Friday, December 31, 2010

Biggest Story of 2010?????

Hey Space Placers!

With the last day of 2010 just hours away I thought I would reflect with you on what I thought was the "biggest" astronomy-space story of the year. I offer no justification for my selection except that it is a personal opinion.

History will record that the direction of the US manned space program changed, for better or worse, in 2010 with the Obama Administration cancelling the Constellation Program - or at least the majority of it. 

In 2004 President Bush set in motion the goal that the US return to the Moon to explore and stay this time via robotic and manned missions. Once accomplished this would provide the experience and hardware necessary to try for a manned Mars mission some decades later.

Constellation - - was created to accomplish these goals and NASA put it all into motion. The new Administration wanted a comprehensive review done on Constellation and then would decide what to do based on the recommendations. The Augustine Commission completed its review - - and in October 2010 The President signed into law Constellation's demise.

NASA is still waiting for further guidance from the Administration and Congress as to where and what it should do. In the meantime precious money is still being spent as required on Constellation -

Commercialization of manned spaceflight is getting close to reality and NASA may be out of the low earth orbit - taxi service to the International Space Station (ISS). The recent launch by Space X of its Falcon 9 rocket and attached Dragon capsule is getting close to giving the US a means to get people and cargo to ISS and not rely on expensivee Russian Soyuz flights.

But will the US make good the talk of going to asteroids via a manned mission? Will required hardware and political will of the President AND Congress be there????? I truly don't know but I doubt it. Manned spaceflight is going to be such a low priority with the incoming and sure to be infighting Congress that the 2, possibly 3 remaining shuttle flights will be it for NASA as a manned spaceflight entity for some time to come. There is money to be made via commercialization of maned spaceflight so that will be the prime time concern of Congress and the accompanying politics/lobbyists.

I had hoped to see the day when US astronauts walked and colonized the Moon. Instead, I will see Taikonauts (Chinese astronauts) doing so. They have the money and political will to do so and will probably get to the Moon in a decade. The Helium 3 and other resources of the Moon will be theirs. Do you think China will act in the best interests of all humanity while they are the only country on the Moon?

History will look at 2010 as a watershed moment in the history of the manned spaceflight program of the US - one way or the other. Only time and political will tell.

Have a safe and joyous New Year celebration wherever you are.

Sky Guy in VA

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Know the Threat

Hey Space Placers!

Asteroids are the left over rocky remnants - and perhaps directly related to comets - that occupy the space between Mars and Jupiter, as well as other areas in the solar system. Asteroids pose a direct and real threat to our existence as an impact from a kilometer sized object would be devastating if it were to occur in a populated area or in the oceans near a population center.

The more we learn about them the better we will be able to defend ourselves against them. There are several world-wide patrol efforts ongoing that are looking for these threats every clear night. We have sent numerous missions to asteroids and have actually landed on them.

But in 2010 there was a Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) mission that not only landed on an asteroid, but took off to return to Earth with samples in a capsule! JAXA's Hayabusa spacecraft returned microscopic particles of the Itokawa asteroid and scientists have been studying them. The results will be released at a science conference in March 2011.

Read More About It:

The shadow of Hayabusa on Itokawa JAXA

Sky Guy In VA

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Comet King

Hey Space Placers!

For centuries comets - those cosmic snowballs left over from the formation of the solar system - were hunted and found by dedicated amateur astronomers using telescopes with an occasional photographic find.

Want to know who has found the most comets in history? The answer is not a human hunter, but a spacecraft that monitors the Sun!

NASA/ESA's Solar and Heliospherical Observatory - SOHO for short - discovered its 2000th comet on December 26th. Citizens monitoring SOHO via the Internet have searched images from the Sun watching spacecraft to find many of these sun grazing comets.

Read More About It:

Maybe you can find one!

Sky Guy in VA

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Storms Aplenty

Hey Space Placers!

Did you get caught in the big east coast storm? Well, check out the big storm on Saturn!

This storm is high in the outermost atmosphere of the ringed planet. It has been monitored by amateur astronomers and NASA's Cassini Mission recently captured this wonderful view.

I don't think any snow came out of this storm ;-)

Sky Guy in VA

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Discovery back in VAB

Hey Space Placers,

Space Shuttle Discovery, which I saw on Pad 39A from about a mile away 2 weeks ago today, was rolled back into the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) on Dec. 22 for further tests.

The tests consist of x-rays of all 108 aluminum stringers in the External Tank (ET) and will hopefully shed some light on why cracks were discovered in several of the stringers which are located in the ET intertank.

