Our New Book is Out! Everything You Need to Know to Become an Amateur Astronomer

The Universe Today Ultimate Guide to Viewing the Cosmos by David Dickinson with Fraser Cain

It seems really surreal to say, but after about a year of work, our book is finally out. It’s called The Universe Today Ultimate Guide to Viewing the Cosmos: Everything You Need to Know to Become an Amateur Astronomer.

It was written by our own David Dickinson, who provides the majority of amateur astronomy news here on Universe Today. David had been writing more and more complex sky guides here on Universe Today over the last few years, and about a year ago, we pitched the idea of a comprehensive book on amateur astronomy to our friends at Page Street Publishing. They were the same group that published books for two other Universe Today writers: Nancy Atkinson and Bob King.
Continue reading “Our New Book is Out! Everything You Need to Know to Become an Amateur Astronomer”

Our Book: The Universe Today Ultimate Guide to Viewing the Cosmos

The Universe Today Ultimate Guide to Viewing the Cosmos by David Dickinson with Fraser Cain
The Universe Today Ultimate Guide to Viewing the Cosmos by David Dickinson with Fraser Cain
The Universe Today Ultimate Guide to Viewing the Cosmos by David Dickinson with Fraser Cain

Have you ever wanted to get into the hobby of astronomy but don’t know where to start? It can be challenging, especially with the bewildering array of telescopes, objects in the night sky, and techniques. Our new book, The Universe Today Ultimate Guide to Viewing the Cosmos, is all you need to get started.

It’s written by David Dickinson, the Universe Today reporter who covers skywatching and astronomical events, with additional material from Fraser Cain, publisher of Universe Today, co-host of Astronomy Cast and host of the Guide to Space. There are also over a hundred photographs from contributing amateur astronomers, showing you what’s possible with some gear, skill and lots and lots of patience. And an additional forward from Dr. Pamela Gay, co-host of the Astronomy Cast podcast.

In the book you’ll learn:

  • How to find your way in the night sky.
  • Choosing and using a variety of astronomy gear.
  • Following the Moon and the planets across the sky.
  • Finding the deep sky objects: nebulae, galaxies and star clusters.
  • What to see in the sky from season to season over an entire year.
  • Finding modern wanderers, like satellites, space stations and more.
  • Observing comets, asteroids and meteor showers.
  • Safely observing the Sun.
  • Astrophotography.
  • The top astronomy events from 2019 – 2024
  • Real science you can do and protecting the night sky.

Click here to buy a copy from Amazon. Or Barnes & Noble, or Indiebound.

Due to be published on October 23, 2018.

Author Dave Dickinson writes:

After years of discussing the idea, and about a year’s worth of essays, outlines, revisions and re-revisions, we’re happy to announce that our first full astronomy book comes out on October 23rd, 2018 courtesy of Page Street Publishing.

We’re talking about the Universe Today Guide to Viewing the Night Sky: Everything You Need to Know to Become an Amateur Astronomer. It’s already up available for pre-order on Amazon now, and we jam-packed it full with the very latest tips from the fast-changing world of amateur astronomy.

We drew off of decades of experience as an amateur astronomer and science writer, to show you just how far the field has evolved in just a few short decades. When I was a kid growing up as a child of the 70s (1970s that is!), a 6-inch Newtonian was a big ‘scope, Jupiter had twelve moons and we took pictures on plastic strips coated with a gelatin emulsion known as ‘film’. Today, you can purchase a ‘scope and camera rig for your backyard observatory that would be the envy of many a university, and discover comets before bedtime online.

telescopes
Telescopes: large and small. Credit: Dave Dickinson

Why write one more ‘how to get started in astronomy’ guide? Hasn’t it all been done before? Well, our aim was not to write a textbook, but build something new, packed full of actionable information for backyard observers. If you’re a beginner, we’ll show you how to find your way around the sky, how to follow the planets and how things change overhead night to night, season to season and year to year. Even mid- to advanced observers may find out something new in the book, including, for example, how to hunt for and report a new comet discovery and tracking clandestine satellites.

