In the Sky This Week – August 15, 2017
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Venus is a bit lower and Orion a bit higher in the eastern morning sky. Venus orbits closer to the Sun than Earth, and is racing ahead-of and away-from the Earth; the planet will vanish from view in mid-November as the Sun comes between it and the Earth. The waning crescent Moon appears thinner and closer to the horizon each morning in the eastern sky. Note: I used Stellarium’s new “Astronomical calculations” feature to generate the ephemeris for this image – I expect you’ll be seeing more of this. The Moon be in conjunction with the star Aldebaran on the Aug. 16th, appearing VERY close to each other, VERY early in the morning. Aldebaran is a orange giant star about 44 times the size of the Sun, located about 65 light years away. Aldebaran is positioned close to the ecliptic plane, and is frequently occulted by the Moon… just not this month. Jupiter is visible only for a short time … Continue reading

Across the Universe: Shrine to the stars
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The column first ran in The Tablet in August 2013 The Milky Way arched over my head, a swath of light through an inky-black sky streaking from Cassiopeia on the northern horizon, through the cross of Cygnus, to the hook of Scorpius just above the horizon due south. I was on a hilltop in southern Vermont attending this year’s annual convention of amateur telescope makers known as Stellafane. The name, we were told, means “shrine to the stars.” It’s not only the dark skies that attract amateurs to this location. Ninety years ago a group of twenty precision toolmakers in the small mill town of Springfield, Vermont, first gathered to share their knowledge of mirror-making and show off their equipment. In 1923, if you wanted a small telescope to look at the stars you either paid a small fortune or you made it yourself. Grinding a mirror into the parabolic shape that can focus faint starlight into a bright point … Continue reading

In the Sky This Week – August 8, 2017
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Venus is a bit lower in the eastern predawn sky, and Orion is fully visible now before sunrise. The waxing gibbous Moon, just days after full,  rises in the east with the sunset, and sets in the west with at dawn. Jupiter is low in the western sky, and visible for only a short time. Saturn is high in the southern sky after sunset, and sets about 2:00 AM. The Perseid Meteor shower peaks the evening of August 11-12th; the Moon will be at Third-Quarter on August 14th. Apps used for this post: Stellarium: a free open source planetarium app for PC/MAC/Linux. NASA Eyes on the Solar System: an immersive 3D solar system and space mission app – free for the PC /MAC. Also in In the Sky This Week Weekly post on what you can see in the sky. In the Sky This Week – June 22, 2017 In the Sky This Week – June 27, 2017 In the Sky This … Continue reading

Diary: Where does the money go? (Part 2)
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In a previous post, I noted that the Vatican Observatory Foundation (which sponsors this blog) has to raise about $800,000 a year to cover its commitments, and at the moment we are running very much behind. On the order of $300,000 a year behind, to be exact. That’s… distressing. What do we plan to do about it? Lots of things, but one in particular concerns you, the readers of this blog. The Catholic Astronomer has been around for about three years, and every year our readership is doubled and our support has likewise increased. Let’s just give an overview of where we are as of the end of July, 2017: We have 584 people who subscribe to our free email notification whenever there is a new posting. In addition, we publicize these on the Foundations’s Facebook site (just under 3,900 followers), and on our Vatican Observatory twitter site (6,600 followers) and the Foundation twitter site (1,400 followers). We get on … Continue reading

In the Sky This Week – August 1, 2017
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Venus is still high in the eastern morning sky; the constellation Orion appears a bit higher each morning. The southern sky is filled with objects this week: the waxing gibbous Moon accompanies Jupiter and Saturn for several days. The Moon will appear very close to Saturn on the evening on August 2nd. The constellation Cetus appears in the predawn sky to the southeast. Cetus is depicted as a sea monster in Greek mythology, but is often referred to as “the whale” today. I know several astronomers who had a copy of H.A. Rey’s “The Stars: A New Way to See Them” when they were young – I still have my copy! I was overjoyed to see that Stellarium has a starlore set depicting constellations as drawn by H.A. Rey in his book. The constellation Cetus in Stellarium as drawn by H.A. Rey in his book “The Stars: A New Way to See Them.” The sky overhead – Aug 1, 2017 … Continue reading

Diary: Where does the money go? (Part I)
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In a recent post, I put out a short beg for folks to actually subscribe at $10 a month (more if you want!) and keep this blog, and the Foundation, going. This has brought up, quite rightly, a question about where exactly this money goes. The first item, of course, is to pay for the cost of this blog itself. At the moment, that’s covered. But the bigger goal is to have surplus from this funding go to support the Vatican Observatory Foundation and its works. What is it that the Foundation does? If you want to know what the Vatican Observatory Foundation has been up to lately, click here for a pdf of our most recent newsletter. What about the details of our funding? Where does it come from, where does it go? That’s covered in our annual report, (click here). The numbers in the annual report are the accountant’s numbers, which is different from actual cash flow. For one … Continue reading

