March 09, 2016
  • Editor's note for March 8, 10:45 pm ET: The total solar eclipse of 2016 has ended. You can see photos of the solar eclipse here. To see our full wrap up, read: Total Solar Eclipse Wows Skywatchers Across Indonesia, Pacific Region.

    Today (March 8) the moon will pass in front of the sun, causing the first and only total solar eclipse of 2016. For skywatchers around the world, here's how to see the eclipse and what to expect.

    The eclipse will be visible across Indonesia, from the islands of Sumatra, Borneo, Sulawesi and Halmahera. A partial eclipse will be visible over southern and eastern Asia, northern and western Australia, and Hawaii. Skywatchers in the rest of the world can watch the eclipse live in a webcast hosted by the Slooh Community Observatory.

    Remember, do not look directly at the sun with the naked eye or a telescope. You can use special eclipse-viewing glasses or build a pinhole projector. [March 2016 Solar Eclipse - Mostly Out to Sea | Video]

    This NASA graphic depicts the 100-mile-wide (160 kilometers) path of totality for the total solar eclipse of March 8, 2016 (which will actually occur on March 9 in Southeast Asia, which lies on the other side of the international date line).

    This NASA graphic depicts the 100-mile-wide (160 kilometers) path of totality for the total solar eclipse of March 8, 2016 (which will actually occur on March 9 in Southeast Asia, which lies on the other side of the international date line).

    Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/E. Wright

    Slooh will broadcast views of the eclipse from Indonesia, along with "live feeds from several other locations along the eclipse path," said the observatory's website. NASA will broadcast a webcast of the eclipse as well, starting at 8 p.m. EST (0100 GMT on Wednesday, March 9) on NASA TV.

    The Slooh webcast, which you can also watch the total solar eclipse on courtesy of Slooh, begins at 6 p.m. EST (2300 GMT) and goes until 9 p.m. EST (0200 GMT on Wednesday). From the location in Indonesia, the eclipse will reach totality — the point at which the moon fully blocks out the sphere of the sun — starting at 7:36 p.m. EST (0037 GMT) and lasting for only about 2 minutes.

    (Click image to see animation). This image shows the shadow of the moon passing over Earth. The total solar eclipse will take place where the dark black dot is; the larger circle indicates regions where a partial solar eclipse will be visible.

    (Click image to see animation). This image shows the shadow of the moon passing over Earth. The total solar eclipse will take place where the dark black dot is; the larger circle indicates regions where a partial solar eclipse will be visible.

    Credit: NASA

    To find out when totality occurs in different parts of the world, check out our solar eclipse reference page. At the location on the Earth known as the point of greatest duration, the sun will be fully covered by the moon for just over 4 minutes, according to Geoff Gaherty of Starry Night Education. However, this spot lies over the Pacific Ocean.

    How Solar Eclipses Work: When the moon covers up the sun, skywatchers delight in the opportunity to see a rare spectacle. <a href="">See how solar eclipses occur in this infographic</a>.

    How Solar Eclipses Work: When the moon covers up the sun, skywatchers delight in the opportunity to see a rare spectacle. See how solar eclipses occur in this infographic.

    Credit: Karl Tate, Contributor

    Other celestial events this week

    You should never look directly at the sun, but there are ways to safely observe an eclipse. <a href="">See how to safely observe a solar eclipse with this infographic</a>.

    You should never look directly at the sun, but there are ways to safely observe an eclipse.See how to safely observe a solar eclipse with this infographic.

    Credit: Karl Tate, Contributor

    Even for skywatchers who can't personally observe the eclipse tomorrow, this week will offer some gorgeous celestial viewing events. Jupiter reaches opposition today, meaning Earth will pass directly between the mighty planet and the sun. As a result, Jupiter will rise just as the sun is setting, remain visible through the night and set when the sun rises.

