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Category Archives: Astronomy

Why astronomy matters in times of crisis | Cosmos – Cosmos

Posted: May 19, 2020 at 5:44 pm

By Fred Watson, Astronomer-at-Large, The Australian Astronomical Observatory

In an international emergency like the present one, you might expect the science of the stars to be the last thing on peoples minds. The problems facing both individuals and governments are infinitely more pressing than events in the depths of space. People are suffering unprecedented hardships.

Yet throughout history, astronomy has shown extraordinary resilience in times of crisis and has kept public support. That resilience will be needed as a major international project, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), is on the brink of construction.

The SKA will be the worlds largest radio telescope, and Australia will play a leading role in building and operating it. How can this benefit a nation focused on containing a global pandemic?

History shows the science of the stars is no stranger to crisis. Indeed, modern astronomy was born in a time of deep conflict, when the northern provinces of the Netherlands were engaged in difficult negotiations with Spain after 40 years of war.

In 1608, the fledgling telescope came out of obscurity in the hands of Dutch spectacle-makers, and its possibilities for astronomy were recognised. When news of this optical novelty reached Galileo Galilei in Padua the following May, he set about improving it and the rest is history.

By the turn of the twentieth century, astronomical infrastructure had become big business, but two World Wars caused major disruptions. New telescope proposals were put on hold as manufacturers turned their hands to gunsights, rangefinders, binoculars and other optical munitions.

During the Second World War, one British company actually buried the 1.5-tonne mirror for a new South African telescope in a field to avoid possible bomb damage. While delivery of the mirror was delayed until 1948, the telescope was a success, and is still at work today.

Similarly, in the United States, the 200-inch (5.1-metre) mirror for what was to be the worlds largest telescope at the time, at Mount Palomar, California, was cast in December 1934, but the instruments completion was delayed until 1949. Although it is no longer the largest in the world, the Palomar telescope remains among the most effective.

While hardly comparable to a world war, the present crisis constitutes an emergency of grave proportions, and it is important to put a project like the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) into perspective.

When completed, the telescope will provide radio astronomers with the largest and most advanced facility available to them. With an expected working lifetime of more than 50 years, it will explore the whole 13.8-billion year history of the Universe, yielding many exciting discoveries.

And spin-offs from the technologies under development have huge commercial potential, with tangible benefits for economic recovery.

One of the reasons governments fund research into the study of the Universe is that astronomy pushes technology to its limits whether it be low-noise radio receivers, complex data management systems or sophisticated computer algorithms. Wifi, for example, had its origins in Australian radio astronomy a quarter of a century ago.

More immediately, the construction of the SKA offers significant opportunities for local companies. The low-frequency component of the telescope will be built at the Murchison Radioastronomy Observatory in Western Australias remote Wajarri Yamatji country, one of the most radio-quiet places on Earth.

The project has so far spent $330 million in funding from the Australian and WA governments establishing the observatory and building pathfinder instruments.

And on the wider horizon, big science facilities like the SKA require strong international partnerships, with collaboration among the projects 14 member states representing a further positive outcome. Along with South Africa, where the mid-frequency component of the telescope will be located, Australia can expect its scientific standing to be further enhanced as one of the SKA host nations.

Although technological spin-offs are an important outcome of astronomical research, it is pure curiosity that is the ultimate driver. We are an inquisitive species, and the quest to know is what motivates researchers.

But it also inspires the rest of us with the staggering beauty of the universe and the appeal of scientific understanding. For youngsters in particular, that can prepare them for the jobs of the future, shaping an agile knowledge economy for our nation.

If the lessons of history are anything to go by, the SKA will be unlocking the secrets of the universe long after COVID-19 has subsided into memory. And that will be something of which we can all be proud.

Fred Watson, Astronomer-at-Large, Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources, Australian Astronomical Observatory

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Royal Institution of Australia has an education resource based on this article. You can access it here.

