Astronomy Information for the Public

sky maps | local astronomy organizations | links

Current and upcoming astronomical events

JWST first image  
The amazing James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) was launched on Christmas Day 2021 from French Guiana and then slowly deployed and reached its orbit around the L2 point, unfolding its sun shield and mirror segments. First images were released in July 2022 and more continue to be released.

JWST stephan's quintet  
...The imagers and spectrographs on JWST operate in the infrared. Images are therefore color-coded according to wavelength (generally) but cannot be true color as they are at wavelengths that aren't detected by human eyes. You can compare Hubble Space Telescope images (mostly optical wavelengths) to JWST images of the same objects.

apod eclipse shadow  
The first total solar eclipse in the lower 48 in nearly forty years will be visible on August 21, 2017. If you are not in the path (as the Philadelphia area won't be) you will still see a partial eclipse. The spaces between leaves on many trees act as pin-hole cameras, enabling you to safely see the partially eclipsed Sun...many times over.

NASA's New Horizons mission just flew past Pluto. The images are unprecedented, compared even to Hubble Space Telescope images.

The European Space Agency's Rosetta mission is exploring comet 67P/Churyomov-Gerasimenko. Its small lander, Philae has recently re-established contact with Earth. Watch this excellent animation of the approach to and landing on the comet.

You can see so much more of the night sky if you're somewhere with dark skies. Light pollution is a problem but you can find places that are relatively dark. This map of North America has some dark-sky spots annotated.

NASA's Curiosity rover landed successfully on Mars in early August, 2012. It has been exploring since then.

2009 has been declared the International Year of Astronomy, in commemoration of Galileo's first telescopic observations, 400 years ago. We are hosting a series of events at Swarthmore to celebrate.

In September, 2008, the Large Hadron Collider at CERN will open. This represents the next big step in our civilization's quest for understanding the fundamental physical structure of our universe. It is sobering - for Americans - that this step is not being taken in America. You can see some amazing photos of this huge particle accelerator and its detectors. In some sense, this is the latest in a multi-thousand-year effort by humans to understand our universe. Our friends at Cosmic Variance have a list of the things they expect the LHC to find. More articles: from The New York Times and The New Yorker.

On August 1, 2008, a total solar eclipse was visible in central Asia. This Sky and Telescope article has details and images.

There's another robot on Mars: Phoenix landed on May 25, 2008. The images on the left are from the lander's descent (photographed by another spacecraft!) and landing. This robot/laboratory is testing soil samples on Mars.

There was a lunar eclipse on February 20, 2008, beginning around 8:45 PM and peaking around 10:30PM. You can easily find photos of it on the web. There was also a lunar eclipse the previous March, visible in the Philadelphia area. Check out this sequence of eclipse images.

There was an unexpectedly bright (and big) comet in the sky during November, 2007: Comet 17P/Holmes. Use this sky map to find it.

Comet McNaught was visible briefly in the northern hemisphere and looked spectacular in these photos taken in the southern hemisphere.

The Leonid meteor shower should peak around midnight on Saturday/Sunday, November 18-19. Note that the intensity of meteor showers is notoriously hard to predict. And how spectacular it looks to you will strongly depend on how dark the skies are where you're watching. NASA has some good information about the Leonids.

An object bigger than Pluto has been discovered in the outer Solar System. Will it be considered the Solar System's tenth planet? (Note that the image on the left is an artist's conception.) Update: It's now officially Eris, the Solar System's largest dwarf planet. If you're interested in the possible definitions of "planet," you might enjoy this article about the various considerations.

The Cassini-Huygens spacecraft is at Saturn, sending back fantastic pictures of Saturn, its rings, and its moons.

On Wednesday night, October 27, 2004, starting a bit after 9 PM, there was a lunar eclipse visible from all of North America. We had over 50 people on the observing deck on the roof of the science center for public viewing of the eclipse. Check out these photos.

On June 8, 2004, the first transit of Venus in over a century occured. The Smithsonian has an interesting on-line exhibit on the transit and the history of previous transits.

Two new spacecraft have arrived at Mars.

The last of NASA's 'great observatories' the Spitzer Infrared Telescope is now in operation.

NASA's Stardust Mission is gathering material from comet Wild 2 and bringing it back to Earth. The comet dust collectors are made out of aerogel.

Information about what's up in the sky on any given night – local rise and set times
This week's sky at a glance (from Sky and Telescope) Skywatching
Sky Maps
Earth & Sky: Skywatching center
Space weather

Software to make sky maps

Starry Night: maps the night sky from any location for any date; 15 day free trial.
Stellarium: free planetarium/sky map software.
Yoursky is free and uses a web interface to custom-make star maps.

Local astronomy organizations

Delaware Valley Amateur Astronomers
Rittenhouse Astronomical Society


Astronomy Picture of the Day
The NSSDC: Another good source of astronomical images.
Telescope buying guide: Sky & Telescope

Information about upcoming telescope open houses at the Peter van de Kamp Observatory.



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David Cohen: cohen -at- astro -dot- swarthmore -dot- edu
Last modified: July 28, 2022