Fraunhofer’s Lines and the Discovery of the Sun

fraunhoferlines

This year– 2014– marks the 200th anniversary of many important events. The last war between nations on North American soil reached a crescendo when the Brits and Canadians burned down the White House in Washington. Louis XVIII was invited to reoccupy the French throne after Napoleon’s exile. And eight people were killed by the London Beer Flood in which a domino effect of ruptured vats released 1.4 million liters of beer into the streets. But an event of more lasting importance occurred in the labs of an astute German optician, Joseph von Fraunhofer, who discovered a series of gaps in the rainbow spectrum of the Sun that gave the first hints of what stars were made of.

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A Matter of Perspective: Three Views of the Andromeda Galaxy

The Andromeda Galaxy M31 M110 bottom Terry HancockThe Andromeda Galaxy, M31, is the nearest major spiral galaxy to our own Milky Way. It ranks as one of the most familiar and photogenic objects in the heavens, and new images of M31 appear frequently in magazines and astronomy websites, screen savers, and computer desktop images all over the world. Nearly everyone with access to books or the internet has seen an image of M31. And every serious stargazer has seen its image hundreds of times. So is it possible to see M31 differently? The answer is “yes”, especially if you examine it from a different angle.

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Video: The Wanderers

Wanderers – a short film by Erik Wernquist from Erik Wernquist on Vimeo.
 

Now here is a splendid work of imagination and video craft. Called “Wanderers”, this short video, created by Erik Wernquist, is a vision of humanity’s expansion into the Solar System. It’s based on hard science, the ideas and concepts of what the future of manned exploration of the solar system might look like. The locations depicted in the film are digital recreations of actual places in the Solar System and built from images and map data where available.

The video is overlayed with voice of Carl Sagan reading from his work the Pale Blue Dot.  But there’s no apparent story here. The video primarily shows us a glimpse of the fantastic and beautiful nature of some worlds in our solar system and how they might appear to us if we were there. Many images remind me of the excellent and inspirational vistas created in the mid 20th century by the artist Chesley Bonestell.

The Sky This Month – December 2014

250px-Pleiades_largeIt’s getting colder here in the northern hemisphere. But colder weather means brighter stars and a richer deep sky are moving into view, and they are a welcome sight after the relatively barren skies of northern autumn. Stargazers in the northern and southern hemispheres can now see the majestic constellation Orion rise in the east in the late evening. The constellation is preceded by the V-shaped head of Taurus and the lovely Pleiades star cluster. And it’s followed by the brilliant star Sirius and the constellation Canis Major. This month the Moon, as it moves along the ecliptic, points the way to the bright planets Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn. And the Geminid meteor shower, one of the best of the year, peaks mid-month. Here’s what to see in the night sky this month…

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Rosetta, Philae, and Comet 67/P

Rosetta and Philae

Rosetta and Philae

On November 12, 2014, in one of the great feats in the history of space exploration, the European Space Agency (ESA) landed a tiny robotic spacecraft on the surface of a comet.  This achievement ranks with grand achievements of the manned Apollo Moon landings and the Mars Viking lander missions in 1976, as well as the more recent Mars Curiosity lander in 2012. And it once again demonstrates that while manned spaceflight might generate more public interest and secure more funding, robotic space exploration is more audacious and difficult, and has the potential to yield far more discoveries and knowledge of lasting value.

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