GAIA is “Go” for Science After a few Minor Hiccups

by Shannon Hall July 29, 2014

In astronomy we throw around the term “light-year” seemingly as fast as light itself travels. And yet actually measuring this distance is incredibly tricky. A star’s parallax — its tiny apparent shift once a year caused by our moving viewpoint on Earth — tells its distance more truly than any other method. Accurate parallaxes of […]

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How Far Is A Light Year in Miles Or Kilometers?

by Elizabeth Howell April 22, 2014

We hope you have a big suitcase if you’re planning a trip across the cosmos. At the speed of light — a speed that no technology yet can achieve — it would take you about four years to get to the Alpha Centauri star system, the nearest group to our own. Zipping to the nearest galaxy, the […]

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If the Moon Were Only One Pixel: a Scale Model of the Solar System

by Jason Major March 6, 2014

One of my favorite pet peeves is the inability of conventional models to accurately convey the gigantic scale of the Solar System. Most of us grew up with models of the planets made of wood or plastic or spray painted styrofoam balls impaled on bent wire hangers (don’t tell Mommy), or, more commonly, illustrations on […]

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Orion Revisited: Astronomers Find New Star Cluster in Front of the Orion Nebula

by Jason Major November 25, 2012

The well-known star-forming region of the Orion Nebula.  Credit: Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope / Coelum (J.-C. Cuillandre & G. Anselmi) Precise distances are difficult to gauge in space, especially within the relatively local regions of the Galaxy. Stars which appear close together in the night sky may actually be separated by many hundreds or thousands of light-years, […]

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How To Measure the Universe

by Jason Major May 29, 2012

Measuring distance doesn’t sound like a very challenging thing to do — just pick your standard unit of choice and corresponding tool calibrated to it, and see how the numbers add up. Use a meter stick, a tape measure, or perhaps take a drive, and you can get a fairly accurate answer. But in astronomy, […]

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