Stories tagged astronomy

Scientists have announced the discovery of the largest planet yet found, some 1.7 times the size of Jupiter, and circling a star 1,400 light years away.

Aug
07
2007

Sky spy: This new device -- the SkyScout -- uses GPS to take all the guess work out of astronomy. Point the videocamera-sized unit at light in the heavens and it wiil identify what it is. (Photo from Celestron)
Sky spy: This new device -- the SkyScout -- uses GPS to take all the guess work out of astronomy. Point the videocamera-sized unit at light in the heavens and it wiil identify what it is. (Photo from Celestron)
Looking for that special gift for the astronomer who has everything?

Have you heard about SkyScout? It’s a nifty new tool that costs about $400 but makes identifying things you spot in the heavens a lot easier.

About the size of video camera, the unit made by Celestron can help you identify a particular light you’re seeing in the sky. Or, you can punch in key data and have scan the skies so you can find a particular star or planet.

How does it work?

When you turn on the unit, SkyScout’s global positioning systems first work to identify where you’re at and what day and time it is. By placing the object you want to identify at the center of its concentric circle viewing scope, it then reads landmark stars and objects in the sky to zero in on the item you’re interested in. An audio option can be turned on so that SkyScout will verbally tell you what you’re looking at.

On the flip side, if you want to find Venus, let’s say, you’d simply click on that celestial body on the SkyScout’s menu. Arrows in the viewfinder will guide to move SkyScout in the right directions to that you ultimately get it in your sights. SkyScout has a database of 6,000 heavenly bodies to search out that way.

A Star-Tribune story that ran over the weekend about the unit said that one local astronomy store – Radio City in Moundsview – can’t keep the units on the shelf. And a competitor product, MySky, has just entered the market.

What do you think of this new application of GPS? Have you tried a SkyScout or MySky? Share your thoughts here with other Science Buzz readers.

Jun
20
2007

Demoted again: Pluto's ego took another blow this week when it was discovered that dwarf planet Eris is slightly bigger than the former "official" planet. (Drawing courtesy of NASA)
Demoted again: Pluto's ego took another blow this week when it was discovered that dwarf planet Eris is slightly bigger than the former "official" planet. (Drawing courtesy of NASA)
I guess you could call Pluto the Rodney Dangerfield of our solar system…it just doesn’t get any respect.

Last summer Pluto got demoted from an official planet in our solar system and placed in a new category of heavenly bodies: dwarf planets. Now with more research, it’s been determined that Pluto isn’t even among the largest of the dwarves.

Eris is the cause of all of this turmoil of Pluto’s status. That dwarf planet was discovered to have similarities to Pluto and led astronomers to relook at how they define planets. Pluto and Eris were both bumped into the dwarf plant status. Now, the size of Eris has been measured: a diameter of 1,490 to 1,860 miles. Pluto’s diameter is a shade smaller: 1,430 miles.

All of these details came to light after astronomers discovered a moon, Dysnomia, circling Eris. Judging from the speed that Dysonmia has spinning around Eris, researchers have determined that Eris is about 27 percent heavier than Pluto as well. Both dwarf planets are made up primarily of rock and ice.

Don’t worry about any physical effects from this growing dwarf planet rivalry. Eris’ orbit is about twice as far away from the sun as Pluto’s. They’re a quite safe distance apart from each other.

Jun
03
2007

Just a little astronomical item:
The European Space Agency (ESA) has begun to release the findings from the Huygens probe, which landed two and a half years ago on Titan, the largest of Saturn’s moons.

Mighty Titan!: A great place to vacation. If you don't mind swimming in liquid methane. (Photo credit - Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona)

Huygens recorded two and a half hours worth of data during its descent to the moon’s surface, and then sent transmissions for another seventy minutes after landing, before it moved out of range of the Cassini spacecraft (from which it was launched). Much attention has been placed on the readings from the descent, although Titan’s atmosphere turned out to be hazier than scientists had expected, do to the large quantity of dust particles, or “aerosols.”

The possible presence of extremely low frequency (ELF) radio waves might also suggest underground oceans on Titan, something already theorized about by scientists.

Even after two years of study, researchers say the few hours of data still holds massive potential. I fully expect the existence of Titanian mer-people to be announced within the year. But I’ve been wrong about this sort of thing before.

Check out the Science On a Sphere exhibit at the museum for some cool images of Titan.

Sciencedaily, Building Our View of Titan

Apr
20
2007

Hey! National Astronomy Day is April 21, but we're celebrating it a day early this year on Kellogg Plaza! Come look through a telescope at the sun, the moon, Saturn, and the Orion nebula. Help us grind the mirror and assemble a six inch telescope. And come talk to some very committed amateur astonomers from the Minnesota Astronomical Society.

What: National Astronomy Day at the Science Museum
When: Friday, April 20, 10:30 a.m. - 9 p.m.
Where: Kellogg Plaza

The full moon tonight, Dec 4, is known as the Long Night Moon because it occurs near the winter solstice (longest night).

Astronomers at Cornell have determined that craters on the moon, once thought to hold ice, actually just have highly reflective dirt. This is a set back for space exploration plans, which had hoped to use the ice as a source of water and/or hydrogen for a future moon base.

Sep
14
2006

Thursday, astronomers discovered a new planet so "puffy" that it would float in water. This new planet named HAT-P-1, is the largest and least dense planet found outside our solar system. 450 light-years from Earth, HAT-P-1 orbits a star in the constellation Lacerta. This planet is a gas giant, composed of hydrogen and helium. Robert Noyes, a research astrophysicist from the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, claims HAT-P-1 would "float if placed in a cosmic glass of water." HAT-P-1 orbits its parent star at one-twentieth the distance that seperates Earth and the sun, taking only 4.5 days to orbit, versus our 365 days! HAT-P-1 was discovered by a network of telescopes in Hawaii and Arizona. It is too distant to be seen with the naked eye, but visible with binoculars.

I love Earth & Sky radio's skywatching center. It always features tonight's sky chart and weather, plus skywatching tips and any news. Find out when the moon will rise, what phase of the moon we're in, and where visible planets will be in the sky and when you should look. Plus, it's packed with links to other resources, like interviews with scientists and web planetariums. And you can blog! Check it out...