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Kiss the Sky Tonight -- Month of April 2021

Posted by Guy Pirro 04/02/2021 10:07PM

Kiss the Sky Tonight -- Month of April 2021

Welcome to the night sky report for April 2021 -- Your guide to the constellations, deep sky objects, planets, and celestial events that are observable during the month. Clear April nights are filled with starry creatures. Near the Big Dipper, you will find several interesting binary stars. You can also spot galaxies like the Pinwheel Galaxy, M82, and M96—the last of which is an asymmetric galaxy that may have been gravitationally disrupted by encounters with its neighbors.

Interstellar Object ‘Oumuamua is Likely a Piece of a Planet from Another Solar System

Posted by Guy Pirro 03/24/2021 06:18PM

Interstellar Object ‘Oumuamua is Likely a Piece of a Planet from Another Solar System

In 2017, the first interstellar object from beyond our solar system was discovered via the Pan-STARRS astronomical observatory in Hawaii. It was named ‘Oumuamua, meaning "scout" or "messenger" in Hawaiian. The object was like a comet, but with features that were just odd enough to defy classification. Two Arizona State University astrophysicists, Steven Desch and Alan Jackson of the School of Earth and Space Exploration, set out to explain the odd features of ‘Oumuamua and have determined that it is likely a piece of a Pluto-like planet from another solar system.

Astronomers Detect a Black Hole on the Move

Posted by Guy Pirro 03/15/2021 12:23AM

Astronomers Detect a Black Hole on the Move

Scientists have long theorized that supermassive black holes can wander through space, but catching them in the act has proven difficult. Now, researchers at the Center for Astrophysics - Harvard & Smithsonian have identified the clearest case to date of a supermassive black hole in motion. Further observations will ultimately be needed to pin down the true cause of this supermassive black hole's unusual motion.

Kiss the Sky Tonight -- Month of March 2021

Posted by Guy Pirro 03/04/2021 12:50AM

Kiss the Sky Tonight -- Month of March 2021

Welcome to the night sky report for March 2021 -- Your guide to the constellations, deep sky objects, planets, and celestial events that are observable during the month. In March, the stars of Spring lie eastward. Look for the constellations Gemini and Cancer to spot interesting celestial features like star clusters M35 and the Beehive Cluster (M44), as well as NGC 3923, an oblong elliptical galaxy with an interesting ripple pattern. Look for Mars close to the Pleiades in the first couple of weeks of March. Then wake up early to observe the giant planets Jupiter and Saturn, which return as morning planets this month.

Global Environmental Crisis of 42,000 Years Ago Linked to Breakdown in Earth’s Magnetic Field

Posted by Guy Pirro 02/22/2021 07:52PM

Global Environmental Crisis of 42,000 Years Ago Linked to Breakdown in Earth’s Magnetic Field

Scientists understand that Earth's magnetic field has flipped its polarity many times over the millennia. Many doomsday theorists have tried to take this natural geological occurrence and suggest it could lead to Earth's destruction. But really, would there be any dramatic effects? Well, yes -- The temporary breakdown of Earth’s magnetic field 42,000 years ago sparked major climate shifts that led to global environmental change and mass extinctions, according to a new international study co-led by the University of New South Wales (UNSW) Sydney and the South Australian Museum. This dramatic turning point in Earth’s history – laced with electrical storms, widespread auroras, and cosmic radiation – was triggered by the reversal of Earth’s magnetic poles and changing solar winds. While the magnetic poles often wander, some scientists are particularly concerned about the current rapid movement of the north magnetic pole across the Northern Hemisphere. The speed – along with the weakening of Earth’s magnetic field by around nine percent in the past 170 years – could indicate an upcoming reversal. If a similar event happened today, the consequences would be huge for modern society. Beyond the obvious dangers like sharp increases in UV levels affecting all land-based life forms, a flood of incoming cosmic radiation would destroy our electric power grids and satellite networks.

There is a Reason Why We are Warped

Posted by Guy Pirro 02/09/2021 05:13PM

There is a Reason Why We are Warped

When most of us picture the shape of the Milky Way, the galaxy that contains our own Sun and hundreds of billions of other stars, we think of a central mass surrounded by a flat disc of stars that spiral around it. But astronomers have known since 1957 that the Milky Way’s disc – where most of its hundreds of billions of stars reside – is not flat but somewhat curved upwards on one side and downwards on the other -- More like the brim of a fedora. And the warped edges seem to be constantly moving around the outer rim of the galaxy. For years, they have debated what could be causing this warp. They have proposed various theories including the influence of nearby galaxies, earlier galaxy collisions, and even the old favorite standby reason that is used to explain everything that we don’t know or understand about astronomy -- the venerable effects of an imaginary dark matter halo.

Kiss the Sky Tonight -- February 2021

Posted by Guy Pirro 02/04/2021 04:10PM

Kiss the Sky Tonight -- February 2021

Welcome to the night sky report for February 2021 -- Your guide to the constellations, deep sky objects, planets, and celestial events that are observable during the month. The brightly starred winter sky beckons on clear, cold nights. In February, the Winter Triangle is your guide to the night sky. The northern hemisphere treats an observer to views of the stars Procyon, Sirius, and Betelgeuse (which together make up the Winter Triangle) and to awe-inspiring views of the Orion Nebula, which is sculpted by the stellar winds of central bright stars. See the bright star Regulus near the Moon and look for Mercury in the first days of February. You'll need a clear view toward the west, as Mercury will appear just a few degrees above the horizon.

