Due to it's exceptionally clear skies, the Atacama desert region of Chile is famous for stargazing. One way to take advantage of this is to visit SPACE (San Pedro de Atacama Celestial Explorations) at 166 Caracoles in San Pedro de Atacama.
Follow the moon each day at dusk or dawn—and within one cycle, it will introduce you to as many as all five naked-eye planets, and the five bright stars of first magnitude within the belt of zodiac constellations.
The new moon occurs on Friday, Oct. 4. Two days later, on Sunday evening, Oct. 6, about 20 minutes after sunset, a thin sliver of a young lunar crescent will appear very low in the west-southwest, 20 degrees to the lower right of the bright “evening star,” Venus.
Valley residents would need to seek out a place with an unobstructed sight line in that direction, since the moon will be less than 6 degrees up at 7 p.m., within a half-hour after sunset. (In other words, if you’re in downtown Palm Springs or elsewhere near the mountains, you’re out of luck!) But the view through binoculars is worthwhile: Flanking the moon will be Saturn, 3 degrees to the upper right, and Mercury, 2 degrees to moon’s lower left—all within a 5-degree field!
Mercury and Saturn are in the process of departing the evening sky, but Venus remains visible at dusk until early January.
As the moon withdraws farther from the sun nightly, the crescent thickens, and appears within 8 degrees of Venus the next two evenings—to the planet’s lower right on Monday, Oct. 7, and to its upper left on Tuesday, Oct. 8.
On Saturday, Oct. 12, the local Astronomical Society of the Desert will resume hosting its free monthly star parties at the Visitor Center of the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument (on Highway 74, 4 miles south of Highway 111 in Palm Desert). For more info and a map, visit the society’s website, at www.astrorx.org. Early that evening, and until Sunday, Oct. 20, the famous red supergiant star Antares will appear within 5 degrees of Venus. On Wednesday, Oct. 16, they’ll be as close as 1.5 degrees, with Venus passing above the distant star.
The Mayas were a civilization that developed in regions of the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico and Central America. The Mayas, like other Mesoamerican civilizations, had many accomplishments in architecture, art, writing, and mathematics; however, some of their major accomplishments were made in astronomy. The Mayas were assiduous observers of the heavens with which they related most of their activities on Earth. The practice of naked eye sky watching must have been one of their principal pass times.
By observing the heavens, they were able to track the path of the Sun in the sky, and record the times of the summer and winter solstices, as well as the vernal and autumnal equinoxes. Like other civilizations, the Mayas found in the skies the forms of animal creatures, some of which they related to those found in the rain forests at the tropics. The Milky Way, for the Mayas, was the tree of life, where all life originates, and was called Wakah Chan. They developed a precise calendar based on their observations of the heavens, and all their observations were recorded in their codices.
Portals to XibalbaXibalbaSource: La Rebellion de los Tornillos, CC-BY-2.0 via FlickrXibalba
The limestone column resembles the Milky Way, known as the World Tree by the Mayas. Caves were seen by the Mayas as portals to the underworld where the spirits of the dead interwined with the supernatural beings
Mayas considered the universe in three distinct levels. The heavens and all the astronomical events were in the superior level. The earth and all its life was considered as the intermediate level and the inferior level was comprised by the underworld, which they called Xibalba. In this level was where the Sun engaged itself in a struggle, after setting in the evening horizon, with the beings of the underworld, which always were defeated, resuming its journey the following through the superior level.
Astronomy was a tradition among Mesoamerican civilizations, although, the Mayas developed it with a higher degree of complexity, relating it to seasonal cycles, religion, astrology and their own origin in the universe. The Mayas made exact calculations of the periodic cycles of the planets, as well as those of the Sun and Moon. The group of stars known as Pleiades (Tz´ab ek), which they thought was their place of origin, was seen as the tail of a rattle snake.
NASA Funds 6 Futuristic Space Exploration Tech IdeasBy Mike Wall, Senior Writer | August 29, 2013 03:50pm ET
NASA has granted funding to six next-generation tech concepts that could help advance humanity's understanding and exploration of the cosmos down the road. The ideas were selected under Phase 2 of the NASA Innovative Concepts program.