Get the Moon in your head – Learn from Galileo and Apollo 11
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          Learn from  Galileo – 1610 ‘At conjunction the moon occupies a position between the sun and the earth; it is then illuminated by the sun’s rays on the side which is turned away from the earth. The other hemisphere, which faces the earth, is covered with darkness; hence the moon does not illuminate the surface of the earth at all. Next departing gradually from the sun, the moon comes to be lighted partly upon the side it turns toward us, and its whitish horns, still very thin, illuminate the earth with a faint light. The sun’s illumination of the moon increasing now as the moon approaches first quarter, a reflection of that light to the earth also increases. Soon the splendour on the moon extends to a semicircle, and our nights grow brighter; at length the entire visible face of the moon is irradiated by the suns resplendent rays, and at full moon the whole … Continue reading

What’s in the Sky July 25, 2017
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Venus is still bright in the eastern predawn sky, but a little bit lower each morning. The constellation Orion is rising with the dawn; a little more of the constellation visible each morning. A wafer-thin waxing crescent Moon will be visible for a short time after sunset in the west on July 25th. Jupiter is visible low in the southwestern sky, and will be a little lower in the sky each evening after sunset. Saturn is high in the southern sky, and is a great target for telescope observers. Jupiter will be a scant 3° South of the Moon after sunset on July 28th. The Moon will be at First Quarter on the evening of July 30th, surrounded by Jupiter and Saturn, and the Southern Delta Aquariids Meteor Shower peaks on July 29-30th; this would be a great evening to host an astronomy outreach event! Apps used for this post: Stellarium: a free open source planetarium app for PC/MAC/Linux. NASA … Continue reading

What’s in the Sky July 18, 2017
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Venus continues to dominate the morning sky in the east, but appears slightly lower in the sky each morning as it pulls ahead of us in its orbit. The waning crescent Moon will appear near Venus the the star Aldebaran on the mornings of July 19th and 20th. The New Moon will be on the 23rd. Jupiter and Saturn appear in the south-southwestern sky after sunset; Jupiter will appear slightly lower in the western sky each day as the Earth pulls ahead of Jupiter in its orbit. The constellations Pegasus and Andromeda appear low in the northeast sky after sunset; the wispy cloud of M31, the Andromeda galaxy, makes a good target for telescope observers. M31 is the nearest major galaxy to the Milky Way. It is 2.5 million light years distant, and heading straight at us; in a little over 4 billion years, it will collide with the Milky way, and the two galaxies will merge into a large … Continue reading

In the Sky This Week – July 11, 2017
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Venus continues to be the “morning star” in the east, and will appear very close to the red giant star Aldebaran – the “eye of the bull” in the constellation Taurus. On the 11th, Venus will be 3◦ north of Aldebaran, over the course of the week, Venus’ day to day change in position relative to Aldebaran will be very noticeable. In the west, bright stars Vega and Altair are the last to fade in the oncoming dawn. On the 11th, a waning gibbous Moon will be rise in the east before midnight, and set in the west around 9:00 AM. On the 18th, a waning crescent Moon will rise shortly after 2:00 AM, and be visible until it is lost in the glare of the rising sun after 6:00 AM. The Moon will be at third quarter on the 16th, and will be visible from about 1:00 AM – 1:00 PM.* Jupiter and Saturn are visible in the southern sky … Continue reading

From The Tablet: Big Science, Hurrah!
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This article was first published in The Tablet in July, 2012 “How will the discovery of the Higgs Boson impact the Catholic Scientific Community?” asked one panicked email I received soon after CERN announced its discovery. “How can the new discovery and our belief be reconciled?” So many misconceptions in one email… where to start? Emails like this, not to mention all sorts of press inquiries, came to us at the Vatican Observatory following the announcement by CERN that they had detected a “a new particle in the mass region around 126 GeV… the results are preliminary but dramatic… we know it is a boson and it’s the heaviest boson ever found.” The press, if not the scientists, immediately jumped on the news, calling it the discovery of the Higgs Boson (something that the CERN press release was careful not to do) which they inevitably referred to as “The God Particle.” Right away, the internet was filled with instant pundits giving opinions … Continue reading

In the Sky This Week – July 4, 2017
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Venus is the bright morning star in the eastern sky, attended by the Pleiades star cluster, and the bright star Capella to the northeast. The southern sky is adorned with several jewels this week: the Moon appears high in the southern sky before sunset as a waxing gibbous – a few days past first quarter. Jupiter and Saturn are both visible, as are the bright stars Antares and Spica. The full Moon will be on July 9th. The bright star Altair (featured in the classic SF film Forbidden Planet) rises in the east followed by the constellation Sagittarius to the southeast. Sagittarius is recognizable by “The Teapot” asterism low on the horizon. Sagittarius has several interesting deep sky objects to observe using telescopes; something cool you can do with the public during nighttime observing sessions is point to the Teapot’s spout and say “that’s where center of our Milky Way galaxy is!” Before dawn, the constellation Hercules sets in the west, and “The … Continue reading