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The Sky This Week from May 15 to 22 – Astronomy Magazine

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Saturday, May 16The Moon passes 4 south of Neptune at 11 A.M. EDT. Two hours before sunrise, the pair are 6.5 apart and low on the eastern horizon shortly after rising. Follow them upward as the sky lightens with dawn. The Moon is just 33 percent lit and waning, while Neptune glows at magnitude 6, its disk appearing just 2" across. The nearest bright star is magnitude 4.2 Phi () Aquarii, a red-hued star that offers a glimpse of our Suns future. Currently in the red giant phase of its life, Phi is more than 260 times as luminous as the Sun and almost 39 times as wide. The star will eventually run out of nuclear fuel and its core will turn into a tiny white dwarf, lighting up what once was the stars own atmosphere as a beautiful planetary nebula.

Sunday, May 17Mercury passes 7 north of Aldebaran at 5 A.M. EDT. Because the pair trails the Sun in the sky, they wont be visible until sunset. About 20 minutes after sunset, the sky will still be bright. At that time, Mercury will hover just 9 high, with Aldebaran a mere 3 above the horizon. The two are now nearly 8 apart. Venus is roughly 9 northeast of Mercury, both brighter and higher in the sky, making it easier to spot. The two planets are drawing closer and will pass within 0.9 of each other in just a few days.

Monday, May 18The Moon reaches apogee at 3:45 A.M. EDT, when it will be 252,018 miles (405,584 km) from Earth. Rising just after 4 A.M. local time, our satellite is a smidge less than 17 percent lit and waning fast. Look for a mere sliver of a crescent in the southeast before sunrise, hanging against the brightening backdrop.

Above it in the sky is the Square of Pegasus, outlined by Alpheratz, Scheat, Markab, and Algenib. A little less than 20.5 west of Markab is the supergiant star Enif (Epsilon [] Pegasi), which represents the nose or muzzle of the flying horses figure. Coming in at roughly 150 times the diameter of our Sun, if placed in the center of our solar system, Enif would reach halfway to Venus. To the south of Enif are Alpha () and Beta () Aquarii, which are roughly as bright as Enif. The three also sit at roughly the same distance from Earth. Astronomers think the trio may have been born in the same group of stars, slowly drifting apart over the past 15 million years.

Tuesday, May 19Jupiter and Saturn rise in the southeast not long after local midnight, climbing higher in the sky as the morning hours tick by. The gas giants stand about 4.7 apart, glowing at magnitudes 2.5 and 0.5, respectively.

Once youve found the planets, draw an imaginary line between them. Halfway along that line, glance just over 1 due south to find M75 (NGC 6864), a tightly packed globular cluster considered to have the densest core of all Messiers globulars. This cluster is so dense, in fact, that it still appears starlike in binoculars, and apertures of 10 inches or larger are required to truly begin resolving the clusters stars. The 13-billion-year-old sphere of stars contains about 400,000 members and sits roughly 67,500 light-years from Earth.

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Observe edge-on and face-on galaxies | Astronomy.com – Astronomy Magazine

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Section 4

Our final section encompasses parts of Canes Venatici, Coma Berenices, and Virgo.

For a whale of a view, slide about 3.5 east-northeast of NGC 4414 to NGC 4631. Popularly known as the Whale Galaxy, this 9th-magnitude tapered monolith (oriented roughly east to west) is replete with dark vapors in a delicate embrace. Star clumps pepper the 15'-long disk like snowballs on the side of a house. For a triple treat, check out NGC 4627, a magnitude 12.5 dwarf elliptical galaxy 3' to the north, and its equally slender partner, the Hockey Stick (NGC 4656/7), a magnitude 10.5 edge-on barred spiral 30' to the southeast.

Next is a different sort of pinwheel. NGC 4725 is a peculiar one-armed spiral a transition system between a normal spiral and a barred spiral that forms one of the most complete rings of any galaxy known. To find this magnitude 9.5 gem, look 2 south and slightly west of 31 Com, which lies near the North Galactic Pole. Through a 4-inch scope, the galaxys inner region displays a bar that connects a bright, broken inner ring surrounded by a fainter lens of light.

To find our next treat, travel westward to a point 2 due east of 17 Com. There, youll find the Needle Galaxy (NGC 4565). This magnitude 9.5 wafer of light has two 8'-long threads of light extending from the galaxys slightly swollen belly like silk from a spiders abdomen. A 4-inch telescope at high power will resolve NGC 4565s classic dark lane, which cleanly divides the galaxys bright hub into two distinct ovals.

