Wednesday, May 23, 2012


     During class, I have been classifying galaxies on Zooniverse.  It is specifically the Galaxy Zoo Hubble project.  I would not say this is particularly challenging so maybe that is why I find it boring.  I think I like doing hands-on projects, but I understand that of course that is hard to do with astronomy, especially galaxies.  At least at a high school level, I think it is near impossible to do any hands-on work with galaxies in a formal lab setting, but if students are interested in this type of work in the future, I think Zooniverse would be a good place to start.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Astronomy Cast

Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar:

While listening to this podcast I learned that Chandra discovered a lot about white dwarfs.  Chandra had a very interesting, unconventional life.  Coming from a famously scientific family, he grew up in Punjab, which is now Pakistan.  He came up with the maximum mass of a white dwarf star while traveling from India.  He graduated college in India at age nineteen and then went on to graduate school in Cambridge.  Chandra had a very successful career and was a Nobel Laureate.

Astronomy Cast

Episode 207: Lyman Spitzer

     Before listening to this podcast I only recognized Lyman Spitzer for the Spitzer Space Telescope.  However, after listening I learned that he was also a Yale physicist and did a lot of work with plasma physics and star formation.  He also spent some time learning how sonars work.  I would not necessarily say he had an interesting life (socially) because it seems like he was very typical/what you would expect from a scientist.  He was from Ohio and went to prestigious highschools and went on to go to an ivy league college.
     I knew he was known for the Spitzer Space telescope but I also learned that he was one of the key people involved with Hubble.  This podcast definitely taught me a lot about the life and career of Spitzer that I did not expect.

Friday, May 18, 2012

APOD 4.8

May 15, 2012: All the Water on Planet Earth

     Even though we tend to think that there is a lot of water on Earth (since 70 percent of Earth's surface is covered by ocean), there actually is not that much, as this photo demonstrates.  The oceans are very shallow in comparison to Earth's radius.  If all of the water on Earth were bunched up into a concentrated point, the sphere of water would only have a radius of 700 kilometers which is less than half the radius of our moon.  We are unsure if there is water under Earth's surface.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Vera Rubin Biography

                Vera Cooper Rubin, the second daughter of Rose and Philip Cooper, was born on July 23, 1928 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  Since age ten she was interested in astronomy and would constantly look at the stars.  At age fourteen she built her first telescope with the help of her father.  Although she was encouraged by many not to pursue a career in science, she did so anyways.  She got a scholarship to Vassar College (a women’s college) where she obtained her bachelor’s degree in astronomy in 1948.  From there she attended Cornell where she met her husband Bob Rubin, a physicist.  Originally she had applied to Princeton but was told that Princeton did not accept women into their astronomy program.  Princeton only started accepting women into their astronomy program in 1975. She graduated from Cornell with a master’s degree in 1951.  She then attended Georgetown and got her doctorate from there in 1954.  Interestingly, Vera Rubin does not drive so her husband Bob would drive her to night classes and sleep in the car in order for her to earn her doctorate.  She also taught and did research at Georgetown. 
                In her research she discovered that galaxies themselves rotate around a central point.  This contradicted the widely accepted Big Bang Theory at the time which suggested that galaxies just expand outwards.  She presented this thesis to the American Astronomical Society.  She was somewhat criticized for her theories by the scientific community, but she still persisted in her research.  She also established the theory of dark matter within galaxies because she realized that there were unknown forces acting upon these galaxies.
                In 1965 she got a job with the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism (of the Carnegie Institution of Washington), and she has worked in the Carnegie Institution in D.C. ever since.  There she teamed up with Kent Ford, who had developed a very sensitive spectrometer.  With this spectrometer, Ford and Rubin measured the Doppler shifts across the disks of galaxies.  This allowed them to calculate the orbital speeds of some of the stars in the different regions of the galaxies.  This led to the discovery of dark mass.

