Posts Tagged ‘astronomy’

Peering Up At The Night Sky (And Then Into Deep Space)

Thursday, February 9th, 2012

Stargazers are in for a treat this month as five of the eight planets are visible in the night sky. Of the five, Venus and Jupiter are the brightest and most visible to the naked eye. To spot these planets, simply gaze up at the sky at dusk, as these planets are the first two “stars” to appear after the sun goes down (Jupiter being the higher of the two).

Jupiter’s Moons:

Readers with a backyard telescope, or even ordinary binoculars, should also be able to spot four of Jupiter’s permanent moons, first seen by Galileo Galilei on a clear January night in 1610. Starting closest to Jupiter, these moons are Io, Europa, Ganymed and Callisto (named after the nymph who Zeus placed in the sky as the constellation Ursa Major after jealous Hera turned her into a bear). Depending on the night, one or more of the moons may be hidden from view on the far side of the planet, so consult this handy guide from Sky & Telescope to identify which is which.

Jupiters moons

Jupiter and its four moons taken with a handheld camera in x32 zoom. (Image courtesy of Flickr user treehouse1977.)

Gazing into Deep Space:
Want an even CLOSER look? Try peering at real-time images generated by the Mount Graham International Observatory’s new Large Binocular Telescope in Arizona, the most powerful optical telescope in the world. Until relatively recently, ground-based telescopes had to live with wavefront distortion caused by the Earth’s atmosphere. This distortion (the reason stars appear to twinkle to the human eye) significantly blurred images of distant objects. The Large Binocular Telescope, one of several visited on Smithsonian’s “Astronomy in Arizona” tour, uses a groundbreaking type of adaptive optics technology to produce the clearest images of deep space ever collected – sharper even than those collected by Hubble.


The Large Binocular Telescope atop Mount Graham in southeastern Arizona. Photo by David Steele; courtesy of The Large Binocular Telescope Observatory.)

A central region of the globular cluster M92. The image on the left was taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. The (clearer) image on the right was take by the LBT in adaptive mode.  This picture is one of the sharpest images of deep space ever recorded. (Image courtesy of the Large Binocular Telescope Observatory.)

Further Reading:
A Complete Guide to Viewing the Planets this Month:

More About The Large Binocular Telescope:

Viewing the Stars with Smithsonian:

Astronomy in Arizona

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

The Multiple Mirror Telescope at Smithsonian’s Whipple Observatory Photo: Smithsonian Institution

Here in Washington, DC, we don’t get to see many stars due to city lights and a humid climate. But Arizona’s clear skies and dry air make it a great place to learn more about astronomy. Some of the most advanced work in astrophysics is happening there right now. Get up close and personal on our next Astronomy in Arizona tour, where you’ll stargaze at Kitt Peak National Observatory, home to the world’s largest collection of optical telescopes. You’ll also visit Smithsonian’s Whipple Observatory and explore the 6.5 meter Multiple Mirror Telescope (above), whose supporting offices and computer labs rotate with the telescope all night long.

In the mean time, how about that newly discovered super-Earth? Read more about it from Smithsonian Journeys Study Leader, David Aguilar, who also heads up public affairs at the Smithsonian-Harvard Center for Astrophysics.

Ready to head out west for some incredible star-gazing? Our Astronomy in Arizona program begins April 27, 2011.

What’s the coolest thing you’ve ever seen in the night sky? We’d love to know!

Video: The Northern Lights

Thursday, May 6th, 2010

The Aurora Borealis (also known as the Northern Lights) is a vibrant, otherworldly light display that has to be seen to be believed. Named for the Aurora, the Roman goddess of dawn, and Boreas, the Greek term for “north wind,” the Northern Lights have been drawing enthusiastic spectators since humans have lived within sight of this celestial phenomenon. Here, see a time-lapse video of an Aurora Borealis display.

Want to see for yourself? We’ll teach you about the relationship between electricity, the ionosphere, and the Aurora, and we’ll even provide the cold weather gear. Limited space available on our Northern Lights of Canada program this September, so book soon! Fall is one of the best times of year to see the Aurora.

Click here to learn more about the Aurora Borealis and more from Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, or click here to read about the Northern Lights in Smithsonian Magazine.

What can you see in the night sky where you live? Share below.

The Skies of Mauna Kea

Monday, February 8th, 2010

The summit of Mauna Kea on the Island of Hawaii  hosts the world’s largest astronomical observatory, with thirteen telescopes operated by astronomers from eleven countries.

The astronomical observatory at the summit of Mauna Kea

Mauna Kea is unique as an astronomical observing site. Its dry air, clear nights, and stable atmosphere make it possible to observe the skies more frequently and with more detail than anywhere else in the world. Both its distance from city lights and the cooperation of the locals in keeping lights low provide the observatory with a very dark sky, allowing astronomers to see further than ever – almost to the edge of the observable Universe.

If this is the stuff of your stargazing dreams, join us this May for a night of stargazing on Mauna Kea, along with several days of education, exploration, and relaxation around Hawaii. Limited seats are still available on our Astronomy in Hawaii experience.

Where do you like to go stargazing?

Stargazing in Hawaii

Monday, January 4th, 2010

Just in case you needed more reasons to go to Hawaii (tropical island paradise, surfing, shave ice…), guess what? It’s a great place to learn more about astronomy, too. Some of the most advanced work in astrophysics is happening there right now. Get up close and personal on our next Hawaii Astronomy tour.

Observatory on Mauna Kea

Still trying to justify taking off for the tropics? Here’s four more reasons to travel to Hawaii with us this year.