The last object is the Lost Galaxy (NGC 4535). While relatively bright (magnitude 10.5), this barred spiral is of low surface brightness, so its a challenge to small-scope observers. The 7'-long glow lies 2 northwest of 31 Vir and, in a 4-inch scope, shines as a circular patch of ill-defined light. Views through 12-inch and larger scopes bring out the spirals main, S-shaped arms within what I describe as extragalactic ectoplasm.

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Hunting The Secrets Of The Universe In Pajamas, Astronomers Go Back To Work – Hawaiipublicradio

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Hawaii Islands 12 observatories have been cleared to resume operations by state officials. With travel largely on hold, many observations will now be made from home.

Both state and county authorities in Hawaii have begun relaxing lockdown restrictions that closed many businesses statewide in March. One of the first industries granted permission to reopen by Governor David Ige was astronomy.

The pandemic was the second time in less than a year that Mauna Keas telescopes had to shut down. The first closure was during the anti-TMT protest in the summer of 2019.

Bringing the multi-million dollar telescopes back online is a lot more complicated than turning the lights on. Ivan Look, operations manager at the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope, told HPR that the major component of regular maintenance is replenishing the coolant that keeps astronomical instruments chilled.

Theyre so sensitive that they need to be super cold in order to provide the clear images that we need, Look said.

Super-cold is not an exaggeration. Some observational tools are kept at temperatures as low as minus 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Maintaining that frigid temperature requires the use of specialized coolant that needs to be regularly replenished, sometimes daily.

If technicians cant reliably access the summit, a telescope may be placed into a safe mode to protect the instruments from damage if they warm up. Look says re-cooling them can take a long time, as in the case of one lunar observation device.

"If that instrument was to warm up, it takes 21 days for us to get all the way back down to cold, he noted.

The Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope has a system that allows some maintenance to be done remotely, minimizing the need to send technicians to the Mauna Kea summit. Look says that capability was a major factor in allowing him to get the telescope operational within 24 hours of the governors announcement, although other telescopes take longer to reboot.

There have also been costs to science. Astronomers have not been on-sky, as they say, in almost two months, according to John OMeara, the chief scientist at the W.M Keck Observatory in Hilo.

We executed zero observing since the governors lockdown, he noted.

Half of the major telescopes worldwide have been shut down, according to OMeara. Some of those projects can be rescheduled, like seasonal observations of the center of the Milky Way or hunting for planets outside our solar system.

Other celestial observations may never be made up. So-called transient events happen with little to no warning and are often impossible to predict.

A supernova goes off, and you never knowwhen its going to happen. But when it happens, you want to catch it. That type of science could have been executed, but I cant point at a specific thing, OMeara said.

He added those types of decisions are often made in real time, when an event occurs. A recent example is the sudden appearance of Omuamua, a mysterious, cigar-shaped object from interstellar space that briefly visited our solar system in 2017.

With worldwide travel largely on hold, OMeara says Keck has beefed up its remote-observing capability. Half of observations made by the Keck telescopes were already being conducted by astronomers operating from remote sites. But some of those sites are also closed as a result of the pandemic. So like many of us, astronomers are now learning how to work from home.

In some cases astronomers are observing on their laptops or computers at home. We colloquially call this pajama-mode observing, OMeara jokes.

Despite the shutdown restrictions, local observatories have been keeping busy during the lockdown. Scientists analyzed previously collected data, while summit technicians have been training on new skills and working on other projects as allowed.

One machinist with the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope designed and fabricated almost 300 no-touch door openers, which were disturbed to hospital workers in Hilo.

But for now, Hawaiis observatories are back on sky, hunting for the secrets of the universe. Sometimes in pajamas.

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Technology, international bonds, and inspiration: why astronomy matters in times of crisis – The Conversation AU

Posted: May 15, 2020 at 7:58 am

In an international emergency like the present one, you might expect the science of the stars to be the last thing on peoples minds. The problems facing both individuals and governments are infinitely more pressing than events in the depths of space. People are suffering unprecedented hardships.

Yet throughout history, astronomy has shown extraordinary resilience in times of crisis and has kept public support. Today, that resilience will be needed as a major international project, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), is on the brink of construction.

The SKA will be the worlds largest radio telescope, and Australia will play a leading role in building and operating it. How can this benefit a nation focused on containing a global pandemic?

