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Astronomy

¨  I saw a huge crescent shape consisting of stars evenly spaced out. What was this?
¨  Potential meteor sighting?
¨  What are the different phases of the moon called?
¨  Bright stars and astronomer questions
¨  Why does the moon appear to move along with us when we walk on the road?
¨  What would cause a perfectly round sun that was blood red?
¨
  Why does the plasma tail of a comet always point away from the sun?
¨  What can you see on Earth from the moon?
¨  Does Spring start on the 20th or 21st of March?
¨  Is there life in other planets?

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QUESTION:
On or about June 18th or 19th in the very early hours I looked out my window which faces south and saw a huge crescent shape consisting of stars evenly spaced out.  I’m sure I saw this, but now I'm beginning to wonder.  Can you help me clear this up?

ANSWER from Bonnie Walters on 9 July 2007:
Hmmm... I need more information from you.  I would need to know your latitude and longitude so I know what part of the Earth you are "looking from."  Remember, opposite sides of the Earth view different constellations.  Once I have that information it would be easier to try to figure out which set of stars you were looking at.  The time you were looking out your window would also help pinpoint the stars.  Some crescent shaped constellations (you did say huge so constellations jump to mind) are Corona Borealis, Scorpius and Orion's shield, all northern hemisphere. The Corona Australis is in the southern hemisphere.  There are more, no doubt, but pinpointing your area needs to come first.  If you do not know your latitude or longitude and do not know how to look it up go to http://jan.ucc.nau.edu/~cvm/latlon_find_location.html  Look it up and let us know.

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QUESTION:
This is really bothering me and I thought I'd ask you.  I live about 30 miles away from Chicago in Lockport, IL.  I was driving with me fiance about an hour ago and right on the side of us was a large white streak coming down from the sky and then the head of it turned green.  It seemed to fall in the field next to us.  It seemed to be VERY close.  What could of this been?  There looks to be a full moon out so I don't know if this matters.

ANSWER from Michelle Mock on 9 January 2007:
Your question sounded very interesting and because of the meteorite that crashed through the house in New Jersey, I thought what you saw could be related.  Since there was a meteor shower the night of January 4th, Quadrantids, your sighting may have been related.  See: http://stardate.org/nightsky/meteors/
and http://www.spaceweather.com/meteors/quadrantids/quadrantids.html

It's possible that the green glow was from the various elements that were burning up in the atmosphere as it entered.  See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flame_test

Here is another link that is kind of curious:
http://antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/ap970811.html

Looks like others have seen similar things:
http://www.amsmeteors.org/fireball/fireball_log2007.html#loglist

You can report your sighting to the American Meteor Society at:
http://www.amsmeteors.org/fireball/report.html

Our resident amateur astronomer, Roger Herzler, replied: "That was very likely a meteor.  That's not uncommon to see a sporadic bright one from time to time, even under city lights.  I've seen a few over my lifetime.  It could have been space junk as well, but it was likely a grain of rock entering Earth's atmosphere.  If it actually touched the ground it's called a meteorite and you should go look around for it.  If it's iron you can use a metal detector to locate it."

For more information on meteors falling on that same night you can go to: http://articles.news.aol.com/news/_a/mysterious-metallic-object-crashes-into/20070104063909990003

Or for more information on meteors in general, go to:http://liftoff.msfc.nasa.gov/Academy/SPACE/SolarSystem/Meteors/meteors.html

ANSWER from Michelle Mock on 12 May 2007:
I just saw an article online about that mysterious object that fell through a roof in New Jersey the night of January 2nd and remembered your question about what you saw that night from Chicago.  Because of the similarities in what you saw and the timing of this discovery, I think the two events may be related.  Based on the following article, I believe what you saw was some sort of space junk.  As a satellite ages, its orbit starts getting smaller.  Eventually, the satellite drops low enough that it enters the Earth's atmosphere and burns up.  This happens all the time.  Sometimes we may spot space junk entering the atmosphere and call it a shooting star.  The larger the object, the more likely that it will be visible especially at night.  What it is made of will also make the spectacle more or less awesome to see.  I am only guessing but I think what you saw was some sort of large man made "space junk".

Thank you for a great question!  If you ever find out what you saw, please go to Imagiverse.ORG and click on the Contact Us link and let us know!

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QUESTION:
What are the different shapes of the moon called?

ANSWER from Stephanie Wong on 24 February 2007:
There is new, crescent, quarter, gibbous and full.  Depending if the crescent and gibbous is getting bigger or smaller, it is referred to as waxing or waning, respectively.  If the quarter moon is getting bigger, it's the First Quarter.  If it's in the process of getting smaller, it's the Last Quarter.

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QUESTION:
The 2nd or 3rd week in February I was camping and sometime between 2 am and 5 am I saw the brightest star I've ever seen.  I believe it it was to the east.  Man that thing was bright!  Could you tell me what that star was?

ANSWER from Imagiverse on 27 December 2006:
I am sorry that we can't route your questions to our experts because it is too vague.  You do not say WHERE you saw this "star" or even what year you saw it.  You also are not sure where in the sky you saw it.  It makes a big difference.  The same stars are not visible in different geographical locations.

