Tag Archives: telescope

Astronomy for Amateurs


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During our open mic session at the last Gnomedex, my good friend Derek Miller came up on stage to show off some backyard Astronomy that his Dad has done. Derek reminds us all that you don’t have to work at NASA to get amazing photographs of things found in our solar system. All you need is passion for what you’re looking at, and a telescope!

Derek was inspired to show off his Dad’s work after seeing the Bad Astronomer himself, Phil Plait, on stage during the conference.

You can find the amazing picture Derek’s Dad took on his blog. There’s a very cool picture, as well, on Phil Plait’s blog.

Are you a backyard Astronomer? If you have gotten cool pictures like these, leave us a link in the comments section so we can all enjoy them!

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Microsoft's Free Astronomy Software

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Even if you’re not really “in to” Astronomy, you really have to check this out. The things you will see are just amazing. Go ahead… I dare you. Open your eyes, broaden your horizons. You never know what’s out there waiting.

Check out the free World Wide Telescope by Microsoft. The WorldWide Telescope (WWT) is a Web 2.0 visualization software environment that enables your computer to function as a virtual telescope—bringing together imagery from the best ground and space-based telescopes in the world for a seamless exploration of the universe.

WorldWide Telescope is created with the Microsoft high performance Visual Experience Engine and allows seamless panning and zooming around the night sky, planets, and image environments. View the sky from multiple wavelengths: See the x-ray view of the sky and zoom into bright radiation clouds, and then crossfade into the visible light view and discover the cloud remnants of a supernova explosion from a thousand years ago. Switch to the Hydrogen Alpha view to see the distribution and illumination of massive primordial hydrogen cloud structures lit up by the high energy radiation coming from nearby stars in the Milky Way. These are just two of many different ways to reveal the hidden structures in the universe with the WorldWide Telescope. Seamlessly pan and zoom from aerial views of the Moon and selected planets, as well as see their precise positions in the sky from any location on Earth and any time in the past or future with the Microsoft Visual Experience Engine.

I also have another neat program to tell you about. I received an email from Erick, just after finishing the recording for this video. He wanted us to check out Stellarium. This is also a free program, which does virtually the same thing as Microsoft’s World Wide Telescope. With Stellarium, you can also choose “night mode”. The best part of Stellarium is that it works on ALL platforms, including Linux.

Let me know what other free and unique or fun software you know of, that others of us haven’t heard of yet. I’m always willing to check out something different and new… and pass along the cool stuff to everyone else.

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A Planet Nowhere Near Mars

I can point out several objects and constellations in the night sky:

  • The Big Dipper
  • The Little Dipper
  • Cassiopeia
  • Orion
  • Orion’s Belt
  • Orion’s Pocket Protector
  • The Moon

I’m a bad astronomer – but not as bad as my friend Phil. He’s the best bad astronomer. Actually, he’s really good, really smart, and really entertaining. The other night, we talked about what was happening with a recent discovery:

The European Southern Observatory is reporting that they have found the most Earthlike planet yet orbiting another star. It has about 1.5 times the Earth’s diameter, and five times its mass. This makes it the smallest extrasolar planet yet found (two other planets have already been found orbiting that star, with 15 and 8 times Earth’s mass).

This is amazing enough! But it gets far, far better. The parent star, Gliese 581, is a red dwarf, meaning it’s smaller and cooler than the Sun. The as-yet unnamed planet orbits this star much closer than the Earth does the Sun; it stays about 11 million kilometers (6.7 million miles) from its star, while the Earth is 150 million km (93 million miles) from the Sun.

[Video archives for ustream recordings have been unstable, but I have no other way of extracting the sessions at this time. If you want to know more about what’s happening, we’re always playing live]

Download Stellarium

I can’t remember how I discovered this one today (could’ve been a random Gada.be search). Regardless, this software is simply amazing – and cross-platform, to boot. It’s the best desktop “night sky” client in the galaxy – and in my opinion, beats the pants off of Starry Night:

Stellarium is a free open source planetarium for your computer. It shows a realistic sky in 3D, just like what you see with the naked eye, binoculars or a telescope. It is being used in planetarium projectors. Just set your coordinates and go.

Ponzi and I went to a plane…arium a couple of months ago. Even it wasn’t half as nice as Stellarium. This is exactly what I’ve always wanted – and it’s open source software!!! I can’t wait to try this on my laptop outside. The illustrations of the constellations are priceless. I dare you to find a better night sky viewer for any platform. I double-dog dare you!