Label: Astronomy

October 27, 2015

This ghostly sight is known as the dB 141 Nebula. It is composed of the gassy remains of a supernova - the gigantic explosion that occurred when a huge star blew up. And since it kind of looks like a bunch of ghosts, it reminds me to wish all my readers a Happy, Out of This World, Halloween!


Photo: Credit: T.A. Rector/University of Alaska Anchorage, H. Schweiker/WIYN and NOAO/AURA/NSF

Posted by: Seymour Simon

(1) Comments  •   Labels: Astronomy, Cool Photo, Halloween   •  Permalink (link to this article)

October 23, 2013

Today’s Writing Wednesday is about a newly discovered planet far from our solar system, and it is different than any other we have ever seen. We want you to read this science news story and then come up with a better name for this new planet based on what you have learned from the story.

The Facts: Eighty light-years from Earth, astronomers have discovered a planet that is six times bigger than Jupiter, floating all alone without a 

sun to keep it warm. Scientists have seen free-floaters like this before, but we have never been sure whether they were planets or stars that had died. This time, we have enough information to be sure it is a planet similar to the "gas giants" in our solar system - Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. These planets are very low in density and consist mostly of hydrogen and helium gases. If you tried to land a spacecraft on Jupiter, for example, it would keep sinking down through the gas, until it would be crushed by Jupiter’s gravity.

The new planet is named PSO J318.5-22, and it is near a group of young stars called the Beta Pictoris moving group, which formed about 12 million years ago. One of the stars in that group is circled by its own gas-giant planet that’s about eight times bigger than Jupiter.

"We have never before seen an object free-floating in space that that looks like this," team leader Michael Liu said. "It has all the characteristics of young planets found around other stars, but it is drifting out there all alone. I had often wondered if such solitary objects exist, and now we know they do."

Your Assignment: I don’t think that PSO J318.5-22 is a very good name for a planet, do you? Write a paragraph telling your readers what you would name this planet, and why. Support your idea with information from the news story (above). When you are finished writing, you may post your writing for others to read by clicking on the yellow "Comments" link at the bottom of this blog post.

Happy Writing!


Image: An artist’s rendering of PSO J318.5-22 by V. Ch. Quetz / MPIA

Posted by: Seymour Simon

(4) Comments  •   Labels: Common Core, Writing Wednesday, Astronomy, Exploration   •  Permalink (link to this article)

April 18, 2013

Poem in My Pocket

When I was a kid, the poem that meant the most to me was called "When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer," by Walt Whitman. It really captured the feeling I had when I looked at the night sky and wondered about my place in the universe. Where did I fit in? And what else is out there?

Today is "Poem in my Pocket" day, so this is the poem I am carrying in with me in my pocket today. For kids like me, who love to look at the stars and wonder, here is how it goes:



When I heard the learn’d astronomer;

When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me;

When I was shown the charts and the diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them;

When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,

How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;

Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself,

In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,

Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.


Photo: The Milky Way viewed from the Kofa Mountains in Arizona (credit Richard Payne)

Posted by: Seymour Simon

(0) Comments  •   Labels: Astronomy, Earth Day 2013, Stars, Poetry   •  Permalink (link to this article)

April 7, 2012















Did you see the full moon last night? The Native American Oto people call the April moon the "Little Frog Croak" moon, and I think that is a perfect name for this time of year.

Have you heard the "spring peepers" singing yet? If you are anywhere near a pond or wetlands on a warm spring night, you will hear their thousands of tiny calls. The male frogs have awoken from their winter hibernation and are looking for a mate near a pond where they can lay their eggs. Within a matter of weeks, we’ll start to see swimming tadpoles who will eventually develop legs and become full grown frogs.

The Oto people recognize this life cycle, with its call that signals the hope of spring to all of us, by naming the April moon after these tiny frogs. 


P.S. Have you noticed an extremely bright star in the sky these last few weeks? That is not a star - it is the largest planet in our solar system, Jupiter. These are great days for skywatching!

Posted by: Seymour Simon

(2) Comments  •   Labels: Astronomy, moon, Earth Day 2012, Frogs, Sky Watching   •  Permalink (link to this article)

November 29, 2011

For today’s Cool Photo of the Week, Seymour Simon chose this photograph taken by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, an unmanned satellite that has been orbiting the Red Planet since 2005. The orbiter is searching for evidence that water was once present on the surface of Mars. NASA scientists also want to know whether water was present long enough to support life at some time in the past. 

Look at the deep ditches and trails criss-crossing the sand dunes in an area of Mars known as the Russell Crater. These trails were carved into the landscape by "dust devils," mini-tornadoes that whip across the Martian landscape. The ditches are formed when chunks of frozen carbon dioxide slide down the face of steep dunes.

When I speak at schools, I often tell students about an astronomer named Percival Lowell, who thought he spotted Martian "canals" through his small telescope back in the early 1900s. Do you think it’s possible that he saw these deep trails, leading him to the mistaken idea that the canals must have been dug by intelligent life, or Martians?!

Posted by: Seymour Simon

(5) Comments  •   Labels: science news, Astronomy, School Visits, Cool Photo, planets, Mars   •  Permalink (link to this article)

November 9, 2011

  Did you notice a very bright, silvery "star" just to the left of the moon last night? You were looking at Jupiter. This gas giant, the largest planet in our solar system, appears to be larger and brighter in the sky than it has since 1999 (last century!), and it won’t look this big and bright again until 2023.


It will be an equally spectacular sight all night tonight, with Jupiter on the right side of the moon. If you have binoculars, you will also be able see Jupiter’s four moons (Ganymede, Callisto, Io and Europa).

We will continue to be able to observe Jupiter all the way until April, although its light will gradually become fainter and it will be visible for a shorter time each night. Then, its orbit will carry it into the glare of the sun, and it will be awhile before we can spot Jupiter again from Earth.

I love standing out in the fresh air, tilting my head back and looking at the stars….don’t you? 

This sky map shows how Jupiter and the moon appeared in the night sky on Nov. 8, 2011. 

CREDIT: Starry Night Software  

 Read more about the largest planet in our Solar System in Seymour Simon’s DESTINATION: JUPITER.

Posted by: Seymour Simon

(2) Comments  •   Labels: space, Astronomy, space books, moon, Jupiter, Sky Watching   •  Permalink (link to this article)

May 10, 2011

Set your alarm for just before dawn tomorrow morning, May 11 and you can see FOUR of the planets in our Solar System with your own eyes!













Mariano Ribas took this photo early today from his home in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The three "stars" that form a triangle high in the sky are Venus, Mercury and Jupiter. If you look down below, closer to the fence, there is a fourth faint light, which is Mars. 

This amazing sky show will continue all the way through the end of the month. Astronomers are excited about tomorrow because they say it will be the "best" day for viewing, with the two brightest planets in our Solar System, Venus and Jupiter, very close together.

Set your alarm, look to the eastern sky, and greet the planets. What a great way to start the day!

Posted by: Seymour Simon

(6) Comments  •   Labels: Astronomy, Solar System, planets, Sky Watching   •  Permalink (link to this article)

March 7, 2011


This morning the space shuttle Discovery undocked from the International Space Station and started its final flight back to Earth. says that this may allow people in the US and Europe to see a double flyby - Discovery and the International Space Station traveling together through the night sky!

Click here to go to the satellite tracker website and type in your zip code. It will tell you what time to look, and in which direction. If the skies are clear, you’ll be able to see what looks like two bright lights traveling close together through the night sky.

This is also a last chance to see Discovery in flight, because the orbiter will be retired after it lands in Florida on Wednesday.


Posted by: Seymour Simon

(0) Comments  •   Labels: science news, Astronomy, International Space Station   •  Permalink (link to this article)

February 14, 2011


This is a photograph of the Heart Nebula (IC 1805 in Cassiopeia). A nebula is a cloud of dust and gas in space; the word "nebula" comes from the Latin word for "cloud."

This one is composed of glowing hydrogen gas, and the very bright spot in the middle is a cluster of stars, some of them nearly 50 times the mass of our sun! The energy generated by this mass of stars creates the bright red color as well as its "heart" shape.

Happy Valentine’s Day to all our readers!


Photo: NASA 

Posted by: Seymour Simon

(4) Comments  •   Labels: Astronomy, Stars   •  Permalink (link to this article)

January 14, 2011

Alas, poor Pluto is no longer considered to be a planet by the scientists of the IAU (International Astronomical Union).  Astronomers use three criteria for a body to be called a planet: 1) it has to be in orbit around the Sun. 2) it has to have enough mass to pull together so that it becomes nearly round. And 3) it has to have enough mass and gravitational pull to clear out other bodies in the space around it. Pluto meets the first two tests, but it does not have enough mass to clear the space around it (for example, if it had enough mass its gravity would pull a meteorite down so it crashes to the surface). So Pluto has been renamed a Dwarf Planet. All you kids who have memorized the planets in order from the sun will now have to stop at Neptune, the eighth planet from the sun.

Here’s some more information about Pluto from, a really neat site that you can use to find out all kinds of interesting facts about what’s out there. 

Posted by: Seymour Simon

(7) Comments  •   Labels: Astronomy, Solar System, planets, Pluto   •  Permalink (link to this article)

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