NASA has granted funding to six next-generation technology concepts that it believes could help advance humanity's understanding and exploration of the cosmos down the road.
The six ambitious ideas, which were selected under Phase 2 of the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program, cover a wide range of potential future applications. One proposal, for example, aims to develop laser thrusters for spacecraft, while another seeks to build tiny but tough robots that could explore other planets and moons en masse.
"As NASA begins a new chapter in exploration, we're investing in these seed-corn advanced concepts of next-generation technologies that will truly transform how we investigate and learn about our universe," Michael Gazarik, NASA's associate administrator for space technology in Washington, D.C., said in a statement today (Aug. 29). [Future Visions of Human Spaceflight (Gallery)]
Popular astronomy magazine features the latest astronomical discoveries and how one can observe the wonders of the universe. Includes monthly sky chart, features on equipment, and techniques for the amateur or more ...
The first Pacific Astronomy and Engineering Education Summit, sponsored by the Thirty Meter Telescope and the County of Hawaii, and hosted at the Imiloa Astronomy Center and the University of Hawaii at Hilo, brought ...
The Zodiac is defined by 12 constellations that lie along the annual path of the sun across the sky. These 12 signs listed in a horoscope, are closely tied to how the Earth moves through the heavens. The signs are derived from 12 constellations that mark out the path on which the sun appears to travel over the course of a year. In principle, dates in a horoscope should correspond to when the sun passes through each constellation. But they don’t, much of the time. And a closer examination of the motion of the Earth, the sun, and the stars shows the Zodiac to be more complex than you might imagine!
As the Earth orbits the sun, the sun appears to pass in front of different constellations. Much like the moon appears in a slightly different place in the sky each night, the location of the sun relative to distant background stars drifts in an easterly direction from day to day. It’s not that the sun is actually moving. The motion is entirely an illusion caused by the Earth’s own motion around our star.
As the earth orbits the sun, the sun appears to move against the background stars (red line). The constellations (green) through which the sun passes define the zodiac. Over the course of a year, the sun appears to be in front of, or “in”, different constellations. One month, the sun appears in Gemini; the next month, in Cancer. The dates listed in the newspaper’s horoscope identify when the sun appears in a particular astrological sign. For example, March 21 through April 19 are set aside for the sign Aries. But your astrological sign doesn’t necessarily tell you what constellation the sun was in on the day you were born. If only it were that simple!
To understand why constellations no longer align with their corresponding signs, we need to know a little bit more about how the Earth moves. And something about how we measure time. Time is a fiendishly difficult thing to define, especially if we insist on using the sun and stars as a reference. Our calendar is, for better or worse, tied to the seasons. June 21—the summer solstice above the equator and the winter solstice below—marks the day the sun appears at its most northerly point in the sky. At the June solstice, the North Pole is most tilted towards the sun.
What makes this complicated is that the North Pole is not always pointing in the same direction relative to the backdrop stars. Our planet spins like a top. And like a top, the Earth also wobbles! A wobbling Earth makes the North Pole trace out a circle on the celestial sphere. Now, the wobble is quite slow—it takes 26,000 years to wobble around once—but as the years go by, the effect accumulates.
Tidal forces from the sun cause the earth’s axis to wobble over a 26,000 year period. The wobble changes where in Earth’s orbit the solstices and equinoxes occur. Over the course of one orbit around the sun, the direction of the Earth’s axis drifts ever so slightly. This means that where along our orbit the solstice occurs also changes by a very small amount. The solstice actually occurs about 20 minutes earlier than one full trip in front of the backdrop stars!
Since we tie our calendar (and astrologers tie the signs) to the solstices and equinoxes, the Earth does not actually complete an entire orbit in one year. The seasonal or tropical year is actually a hair less time than one full orbit (sidereal year). This means that, each year, where the sun is relative to the stars on any given day—June 21, for example—drifts a very tiny amount.
But wait about 2000 years, and the sun will be sitting in an entirely different constellation!
On the June solstice 2000 years ago, the sun was sitting almost halfway between Gemini and Cancer. On this year’s June solstice, the sun will be sitting between Gemini and Taurus. In the year 4609, the June solstice point will pass out of the constellation Taurus and into the constellation Aries.
