Virtual Idea Lab

Astronomy Magazine Review Assignment.

This assignment consists of reviewing a recent astronomy periodical (such as “Astronomy” or “Sky & Telescope," which you can pick up at most bookstores and some newstands, or borrow from a library), summarizing and commenting on overall content, contributors, advertisements, plus an in-depth review of at least one article. Be sure to provide a formal citation for the magazine you review! Minimum length: 2 pages, 600 words. Due date: Week 6.

The following example for the Astronomy Magazine Review assignment goes above and beyond expectations… This the “Platinum Standard” for this assignment!

Magazine Content  

I reviewed October 2004’s edition of "Astronomy: The world’s best-selling astronomy magazine." This edition included articles such as, “How astronauts will fix the Hubble Space Telescope,” “Saturn Revolution,” and “Taking Venus by Storm.” In addition to these articles, there is a 20-year solar eclipse planner as well as a space chart. There are also many other concepts addressed such as Europe’s Venus Express and the newly tested Orion 102mm f/7 ED scope. I will give brief overviews from various sections of the magazine below, followed by my in-depth article review.

Contributors to the Magazine

Astronomy is published by Kalmbach Publishing in Colorado each month. Contributors to this magazine include Bob Berman who is well known and has been called "the widest-read astronomer". Another contributor is Phil Harrington who is an amateur astronomer involved with Star Ware. In addition, Ray Jayawardhana is a well-known astronomer at the University of Toronto who is a science writer for which he has won many awards. Stephen James O’Meara is a visual observer of the universe and has a comet named after him. These are not all of the contributors of the magazine. There are many other qualified professional as well as amateur contributors to this magazine which include Glenn F. Chaple, Jr., David Healy, Alister Ling, Steve Nadis, Tom Polakis, Martin Ratcliff, Mike D. Reynolds, John Shibley, and Raymond Shubinski.


All the advertisements in this magazine are of course related to astronomy in one way or another. The advertisements range from books to DVDs to telescopes. The predominant advertisement is for telescopes, which inform the reader about new telescope technology available and what has already been available for purchase. Advertisements in this magazine typically are to promote ways to view the universe from earth. They also advertise services for viewing of the heavens, such as tours and cruises.


The first letter was entitled “Mars Watch in Vancouver”, and the writer, Astronomer David Dodge at the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre in Vancouver, British Columbia, wrote about a star party he’d been to.  The subject was Mars, and more than 10,000 people showed up for the public viewing.  The lines behind the telescopes were so long that some of the people who came did not get to see Mars because the permit the star partiers had for using the park next to the space centre expired at 1:30am.  There was no parking within a 2 mile radius by the end of the party, and there was gridlock in the nearest major intersection.  Mr. Dodge said it was the most impressive turnout he’d ever seen for a star party.

The second letter was called “Fredericton Club”, and it was a general announcement by Paul Gray of Fredericton, New Brunswick, telling readers of a new astronomy club in his town.  It is called the William Brydone Jack Astronomy Club, after an astronomer who worked at Kings College, which is home to the oldest existing observatory in Canada.  Contact information is at the end of the letter.

The last letter is from Christi Kepe of Calgary, Alberta, and her letter was titled “Constellation Strolls”. She thanked SkyNews Magazine for having such easy-to-follow star charts; she could identify many constellations from them on her nightly strolls with her father through the countryside while they were on vacation from the city. Most city folk don’t get the chance to see many stars because of the ambient light from so many street lamps and what not, so Ms. Kepe was grateful for the opportunity. These letters are apparently touching stories or general announcements from subscribers of this magazine. At the edge of the page are instructions for submitting letters, comments, and photos to SkyNews.

The Poster

A double-sided poster included for free in this issue of SkyNews Magazine had a Hubble Telescope image of Galaxy NGC3370 on one side and the best-yet and highest resolution Cassini image of Jupiter on the other. The Hubble images are being used to refine estimates of the distances to individual stars and galaxies. The Cassini spacecraft took 27 narrow-field, high resolution images of Jupiter during an hour-long span and it has taken scientists almost three years to adjust them all as if they were taken at the same time and with the same lighting angle. The jigsaw puzzle of images was colored to look the way it would if humans could see Jupiter up close with the naked eye.  There is ordering information for more posters at the end of the article.