Read more: The science behind the Square Kilometre Array

History shows the science of the stars is no stranger to crisis. Indeed, modern astronomy was born in a time of deep conflict, when the northern provinces of the Netherlands were engaged in difficult negotiations with Spain after 40 years of war.

In 1608, the fledgling telescope came out of obscurity in the hands of Dutch spectacle-makers, and its possibilities for astronomy were recognised. When news of this optical novelty reached Galileo Galilei in Padua the following May, he set about improving it and the rest is history.

By the turn of the twentieth century, astronomical infrastructure had become big business, but two World Wars caused major disruptions. New telescope proposals were put on hold as manufacturers turned their hands to gunsights, rangefinders, binoculars and other optical munitions.

During the Second World War, one British company actually buried the 1.5-tonne mirror for a new South African telescope in a field to avoid possible bomb damage. While delivery of the mirror was delayed until 1948, the telescope was a success, and is still at work today.

Similarly, in the United States, the 200-inch (5.1-metre) mirror for what was to be the worlds largest telescope at the time, at Mount Palomar, California, was cast in December 1934, but the instruments completion was delayed until 1949. Although it is no longer the largest in the world, the Palomar telescope remains among the most effective.

Read more: Copernicus' revolution and Galileo's vision: our changing view of the universe in pictures

While hardly comparable to a world war, the present crisis constitutes an emergency of grave proportions, and it is important to put a project like the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) into perspective.

When completed, the telescope will provide radio astronomers with the largest and most advanced facility available to them. With an expected working lifetime of more than 50 years, it will explore the whole 13.8-billion year history of the Universe, yielding many exciting discoveries.

And spin-offs from the technologies under development have huge commercial potential, with tangible benefits for economic recovery.

One of the reasons governments fund research into the study of the Universe is that astronomy pushes technology to its limits whether it be low-noise radio receivers, complex data management systems or sophisticated computer algorithms. Wifi, for example, had its origins in Australian radio astronomy a quarter of a century ago.

More immediately, the construction of the SKA offers significant opportunities for local companies. The low-frequency component of the telescope will be built at the Murchison Radioastronomy Observatory in Western Australias remote Wajarri Yamatji country, one of the most radio-quiet places on Earth.

The project has so far spent $330 million in funding from the Australian and WA governments establishing the observatory and building pathfinder instruments.

And on the wider horizon, big science facilities like the SKA require strong international partnerships, with collaboration among the projects 14 member states representing a further positive outcome. Along with South Africa, where the mid-frequency component of the telescope will be located, Australia can expect its scientific standing to be further enhanced as one of the SKA host nations.

Although technological spin-offs are an important outcome of astronomical research, it is pure curiosity that is the ultimate driver. We are an inquisitive species, and the quest to know is what motivates researchers.

But it also inspires the rest of us with the staggering beauty of the universe and the appeal of scientific understanding. For youngsters in particular, that can prepare them for the jobs of the future, shaping an agile knowledge economy for our nation.

If the lessons of history are anything to go by, the SKA will be unlocking the secrets of the universe long after COVID-19 has subsided into memory. And that will be something of which we can all be proud.

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Technology, international bonds, and inspiration: why astronomy matters in times of crisis - The Conversation AU

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Is the Big Bang in crisis? | Astronomy.com – Astronomy Magazine

Posted: at 7:58 am

Similar to the situation cosmologists confront today, however, the physicists of 1904 had not yet been able to address a few challenges. The medium through which they believed light traveled the luminiferous ether should have induced variations in the speed of light, and yet light always moves through space at the same rate. Astronomers observed the orbit of Mercury to be slightly different from what Newtonian physics predicted, leading some to suggest that an unknown planet, dubbed Vulcan, might be perturbing Mercurys trajectory.

Physicists in 1904 had no idea what powered the Sun no known chemical or mechanical process could possibly generate so much energy over such a long time. Lastly, scientists knew various chemical elements emitted and absorbed light with specific patterns, none of which physicists had the slightest idea how to explain. In other words, the inner workings of the atom remained a total and utter mystery.

Although few saw it coming, in hindsight, its clear that these problems were heralds of a revolution in physics. And in 1905, the revolution arrived, ushered in by a young Albert Einstein and his new theory of relativity. We now know that the luminiferous ether does not exist and that there is no planet Vulcan. Instead, these fictions were symptoms of the underlying failure of Newtonian physics. Relativity beautifully solved and explained each of these mysteries without any need for new substances or planets.