The book is also chock of never before seen photos from dozens of astrophotographers from around the world. These cover the gamut of skill sets, from basic shots of the Moon and planets, to award-winning photos of eclipses and rocket launches. When it comes to astrophotography, our goal in the book was to take the beginner “over the hump” from doing basic star trail shots to deep sky astrophotography, a very steep learning curve to climb. Modern DSLRs, however, have made the entry into basic astrophotography easier than ever before.

lunar eclipse
The stages of a total lunar eclipse. Image credit and copyright: Zheng Zhi

What satellite is that? Want to build a planetary webcam? How about doing interferometry… from your backyard? Each chapter of the book is packed with projects galore. We’ve personally completed every project in the book over the years, (except for the Sun Funnel, which was done by Dr Pamela Gay), and we shared all of our experiences in the book.

Building the Very Small Optical Observatory (VSOO) out of a garden shed. Credit: Dave Dickinson

We also shared our own personal narrative throughout the book, a journey of several decades in amateur astronomy doing star parties, using telescopes, chasing eclipses and observing from around the world. The history of astronomy is a fascinating one, and the roles of professional and amateur astronomers blur, then merge as you travel back in time. We tell some of those fascinating tales in the book, from how we almost ended up with a planet named George, to whether or not Copernicus really saw Mercury, to why deep sky cataloger Charles Messier is buried in the same graveyard as rock star Jim Morrison. These fascinating asides give us insight in just how the largely untold story of the history amateur astronomy played out against the backdrop of human drama over the millennia.

Sun features
Features on the Sun. Image credit and copyright: Paul Stewart, labels by author.

One key challenge with writing a book is the long production trail of often a year or more. You want to write something that’s ageless, but we all want to stuff the very latest facts in discoveries in there, as well. We raced to add in the very latest space news (the passage of interstellar asteroid 1/I ‘Oumuamua through the inner solar system in late 2017 was a good example) all of which threatened to make the book obsolete before it ever hit the shelves. We grew up with seminal classics such as T.W. Webb’s Celestial Objects for Common Telescopes, Guy Ottewell’s annual Astronomical Calendar and Burnham’s 3 volume Celestial Handbook, all essential guides still sitting on our desktop that have stubbornly resisted digitization. We still marvel at these works and pick them up and peruse through them like old friends. It’s our fondest hope that our new book lights the same tiny spark of inspiration as those classics.

The book also contains some unique graphics, from the geometry of eclipses, to just how satellite orbits work and more. We worked hard to give the reader some unique perspectives with these graphics, something you won’t find anywhere else. We can also now say personally, as a writer of both fiction and non-fiction, that doing a simple “wall of words” novel versus text and graphics now feels like only doing half a book!

Eclipse geometry
The geometry of eclipses. Credit: Dave Dickinson.

Hopefully, this book will ignite the spark to get you out and observe, not only on every clear night, but to simply see the wonder and weirdness that surrounds us, everyday. Amateur astronomy is now nearly as much an online pursuit as it is a backyard hobby, and we lead the reader to those essential websites to show you where we’re looking when a new comet is discovered or when the Sun erupts in activity.

What’s next? Well, one aspect we really wanted to do up right was a set of concise constellation charts, covering the entire sky. We had to settle for basic overview charts to familiarize the reader with the sky by seasons and the overall layout of the constellations—otherwise the book would’ve been twice as long (and took twice the time) to write. Our hopes are to create a compendium star atlas for the book… soon.

Be sure to check out the Universe Today Ultimate Guide to Viewing the Cosmos – out October 23rd, now up for pre-order, for inspiration and an introduction to the fascinating world of amateur astronomy.

Universe Today Weekly Email Newsletter from Fraser Cain

As a space journalist, I come across a lot of amazing stories, photographs, videos and more. And I just don’t have time to cover it all in video form, or even on Universe Today.

But I’ve decided to put my information overload to use and write a weekly email newsletter. I’m personally choosing the stories, and I’m personally writing the newsletter. No robots will be involved in the crafting of this newsletter, just good old fashioned artisanal Fraser neurons.

This is also a conversation, a way you can comment back to me on the stories that you really like.

It comes out once a week on Fridays, contains a dozen or so of the most interesting news and stories I saw this week. Not just stuff from Universe Today, but from across the space reporting sphere.

