Monday, July 28, 2014

SKy Guy Viewing ALERT - Start of 2014 Perseid Meteor Shower

Hey Space Placers!

Although the peak of the annual Perseid Meteor Shower is not until the night of August 12-13, the shower has officially started.

Because the Moon will be just past full this year at the peak it is a good idea to get outside and watch for Perseids in the coming days. You can get some tips on how to watch here.

I will be on the road for the next 10 days and will try to blog when I can. I will be visiting NASA to see the construction facilities where the Space Launch System is being built - you will be there as well as I share pics & insights with you.

Sky Guy in VA

Sunday, July 27, 2014

NASA Preparing For Comet Flyby Of Mars

Hey Space Placers!

October 19, 2014.

Mark the date for some solar system history - the closest known approach of a comet to a planet. A distinction that has to be made however for this record involves Comet Shoemaker/Levy 9 which IMPACTED Jupiter in 1994 following its death dive into Jupiter's cloud tops.  Comets have also passed very close to the Sun and have impacted our star.

Comet Siding Spring will pass a mere 82,000 miles above the surface of Mars and it should be quite a show to see.

NASA has three orbiting spacecraft and two rovers on the surface and wants to protect these priceless assets from the affects of particles from the comet traveling at a blazing 35 miles per second. A mere speck of cometary dust at that speed spells BOOM & DOOM for anything it hits in space.

To avoid this cometary onslaught  NASA has taken steps to protect Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Mars Odyssey and soon to arrive MAVEN by adjusting their orbits. The tricky part to all of this is that at the same time NASA wants to protect its orbiters it also wants to be able to use them to make scientific observations of this very rare opportunity.

The two rovers, Opportunity and Curiosity should be OK due to the Martian atmosphere. They will certainly have a ring side seat and so will we as an array of telescopes and spacecraft provide us images and data.

Stay tuned.

Sky Guy in VA

Saturday, July 26, 2014

A Magical Night on the Mountain

Hey Space Placers!

It is a place where the smell of campfires dances on the same winds that move the trees in a melody you never hear down below. The quiet is piercing in its silence while the stars meet the distant horizon in a melding unique to this magical place.

I am speaking of our very own Shenandoah National Park (SNP) - an oasis of nature a scant 75 miles from downtown D.C. and comprised of 200,000 acres of nature.

I was in the Park on Friday to begin a new activity called “Let’s Talk About Space in the Shenandoah”. It is a an effort to bring the wonders of the Universe to SNP guests by offering space related presentations followed by a skywatching session in Big Meadow.

My first presentation was on “The Sky Is Falling: Space Rocks and You”. All of the seats were taken by 9 p.m. and there were guests who stood the whole 35 minutes as I discussed, asteroids, comets, impacts and finished up by showing my real space rocks - meteorites - including specimens from the Moon, Mars and Chelyabinsk, Russia - the big fireball that exploded last year.

The audience enjoyed touching the 4.5 billion year old asteroid pieces as well as seeing a piece of Mars and the Moon. The Chelyabinsk specimen is accompanied by a piece of broken greenhouse glass - part of the million square meters of glass destroyed by the Chelyabinsk fireball.

The sky was clear for our group as we met at Big Meadows parking lot. The summer Milky Way - one of the spiral arms of our galaxy - was visible in all of its splendor from the south all the way across the sky to the Northeast. It was so clear that the dust clouds that are part of this spiral arm were clearly visible.

For almost two hours our group looked at the sky and learned about stars, constellations, space missions to the planets Saturn and Mars which were visible and we saw some shooting stars (meteors) and satellites. Way cool.

Families and couples from New Jersey, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia made up our skywatching crowd. People reveled in the beauty they were seeing and what they were learning. Luckily three amateur astronomers had their telescopes out so people could see the rings of Saturn and a variety of other sky objects.

Kids asked great questions. A father told me his 15 year-old daughter wants to be an astrophysicist. A young girl with her parents eloquently explained to me that when she was 8 she saw a big fireball in SNP but now that she was 11 she knew of such things and loved to watch the sky.

A couple I met was spending their 30th wedding anniversary at SNP and he was taking pictures of the sky and our group. He is supposed to send me copies so I can share - I was never able to get my camera out as it started getting cloudy around midnight when we called it quits.

I hope you come to SNP to see Mother Nature in a way that is refreshing and down right cleansing to the soul. The Park comes alive on a clear night and even weather has a magic to it up here.

I invite you to join me in “Let’s Talk About Space in the Shenandoah” as there will be 7 more presentations. Our next get together is August 12th, the night of the Perseid Meteor Shower; my presentation will be on our very own “Chesapeake Bay Impact Crater.

Come up and stay a few days at SNP. You will be glad you did, believe me.

Sky Guy in VA

Friday, July 25, 2014

Rosetta Mission's Comet Is SOMETHING To See

Hey Space Placers!

WIth the European Space Agency's (ESA) Rosetta spacecraft closing in on its target comet, 67P (for short), the view is getting better and better.    The latest images

and   movie 

clearly show a comet nucleus - the solid dirty snowball heart of a comet - that looks like two distinct bodies joined together.

The views of the comet will get better literally day by day as Rosetta closes in on its historic rendezvous with the comet in August and the subsequent landing of the Philae spacecraft.

Stay tuned - this will be something to see in the months ahead.

Sky Guy in VA

Thursday, July 24, 2014

More On The Sun's Big Miss

Hey Space Placers!

NASA just released more information on the BIG solar storm of 2012.  You know, the one that would have knocked us back into the dark ages and we still would not have recovered by now.

I have written previous blogs on this topic and have included them for background:

It turns out that we have a predicted 12% chance of another major solar storm within the next 10 years. It also appears that these mega-solar storms are the result of multiple events occurring on the Sun.

Here is the technical paper if you want to read it.

Sky Guy in VA

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Sky Guy Viewing ALERT!!! 7-24-4 Celestial Trio In Pre-Dawn Sky

Hey Space Placers!

The pre-dawn sky of 7-24-14 has a nice celestial trio in store for us - bright Venus, the waning crescent Moon with Earthshine (sunlight reflecting off our planet's clouds and oceans to give the unlit portion of the Moon a beautiful tint) close by and golden-yellow Mercury below and to the left.

Sky Safari Plus Chart
You will need a clear view of the east and should be out looking at about 5:15 a.m. local. See my previous blog for tips on finding and seeing Mercury. Mercury will be in the glare of the Sun soon so this is a good time to see the planet nearest the Sun before it is gone.

Don't forget to try your hand at taking some pics!

Here's to clear skies!

Sky Guy in VA