Articles by Clair Wood


What planets can you see in the sky this September?

By Clair Wood on Sept. 08, 2016, at 3:10 p.m.
Neptune comes into view in the southeast at dusk, its blue-gray disk is best seen around midnight in Aquarius.

You might be able to spot five planets in the Maine skies in July

By Clair Wood on June 30, 2016, at 3:29 p.m.
Mercury makes it above the western horizon during the final week of July just to the upper left of Venus.

There’s a new brightest supernova that’s been spotted

By Clair Wood on May 26, 2016, at 2:38 p.m.
Located 3.8 billion light years from Earth, Supernova ASASSN-15th at its peak was 50 times brighter than all the stars in our Milky Way galaxy combined.

Studying Mars has proven a challenging ordeal

By Clair Wood on April 28, 2016, at 9:22 p.m.
Maine Skies: Space exploration has left dozens of functioning and dead spacecraft and associated debris wandering about the solar system, and nowhere is it more evident than at Mars.
Maine evening sky, April 2016

New galaxy formed near the dawn of the universe spotted

By Clair Wood on April 07, 2016, at 3:37 p.m.
A team of astronomers from Yale University and the University of California have used the Hubble Space Telescope to shatter the cosmic distance record by spotting a galaxy 13.4 billion light years away. Galaxy GN-z11 formed only 400 million years after the Big Bang, so researchers are seeing what was …
Maine evening sky for February 2016

Hunt for possible ninth planet in solar system is on

By Clair Wood on Feb. 04, 2016, at 2:22 p.m.
Some skeptics are awaiting telescopic evidence.
Maine evening sky, January 2016

Faintest galaxy ever seen discovered

By Clair Wood on Jan. 01, 2016, at 1:50 p.m.
Maine Skies: Astronomers in Chile have discovered the faintest galaxy ever seen in the early universe.
Maine evening sky, December 2015.

Precession: Pole star shifts, celestial age

By Clair Wood on Nov. 27, 2015, at 6:25 a.m.
All the planetary action favors early risers this month as Jupiter, Mars, Venus and Saturn are all in the late night and predawn sky.
September 2015 night sky

What makes birds fly south like they do?

By Clair Wood on Aug. 26, 2015, at 6:32 p.m.
Ducks and geese flying south in the fall are a familiar sight to Mainers. Many species of birds migrate vast distances each year. The record holder appears to be the Arctic tern, which spends one summer in the Arctic and then migrates halfway around the world to spend another summer …
Maine Skies for August 2015

Which galaxy is the brightest?

By Clair Wood on July 31, 2015, at 9:29 a.m.
Astronomers estimate there are more than 100 billion galaxies in the universe. One has to be the brightest, and the current frontrunner is a galaxy 12.5 billion light years from Earth that is as bright as 300 trillion stars. It was discovered by NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer. At the …

Blue moon expected in July

By Clair Wood on July 01, 2015, at 2:42 p.m.
How far into the universe have astronomers been able to see? The distance record holder is a galaxy named EGS-zs8-1 that is 13.1 billion light years from Earth. Since the universe is thought to be 13.8 billion years old, this means the galaxy was formed shortly after the Big Bang …

How lights at the 1933 World’s Fair were turned on by a light from 1893

By Clair Wood on April 30, 2015, at 3:42 p.m.
What do astronomers mean when they say they are looking back into time? Let’s first look at an example here on Earth. Suppose you took a picture in a room filled with people on your cell phone. You then get in your car and drive 100 miles home at a …
Maine Skies for April 2015

The curious case of the sun in two places

By Clair Wood on March 28, 2015, at 11:16 a.m.
How can the sun be in two places at once? On April 19, the sun enters the sign of Aries astronomically and one day later enters the astrological sign of Taurus but still, in reality, is in Aries. How can this be? The answer lies with precession and apparent shifting …

NASA spacecraft approaches Pluto at last

By Clair Wood on Feb. 26, 2015, at 4:27 p.m.
When NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft left on its mission to Pluto in January 2006, the latter was still listed as the ninth planet of the solar system. As the spacecraft begins its approach to Pluto nine years later, its target has been downgraded to a dwarf-planet or plutoid in the …
Maine Skies

Maine Skies: Burning questions about stars

By Clair Wood on Dec. 31, 2014, at 4:05 p.m.
Here’s a common question: How many stars can you see with the naked eye on a clear night? Every eye is a bit different but under ideal conditions the most frequent number given is 2,000 to 2,500, all of which belong to our Milky Way galaxy. With powerful binoculars this …
November 2014 Evening Sky.

What’s in store for Maine stargazers in November: Jupiter rises in the East

By Clair Wood on Oct. 31, 2014, at 9:14 a.m.
Pioneer 6 is considered ‘extant,’ or still operable, making it the oldest operating probe in the history of space exploration. It was launched on Dec. 16, 1965 into a circular orbit about the sun at a distance of 0.8 A.U (A.U. = 93 million miles). Its mission was to analyze …

Communicating with Voyager 1, farthest man-made object from Earth, takes over 33 hours

By Clair Wood on Feb. 26, 2014, at 2:21 p.m.
Voyager 1 was launched on Sept. 5, 1977, and, in the more than 36 years that have passed, has achieved a number of remarkable landmarks. In 1979, it visited Jupiter and sent back pictures of both the planet and its major moons. In 1980, it passed by Saturn and gave …

How many stars can we see?

By Clair Wood on Aug. 30, 2013, at 11:38 a.m.
On a clear dark night in Maine with no interference from the moon, the sky appears dotted with millions of stars. One reader was curious: Just how many stars can we see? There is no true answer to this question as each person’s eyes are different even if sky conditions …

Gravitational disturbances, ‘wobble’ of Earth’s axis can cause the sun to be in two places at once

By Clair Wood on May 29, 2013, at 11:33 a.m.
How can the sun be in two places at the same time? On the solstice the sun enters the astrological sign of Cancer but less than half a day later enters the astronomical sign of Gemini. What does this mean? The answer lies with precession, a circular motion or “wobble” …

New supernova could give clues into the universe’s expansion

By Clair Wood on April 26, 2013, at 11:05 a.m.
Supernova are the result of the catastrophic explosion of a giant star. The energy emitted is beyond belief, outshining the output of 10 billion stars. There are several types of supernova but one, Type 1a, is of particular interest to astronomers in that they emit an essentially constant level of …