Astronomy May 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

3 min.
an astronomical workhorse

A handful of instruments stand out as all-time champions in the history of astronomy. The 200-inch scope at Palomar, the refractors at Lowell and Yerkes, and the “Leviathan of Parsonstown” in Ireland come to mind. But none played a more significant role in deciphering the structure of the universe than the 100-inch Hooker Telescope at Mount Wilson Observatory near Los Angeles. And this year, the Hooker scope celebrates a century of existence. Science writer Ron Voller describes the telescope’s historic contributions in his story beginning on p. 28. Vast contributions to understanding the Milky Way Galaxy and the universe at large rolled out of this setting after the telescope saw first light during the latter days of World War I. Of course, the crowning achievement of this instrument, paid for by Los…

2 min.
the mystery of quasars

In the early 1960s, astronomer Maarten Schmidt had a problem. Along with other researchers, this fixture of the California Institute of Technology had been studying mysterious radio sources discovered in the 1950s. These strange objects, the two most notable designated 3C 48 and 3C 273, appeared tiny on the sky but were extremely energetic sources of radio waves. They didn’t fit any logical explanation of what astronomers understood at the time. (The designation 3C came from the Third Cambridge Catalog of Radio Sources, produced at Cambridge University.) A precise position of 3C 273, using the 200-inch (5.1-meter) Hale Telescope on Palomar Mountain in California, finally allowed Schmidt to record the object’s spectrum, the signature of its light, for the first time. This, in turn, produced a 1963 paper declaring that the strange…

4 min.
a perfect circle

The sky is dominated by two seemingly perfect circles: the Sun and Moon. When safely behind the right amount of partially obscuring fog or low clouds, the Sun’s shape is obvious. Its equator’s tiny bulge throws it out of round by a mere 6 miles (9.66 kilometers) in its 864,337-mile (1,391,015km) width. If the Sun were modeled as a basketball, the difference between its equatorial and polar diameters would be half the width of a human hair. Circular perfection! But perhaps this perfection is not unexpected. The sphere is the universe’s most common shape. Kids may wonder why stars never resemble cubes or diamonds. Answer: Every spot on a sphere lies the same distance from the center. A sphere also has the minimum surface area of any geometric shape. You’d use…

3 min.
astro letters

An unforgettable sunrise This morning, I was watching the sunrise on approach to Denver, altitude about 20,000 feet. As the horizon grew brighter, the first hints of the Sun began to glimmer over the horizon. But this was unlike any other sunrise I had seen! A thin line of crimson beads, more than a degree across, shifted and shimmered with the motion of the aircraft for at least five minutes before the Sun actually rose over the Great Plains. It was mesmerizing. I have seen flattened and distorted sunrises and sunsets before, but nothing like this! Have any readers seen anything like this before? Could it have been just a simple temperature inversion, or something more complex? Thank you for inspiring me to always be on the lookout for such beautiful and fascinating optical…

2 min.
this neutron star can’t make up its mind

NEXT DOOR. ESO’s Very Large Telescope has been enlisted in an effort by Breakthrough Initiatives to find planets in the Alpha Centauri system. Breakthrough wants to use laser propulsion to deploy probes there. FLIP THE SCRIPT. Neutron stars can exhibit a wide range of behavior, but it’s not often that they behave like two objects in one. This illustration of a magnetar shows the strong magnetic fields that give the dead star husk its name. A recently discovered object, J1119, acts like both a magnetar and a pulsar at different times, the latter of which involves regularly timed radio pulses. ESO/L. CALÇADA Y ou might as well call PSR J1119–6127 sasquatch because it seems to be a “missing link” in neutron stars, according to astrophysicist Walid Majid of NASA-JPL. Majid, who presented his…

1 min.

ELEMENTS OF LIFE The Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) and the Apache Point Observatory Galactic Evolution Experiment (APOGEE) spectrograph have produced the most precise catalog to date listing the abundance of several elements present in more than 150,000 stars in the Milky Way. These elements include carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, sulfur, and phosphorus — the six most common elements found in living organisms on Earth and considered the building blocks of life. The results not only shed light on the composition and history of the galaxy, but aid in the search for potentially habitable extrasolar planets as well. MINERVA COMES ONLINE The Albert Einstein Institute at the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics in Potsdam, Germany, recently brought its new supercomputer, Minerva, online. Minerva’s 302.4-teraflop performance offers more than six times the computing…