The Christmas Tree in Space

Here’s a holiday treat from outer space: The Christmas Tree Cluster!

Imagine the beautiful green, wispy branches of a Christmas tree — adorned with red, blue and white lights — gracefully on display in the heavens above.

The Christmas Tree Cluster
The Christmas Tree Cluster (a.k.a. “NGC 2264”) is located in the constellation Monoceros, near the Name A Star Live constellations Orion and Gemini.

Newborn stars, hidden behind thick dust, are revealed in this image of a section of the Christmas Tree Cluster from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope. Infant stars appear as pink and red specks toward the center and appear to have formed in regularly spaced intervals along linear structures in a configuration that resembles the spokes of a wheel or the pattern of a snowflake. Hence, astronomers have nicknamed this the “Snowflake Cluster.”

Star-forming clouds like this one are dynamic and evolving structures. Since the stars trace the straight line pattern of spokes of a wheel, scientists believe that these are newborn stars, or “protostars.” At a mere 100,000 years old, these infant structures have yet to “crawl” away from their location of birth. Over time, the natural drifting motions of each star will break this order, and the snowflake design will be no more.

Like a dusty cosmic finger pointing up to the newborn clusters, Spitzer also illuminates the optically dark and dense Cone Nebula, the tip of which can be seen towards the upper right corner of the image.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/P.S. Teixeira (Center for Astrophysics)

And here’s some other neat space imagery for you!

ESO Observatory
An outstanding image of the sky over European  Southern Observatory’s Paranal Observatory.  Image Credit: ESO/B. Tafreshi (twanight.org)

The object that is glowing intensely red in the image is the Carina Nebula.  The Carina Nebula lies in the constellation of Carina (The Keel), about 7500 light-years from Earth. This cloud of glowing gas and dust is the brightest nebula in the sky and contains several of the brightest and most massive stars known in the Milky Way, such as Eta Carinae. The Carina Nebula is a perfect test-bed for astronomers to unveil the mysteries of the violent birth and death of massive stars.  Click here for more information about this image.

Finally, here is a beautiful video — set to equally beautiful music — showing the night skies over Cornwall and Scilly, in Great Britain.


Name a star for that special someone this Christmas!
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The Best Shooting Stars of the Year

The best display of shooting stars all year — the annual “Geminid meteor shower” — is going on now! Although the peak occurs over the evening of Wednesday, December 13 — that’s the middle of the workweek! — you can see many shooting stars during the nights following the peak — through at least December 18. In this article we’ll discuss what a meteor shower is, how to view the shooting stars, and when to view them.

Watching a meteor shower
The best way to view a meteor shower is to lie back and look up — no telescope needed!

Continue reading “The Best Shooting Stars of the Year”

The Star of Bethlehem

The MagiFor centuries astronomers have speculated about the famous Star of Bethlehem, which the three Magi (the three wise men/the three kings) followed to the place of Christ’s birth.  Of course, the star may defy scientific explanation altogether, and be viewed as a miracle.  Nevertheless, various astronomical theories have been proposed, including that the star may have been a comet, or a supernova (an exploding star), or a “planetary conjunction” (a gathering of planets in one part of the sky).  In this column, we’ll examine two of today’s most popular theories, both of which hold that the planet Jupiter played a key role.

Continue reading “The Star of Bethlehem”

See Shooting Stars in Leo this weekend!

The “Leonid meteor shower” peaks this coming weekend! In this article we’ll discuss what a meteor shower is, how to view the shooting stars, and when to view them.

Watching a meteor shower
The best way to view a meteor shower is to lie back and look up — no telescope needed!

Continue reading “See Shooting Stars in Leo this weekend!”

Spooky Sights and Sounds from Outer Space!

October’s the month for Halloween, and Name A Star Live can help you get in the mood for trick-or-treating! Here are some spooky sights and sounds from outer space.

First, let’s set the scene with some scary space sounds! Before scrolling down this webpage any further, turn up your speakers or headphones, and start this video of some eerie sounds from Saturn:

Let’s start with a witch who resides just outside the Name A Star Live constellation Orion:

The Witch Head Nebula
The Witch Head Nebula. Image Credit: NASA/STScI Digitized Sky Survey/Noel Carboni

As frightening as this witch may be, no need to fear: She’s about 800 light-years away, and so won’t be casting any spells on us for a long time to come! She’s actually a giant collection of dust particles that is reflecting light off of a star named “Rigel” in Orion.

The Ghost Nebula
The Ghost Nebula. Image Credit: Adam Block/Mount Lemmon SkyCenter/University of Arizona

I ain’t afraid of no ghosts — especially when they’re 1,200 light-years away! This phantom of the night haunts the constellation Cepheus, which borders the Name A Star Live constellations Cassiopeia and Cygnus.

