Top Ten Great Things to Look at in the Sky

TheSpacewriter’s Stargazing List

Welcome to my page for the December 6th edition of 365 Days of Astronomy. I shared my list of top ten great things to look at in the sky — and that’s MY list.  I encourage you to go out and search the sky for YOUR top ten favorite things. I can just about guarantee you that we won’t have the same lists! And, the universe being what it is, there’s a good chance our lists will change!

The Moon

I began with the Moon.  It’s up there in the sky several weeks each month; sometimes you can see it in the night time, sometimes in the early morning, and sometimes during the day. If you think about it, you’ll remember seeing it all those times. To learn more about the  Moon, I suggest the following links:

NASA’s Lunar and Planetary Science Page with facts and figures about the Moon
The GRAIL Mission to the Moon, launched in September 2011 and built to determine the internal structure of the Moon.

The NSSDC Photo Gallery of the Moon: do your own lunar exploration!

Mars

The best sites for Mars exploration are at NASA and the European Space Agency.

Saturn

The most current Saturn news can be found at the Cassini Solstice Mission site. Pictures, videos, up-to-date looks at all things Saturn system.

Sirius

The Wikipedia entry for Sirius is a good place to start with a simple look at this star. Then, head over to Jim Kaler’s Star of the Week site for a scientist’s-eye view of this interesting star. The Hubble Space Telescope has also studied this star in depth.

Betelgeuse

This star is giving astronomers quite an interesting ride as it puffs off bits of its atmosphere. This activity is called “mass loss” and is part of what a supermassive star like this will go through as it dies.  Check out the image that Hubble has gotten of this behemoth star.

Orion Nebula

This starbirth region is one of the most-studied objects in the sky.  That’s because it is so fascinating and gives us insight into what the process of star formation is and does. There are so many sources of cool images and information about the Orion Nebula, so start out at the Hubble Space Telescope and Spitzer Space Telescope sites, and g0 from there!

Sagittarius A*

The black hole at the center of the Milky Way Galaxy is surrounded by a disk of material called an accretion disk. It’s full of material that is being drawn toward the black hole. As that material swirls around in the disk, it gets heated by friction and interactions of strong magnetic fields — and it gives off radio emissions, as well as strong x-ray emissions. We can detect radio and x-ray emissions coming through the clouds of gas and dust that surround the center of our galaxy. Now astronomers are trying to use radio emissions to map the extent of that accretion disk. It’s an intricate job.  Check out the latest about the black hole and the work to measure its disk, here and here.

The Andromeda Galaxy

It’s always a bit awe-inspiring to go out and find the Andromeda Galaxy for the first time. It’s true that you can spot it with the naked eye, as long as you have good, dark skies.  Here’s a chart to help you find it. Here’s a link to an image of Andromeda, with a little scientific information about it. Hubble Space Telescope has looked at this galaxy in detail, as have many other observatories, including the Herschel Space Observatory in conjunction with the XMM-Newton X-ray Observatory.

The Magellanic Clouds

Like the Andromeda Galaxy and the Orion Nebula, these two irregular dwarf galaxies are under constant study by astronomers.  You can see some of their views here and here and here.  As for when those bad babies will collide with the Milky Way?  Well, astronomers think it may already be happening — but far from our neighborhood in the galaxy. There’s a gas cloud speeding toward the Milky Way from the Magellanic Clouds and its leading edge is already interacting with gas on the outskirts of the Milky Way. But, that’s only the star… the main collision won’t happen for, oh, about 40 million years!

The Sky Itself and the Lights that Drown it Out

The sky belongs to everyone, but many of us around the world are washing it out with unnecessary lighting. Take a look at any image of Earth from space, and you’ll see that the problem is world-wide and cuts across all societies and cultures. It’s something that has to change, since we aren’t really such a wealthy species that we can afford to tell the cosmos that we’ve got money to burn (to buy fuel to light up space). You can learn more about how to change the way we light our planet (and the sky) by visiting the International Dark-Sky Association. We can gain back the stars… or not.

Well, I hope all those inspire you to go out and make your own list of good stuff to look at in the sky.  The possibilities are… well… cosmic!

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