Did you know that when a super massive star (like Betelgeuse, for example) runs out of fuel, it explodes in a supernova explosion? The transition from star to supernova is instantaneous.
Transitions are funny things. They can be fast, like supernova explosions, and they can be slow. The transition of our sun from newly formed star to its end as a red giant will take about 10 billion years, give or take a millennia.
"The Cosmos" is also changing, so this month's column is necessarily a transition. Starting this month, "The Cosmos" will appear monthly. This transitional column will explain what this means for readers.
First, there will be no more "night skies." To find out what's up, visit www.astronomy.com/home.asp or www.skyandtelescope.com, the Web sites of Astronomy and Sky and Telescope magazines. The magazines are also available in major bookstores and at some libraries.
General site: Try also Que Tal in the Current Skies (www.currentsky.com), a nice site for general astronomy, and Space.com, a well-written and exhaustive commercial site. You can find plenty more sites online with a little searching.
If you have friends or relatives who don't have Web access and can't afford the astronomy magazines but still want to keep up, then I'd suggest a wonderful, inexpensive public service offered by the Abrams Planetarium at Michigan State University. For $10 a year, you can subscribe to the monthly Sky Calendar. It's concise and informative. Subscriptions can start at any time by sending $10 to Sky Calendar, Abrams Planetarium, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Mich. 48824. I recommend it highly.
Second, for teachers and students: If you have access to the Internet, then use it. Teachers, the best one-stop source of astronomy information is NASA. Because NASA's Web presence is immense, I suggest that you start with just one site to get you going. For lesson plans sent right to your mailbox, sign up for Science@NASA's Thursday's Classroom. Check out www.spacescience.com. I can't say enough about this site -- it's simply the best.
Otherwise, teachers, I'm sorry, but "The Cosmos" won't be able to serve your classroom needs any more in print. My work at the planetarium, of course, continues, and I am always happy to provide you with materials.
Reader requests: I have been asked to focus on the 18-35 age group, so I'll need some help from readers. People out there who are 18 to 35: What do you want to know? What areas within the immense field of astronomy interest you? Let me know, either by writing in care of The Vindicator or by contacting me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To my readers outside this demographic group: Keep looking up.
And to one reader in particular -- Sid Moore from New Castle, Pa. -- who wrote the very kind letter to the editor last December about my column: Thank you. I have the clipping taped to my computer. It is my encouragement.