The Ghost of the Sisters
The Ghost of the Seven Sisters. Image Credit: NASA/ESA and The Hubble Heritage Team STScI/AURA), George Herbig and Theodore Simon (University of Hawaii)

This ghost is located a little closer to Earth, at 380 light-years away in the Name A Star Live constellation Taurus. It’s part of the Pleiades star cluster (a.k.a. “The Seven Sisters”), which many people confuse with the Little Dipper. Let’s hope this ghost doesn’t get any closer to Earth!

Ghost Head Nebula
The Ghost Head Nebula. Image Credit: NASA, ESA, Mohammad Heydari-Malayeri (Observatoire de Paris) et al.

The Ghost Head Nebula, or NGC 2080, is a star-forming region in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of our own Milky Way Galaxy visible from the southern hemisphere of Earth. The nebula spans about 50 light-years across.

Black Widow Nebula
The Black Widow Nebula. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Wisc.

What’s Halloween without spiders? The Black Widow Nebula hangs in her web in the southern hemisphere constellation Circinus. But arachnophobes have no fear! This spider from the depths of space is actually a stellar nursery. In this Spitzer Space Telescope image, the two opposing bubbles are being formed in opposite directions by the powerful outflows from massive groups of forming stars. The baby stars can be seen as specks of yellow where the two bubbles overlap.  So upon seeing the Black Widow nebula, instead of screaming shouts of terror, we should say, “Aw, how cute!”

Mimas and the Death Star
The Death Star from “Star Wars,” and Mimas, moon of Saturn. Image Credits: Pinterest.com and NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Much closer to home than any of the nebulae presented above, Mimas — a moon of Saturn — appears ready to blast Earth out of existence! We better keep a close eye on this scary menace!

Jack-O'-Lantern Sun
The jack-o’-lantern Sun. Image Credit: NASA/SDO

Finally, we wish you a Happy Halloween with this solar image showing active regions on the Sun that combined to look something like a jack-o-lantern’s face on October 8, 2014.  This image blends together two sets of extreme ultraviolet wavelengths to create a particularly Halloween-like appearance.

We hope you’ve enjoyed these spooky sights and sounds!

 

Shooting Stars in Orion!

The Orion Meteor Shower peaks the morning of Saturday, October 21, 2017. In this article we’ll discuss what a meteor shower is, how to view the meteor shower, and when to view it.

Watching a meteor shower
The best way to view a meteor shower is to lie back in a comfy lawn chair and look up — no telescope needed!

Meteor Showers 101

Halley's Comet
Halley’s Comet left a lot of dust particles in its wake: Every year, Earth flies through those dust particles, which burn up in our atmosphere as “shooting stars.”

Shooting stars are meteors — small pieces of dust in space that quickly burn up in Earth’s atmosphere. The dust particles for the Orion meteor shower (or “the Orionids” for short) are leftover bits of Halley’s Comet. As the Earth orbits the Sun, every year at about this time we pass through the dust left behind by Halley’s many visits to our neck of the galactic woods.

Orion
The most prominent stars of the constellation Orion. Image Credit: NASA

It’s called the “Orionids” because the shooting stars in this meteor shower all appear to fly toward us from the constellation Orion. In classical mythology Orion was a hunter, and is depicted in astronomy as a man wearing a belt of three stars, holding a shield with one arm, and holding a club with his other arm to fight the constellation Taurus (the bull). He’s alternatively depicted as a hunter about shoot an arrow at Taurus.

How to view the meteor shower

So consider going outside under the night sky with your significant other, and make some wishes upon every shooting star you see! No telescope or binoculars needed: Just bring along a lawn chair or long towel on which to lie down. You might want to bring along some food and drink and, depending on where you live in the world, either some mosquito repellant or warm clothing. Then, just look up.

When to look for the Orionids

Under perfect conditions — a clear sky, far from city lights, and viewing just before dawn the morning of October 21 — you might see as many as 20 shooting stars per hour. But you can still see an above average number of shooting stars no matter what time of the night you look. And you should be able to see an above-average number of shooting stars from now through the first week of November.

Clear skies to you!

Fall begins!

Fall begins at 4:02 pm in Eastern, 3:02 pm Central, 1:02 am Pacific, 8:02 pm GMT on September 22, 2017. Here in the northern hemisphere this is called “fall equinox.”

“Equinox” means equal night, because the Sun is exactly over the equator, the Earth’s terminator runs exactly from pole to pole, with all parts of earth receiving 12 hours of daylight and 12 of dark… but wait!  Look at your newspaper.  The time from sunrise to sunset on Sept 23 is actually LONGER than 12 hours, by about 6-7 minutes.  Why?