If you do subscribe, I’ll store your email address and name, only for the purpose of sending you the newsletter. I won’t resell it or use it for any other purpose. Check out our privacy policy if you have any other questions.

And of course, you can unsubscribe any time.

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Two New Books From Universe Today Writers, Just in Time for the Holidays

Looking for great holiday gifts for that special someone who is interested in space and the stars? Two writers for Universe Today have you covered whether it’s exploration of the Solar System or learning what to look for in the night sky.

Universe Today’s Contributing Editor Nancy Atkinson shares the insights of over 35 NASA scientists and engineers in her new book “Incredible Stories from Space.” And if that gives you the itch to go outside and look up, be sure to get a copy of Bob King’s “Night Sky with the Naked Eye” to help you explore space from your own backyard.

In “Incredible Stories from Space: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Missions Changing our View of the Cosmos” Nancy takes readers inside the robotic space missions that are transforming our understanding of the solar system and beyond.

Weaving together one-on-one interviews along with the extraordinary sagas of missions, this book provides a detailed look at both current and future unmanned missions. It chronicles the struggles and triumphs of nine current spacecraft and captures the true spirit of exploration and discovery. Full color images throughout reveal scientific discoveries and the stunning, breathtaking views of our universe, sent back to Earth by our robotic emissaries to the cosmos.

From the first-ever mission to Pluto to the unprecedented hunt for planets outside our solar system, readers will journey along with missions like New Horizons, Kepler, the Curiosity Mars rover, and the iconic Hubble Space Telescope as they unlock the mysteries of the universe. Learn more about the latest findings in our solar system with the Cassini mission to Saturn, Dawn’s visit to the asteroid belt, the Solar Dynamics Observatory, and the Mars and Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiters. Explore the future of space exploration with a preview of upcoming missions.

Over the next couple of weeks, Nancy will be sharing “writing-of” stories and other insights garnered during her interviews and travels for the book. Also look for a preview of one chapter here on Universe Today during the week of Dec. 19.

Cover of Bob King's book. Credit: Bob King/Page Street Publishing
Cover of Bob King’s book. Credit: Bob King/Page Street Publishing

“Night Sky with the Naked Eye: How to Find Planets, Constellations, Satellites and Other Night Sky Wonders without a Telescope” will help you gain a deeper appreciation of the universe and our place in it while advancing your knowledge of the night sky.

Bob lays out a series of activities that are fun and educational while teaching you how to spot the International Space Station, follow the moon through its phases, forecast an aurora and watch a meteor shower along with traditional night sky activities like identifying the planets, stars and constellations. Unique illustrations and stunning photos help the reader understand the concepts presented.

Bob also shows readers how to use a smart phone, the Internet and other resources to enhance time spent under the stars, making this a truly modern and updated night sky book. Many people curious about the night sky think you need expensive equipment to enjoy it. You don’t. This book shows how we can learn a lot about the universe and deepen our appreciation of its beauty using nothing more than our eyeballs.

Bob recently wrote an article, “What I Learned Writing Night Sky With the Naked Eye,

Both books were published by Page Street Publishing, a subsidiary of Macmillan. They are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and IndiBound (links below, with great discounts available at this time!) While Nancy’s book doesn’t come out until Dec. 20, its available for pre-order with delivery on the 20th, just in time for the holidays.

Incredible Stories From Space:
Amazon
Barnes & Noble
IndieBound

Night Sky With the Naked Eye:
Amazon
Barnes & Noble
IndieBound

Tammy Plotner Has Passed Away

I just got the word that one of our writers, Tammy Plotner, just passed away after a long struggle with MS.

Here’s a message from Mike Romine, from the Richland Astronomical Society:

Hi, I’m Mike Romine, the current president of the Richland Astronomical Society, at Warren Rupp Observatory, in Mansfield, Ohio.
This email is to inform you, and I hope you’ll pass it along to your readers, that Tammy Plotner passed away Feb. 11, 2015. Her longtime battle with MS finally took it’s toll.