    Jupiter is currently the brightest object in the night sky (with the exception of the moon and the International Space Station), so it is easily observable with the naked eye. But a good pair of binoculars or a small telescope will also reveal some of the gas giant's moons. Mars and Saturn are also on display this month.

    And if that isn't enough to satiate your skywatching appetite, Slooh will host another webcast on Wednesday night to track the journey of the 100-foot-wide (30.4 meters) asteroid 2013 TX68. You can also watch the webcast here on, courtesy of Slooh.

    The asteroid made a close approach to Earth yesterday (March 7), at 8:42 a.m. EST (1342 GMT), coming to within 2,542,960 miles (4,092,497 kilometers) of Earth's surface, according to the Minor Planet Center, as reported on Slooh's website. However, even at its closest point, the asteroid was not visible with the naked eye, or even with a good telescope, said scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

    "Slooh will live-stream the event from its flagship Canary Islands Observatory, which will be accompanied by discussions led by Slooh astronomer Eric Edelman and scientist Dr. Mark Boslough, an expert on planetary impacts and global catastrophes and frequent participant on many science TV documentaries," said the Slooh website.

    March 09, 2016
  • The moon blocked out the sun over Indonesia and nearby regions on March 9, 2016 in a total solar eclipse that wowed stargazers across southeast Asia. See photos from the amazing sun event here. THIS IMAGE: The total solar eclipse of 2016 reaches totality in this still image from a NASA webcast on March 8, 2016 from Woleai Island in Micronesia, where it was March 9 local time during the eclipse. - See more at:

    May 02, 2016
  • At Sandy Point Beach in Maine, the Milky Way glowed over the still water when this stunning image was captured.

    Astrophotographer A. Garrett Evans took this image on March 12 at Sandy Point Beach in Stockton Springs, Maine. Evans went to the beach with a friend both hoping to capture the Milky Way  over an old pier in the Penobscot River.

    "The skies were mostly clear and the temps were in the mid 30's which seemed a bit warm for this time of year, but that was welcomed," he wrote in an email to


    April 25, 2016 10:35am ET
    May 02, 2016
  •      As we arrive at the midpoint of the spring season, we examine some of the prominent stars and constellations (and planets) that are visible on these balmy spring evenings.

    One thing that is becoming more apparent, even to those who do not pay much attention to the night sky, are the later sunsets. From New York City, for instance, the sun has been setting slightly more than a minute later each evening during April. And the time that the sky becomes completely dark, the end of astronomical/evening twilight, has gotten even later: 43 minutes later on April 30 than on April 1.

    This changing time of evening twilight causes an effect that many constellation watchers notice only subconsciously. From February through May, the stars' seasonal westward drift seems to go especially fast. If you observe when it gets completely dark, winter constellations like Orion the Hunter and Taurus the Bull seem to zip across the sky and disappear before you know it. Conversely, from late July through early November, the Summer Triangle (composed of the stars Vega, Deneb and Altair) as well as other summertime groups seem to hang around forever.




    Take, for instance, Thursday (May 5): the midpoint of spring.

    When the sky becomes completely dark, only the stars marking the horn tips of Taurus and the ruddy star Betelgeuse in Orion's shoulder are still visible very low in the west-northwest sky. Compare that to the midpoint of autumn (Nov. 7), where we can still readily find the Summer Triangle more than two-thirds up in the western sky when darkness falls. Even the familiar Teapot of Sagittarius, another summer staple, is still evident low above the southwestern horizon.
    Leo announces spring

    The stars of spring are not as dazzling as the stars of winter — and yet at dusk 10 bright stars of the first-magnitude are visible at once. No other season, including winter, offers so many.  Orion the Mighty Hunter is the constellation most associated with the winter season, but for the spring that distinction must go to Leo, the Lion. In the beginning of March, we saw its bright sickle of stars marking the lion's furry mane and head in the east at dusk, giving us the first sign that the cold winter season is mostly behind us. The constellation shines high in the south when the stars appear in early May's sky, and it follows the sun closely to its setting in the west by midsummer. At the bottom of the constellation's sickle is the bluish first-magnitude star Regulus, one of the four "royal stars" that were supposed long ago to rule over the four quarters of the sky.