Kiss the Sky Tonight -- Month of February 2021

Posted by Guy Pirro 02/02/2021 08:12PM

Kiss the Sky Tonight -- Month of February 2021

Welcome to the night sky report for February 2021 -- Your guide to the constellations, deep sky objects, planets, and celestial events that are observable during the month. The brightly starred winter sky beckons on clear, cold nights. In February, the Winter Triangle is your guide to the night sky. The northern hemisphere treats an observer to views of the stars Procyon, Sirius, and Betelgeuse (which together make up the Winter Triangle) and to awe-inspiring views of the Orion Nebula, which is sculpted by the stellar winds of central bright stars. See the bright star Regulus near the Moon and look for Mercury in the first days of February. You'll need a clear view toward the west, as Mercury will appear just a few degrees above the horizon.

NASA’s Ingenuity Helicopter is on Its Way to Mars With the Perseverance Rover

Posted by Guy Pirro 01/24/2021 04:06AM

NASA’s Ingenuity Helicopter is on Its Way to Mars With the Perseverance Rover

When NASA’s Perseverance rover lands on Mars on February 18, 2021, it will be carrying a small but mighty passenger: Ingenuity, the Mars Helicopter. Ingenuity is a technology experiment and will be the first aircraft to attempt controlled flight on another planet. Perseverance will deploy Ingenuity onto the surface of Mars, and Ingenuity is expected to attempt its first flight test in the spring of this year.

Roman Space Telescope – The Resolution of Hubble with a 100 Times Larger Field of View

Posted by Guy Pirro 01/12/2021 07:59PM

Roman Space Telescope – The Resolution of Hubble with a 100 Times Larger Field of View

In 1995, the Hubble Space Telescope stared at a blank patch of the sky for 10 straight days. The resulting Deep Field image captured thousands of previously unseen, distant galaxies. Similar observations have followed since then, including the longest and deepest exposures, the Hubble Ultra Deep Field and the eXtreme Deep Field. Now, astronomers are looking ahead to the future, and the possibilities enabled by NASA’s upcoming Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope, scheduled for launch in 2025. The Roman Space Telescope will be able to photograph an area of sky 100 times larger than Hubble with the same exquisite sharpness. As a result, a Roman Ultra Deep Field would collect millions of galaxies, including hundreds that date back to just a few hundred million years after the big bang. Such an observation would fuel new investigations into multiple science areas, from the structure and evolution of the universe to star formation over cosmic time.

Kiss the Sky Tonight -- Month of January 2021

Posted by Guy Pirro 01/03/2021 04:01PM

Kiss the Sky Tonight -- Month of January 2021

Happy New Year and welcome to the night sky report for January 2021 -- Your guide to the constellations, deep sky objects, planets, and celestial events that are observable during the month. The winter sky is filled with brilliant stars. In January, the northern hemisphere features beautiful views of Capella - a pair of giant yellow stars, Aldebaran - a red giant star, two star clusters - the Hyades (Caldwell 41) and the Pleiades (M45), and the Crab Nebula (M1, NGC 1952). Earth reaches the closest point in its elliptical orbit around the Sun, called perihelion on January 2. The Sun won't appear noticeably larger in the sky – only about 3% larger. (Of course, you should never look at the Sun without proper eye protection. Remember, sunglasses are not sufficient for viewing the Sun). The distant, outer planet Uranus is too faint to see with the unaided eye, and it can be tough to locate in the sky without a computer-guided telescope. But on January 20, Uranus will be located right between the Moon and Mars. Look for Mercury in the last two weeks of January. You'll need a clear view toward the west, as Mercury will appear just a few degrees above the horizon. The night sky is truly a celestial showcase. Get outside and explore its wonders from your own backyard.

China’s Chang’e-5 Spacecraft Brings Back Moon Samples

Posted by Guy Pirro 12/17/2020 04:24PM

China’s Chang’e-5 Spacecraft Brings Back Moon Samples

The return capsule of China's Chang'e-5 probe touched down on Earth in the early hours of Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020, bringing back the country's first samples collected from the Moon -- the world's freshest lunar samples in over 40 years.

Kiss the Sky Tonight -- Month of December 2020

Posted by Guy Pirro 12/07/2020 12:02AM

Kiss the Sky Tonight -- Month of December 2020

Welcome to the night sky report for December 2020 -- Your guide to the constellations, deep sky objects, planets, and celestial events that are observable during the month. Step outside on a cold December night when the stars shine bright to find the Big Dipper, Cassiopeia, and Cepheus. They will help you locate a binary star system, a fan-shaped open star cluster, and a variable star. Also this month, catch the Geminids meteor shower. Then see Jupiter and Saturn come together in a conjunction to form a "double planet." Just after sunset on the evening of December 21st, Jupiter and Saturn will appear closer together in Earth’s night sky than they have since the year 1226 -- That’s 800 years ago during the Middle Ages. Is this like the Star of Bethlehem? No, not really -- I realize it is just two planets coming together in the sky (not a star), it’s pointing west instead of east, and it is a few days early for Christmas, but I couldn’t resist making the connection, so work with me here. (Interesting side fact, some have speculated that the true Star of Bethlehem could have been the conjunction of Jupiter and Venus near the bright star Regulus that occurred in the year 2 BC). The night sky is truly a celestial showcase. Get outside and explore its wonders from your own backyard.