Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Friday, May 8, 2015

A Lunar LOW Rider

Hey Space Placers!

My ALL TIME favorite spacecraft, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), is still going strong in lunar orbit.

The mission controllers at NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center (GSFC) have made LRO a lunar LOW rider spacecraft as they took LRO's orbit down to a mere 12 miles above the Moon's South Pole! That is the lowest LRO has ever been.

Artist's Conception of LRO
The lower altitude will allow the instruments and cameras aboard LRO to gather data and pictures significantly better than in the past. The South Pole is an intriguing place to explore on the Moon because we know there is water in craters that never receive sunlight.

We can expect some exciting news from LRO in the coming months as the data and pictures start to come in.

LRO can last for years to come but is facing budget cuts that threaten to curtail a perfectly working spacecraft in lunar orbit. This would be a MONUMENTAL WASTE to do so. Write your congressman to SAVE LRO.

Sky Guy in VA

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

New Galactic Distance Record Holder

Hey Space Placers!

Here is the new record holder for the farthest  measured galaxy:

Known as EGS-zs8-1 it is seen when it was only 100 million years old or over 13 billion years ago.

Make sure you look at the amazing galaxies in the picture. They are amazing.

Sky Guy in VA

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Sky Guy Viewing ALERT!! See Mercury in the Western Sky

Hey Space Placers!

If you read my recent columns on the MESSENGER spacecraft and its crashing into the planet Mercury, now is the time to see where it all happened.

Mercury is visible in the Western sky about an hour after sunset and will be for the next week or so. The key to finding Mercury is having a western horizon view that is clear of trees and buildings. Binoculars will help immensely in your search as will this diagram below.

Venus on May 2nd has just passed between Zeta and Beta Tauri, and Aldebaran far below is lining up with Mercury. (These scenes are drawn for 40° north latitude. Far north or south of there, the scene will be tilted left or right, respectively, compared to this view.) - See more at: http://www.skyandtelescope.com/observing/this-weeks-sky-at-a-glance-may-1-9/?et_mid=747161&rid=246413889#sthash.1Wq6mevH.dpuf
Make sure you find Mercury and not Aldebaran. Mercury will be more yellowish-white in color while Aldebaran has a reddish-orange color.

When you look at Mercury say a "thank you" to MESSENGER for the great data and images returned by the plucky spacecraft. It crashed on April 30th after running out of fuel and made a new 52-foot wide crater.

Good luck and clear skies!

Sky Guy in VA

Friday, May 1, 2015

MESSENGER Spacecraft Impacts Mercury

Hey Space Placers!

NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft impacted the surface of Mercury - see my previous blog for background - as expected on April 30th at 3:26 p.m. EDT. As a result a new 52-foot crater was created.

We learned a lot about Mercury because of MESSENGER.

Here is the last picture transmitted by MESSENGER.

Image Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington
Mercury will be in the western sky soon so we can all look at the golden yellow-ish colored planet and remember this intrepid and highly successful spacecraft.

Sky Guy in VA

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Pluto SURFACE Features Photographed by New Horizons Spacecraft

Hey Space Placers!

Today (4/29/150 NASA released images from the New Horizons spacecraft that shows SURFACE features on Pluto.

(Image credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute)

The images strongly suggest the presence of a polar cap on Pluto and show the main moon of Pluto Charon in orbit around the dwarf planet - HOW COOL IS THAT!?

We are fast approaching July 14, 2015 when New Horizons will flyby the Plutonian system. Each day the view of Pluto gets bigger and better.

Stay tuned!

Sky Guy in VA

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

3 New Super Earths Discovered

Hey Space Placers!

Astronomers have found three new "Super Earths" orbiting a nearby star. The star, HD 7924, is located 54 light years away which is really close by.

Artist’s impression of a view from the HD 7924 planetary system looking back toward our sun, which would be easily visible to the naked eye. Since HD 7924 is in our northern sky, an observer looking back at the sun would see objects like the Southern Cross and the Magellanic Clouds close to our sun in their sky. Art by Karen Teramura & BJ Fulton, UH IfA.

These extrasolar planets -also known as exoplanets -  orbit their star closer than our own planet Mercury orbits the Sun. They orbit their star in just 5, 15 and 24 days! By comparison Mercury orbits the Sun every 88 days.

Thousands of extrasolar planet candidates have been discovered and it is estimated that there may be at least a 100 billion extrasolar planets in our Milky Way Galaxy.

To date there has been no exoplanet discovery made of a planet like Earth in terms of size and mass. When we do find one will it be located in the "habitable zone" where liquid water can exist? Our precious planet's characteristics that support life are not necessarily unique in our Galaxy. But so far it seems to be somewhat uncommon in the zoo of planets beyond our solar system.

Sky Guy in VA