    East from the sickle there is a right triangle of stars; the easternmost star in this trio is Denebola, marking the tip of the lion's tail.

    Cats are notorious for their intense hatred of getting wet, chiefly because the cat's fur becomes waterlogged and weighs it down. Lions are members of the cat family, and whenever I'm giving a show at New York's Hayden Planetarium I tell my audience that the best way to draw out the "big cat" that is Leo is to get him wet. "So," I say, "let's find the Big Dipper and imagine we fill the bowl with water." I then suggest that we drill an imaginary hole at the bottom of the bowl, thereby allowing all the water to spill out. And who does that water spill onto? Leo!
    And the rest . . .

    Other spring star patterns include Boötes, the Herdsman, which is found by following the curve of the handle of the Big Dipper down to the brilliant orange-yellow star Arcturus, located at the bottom of a long kite-shaped figure extending close to the Dipper's handle. If you extend the curve from the Dipper's handle past Arcturus you'll eventually come to the bluish-white first-magnitude star Spica. Spica is the brightest star in Virgo, the Virgin, which resembles a Y-shaped line of moderately faint stars.

    Not far to the west (right) of Spica is a little four-sided figure of fairly bright stars, like a triangle whose top has been removed by a slanting cut. That's Corvus, the Crow. Immediately to the right of Corvus are the faint stars of Crater, the Cup, which outline a goblet. A pity that it's composed of rather faint stars, but on clear, dark nights free of haze and bright lights it can be easily traced.

    The Crow and Cup sit on the back of the largest and longest constellation in our skies, Hydra the Water Snake. It sprawls below Leo and Virgo and has one reasonably bright second-magnitude star, the reddish Alphard.
    "Big Jupe," The Red Planet and "Lord of the Rings"

    Finally, almost acting as a "punctuation mark" to our current evening sky, Jupiter lies in the middle of this year's spring array. Jupiter, the "King," is the solar system's biggest planet and it is rivaled in the sky only by the moon and Venus. Like Leo, Jupiter is near the meridian high in the south when it first gleams through the fading daylight after sunset. After darkness falls, Jupiter shines below the Lion all evening as the brightest "star" in the sky, a grand sight for both naked-eye and telescopic observers to behold.

    Later in May, we'll be able to enjoy the sight of the Red Planet Mars, which makes its closest approach to Earth in more than a decade and will appear as a dazzling yellow-orange ember low in the southeast as darkness fades. Not too far behind Mars, appearing by late evening, will be Saturn shining in sedate splendor with a yellow-white glow; it's rings now tilted nearly to their maximum extent and making for a glorious sight even in small telescopes.

    Happy spring!


    April 29, 2016 10:12am ET
    May 02, 2016
  • The rocket landing took place on April 8, and the company broadcast live footage of the event, shot by cameras located a safe distance away from the ship.

    But this new video is another level of awesome. Taken by a camera located on the ship, the rocket looks close enough to touch. And the 360-degree view allows the observer to stay focused on the rocket during its entire descent onto the landing pad.

    This was SpaceX's 5th drone ship landing attempt in 15 months, and its first success. In each of the previous landing tries, the booster reached the drone ship but did not stay upright. The company has also made one successful landing on solid ground. The achievement marks a significant step toward SpaceX's goal of making its rockets totally reusable.  

    Before making its historic touchdown, the Falcon 9 rocket launched from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, carrying one of the company's Drago cargo vehicles. The Dragon capsule continued its journey toward the International Space Station, where it delivered crew supplies, station hardware, and science experiments. This is SpaceX's eighth attempted cargo delivery run for NASA, and the company has secured a second cargo delivery contract with the agency.