The work is supposed to commence today and continue for the next week. Dec. 30th is currently scheduled as being the decision point on whether modifications will be needed on the ET.

Space shuttle Discovery moves inside the Vehicle Assembly Building.

Read more about it:

I'll update you as facts become available.

Sky Guy in VA

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas & Apollo 8 Reflections

Hey Space Placers!

Merry Christmas and good will towards all ~

At the Kennedy Space Center I saw the firing room for all of the Apollo launches to the Moon. I also saw the launch pads, the massive crawler that took the Apollo-Saturn V stack out from the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) (which was cool to see as well).

I also saw the last pristine Apollo-Saturn V which was amazing.

With the Christmas season and the KSC experience, I could not help but remember Apollo 8 - Christmas Eve 1968 - as Borman, Lovell and Anders orbited the Moon and read from Genesis for the entire world to hear and see. Please see and see the video. Apollo 8 - Bill Anders took it - also took the first Earthrise picture which became an icon for the ages.

When Apollo 8 was in orbit and reading from Genesis I was outside with my brand new 6-inch Newtonian Reflector telescope from Edmund Scientific looking at the crescent Moon while listening to the broadcast. I could not see the spacecraft of course, but I could see the Moon and knew where they were in orbit. This was a very inspirational moment for me in my life.....I had tears in my eyes and a true connection with the Moon.
Earthrise as seen from Apollo 8

May you and yours have a safe, joyous and wonderful holiday season.

Sky Guy in VA

Friday, December 24, 2010

Happy Holidays & Wave at the ISS

Hey Space Placers!

I'm back from a great 12 day getaway that included a fantastic visit to the Kennedy Space Center and viewing the total lunar eclipse on a ship. I'll have more about it during the coming days.

The International Space Station (ISS) is making a series of bright passes during the next few days. Check out this link for your area:

Also, check out this link for changes in the seasons:

Happy Holidays to all!

Sky Guy in VA

Friday, December 10, 2010

See You in Two Weeks

Hey Space Placers!

I'm off to some places where I may not be able to hit the 'net. I have left blogs and a December skies summary for you to use for the Geminid Meteor Shower on the night of the 13th-14th and the total lunar eclipse on 12-21.

We'll get caught up when I surface again, probably on the 23rd.

Clear skies for everyone and Happy Holidays!

Sky Guy in VA

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Historic Day in Spaceflight

Hey Space Placers!

History was made today with the successful launch at 10:43 a.m. of Space Exploration Technology Corporation's (SpaceX) Falcon 9 rocket carrying a Dragon capsule from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's launch complex 40.

After two orbits the Dragon capsule re-entered the Earth's atmosphere and splashed down in the Pacific Ocean and was recovered.

This is the first time in history that a commercial company has recovered a spacecraft from orbit. Only government programs have done this before.

This is a huge step forward in the commercial orbiting program that NASA and several companies are pursuing. The goal is to use commercial rockets and spacecraft to ferry cargo and ultimately astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS).

Once the Space Shuttle program is completed - there are only two flights left - the US will have to rely on Russia and its' Soyuz spacecraft to get supplies and astronauts to ISS.

For more information on the Falcon 9 and Dragon go to:

 Well done SpaceX.

Sky Guy in VA

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Catch a Falliing Star

Hey Space Placers!

Next Monday, 12-13-10, the Geminid Meteor Shower will take place. The shower starts around 9 p.m. and lasts until dawn. My "December Skies" blog gives you details on how to observe the shower but I hope you will check out this link for more information on the Geminid Meteor Shower:

This meteor shower does not disappoint those who get out in the cold temps and bundles up for the show.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

December Skies

Hey Space Placers!

My oh my! What month of skywatching December brings as the Geminid Meteor Shower and a total lunar eclipse take top billing. But first, join me at George Mason University Observatory on Monday, December 6th (weather permitting) at 6:00 p.m. Make sure you dress warmly. Check here for more details and weather status

Skywatching Highlights

The Geminid Meteor Shower takes place on the night of the 13th-14th. This is a very active and enjoyable event as from a dark sky site observers can see perhaps 60 to 100 meteors an hour. Even from suburban skies it is worth looking as these bits of debris from asteroid 3200 Phaethon really are pretty bright. Meteor showers are usually caused by cometary debris so the Geminids are unique. To see the Geminids, start looking to the northeast at around 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. The best time to look will be after midnight up to dawn. Find a comfortable spot to put a reclining lawn chair, or just lie down on a blanket-sleeping bag, bundle up and cast your gaze overhead.
Read More About It:

