Monday, December 29, 2008

New Year's Eve Sky Show

Source - Space Weather News for Dec. 29, 2008:

NEW YEAR'S EVE: What a way to end the year. On Dec. 31st, Venus and the slender crescent Moon will gather together high in the southwestern sky for a beautiful conjunction visible for hours after sunset. The two brightest objects in the night sky can be seen through city lights and even fireworks--so everyone can enjoy the show. Meanwhile, closer to the horizon, Mercury and Jupiter are converging for their own Dec. 31st conjunction. This one is not so easy to see, but rewarding for those who make the effort to find the two planets shining through the rosy glow of sunset.

Visit for sky maps and photos of the converging planets.

BONUS: Is Venus really bright enough to cast shadows? The answer is yes, and the proof may be found on today's edition of A French photographer has captured rare images of Venus casting a shadow and he has even made a movie of the shadow in motion.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Are We Alone for 12/29/08 - Nerds

Are We Alone

Are We Alone - Encore Presentation "Nerds"
There are two kinds of people: those who are unstylish, socially inept, yet academically gifted, and those who tease them. Being a nerd is rough; it's no fun to sit alone in the cafeteria or be forced to dine on beach sandwiches. But revenge is sweet: the world depends more than ever on the witty and gifted to keep it technologically and scientifically turning. So who gets the last laugh? Just ask Bill Gates. Then again, have attitudes towards eggheads really matured? Just ask Al Gore.

Hear why America has contempt for nerds, while other countries treat them as rock stars. Also, how to solve a Rubik's Cube in seconds, and a Geeksta Rap sing-along.
Guests: You can listen to this and other episodes at, and be sure to check out Are We A Blog?, the companion blog to the radio show.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

NASA's Gift to Mr. Claus

Source - NASA Science News for December 24, 2008

True story: NASA technology saves Claus from a disaster at sea! Christmas (and the sport of fishing) may never be the same.


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Monday, December 22, 2008

Are We Alone for 12/22/08 - Science and Art: Worlds Apart?

Are We Alone

Are We Alone - Encore Presentation "Science and Art: Worlds Apart?"
Leonardo da Vinci is considered a genius for combining art and science. But how usual is this for us mere mortals? Can science and art sucessfully inform each other?

We'll hear how the insights of French writer Marcel Proust anticipated modern neuroscience. Also, a debate over the evolutionary function of art. Does it have survival value? We meet a robot whose painting talents have garnered it a job in one of America's top museums. And, hear - or don't hear - why some of our relatives don't monkey around with music.
Guests: Find out more about RAP, including a picture, at the American Museum of Natural History website! Whip up some madeleines (click here for a recipe) and savor your own remembrance of things past.

You can listen to this and other episodes at: and be sure to check the Are We Alone Profile and Blog on MySpace.

Saturn's Crazy Christmas Tilt

Source - NASA Science News for December 22, 2008

The planet Saturn is doing something rare and beautiful this holiday season. Find out what in today's story from Science@NASA.


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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Solstice Meteor Shower

Source - Space Weather News for Dec. 21, 2008:

URSID METEORS: Earth is passing through a stream of debris from comet 8P/Tuttle and this is causing the annual Ursid meteor shower. Forecasters expect the Ursids to peak on Dec. 22nd with 8 to 10 meteors per hour flying out of the constellation Ursa Minor (the Little Dipper) not far from the north star. The display is usually mild, but outbursts of Ursids occasionally surprise observers with rates many times normal. The last time this happened was in 2006.

Standing outdoors to watch Ursids in December can be a chilling experience. So why not stay inside and listen? is broadcasting live audio from the Air Force Space Surveillance Radar in Texas. When a meteor passes over the facility--"ping"--there is an echo. Because the Ursid radiant is circumpolar (always up) over the radar, the echoes may be heard at any hour, night or day. Tune in to to try the audio feed, which can support 1000 simultaneous listeners.

UNIQUE CHRISTMAS GIFT: For less than the cost of a night at the movies, you can give someone the heavens for Christmas. Send them a gift subscription to Spaceweather PHONE:

You are subscribed to the Space Weather mailing list, a free service of

New subscribers: To sign up for free space weather alerts, click here:

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Giant Breach in Earth's Magnetic Field Discovered

Source - NASA Science News for December 16, 2008

NASA's five THEMIS spacecraft have discovered a breach in Earth's magnetic field ten times larger than anything previously thought to exist. The size of the opening and the strange way it forms could overturn long-held ideas of space physics.


For more information about space and space exploration, visit our Home page:

Monday, December 15, 2008

Colas for the Cosmos

Besides having an addiction to astronomy, I also have an addiction to Diet Coke (both with caffeine, and without). Since I drink a lot of Diet Coke I tend to accumulate a lot of Coke Rewards points, and I've decided to use all those points to help kids who have an interest in astronomy by giving them telescopes that I get in exchange for my rewards points.

The telescopes that are currently offered by Coke Rewards are the Celestron PowerSeeker 50 AZ, and while they are only a 50mm refractor, they do make a great beginner telescope for kids with an interest in astronomy.

So far I have given away four telescopes. Two of the telescopes have been given to local kids, another has gone to a sidewalk astronomer who works to involve neighborhood kids in astronomy, and the last one was recently donated to Greenwood Space Travel Supply Co. which is part of 826 Seattle. While the latter is not directly involved with astronomy, it is an organization that is involved with encouraging kids to write, especially about space, so they were a good choice as far as I was concerned.

I am going to try and continue to give away as many telescopes as I can, and right now I have one fourth the number of points I need to get another telescope. At my current rate of cola consumption, I should have enough points to give away another telescope by late January. If you are are like me and you are an astronomer who is also a cola fiend, maybe you could save up enough points to give a new telescope to a deserving child. If you don't have the time to enter the points, I'll be more than happy to use your points to get more telescopes.

Leave a comment or send me an email if you are interested.


Jim Cox
(Use this altered email address)

PS: I"d like to get the word about this project, so feel free to let others know, and list a link to this blog entry if you don't mind.

Solar Flare Surprise

Source - NASA Science News for December 15, 2008

Solar flares are supposed to obliterate everything in their vicinity, yet one of the most powerful flares of the past 30 years has done just the opposite, emitting a beam of pure and unbroken hydrogen atoms. Researchers think this strange event could yield vital clues to the inner workings of solar flares.


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Sunday, December 14, 2008

Are We Alone for 12/15/08 - Skeptical Sunday: Ghost of a Chance

Are We Alone

Are We Alone - "Skeptical Sunday: Ghost of a Chance"
Half of all Americans believe in ghosts - despite any compelling evidence of their existence. Find out why we believe in what we can't see, and why loneliness may increase our chances of a poltergeist experience. Hear the tale of the Toys R Us ghost, and scope out the latest in haunted real estate.

Also, why our Hollywood skeptic is tired of wild ghost chases and Phil Plait speaks out on lapses in critical thinking. This week: vaccination and autism.

It's Skeptical Sunday... but don't take our word for it!

Guests: You can listen to this and other episodes at: and be sure to check the Are We Alone Profile and Blog on MySpace.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Weekend Meteor Shower

Source - Space Weather News for Dec. 12, 2008

WEEKEND METEORS: Earth is entering a stream of debris from extinct comet 3200 Phaethon, and this is causing the annual Geminid meteor shower. The shower is expected to peak on Dec. 13th and 14th. Normally, as many as 100 meteors per hour shoot out of the constellation Gemini, but this year a bright Moon will interfere with the display, reducing hourly counts to only 20 or so. That's could still be a nice show. For best results, watch the sky from 10 pm local time on Saturday night (Dec 13th) until dawn on Sunday morning (Dec. 14th).

BIGGEST FULL MOON OF THE YEAR: The Moon that's causing trouble for the Geminid display happens to be biggest full Moon of 2008, as much as 14% wider and 30% brighter than lesser Moons we've seen earlier this year. An astronomer would say this is a "perigee Moon" because it occurs at perigee, the side of the Moon's elliptical orbit closest to Earth. Go outside tonight and take a look. The meteor rate may be low, but the lunar beauty index is off the charts.

Check for updates and more information.

BONUS: The Dec. 1st Great Conjunction Photo Gallery continues to grow with daily additions from around the world. Start browsing here:

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Incredible Journey of the James Webb Space Telescope

Source - NASA Science News for December 10, 2008

From humble beginnings in a Utah beryllium mine to the most advanced laboratories in the world, the mirrors of NASA's next great observatory are taking an incredible journey to space.


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Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Biggest Full Moon of the Year

Source - NASA Science News for December 9, 2008

Not all full Moons are the same. This Friday's is the biggest and brightest full Moon of the year.


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Sunday, December 07, 2008

Are We Alone for 12/08/08 - That's Cosmic!

Are We Alone

Are We Alone - That's Cosmic!
What makes up the universe? Lots of tiny particles with strange names: bosons, leptons, quarks and neutrinos. But physicists think there are more members to be discovered in this particle zoo.
From strange particles to dark matter to vibrating strings, find out why you have to think small to understand the physics of the universe. Plus, other cosmic connections: is SETI a religion?

Guests: You can listen to this and other episodes at: and be sure to check the Are We Alone Profile and Blog on MySpace.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

British Teddy Bears reach the edge of space.

From the Mail Online in the UK comes this headline "Out of this world: British teddy bears strapped to helium weather balloon reach the edge of space" about how four teddy bears were attached to a high altitude balloon and sent aloft.

The brave bears were fitted with custom space suits designed by local school children, and their temperatures were monitored both inside and outside the suits. The Teddies rose to an altitude of approximately 100,000 feet, and endured temperatures as low as - 53C during their 2 hour mission. Once the mission was over the Teddies safely touched down near the Ipswich just 50 miles from Churchill College in Cambridge which is where they originally took off.

Here is a quote from the article: "the mission, led by aerodynamics student Henry Hallam, 21, had a more serious purpose than giving the teddies the ride of their lives. The aim of the experiment was to monitor weather conditions in the stratosphere and determine which materials provide the best insulation against the freezing temperatures experienced on the flight. Mr Hallam said: 'We asked the children to build the space suits for the teddy bears and we monitored the temperatures inside and outside the suits. It was great to involve these young people so they can learn about physics in a different and exciting way.."

The article is a fun read, so take a look and enjoy the great pictures. I wonder how Col. Joe "Red" Kittinger, USAF - Ret. ( wikipedia article, fact sheet ) feels about four Teddies challenging his record.

Meteor Explodes over Colorado

Source - Space Weather News for Dec. 6, 2008:

COLORADO FIREBALL: Last night, a fireball one hundred times brighter than the full Moon lit up the sky near Colorado Springs, Colorado. Astronomer Chris Peterson photographed the event using an all-sky video camera dedicated to meteor studies. "In seven years of operation, this is the brightest fireball I've ever recorded. I estimate the terminal explosion at magnitude -18." Meteors this bright are called superbolides; they are caused by small (meter-class) asteroids and are likely to pepper the ground with meteorites when they explode. Visit to watch the fireball video and contribute sighting reports that could help pinpoint any meteoritic debris.

TUMBLING TOOLBAG: The space station's famous sidekick, the ISS Toolbag, is circling Earth and reportedly producing flashes of light bright enough to record using off-the-shelf digital cameras. The flashes, shown in a photo on today's edition of, could be a sign that the bag is tumbling. Both the Toolbag and the ISS will be making a series of evening passes over North America and Europe in the evenings ahead, so now is a good time to look. Check the Simple Satellite Tracker for viewing times:

BONUS: The Dec. 1st Great Conjunction Photo Gallery continues to grow with daily additions from around the world. Start browsing here:

Visit for photos, webcasts and more information.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Return of the Leonids

Source - NASA Science News for December 4, 2008

Astronomers from Caltech and NASA are predicting a near-storm of Leonids in 2009 based on a surprising outburst of meteors just two weeks ago.


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