Star Chart for January and February

The star chart should be used with a red flashlight to keep up night vision. This page describes where in the sky and at what time of the year all nine planets can be seen. It gives a “celestial calendar” of events like Saturn at opposition, a Quadrantid meteor shower, phases of the moon, Asteroid Ceres at opposition, and at what degree the moon is in relation to Saturn, Jupiter, Venus, Mars, and Mercury.

Resources: Will it be Clear Tonight?

A computer software programmer from Ottawa named Atilla Danko and “Environment Canada” meteorologist Alan Rahill have come up with a way to predict the weather overnight in more than 1,600 locations around North America. It is a device called the Clear Sky Clock, or CSC, and it is a free tool accessible on the internet. It predicts very accurately within a 25-mile radius whether the sky will be clear or cloudy on a given night. This allows astronomers to plan their observation times.

Astronomy with Binoculars

Binoculars are excellent tools for beginning astronomers; they can spectacularly enhance any number of celestial objects, and they are considerably cheaper than telescopes.  A good pair of binoculars may be about $150, but a good telescope runs for at least three times that much.  Some objects made clearer by binoculars are Jupiter and four of its moons, Uranus, Neptune, the Andromeda Galaxy, the Pleiades and Hyades, and surface features of the moon’s light and shadowed sides.

Celestial Portraits

Three pictures dominate this page; the Andromeda Galaxy, the Pac-Man Nebula, and a shot containing the Cygnus sector of the Milky Way. The Andromeda Galaxy picture is a mosaic of 224 four-minute exposures; an amateur astronomer looking through a simple backyard telescope would be disappointed at the fuzzy splotch they would find in the place where this impressive sight is supposed to be in the night sky. The Pac-Man Nebula would also be blurred and washed out without the use of high-tech cameras and long exposures. The Cygnus sector photograph took ten minutes of exposure time to get the color and detail shown in the picture on page seven, and it contained Deneb, the North America Nebula, the Gamma Cygni Nebula, and the Cygnus Loop supernova remnant.

Aurora Blast

In Canada late October and early November are usually very cloudy, but last fall two of the biggest astronomical events of the year, a lunar eclipse and a massive aurora, happened less than ten days apart on clear nights. The aurora happened on October 30th and most of eastern Canada got clear skies for a fantastic view. On November 8th there were clear skies across most of Canada and so more people got to see the unusually well-lit (with colors ranging from yellow-gold to rust orange) total eclipse of the moon. The usual leaden gray and brown colors of an eclipse were replaced by a “pumpkin colored smiley face” with the brightest part being the section of moon closest to Earth’s shadow.

October Aurora

The impressive aurora on October 30th was caused by intense solar-flare activity, and it was seen in Europe as far south as Greece. The eastern coast of Canada had clear enough skies to get breathtaking pictures of the aurora, whose peak intensity lasted from 6:40pm to 7:00pm.  One photographer in Toronto noted that a Canon 300D digital camera used in a 10-second exposure seemed to capture auroral hues particularly well, and much more accurately than regular film.

Eclipse Night in Canada

A total eclipse of the moon on November 8th was visible to most of Canada, and its lighter-than-average colorations were easily visible to the naked eye and with binoculars.  Canadians were delighted with the unseasonably clear night because they were thus able to take fantastic shots of this “cosmic pumpkin”.

Orion's Sky

This article was written by Monte Hummel, a member of the Order of Canada and president of World Wildlife Fund Canada.  He tells stories about his viewing experiences and gives vivid descriptions of his favorite stars and constellations.  He tells readers how to use Orion to find the Winter Arc, consisting of Capella, Castor, Pollux, Procyon, and Sirius, and he exhorts his readers to et a pair of binoculars or a telescope and escape the obstructive light and smog in cities and explore the night sky.

Keeping Up with the Neighbors

Late last year Mars made its record close approach, as bright to the naked eye and as large through a telescope as the people alive today will ever see it. As Mars wanes now in February, Venus rises to an unusual year (it will cross the sun as a black dot to our eyes on June 25th), and Jupiter is now easily visible late at night. The solar system’s largest asteroid, Ceres, passes through the constellation Gemini.

