20% of Twilight Observations Contain Satellite Passes

Starlink trails and a meteor as seen from Brazil. Credit: Egon Filter

With the rapid expansion of commercial space, there is a growing number of satellites in orbit around our planet. Most of these are in low-Earth orbit, which is becoming increasingly crowded. This has led some to be concerned about a catastrophic rise of space debris, as well as a growing frustration by astronomers due to the number of satellite sky trails.

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Astronomy Jargon 101: Absolute Magnitude

Taken with the HAWK-I instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope in the Chilean Atacama Desert, this stunning image shows the Milky Way’s central region with an angular resolution of 0.2 arcseconds. This means the level of detail picked up by HAWK-I is roughly equivalent to seeing a football (soccer ball) in Zurich from Munich, where ESO’s headquarters are located. The image combines observations in three different wavelength bands. The team used the broadband filters J (centred at 1250 nanometres, in blue), H (centred at 1635 nanometres, in green), and Ks (centred at 2150 nanometres, in red), to cover the near infrared region of the electromagnetic spectrum. By observing in this range of wavelengths, HAWK-I can peer through the dust, allowing it to see certain stars in the central region of our galaxy that would otherwise be hidden.   

In this series we are exploring the weird and wonderful world of astronomy jargon! You’ll surely measure the awesomeness of today’s topic: absolute magnitude!

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How Could we Light our Cities and Still See the Night Sky?

Standing beside the Milky Way. Credit: P. Horálek/ESO

The night sky is a part of humanity’s natural heritage. Gazing up at the heavens is a unifying act, performed by almost every human that’s ever lived. Haven’t you looked up at the night sky and felt it ignite your sense of wonder?

But you can’t see much night sky in a modern city. And the majority of humans live in cities now. How can we regain our heritage? Can quiet contemplation make a comeback?

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Most light pollution isn’t coming from streetlights

Zodiacal light tilts upward from the western horizon and points at the Pleiades star cluster in this photo taken March 19, 2009. Clouds at bottom reflect light pollution from nearby Duluth, Minn. U.S. Credit: Bob King

Light pollution is the arch nemesis of astronomy, spoiling both the enjoyment of the night sky and the professional study of our universe. For years we’ve assumed that streetlights are the main culprit behind light pollution, but a recent study has shown that streetlights contribute no more than 20% of all the pollution, and if we want to solve this vexing astronomical problem, we have to think harder.

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Top Astronomy Events For 2019

Transit of Mercury
The May 9th, 2016 transit of Mercury. Image credit and copyright: Steve Knight.

You might’ve heard the news. We wrote a book this past year: The Universe Today’s Ultimate Guide to Observing the Cosmos: Everything You Need to Know to Become an Amateur Astronomer.  Judging from reader feedback thus far, one of the most popular parts of the book is Chapter 10, where we list the top astronomical events by year for the coming six years. True story… we picked six (2019 to 2024) to stretch out the list to touch on the April 8th, 2024 total solar eclipse. Continue reading “Top Astronomy Events For 2019”

Get Ready for the 2018 Geminid Meteors

2018 Geminids
A timelapse of the 2017 Geminids, taken from the Chiricahua Mountains in southern Arizona. Image credit and copyright: Alan Dyer/AmazingSky.com

When it comes to meteor showers, the calendar year always seems to save the best for last. We’re referring to the Geminid meteor shower, one of the sure fire bets for dependable meteor showers. In fact, in recent years, the Geminids have been upstaging that other yearly favorite: the August Perseids. If the Geminids did not occur in the chilly (for the northern hemisphere) month of December, they’d most likely get a better rap. Continue reading “Get Ready for the 2018 Geminid Meteors”

On the Astronomy Trail in Nebraska

Nebraska
Sunset over the Nebraska Star Party. Dave Dickinson

It’s a never-ending quest for observers, lovers of the night sky and astrophotographers. Where to go to get away from encroaching light pollution, and find truly dark skies?

Most of us think of distant sites such as Death Valley, the Kalahari Desert or the Canary Islands when it comes to dark skies. And while it’s true that many observers are now traveling farther and farther away from home in search of truly dark skies, that trip need not be as far as you think.

We had the opportunity to visit one such often overlooked dark sky gem: the state of Nebraska. From fossils to aeronautics and astronomy, there’s lots of science to explore in the Cornhusker State. Though the state has a rich science heritage, and an active amatuer astronomy community, Nebraska is an often overlooked dark sky haven. But science tourism is also becoming increasingly popular, and Nebraska has lots to offer.
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A 2018 Outburst From the December Andromedids?

meteor shower
A timelapse of the December Geminid meteor shower... will the 2018 Andromedid upstage this dependable shower? Image credit and copyright: Alan Dyer/AmazingSky.com

A relatively obscure meteor shower may put on a surprise performance in early December 2018. Chances are, you’ve never heard of the Andromedids, though it’s worth keeping an eye out for these swift-moving meteors over the next week. Continue reading “A 2018 Outburst From the December Andromedids?”

SpaceX to Launch 64 Satellites, Including Orbital Reflector

orbital Reflector
An artist’s impression of Orbital Reflector unfurled in space. Credit: Orbital Reflector/Nevada Museum of Art

UPDATE – SpaceX has now set a firm date and time for the Spaceflight SSO-A launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base for Monday, December 3nd at 18:31 Universal Time (UT).

A unique smallsat mission promises to be the latest satellite “brighter than a Full Moon!” in the night sky… or not.

The Mission: We’re talking about Orbital Reflector, conceived by Trevor Paglen and fielded by the Nevada Museum of Arts. Dubbed as the “first art exhibit in space,” the $1.3 million dollar project seeks to put a smallsat payload with a deployable reflector in low Earth orbit. Continue reading “SpaceX to Launch 64 Satellites, Including Orbital Reflector”

New Comet V1 Machholz-Fujikawa-Iwamoto Takes Observers by Surprise

Comet V1 Machholz
Comet C/2018 V1 Machholz-Fujikawa-Iwamoto in Virgo from November 10th, 2018. Image credit and copyright: Hisayoshi Kato.

You just never know when it comes to comets. Here it is mid-November, and we’d thought we had finished up writing about bright comets for 2018. That was until this past weekend, when a flurry of messages flashed across the Yahoo! Comets mailing list hinting that a new, possibly bright comet had been discovered. Come Monday morning November 12th, long period Comet C/2018 V1 Machholz-Fujikawa-Iwamoto was formally added to the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet list.
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