Thanks,

Mike

Tammy was the first regular contributor to Universe Today. She started with me in 2004, reporting on what amateur astronomers might see in the night sky using an archaic WebTV to write and send in her stories. When she started, Tammy was… rough. She was enthusiastic, but very wordsy and needed a tremendous amount of editing. But her enthusiasm for the night sky was infectious, and over time, her writing tightened up; wordiness became poetry that described the night sky in amazing detail and made you drag your scope out into the darkness for just a peek.

In 2006, Tammy took things to the next level for us and wrote an actual book. We called it What’s Up 2006: 365 Days of Skywatching. We offered it as a free PDF book, and it was downloaded hundreds of thousands of times, and purchased in print form. We did another edition in 2007, and then Springer continued the franchise with Tammy directly.

Tammy continued to write for me off and on until just a few months ago. She would disappear for a few months at a time, and I eventually discovered that was because she was suffering from MS. It was making it more and more difficult to get on with the basics of life, let alone set aside the time to write about astronomy.

Our senior editor Nancy Atkinson said she learned a lot from Tammy: “I was honored to work with Tammy and her articles were a joy to read. She had a unique but professional perspective on the latest astronomy news and she relished the chance to share new findings with her readers. We will miss her expertise and her endless enthusiasm, and she will be greatly missed in the astronomy community.”

I never met Tammy, that’s the curse of living our lives online. We build relationships with people through email messages and chat, but we can go a decade working side by side and never meet in person. That makes me sad. I should have made the effort to hang out with her.

Farewell Tammy, thanks for everything. I’m sorry for your struggle, but I’m grateful for how much you taught me about the sky, and I’ll keep on sharing it with anyone who’ll listen – just like you did.

Annual Atlanta Star Party Coming Soon!

If you happen to be attending DragonCon or just live near Atlanta, come and listen to some fantastic speakers and help do astronomy research and education at the Annual Atlanta Star Party!

What: Since 2009, this annual charity event celebrates science and space, and brings people together for a great cause.

When: August 28, 2014, 7:00 p.m.

Pamela Gay and the crew at the 2013 Atlanta Star Party. Credit: Bruce Press
Pamela Gay and the crew at the 2013 Atlanta Star Party. Credit: Bruce Press

Who: Astronomers Pamela Gay, Nicole Gugliucci and Derek Demeter will be speaking at the event.

Where: The Emory University Math and Physics Department hosts the celebration at The Emory Math & Science Center, 400 Dowman Drive, Atlanta, GA 30322.

Why: Proceeds from the Star Party go to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America and CosmoQuest. And, as always, we throw this party in memory of Jeff Medkeff, the “Blue-Collar Scientist.”

Family fun at the 2012 Atlanta Star Party. Credit: Bruce Press.
Family fun at the 2013 Atlanta Star Party. Credit: Bruce Press.

Tickets can be bought at http://atlantastarparty.com/tickets/ and you can share the promo code STARRY2014 for $5 off.

There is also a silent auction already started at: http://atlantastarparty.com/silent-auction/

Universe Today’s Top 10 (or so) Stories of 2013

2013 has been quite the year in space and astronomy! There have been launches, new missions, new discoveries and surprises. Here’s a look back at the big news from the past year, and since we never can limit ourselves to just a “Top 10” here are the “Top 12” stories we’ve featured on Universe Today in 2013, as chosen by our staff:

This false color composite shows more than half of Earth’s disk over the coast of Argentina and the South Atlantic Ocean as the Juno probe slingshotted by on Oct. 9, 2013 for a gravity assisted acceleration to Jupiter. The mosaic was assembled from raw images taken by the Junocam imager. Credit: NASA/JPL/SwRI/MSSS/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo
This false color composite shows more than half of Earth’s disk over the coast of Argentina and the South Atlantic Ocean as the Juno probe slingshotted by on Oct. 9, 2013 for a gravity assisted acceleration to Jupiter. The mosaic was assembled from raw images taken by the Junocam imager. Credit: NASA/JPL/SwRI/MSSS/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo

12. Juno Flyby

During a crucial speed boosting slingshot maneuver around Earth on Oct. 9, 2013 NASA’s Jupiter-bound Juno probe snapped a dazzling gallery of portraits of our Home Planet over the South American coastline and the Atlantic Ocean. However, an unexpected glitch during the “do or die” fly-by sent the spacecraft into ‘safe mode’ and delayed the transmission of most of the raw imagery and other science observations while mission controllers worked hastily to analyze the problem. But five days later engineers finally recouped Juno and it’s been smooth sailing ever since.
“Juno is fully operational and on its way to Jupiter,” Juno principal investigator Scott Bolton told Universe Today’s Ken Kremer. “We are completely out of safe mode!”