On the 21st the Full Moon enters the Earth’s dark shadow at 1:33 a.m., and remains partially eclipsed until the beginning of totality at 2:41 a.m. The Moon will remain totally eclipsed until 3:53 a.m. with the last trace of partial eclipse ending at 5:01 a.m. You do not need optical aid to see the eclipse but binoculars or a small telescope will enhance the view greatly. The eclipse will be visible even in the city as long as you are not directly under or staring into a street light. This is the first total lunar eclipse for our area in almost 3 years so make sure you get out to see it. The dark shadow of the Earth’s limb will be seen curving across the face of the Moon during the partial eclipse phases. During totality, we will possibly see a reddish-copper colored tint or it may be other colors ranging from almost black to dark reddish-brown on the Moon. The colors are caused by the refraction (bending) of sunlight by the Earth’s atmosphere – all of the planet’s sunrises and sunsets that are occurring around the world. The tint of the colors depends on the conditions present in the atmosphere – if it is clear a copper color may rule while major fires or volcanic eruptions may create darker red-browns or almost no color. If you were on the Moon you would see a 360-degree colored ring of light around the Earth and see the same color on the lunar surface. Stars would be everywhere as the Sun would be blocked – what a view it would be!
Read More About It:

The Winter Solstice (the start of winter) occurs at 6:38 p.m. on the 21st and marks the longest night of the year.

Mercury is very low to the western horizon and not easily seen.

Brilliant Venus continues to grace the morning sky in the east rising 3 hours before dawn as the month begins. By mid-month Venus will be 30 degrees above the horizon.

Mars is hard to see low in the west at sunset.

Bright Jupiter is well up in the south at sunset and remains visible until about midnight. If you have binoculars or a telescope you can watch the four main moons of Jupiter change their position night after night.

Saturn rises in the eastern sky at 2 a.m.

New Moon is on the 5th, First Quarter Moon is on the 13th and this month’s Full Moon occurs on the 20th. This month’s Full Moon is called the “Full Cold Moon or the Full Long Nights Moon” in recognition of the start of winter. Last Quarter Moon is on the 27th.

Here are our down to Earth events for this month.

Open House at the Department of Astronomy at the University of Maryland, College Park Campus Observatory, will be at 8 p.m. on the 5th and the 20th.
Read More About It:

The National Capital Astronomers (NCA) have their monthly meeting on the 11th at 7:30 p.m. at the University of Maryland, College Park Campus Observatory. The speaker is Dr. Scott Sheppard, Satellites of the Giant Planets.
Read More About It:

The Northern Virginia Astronomy Club (NOVAC) will meet at 7 p.m. at George Mason University (GMU) on the 12th. The speaker is Professor Sylvester Gates from the University of Maryland. Professor Gates will be giving an update of the status and results to date from the Large Hadron Collider.
Read More About It: .

NOVAC will host a public star party on the 4th at Sky Meadows and CM Crockett Park. These events are a great opportunity to get out under the stars and look through a wide variety of telescopes.
Read More About It:

The United States Naval Observatory (USNO) has Monday night tours but space is limited.
Read More About It:

The National Air and Space Museum (NASM) has several space related activities this month.
Read More About It:

The TriState Astronomers General Meeting will be held on the 15th, 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., at the William Brish Planetarium, Commonwealth Ave, Hagerstown, MD.
Read More About It:

Got a Topic That Interests You? I literally have a whole universe of topics to select from for my blog. But I'm interested in hearing from Space Placers about what interests them. Feel free to contact me at with your suggestions and comments.
Sky Guy in VA

Saturday, December 4, 2010

STS 133 Update

Hey Space Placers!

Space Shuttle Discovery will remain on the launch pad until at least Feb. 3rd, 2011. NASA announced the move following a mission status meeting on Thursday. Engineers need more time to study the cause and effect of the two cracks found in the U shaped aluminum stringers on the external tank. The cracks have been repaired and the insulation replaced, but it is still not known precisely why this happened.

Tests and scanning of the tank will hopefully provide some answers so Discovery can be launched. Space Shuttle Endeavor will now look at an April launch date for the last shuttle flight.

Read More About It:

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Arsenic Loving Bug Discovered

Hey Space Placers!

The much anticipated NASA Astrobiology-Extraterrestrial Life related press conference today - 12-2-10 - was about an Earth-bound discovery. I and I am sure a lot of others did not expect the announcement to have to do with Mono Lake in California!

A team of NASA backed researchers found a microorganism that can survive and thrive using  arsenic instead of phosphorus for key biological processes. This is the first instance of such a discovery and it basically says that life as we know it has just been expanded. The biology textbooks will have to be rewritten and this discovery begs the question, "What else can life do that we are not aware of?"

