Astronomy December 2017

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.
strange days on the sun

Just a few months ago, many of us were gazing in awe at the Sun as our Moon passed it over, blocking its primary light and allowing us to see a total eclipse. Now let’s think about the Sun in a different way. Yes, we owe our lives to the energy our star provides. We wouldn’t be here without it. And yes, on a timescale of something like a billion years, this variable star will heat up to the point where it boils off Earth’s oceans. And at that time, it will be game over for life on our home world. But the Sun does some interesting things during its ordinary days, too. Bruce Dorminey’s story “Why Has the Sun Gone Quiet?” (p. 20) raises some questions about the Sun’s recent…

2 min.
catch an exoplanetary star

EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE UNIVERSE THIS MONTH … Since 1992, astronomers have discovered more than 3,600 planets orbiting stars other than the Sun. Several thousand more candidates exist. Just where are these planets in the sky? Well, they’re too faint for astronomy enthusiasts to view, of course. But in some cases, you can view the stars that host planetary systems. Here’s a short list of a few of the brightest ones. • The brightest star known to host a planet is Pollux in Gemini, which shines at magnitude 1.2 and has a planet about twice the mass of Jupiter in tow. • Just a tick fainter than Pollux is Fomalhaut, in the southern constellation Piscis Austrinus, which has a planet as well as intertwined disks of dust and debris, a…

4 min.
intelligent design?

Every December, hundreds of science professionals mix astronomy and religion, normally a no-no, in planetariums’ “Star of Wonder” shows, offering explanations for the star of Bethlehem. Was it a supernova? A comet? A conjunction? Planetarium directors know their offerings are counterfeit. Privately, they readily explain to me that no actual celestial object could match the description in Matthew 2:2–10 of a star that moved across the sky but then became motionless. It doesn’t matter whether we now suggest it was a comet or a supernova. Thanks to Earth’s rotation, neither can stop and linger over a street address. You can’t get anywhere following something in the sky, unless you followed Polaris and wanted to go north. That’s what escaping slaves did in the U.S. So if the Bethlehem “star” was a supernova…

3 min.
astro letters

Dunning-Kruger file In the June 2017 issue, Jeff Hester said he keeps a file labeled “Dunning-Kruger” where he puts non-scientific theories such as intelligent design (ID). But why did he not include unintelligent design? Darwin’s theory rejects any kind of intelligent source in the evolutionary process. Since science cannot prove or disprove that nature is all that there is, this places Darwin’s theory outside the realm of science. And unlike biological evolution, which deals with facts and evidence, Darwinian evolution is based on materialistic superstitions (i.e., unguided and unthinking processes that have no destination). Most people would agree that features in the world appear to be designed. So then why couldn’t they actually be designed? Hester attempted to insulate his own criticisms by declaring ID as unscientific. But future scientific research may…

3 min.
closing in on the first exomoon

An exomoon is exactly what it sounds like — a moon around a planet outside our solar system. None has yet been spotted, but Alex Teachey, a Ph.D. candidate at Columbia University, and his collaborator and adviser David Kipping, may be about to change that. The pair identified the potential moon using data from the Kepler catalog to find promising candidates for moon transits. When a planet passes in front of its star, any moon around it will likely cause a leading or trailing dip in a star’s light before or after the signal from the larger planet. Using a sophisticated algorithm, they identified about 280 candidate planet-moon systems. The candidates are specifically biased toward systems with about the same mass and size ratio as our own. (Our Moon is about one-fourth…

1 min.
above jupiter’s thick atmosphere

DRAGON VIEW. If you could stand on the cloud tops at the north pole of Jupiter and look straight overhead, you’d see these stars. The gas giant’s axis points toward a nondescript region in the constellation Draco the Dragon. The sky’s fifth-brightest star, magnitude 0.0 Vega, lies just over 25° away. FAST FACT Because Jupiter’s Galilean moons orbit in the planet’s equatorial plane and their axes are perpendicular to their orbits, observers at the moons’ north poles would have views similar to the one shown here.…