Read more here and here.

NASA faces the curtaillment of many jobs and services during a government shutdown including website updates. Image credit: (and with thanks) Heather Archuletta.
NASA faces the curtaillment of many jobs and services during a government shutdown including website updates. Image credit: (and with thanks) Heather Archuletta.

11. The US Government and NASA shutdown

Due to budgetary disagreements in Congress, the United States federal government began a shutdown on Oct. 1, 2013 that affected all government agencies and an untold number of government contractors. During the shutdown, which lasted for 16 days, about 97% of NASA’s 18,000 employees were off the job. NASA’s websites were pulled, all the NASA-associated Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus and other social media accounts went dark and NASA Television has also ceased broadcasting.

Thankfully, NASA’s MAVEN Mars orbiter was granted ‘emergency exemption’ to resume processing for its launch, (otherwise, the launch may have been delayed for two years) and the mission launched successfully on Nov. 18.

Read more about the government shutdown here and here.

The full mosaic from the Cassini imaging team of Saturn on July 19, 2013… the “Day the Earth Smiled”
The full mosaic from the Cassini imaging team of Saturn on July 19, 2013… the “Day the Earth Smiled”

10. Cassini Takes a Picture of Earth from Saturn’s orbit:

This summer, for the first time ever, the world was informed that its picture was going to be taken from nearly a billion miles away as the Cassini spacecraft captured images of Saturn in eclipse on July 19. On that day we were asked to take a moment and smile and wave at Saturn, from wherever we were, because the faint light from our planet would be captured by Cassini’s camera, shielded by Saturn from the harsh glare of the Sun.

This was no simple point-and-click. Over 320 images were captured by Cassini on July 19 over a period of four hours, and this mosaic was assembled from 141 of those images. Because the spacecraft, Saturn, and its moons were all in constant motion during that time, affecting not only positions but also levels of illumination, imaging specialists had to adjust for that to create the single image you see above. So while all elements may not be precisely where they were at the same moment in time, the final result is no less stunning.

Read more about it here.

9. Commercial space takes off

It was a big year for commercial space. SpaceX successfully launched their Dragon capsule on a second resupply mission to the International Space Station in March. The launch, rocket stage and spacecraft separations went perfectly, but the Dragon experienced an unexpected failure in the propulsion system that would bring it to the ISS. But SpaceX — with some help from the Air Force — saved Dragon from doom, and the resupply mission went off spectacularly. You can read about what’s ahead in 2014 for the human-rated Dragon here. SpaceX also launched their next generation Falcon 9, and continued their work on the Grasshopper.

In September, Orbital Sciences launched their Cygnus spacecraft for their first resupply mission to the ISS, with great success.

Portion of 1st panorama around Chang’e-3 landing site showing China’s Yutu rover leaving tracks in the lunar soil as it drives across the Moon’s surface on Dec. 15, 2013. Images taken by Chang’e-3 lander  following Dec. 14 touchdown. Panoramic view was created from screen shots of a news video assembled into a mosaic. Credit: CNSA/CCTV/screenshot mosaics & processing by Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer
Portion of 1st panorama around Chang’e-3 landing site showing China’s Yutu rover leaving tracks in the lunar soil as it drives across the Moon’s surface on Dec. 15, 2013. Images taken by Chang’e-3 lander following Dec. 14 touchdown. Panoramic view was created from screen shots of a news video assembled into a mosaic. Credit: CNSA/CCTV/screenshot mosaics & processing by Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer

8. India and China launch planetary missions

China scored success with the successful touchdown of the ambitious Chang’e-3 probe with the ‘Yutu’ rover on the surface of the Moon on Dec. 14, 2013. This was China’s first ever attempt to conduct a landing on another planetary body, and was the first landing on the Moon by any entity in nearly four decades.

