Tonight you have a chance to contribute to science -namely, the knowledge of our solar system- and have a lot of fun at the same time. Do you want to know how ? Then please read on.

Comet Swift-Tuttle (left, courtesy NASA) may be far away by now, but the debris that gets thrown out in space during each of its passages in the proximity of our Sun traces the full elliptical orbit of the comet, like droplets of sweat of an athlete running the 10,000 meters in a stadium. And tonight, the Earth is going to plunge in the core of the filament of debris following the comet's orbit.
The International Year of Astronomy has inspired many interesting projects.  Perhaps none are as visually compelling as Experience the Planets.  This growing site presents artists renditions of what it would look like to see our neighbors in the solar system up close and personal.  And, yes, for those of you who do not have pictures as cute as The Frogger being buzzed by a hippopotamus on your computer, there are wallpapers available.

The image below (Waters of Europa by Josef Barton) shows an artist's rendition of what it might be like to explore the oceans beneath the icy crust of Jupiter's moon Europa in a submersible vehicle.
It's sharing time.  Here's a cool space mashup map, titled "If extraterrestrial civilizations are monitoring our TV broadcasts, then this is what they are currently watching."

It's a plot of nearby stars, with lines indicating which TV show signals are just now reaching them.  It's from Abstruse Goose, which is a new fav for me.  Plus they have a free eBook of the first 100 comics.  And their website is minimalist.  Enjoy!
There are many hypotheses about the early days of black holes.  Researchers writing in The Astrophysical Journal Letters have undertaken simulations using data taken from observations of the cosmic background radiation—the earliest view of the structure of the universe - and then applied the basic laws that govern the interaction of matter. In doing so, they say they have allowed the early universe in their simulation to evolve as they believe it did in reality.
Amateur astronomers fond of visual observation of faint galaxies and other fuzzy treasures of the night sky are always in search of the best observative site, where to drag their large Dobsonian telescopes.

Unfortunately, their road is always uphill - also in a metaphorical sense: light pollution is growing everywhere at a disturbing rate, and it has already erased all but the brightest stars from our urban and suburban skies.

Many of our kids grow without having seen the Milky Way, and the few who are drawn to astronomy are surprised to realize, from the tales of older dogs like me, that it did not use to be that way.
Moon Or Mars?

Moon Or Mars?

Aug 08 2009 | 8 comment(s)

One of the current questions for the future of space exploration is whether to return to the moon, or just head to Mars.

Should we return somewhere we’ve been before? Or just strike out toward someplace totally new? Is there any benefit to going back to the moon? Can we make it to Mars without building up our endurance and scientific knowledge on the moon first?

There are intelligent, well-connected, even famous, proponents on both sides.
Although he might not have been the absolute first to propose it, Galileo is widely credited with proposing the concept in 1638 that all bodies fall with equal acceleration through a vacuum, and mythologically with actually testing it at the Leaning Tower of Pisa.  This concept was a necessary precursor to Newton's law of universal gravitation (ask me sometime why the inverse square rule is SO COOL) and Einstein's general theory of relativity.

Over 300 years later, David Scott, commander of Apollo 15, decided to test Galileo's theory.  On the Moon.
Hitler's gift to astronomy? What?

Believe it or not, Hitler wanted to give Mussolini and Rome a planetarium*. Rome was among the first in the world to build a planetarium. Italy (and Mussolini) had already taken a planetarium as part of the 'compensation' for the damage Germany did to Italy in WW1 and opened the first Roman planetarium already in 1928.

It is the most peculiar story, so much so that I feel compelled to tell, however little, what I know about this hidden treasure of planetarium history...
HD 87643, a member of the exotic class of B[e] stars, is in a very rich field of stars towards the Carina (the Keel) arm of the Milky Way. It recently became part of a set of observations that provide astronomers with the best ever picture of a B[e] star.

B[e] stars are stars of spectral type B, with emission lines in their spectra, hence the "e". They are surrounded by a large amount of dust.
Betelgeuse, the second brightest star in the constellation of Orion (the Hunter), is a red supergiant, one of the biggest stars known, and almost 1,000 times larger than our Sun.

To put that in perspective, if Betelgeuse were at the center of our Solar System it would extend out almost to the orbit of Jupiter, engulfing Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars and the main asteroid belt.