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Welcome to the night sky report for April 2018 -- Your guide to the constellations, deep sky objects, planets, and celestial events that are observable during the month. The night sky is truly a celestial showcase. Get outside and explore its wonders from your own backyard and follow the advice of James Marshall Hendrix (apparently a fellow admirer of the heavens): "Excuse me while I kiss the sky."
There are many reasons that the Crab Nebula is such a well-studied object. It is one of a handful of cases where there is strong historical evidence for when the star exploded (1054 AD). Having this definitive timeline helps astronomers understand the details of the explosion and its aftermath. The latest image of the Crab Nebula is a composite that was taken with Chandra, Hubble, and Spitzer. At the center it shows a quickly spinning, highly magnetized neutron star called a pulsar. The combination of rapid rotation and a strong magnetic field generates an intense electromagnetic field that creates jets of matter and anti-matter moving away from both the north and south poles of the pulsar, and an intense wind flowing out in the equatorial direction.
The good news: Astronomers have made the most precise measurement to date of the rate at which the universe is expanding. The potentially unsettling news: This may mean that there is something unknown about the makeup of the universe because the new numbers remain at odds with independent measurements of the early universe's expansion rate. Is something weird going on with physics in the depths of space? Researchers suggest that there may be new physics at work to explain the inconsistency. One idea is that the universe contains a new subatomic particle that travels close to the speed of light. Such speedy particles, collectively called "Dark Radiation," include previously known particles like neutrinos. Another possibility is that dark matter (an invisible form of matter not made up of protons, neutrons, and electrons) interacts more strongly with normal matter or radiation than previously assumed.
One of the biggest mysteries in astro-particle physics has been the origins of ultrahigh energy cosmic rays, very high energy neutrinos, and high energy gamma rays. Now, a new theoretical model based on work by Penn State and University of Maryland researchers, reveals that these extreme energy space particles may have a unified origin in cosmic rays that are accelerated by powerful jets emanating from supermassive black holes. The new model explains the natural origins of all three types of "cosmic messenger" particles simultaneously and is the first astrophysical model of its kind based on detailed numerical computations.
Does the title of this article intrigue you? It should. It has Click-Bait written all over it. Now that I have your attention, you are going to hear my point of view, whether you like it or not. Am I trying to inform you, teach you, or simply entertain you? Am I trying to sell you something? Maybe I am just trying to persuade you to see things my way. The reality is that you don't know what my purpose is until you read what I have to say. Then you will have to determine if what I am saying is Fact, Opinion, or Propaganda. That's where the Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, and Purpose Test (the CRAAP Test), developed by the California State University - Chico, can help.
What is a planet? For generations the answer was easy -- A big ball of rock or gas that orbited the Sun. And there were nine of them in our Solar System. But then astronomers started finding more Pluto-sized objects orbiting beyond Neptune. Then they found Jupiter-sized objects circling distant stars. First by the handful and then by the hundreds. Suddenly the answer wasn't so easy. Were all these newly found things planets? The International Astronomical Union (IAU), who is in charge of naming newly discovered worlds, tackled the question at their 2006 meeting. They tried to come up with a definition of a planet that everyone could agree on. But the astronomers couldn't agree, so they voted and picked a definition that they thought would work. The results have been mixed. In the end, the IAU did accomplish one thing -- They figured out a way to turn something simple into something complex.
An image of a single positively charged Strontium atom, held nearly motionless by electric fields, has won the overall prize in a science photography competition organized by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) in the UK. The photo by David Nadlinger, from the University of Oxford, shows the atom held by the fields emanating from the metal electrodes surrounding it.
During 1957, the US and the Soviet Union worked diligently on plans to orbit satellites as part of the 1958 International Geophysical Year (IGY). Given the Cold War competition between the two superpowers, the first to launch a satellite could claim technological preeminence. The Soviet Union leaped ahead of the US and stunned the world when they orbited Sputnik 1, the world's first artificial satellite on October 4, 1957. Explorer 1 successfully launched from Cape Canaveral on January 31, 1958 -- 60 years ago today.
Supernovae, the explosions of stars, have been observed by the thousands and in all cases, the events signal one thing -- the death of a star... Until now. Astrophysicists at UC Santa Barbara (UCSB) and astronomers at Las Cumbres Observatory (LCO) have reported a remarkable exception -- a star that has exploded multiple times over a period of more than 50 years. This new observation is challenging existing theories of how certain stars end their lives.
A team of more than 100 researchers, led by LSU Department of Physics and Astronomy Assistant Professor Tabetha Boyajian, is one step closer to solving the mystery behind "the most interesting star in the Universe." At first blush, KIC 8462852 (or Tabby's Star, nicknamed after Tabby Boyajian) is an average star. It is about 50 percent bigger and 1000 degrees hotter than the Sun. However, the sporadic, random, and inexplicable dimming and brightening of the star has led to several theories, including one that purports an alien mega-structure is orbiting the star. Could this really be? Nah... It turns out that the most interesting star in the Universe is really nothing special.
The cataloging of stars has seen a long history. Since prehistory, cultures and civilizations all around the world have given their own unique names to the brightest and most prominent stars in the night sky. Certain names have remained little changed as they passed through Greek, Latin, and Arabic cultures, and some are still in use today. As astronomy developed and advanced over the centuries, a need arose for a universal cataloging system, whereby the brightest stars were known by the same labels, regardless of the country or culture from which the astronomers came. This past year, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) formally approved 86 new names for stars and the IAU catalog now contains the officially approved names of 313 stars.
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