                Vera Rubin has four children, and several grandchildren.  She wrote a children’s book called “My Grandmother Is an Astronomer” and still does research.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

APOD 4.7

May 10, 2012: Green Flash and Super Moon

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     This photograph (of two seconds long exposure) captures the largest full moon of 2012 (green) rising over a harbor on the coast of Brittany, France.  The green flash of the supermoon was caused by atmospheric refractions and atmospheric temperature gradients common with a sea horizon.

Friday, May 11, 2012

APOD 4.6

May 5, 2012: Full Moonrise

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The exact full moon will occur on May 6th, 03:36 UT.  The above photo is a telephoto image of April's Full Moon above Fort Collins, Colorado. May's Full Moon will appear less than one percent larger than the moon in the above photo.  The next opportunity to see a full moon near perigee is June 23 of next year.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

APOD 4.5

April 29,2012

A Dangerous Sunrise on Gliese 876d
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    This picture is an artistic interpretation of what a sunrise on a planet orbiting the red dwarf star Gliese 876d.  Gliese is believed to be very volcanic and it is believed to rotate very slowly so that there is significant difference between night and day.  Gliese is so exciting to astronomers because it is one of the few extrasolar planets close to its parent star that may possibly be habitable in the future.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

APOD 4.4

April 18, 2012
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The Flight Deck of Space Shuttle Endeavor

     Endeavor is the second to last space shuttle ever launched by NASA.  It is capable of entering the Earth's atmosphere at speeds greater than the speed of sound.  Since it is now retired, it is going to be sent to the California Space Center in Los Angeles, California.  Although it is exciting that we will be able to see space shuttles up close in museums now, I cannot help but be depressed by the shuttles retirement.  After all, without being able to use the space shuttle for real missions, it's like viewing a more complex version of  Disney's "Mission Space" ride.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

APOD 4.3

April 10, 2012: A Fox Fur, a Unicorn, and a Christmas Tree
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     The above picture is of the constellation Monoceros, star forming region NGC 2264.  It is roughly 2700 light-years in distance.  It mixes red emission nebulae and blue reflection nebulae.  This picture specifically includes the Fox Fur Nebula, the Cone Nebula, and S Mon (a young dwarf star which gives the photo a blue glow).  The red color in the photo and the Cone Nebula is produced by hydrogen gas.

APOD 4.2

2 April 2012
Tungurahua Erupts
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  This photo of Tungurahua (a volcano) was caputured in Ecuador in 2006.  It is 5,000 meters high so there are white clouds that flow around the peak of the volcano.  The black smoke in the picture is actually dark ash being ejected by the volcano.  Also visible in the background of the photo are stars.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

APOD 4.1

Rocket Trails in the Milky Way
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Two days ago, NASA launched five sounding rockets from the Wallops Flight Facility located in Virginia.  This photo shows the clouds that the chemical tracer left by the rockets in the Earth's ionosphere (starting at about 80 km).  The clouds were able to be seen in the mid-atlantic (this picture specifically captured in New Jersey).  Sagittarius and Scorpius are also visible in the background of this picture.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012


     Yesterday, we were told in class to step outside (at night) to see Jupiter and Venus in conjunction because it was the last night we would have a good view of this event.  Although I had seen this over spring break pretty clearly since I was able to stay up later, I decided to go out last night and look for Jupiter, Venus, and the moon.  I drove a bit past my neighborhood since it is well lit and once I got to a spot on the road where it was dark I pulled over (I was not alone) and stepped out of my car.  I was able to see Jupiter and Venus in a straight line with the moon rather clearly.  My mom (who was with me) was also able to see it and she was quite surprised because she really has no idea what to look for.  It was definitely an interesting and beautiful thing to see/share and I'm glad there was something different to observe.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

APOD 3.8

Messier 9 Close-up
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     M9 is a globular cluster containing over 300,000 stars and has a diameter of roughly 90 light-years.  It is near the center of the Milky Way galaxy and is about 25,000 light-years away.  It is at least two years older than the Sun.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Supernova Remnants

