Blog Archives

How Big Is That Star?

Two of the most fundamental properties of any astronomical object are size and distance. How big is it, and how far away is it? The vast scales of cosmological distances are determined by a variety of methods, just as one

Posted in Stars Tagged with:

Stars of the First Magnitude

No, we aren’t talking about Tom Hanks or Meryl Streep. These are the stars you see in the sky at night. If you have ever been confused by statements like the following, then let’s see if we can help you

Posted in Sky Phenomena, Stars Tagged with: , ,

Name That Star!

How many stars can you call by name? Unless you are a devotee of the night sky, the number will likely not require more than one hand to count. Betelgeuse perhaps, simply because its pronunciation brings to mind a movie

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Astronomy in 2011

(This post has been edited slightly from the original to include the MESSENGER mission to Mercury and to correct a misstatement about galactic black holes.) As the end of calendar year 2011 approaches, I thought my readers might enjoy a look

Posted in Cosmology, Planets, Solar System, Spacecraft, Stars Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,


There is a reason why most of the major observatories in the U.S. are west of the Mississippi River. The clouds and rain we have had in Virginia for the last several weeks have reduced our view of the heavens

Posted in Cosmology, Stars Tagged with: ,

Enjoy Watching!

Traveling to the southern hemisphere is a treat for anyone, but for astronomy enthusiasts, it holds a special appeal. The center of the Milky Way, hidden in near-horizon murk for those of us in the northern hemisphere, shifts to an

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If You Are REALLY Into Astronomy…

…then I have the site for you. Astrobites ( is the “astrophysics reader’s digest”, a role which it fills admirably. (Full disclosure: one of the writers for the site is the daughter of a friend and professional colleague.) Astrophysics graduate

Posted in Cosmology, Stars Tagged with: ,


One of the many things we have learned from doing more than a year of public outreach events at the observatory is that there are some celestial sights guaranteed to evoke the “wow!” reaction from our guests. The first sight

Posted in Observatory and Telescopes, Stars