In November, India’s first ever Mars probe Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) blasted from Earth for a rendezvous with the Red Planet on September 24, 2014 – where it will study the atmosphere and sniff for signals of methane. Read more here.

An unfortunate frog at the launch of LADEE from the Wallops Island Flight Facility in Virginia on September 6, 2013. Credit NASA/Wallops/Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport.
An unfortunate frog at the launch of LADEE from the Wallops Island Flight Facility in Virginia on September 6, 2013. Credit NASA/Wallops/Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport.

7. NASA launches Missions to Mars and the Moon: MAVEN, LADEE

NASA’s latest mission to the Moon, LADEE, launched from Wallops Island in Virginia on September 6, lighting up the sky along the US East Coast, allowing millions to see the Minotaur V rocket’s brilliance with their own eyes, cheering the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer as it sailed to orbit. A frog made headlines as it ended up being flung into the air during the launch. LADEE successfully entered lunar orbit on Oct. 6 amidst the government shutdown

NASA’s Mars bound MAVEN spacecraft launches atop Atlas V booster at 1:28 p.m. EST from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Nov. 18, 2013. Image taken from the roof of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
NASA’s Mars bound MAVEN spacecraft launches atop Atlas V booster at 1:28 p.m. EST from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Nov. 18, 2013. Image taken from the roof of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) space probe thundered to space on Nov. 18 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 41 on an Atlas V rocket. MAVEN’s purpose is to answer key questions about the evolution of Mars, its geology and the potential for the evolution of life.

“MAVEN is an astrobiology mission,” says Bruce Jakosky, MAVEN’s Principal Investigator.
Read more about MAVEN’s launch here.

Rendering showing the location and size of water vapor plumes coming from Europa's south pole.
Rendering showing the location and size of water vapor plumes coming from Europa’s south pole.


6. Europa has Water Plumes

It’s been known since 2005 that Saturn’s moon Enceladus has geysers spewing ice and dust. Now, thanks to the Hubble Space Telescope we know of another moon with similar jets: Europa, the ever-enigmatic ice-shelled moon of Jupiter. This makes two places in our Solar System where subsurface oceans could be getting sprayed directly into space — and within easy reach of any passing spacecraft.

Coupled with another discovery of clays on Europa’s icy surface, like delivered by comet crashes, this makes Europa a top candidate for missions, according to planetary researchers.

Illustration of the Kepler spacecraft (NASA/Kepler mission/Wendy Stenzel)
Illustration of the Kepler spacecraft (NASA/Kepler mission/Wendy Stenzel)

5. Kepler’s Demise… or maybe not

We were given the sad news in May that NASA’s exoplanet-hunting Kepler telescope had lost its ability to precisely point toward stars, due to two of four reaction wheels failing, putting its exoplanet search in jeopardy.

But as scientists looked for new ways to use Kepler, they determined it could still be able to seek out potentially-habitable exoplanets around smaller stars. In fact, in its new 2-wheel mode, Kepler might actually open up a whole new territory of exoplanet exploration looking for Earth-sized worlds orbiting white dwarfs.

Curiosity looks to the base of Mount Sharp and the Murray buttes - her ultimate climbing destination - in this mosaic assembled from of navcam camera images from Sol 465, November 2013.  Credit: NASA / JPL / MSSS / Marco Di Lorenzo / Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com
Curiosity looks to the base of Mount Sharp and the Murray buttes – her ultimate climbing destination – in this mosaic assembled from of navcam camera images from Sol 465, November 2013. Credit: NASA / JPL / MSSS / Marco Di Lorenzo / Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com

4. Curiosity and Opportunity rovers discover habitable zones

This year, NASA’s Curiosity rover discovered evidence that an ancient Martian lake had the right chemical ingredients that could have sustained microbial life forms for long periods of time – and that these habitable conditions persisted on the Red Planet until a more recent epoch than previously thought. Additionally, researchers have developed a novel technique allowing Curiosity to accurately date Martian rocks for the first time ever – rather than having to rely on educated guesses based on counting craters.

Meanwhile, the venerable Opportunity rover, going on nearly a decade of roving on Mars, spotted deep stacks of ancient rocks transformed by flowing liquid water eons ago.