Venus will be close to the moon on February 23rd, and the moon will be close to Mars on February 25th. In North America we can see Mars close enough to Venus to be in the same narrow field of vision in a low-power telescope. Mars was doing retrograde motion in Aquarius last summer and autumn, but now it’s moving through four zodiac constellations in five months, and because its eastward-moving momentum just abut matches the westward-moving pace of the starscape we can see Mars in approximately the same place at the same time every night. Saturn is at its brightest, closest, and highest altitude in a generation. Saturn will come close enough to M35 in Gemini in early March that the two celestial bodies can be seen in the same binocular field of view. On February 29th the gibbous moon sits in this same field. Saturn will finish its westward retrograde loop early this winter.

Venus Rising

Venus is on the rise this year. It will be at is brightest and most prominent in May, a level unachieved since spring of 1999. Venus is very bright because of a super-dense atmosphere of carbon dioxide laced with reflective clouds of corrosive sulphuric-acid droplets.

Mars Hangs In

Mars is waning in brilliance, but it maintains its position in south-western sky.  It was fairly bright January, but by March 1st it will be dimmer than most stars in the sky.  Mars is also maintaining its altitude above the horizon, and is moving so slowly relative to us that it won’t disappear until September, and we won’t see it very well through a telescope in March (it’s now becoming too small for anyone except the most knowledgeable and skilled observers to pick out details) again until late 2005.

Saturn at Maximum Altitude

Saturn takes 29.6 years to return to its place in our night sky, so the next time Saturn will be so close to us, so high in the sky, so bright and with its rings at nearly maximum tilt will be the early 2030’s.  In January and February this year Saturn outshines all the stars except for Sirius, and the tilt towards us of its rings is 25 degrees.  In 2017 the rings will again be at maximum tilt, but the planet will be closer to the horizon and Sagittarius in the summer, so the better view is this year in the winter.

Jupiter Looms in Leo

Jupiter is in Leo right now, and it will reach opposition and peak brightness on March 4th.  At this level Jupiter is second in brightness only to Venus.  On January 12th and February 8th the setting gibbous moon comes within three degrees of Jupiter.  Jupiter rises late at night in early January but by early March it is rising at sunset.

Jupiter’s Moons

This article explains a diagram of Jupiter’s four largest moons: Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto.  The diagram shows where the moons will be relative to Jupiter at 7p.m. on specific dates.  Io’s orbital period is 1.8 days, Europa’s is 3.6 days, Ganymede’s is 7.2 days, and Callisto’s orbital period is 16.7 days.

Six Worlds in View

From the latter half of February through March and April it is possible to look up at the ecliptic plane running through the zodiac constellations of Pisces, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, and the southern-most star in Leo and see four planets, Ceres, and the moon. The planets, from west to east, are Venus, Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter.  On February 27th the first quarter moon sat nearly halfway between Mars and Saturn. All the planets except Pluto follow the ecliptic plane, and Ceres is tipped off the ecliptic by ten degrees. In late March and early April Mercury will join the string of planets in the western sky. It is possible to see all of them with the naked eye.

Seeking Ceres

Ceres is the largest asteroid yet discovered, as well as the first, but not the brightest.  The brightest is Vesta, whose whiter surface reflects more sunlight. Ceres was found on New Year’s Day in 1801 by Giuseppe Piazzi, and now we have catalogued 65,000 asteroids. Ceres is bright enough to be seen with binoculars, and right now it is in the Gemini constellation along with Saturn. Ceres is small enough that with only binoculars it will look like a bright star moving across the sky from night to night.

A Guide for the Ceres Enthusiast

Ceres moves through the constellation Gemini between Castor and Tau Geminorum before seeming to stop and be stationary from night to night.  Saturn moves across the feet of the Gemini constellation.  The course of the two heavenly objects is laid out against a photo of the actual starfield, and Ceres is pin-pointed every five days until it stops retrograding by the last week of February.

