The Nightly News
An Astronomy blog by Joe Bauman, Salt Lake City
Blog
  1. Blog 36: The holiday wreath galaxy
    07 Dec, 2017
    Blog 36: The holiday wreath galaxy
    NASA charmingly described galaxy Messier 74 back in December 2011 when it published a Hubble Space Telescope view of it: "Resembling festive lights on a holiday wreath, this ... image of the nearby spiral galaxy M74 is an iconic reminder of the impending season. Bright knots of glowing gas light up the spiral arms, indicating a rich environment of star formation." M 74, a relatively close spiral, is well placed for telescopic viewing in the Fall through early Winter. When members of the Salt
  2. Blog 35: Cosmic discoveries
    27 Nov, 2017
    Blog 35: Cosmic discoveries
    University of Utah astrophysicists and their partners in the Telescope Array Project are working to solve the mystery of the origins of cosmic rays. And they may be onto an astounding discovery, that many of the highest-energy particles come from a region near the Big Dipper. The background "Cosmic rays" is a misnomer, as they aren't beams but physical bits of material from elsewhere in our Milky Way galaxy and far more distant sources. These subatomic particles zap into the atmosphere
  3. Blog 34: Planetary nebulas ... and Baby!
    17 Nov, 2017
    Blog 34: Planetary nebulas ... and Baby!
    Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light. -- First stanza of Dylan Thomas' "Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night," 1951. A star is a perfect example of how to go into that good night. If larger than about eight times the Sun's mass, it will explode as a supernova, for a few days or weeks shining brighter than the entire galaxy that hosts it. If in the class of the nuclear furnace at the center of our solar
  4. Blog 33: The colors of stars
    07 Nov, 2017
    Blog 33: The colors of stars
    Take a mental trip to a dark site in the western Utah desert, accompanied by a friend who's an experienced star guide. This is June 6, 2019, on a clear, cool moonless midnight. "Want to see something 10,000 times as bright as the sun?" the guide asks. "Sure!" "Look directly south," and you peer past the ragged silhouettes of sagebrush toward the glowing bulge of the Milky Way. It’s always a lovely sight, especially now, when it looks like a tilted flying saucer with one edge continuing up and
  5. Blog 32: When I heard
    27 Oct, 2017
    Blog 32: When I heard
    For well over half my life -- and at age 71, that's a tall pile of years -- I have loved a poem by Walt Whitman, "When I heard the Learn'd Astronomer." WHEN I heard the learn'd astronomer; When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me; When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them; When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room, How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick; Till rising and
  6. Blog 31: Kip Thorne
    17 Oct, 2017
    Blog 31: Kip Thorne
    Professor Kip S. Thorne, the newly minted Nobel laureate, will never forget his feelings when he learned the observatory that was the focus of his career had registered a disturbance caused by two black holes merging 1.3 billion light-years away. The detection was by the miles-long instruments making up the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO), which are located in Hanford, WA, and Livingston, LA. By the time they reached Earth, the brief jiggles in the fabric of space
  7. Blog 30: Waves of discoveries
    07 Oct, 2017
    Blog 30: Waves of discoveries
    One of the greatest astronomical discoveries was the physical detection of gravitational waves emanating from merging black holes in far-off galaxies. Predicted by Albert Einstein in 1916 as a consequence of his Special and General Theories of Relativity and deduced in 1974 through studies of orbiting pulsar stars, they never were recorded directly until Sept. 14, 2015. The latest announcement of gravitational wave discoveries came on Sept. 27, a detection made on Aug. 14 by the twin Laser
  8. Blog 29: Galaxies on the wall
    27 Sep, 2017
    Blog 29: Galaxies on the wall
    Monday night nearly 20 Utah men and women were transported to a site millions of light-years away, where they stared in awe at a vast galaxy hanging in dark space. Several other galaxies, small puffy white splotches, spread out to the left of the largest, while hundreds of stars glared in the foreground. Members of the Salt Lake Astronomical Society were participating in the group’s first attempt to use the University of Utah’s Willard L. Eccles Observatory with its amazing 32-inch-diameter
  9. Blog 28: Life on other planets -- and an angel
    17 Sep, 2017
    Blog 28: Life on other planets -- and an angel
    Part 1: Alien Life Can we prove that life exists away from Earth? Science has gone a long way toward indicating the possibility. The Kepler spacecraft alone has confirmed 2,335 exoplanets of all sizes and configurations. Planet candidates -- not yet confirmed but highly possible sightings by Kepler -- number thousands more. Of the confirmed, more than 30 are known to be planets not larger than twice Earth’s size orbiting in the habitable zone of their stars. And it’s important to remember
  10. Blog 27: Disaster
    07 Sep, 2017
    Blog 27: Disaster
    Many horrific human disasters are happening as I write -- in the United States alone, monstrous forest fires are roaring through Washington, Oregon and Montana, killing people, threatening parks and destroying homes; Texas is reeling in the aftermath of the deadly Hurricane Harvey; Florida is evacuating cities for what is potentially an even more destructive hurricane, Irma, and two others are churning nearby. Wildfires in our region are so large that here in Salt Lake City I felt sick and my