Read more about Oppy’s discovery here.

Artist's concept of NASA's Voyager spacecraft. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Artist’s concept of NASA’s Voyager spacecraft. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

3. Voyager I enters interstellar space

In a cosmically historic announcement on September 12, 2013, NASA said the most distant human made object — the Voyager 1 spacecraft — is in interstellar space, the space between the stars. It actually made the transition about a year ago.

While there is a bit of an argument on the semantics of whether Voyager 1 is still inside or outside of our Solar System (it is not farther out than the Oort Cloud — it will take 300 more years reach the Oort cloud and the spacecraft is closer to our Sun than any other star) the plasma environment Voyager 1 now travels through has definitely changed from what comes from our Sun to the plasma that is present in the space between stars.

Another  photo of a "greening" Comet ISON taken on Sept. 24 with a 17-inch (43-cm) telescope. Click to enlarge. Credit: Damian Peach
Another photo of a “greening” Comet ISON taken on Sept. 24 with a 17-inch (43-cm) telescope. Click to enlarge. Credit: Damian Peach

2. Comet Mayhem: ISON’s dusty end and Lovejoy’s surprise

2013 was billed as the Year of the Comet, as several comets were expected to reach naked-eye visibility. There was Comet C/2011 L4 PANSTARRS, C/2012 F6 Lemmon, and the one everyone was waiting for, Comet C/2012 S1 ISON. ISON ended up not making it past its close encounter with the Sun, but we are now being rewarded with another early morning comet, Comet C/2013 R1 Lovejoy.

Comet R1 Lovejoy imaged on November 10th by astrophtographer Justin Ng. (Credit: Justin Ng).
Comet R1 Lovejoy imaged on November 10th by astrophtographer Justin Ng. (Credit: Justin Ng).
Frame grab from a video of the Feb. 15, 2013 Russian fireball by Aleksandr Ivanov
Frame grab from a video of the Feb. 15, 2013 Russian fireball by Aleksandr Ivanov

1. The Chelyabinsk Meteor

Just as anticipated, on Friday, Feb. 15, asteroid 2012 DA14 passed us by, zipping 27,000 kilometers (17,000 miles) above Earth’s surface — well within the ring of geostationary weather and communications satellites that ring our world.

But before that close pass occurred, there was a completely unexpected appearance of a remarkably large meteor in the skies over Chelyabinsk, Russia on the morning of the same day, surprising scientists and causing damage and injuries to the unsuspecting residents of the city. While this event provided insight and information about what happens when an asteroid intersects with Earth, it also highlighted the need for continued research of near-Earth objects (NEOs) — since there are plenty more out there where these came from.
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That’s it for 2013, and here’s to more great stories in 2014! We’ll continue to do our best to provide coverage on everything space and astronomy-related in the year to come, and thanks to all our readers for your continued support and comments. Also, I want to extend my thanks to our excellent staff of writers who contributed news articles this past year: Jason Major, Elizabeth Howell, Ken Kremer, David Dickinson, Bob King, Tammy Plotner, Shannon Hall, Daniel Majaess, Markus Pössel, Markus Hammonds, Ray Sanders, Scott Lewis, Matthew Francis, John Williams, Susan Murph and Brian Koberlein. Special thanks to our amazing publisher Fraser Cain for his leadership and support (and his great new video series this year!)

Happy New Year!

Announcing a New Comet ISON Photo Contest!

Universe Today is proud to announce that we are partnering with OPT Telescopes and SpaceWeather.com for a brand new Comet ISON Photo Contest, with over $10,000 in prizes to give away!

Comet ISON is one of the most anticipated sky events for years, and already astrophotographers have been busy trying to capture images of this comet. But as it gets closer to the Sun, hopefully it will become even brighter and visible to more people – not just the astrophotographers with the really great equipment!

This new photo contest features several different chances to win some great prizes, thanks to OPT Telescopes, the folks behind this contest. There will be a popular vote on Facebook with winners of first, second and third places, as well as images judged by a panel of experts with three winners in that category as well.