Constellation Corner: Fornax

This southern-hemisphere constellation, named by Nicolas Louis de Lacaille in the early 1750’s as Fornax Chemica (Chemical Furnace), contains no bright stars or discernable pattern. In 1782, German astronomer Johann Bode renamed the constellation Apparatus Chemicus, in honor of French chemist Antoine Lavoisier (often regarded as the father of modern chemistry), but the new name didn’t stick and it is now simply known as Fornax.  Its redeeming value to astronomers is that it is home to the Fornax Cluster, a prominent family of galaxies 75 million light years away which are anchored by NGC1316.  This galaxy is a fascinatingly active radio galaxy that emits mass quantities of energy.

February's Extra Day

Since Earth takes 365¼ days to orbit the sun, the Leap Year was invented 2,000 years ago by Cleopatra and Julius Caesar. Without this extra day to reset the equinoxes and solstices back, we would accumulate six hours difference each year and eventually the coldest days of the year would be in April and May and the shortest day would fall in March. To keep our calendars matching the seasons we created Leap Year. The 2003 winter solstice was around 2am on December 22nd, while 2004’s winter solstice will be at 7:42am on December 21st. This is because 2004 is a Leap Year, and the calendar solstice was moved back by 18 hours to keep it in sync with the seasons.

On Engaging Meteor Showers

Meteor expert Peter Millman of the National Research Council designed observing forms so simple that even the most inexperienced astronomer could enjoy recording meteors. Leonid meteor storms in 1833 and 1866 were stronger than the showers in 1988, 1999, 2001, and 2002, but it was possible to see 2400 meteors in three hours during the shower of 2001. On January 3rd and 4th the Quadrantid meteor shower peaked around 1a.m., the Lyrids reach maximum on April 20th through the 22nd, and on May 3rd the Eta Aquarids (debris from Halley’s Comet) have their show. According to this article, observing meteor showers is an art that has uniquely Canadian roots, and both the oldest and the second oldest impact craters in North America reside in Ontario. The oldest is Sudbury Basin at 1.85 billion years old, and the second oldest is Holleford Crater at 550 million years old and 2.4 kilometers wide.  As for the meteor showers to come, the Leonids will be back in their usual modest display showing only a couple dozen per hour (as opposed to the thousands last November), and that’s where the intensity of the storms will stay for decades.

Merritt Star Quest

Merritt is a town in western Canada about four hours east of Vancouver, and it had a fantastic star-party on September 26th and 27th of 2003. It was held on a grassy plateau 1,200 meters high adjacent to the largest working cattle ranch in Canada, called the Douglas Lake Ranch. The star-party was endangered by the worst fire season in living memory, but the fires were quenched two weeks before the party’s starting date. The party on the 27th lasted for 10 hours, and it was hosted by Réné and Nicole van den Elzen, Lee Johnson, and Paul Greenhalgh.

In-depth Article Review:

How We’ll Fix Hubble: NASA returns to the Hubble Space Telescope one last time.

Astronauts last visited the Hubble Space Telescope in 2002 and added a new camera which allowed for better pictures. The new camera is called the ACS or Advanced Camera for Surveys. Hubble now took amazing pictures of galaxies being formed. However, in 2007, the Hubble telescope lost power which was in addition to other power issues in previous years. In order to service Hubble, the mission to repair humble was scheduled for October 8th. On this mission, they will install Wide Field Camera 3 and the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph as well as repair the ACS and STIS. In addition, they will repair other functions on the Hubble telescope in order to extend the life of the craft by at least five years. With the new instruments installed, it will be possible to see deeper into the universe which will include seeing new stars, old stars, and galaxies. In addition, they will be able to see the evolution of stars, galaxies, and planets.

These repairs may be tricky because the ACS and STIS were not designed to repair in space. Therefore the task will be long and tedious. NASA designed new tools in order to assist with the repairs. The goal of the astronauts is to make sure that they repair Hubble so that it can complete its mission. Astronauts will also perform maintenance tasks the will include replacing batteries. NASA plans to keep Hubble operating until 2013 and possible longer. From then, they will launch the James Webb Space Telescope.

This is an amazing article. I never knew how much work went into maintaining the Hubble Space Telescope. The Hubble Telescope has many high tech instruments that will allow us to learn ever more about the universe. This article does its job well in informing us about the advances of the Hubble Telescope and what we can expect in the future. From the content of the article, it is obvious that the spacecraft has repairs needed but will be repaired by astronauts to improve the performance as well as the lifespan of the Hubble Space Telescope.

Magazine Citations