The Wilderness Above (astronomy)

Discovering M87’s Black Hole

The amazing image of the black hole in the center of the giant galaxy M87 has been hard to miss over the past week. The image is a stunning achievement of astronomical inquiry, technology and persistence. M87 is the largest and second brightest galaxy in the Virgo Cluster of galaxies. As ...

‘Wow!’ happens

The great astronomers, professional and amateur, can be quite specific about when, how and what event ignited their interest in the night sky. It would have been the same moment that also piqued their inspiration for science, and for a life of imagining, dreaming and acting on their dreams. ...

Mars and Uranus in the evening sky

Though Mercury is sinking rapidly in the evening sky, Mars will linger through July as Earth slowly leaves it on the far side of the sun. Another planet currently in the evening sky is Uranus. It can be seen without optical aid, but it’s best to find it in binoculars, then look at the ...

Mercury in the evening sky

Mercury is an elusive planet. Though it is visible in the evening sky about three times each year, many people never get a glimpse at this world because they don’t know when to look for it. This month gives us all a chance to spot it just as the evenings darken. The diagram shows the west ...

A view of the Milky Way

The southern sky visible in the early evening affords us a view out of the plane of our own Milky Way galaxy toward the south galactic pole as shown in Figure 1. There are fewer stars in this region of the sky where the watery constellations of Cetus the sea monster and Eridanus. Cetus is on ...

Tracking the planets’ paths

After crossing between Earth and the sun on Oct. 26, 2018 it rose into the pre-dawn skies and has been a bright beacon for all who get a view of the eastern sky before sunrise. Jupiter was on far side of the sun on Nov. 25, 2018, and Mercury was between Earth and the sun on Nov. 27. These ...

Watching out for Ultima Thule

Last week the news was filled with discussion and images from NASA’s New Horizon’s flyby of Ultima Thule (TOOL-ey), the most distant world yet visited by a human instrument. On Jan. 1, 2019, New Horizons passed this tiny object over 4 billion miles from Earth, coming to within a distance ...

Early darkness provides more viewing time

The early darkness of December evenings allows us to view a portion of the sky nearly devoid of bright stars. The Milky Way galaxy arcs overhead from Aquila low in the western sky through Cassiopeia near the zenith to Orion rising in the east. Thus when we look to the southern horizon, as ...

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, ...