     Supernova remnants are important to our galaxy because they have great effects.  They heat up our galaxy and distribute heavy elements within it. This means that they can encourage star formation.  An example of a supernova remnant within our galaxy is the Crab Nebula(5 light years across), located in the constellation Taurus.  It was first noticed in 1054 AD by Chinese astronomers.  It contains a pulsar at its core and is about 6,500 light years away from Earth.
Crab Nebula

     Another interesting supernova remnant within our galaxy is the Cygnus loop(aka Veil Nebula), which is located in the constellation Cygnus.  It is basically a blast wave from a stellar explosion that occurred 15,000 years ago.  It spans about six times the diameter of the full moon and is 2,600 light years away.
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     The youngest SNR in the Milky Way is G1.9+0.3.  Astronomers believe it to be about 140 years old and is in the constellation Sagittarius.  It is roughly 26,000 light years away.

Friday, March 9, 2012

APOD 3.7

Conjunction Over Reunion Island
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     This photo was captured on Reunion Island, a French Island that is located in the Indian Ocean.  The photo was taken last week and shows the conjunction of Venus, Jupiter and Mercury.  The planets were joined by a bright crescent moon.  The conjunction is visible anywhere if you look to the west after sunset.  Venus is the brightest, and above Venus is Jupiter which is the second brightest.  Mercury sits right over the horizon and is the most difficult to see.  In order to get a better idea of how to spot Mercury, I found the below picture on .

APOD 3.6

Shocked by Supernova 1987A
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 The above photo is of the brightest supernova ever sighted (twenty five years ago).  The stream of images above shows the result of a collision that was recorded from 1994 to 2009 by the Hubble Space Telescope.  The collision was moving at about 60 million kilometers per hour.  The evolving rings of SN1987A are glowing due to shock from the collision.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Maria Mitchell Biography

      Born on August 1, 1818 in Nantucket, Massachusetts Maria Mitchell was the third out of ten children in a Quaker family.  She was mostly self educated except for the short period of time when she attended a school specifically for girls.  At age seventeen she opened her own school (basically just a room that she had rented).  Shortly after she became a librarian at Nantucket’s Atheneum Library. 
     Maria Mitchell most likely developed a passion for astronomy when her father used an observatory to conduct observations for the U.S. Coast Guard.  In 1847, she discovered her first comet.  Aware of her discovery, Maria’s father informed a Harvard professor of this who then contacted the king of Denmark who offered Maria a gold medal because she discovered a comet using only a telescope.  However, before Maria Mitchell could receive the award, it was given to a Roman man because he had seen the comet two days later than her, but his information arrived to Denmark much earlier.  News spread of her discovery and many tourists wanted to see the “woman astronomer”.  In 1848 she was the first woman member of the  American Academy of Arts and Sciences.  In 1850, the Association for the Advancement of Science did the same.  After these accomplishments she was hired by the U.S. Nautical Almanac to compute the locations of Venus.  Later in 1865, she became professor of astronomy and director of the observatory at Vassar College, a liberal arts college in New York.  She passed away in 1889 and is most well-known for the "Maria Mitchell comet" that she discovered.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

How do stars form?

According to NASA, stars form in clouds of dust dispersed throughout various galaxies.  A specific example of this is the Orion Nebula.  In the clouds, the gas and dust collapse under their own gravitational force  and the material located at their center begins to heat up.  Most of this material is formed into a star while remains are dust, gas, asteroids, or other objects.   According to the Discovery Channel’s program “Curiosity” stars form in the same way.  The gas and dust collapse to form a protostar which collects more and more mass and gets hotter and hotter until finally, fusion occurs and a star is formed. Mainly all of the reliable sources follow the same theory: That clouds of gas and dust collapse to form protostars, which then gain mass and temperature until an actual main sequence star is formed.
Orion Nebula:

