Sometimes Astronomy is Jaw Dropping – maybe all the time #astronomy #space #exoplanet #astrophysics #spacetelescope #NASA

That’s the star – dead center. Looks a lot like any other star in visible light.

Astronomers have spotted water vapor and evidence of exotic clouds in the atmosphere of an alien planet [HAT-P-26b]… about 430 light-years away from Earth.

How’d they do that!?

Sing, Wakeford and their colleagues analyzed observations made by NASA’s Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes when HAT-P-26b crossed its parent star’s face from the telescopes’ perspectives. The planet’s atmosphere filtered out certain wavelengths of starlight during these “transits,” allowing the study team to identify some of the molecules swirling in HAT-P-26b’s air.

I have to wonder how many photons that passed through HAT-P-26b’s atmosphere made it to Earth – to capture and analyze that tiny amount of data is awesome. The planet’s atmosphere is mostly hydrogen and helium, but it’s the trace elements that are most fascinating. The planet doesn’t fit the pattern we see in our own solar system regarding planet size, distance for the star, and composition.

There’s so much to learn, and our tiny sample size of one solar system isn’t nearly enough to figure it all out. If you’re wondering what difference it makes – well, it won’t change what I eat for breakfast tomorrow. I’ve never regretted learning something, even if it didn’t put a penny in my pocket. If we don’t look up at the stars how will we ever get out of the mud?

Here’s one description based on HAT-P-26b’s atmospheric composition to marvel at as you look up.

This would be a very alien sky… you’d see a kind of scattery, washed-out, gray sky.

Of course, when working on the edge of detection it’s easy to get things wrong. But a staggering amount of data is rolling in, many researchers are busy, and even more amazing telescopes are in the works – hypotheses will turn into theories.

It’s only getting better.

PS: Oddly enough, I had trouble finding an easy source to tell me where in Earth’s sky HAT-P-26b’s star is located – not that I expect to see it with my eyes, but it seems like a fun thing to know. I think I found the coordinates: RA = 14:12:37.5, DE = +04:03:36. Those are the coordinates I used to get the image above. And according to my trusty W. Tirion Sky Atlas 2000.0, that puts it in the constellation of Virgo. But I’m a bit rusty – can anyone confirm or correct me?

Copernicus had a Simple Answer to Brightest Star #astronomy #Venus #poem #poetry

Venus over the Pacific – the other bright “star” above and to the left is Jupiter

Brightest star first shining
As the sun goes down
In the orange twilight
To horizon bound.

Lower every evening,
Following the sun,
Abandons us to darkness
When its reign is done

Reborn in the morning
Leading dawn to day,
A star that is a wanderer
Within the solar sway.

By Kate Rauner

Ancients figured out that Venus was the same object in the evening and morning sky – but its motion didn’t really make sense until Copernicus. Through observation, before the invention of the telescope, he realized that

  • The rotation of the Earth accounts for the apparent daily rotation of the stars
  • The apparent annual cycle of movements of the Sun is caused by the Earth revolving around it, and
  • The apparent retrograde motion of the planets is caused by the motion of the Earth we observe from.

Watch Venus’ movements for yourself – the planet is bright enough to observe even under city lights.

Fascinating Light Curves Conquer Mystery of Exoplanets #star #space #astronomy #poem #poetry

Bingo! A planet!

Bingo! A planet!

Search for exoplanets –
such a romantic story.
Find other globes round other stars
a feat that’s extrasensory.

For it’s beyond a human eye
to view transits ephemeris.
Telescopes and cameras
are what we need to see this.

A light curve like a trail of dust
blown through a window crack,
or scattered grains of sand
dribbled from a carried sack.

A blur of readings suddenly
drops down a tiny bit.
Almost imperceptibly
a planet is, in photons, writ.

You can see beyond your eyes
and hear beyond your ears,
and reach beyond your outstretched hands
to mysteries like these.

by Kate Rauner

Learn more at wikipedia and find one of the latest discoveries at

rr-3-coversAll my books, including collections of my science-inspired poetry, are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo, and other major online retailers. You’ll also find paperbacks at Create Space and all major digital formats at Smashwords. Read one today.

Why is the Night Sky Dark? #star #science #mystery #astronomy

hubble_probes_the_early_universeThere are billions of stars in every direction. Even more than we used to think – photons aimed straight at us from every point in the sky. As NASA puts it,

the trouble with an infinite universe is that no matter where you look in the night sky, you should see a star. Stars should overlap each other in the sky like tree trunks in the middle of a very thick forest. But, if this were the case, the sky would be blazing with light.

This is the famous Olber Paradox. Though articulated in the 1800s for an infinite steady-state universe, it still offers a puzzle today. The universe may not be infinite, but it’s very very big with very very many stars. Why do I see so much dark sky between stars?

Because the universe is expanding, the light that reaches us is subject to a phenomenon called “redshift…” the wavelengths of light [stars] emit appear to stretch out. Go far enough, and the light will redshift below the level discernible by the human eye, and eventually telescopes.

Some of this radiation shows up as background light, a faint diffuse glow of light that appears to have no source. The rest, however, disappears before it ever reaches us.

