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
See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download
 the highest resolution version available.
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

See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download
 the highest resolution version available.
     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.