Here is the link to read more:

Life as we knew it before today's announcement can exist in extreme environments of heat, cold, pressure, drought, high and low Ph levels. Now we find that life can exist beyond the original six basic chemical elements and using an element that is toxic and fatal to life, including humans.

I am convinced that life is teeming in the Universe and that life always finds a way to survive.

Sky Guy in VA

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Has NASA Found ET or Little Green Men?

Hey Space Placers!

Have you heard the buzz on the 'net about NASA's press conference set for Dec.2nd? Some are going so far as to say they think the announcement will be that extraterrestrial life has been discovered!

I doubt that!!!

The press conference will "discuss an astrobiology finding that will impact the search for evidence of extraterrestrial life." BTW, Astrobiology is the study of the origin, evolution, distribution and future of life in the universe.

My good friend Dr. Harold Geller and I were speculating what this announcement may be. Dr. Geller teaches an Astrobiology class with me teaching the associated lab at GMU. Here are some of the possibilities:
  • Exosolar planets - there are now over 500 known and maybe an Earth-like planet discovery has been made
  • Something connected to Mars
  • Something connected to the moons of Jupiter and Saturn that are thought to have oceans under their frozen surfaces
  • A discovery in interstellar space regarding molecules and conditions that could impact life
Here is the link to the press release.

We'll let you know!

Sky Guy in VA

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

STS 133 Update

Hey Space Placers!

Space Shuttle Discovery will not launch until Dec. 17th at the earliest. NASA is still looking at issues involving cracks in several aluminum stringers on the external tank and problems with the ground umbilical carrier plate, or GUCP.

NASA managers will meet on Dec. 2nd for the next review.

Check out this link for the inside story on the Space Shuttle Main Engine:

I'll be in Florida in 2 weeks and will get some pics of the big bird on the pad and share them with you.

Sky Guy in VA

Friday, November 26, 2010

Join Us at GMU

Hey Space Placers!

This Monday, 11/29/10, at 6pm, the George Mason Univeristy Observatory will be open to the public. Check out the web site - for further details.

We will have an observing session looking at Jupiter and other celestial objects. Bundle up and come on out and join us.

Be sure to check the web site on Monday for weather updates.

Sky Guy in VA

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Jupiter Update

Hey Space Placers!

Happy Thanksgiving to our US readers! May you & your have a wonderful day.

Telescopes worldwide - amateur and professional - are monitoring Jupiter on a nightly basis to watch the return of the Southern Equatorial Belt (SEB). In the past week there have been 3 different "eruptions" in the area where the SEB is located. The SEB is one of two brownish colored belts that are near the equator of Jupiter.

For reasons unknown the SEB, and not the North Equatorial Belt (NEB), has been observed to fade and then return 1 to 3 years later. The observed eruptions are thought to be the precursors to the return of a robust SEB.

There is a great news release on all of this at:

We'll keep monitoring this story as it develops.

Sky Guy in VA

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thinking Ahead.......

Hey Space Placers!

A scant month from now Christmas and other religious holidays will be upon us. If you have someone on your gift list who has interest in the sky I have a few buying suggestions for you.

Magazine subscription
Giving someone a year long subscription to an astronomy magazine is a GREAT idea as they get a monthly reminder of your thoughtfulness. There are two magazines - Sky & Telescope  and Astronomy that cover a wide assortment of topics each month and provide star charts and observing events for the month. You can't go wrong with either one.

Astronomical Calendar
If you go to either of the web sites of S&T and Astronomy you will find great stocking stuffers in the form of astronomical calendars. They combine great astro pics with daily information.

Red Lens Flashlight
Hey, this is THE thing to get for your astro pal....a flashlight with red LEDs or a red filter. These are REQUIRED at star parties in order to preserve night vision and exercise astronomical etiquette -no WHITE LIGHT allowed.

A Telescope
This one might even be for you! Buying a quality telescope is a wise investment for a lifetime. There is a LOT to consider in buying a telescope. If you are considering such a purchase, check out the S&T & Astronomy magazine web sites as they have sections on choosing a telescope. You can also drop me a line.

Give these suggestions some thought for the sky guy or sky gal in your life. They will really appreciate the thought.

Sky Guy in VA

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

This Might Hurt........

Hey Space Placers!

Let me apologize up front as to what I am about to do to you - hurt your brain!!!! Hang in there and I think you will be glad you did....