Thanks to for the explanation. Try to remember this for when some little kid asks.

Is Weird Megastructure at Star Still Possible Explanation? #star #astronomy #space #science #alien #strangerthings

A fantastic possibility was reported by the Kepler space telescope:

Tabby’s Star’s transit signal, otherwise known as a ‘light-curve’, stopped astronomers in Tabbys Startheir tracks. Something passed in front of it, dimming its starlight a whopping 20 percent and other jumbled transit signals revealed that something wasn’t quite right with this particular star. Penn State University astronomer Jason Wright speculated that the signal could be indicative of an ‘alien megastructure’ that’s in the process of being built.”

An alternative explanation – it’s a huge swarm of comets – had me discounting the possibility. But now Tabby’s Star (KIC 8462852) is back in the news. At the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii, astronomers find the comet hypothesis doesn’t explain everything they see.

So, is it possible a structure like the one found in the classic scifi story Ringworld is under construction?

Fortunately, astronomers have preserved their photographic plates of the sky for a long time. Another researcher from Louisiana State University studied plates going back a hundred years.

Sure enough, yes, the star is a bit of an oddball and has shown a long-term decreasing trend in brightness! Since the 19th Century, its brightness has decreased steadily by nearly 20 percent.”

Astronomers from Caltech and the Carnegie Institute, looking at data from the Kepler space telescope,

Detect transient dips in brightness of up to 20 percent, there also seems to be a very definite downward trend in brightness throughout our observational history of the star…there’s no other star that shows such dramatic behavior.”

I love to watch scientists in action here. Long dead astronomers still collaborate with those today through their stored and shared photographs. From Hawaii to Louisiana and points between, people jump in with ideas they test and publish for scrutiny.

As of now, there’s no satisfactory answer to the mystery of Tabby’s Star. Astronomers are still searching and that’s wonderful.

Thanks to for following this story and for the quotes above.

4 Books on Mars white background (500x500)All my books, including science fiction, are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo, and other major online retailers. On Mars series books 1 and 2 available now – books 3 and 4 coming soon! Read one today.

Poetry of Science #poem #poetry #science #geek #poems #nature #read #amwriting #amreading

EBOOK COVER R&R3 (199x300)Hurray.

After working through several versions with problems like, the page numbers are missing, Rhyme and Reason Three is available now in a digital edition at Amazon and other major on-line book-sellers. The paperback edition is on Amazon and Create Space.

No matter how many notes I take, I learn something new with each book I publish – darn it. So I’ve also updated the formatting for Rhyme and Reason and Rhyme and Reason Two.

Now’s the time to collect all three.

My poetry is inspired by the real, objective world we all share and by Richard Feynman – one of the most important physicists of the 20th Century and certainly the most interesting. He wrote that

Poets say science takes away from the beauty of the stars – mere globs of gas atoms. I too can see the stars on a desert night, and feel them. But do I see less or more? The vastness of the heavens stretches my imagination – stuck on this carousel my little eye can catch one-million-year-old light. A vast pattern – of which I am a part… It does not do harm to the mystery to know a little about it. For far more marvelous is the truth than any artists of the past imagined it. Why do the poets of the present not speak of it? What men are poets who can speak of Jupiter if he were a man, but if he is an immense spinning sphere of methane and ammonia must be silent?”

Spheres of methane and ammonia make me rhyme, and so does earthbound science. Rhyme and Reason Three includes the popular Desert Watermelon. Here’s an excerpt:

Ruby slabs of watermelon
Decorate my table,
While in the wild deserts
Its ancestral stock is stable.

Civilization could collapse,
There could be Armageddon.
But in five thousand years,
Survivors could
-Again –
Have watermelon.

Be the first poetry lover, science lover, or geek to own R&R3.

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Lunar Eclipse #science #space #moon #eclipse

Screenshot from Le Voyage dans la lune (A Trip to the Moon) (1902) Public Domain in US

Early science fiction rocket arrives at the Moon in 1902 movie A Trip to the Moon

The world presents unto our eyes
Shapes and shadows, shifting lines
Our human brains do excel
At finding patterns that may tell
So in the moon the things we’ve seen:
A man, a rabbit, hands, a queen.
Just as clouds above cause rain,
All things above cause joy or pain.
When the moon turns rusty red
The normal night was turned to dread.
Will heaven’s fight drop on us soon,
As demons, jaguars bite the moon?
Drum and howl, chant and sing;
The moon’s restored, we always win.
Is it less now that we know
The moon is deep in Earth’s shadow?
Tonight I’ll see with my own eyes
A hint of nature’s scope and size.

by Kate Rauner

NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University PIA14021

The far side of the moon, which we Earth-bound observers never see

There will be viewing parties in many places. I’ll watch from my own deck, but if you’re in Los Angeles, consider where an astronomer (in official eclipse-dispersing wizard’s robe and hat) and the public gather on the observatory’s front lawn with telescopes—and with noisemakers. Their public program from 7 pm to 2 am sounds great – too bad I’m too far away to attend.

Learn more about moon myths; for example: There are quite a few to choose from at