    Along with Boeing, SpaceX also has a contract with NASA to deliver crew to the space station. This week, SpaceX announced that it plans to send one of its Dragon capsules to Mars as early as 2018. The company's CEO, billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, has said that he has plans for the company to participate in human exploration and eventual colonization of the Red Planet.

    The private spaceflight company Blue Origin is also building (and landing) reusable rockets. Recently, the company showed that it can launch and land the same suborbital rocket booster three times. Blue Origin's founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos — who is also the founder and CEO of — has said that the company is working on orbital rockets that it also plans to make reusable



    April 29, 2016 09:00pm ET
    May 02, 2016
  • Is our universe unique? From science fiction to science fact, there is a proposal out there that suggests that there could be other universes besides our own, where all the choices you made in this life played out in alternate realities. So, instead of turning down that job offer that took you from the United States to China, the alternate universe would show the outcome if you decided to venture to Asia instead.

    The idea is pervasive in comic books and movies. For example, in the 2009 "Star Trek" reboot, the premise is that the Kirk and Spock portrayed by Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto are in an alternate timeline apart from the William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy versions of the characters.  

    The concept is known as a "parallel universe," and is a facet of the astronomical theory of the multiverse. There actually is quite a bit of evidence out there for a multiverse. First, it is useful to understand how our universe is believed to have come to be.



    Arguing for a multiverse

    Around 13.7 billion years ago, simply speaking, everything we know of in the cosmos was an infinitesimal singularity. Then, according to theBig Bang theory, some unknown trigger caused it to expand and inflate in three-dimensional space. As the immense energy of this initial expansion cooled, light began to shine through. Eventually, the small particles began to form into the larger pieces of matter we know today, such as galaxies, stars and planets.

    One big question with this theory is: are we the only universe out there. With our current technology, we are limited to observations within this universe because the universe is curved and we are inside the fishbowl, unable to see the outside of it (if there is an outside.)

    There are at least five theories why a multiverse is possible, as a 2012 article explained

    1. We don't know what the shape of space-time is exactly. One prominent theory is that it is flat and goes on forever. This would present the possibility of many universes being out there. But with that topic in mind, it's possible that universes can start repeating themselves. That's because particles can only be put together in so many ways. More about that in a moment.

    2. Another theory for multiple universes comes from "eternal inflation." Based on research from Tufts University cosmologist Alexander Vilenkin, when looking at space-time as a whole, some areas of space stop inflating like the Big Bang inflated our own universe. Others, however, will keep getting larger. So if we picture our own universe as a bubble, it is sitting in a network of bubble universes of space. What's interesting about this theory is the other universes could have very different laws of physics than our own, since they are not linked.

    3. Or perhaps multiple universes can follow the theory of quantum mechanics (how subatomic particles behave), as part of the "daughter universe" theory. If you follow the laws of probability, it suggests that for every outcome that could come from one of your decisions, there would be a range of universes — each of which saw one outcome come to be. So in one universe, you took that job to China. In another, perhaps you were on your way and your plane landed somewhere different, and you decided to stay. And so on.

    4. Another possible avenue is exploring mathematical universes, which, simply put, explain that the structure of mathematics may change depending in which universe you reside. "A mathematical structure is something that you can describe in a way that's completely independent of human baggage," said theory-proposer Max Tegmark of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as quoted in the 2012 article. "I really believe that there is this universe out there that can exist independently of me that would continue to exist even if there were no humans."

    5. And last but not least as the idea of parallel universes. To go back to the idea that space-time is flat, the number of possible particle configurations in multiple universes would be limited to 10^10^122 distinct possibilities, to be exact. So, with an infinite number of cosmic patches, the particle arrangements within them must repeat — infinitely many times over. This means there are infinitely many "parallel universes": cosmic patches exactly the same as ours (containing someone exactly like you), as well as patches that differ by just one particle's position, patches that differ by two particles' positions, and so on down to patches that are totally different from ours.
    Arguing against a parallel universe

    Not everyone agrees with the parallel universe theory, however. A 2015 article on Medium by astrophysicist Ethan Siegal agreed that space-time could go on forever in theory, but said that there are some limitations with that idea.

