Skyward for April 2021 by David H. Levy January 6, 2021 Just one day after the Earth passed its closest point to the Sun in its orbit, its perihelion, the American Astronomical Society was having its annual meeting online, the United States Congress was validating the results of the 2020 national election, and Wendee and I were settling in for a civics lesson about the way the United States Government works. The day did not turn out that way. Shortly before noon, on our television set a news ticker appeared. It announced that two buildings in Library of Congress (LC), the James Madison, and quickly afterwards the Adams and Jefferson buildings, were being evacuated. That news sent a chill through me. The LC is one of the finest libraries in the entire world. It contains more than 170 million books, of which more than thirty are books I wrote entirely or at least a foreword. It also includes all of the more than two hundred “Star Trails” columns I wrote for Sky and Telescope magazine between 1988 and 2008, and dozens more I wrote for other magazines and journals. Only the British library, with over 200 million books, is larger […]
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Skyward for March 2021. David H. Levy Stars are people too. In last month’s Skyward, I included that four-word phrase, but the first time I used it was actually in an article about the life of the star Betelgeuse, for Astronomy magazine. When I met Richard Berry, the editor at the time, he began by reciting those words: “Stars are people too.” He added that he accepted the article for publication in his magazine after he read those words. (It turns out that wasn’t my only unusual experience with that magazine. A few years later David Eicher, the current editor, and I witnessed a construction crew blowing up a freeway overpass near the magazine’s headquarters in Milwaukee.) As I explained last month, stars live out their lives much as do. They are born in gaseous stellar nurseries, or diffuse nebulae. In our sky two of the most famous nebulae appear are in summer, the Lagoon Nebula in Sagittarius, and in winter, the Orion Nebula. The little stars within the nebula vary in brightness, usually by a few tenths of a magnitude, but they can change quite quickly. There are a few others in the Hyades star cluster in Taurus, the […]
A couple Jupiter Saturn Conjunction pics taken by George B… Taken at his home in Davenport with his Canon T6i and lens zoomed to 135mm. Then enlarged planets with Canon software.
Skyward for February 2021. By David H. Levy. Orion in Winter. As twilight deepens these evenings, Orion is just clearing the eastern horizon. Robert Frost wrote eloquently in his famous poem “The Star Splitter” “You know Orion always comes up sideways, Throwing a leg up over our fence of mountains.” Whenever I see Orion rising, which is almost every night from fall to midwinter, I am reminded of how poets like Robert Frost saw the mighty hunter as it entered the sky to take command of winter. Even if you have difficulty finding some constellations, the three stars in a row that form Orion’s belt are a giveaway. And if you have a telescope, as Frost did, the view is even better. Just below the belt lies a fainter set of three stars. Surrounding the middle one is a gigantic cloud of hydrogen gas which is the Great Nebula in Orion. It is one of the richest star forming regions in our whole galaxy. During that first winter I enjoyed watching lots of the fainter stars within the nebula change their brightness over time scales of days, hours, or in one case, minutes. According to Janet Mattei, the late director […]
Skyward for January 2021.- A Great Conjunction, and the Christmas Star By David H. Levy. Said the night wind to the little lamb: “Do you see what I see? Way up in the sky, little lamb Do you see what I see? A star, a star, dancing in the night With a tail as big as a kite With a tail as big as a kite” Noel Regney and Gloria Shayne, 1962 In the words of this beautiful Christmas carol,written during the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, we are reminded of Christmas, the biblical Book of Matthew, and the Star of Bethlehem. Famous as it is, this story appears but once in the Gospel according to Matthew:: Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him.” When they had heard the king they went their way; and lo, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came to rest over the […]
From frustration to jubilation: A planetary conjunction story By Paul Levesque NASA estimates that, at any given time, about two-thirds of Earth’s surface is covered by clouds. In her 1968 hit tune, “Both Sides Now,” Joni Mitchell sang, “So many things I would have done / But clouds got in my way.” I believe I speak for all amateur astronomers when I say, “NASA, we believe you, and Joni, we hear you.” Clouds have spoiled many a planned astronomy event, and even a somewhat hopeful weather forecast of “Partly Cloudy” has often turned out to mean, “Cloudy at the worst possible time in the worst possible part of the sky.” But it isn’t cloudy all the time, and the frustration we feel when clouds roll in is often followed by the jubilation felt when the sky clears and the observation we were hoping to make pops into sight. Such was my experience with clouds during the December 2020 conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, a true once-in-a-lifetime event which I simply did not want to miss. The conjunction, which built to a climax over time as the planets moved closer together from our vantage point, was scheduled to peak on December […]
Skyward for December 2020 David H. Levy December 17. The night of December 17, 1965 changed my life. That was the night I began a search for comets that this goes on to this day. It represents the second most important decision I have ever made, to begin a visual search for comets and exploding stars that are called novae. The first most important decision, of course, was to marry Wendee. Both decisions made my life what it is today. Usually in Montreal, November, December, and April are the cloudiest months. Therefore I wasn’t counting on a clear sky that evening. After a Friday evening dinner with my family, I walked over to my friend Tom Meyer’s home and we visited for a while. Afterwards, around 11 pm. I took Clipper, our little beagle, for a walk towards the summit of the hill on which we lived. It was during this little stroll with Clipper that things began to change. Towards the west there appeared to be some lightening of cloud cover, and soon after, clearing. Within about 15 minutes large swaths of sky were showing some stars. I couldn’t believe it. I turned toward home, and for a few […]
Hi all! We have an important QCAS virtual meeting tomorrow night… please attend! The main event will be our elections, and a talk on QCAS 2021 and Beyond… Check your email for the invite! Clear Skies! Jeff
Another great APP meeting last night… learned how to deal with light pollution, color correction, and make a mosaic… all pretty cool and simple. Can’t wait for the next meeting… Monday before election! This has gone so well, and the 11 attendees have gotten so much out of it that we are putting together a 5th session with Mabula… great training, great examples, great documentation, great sample data to work with… plus a substantial discount if ya buy the software! Clear Skies! Jeff
Skyward for November 2020 By David H. Levy Hello, Bennu! Not long ago OSIRIS-REx, a spacecraft sponsored by the University of Arizona and flown by NASA gently touched the surface of asteroid No. 101955, an asteroid named Bennu, tried to grab some material, and then quickly took off again. It was the first try, but it was a huge success! The craft gathered more than twice what was expected—so much that some small pieces of material started to leak out. Of course, if all the sample leaked out, then there was no sample. But that won’t happen. NASA plans to transfer the material to a safe storage container earlier than expected, and then the sample will be safe. The mission, run jointly by NASA and the University of Arizona, cost the U.S. taxpayers about eight hundred million dollars, plus about 185 million for the launch aboard an Atlas V rocket. The Osiris-Rex is an acronym for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer. Asteroid Bennu is an interesting choice. Bennu was the name for an Egyptian mythological bird associated with creation, the Sun, and rebirth. But much as the name might inspire us to look back at the early […]
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