Alpha Centauri Through a (Really) Big Telescope

1. Alpha Centauri Through a (Really) Big Telescope
The razor-sharp images afforded by Earth-based telescopes with high-tech adaptive optic systems often rival images from space-based scopes like Hubble. But is it possible to look through the eyepiece of one of these big scopes? A select group of professional astronomers did just that. They peered through the 6.5 m Magellan telescope at Las Campanas Observatory and saw the two brightest stars in the Alpha Centauri system split as wide as a church door. By contrast, this is what the two stars look like in a small amateur telescope.​

2. Venus Brightens
Venus, already tremendously bright and high in the western sky after sunset, is now tangled in the feet of Gemini in the northern Milky Way. The planet reached its highest point above the horizon last week and now slowly sinks in the west on its way to a photogenic rendezvous with Jupiter on the last day of June.

3. A Paradise Lost?
Speaking of Venus… the planet is similar to Earth in size and mass, and lies within the zone in which a planet might be habitable. Yet Venus has a distinctly un-Earth-like environment. It’s a pressure-cooked hellhole of a world hot enough to melt lead, a place where rain falls in the form of battery acid. But Venus may not always have been so unpleasant. About 650 million years ago, the planet was wracked by volcanic activity that covered much of its surface in lava and turned the planet into a giant toxic greenhouse. A pair of planetary scientists recently found evidence that Venus may once have had tectonic activity, continents, and perhaps even oceans, and may have been a much more hospitable place.

4. Eta Carinae: The Next Supernova?
The Eta Carinae Nebula, the jewel of the southern-hemisphere constellation Carina, the Keel, is the most spectacular example of an active star factory in all the heavens. In this excerpt from an upcoming e-book about the most striking nebulae of the Milky Way, you get a close look at this star-forming region that harbors a star that’s too big to be stable… or to last for much longer.

5. A Video Game As Big As A Galaxy
I last played a video game when Ronald Reagan was early in his first term. Life’s too short, I say, to muck around in front of a game. The real world is interesting enough. But this may change. A new game called “No Man’s Sky” is due for release at the end of the year, and it’s a jaw-dropping extravaganza of imagination and computer science that enables the ‘player’ to navigate and explore more than 18 quintillion unique planets. The ‘universe’ in this game is designed using natural laws that determine the age and composition and physical characteristics of stars, planets, and life. Early video clips are awfully impressive. A feature on the creation of the game is out this week in the New Yorker.
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