    The key problem is the universe is just under 14 billion years old. So our universe's age itself is obviously not infinite, but a finite amount. This would (simply put) limit the number of possibilities for particles to rearrange themselves, and sadly make it less possible that your alternate self did get on that plane after all to see China.

    Also, the expansion at the beginning of the universe took place exponentially because there was so much "energy inherent to space itself," he said. But over time, that inflation obviously slowed — those particles of matter created at the Big Bang are not continuing to expand, he pointed out. Among his conclusions: that means that multiverses would have different rates of inflation and different times (longer or shorter) for inflation. This decreases the possibilities of universes similar to our own.

    "Even setting aside issues that there may be an infinite number of possible values for fundamental constants, particles and interactions, and even setting aside interpretation issues such as whether the many-worlds-interpretation actually describes our physical reality," Siegal said, "the fact of the matter is that the number of possible outcomes rises so quickly — so much faster than merely exponentially — that unless inflation has been occurring for a truly infinite amount of time, there are no parallel universes identical to this one."

    But rather than seeing this lack of other universes as a limitation, Siegal instead takes the philosophy that it shows how important it is to celebrate being unique. He advises to make the choices that work for you, which "leave you with no regrets." That's because there are no other realities where the choices of your dream self play out; you, therefore, are the only person that can make those choices happen.


    April 28, 2016 12:18am ET
    May 04, 2016
  • This month offers skywatchers  that have not been seen from Earth in at least a decade.

    On May 9,a transit — that will be visible across all of North America. And then, later in the month, yellow-orange Mars will make its closest approach to Earth since 2005 and will briefly attain a dazzling magnitude of minus 2. (For comparison, the full moon shines at magnitude minus 13, Venus' magnitude is about minus 4 and Jupiter's is about minus 2. The lower the magnitude, the brighter the object.) 

    In early May, Jupiter is the only planet visible at dusk. But as the month progresses, Mars rises progressively earlier after sundown, until it's finally evident low in the east-southeast as evening twilight fades. Following behind Mars is zero-magnitude Saturn, not too far from the ruddy first-magnitude star Antares in Scorpius. At dawn's early light, the eastern sky will be empty, with Venus having disappeared into the solar glare.

    January 31, 2017
  • Makemake is a dwarf planet in the outer solar system. It was the fourth body identified as a dwarf planet, and was one of the bodies that caused Pluto to lose its status as a planet.

    Makemake is large enough and bright enough to be studied by a high-end amateur telescope. Astronomers took advantage of the dwarf planet's recent passage in front of a star — called an occultation — to determine that Makemake has no atmosphere.

    It has a moon, though. In 2015, astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope discovered a tiny object orbiting Makemake. 

    October 24, 2016
  • The Islamic calendar is different from the Gregorian calendar, which we are familiar with in the United States. New Gregorian months happen at predictable intervals that are the same every year (except for leap years, which add an extra day to February every four years). In the Islamic calendar, new months can only begin once the new moon arrives (on the 29th or 30th day of each lunar cycle).

    How the new month begins also varies by different Islamic schools, according to Slooh. Some allow for astronomical calculation, while others require a physical sighting by a member of the faith. How the moon is seen also depends on what school you belong to. Some allow for sightings with binoculars or telescopes, while others require naked-eye observations only.

    The new moon is called the Hilal in Islamic culture. "This month, Slooh will be adding its own group of telescopes in the Canary Islands to assist in the sighting of the Hilal," Slooh said in the same statement.

    Joining Cox and Yahya will be Slooh astronomer Bob Berman, who will discuss why the new moon is so difficult to see through a telescope. The new moon happens when the moon moves approximately between the Earth and the sun. The moon is completely dark when it's situated right in between,  but a crescent is visible again as the moon begins to move out of the way.