Furthermore, when scientists combined relativity with the new theory of quantum physics, it became possible to explain the Suns longevity, as well as the inner workings of atoms. These new theories even opened doors to new and previously unimagined lines of inquiry, including that of cosmology itself.

Scientific revolutions can profoundly transform how we see and understand our world. But radical change is never easy to see coming. There is probably no way to tell whether the mysteries faced by cosmologists today are the signs of an imminent scientific revolution or merely the last few loose ends of an incredibly successful scientific endeavor.

There is no question that we have made incredible progress in understanding our universe, its history, and its origin. But it is also undeniable that we are profoundly puzzled, especially when it comes to the earliest moments of cosmic history. I have no doubt that these moments hold incredible secrets, and perhaps the keys to a new scientific revolution. But our universe holds its secrets closely. It is up to us to coax those secrets from its grip, transforming them from mystery into discovery.

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How a long-gone Apollo rocket returned to Earth – Astronomy Magazine

Posted: at 7:58 am

Spacecraft sleuthing

If J002E3 was, in fact, a spent S-IVB, the next question researchers asked was, Which one was it?

Early test flights with the S-IVB all ended with the third stage splashing into the ocean or disintegrating during reentry. This was also true for the S-IVBs from the Apollo 4, 5, 6, and 7 missions and the Saturn IB flights that carried astronauts to Skylab. The Apollo lunar landing missions numbered 13 through 17 all intentionally crashed their S-IVBs onto the lunar surface to create artificial moonquakes that could be measured by seismic instruments placed by prior landings. But it was the middle Apollo missions (numbered 8 through 12), however, that all intentionally placed their S-IVBs into heliocentric orbits. Any of these missions could have given rise to J002E3.

Further analysis of J002E3 suggested it first left Earth orbit in 1969, narrowing things down to Apollo 9 through 12 (Apollo 8 orbited the Moon in December 1968).

This animation, which has the Sun to the left, shows J002E3 being captured into a chaotic orbit around the Earth.

Paul Chodas and Ron Baalke

Many people find the notion of discovering an intact piece of Apollo-era hardware appealing, and these feelings are amplified by the large size of the Apollo S-IVB. Flown Apollo hardware will always be significant, says Teitel. We've been to the Moon nine times and most of the hardware that enabled those missions was destroyed the Saturn V stages crashed into the ocean or were smashed into the Moon, most of the lunar module ascent stages were smashed into the Moon, and the service modules didn't return. That leaves nine command modules, all of which are on display in museums. Flown hardware has an allure simulators and non-flown items just don't have.

In the case of J002E3, the hardware is still flying. Shortly after its discovery, the object left Earth orbit in 2003, returning to a heliocentric orbit. But researchers suggest that it may yet be recaptured by our planet, with the first opportunity for recapture coming up in the mid-2040s.

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UK Physics and Astronomy Receives Prestigious REU From NSF – UKNow

Posted: at 7:58 am

LEXINGTON, Ky. (May 14, 2020) The University of Kentucky Department of Physics and Astronomyin the College of Arts and Sciences has received its first Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF). This highly competitive program will help provide research opportunities for students from regional colleges.

This REU award is an exciting milestone for our department and for UK, said Al Shapere, chair of the department. Just 60 other universities have REU programs in physics, none of them in Kentucky, so this is a distinction that raises our departments status as a regional leader and sets us apart on a national scale. We are looking forward to partnering with colleges in the region to provide unique, valuable research experiences for their students.

The $320,000 award will fund up to eight undergraduates each summer for three years (2021-23) to participate in a research program. There will be an emphasis on underrepresented minorities, students attending community and technical colleges, and regional universities in rural Kentucky and Appalachia.By recruiting students from this region and encouraging them to share their summer research experiences with their teachers and peers, the UK team hopes to establish research ties with these institutions and enhance STEM education in the region.

"After years of mentoring our own undergraduates, this grant will allow our department to reach out and build mentoring relationships with institutions in the Appalachian region, and across the U.S.," said Chris Crawford, professor in the department and principal investigator for theREU award."We hope to inspire students in this region to explore physics research and go on to Ph.D. programs, bringing these opportunities back with them to their local communities."