The study of the origin, evolution and destiny of the Universe is what Cosmology is all about. Current popular theory states that the Universe was created 13.7 billion years ago in an event called the "Big Bang". In that singular event time and space itself was created, and has been expanding ever since. Most cosmologists - but not all as you will see - theorize that the very, very young Universe underwent a period of inflation in which space expanded swiftly and significantly.

The thinking now is that the Universe will expand forever and eventually will become a dead, sterile and dark entity - devoid of anything except a soup of exotic particles.

Two cosmologists have taken exceptions with the prevailing view and think that they have found evidence to indicate that there was a previous existence of another Universe, or what the authors call an "Aeon". In fact, they propose the possibility of a "perhaps unending succession of Aeons".

Their evidence comes from the study of satellite microwave data that mapped the temperature of the observable Universe dating back to shortly after the Big Bang - the energy echo of that creative event is still visible.

I must confess that the idea of a recycling Universe is far more pleasing (and efficient) to me than a one shot and done grand plan.

I have included the link to the paper - take a peek and enjoy!Come on, give your brain a work out!

Sky Guy in Present Aeon

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Near and Far

Hey Space Placers!

Be sure to get out and watch tonight's Full Moon rise at sunset - should be a beautiful sight indeed. This month's Full Moon is known as the Beaver or Snow snow and I am sure the beavers are busy~

A great story on the youngest black hole or neutron star ever discovered - a mere 30 years old! - can be seen at

A black hole or neutron star is the end state for a super-massive star that ends its life as a supernova. Black holes are objects where gravity is so powerful that nothing, not even light, can escape. Neutron stars are objects the size of a city that pack the mass of our whole Sun in such a small space. Both are fascinating and exotic objects.

More observations with NASA's Chandra mission should resolve this question.

Sky Guy in VA

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Brian Marsden - Cosmic Cop (1937-2010

Hey Space Placers,

Well, we lost another giant in the astronomical community - Brian Marsden. This was THE guy that the whole astronomical world turned to when they had spotted a new comet, asteroid, nova or some new discovery in the sky. He served as the long-time director of the International Astronomical Union's Central Bureau of Astronomical Telegrams (until 2000) and its Minor Planet Center (until 2006), positions that effectively made him and his small staff the worldwide clearinghouse for astronomical discoveries.

As busy as he was he always found time to talk to and help amateur astronomers. He was a real treasure.

Read More About It:

Sky Guy in VA

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Allan Sandage (1926-2010)

Hey Space Placers,

The astronomical community lost a true luminary in the history of the science with the passing of Allan Sandage on 11-13-2010. Allan died of pancreatic cancer.

He was very important to the work of Edwin Hubble as he essentially took over all of Hubble's observing programs when he died in 1953.


Born in Iowa City, Iowa, June 18, 1926, Sandage grew up to define the fields of observational cosmology and extragalactic astronomy. He received his B.A. in 1948 from the University of Illinois and his Ph.D. from the California Institute of Technology in 1953, where he was the famous astronomer Walter Baade’s Ph.D. student in stellar evolution. During the early 1950s he served as Edwin Hubble’s observing assistant at the Mount Wilson and Palomar Observatories.

Hubble, for whom the space telescope is named, discovered that the universe is larger than the Milky Way and that it is expanding. Sandage joined the staff of the Carnegie Observatories in 1952 and, after Hubble’s death in 1953, Sandage became responsible for the cosmology program using telescopes at Mount Wilson and Palomar. His primary focus was to carry on Hubble’s work and determine the rate at which the universe is expanding, research he continued for six decades. Even though he officially retired September 1, 1997, he was still actively working until August of this year.

During the course of his studies he made seminal contributions to dating the ages of stars and the expansion age of the universe, classifying galaxies, and understanding galaxy formation andevolution. He led the first major redshift -- or distance -- surveys of galaxies, from which he created a three-dimensional map to explore galaxy distribution and the dynamics of the nearby universe. Sandage was the first to recognize the existence of quasars without strong radio emission. Quasars are the brightest and most distant objects in
 the universe. He developed new techniques for observing, which affected a broad range of astronomical topics.

Sandage’s prolific work yielded honorary degrees from Yale University, University of Illinois, University of Chicago, University of Southern California, Miami University, Graceland College, and the University of
Chile. He has also received numerous prestigious awards, including the Eddington Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1963; the Pope Pius IX gold medal in 1966; the Elliot Cresson Medal of The Franklin Institute in 1973; the highest scientific award in the U.S., the National Medal of Science, in 1971; the Crafoord Prize of the Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences in 1991; and the Cosmology Prize of the
Peter Gruber Foundation in 2000.

Sandage is survived by his wife, Mary, of San Gabriel, California, and two sons David Sandage and John Sandage.

