The search for a second Earth

Lewis Dartnell sums up the progress so far in the hunt for a planet just like home


Credit: Oliver Burston

Are there Earth-like planets throughout the Universe? We may soon find out. 


Life on Mars

With NASA's Phoenix mission landing on the Red Planet this month, Lewis Dartnell investigates whether it will find evidence that the world is, or ever has been, suitable for life...


Credit: Art: Kees Veenenbos/Data: Mola Science Team

This artist’s impression by renowned planetary artist Kees Veenenbos depicts the view to the east of the proposed Phoenix landing site, just west of the Heimdall Crater in the northern polar regions.

Life...but not as we know it

Could strange life-forms exist in space? Lewis Dartnell investigates.

Credit: Oliver Burston

One of the main difficulties of astrobiology, the search for life beyond Earth, is in knowing just what to look for. Focus your attention too narrowly, by concentrating only on terrestrial-like life, and you could overlook alien organisms; consider too many possibilities and you could waste both effort and money looking for nigh-on unrecognisable variations in unlikely locations.

Tried and Tested

Paul Money discusses the latest astro equipment news

With new telescopes and mounts being announced on a regular basis, we’re certainly kept busy here in the reviews department of Sky at Night Magazine. But over the years, both optical tube assemblies and mounts do seem to have stuck around variations of just a few basic and fundamental designs.

Under instruction

Paul Money discusses the latest astro equipment news

Instruction manuals, you can't live with them, you can't live without them (or so the saying goes). They accompany most, but it has to be said, not all equipment and it’s usually in their absence that you find you need them. A starter telescope for example does require a well written and thought out instruction manual otherwise a beginner could quickly become unstuck. This is especially true if references are made to specific parts of the telescope that it is assumed the reader already has some technical knowledge of.

Collimation conundrum

Paul Money discusses the latest astro equipment news

In many cases, when buying a reflecting telescope you’ll quickly discover that the mirrors are out of alignment. It's called being out of collimation and causes the view to be distorted, which is of course a very undesirable effect.

Out in the cold

Paul Money discusses the latest astro equipment news

With poor weather blighting 2012, let's hope that our winter nights stay crisp and clear as we move into February. But don’t forget, it can be extremely cold when you are out for long periods under the winter stars. Of course, if you are able to set up an observatory or adapt a garden shed you can give yourself a little protection from the elements. Some even go as far as operating their telescopes remotely – from indoors!

Starting small

Paul Money discusses the latest astro equipment news

The night sky has countless wonders to discover. So it is only fitting following the sad news of the passing of the UK’s greatest astronomical icon, Sir Patrick Moore, to cover his views on equipment for beginners.

Fixing focal length

Paul Money discusses the latest astro equipment news

How fast can it go? You might think I’m referring to the latest sports car or motorcycle but hey, this is an astronomy blog. In terms of fast or slow, we’re dealing with the different focal lengths of telescopes and in particular, how these variations affect astrophotography. Long focal length systems tend to be regarded as slow, as it takes longer to record faint galaxies or nebulae. That’s why these systems are quite often used for bright subjects such as the planets and lunar and solar imaging.

Where to start?

Paul Money discusses the latest astro equipment news

We all have to invest in equipment if we want to enjoy the treasures of the night sky, so it’s only fitting that our November reviews explores a few of the options available. The question is how far do you go down the technical path to satisfy your needs? Two of our reviews look at the standard approach of a pair of binoculars and a basic equatorially mounted telescope, neither of which will break the bank.

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