Selected students will have opportunities to join aresearch program under one of 11 UK faculty members, work alongside graduate students and postdoctoral students in the lab, and produce publishable results in areas of nuclear physics, condensed matter physics and astronomy.Building these student-mentor relationships will also help recruit local talent into the departments doctoral program.

The REU, titled Research in Symmetries, will also include professional development opportunities through a series of seminars and workshops, and course credit in computation and statistical analysis. There will also be social outings and field trips to places like the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.The grant also supports one full-time graduate assistant to serve as a peer mentor and help build a community among the undergraduate participants.

The Department of STEM Education, based in the UK College of Education, is partnering with the Department of Physics and Astronomy to conduct assessment, research and evaluation of the REU program. Jennifer Wilhelm, professor in the department and co-principal investigator for the REU award, will conduct research and evaluation of the effectiveness of the mentoring arrangement with the undergraduate fellows, the impact of the REU activities, and the REU students development and learning of contemporary physics research content and skills.

In the STEM Education department, we are just finishing our second funded REU grant, said Wilhelm. I plan to apply research and lessons learned from the education REU experiences to the physics and astronomy REU award; such things include careful pairing with mentors and holding both mentors and undergraduate REU fellows accountable for their learning and development.

For more information, contact Chris Crawford at c.crawford@uky.edu.

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Jupiter, Moon, and Saturn to align together for a rare astronomical occurrence on May 12 – Republic World – Republic World

Posted: at 7:58 am

The month of May in 2020 has evidently turned out to be a lucky one for people enthusiastic about experiencing astronomical phenomena. In this month, asteroid Eta Aquariid filled up the sky with enchanting hues and will be followed by Comet Atlas and SWAN which too are expected to showcase a beautiful sky before going dark. Now, it is revealed that a rare astronomical occurrence of the moon, Saturn and Jupiter comingclose together will be visible to the naked eye.

Also read:NASA uncovers alluring 'chaos terrain' in its quest to find ocean on Jupiter's moon Europa

Also read:'Ultra-hot Jupiter' KELT-9b study reveals atmospheric thermometer around hottest exoplanet

On May 12, 2020, Saturn and Jupiter will be aligned together in the sky and be close enough to be witnessed without the use of a telescope. The phenomena will be visible in the eastern sky during the early morning. This rare astronomical occurrence is called as a Conjunction. This happens when a couple of planets or a singular planet get close to one another or the moon. Though it is relative proximity and the planets are hundreds of millions of kilometres away from one another, the perspective when looked from the Earth makes it look like they are actually pretty close.

Also read:Water may be variably distributed across Jupiter's atmosphere: NASA

Paul Delaney, an astronomy professor atYork University recently sat down with a leadingdaily for an interview. He revealed thatSaturn, Jupiter and the moon coming together could very much look like a smiley face. One interesting thing which is also expected to happen is that the alignment of planets and the moon will look like a smiley in the northern hemisphere but people in the southern hemisphere will see it as an upside-down smiley. Jupiter and Saturn will be close to each other during May 11-13, thus the best date to experience this phenomenon would be on May 12, 2020.However,it will not be visible before 2:00 AM to the naked eye.

Also read:US Experts Discover Siphonophore Apolemia With 'UFO Structure', Netizens Curious

Also read:NASA Announces New Mission To Study Causes Of Solar Particle Storms, Names It 'SunRISE'

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What is Astronomy? Definition & History | Space

Posted: May 4, 2020 at 10:51 pm

Humans have long gazed toward the heavens, searching to put meaning and order to the universe around them. Although the movement of constellations patterns imprinted on the night sky were the easiest to track, other celestial events such as eclipses and the motion of planets were also charted and predicted.

Definition of astronomy: Astronomy is the study of the sun, moon, stars, planets, comets, gas, galaxies, gas, dust and other non-Earthly bodies and phenomena. In curriculum for K-4 students, NASA defines astronomy as simple "the study of stars, planets and space." Astronomy and astrology were historically associated, but astrology is not a science and is no longer recognized as having anything to do with astronomy. Below we discuss the history of astronomy and related fields of study, including cosmology.

