly discover for yourself a star forming region or a young cluster of stars. (7×50 binoculars will do the trick from a dark area) 4) August 12 is the Perseid meteor shower. Plan ahead – It is supposed to be truly spectacular! I’m now going to go read number 7

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