And so its not just about having great equipment.  “It’s about the overall image and it can be in any ‘style’ at all,” says OPT Telescopes. “We’ve seen some amazing submissions shot with DSLR’s and point and shoot digital cameras in the past, and encourage everyone, regardless of skill level or equipment owned, to participate.”

Who can participate? Anyone aged 13 years and older who has a valid email address.  (Employees of OPT, Universe Today and Spaceweather.com are not eligible for entry.) Images must be the original work of the contestant.

The contest begins today, November 1st, 2013 and ends midnight December 31st, 2013. Winners will be announced by January 7, 2014.

There are two ways to enter:

  1. The first is through Facebook on this OPT Telescope page.  Entrants are required to submit their date of birth, email address, real name and technical information about their image and location captured, as well as “liking” OPT Telescopes on Facebook.
  2. Your image will become part of OPT’s Facebook gallery. One image, per day, per entrant is allowed.

  3. If you’d rather not go through Facebook, you may submit via email to this address. Emailed entries are also required to list date of birth, and information about their image in regard to equipment used and location captured.  All emailed submissions will be manually entered onto the OPT Facebook gallery to participate in the popular vote. Again, one image, per day, per entrant is allowed.

We also encourage those who enter to also upload their images to Universe Today’s Flickr Group page, so more people can see your images! We also feature many of the images uploaded there in our articles.

What are the prizes? As of November 1st, the prize donations are still rolling in!  We now have over $10,000 in astronomy gear to give away to the winners of this contest.  Final prize packages will be announced November 5th.  So, stay tuned.

See this page for complete details and rules.

Good luck and we can’t wait to see all your images!!

See the Curiosity Mars Panorama on Permanent Display at the US National Mall

Congratulations to Universe Today writer Ken Kremer and his partner in image editing, Marco Di Lorenzo, who have had one of the panoramas they created from the Curiosity rover’s imagery included in a permanent Solar System exhibit outside the National Air and Space Museum on the US National Mall in Washington, D.C. The exhibit is called “Voyage” and was created by the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education (NCESSE) and is sponsored in part by NASA.

Ken said the NCESSE contacted him a few months ago back to use the mosaic — from Sol 169 of Curiosity’s time on Mars — and the project is finally complete. “They liked and chose it because it evokes a human presence on Mars with the rover in the foreground,” Ken said.

The exhibit is a one to 10-billion scale model of our Solar System—spanning 600 meters (6,000 feet) from the National Air and Space Museum to the Smithsonian Castle Building, and Ken and Marco’s image from the Curiosity rover is part of the information about Mars.

Here’s a description of the exhibit from NCESSE website:

“The Voyage exhibition on the National Mall, installed in 2001, was created through a partnership between Challenger Center for Space Science Education, the Smithsonian Institution, and NASA. A summer 2013 update of this exhibition’s content was undertaken by the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education and the Smithsonian Institution, through a grant from the District of Columbia Space Grant Consortium. To learn more, and view photo albums of all Voyage exhibitions, visit the Voyage National Program page.”

Here’s a closeup of Ken and Marco’s mosaic:

Close up of the Mars placard for the Voyager Solar System exhibit. Image courtesy of Ken Kremer.
Close up of the Mars placard for the Voyager Solar System exhibit. Image courtesy of Ken Kremer.

And a full view of the image is below.

You can learn more about the exhibit at the NCESSE Voyage webpage. Again, congratulations to Ken and Marco!

Curiosity accomplished Historic 1st drilling into Martian rock at John Klein outcrop on Feb 8, 2013 (Sol 182), shown in this context mosaic view of the Yellowknife Bay basin taken on Jan. 26 (Sol 169). The robotic arm is pressing down on the surface at John Klein outcrop of veined hydrated minerals - dramatically back dropped with  her ultimate destination; Mount Sharp.  Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo
Curiosity accomplished Historic 1st drilling into Martian rock at John Klein outcrop on Feb 8, 2013 (Sol 182), shown in this context mosaic view of the Yellowknife Bay basin taken on Jan. 26 (Sol 169). The robotic arm is pressing down on the surface at John Klein outcrop of veined hydrated minerals – dramatically back dropped with her ultimate destination; Mount Sharp. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo