Deborah Byrd

Why is Mars sometimes bright and sometimes faint?

In 2018, Mars was brighter in our sky than it had been since 2003. In 2019, Mars was mostly faint and inconspicuous. But 2020, here we come!

A black square dotted with light spots.

Hefty black hole holds new record for high mass

Astronomers have discovered a black hole with 40 billion solar masses in the heart of the Abell 85 cluster of galaxies.

Diagram of orbit and perihelion of 2nd interstellar object, Comet Borisov.

Interstellar object closest to the sun today

The fascinating object 2I/Borisov has been steadily brightening as it nears its encounter with our sun. It’ll pass closest to the sun on December 8, 2019, then flee again toward interstellar space.

Astronomers catch a comet outburst

Remember comet 46P/Wirtanen? It was a bright comet about this time last year. Around the time it swept near the Earth and sun, the comet entered the field of view NASA’s TESS planet-hunter. And boom! It underwent an outburst, caught by TESS.

A spacecraft rushing along in what looks like a hot place!

Parker Solar Probe sheds light on our local star

Parker Solar Probe – now in its 4th orbit around the sun – can endure heat and radiation like no previous mission. This week, 4 new studies in Nature reveal new insights about the sun’s mysterious corona and solar wind.

Sky chart showing an arrow from Orion's Belt to the star Aldebaran.

Aldebaran is the Bull’s fiery eye

Aldebaran – brightest star in Taurus the Bull – is easy to spot at one tip of a V-shaped pattern of stars. If this star replaced our sun, its surface would extend almost to the orbit of Mercury.

Chennai engineer helped find India’s Vikram lander, which crashed on the moon

In September, India hoped to become the 4th nation to soft land on the moon successfully with its Chandrayaan 2 mission. Moments before touchdown, the mission’s Vikram lander crashed. Now the lander has been found again.

A moon just past 1st quarter, with Lunar X annotated.

What to look for on a 1st quarter moon

For those of you with telescopes, or telescopic lenses, here’s something to watch for on a moon just past 1st quarter.

A precisely half-illuminated moon.

1st quarter moon is December 3-4

The moon reaches its 1st phase on December 4, 2019, at 06:58 UTC. If you’re in the Americas, you can look for it on the evening of December 3. As viewed from the whole Earth, a 1st quarter moon is high up at sunset, looking like half a pie.

All you need to know: Geminid meteor shower in 2019

We just can’t catch a break. The Geminid meteor shower will peak around the mornings of December 13 and 14, 2019, though under the light of a bright waning gibbous moon.