The Nightly News
An Astronomy blog by Joe Bauman, Salt Lake City
  1. Blog 44: Remembering Stephen Hawking
    17 Mar, 2018
    Blog 44: Remembering Stephen Hawking
    A boy in his early teens stood beside Stephen Hawking's wheelchair, asking a scientific question. The world's most famous astrophysicist smiled up at him with his lopsided grin -- and then nothing happened. Minutes passed. He must not have been impressed with the query, or maybe he didn't hear, I thought. But then came Hawking's famous, computer-generated voice, giving an insightful answer. During that pause, I learned later, his barely-noticeable hand motions had been moving his computer's
  2. Blog 43: Kepler times 400
    07 Mar, 2018
    Blog 43: Kepler times 400
    As early as next month or as late as June, NASA plans to launch the next generation planet-finder, an orbiting telescope called the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), which will have a field of view 400 times that of the Kepler instrument. Since its launch on March 6, 2009, Kepler has discovered 3,705 confirmed planets with 612 in multiple-planet systems and 4,496 candidate planets, according to the latest count. The new orbiter promises to open the heavens, in terms of planetary
  3. Blog 42: Tyson Chappell, dark-sky poet with a camera
    27 Feb, 2018
    Blog 42: Tyson Chappell, dark-sky poet with a camera
    Meet Tyson Chappell, professor by day, dark-sky poet with a camera by night. His views of Utah's desert landscapes after sunset, with their starry backdrops, are works of art, while his affection for these magnificent lands and his appreciation of the views are those of a modern Thoreau. Chappell is a professor of anatomy and physiology at Utah State University Eastern, Price, where he is starting his tenth year of teaching; the institution is the former College of Eastern Utah. He has
  4. Blog 41: Oceans 235 trillion miles away?
    17 Feb, 2018
    Blog 41: Oceans 235 trillion miles away?
    This month exciting news about distant worlds has been arriving at light speed. *** On Feb. 5, the European Southern Observatory announced that the seven known Trappist-1 planets "are all made mostly of rock, and some could potentially hold more water than Earth." It was only in February last year that NASA told this world that the Trappist-1 star, located 40 light-years (about 235 trillion miles) from Earth hosts seven Earth-size planets, three of which are in the presumably habitable zone
  5. Blog 40: Astronomy
    07 Feb, 2018
    Blog 40: Astronomy
    I considered writing this blog about yesterday's epochal launch of the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket. We watched the spectacular take-off live via iPhone, as well as the successful upright landing of two of the three motors, and the views of Elon Musk's sporty red Tesla Roadster rotating in space with Earth in the background. Then came the firing of the top stage, which sent the Roadster and its "spaceman" mannequin soaring toward the asteroid belt. But what could I say that everyone isn't already
  6. Blog 39: The Hypatia Stone
    27 Jan, 2018
    Blog 39: The Hypatia Stone
    By definition, anything superlative is the most-whatever of its type; the coldest winter, the greatest rainfall, the highest mountain. It's unique, untouchable among its kind. The tiny Hypatia Stone is such an object. It's the strangest rock on Earth. In December 1996, Aly A. Barakat, a researcher with the Geological Survey of Egypt, was in the southwestern section of his country participating in an Egyptian-Italian expedition to the site of "Lybian desert glass." The glass is an unusual
  7. Blog 38: Another supernova!
    17 Jan, 2018
    Blog 38: Another supernova!
    Patrick Wiggins has done it again! At 2:49 a.m., Jan. 14, the Tooele County, Utah, amateur astronomer photographed a field of stars and galaxies in the area of Ursa Minor (the Little Dipper) -- and caught his fifth supernova. This one, which he discovered four years to the day after his first astonishing find, is hosted by the barred spiral galaxy NGC 6217. It's in the galaxy's sparsely-populated outskirts. A physicist notes that galaxies can have disks that extend beyond their obvious
  8. Blog 37:  Back to the Moon
    07 Jan, 2018
    Blog 37: Back to the Moon
    NASA’s long-term goals changed on Dec. 11, 2017, shifting from human exploration of asteroids to a return to the Moon. The 2010 version of the National Space Policy contained these instructions: "Set far-reaching exploration milestones. By 2025, begin crewed missions beyond the moon, including sending humans to an asteroid. By the mid-2030s, send humans to orbit Mars and return them safely to Earth …." In his Space Policy Directive 1, President Donald Trump removed that section and replaced it
  9. 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
  10. 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
  11. 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
  12. 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
  13. 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
  14. 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
  15. 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
  16. 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
  17. 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
  18. 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
  19. 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
  20. 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

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