  11. Blog 26: The great American eclipse
    27 Aug, 2017
    Blog 26: The great American eclipse
    Of the six total solar eclipses I've witnessed, this was by far the most beautiful. In the days preceding the eclipse of Monday, August 21, 2017, a unique mass migration poured into the zone of totality, a swatch stretching from Oregon to South Carolina -- a streak more than 2,600 miles long and only around 65 miles wide. How many millions made the trek or were lucky enough to experience totality from their homes, is anybody's guess. Here's one story of the adventure among millions. Predicted
  12. Blog 25: A night on Frisco Peak
    17 Aug, 2017
    Blog 25: A night on Frisco Peak
    Frisco Peak, the highest point of southern Utah’s San Francisco Mountains, pokes up 3,000 feet above the sagebrush desert. The heavily wooded mountaintop houses a big set of microwave repeater towers. Windswept bristlecone pines and other evergreens and shrubs lean around the peak, which reaches the elevation of 9,660 feet. Mountain range after mountain range recede to the horizon. But what brought Nightly News there wasn't the microwave towers or the spectacular Beaver County scenery. Jolting
  13. Blog 24: Weather or not
    07 Aug, 2017
    Blog 24: Weather or not
    I was excited about an astronomy expedition. It was a valuable opportunity. Bad weather with rainstorms that flooded a basement closet, and events that required my presence such as the dedication of the Salt Lake Astronomical Society’s new observatory and Mike Clements’ telescope, had claimed all my evenings during July’s new moon period -- until then, Friday-Saturday night, July 28-29. Beyond that chance, the remaining dark nights in July and early August were out of the equation for the
  14. Blog 23: Fireworks
    27 Jul, 2017
    Blog 23: Fireworks
    The Fireworks Galaxy, scientific designation NGC 6946, has that nickname for a good reason: more supernovas have popped off there than in any other known island universe. Counting the latest, the supernova discovered by Patrick Wiggins at 8:28 p.m. May 13, a total of 10 of these largest known explosions have occurred in the galaxy since 1917. The runner-up is the galaxy M-61, a large example in the Virgo Cluster, which has generated seven since 1926. An ordinary galaxy like ours, which is at
  15. Blog 22: Dedication
    17 Jul, 2017
    Blog 22: Dedication
    Utah’s most impressive astronomical event since the Big Bang happens Saturday, when Mike Clements' immense telescope and the new Kolob Observatory housing it are dedicated. The public and media will be welcome at the inauguration of the world’s largest amateur telescope, Saturday at the Stansbury Park Observatory Complex (SPOC), which is operated by the Salt Lake Astronomical Society. Ribbon-cutting, speeches, a chance to mingle with the telescope's builder and backers, and a free star party
  16. Blog 21: Sunspots
    07 Jul, 2017
    Blog 21: Sunspots
    If I had to make a prediction about next month’s total solar eclipse, it would be a cautious one that the corona will be thick around the Sun’s equator and thin at the poles. The reason involves sunspots. These are transitory dark splotches on the Sun, places where the magnetic field pushes through the photosphere. The photosphere is the Sun’s visible surface, a layer only about 60 miles deep -- a thin skin compared with our star’s diameter of 870,000 miles. Sunspots, which have magnetic
  17. Blog 20: The Magnificent Lagoon Nebula
    27 Jun, 2017
    Blog 20: The Magnificent Lagoon Nebula
    A dazzling gem of the nighttime summer sky is the Lagoon Nebula, a gigantic star-nest relatively near our planet (as cosmic distances go). It's bright enough that from a dark site, a person supposedly can see it with unaided eyes, toward the lower part of the southern Milky Way. During a visit this week to a site that Utah astronomers call Pit ‘n Pole, in Tooele County, I was awed by the beauty of the night sky: Jupiter blazed as it sank in the west and the Milky Way stood up from the south
  18. Blog 19: "It'll take your breath away"
    17 Jun, 2017
    Blog 19: "It'll take your breath away"
    Every day we live with our local star, sometimes squinting at it for a moment at noon, often watching it set amid glorious pastels in the evening, occasionally aware of its shimmer through rainclouds during storms -- but how many have truly seen the sun? Its strange arches called prominences and the whitish atmosphere of beyond-scalding-hot gas extend far past the dazzling disk, but we almost never observe them because sunlight is so powerful that it completely hides these other
  19. Blog 18: The void
    07 Jun, 2017
    Blog 18: The void
    Carolyn Tuttle, president of the book club for which my wife, Cory, is treasurer, had an interesting question for me: "Does present-day physics accept the concept of void in the universe?" The group, Paideia, studies classical literature and Mrs. Tuttle was researching controversies in ancient Greek philosophy. The definition of void, according to Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary (1988) is “empty space.” If you go by the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, the meaning is more precise:
  20. Blog 17: Sometimes
    27 May, 2017
    Blog 17: Sometimes
    I had not gone on a good astrophotography expedition since October 2015, and now that I had a new CCD astronomy camera I was anxious to try it out on galaxies – particularly NGC 6946, the Fireworks Galaxy, with Patrick Wiggins' newly discovered supernova. On May 5 I had attempted the project but didn’t get started because of the failure of the DC-to-AC converter that powers the telescope focuser. Now, on Tuesday, May 23, armed with a new converter, I drove back to a site near Vernon, Tooele

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