Rosette Nebula:

Friday, February 17, 2012

APOD 3.5

February 16, 2012
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NGC 5965 and NGC 5963 in Draco

The two galaxies, NGC 5965 and NGC 5963 are located in the constellation Draco the dragon which is circumpolar. NGC 5963 is the blue galaxy viewed face on and NGC 5965 is the other spiral galaxy in the photograph.  The photo also contains other galaxies as well as scattered stars from our own galaxy, The Milky Way.  The two main galaxies the picture focuses on are very far away from eachother in reality although this picture is deceiving.  They also have no relation to eachother. NGC 5965 spans 200,000 light years across.  NGC 5963 is a low surface brightness galaxy meaning that it's luminosities are only slightly brighter than the background sky.

Monday, February 13, 2012


At the stargaze on 2/12 we saw many constellations among other astronomical objects.  I saw several satellites orbiting and we also were able to see Venus and Jupiter with the naked eye. We were able to see Jupiter through the telescope along with a good picture of the Pleides.  A few constellations we saw were Taurus, Orion, Auriga, Gemini, Cassiopeia, Andromeda, Pegasus and part of the Big Dipper rising in the north (?).  In addition we saw Ursa Minor, Aries, Perseus, Monoceros, Eridanus, Fornax, and Canis Major.    It was a successful stargaze because I was able to identify a lot more than I was able to previously so I know I have improved.    

Friday, February 10, 2012

APOD 3.4

February 9, 2012:

The video above (link) shows various settings in which auroras occur.The video is specifically a timelapse display filmed in Norway.  Recently, our Sun has become more active, therefore giving off more solar flares and CME's which can result in auroras.  Astronomers predict that we will be seeing even more auroras in the future since solar maximum has still not occured.

Friday, February 3, 2012

APOD 3.3

January 30, 2012: Blue Marble Earth from Suomi NPP

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     This photo of Earth is actually comprised of several photos taken by Suomi NPP (an Earth observing satellite launched by NASA) and a VIIRS instrument ( Visible/Infrared Imager Radiometer Suite- the primary imaging tool onboard Suomi NPP).  In order to put together such a photograph, the satellite had to make four orbits.  The data collection was done earlier in January.

Friday, January 27, 2012

APOD 3.2

January 21, 2012
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Days in the Sun:

     This photograph is a compression of time (June 21st to December 21st in 2011) and is called a solargraph, a picture that captures the path of the Sun.  The picture was taken using a pinhole camera made from a drink can lined with photographic paper.  Pinhole cameras are typically used with time, the Sun, and astronomy in general. The gaps in the arcs are indicative of cloud cover, where as the continually bright streaks represent sunny weather.  The trails are higher in June due to the summer solstice and sink in December due to the winter solstice.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

APOD 3.1

January 17, 2012: The Witch Head Nebula
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The Witch Head Nebula is a reflection nebula (meaning it reflects light from a star close to it).  It is linked to Rigel located in the constellation Orion.  Rigel provides the light primarily reflected by this nebula.  The blue color is partly caused by Rigel's color but also the blue color is due to the fact that the particles of dust reflect blue light more efficiently than red light.  For the same reason, Earth's sky appears blue.  The Witch Head nebula is roughly 1000 light-years away.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Astronomy Cast 2

The Tunguska Event
      One morning in Siberia (June 30th, 1908) something unknown caused massive destruction when it streaked across the early sky.  Investigations were not set up until 1921.  They found that the total area of damage spanned about 800 square miles.  When further investigation was done, nothing was found in the center of debris besides a tree stump. Finally, in 1978 (70 years later!) astronomer Lubor Kresak realized that the Tunguska event occurred at the height of a Beta Taurid meteor shower.  He believed that the destruction was caused by Comet Encke.  Today, scientists believe it to be a asteroid comet hybrid (possibly).  What I found most amazing about this entire thing was that it took decades to actually even begin to thoroughly investigate what happened.