Based on the lack information, we can only guess... maybe it was Venus (which is actually a planet but frequently the brightest "star" in the sky).  It could have also been another planet.  You can check the Internet for "closest approach" with a planet name and a year.  It might give you an idea if it could have been another planet.  Your "star" could have been an airplane, a satellite or the International Space Station.  You can use the Internet to search and maybe come up with the answer for yourself.  I hope this helps.

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QUESTION:
Why does the moon appear to move along with us when we walk on the road?

ANSWER from Imagiverse on 17 October 2006:
It just appears that way because the moon is so large and so distant.  Depending upon how high the moon is above the horizon, the illusion is different.

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QUESTION:
This morning at 7:30 am MT I saw a perfectly round sun that was blood red.  Normally the sun comes up golden.  Last night I saw same thing at 7:30 pm.  It then disappeared and a cresent moon appeared.

ANSWER from Roger Herzler on 5 September 2006:
The appearance of the Sun as you saw it would be explained by atmospheric conditions such as moisture/humidity or temperature.  The Sun itself generally holds one visible color and doesn't shift from day to day.  However, particulates such as dust, or humidity, can definitely drive changes to the apparent color of the Sun by a viewer on Earth.

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QUESTION:
Why does the plasma tail of a comet always point away from the sun?

ANSWER from Stephanie Wong on 5 August 2006:
The solar wind (that is, the ions streaming away from the sun) interact with the ion tail of the comet and always "sweep" them in a direction away from the sun.  The second dust tail of a comet is not affected by the solar wind but rather appears in a direction opposite the direction of motion.

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QUESTION:
Besides water, what can you see on Earth from the moon?

ANSWER from Michelle Mock on 8 June 2006:
You can't really see more than clouds, continents and water... lots of water.  Nothing man made can be seen from the moon.  Depending upon the amount of cloud cover, you can see the difference between green areas and deserts.  From a lower orbit, such as the International Space Station, you can see much more.

Some people claim that the Great Wall of China can be seen from the moon, this is simply not true, see:
http://geography.about.com/od/specificplacesofinterest/a/greatwall.htm

At the bottom of that page you will find a quote from astronaut Alan Bean from Tom Burnam's book More Misinformation...

"The only thing you can see from the moon is a beautiful sphere, mostly white (clouds), some blue (ocean), patches of yellow (deserts), and every once in a while some green vegetation.  No man-made object is visible on this scale.  In fact, when first leaving earth's orbit and only a few thousand miles away, no man-made object is visible at that point either."

The Earthrise photo shows a view of the Earth from the moon:
http://antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/ap051224.html

If you look more closely at the links on that page, you will find some other images.

I hope this helps.

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QUESTION:
When I went to school (40yrs+) I learned that spring started on 21st of March.  My friends also noticed the change now it's on the 20th of March.  Please can you explain.  All the seniors thank you... or are we losing it faster that we thought?

ANSWER from Stephanie Wong on 21 April 2006:
No, you are not losing it!  In fact, the first day of spring can occur on either the 20th or 21st of March!  The definition of the first day of spring (the vernal equinox) is when the sun is directly overhead the equator, as the days of the northern hemisphere become longer.  Day and night are equally long (12 hours... thus the Latin name "equi - nox" for equal night).  Because this is an astronomical phenomenon, it doesn't always fit it with our human-made calendar.  Remember, the calendar is an artificial sectioning of the days of an astronomical Earth year.  We even have to have leap years to make up for its inaccuracy.  So, sometimes the equinox occurs on the 20th, sometimes the 21st.  Here you can take a look at some of the exact times calculated by an astronomical calculator:
http://scienceworld.wolfram.com/astronomy/VernalEquinox.html

One of our Imagiverse experts, astronomer Phil Plait, has also given his own take on the definition of the "seasons".  Take a look at his article and also read his interview on our website:
http://www.badastronomy.com/bad/misc/badseasons.html

Phil's Interview
http://www.imagiverse.org/interviews/philplait/phil_plait_10_03_04.htm

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QUESTION:
Is there life in other planets?

ANSWER from Stephanie Wong on 21 April 2006:
There is no hard evidence that there is life on other planets in our solar system, or in other galaxies.  However, as we realize there are organisms (as we know on Earth) that are very "exotic" and can live in very uninhabitable places, the likelihood of some "exotic" alien life on another exotic planet increases.  Scientists are also discovering that planets and moons near us, like Mars, are very similar to Earth.  Many have frozen water locked up in the planet, and some even appear to have (had) liquid water on them.  Because life as we know it requires water, finding water increases the chance of extraterrestrial life.  Now, that is not even considering other "sorts" of life that may exist, that are made up of stuff much different from Earth life.

Philosophically, I personally think that there is probably life somewhere in the universe.  In such a big universe, would we be the only life in it?  It's hard to imaging HOW we could be the only life in the universe, considering there are so many planets and moons out there which probably are Earth-like.  We haven't found Earth's "twins" yet, but I think there is one out there.  That's not to say that I think we'll find extraterrestrial life anytime soon, but I think there is certainly something "out there".

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Last Updated:
26 August 2007
 

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