Deep Sky Astronomy & Telescopes

The Alpha Centauri Angle

April 25, 2013

Apropos of yesterday’s article on the discovery of Proxima Centauri, it’s worth noting that Murray Leinster’s story “Proxima Centauri,” which ran in Astounding Stories in March of 1935, was published just seven years after H. A. Alden’s parallax findings demonstrated beyond all doubt that Proxima was the closest star to the Sun, vindicating both Robert […]

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Finding Proxima Centauri

April 24, 2013

It’s fascinating to realize how recent our knowledge of the nearest stars has emerged. A little less than a century has gone by since Proxima Centauri was discovered by one Robert Thorburn Ayton Innes (1861-1933), a Scot who had moved to Australia and went on to work at the Union Observatory in Johannesburg. Innes used […]

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A Gravitationally Lensed Supernova?

April 23, 2013

I keep a close eye on gravitational lensing, not only because of the inherent fascination of the subject but also because the prospect of using the Sun’s own lensing to study distant astrophysical phenomena could lead to near-term missions to 550 AU and beyond. And because I’m also intrigued by ‘standard candles,’ those markers of […]

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The Draco Kill Shot

February 14, 2013

When I was in Huntsville for the recent interstellar conference, I noticed people walking around with black rubber wristbands that said ‘Build a Star Ship.’ Space educator Mike Mongo was handing these out to all concerned, and I soon picked one up to give my grandson. They’re an interesting form of marketing — leave these […]

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Habitable Zones: A Moving Target

January 31, 2013

Habitable zones are always easy enough to explain when you invoke the ‘Goldilocks’ principle, but every time I talk about these matters there’s always someone who wants to know how we can speak about places being ‘not too hot, not too cold, but just right.’ After all, we’re a sample of one, and why shouldn’t […]

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Probing a Brown Dwarf’s Atmosphere

January 9, 2013

The American Astronomical Society’s meeting in Long Beach is going to occupy us for several days, and not always with exoplanet news. Brown dwarfs, those other recent entrants into the gallery of research targets, continue to make waves as we learn more about their nature and distribution. The hope of finding a brown dwarf closer […]

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Solar System Origins: No Supernova?

December 18, 2012

How do we get from clouds of gas and dust in interstellar space to stars like the Sun? It takes the right triggering event, which can cause such a cloud to collapse under its own gravity, and we’ve generally assumed that the trigger was a supernova. Indeed, one way to check the theory is to […]

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A New Free-Floating Planet Candidate

November 14, 2012

Planets without stars may exist throughout the galaxy, and some studies suggest that there may be more so-called ‘rogue planets’ than main sequence stars. Now we get word of an object called CFBDSIR2149, associated with the stream of young stars called the AB Doradus Moving Group, a group of about 30 stars of the same […]

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Re-Envisioning the Telescope

November 6, 2012

An inventor named Tom Ditto has been casting a serious look at diffraction gratings as large primary collectors for telescopes, work that has been getting a bit of a buzz on the Internet. See, for example, An Old Idea Gives Telescopes a New Twist, and ponder how much the eponymous Dittoscope sounds like something out […]

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Vesta: A Protoplanet’s Mutable Surface

November 5, 2012

I remember having a particularly strong ‘sense of wonder’ moment when reading Poul Anderson’s “The Snows of Ganymede” when I was a kid. Anderson was good at this kind of thing, but really my reaction was not just to this story but to the whole notion of taking a distant astronomical object and placing people […]

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