Astronomy Cast 1

Galileo Galilei

     While reading over this astronomy cast, I was surprised that I actually learned a lot.  In his early years, Galileo was pushed to be a priest by his father but he instead chose to attend the University of Pisa to go to medical school.  There he decided to go into mathematics and he also studied art.  In the midst of things, he insulted the church and there was some conflict in his life due to that.  He taught geometry, mechanics, and astronomy until 1610.  He also had three children, all with the same woman, two of which were girls.  Another thing I learned about Galileo was that he was the first to observe Saturn's rings or "ears" since he thought they looked like handles.  I also learned that he was rather cocky, I suppose I would be too with his list of accomplishments.  What I found most interesting about this podcast were the facts about Galileo's personal life and personality because that's not really something we learn about in the classroom.

APOD 2.8

Jan. 11, 2012: Little Planet Lovejoy

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Moving the cursor over the image will bring up an annotated version.
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     This photo of comet Lovejoy, taken on December 30th in the morning shows the comet on the edge of Earth.  The photo was put together using little planet projection, which is a type of stereographic projection used to map the image pixels.  The stars Sirius and Canopus are also visible in this photo (taken in Victoria, Australia) and are to the right of the planet.  Comet Lovejoy's tail is visible to the northwest of Earth.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Charles Messier Biography

            Charles Messier was born in Badonviller, Lorraine, France on June 26, 1730 and died in Paris, France on April 11 (or 12), 1817.  The exact date of Messier’s death is still unknown to this day.  He was the tenth out of a family of twelve children.  His father died when he was only eleven years of age, but that did not prevent him from achieving great things.  In 1751, he moved to Paris, where he did not know one soul. He was hired by astronomer Joseph-Nicolas Delisle to copy maps and record observations.  In 1755 Delisle got Messier a job as a clerk at the observatory in Paris with a salary of five hundred francs including room and board at the Hotel de Cluny. 
            In 1759, on January 21st, he spotted Halle’s comet but was told to keep this a secret by Delisle, who also swore him to secrecy a year later with a similar occurrence.  This was due to the fact that many other French astronomers had not yet seen Halle’s comet.  In total, Charles Messier observed roughly 41 comets and discovered 12.  He therefore became well noted in the world of astronomy and was admitted to the Royal Society of London in 1764 and became a member of the academies in Berlin and St. Petersburg.  He later changed his title from “clerk” to “astronome” and was admitted to the French academy in 1770.  In addition to this, he also became a member of the academies in Sweden, a member of the Netherlands Society of Sciences, and a member of the Institute of Bologna.  In 1806 he received the cross of the Legion of Honor and started to write memoirs of his observations complete with his own personal maps.  In his first memoir he included M1, M13, and the Andromeda Galaxy, among others.  He was an excellent observer (though not a mathematician) who added to his list of observed object throughout his entire life.  At times, he would use as many as 12 different telescopes to conduct observations. He is most well known for the catalogue of “Messier objects” that is still studied today.  However, on November 6, 1781 he had an accident that caused him to be unable to observe for an entire year. He continued making discoveries and in 1817 he had a stroke which left him partially paralyzed.  He passed away quietly in his home at age 87.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

APOD 2.7

January 5, 2012: Ringside with Titan and Dione
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     Titan and Dione are two of fifty-three Saturnian moons that orbit the planet in the plane of it's rings.  The above picture, captured by the Cassini spacecraft, features the two moons and Saturn's rings visibly in the background.  Titan is the largest moon of Saturn (with a radius of 2,575 kilometers) and is the second largest moon in our solar system, only smaller than Jupiter's Ganymede.  Dione is the third largest moon of Saturn and has a diameter of 1,123 kilometers.  Titan is 2.3 million kilometers from the Cassini spacecraft and Dione is 3.2 million kilometers.  The moons are much farther from the spacecraft than they are from the gas giant.