Spotting the Planets in 2018


Mars pic


An art enthusiast, Valerie Varnuska of Westbury, NY, appreciates dance, music, literature, and opera. Additionally, Valerie Varnuska maintains a keen interest in science, particularly astronomy.

While the total solar eclipse of 2017 is now part of astronomical history, 2018 will have its own remarkable astronomical events for stargazers to look forward to. Starting in March, each of the five planets that can be seen by the naked eye — Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn and Jupiter — will be visible after sunset. First to appear will be Mercury the week of March 15, followed by Venus making itself visible from March 18 to October. Jupiter will begin to shine brightly on May 9 in the southeast sky, and, over a month later on June 27, Saturn will be visible for the entire summer.

A favorite for many starwatchers, Mars will make its appearance on July 27 at a distance of 35.8 million miles from Earth. This is the closest the planet has been to Earth since 2003.


Astronomers Study Unique Interstellar Asteroid for Signs of Life


Oumuamua pic


Residing in Westbury, NY, Valerie Varnuska likes to volunteer and enjoy nature. A fan of astronomy, Valerie Varnuska takes great pleasure in stargazing.

In late 2017, astronomers detected a large, oblong object flying through space. Dubbed, ‘Oumuamua, it is notable as the first known interstellar asteroid to pass through our solar system.

‘Oumuamua is of particular interest to those studying both life on Earth and the potential for life elsewhere in the universe. One theory for the origin of life on Earth, known as panspermia, surmises that it may have started elsewhere in the universe and hitched a ride on a meteorite, comet, or asteroid that eventually found its way to our planet.

While the idea may seem farfetched, we already know of some organisms that can survive the harsh, freezing vacuum of space. In 2007, scientists sent the hardy microorganisms known as tardigrades into low-Earth orbit, and found the creatures were able to survive with no protection against the outside environment.

Another notable feature of the ‘Oumuamua asteroid is its unusual cigar-like shape, something astronomers have never seen before in any asteroid inhabiting our own solar system. ‘Oumuamua’s contours initially led astronomers to question what the object was, as the shape would be ideal for a spacecraft designed for interstellar travel. However, scientists have not yet detected any radio signals of artificial origin, which would almost certainly be present in an interstellar spacecraft.

Whether or not the asteroid harbors life, intelligent or simple, the discovery is still monumental as the first of its kind. Now that astronomers know this type of asteroid exists, they can widen their search of the stars for similar objects.