Equinox
On an equinox, sunlight falls directly over the Earth’s equator.  The “terminator” — the line dividing daylight from nighttime — runs vertically from pole to pole.

Answer:  Actually the answer has two causes.  One is the finite size of the sun.  Sunrise is defined as the first part of the Sun peeking over the Eastern horizon, and sunset as the last part of the Sun slipping below the western horizon.  This is twelve hours PLUS the time that the Sun takes to move its width across the sky.  The Sun is a half-degree across and the Earth rotates 15 degrees per hour (360 degrees in 24 hours), so the Earth rotates a half-degree in two minutes.  So two minutes of the difference is just from the finite size of the Sun.   What is the rest?   REFRACTION.

Light refracts when passing through a medium.  If the medium is uniform, light just slows down a little. But if the medium is not uniform in density or thickness, the light bends.  Since the air is more dense near the Earth’s surface, the light moves more slowly there than in higher elevations, causing the wave front to tip forward, following the curvature of the Earth.  So we actually see the sun BEFORE it actually breaks our horizon, and we see it for a few minutes after sunset too..  And that’s the other 5 minutes!  The refraction depends on the air temperature, surface temperature, etc, but in general is just larger than the diameter of the Sun – we see all of the Sun before any of the Sun really is above the horizon!

More info: www.weather.gov/cle/Seasons and www.timeanddate.com/calendar/september-equinox.html

View the Solar Eclipse anywhere on Monday!

Everybody’s talking about it. It’s going to be one of the most spectacular astronomical events in American history! On Monday, August 21, 2017 a total solar eclipse will be visible along a narrow path going across the U.S., from Oregon to South Carolina. But did you know that you can see at least a partial eclipse that day no matter where you live in North America? And, of course, no matter where you live in the world, you can watch it online.

Global eclipse map
On August 21 people throughout North America, Central America and northern South America will see at least a partial eclipse of the Sun, weather permitting. Image Credit: NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio

As viewed from land, the total solar eclipse (“totality,” where the Moon completely covers the Sun) begins near Lincoln City, Oregon, at 10:15 a.m. PDT (1:15 p.m. EDT). Totality ends at 2:48 p.m. EDT near Charleston, South Carolina. That roughly 70-mile wide path is represented by the darkest line in the image above. But those above and below the path of totality can see a partial eclipse of the Sun, weather permitting. Continue reading “View the Solar Eclipse anywhere on Monday!”

See shooting stars this weekend!

The famous “Perseid meteor shower” peaks this coming weekend! In this article we’ll discuss what a meteor shower is, the mythology behind the “Perseids,” how to view the shooting stars, and when to view them.

Watching a meteor shower
The best way to view a meteor shower is to lie back and look up — no telescope needed!

Continue reading “See shooting stars this weekend!”

The Saturn Opposition

Saturn
NASA image of Saturn

What has Saturn ever done to us?

No, there’s not an insurgency planning to take action against the planet Saturn!  Rather, this month Saturn will be at what astronomers call “opposition,” which is a great time to observe the beautiful ringed planet. On June 15 (June 16 for those of you in Australia, Japan, China, India and other parts of the eastern hemisphere), Saturn will be at opposition, meaning Saturn will be on the opposite side of the sky from the sun: When the sun sets that evening in the west, Saturn will rise in the east. Really, all of June and into July is a great time to see Saturn.

For the best view, wait until at least two hours after sunset to look at Saturn through a telescope.  (Before then, you’ll be looking at Saturn through the thicker layers of Earth’s atmosphere near the eastern horizon.) So get out your telescope and take a look at the beautiful ringed planet this summer!

Viewed from the northern hemisphere…

Saturn
Saturn rising in the east during the evening hours of June. (View from the northern hemisphere of Earth.) To the right is the bright star Antares of the constellation Scorpius. Saturn will be near Antares all summer.

Viewed from the southern hemisphere…

Saturn
Saturn rising in the east during the evening hours of June. (View from the southern hemisphere of Earth.) Above is the bright star Antares of the constellation Scorpius. Saturn will be near Antares all summer.

11 Earth's could fit across JupiterIn addition to Saturn, you can see the giant planet Jupiter in the Name A Star Live constellation Virgo this month. Viewed through a telescope, you may see up to four of Jupiter’s largest moons. And did you know that 11 Earth’s could fit across the width of Jupiter?

Viewed from the northern hemisphere…

Jupiter
Jupiter will be over your southern horizon after sunset, near the bright star Spica and the constellation Corvus.

Viewed from the southern hemisphere…

Jupiter
Jupiter will be over your northern horizon after sunset, near the bright star Spica and the constellation Corvus.

 


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