astronomy

Once, the sky was full of stories. Ancient cultures filled the heavens with heroes and monsters, and spent nights telling epics and memorizing patterns in the stars.

No one can say they've seen it before, but most Floridians will have a chance Wednesday morning.

This week, the skywatchers will experience a flashy double feature: The Geminid meteor shower — one of the year's best — will coincide with an unusually close encounter by an asteroid.

That asteroid? It's called 3200 Phaethon, discovered by a NASA satellite in 1983. With a diameter of about 3 miles, it's the third-largest near-Earth asteroid classified by the space agency as "potentially hazardous."

It's time to find out what, if anything, our "mysterious interloper" has to say.

Scientists have just discovered a supermassive black hole that existed surprisingly early in the history of the universe, and the puzzling find is shedding new light on when the first stars blinked on.

Astronomers spotted the black hole, the most distant ever found, sitting inside a bright object so far away that the light had been traveling for 13 billion years before reaching Earth.

Astronomers in California are building the largest digital camera in the world. It will go on a giant telescope taking shape in Chile called the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope.

LSST is different from most large telescopes. Instead of staring at a tiny patch of the sky and taking essentially one snapshot in time, LSST will take a panorama of every part of the sky...and it will do so over and over and over. The idea is to see what's moving or changing in the heavens.

WLRN

Today in Sundial: Tens of thousands of South Florida residents are still in need of food assistance more than a month after Hurricane Irma smashed through the region. Recently, people waited in lines for hours to qualify for D-Snap, a federal program being facilitated by the Florida Department of Children and Families.

Astronomers have spotted some kind of outer space rock that's the first visitor from outside of our solar system that they've ever observed.

The discovery has set off a mad scramble to point telescopes at this fast-moving object to try to learn as much as possible before it zips out of sight.

For the first time, scientists have caught two neutron stars in the act of colliding, revealing that these strange smashups are the source of heavy elements such as gold and platinum.

When Hurricane Maria raked Puerto Rico last week as a Category 4 storm, it cut off electricity and communications island-wide, including at the Arecibo Observatory, one of the world's largest radio telescopes.

R
Edgar Su/Reuters

Throughout much of history, witnessing a total solar eclipse would mean one thing above all else. And that is fear.  

For the ancient Greeks, an eclipse was a sign that the gods were angry. The Vikings saw eclipses as a potential apocalypse. And the ancient Chinese apparently believed that an eclipse meant that a giant dragon was trying to devour the sun and that people needed to make as much noise as possible to scare the dragon away.

Anyone who gets to see the total solar eclipse on August 21 will be lucky — and humanity is lucky to live on a planet that even has this kind of celestial event.

Mercury and Venus, after all, don't even have moons. Mars has a couple, but they're too small to completely blot out the sun. Gas giants like Jupiter do have big moons, but they don't have solid surfaces where you could stand and enjoy an eclipse.

And, even with solid land and a moon, Earth only gets its gorgeous total solar eclipses because of a cosmic coincidence.

About two weeks from now on August 21, a lot of people will be looking up. They will be witnessing the first "coast to coast" solar eclipse visible in the United States in about 100 years.

You can use this interactive map from NASA to find exactly when to look for the effects of the eclipse in your part of the world. And if you need help converting UTC or (UT) time, check here.

Howard Hochhalter manages the Bishop Planetarium at the South Florida Museum in Bradenton. He says in Florida, we'll get about 83 to 85 percent of the eclipse.


To see this month's total solar eclipse, the first one to be visible from the contiguous United States in nearly 40 years, all Donald Liebenberg will have to do is open his front door and step outside.

"It's a really special treat to be able to have one in my driveway," says Liebenberg, who has trekked to Turkey, Zambia, China and Pukapuka, a remote island in the Pacific, to see past eclipses.

A small, faint star relatively close by is home to seven Earth-size planets with conditions that could be right for liquid water and maybe even life.

The discovery sets a record for both the most Earth-size planets and the most potentially habitable planets ever discovered around a single star.

Pages