Big, Big Sunspot!

mdi_sunspotsThere’s a Jupiter-sized sunspot on the face of the Sun right now, the biggest by far in a long, long time. The image above gives you a view of the sunspot today (October 24, 2014). It will remain visible for a few more days before the Sun’s rotation takes it out of view.

If you have a telescope equipped with a solar filter, or a pair of solar “eclipse glasses” or a piece of #14 welding glass, you can easily see the sunspot without magnifying optics.

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Partial Solar Eclipse on October 23, 2014

Partial solar eclipse in New Zealand in 2008. (Credit: Greg Hewill)

Partial solar eclipse in New Zealand in 2008. (Credit: Greg Hewgill)

Just two weeks after a total lunar eclipse, some lucky observers in North America will get to see a partial solar eclipse on October 23, 2014. The eclipse is visible from most of North America and Mexico. No observers will see the Sun totally eclipsed, but from western North America, about 40% to 80% of the Sun will be covered by the Moon. This is a great “dry run” for the total solar eclipse of August 21, 2017.

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The “E. T.” Cluster

NGC 457, the "E.T Cluster"

NGC 457, the “E.T Cluster”

The northern constellation Cassiopeia is clogged with open star clusters that invite inspection with a small telescope. One of the most striking of these clusters is the wonderful NGC 457, also known as the “E.T. Cluster”, because of its resemblance to the famous character from the Steven Spielberg movie, eyes glowing, arms outstretched, ready to give you a big hug.

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The Sky This Month – October 2014

Lunar EclipseOctober 2014 welcomes the Hunter Moon, the first full Moon of northern autumn. By chance, this month’s full Moon passes into eclipse by the Earth for observers in most of North America, eastern Australia, and all of Hawaii and New Zealand. Later in the month, the Orionid meteor shower graces near-perfect sky as the Earth passes through the debris-strewn path of Comet Halley. And an astonishing encounter: a tiny comet grazes the planet Mars, an event which will make news all over the world.  Here’s what to see in the night sky this month…

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The Elephant in the Universe: Dark Energy

accel_expansionIn our brief look at dark matter, you found more than 80% of the matter in the universe is a type of particle or particles that emit no light, interact very weakly with matter in our everyday world, yet exert profound gravitational influence on the rotation of galaxies and the movement of galaxy clusters. Although particle physicists have a few good ideas, no one knows for sure what this dark matter might be, which is a little unsettling. But it gets even stranger because astronomers have since discovered most of the universe is made not of matter but a strange and unidentified type of energy– “dark energy”– that accelerates the expansion of the universe and may one day carry distant galaxies forever out of view.

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