The signs more or less aligned with their corresponding constellations when the modern Western Zodiac was defined about 2,000 years ago. But in the intervening centuries, the slow wobble of the Earth’s axis has caused the solstice and equinox points to shift roughly 30o westward relative to the constellations! At present, signs and constellations are about one calendar month off. In another two thousand years or so, they’ll be about two months off.
Astronomers using NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory have taken a major step in explaining why material around the giant black hole at the center of the Milky Way Galaxy is extraordinarily faint in X-rays. This discovery holds important implications for understanding black holes.
Astronomy is one of the oldest natural sciences and studies celestial objects (such as moons, planets, stars, nebulae, and galaxies), the physics, chemistry, mathematics, and evolution of such objects, and phenomena that originate outside the atmosphere of Earth, including supernovae explosions, gamma ray bursts, and cosmic background radiation. Theoretical astronomy is oriented towards the development of computer or analytical models to describe celestrial phenomena. A related but distinct subject, cosmology, is concerned with studying the universe as a whole.Shine on the web
Astronomy could be the first discipline in which the rate of discovery by machines outpaces humans’ ability to interpret it.
“In twenty years time, it is likely that most astronomers will never go near a cutting-edge telescope,” says Ray Norris at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in Epping, Australia. So begins a fascinating discussion about the future of humanity’s oldest science.
Norris paints an optimistic picture. For him, the future is filled with automation that will make astronomers’ jobs easier. He says, for example, that in twenty years time: “I expect to be able to click on an object in a paper, and see its image at all wavelengths.” This data will be provided more or less automatically by a new generation of smart telescopes that calibrate and edit data on the fly and then send it to a Virtual Observatory that anybody can access.
The job for astronomers will be to theorise about this data, to look for patterns within it and to see how it explains some problems and creates others. They might then suggest what other data to collect. That should free up much of their time. Norris says the time not spent fiddling with equitorial mounts and lens cloths will allow them up to better engage with the public who pay their wages.
That’s certainly a reasonable change from what astronomers do today but has Norris gone far enough? One thing he fails to take into account is the newfound ability of computers to analyse data in ways entirely inaccessible to humans. Last year, Hod Lipson and pals at Cornell University developed a genetic algorithm capable of sifting through data looking for the laws of physics behind it.
And it seems to work. These guys generated a load of data by tracking the motion of things like simple harmonic oscillators and chaotic double-pendulums. They then set their algorithm loose on the raw data–not the manicured stuff but the warts’n’all measurements.
Their jaw-dropping result is that their algorithm derived Newton’s laws of motion from this data, without outside help. Since then, they’ve been inundated with requests to let their algorithm loose on other data sets. They’ve even set up a website where anybody can try it for themselves.
That’s quite an eye-opener. One problem is that the algorithm doesn’t always throw up well known results like Newton’s laws. And that leaves scientists puzzling over the mathematical relations that it reveals. What do they mean? How should they be interpreted? Are they important?
This should be of more than passing interest to astronomers. As Norris points out, astronomers are in the process of automating their work, to the point where the only task left to them is to analyse the data. And yet, Lipson’s work at Cornell indicates that even this can be automated too.
What Norris has failed to take into account is what will happen when Lipson’s algorithm, or something like it, is set to work on the corpus of data in the Virtual Observatory. The likelihood is that these algorithms will become powerful tools for discovering relationships in data that humans would find difficult to extract. That leaves astronomers with the task of puzzling over the results, sometimes understanding them but perhaps more often, not knowing what the newfound relations mean or why they hold.
This is a post singularity-type scenario, in which the machines make discoveries at a rate that humans cannot keep up with. Of course, astronomers are not the only scientists with this fate in store. But as the ones who have more or less automated their jobs already, they’re likely to be the ones who come up against it first.
Astronomy is one of the oldest natural sciences and studies celestial objects (such as moons, planets, stars, nebulae, and galaxies), the physics, chemistry, mathematics, and evolution of such objects, and phenomena that originate outside the atmosphere of Earth, including supernovae explosions, gamma ray bursts, and cosmic background radiation. Theoretical astronomy is oriented towards the development of computer or analytical models to describe celestrial phenomena. A related but distinct subject, cosmology, is concerned with studying the universe as a whole.
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