I remember seeing Allan on TV and reading about his work, especially quasars in the 60's.

Rest in Peace among the stars Allan....

Sky Guy in VA

Monday, November 15, 2010

One Way Mars Mission????

Hey Space Placers!

Hear about the Mars mission being proposed by some scientists that would be one way? Their idea is that it is far simpler (and faster) to send humans to Mars on a one way trip - leaving Earth never to return using their original spacecraft - and staying on Mars. To go one way cuts down on the complexity and cost and they think the technology exists to do such a mission fairly soon.

They do not liken it to a "suicide mission" as the astronauts would be resupplied via regular flights to Mars. We are sending missions to Mars now about every 2+ years.

I am sure there are plenty of people who would volunteer for this mission. It has been likened to the earliest ocean voyages of explorers who left their homelands for the unknown far reaches of our planet.

NASA has said it does not consider such missions as they want to get their people back. But a mssion funded and launched by a private entity might consider doing so.

What do you think?

Read More About It:

Sky Guy in VA

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Jupiter South Equatorial Belt (SEB) Revival?

Hey Space Placers!

Modern telescopes, including those used by amateur astronomers, have shown Jupiter to have 2 main equatorial belts, north and south. These belts are situated within the seething atmosphere of Jupiter and have been seen for centuries. There has also been times when one of them would fade away and disappear. The SEB did just this a few months ago and I must say it was strange to look at a singular belted Jupiter.

Observations by amateur and professional astronomers in the past few days have now found evidence for a possible revival of the SEB. With space and ground based telescopes this predicted revival will truly enhance our knowledge and understanding of the king of the planets.

Read More About It:

If you have a telescope make sure you tune in for a "good ol' SEB revival" at the eyepiece.

Sky Guy in VA

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Venus in the Pre-dawn Sky

Hey Space Placers!

Was up today, 11-10-10,  at about 0550.

Went outside to check on the sky as I always do in the a.m. as well as at night before turning in.

The sky was crystal clear and Venus was blazing away in the southeast.....brightest object in the sky with a greenish-white tint. I detected the phase of Venus with binoculars. Venus has phases just like the Moon  - all the planets do - because of orbiting the Sun.

Make sure you take a peek at the "Morning Star" before it starts getting too light. Venus will be getting higher in the sky as the month goes by.

Can you see the Big Dipper standing upright in the northeast?

Sky Guy in VA

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

So What Is It?

Video shot by a news helicopter operated by KCBS/KCAL shows a contrail ascending high into the atmosphere.

This frame from a video shot by a news crew in a helicopter flying in southern California has made national news as no one from the U.S. Government can lay claim to what caused the observed phenomena. NASA and DoD denied any kind of a missile launch and the FAA stated that they had not issued any commercial rocket launch clearance.

Read More About It:

To me this is an aircraft contrail-optical illusion. High altitude contrails at sunset can take on unusual appearances. This makes more sense than believing that there was a missile lauch that no one knew about!

Wanna' see a bigger mystery? Check out my blog on the blue light over Centreville that took place last week.......still scratching my head over that one!

SkyGuy in VA

Monday, November 8, 2010

Back on Standard Time

Hey Space Placers!

Well, how are you doing adjusting to Standard Time?

We officially ended Daylight Savings Time on 11-7-10  at 0200 so it is darker earlier. Of course that means there is more "night" available to look at the sky.

We are also losing several minutes of daylight each day as we get closer to the start of winter which occurs on the winter solstice, December 21st.

The constellations of summer are fading into the sky glow in the west after sunset and the fall constellations are prominent now as darkness falls.

 For you early risers the stars you see in the south before it starts getting light are the beauties of winter. The really bright star you see in Sirius.

Sky Guy in VA

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Very Unusual

Hey Space Placers!

Check out this video at WTTG Fox 5:

It definitely is an Unidentified Flying Object (UFO). I can tell you with absolute certianty that it is NOT an astronomical object, probably not an airplane or weather related. What does that leave to explain what is een? Not much....

To be seen on a cell phone camera at all it has to be bright and it does move relative to the foreground objects.

What gets me is the color - that blue is something else. Leaves out candles on a flying baloon....

Don't know what it is......the true meaning of a UFO.

Sky Guy in VA

Friday, November 5, 2010

STS-133 Delayed

Hey Space Placers!

Today's launch attempt for Discovery was scrubbed due to a hydrogen leak at the Ground Umbilical Carrier Plate, or GUCP and a detected crack in the foam insulation of the External Tank.