Historically, astronomy has focused on observations of heavenly bodies. It is a close cousin to astrophysics. Succinctly put, astrophysics involves the study of the physics of astronomy and concentrates on the behavior, properties and motion of objects out there. However, modern astronomy includes many elements of the motions and characteristics of these bodies, and the two terms are often used interchangeably today.

Modern astronomers tend to fall into two fields: the theoretical and the observational.

Unlike most other fields of science, astronomers are unable to observe a system entirely from birth to death; the lifetime of worlds, stars, and galaxies span millions to billions of years. Instead, astronomers must rely on snapshots of bodies in various stages of evolution to determine how they formed, evolved and died. Thus, theoretical and observational astronomy tend to blend together, as theoretical scientists use the information actually collected to create simulations, while the observations serve to confirm the models or to indicate the need for tweaking them.

Astronomy is broken down into a number of subfields, allowing scientists to specialize in particular objects and phenomena.

Planetary astronomers (also called planetary scientists) focus on the growth, evolution, and death of planets. While most study the worlds inside the solar system, some use the growing body of evidence about planets around other stars to hypothesize what they might be like. According to the University College London, planetary science "is a cross-discipline field including aspects of astronomy, atmospheric science, geology, space physics, biology and chemistry."

Stellar astronomers turn their eyes to the stars, including the black holes, nebulae, white dwarfs and supernova that survive stellar deaths. The University of California, Los Angeles, says, "The focus of stellar astronomy is on the physical and chemical processes that occur in the universe."

Solar astronomers spend their time analyzing a single star our sun. According to NASA, "The quantity and quality of light from the sun varies on time scales from milli-seconds to billions of years." Understanding those changes can help scientists recognize how Earth is affected. The sun also helps us to understand how other stars work, as it is the only star close enough to reveal details about its surface.

Galactic astronomers study our galaxy, the Milky Way, while extragalactic astronomers peer outside of it to determine how these collections of stars form, change, and die. The University of Wisconsin-Madison says, "Establishing patterns in the distribution, composition, and physical conditions of stars and gas traces the history of our evolving home galaxy."

Cosmologists focus on the universe in its entirety, from its violent birth in the Big Bang to its present evolution, all the way to its eventual death. Astronomy is often (not always) about very concrete, observable things, whereas cosmology typically involves large-scale properties of the universe and esoteric, invisible and sometimes purely theoretical things like string theory, dark matter and dark energy, and the notion of multiple universes.

Astronomical observers rely on different wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum (from radio waves to visible light and on up to X-rays and gamma-rays) to study the wide span of objects in the universe. The first telescopes focused on simple optical studies of what could be seen with the naked eye, and many telescopes continue that today. [Celestial Photos: Hubble Space Telescope's Latest Cosmic Views]

But as light waves become more or less energetic, they move faster or slower. Different telescopes are necessary to study the various wavelengths. More energetic radiation, with shorter wavelengths, appears in the form of ultraviolet, X-ray, and gamma-ray wavelengths, while less energetic objects emit longer-wavelength infrared and radio waves.

Astrometry, the most ancient branch of astronomy, is the measure of the sun, moon and planets. The precise calculations of these motions allows astronomers in other fields to model the birth and evolution of planets and stars, and to predict events such as eclipses meteor showers, and the appearance of comets. According to the Planetary Society, "Astrometry is the oldest method used to detect extrasolar planets," though it remains a difficult process.

Early astronomers noticed patterns in the sky and attempted to organize them in order to track and predict their motion. Known as constellations, these patterns helped people of the past to measure the seasons. The movement of the stars and other heavenly bodies was tracked around the world, but was prevalent in China, Egypt, Greece, Mesopotamia, Central America and India.

The image of an astronomer is a lone soul at a telescope during all hours of the night. In reality, most hard-core astronomy today is done with observations made at remote telescopes on the ground or in space that are controlled by computers, with astronomers studying computer-generated data and images.

Since the advent of photography, and particularly digital photography, astronomers have provided amazing pictures of space that not only inform science but enthrall the public. [All-Time Great Galaxy Photos]

Astronomers and spaceflight programs also contribute to the study of our own planet, when missions primed at looking outward (or travelling to the moon and beyond) look back and snap great pictures of Earth from space.

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What is Astronomy? Definition & History | Space

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