Chesley Bonestell: Artist, Architect, Visionary

A painting by Chesley Bonestell for NASA showing Werhner von Braun's concept for a space station.

A painting by Chesley Bonestell for NASA showing Wernher von Braun’s concept for an Earth-orbting space station. Image credit: NASA.

The artist and architect Chesley Bonestell painted scenes of space exploration that inspired an entire generation of astronomers, artists, writers, engineers and visionaries. If you’re over a certain age, you have doubtless seen his work, and if you’re a dedicated stargazer and space enthusiast, you were likely inspired by his vision of space travel. But Bonestell was more than a starry-eyed dreamer. He was an architectural artist, and he also helped the great rocket engineer Wernher von Braun develop his ideas by fleshing out von Braun’s sketches of moon rockets, satellites, and interplanetary spacecraft…

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Farewell to Jupiter, and Hello

Artist's concept of Juno at Jupiter (credit: NASA)

Artist’s concept of Juno at Jupiter (credit: NASA)

If you’ve been following the news this week, you know that Jupiter has a new moon, a man-made moon called Juno. The NASA spacecraft, bejeweled with solar cells and as big as a basketball court, entered an elongated orbit around the big planet on July 4 as it began a 20-month study of the structure of Jupiter. While Jupiter may be fading in the western sky after sunset, still visible but soon to be lost to our telescopes, it will continue to reveal many secrets to Juno during the coming months…

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Why Be an Amateur Astronomer

Why-Be-An-Amateur-Astronomer

A lifelong amateur astronomer, Al Nagler worked as a professional optical engineer and designed optics for the flight simulators of the Gemini and Apollo space programs. In 1977, he started his own company, Televue, to design and build premium refractor telesopes and eyepieces with the goal of making stargazing easier and more enjoyable for everyone. He is also the inventor of the famed Nagler wide-field eyepiece, an optical innovation that has vastly improved the visual views of the night sky through a telescope.

In a piece written in 2000 by David Levy, Al spoke of his love of astronomy: “Astronomy is the most wonderful pursuit. If we had more amateur astronomers in the world, we’d solve a lot of fundamental problems. The more people who enjoy and understand our place in the universe, the better our own planet will be. And if I am a Pied Piper in this regard, that’s what I want to be.”

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New Supernova in Galaxy Messier 66

A close-up of supernova ASASSN-16fq in the galaxy M66. Courtesy of Terry Hancock at Downunderobservatory.com.

A close-up of supernova ASASSN-16fq in the galaxy M66. Courtesy of Terry Hancock at Downunderobservatory.com.

An automated telescope on Haleakala in Hawaii spotted an exploding massive star in M66, a spiral galaxy in the constellation Leo. It appears to be a Type II supernova, the result of a massive star that has run out of fuel and suddenly collapsed and snapped back against the subatomic forces at play in its core. Like all supernovae, this star is blasting out nearly as much energy as all the other stars in the galaxy, albeit for just a few days…

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The ‘Father of Southern Astronomy’

Triangulum Australe and Circinus, two of Lacaille's 14 constellations.

Triangulum Australe and Circinus, two of Lacaille’s 14 constellations.

When 15th-century European navigators first sailed south of the equator, they watched nervously as the North Star sank below the horizon.  What new dangers, they wondered, would the southern seas hold?  And how would they navigate without the familiar northern stars?

The dangers of the southern seas were real enough.  But the stars of the Southern Cross served as a good omen to Christian navigators, and they pointed the way to the south celestial pole.  In time navigators learned to find their position using many other bright southern stars, as well as the Sun and planets.

By the late 16th-century, Dutch navigators Pieter Keyzer and Frederick de Houtman, and the astronomer Petrus Plancius, created new southern constellations based on exotic creatures encountered on their travels (Tucana, Pavo, Dorado), or mythical beasts (Phoenix, Apus).  These constellations were included on Johann Bayer’s epic star atlas Uranometria in 1603 and remain in use today.

But vast swaths of deep-southern sky remained unnamed until the mid-18th century when the industrious and austere French astronomer, Nicolas Louis de Lacaille, during a scientific expedition to South Africa of astounding range and productivity, produced the most rigorous and detailed southern sky survey for the next hundred years…

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A Ninth Planet Discovered?

Artist's conception of the hypothetical "Planet 9" in the distant regions of the solar system. Credit: Caltech/R. Hurt (IPAC)

Artist’s conception of the hypothetical “Planet 9” in the distant regions of the solar system. Credit: Caltech/R. Hurt (IPAC)

It’s been 170 years since the eighth (and so far last) major planet, Neptune, was discovered in our solar system. Pluto, of course, was discovered in 1930, heralded as the ninth planet, but then demoted by consensus of the astronomical community, largely at the behest of the Caltech astronomer Mike Brown who reasoned that Pluto was not large enough to gravitationally clear its path of other bodies, one of the three criteria for a major planet. In the ten years since Pluto’s demotion, Brown has been asked if there are any other planets in our solar system. His answer: “Nope, that’s it.”…

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The Dark Universe

A street view of the Rose Center for Earth and Space Science. The planetarium theater is located within the "Hayden Sphere" at left.

A street view of the Rose Center for Earth and Space Science. The planetarium theater is located within the “Hayden Sphere” at left.

It’s been too long since I’ve been in a good planetarium, but this past weekend I saw the splendid “Dark Universe” show at the Hayden Planetarium (pictured) in New York. With dazzling graphics, a lapidary script by Timothy Ferris and narration by Neil deGrasse Tyson, the movie summed up in style the most important discoveries in cosmology over the past 100 years. If you’re visiting NYC, skip an afternoon of shopping and go to the Hayden. It’s worth the trip.

Clip From “Dark Universe” | Hayden Planetarium, American Museum of Natural History from BillMoyers.com on Vimeo.

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President Lincoln Goes To The Observatory

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln

Many urban stargazers enjoy chance meetings with curious passersby who take an interest in looking through a telescope. But none of us will likely receive the caliber of visitor who twice knocked on the observatory door of a lone astronomer in Washington, D.C. on a warm August night in 1863…

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Fly Along With a Comet

rosetta_rotate_wac_20140910

Animation of the nucleus of Comet 67/P Churyumov–Gerasimenko. (Courtesy ESA / Rosetta / MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS / UPD / LAM / IAA / SSO / INTA / UPM / DASP / IDA / “Herobrine”

Here’s a little Christmas present from the imaging team in charge of the OSIRIS camera on the Rosetta spacecraft, the little European probe that has been orbiting comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. Though they were criticized for keeping the images to themselves for many months, the team has finally released a treasure chest of images online for the first time since Rosetta encountered the comet in August 2014. More images of the comet will be released into the albums in time. You can explore the images and albums of the Rosetta encounter with Comet 67/P at the link above…

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Image of a Double-Planet from Hayabusa 2

A double-planet system: the Earth and Moon as imaged by the Hyabusa 2 craft on November 26, 2015. Credit: JAXA.

A double-planet system: the Earth and Moon as imaged by the Hayabusa 2 craft on November 26, 2015. Credit: JAXA.

An image of the Earth-Moon system from the Japanese Hayabusa 2 probe taken on Nov. 26, 2015. The craft, which is on the way to rendezvous with asteroid Ryugu, passed by Earth on December 3, 2015 on its outbound flight. It will probe the asteroid in late 2018, then return a sample of the asteroid to Earth in 2020.

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