In the vast expanse of sky between the brilliant stars Antares in the west and Sirius in the east, there lies but a single bright star of note, the star Fomalhaut. Low and prominent over the southern horizon, this lovely white star is a lonely sight on a northern fall evening. Fomalhaut marks the mouth of the constellation Piscis Austrinus (the Southern Fish). The star is a pretty enough sight for casual stargazers this time of year, and it offers a very widely spaced companion that’s easy to see in binoculars. The star also hosts at least one ring of glowing dust and debris left over from its birth. And where there’s dust, there may very well be planets… [Read more…] about The Lonely Star of AutumnShare This:
Recent Astronomy Articles at Cosmic Pursuits
In May of 1990, an Arizona couple were honeymooning at the Grand Canyon. One of them, Dean Ketelsen, set up a huge pair of WWII-era Japanese battleship binoculars on the rim, sometimes looking down into the Canyon, sometimes up at the stars. He and his wife Vicki soon found themselves a center of attention, with lines of tourists forming at the binoculars for a peek at whatever they had to show.
Dean, an optician at the University of Arizona Mirror Lab, now known as the Richard F. Caris Mirror Laboratory, the birthplace of the world’s largest monolithic telescope mirrors, was also a tour guide at the Kitt Peak National Observatory and an ardent amateur astronomer. He and Vicki saw an opportunity for sharing the night sky at one of the world’s finest natural attractions. They decided to try a more formal outreach event at the Canyon, and, with the cooperation and approval of the park itself, called it the Grand Canyon Star Party (GCSP) [Read more…] about The Grand Canyon Star PartyShare This:
It was a discovery nearly a century in the making, but astronomers have finally detected a planet around the speedy little red dwarf known as Barnard’s Star. The existence of the planet is not particularly surprising given the vast harvest of exoplanets discovered since 1995 around all manner of stars. Nor is the planet a habitable world, to be sure. But it was welcome news nonetheless to find that the nearest single star to Earth has at least one planet in its relatively feeble gravitational embrace.
In many ways, Barnard’s Star was the “white whale” of exoplanet hunters. That’s because the star is close, just six light years away, the second-closest star system to Earth, which should make it easier to find an orbiting planet. And the star is prominent because of its speedy apparent motion across the sky. Barnard’s Star is also old, more than twice the age of our own solar system, so it’s had plenty of time to form a planetary system. But for nearly a hundred years, astronomers have examined the star for evidence of a planetary system using visual observation, photographic imaging, and finally using modern spectroscopic planet-hunting techniques. They came up empty every time [Read more…] about Barnard’s Star Has a Planet After AllShare This:
Unlike galaxies and star clusters and even emission nebulae, the class of objects known as planetary nebulae exist on a scale of space and time that’s comprehensible, relevant, and compelling to most humans.
Comprehensible because these tenuous exhalations of dying stars are roughly the size of a solar system, which means light can pass from one end of the nebula to the other in just a few hours, and even our current spacecraft could cross some of these nebulae in a matter of years.
Relevant because our own Sun will expire after creating its own planetary nebula in a few billion years when our star’s inner core boils off its outer layers in an intermittent nuclear frenzy.
And compelling because as you observe these objects with your telescope, you may be witnessing the death of other solar systems which once harbored intelligent civilizations that long ago passed into oblivion, or perhaps learned to travel elsewhere in the galaxy before it was too late. Amateur astronomy is, after all, a pastime of the imagination [Read more…] about The Cat’s Eye NebulaShare This:
Take any three stars and they’ll form some kind of triangle. But there is only one constellation Triangulum. It’s a small but ancient star group surrounded by the larger constellations Andromeda to the north and west, Pisces to the southwest, Aries to the south, and Perseus to the northeast. While modest, Triangulum hosts many fine sights for stargazers on a northern autumn (or southern spring) evening. Look for it about 10º due south of the star Almaak (γ Andromedae) and just northeast of Aries [Read more…] about A Trek Through TriangulumShare This: