TIME astronomy

A Blue Moon Is Coming This Friday

They happen about…once in a blue moon

Blue moons aren’t actually blue, but they are as rare as the saying goes.

The second full moon in a month is commonly referred to as a blue moon—we had a full moon on July 2, and we’ll have another this Friday on July 31—but there’s a more complicated definition according to the U.S. Naval Observatory:

“The traditional definition is that of the third Full Moon to occur in an astronomical season in which four Full Moons fall. While somewhat more cryptic than the ‘second-of-the-month’ variety, this scheme helped farmers and other people who used traditional Full Moon names to keep the proper names in synch with the occasional “extra” Full Moon that occurs about every 2.6 years. The “controversy” over the proper definition of the “Blue Moon” dates back to an erroneous discussion of the phenomenon that was originally published in 1946 and subsequently re-discovered in 1999.”

TIME astronomy

Watch the Delta Aquarid Meteor Shower Live

The best time to watch is between moonset and sunrise early Wednesday morning

The Delta Aquarid meteor shower is set to light up skies across the globe with shooting stars in the wee hours of Wednesday morning.

While the Delta Aquarid meteor shower started on July 12 and is expected to continue until Aug. 23, the time between moonset and sunrise early Wednesday morning is slated to be the best time to see the shower’s shooting stars.

Astronomers suggest gazing up at the sky a few hours before dawn—at about 2 a.m.—when meteor showers are easiest to see and most frequent, with up to 15 or 20 meteors per hour. While a telescope or binoculars are unnecessary, city dwellers might find the showers hard to see; NASA suggests getting as far away from “urban light pollution as possible and find a location with a clear, unclouded view of the night sky.”

Click here to see where NASA recommends you watch meteor showers in your area.

Watch a livestream of the meteor shower at the top of this post starting at 9 p.m. EDT.

TIME space

See the Asteroid That Came Close to Earth

Don't worry—NASA's on it.

Astronauts and scientists kicked off the inaugural celebration of Asteroid Day with a talk on asteroid hunting and a live telescope view of the asteroid that passed within 5 million miles of Earth two weeks ago.

Journalist Will Gater, astronomer Bob Berman, astronaut Richard Garriott, and documentary producer Duncan Copp all took part in the talk—a debate on whether or not the Earth is prepared to defend itself against the potential hazard of a major asteroid. The discussion, hosted by Slooh Community Observatory, also included live footage of the most recent near Earth object: Icarus, an asteroid slightly over a half-a-mile long that passed by June 16.

According to Berman, asteroids are worth the hype. “Planets can’t hit us, while comet debris doesn’t survive to strike our surface. But asteroids — chunks of stone or metal — ­­arrive by the thousands every day, and are responsible for nearly all of the 50,000 catalogued meteorites,” he said in a statement to the press. “The largest asteroids are fascinating to observe, while the hazardous ones need to be watched while defenses are being conceived.”

U.S. agencies are already onto this concern—NASA and the National Nuclear Security Administration announced a new deal on June 17 to cooperate in tracking and defending against asteroids.

TIME

Astronomers Name Galaxy of Super-Stars After Cristiano Ronaldo

CR7
M. Kornmesser—ESO This artist’s impression shows CR7 a very distant galaxy discovered using ESO’s Very Large Telescope.

Their light has been traveling from a far-off galaxy, CR7, for 12.9 billion years.

Astronomers say a newly-discovered batch of gigantic, super-intense stars that burned out millennia ago may have helped create life in our universe, and they’ve named the galaxy where they found them after one of the world’s most luminous soccer players.

The group of astronomers at the University of Lisbon in Portugal and the Leiden Observatory in the Netherlands announced that they’d spotted evidence for these stars in a previously unknown galaxy of extremely luminous helium and hydrogen, the New York Times reports. They named the galaxy CR7 in honor of the Portuguese soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo.

The authors write in The Astrophysics Journal that the stars’ explosions within our universe could have spawned elements that began the chain of thermonuclear reactions through which modern-day stars give off carbon, oxygen, and iron — the elements that helped create planets, and life.

Dr. David Sobral, who leads the team at The University of Lisbon, told the New York Times in a statement from the European Southern Observatory, “It doesn’t really get any more exciting than this.”

[NYT]

TIME astronomy

So a 15-Year-Old Intern Has Discovered a New Planet. What’s Your Excuse?

tom-wagg-intern-planet-15-discovery
Keele University An artist's rendition of the new planet, named WASP-142b.

Amazing what interns can do besides fetch coffee and make trips to the mail room

Internships are important. They provide you with a glimpse into the real world, valuable work experience and, if you’re lucky, eventual employment. And if you’re really, really lucky — and eagle-eyed, like Tom Wagg — you get the credit for discovering a planet previously unknown to astronomy.

Wagg came across the planet at Keele University in the U.K., when he spent a week there as part of a “work experience” stint that high school students can opt for.

While analyzing data from the university’s Wide Angle Search for Planets (WASP) computer program, the then 15-year-old intern noticed a dip in the light of a distant star (1,000 light-years away), indicating an orbiting planet passing in front of it.

It took two years of further observation to verify that his finding was really a planet. “I’m hugely excited to have found a new planet, and I’m very impressed that we can find them so far away,” said Wagg, now 17, on Thursday.

For now, the new planet — which is about the size of Jupiter — is called WASP-142b, as it is the 142nd planet to have been discovered by the WASP system, but Wagg is reportedly looking forward to sending in his suggestion for a name when the time comes.

TIME space

See a Rare View of Saturn’s Rings

It's the best time of year to view Saturn's rings

Saturn will come closer to earth this weekend than at any other time of the year, giving us earthbound creatures an incomparable view of its rings. For a closer look, “community observatory” Slooh trained Internet-connected telescopes on the planet during peak viewing hours. The images are shown in the video above, which includes expert commentary from Slooh astronomer Will Gater and Cornell University planetary scientist Dr. Jonathan Lunine.

TIME astronomy

This Beautiful Photo Shows Why the Hubble Telescope Matters

NASA Hubble Space Westerlund 2
NASA/ESA/Hubble/AFP/Getty Images This Hubble Space Telescope image of the cluster Westerlund 2 and its surroundings has been released to celebrate Hubble's 25th year in orbit.

It's the 25th anniversary of the Hubble Space Telescope

The Hubble Space Telescope turns 25 on Friday, and in honor of its quarter-century anniversary, NASA unveiled a celebratory photo.

The Hubble photo captures the full spectrum of light emitted by new stars, showcasing more colors than the human eye can see on its own. The telescope reveals in magnificent detail the spawning of newborn stars and the gas and dust around them.

This particular image is of Gum 29, according to NASA, a region of the universe where many new stars are born 20,000 light years away from Earth. The intensely lit cluster is Westerlund 2, between 6 and 13 light years across and made up of 3,000 stars.

TIME astronomy

Scientists Have Discovered the Biggest Known ‘Structure’ In the Universe

But you couldn't be blamed for missing it

Scientists researching a mysteriously cold region in space have found what they say is the largest known “structure” in the universe — a gigantic hole.

Discovered by researchers at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, the expanse is being called the “supervoid” and measures 1.8 billion light years across, the Guardian reported.

The university’s lead researcher István Szapudi called it “the largest individual structure ever identified by humanity,” although his team’s targeted survey confirmed that it contains absolutely nothing — all scientists know is that about 10,000 galaxies are missing from it in a section that shows unusually low temperatures.

Read more at The Guardian

Read next: How to Watch the Lyrid Meteor Shower This Week

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME space

See the Closest Color Photo of Pluto Ever Taken

This image of Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, was taken by the Ralph color imager aboard NASA's New Horizons spacecraft on April 9.
NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute This image of Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, was taken by the Ralph color imager aboard NASA's New Horizons spacecraft on April 9.

It is also the first color image snapped from an approaching spacecraft

Pluto, which sits approximately 4.67 billion miles from Earth, just got a tiny bit closer. NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft this month captured the first color image of the dwarf planet from just 71 million miles away — the closest image ever recorded. It is accompanied by a image of Pluto’s largest moon Charon, which is similar in size to Texas.

NASA expects to complete early reconnaissance of Pluto and its system on July 14, when it will capture color images detailing “surface features as small as a few miles across.” The trove of data collected will no doubt enhance everyone’s insight into the minor planet.

“In an unprecedented flyby this July, our knowledge of what the Pluto systems is really like will expand exponentially and I have no doubt there will be exciting discoveries,” says NASA astronaut John Grunsfeld.

TIME On Our Radar

Two Filmmakers Set Out to Capture the Last Mesmerizing Dark Skies

Skyglow is a still-photography, time-lapse project

If, like 54% of the world’s population, you live in an urban area, you are no doubt familiar with the awe inducing experience of venturing out into nature and looking up at the night sky.

Away from the city lights, the sky shimmers with countless stars and planets glinting back at you; you can clearly make out constellations and the Milky Way.

A new project, Skyglow, by filmmakers Gavin Heffernan and Harun Mehmedinovic seeks to capture that phenomenon in the last remaining ‘dark sky’ locations and archaeoastronomy sites in North America using still photography and time-lapses. “I lived in LA for 12 years, so I hadn’t seen the stars,” Mehmedinovic tells TIME. “Part of my childhood in Bosnia I grew up rurally, so I was able to see the night sky. It was kind of a spiritual experience as a kid. And that I lost that for many years.”

The duo hopes to use the project as a means of spreading awareness around the effects of light pollution and to explore the psychological effects of living in a world without stars. To that end, they’ll be working with the Tucson-based nonprofit, International Dark-Sky Association. “Their goal has always been to preserve dark skies,” says Mehmedinovic. “Their primary interest is to influence cities to change their lighting systems and revamp the way we think about how much needs to be lit or not lit.” “That’s the thing we’re learning really quickly,” added Heffernan. “It’s not something that has to be this way.”

Creating Skyglow, which will culminate in the publication of a coffee table book and Blu-ray of their best time-lapse footage, will be an adventure in its own right. “We have a plan of renting the Breaking Bad RV for two or three major trips, plot out places on the map we can head up in one straight line with an end destination of Alberta or Alaska to get those incredible Northern Lights next year. Glacier National Park is the big one on the list for us, and Yosemite. On the East Coast, there’s only a few remaining dark sky locations,” says Heffernan.

“There’s something undeniable and extremely seductive the idea of the skies, ” adds Mehmedinovic. “Just the fact that we can hardly see it anymore. I think that experience, for most people now, it’s hard to come by. And it made a whole lot of sense to try to communicate this to others.”

“What we often do is we set up a camera and we leave [it],” says Mehmedinovic. “And then go down five miles and set up another camera. Then drive down five miles. You’re leaving a camera in the middle of nowhere. It seems insane. But in the middle of the night, the chances of somebody seeing it and finding it are pretty low. Although we do have some strange stories that have happened.”

In conjunction with International Dark Sky Week, Heffernan and Mehmedinovic have launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the project. To read more about the effects of light pollution, dark sky locations, and contribute to the campaign, visit the Skyglow Kickstarter page.

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