The Wilderness Above (astronomy)

Navigating to the stars using stars

In past columns we have talked about using the stars to navigate upon the Earth and we have also discussed how some stars become pulsars which emit periodic bursts of radiation in the form of radio, optical, and X-ray emission. Surprisingly, a new NASA mission ties together these two seemingly ...

Virtually clear skies — anytime!

Unlike the scholarly and scientific articles that normally appear in this space, my occasional contributions will focus more on the novice astronomer like myself. As a member of the Adirondack Public Observatory, I often assist with stargazing events. I will try to address some of the common ...

Tools of the astronomers: spectroscopy

Until the detection of gravity waves in September 2015, the only information we had about the universe beyond the earth and moon came to us as electromagnetic waves: light, infrared, ultraviolet, radio waves, X-rays and gamma rays. Other than visible light, we humans have had to slowly ...

Tools of the astronomers: finding distance

Through the years, I’ve written of the distances to stars and galaxies, but have never explained how astronomers have determined those distances. Finding these is actually one of the most challenging aspects of astronomers and measurements are still rife with uncertainty. The first tool ...

The amazing stars of Orion

Orion the Hunter is high and bright in these shortening nights of late winter. As seen in the diagram, he stands tall in the southern sky by 7 p.m. Saiph (safe) and Rigel (RYE-gel), marking his knees, are about 35 degrees above the horizon. Reaching toward the Summer Solstice as though to ...

Star birth in the southern sky

Our sun is not a first generation star. We know this because of the heavy elements we find in it ... including oxygen, iron, and uranium ... that had to be made in the lives and deaths of previous generations of stars. So star birth, as well as star death is an ongoing process in the ...

Uranus in Pisces

Coming back to our home solar system after journeying among the distant remnants of stellar death, there are two planets in the evening sky: Uranus and Neptune. Nearly the same size, Uranus is slightly larger at four times the size of Earth compared to Neptune’s 3.88 times. Uranus is also ...

Origins of the elements

In my Jan. 2 column, I wrote of the detection of the kilonova by both gravitational and electromagnetic waves in August of 2017. The detections, themselves, were remarkable and ushered in the completely new era of Multi Messenger Astronomy. But the data from the event also gave evidence ...

Neutron stars and a new era in astronomy

Today’s was the latest dawn of the winter with the sun’s edge appearing over the flat horizon in Tupper Lake at 7:33:34 a.m. Tomorrow, sunrise will be a second earlier. By Jan. 5, it will 10 seconds earlier. Slowly, dawn will creep earlier and earlier until June 14 to 16, when it will ...

Remnants of star death in the eastern sky

We’ve watched the center of our galaxy set with the autumn in the western sky. Now the plane of the galaxy arcs up from west to east through the zenith in the early evening, and the galactic anticenter rises in the east. Though not as rich and dense as the galactic “urban center” in ...

The remnants of star death in the western sky

We humans look at the stars and constellations as eternal. But even stars are born, live for some time and die. Of course these stages occur over time scales much, much longer than human lifetimes. And yet, we puny humans, crouched in the dark on this tiny dust-ball of a planet peering ...

Globular clusters and blue stragglers

As shown in Figure 1, Hercules hangs from his knee in the western sky after dusk. This makes it a good time of year to try to spot the globular cluster, M13, with binoculars, or even your unaided eye if you have dark skies and good sight. Though a small (< half degree) fuzz-ball to us, ...

The galaxy and globular clusters

Sunday morning’s switch back to Standard Time from Daylight Saving Time has the sky darkening before 6 pm. Tonight, if you have a low horizon to the southwest, you just might see the center of the Milky Way galaxy hovering 5 degrees above the horizon with the plane of the galaxy, that milky ...

Exploring the full moon

A recent edition of this column discussed the phases of the moon. The full moon occurs on April 11. For several days before or after that date, the nearly-full moon will be visible for most of the night. This is the time when almost all of the near side of the moon will be visible to the naked ...

Late March sky tour

A new moon marks the last week in March which also means it’s a good time to get out and do some observing. Having a new moon means our only natural satellite is on the same side of the Earth as the sun so we will not see it throughout the night. Without that moonlight and minimal light ...

Astrophotography and the Orion Nebula

Astrophotography is a great way to explore and share the celestial objects viewed through a telescope. Ever since the development of digital camera technology, astrophotography has become much less time consuming compared to film and more accessible to the amateur astronomer. Results are ...

Objects in the sky and relation to time

The only clocks and calendars our early ancestors had were the motions of objects in the sky. All of us pay some attention to the position of the Sun through the day. Few of us note the position of the Big Dipper as the sky darkens. If you do notice it and realize that its position shifts 15 ...

Encircling the Vernal Equinox

In early January, I wrote about the cosmic grid of right ascension and declination. Declination is cosmic latitude measured north and south from the Celestial Equator to plus 90 degrees and minus 90 degrees. Right ascension, cosmic longitude, is measured from the Vernal Equinox to the east in ...

Great American Eclipse of 2017

The Great American Eclipse of 2017 will be the biggest astronomical event this year. On Aug. 21, the moon will pass directly between the Earth and Sun and cast its shadow onto Earth in a total eclipse of the Sun. Since the sun is a disk and not a point, there ...

Earth approaches closest point to the sun

As the new year dawns, the Summer Triangle plunges toward the western horizon. Cygnus (SIG-nuss), the Swan, wings south along the Milky Way with the geese seeking warmer climes for the winter. For us, the days are slowly starting to lengthen. The latest sunrise was yesterday (7:33 a.m. ...