The earliest launch attempt will be November 30th. STS-133 is taking spare parts and supplies to the International Space Station.

Read More About It:

Sky Guy In VA

Thursday, November 4, 2010

My Oh My, What A Flyby!

 Deep Impact/EPOXI did it! The 465 mile close approach to Comet Hartley 2 was a complete success. Data was received and is being processed and examined. By all accounts only the 5th close encounter with a comet ever that happened today will provide new insights on these fascinating solar system formation leftovers.

Read All About It:

Sky Guy in VA

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Countdown to a Comet and a Launch

Hey Space Placers!

Discovery's launch was postponed for a day with launch for Mission STS-133 to the International Space Station (ISS) now set for Nov. 4th. We also have the rendezvous of the Deep Impact/EPOXI spacecraft with Comet Hartley 2 on the same day.

You can details on STS-133 at 
and on Deep Impact/EPOXI - Hartley 2 at
We will be monitoring these missions tomorrow and will share thoughts tomorrow night.

Sky Guy in VA

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Happy 10th ISS!

Hey Space Placers!

We had a grand time at GMU Observatory last night as 65 star gazers showed up and braved the chilly air to see a variety of objects. We looked at a star cluster, a globular cluster, a spiral galaxy, an Iridium Flare and constellations.

We tried to see the International Space Station (ISS) but it was too low in the sky and was blocked by tall trees.

ISS  marks its 10th anniversary today and tomorrow Space Shuttle Discovery will launch on mission STS-133 to take supplies and equipment to ISS. ISS will be getting its own robotnaut to help in Station operations and upkeep.

Read More About It:

Let's hope we get some favorable flyovers so we can see Discovery and ISS in their orbital chase to rendezvous.

Sky Guy in VA

Monday, November 1, 2010

Enjoy Saturn Lovers!

Hey Space Placers!

Any Saturn lovers out there? Saturn is slowly making her way higher in the pre-dawn sky as the month progresses.

Take a look at this link and enjoy the incredible views of the ringed planet courtesy of NASA's Cassini mission;


Sunday, October 31, 2010

November Skies and Events

November Skies
Planets grace the evening and morning sky this month. There are several skywatching events this month that will allow Space Place’ers to get out and enjoy the sky, including one that I will be participating in. Join me at George Mason University Observatory on Monday, November 1st at 7:00 p.m. Check here for more details and weather status

Tune into NASA for the scheduled last launch of Space Shuttle Discovery on the 3rd and the rendezvous of the Deep Impact/EPOXI spacecraft with Comet Hartley on the 4th. You can follow these missions at

Skywatching Highlights
Mercury moves low into the western sky during the first week of November and by the end of the month it is still pretty low to the horizon.

Brilliant Venus begins to grace the morning sky in the east before dawn as the month begins. Venus will start out low in the east-southeast early in the month but will climb higher each day. Because it is so bright, you have a pretty good chance of seeing the “Morning Star”. Venus will be up three hours before dawn on the 30th. Having a clear horizon free of trees and buildings will help the view.

Mars is hard to see low in the west at sunset.

Bright Jupiter is well up in the southeast at sunset and remains visible almost all night. If you have binoculars or a telescope you can watch the four main moons of Jupiter change their position night after night.

Saturn is in the eastern sky before sunrise and will be climbing higher each week. The waning crescent Moon will be just to the right of the ringed planet on the 3rd.

New Moon is on the 6th, First Quarter Moon is on the 13th and this month’s Full Moon occurs on the 21st. This month’s Full Moon is called the “Beaver’s Moon” as the beavers are active this time of year. Another name for this month’s Full Moon is “Snow Moon” but hopefully Mother Nature will not let the weather live up to this name! Last Quarter Moon is on the 28th.

Here are our down to Earth events for this month.
Open House at the Department of Astronomy at the University of Maryland, College Park Campus Observatory, will be at 8 p.m. on the 5th and the 20th.
Read More About It:

The National Capital Astronomers (NCA) have their monthly meeting on the 13th at 7:30 p.m. at the University of Maryland, College Park Campus Observatory. The speaker is Dr. Tamara Bogadanović (UM), Black Holes: Alignment of Spins, and Light From Mergers. Read More About It:

The National Capital Astronomers (NCA) will host a star party in Rock Creek Park on the 6th starting at 7:00 p.m. Read More About It:

The Northern Virginia Astronomy Club (NOVAC) will meet at 7 p.m. at George Mason University (GMU) on the 13th. The speaker is Professor Mike Summers from George Mason University and he will be discussing the Mars airplane project and how atmospheric biomarkers relate to the history of life on other worlds.
Read More About It:

