Astronomy February 2018

The world's best-selling astronomy magazine offers you the most exciting, visually stunning, and timely coverage of the heavens above. Each monthly issue includes expert science reporting, vivid color photography, complete sky coverage, spot-on observing tips, informative telescope reviews, and much more! All this in a user-friendly style that's perfect for astronomers at any level.

United States
Kalmbach Publishing Co. - Magazines
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12 Issues

in this issue

2 min.
new horizons into the kuiper belt

This coming New Year’s Eve is set to be one of the most exciting in many years, at least for astronomers. And I’m not speaking of any celebrations that will be taking place in Times Square. At this time and on January 1, 2019, the spacecraft that famously unveiled Pluto up close more than two years ago will fly even closer past a mysterious Kuiper Belt object. This will give planetary scientists an important new look at the outer solar system. Throughout the journey of New Horizons, which launched in 2006, Astronomy has been privileged to have the program’s leader, Alan Stern, contribute our stories about the mission. And in this issue, the tradition continues with a story that previews the next chapter. As Alan details in his story, the extended mission…

2 min.
don’t let the horsehead get ya

In this day and age, when relatively few people have truly dark skies overhead, some celebrated sky objects are quite hard to see. Such is the case with one of the most famous dark nebulae in the sky, the Horsehead Nebula in Orion. Cataloged as the 33rd object in Edward E. Barnard’s list of dark nebulae, the object has been celebrated for more than a century for its shape. The cloud of tiny particles, dust grains about the size of those in cigarette smoke, takes on the shape of a horse’s head in profile, backlit by a thin streamer of bright nebulosity known as IC 433. This whole scene is tucked just under the easternmost star in Orion’s Belt. It’s relatively easy to photograph the Horsehead Nebula under a dark sky, provided…

4 min.
next time you’re in space...

At the end of some sci-fi movies (think Total Recall or Outland), the bad guy is pushed out the spaceship’s airlock. You know what happens next. He explodes. But such scenes do not match the reality of space. In the 1960s, NASA built a bunch of altitude chambers to mimic the hostile environment of low air pressure. Volunteers experienced the conditions found at various altitudes, and a few animal tests — thankfully not very many — were conducted with even lower pressures. The results let scientists learn how bodies would respond to sudden depressurization, and were proven correct in later accidents. (Fortunately, none of the outcomes included exploding.) In 1965, a technician testing a new space suit in an altitude chamber was exposed to a neartotal vacuum when a faulty valve popped…

2 min.

Wise sketching advice I just wanted to thank Erika Rix for her timely Astro Sketching column in the September issue. I had planned to sketch totality during the August 21 total solar eclipse and was a little surprised when I first read her recommendation to experience totality and sketch afterward. This sage advice was invaluable, as the two minutes felt compressed into two moments. I did keep an audio journal, which was helpful because my mind was not clear during totality, something I did not expect. I got so much more out of the eclipse by experiencing it and then later reliving totality on paper with my notes. — Cindy L. Krach, Maui, HI Eclipse ready I was prepared for my recent trip to see the eclipse in Madras, Oregon, as a result of…

5 min.
the first observation of a gravitational wave source

FOR HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF YEARS, two city-sized stars in a galaxy not so far away circled each other in a fatal dance. Even though the dimensions of these two neutron stars — the collapsed cores left behind after giant stars explode into supernovae — were diminutive, each still slightly outweighed the Sun. Closer and closer they spun, constantly shedding gravitational energy, until the stars traveled at nearly the speed of light, completing 100 orbits every second. By then, dinosaurs reigned on Earth, and the first flowers were just blooming. That’s when, 130 million years ago, the dance ended. The collision was fast and violent, likely spawning a black hole. A shudder — a gravitational wave — was sent out across the fabric of space-time. And as the stars’ outer layers launched…

4 min.
a better map of the milky way

The fact that we can’t see the Milky Way face-on really annoys astronomers. It’s akin to a cartographer who wants to make a map of the neighborhood, but is stuck in a house. In a study published October 13 in Science, a team of researchers directly measured the distance to a star-forming region called G007.47+00.05 on the far side of the Milky Way using the National Science Foundation’s Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA). This shattered the previous record for a direct distance measurement within our galaxy. “This means that, using the VLBA, we now can accurately map the whole extent of our galaxy,” said the study’s lead author, Alberto Sanna of the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy. Previous attempts to accurately map the opposite side of the Milky Way have failed, mostly…