141–160 of 190 results
Moon's skyglow

Hobby-based Q&A

How does the Moon's phase affect the skyglow of any given location, and how many days before or after a new Moon is a dark site not compromised?

How does the Moon's phase affect the skyglow of any given location? How many days before or after a new Moon is a dark site not compromised? The answer is complicated because the Moon's glow is even more directional than light pollution. Skyglow is several times brighter near the Moon…

Comet Holmes

Hobby-based Q&A

Does a comet's tail (or lack there-of) tell us what direction it's heading?

When Comet Holmes was heading away from Earth, we on Earth didn't see an angled view of the comet's tail. Was it tailless because of its motion? That is, would a comet also appear tailless if it were approaching, with Earth right in its path? It's impossible to tell where…

Perseid fireball

Hobby-based Q&A

How much space debris falls into Earth's atmosphere every year?

Has anyone ever calculated the combined tonnage of meteroids and space debris falling into our atmosphere yearly? Yes, but it's hard because different methods are needed for different particle sizes. Ground radar and exposed spacecraft surfaces are best for detecting the very smallest bits, whereas photographic surveys have been used…


Where was the Big Bang located?

The commonest misconception about the Big Bang is that it happened at some particular spot in preexisting empty space.


Hobby-based Q&A

Should you use light-years or parsecs for astronomical distance?

You give astronomical distances beyond the solar system in light-years, but professional astronomy papers use parsecs. Which is preferable? Light-years, no question! Here’s how I see it. The parsec (which equals 3.26 light-years) is defined as the distance at which a star will show an annual parallax of one arcsecond.…

Plate tectonics explained

Astronomy Questions & Answers

Did that earthquake off the coast of Sumatra alter Earth's rotation and tilt?

Did the earthquake off the coast of Sumatra that triggered the horrific tsunami on December 26, 2004, alter Earth’s rotation and tilt, as some news stories suggest? The Sumatra earthquake released as much energy as 475 megatons of TNT. That’s some 23,000 times the energy released by the atomic bomb…

Science-based Q&A

When we say a galaxy is 300 million light-years away is that its distance now or 300 million years ago?

When we say a galaxy is 300 million light-years away, is that its distance now or 300 million years ago? Oftentimes, neither! In most cases astronomers try to get a handle on a galaxy’s distance by measuring its redshift: the degree to which the universe’s expansion has stretched its light…

Twilight view, September 6th

Astronomy Questions & Answers

Should you set your digital camera to a low or high ISO value in twilight?

When I’m shooting a planetary grouping in twilight, should I set my digital camera to a low or a high ISO value? The easiest way to answer this question is to make test exposures of a skyline during twilight, with or without planets. Try all the available ISO values (analogous…

Astronomy Questions & Answers

Are machine-made telescope mirrors better than those made my hand?

Are machine-made telescope mirrors better than those made my hand? In general, no. Making a telescope mirror is a two-step procedure. First you generate and refine the curve in the glass, and then you carefully modify that curve, in the process known as figuring, to give the mirror’s polished surface…

Astronomy Questions & Answers

How is the date of Easter determined?

How is the date of Easter determined? The rule most people remember is that Easter falls on the first Sunday after the first full Moon following the March equinox. In practice, Roman Catholic and Protestant churches follow a method of calculation adopted with the Gregorian calendar reform of 1582. The…

Porcelain sun dial

Hobby-based Q&A

Can you use a replica of an 18th century New England sundial in Washington?

I have a museum’s pewter replica of an 18th-century New England sundial. The inscription says it was designed for latitude 42°. Can I use this sundial in Seattle, Washington? The iconic garden sundial, with triangular shadow-casting gnomon and horizontal plate, gives accurate readings at the latitude for which its hour…

NGC 4889

Astronomy Questions & Answers

What's the most distant object I can see with my telescope?

Is there a more distant object than NGC 4889 (Caldwell 35) that I can see with my 5-inch reflector? Yes, by a factor of 7! Think quasars. NGC 4889 is a member of the Coma Galaxy Cluster, which lies about 300 million light-years away. But the quasar 3C 273 is…

Sunspot AR2192

Hobby-based Q&A

How can you determine a sunsport's size compared to that of Earth?

  Turn off the telescope's motor drive (if any). Count the number of seconds it takes for the sunspot to drift past crosshairs or any speck of dust that is visible in your eyepiece. The number of seconds equals the spot's breadth in Earth diameters. The method is approximate. If…

Keck I

Astronomy Questions & Answers

How will you know when you telescope mirrors need re-aluminizing?

I have read that telescope mirrors require periodic re-aluminizing. How will I know when mine needs this? While it’s true that the aluminized surface of a telescope mirror will deteriorate over time, there is no hard and fast rule about how long this will take. Some coatings last only a…

Moon's far side

Astronomy Questions & Answers

How could an astronomer living on the far side of the Moon verify Earth existed?

How could an amateur astronomer who lived her whole life on the far side of the Moon verify that Earth existed? Well, not by tuning in episodes of reality TV. Since the Moon has virtually no atmosphere, there is no mechanism (like ionospheric skip) by which radio signals from Earth…

Centaur 2nd-stage rocket

Astronomy Questions & Answers

What was the cloud spotted near the western horizon August 31, 2004?

Around 9 p.m. on August 31, 2004, I saw a bright patch of light about half the size of the Moon near the western horizon. It moved slowly upward and fluctuated somewhat in brightness. Through an 8-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope here in New Bloomfield, Pennsylvania, there were two points of light…

Astronomy Questions & Answers

Is it possible to have no full Moon in February during a leap year?

Everyone knows there can be two full Moons in a month. Is it possible to have no full Moon in a February containing 28 days? Yes, but only about four times in a century. This happened in 1999 and will next occur in 2018, assuming the phases are expressed in…

Venus Ring of Light

Hobby-based Q&A

How did early astronomers calculate accurate solar system positions?

In the pre-computer age, say 50 years ago and back, how did astronomers calculate accurate positions of the Sun, Moon, and planets for predicting an eclipse or a transit of Venus? They did it by hand, with the help of numerical tables. These weren’t the trigonometric and logarithmic tables you…

Astronomy Questions & Answers

How can I spot satellite triads?

While binocular observing from Northern California on August 19, 2004, at 6:33 Universal Time, I picked up a trio of satellites moving from the northwest to overhead and passing through Cygnus. I’m sure they were satellites, as all three turned reddish at the same time before disappearing into Earth’s shadow.…

Twisting the night away

Science-based Q&A

How do astronomers accurately determine wobbles in a star's motion?

The discovery of planets around other stars is based on wobbles in the stars' motions. Don't you have to measure from a stationary point in space to accurately determine this/ Isn't there an added wobble because Earth rotates on its axis and travels around the Sun? Yes, Earth's rotation and…