NOVAC will host a public star party on the 6th at Sky Meadows and at CM Crockett Park on the 13th.These events are a great opportunity to get out under the stars and look through a wide variety of telescopes.
Read More About It:

The United States Naval Observatory (USNO) has Monday night tours but space is limited.
Read More About It:

The National Air and Space Museum (NASM) has several space related activities this month.
Read More About It:

There is also a NASM Skywatching event tonight, 6:00 pm to 9:00 p.m. at Sky Meadows State Park, near Paris, Virginia.
Read More About It:

The TriState Astronomers General Meeting will be held on the 17th, 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., at the William Brish Planetarium, Commonwealth Ave, Hagerstown, MD.

Read More About It:

Got a Topic That Interests You? I literally have a whole universe of topics to select from for my column. But I'm interested in hearing from MyFoxDC readers about what interests them. Feel free to contact me at skyguyinva@gmail.comwith your suggestions and comments. I also have a weekly column at WTOP News that you can follow at

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Power of Nature

Hey Space Placers!

The past two days have really reminded us of the power of Mother Nature.The planet had a 7.7 magnitude earthquake, causing a tsunami; there was also a volcano blowing its top; the lowest barometric pressure ever recorded in the U.S. occurred yesterday and the weather in the midwest yesterday was the worst in 70 years.

I have told my students that we exist on this planet only because the climate and geology of the planet allow it. Change the geological or climatological conditions that exist today and there will be a possible impact on humanity. Civilization really has a pretty narrow band of conditions in which it can survive, let alone thrive.

Humans have to realize that we live in a very special place and time on this planet. It can change at any moment - comet/asteroid impact, super volcano eruption, climate change.

Some day perhaps humanity will appreciate the gift we have in this planet.....

Sky Guy in Beautiful VA

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

ISS Flyover Week

Hey Space Placers!

This week will be an excellent one to view the International Space Station (ISS)  if the skies are clear.

Check out this website and provide your location to get accurate sighting times:

 You can also see when Hubble Space Telescope and the Space Shuttle (when on orbit) pass your way.

Another feature to look at is "Iridium Flares". These big comm satellites have huge solar panels which catch the Sun's rays and "flare" into brilliance for a few seconds. They are quite stunning when they occur and can be a 100x brighter than Venus!

Be sure to check the site out and set it up for your observing location.

Sky Guy in VA

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Sky Lights Tutorial

Hey Space Placers!

I apologize if this is seemingly too basic, but a number of students and the public were not aware of the following.

When we look up at the night sky we see two basic type of objects - stars and solar system objects. The stars we see, just like the Sun, are visible because they are producing light and energy by the process of nuclear fusion. Nuclear fission, which is what powers our reactors and nuclear bombs, makes energy by breaking apart atoms. In nuclear fusion, the temperature and pressure at the core of a star is significant enough to fuse hyrogen atoms (and others) together and thereby make new elements plus energy.

All of the solar system objects except for meteors, are visible because they are reflecting sunlight off of their surfaces. Regarding meteors, we do not see the actual meteoroid body but rather the ionized trail in the atmosphere caused by the tremendous heat of entering the Earth's atmopshere.

The planets, their moons as well as ours, comets, and asteroids are all reflecting sunlight off of their surfaces. The measurement of their reflectivity is called albedo and the higher the number the brighter the reflected light.

Now when we see the Full Moon as we did last night, the Sun, Earth and Moon are aligned in a straight line. If the Earth passes in front of the Sun, we get an eclipse of the Moon.

When we look at the Moon it is reflecting sunlight even though we cannot see the Sun. So is brilliant Jupiter in the east at sunset. Because light travels at 186,000 miles per second, it takes about about 8 minutes for sunlight to illuminate the Earth and Moon having travelled roughly 93,000,000 miles. It takes another 1.25 seconds for the light from the Moon to travel to us - roughly 225,000 miles. Jupiter is is about 40+ light minutes away.

In case you are wondering, the stars (other than the Sun) are light years away - the closest is Proxima Centauri at 4.2 light years, or over 24 trillion miles distant. The most distant stars we can see with our unaided eyes are thousands of light years distant - they have to be very large and bright stars for us to see them. The farthest object we can see with our unaided eyes is the Andromeda Galaxy - visible in our night skies right now and about 2.5 million light years distant.

So all light we see in the sky is from the past. Whether it is the Sun, the Moon, or Andromeda Galaxy, we are looking into the past.

Take a trip into the past tonight.

Sky Guy in VA

Friday, October 22, 2010

Hunter's Moon Tonight (Oct 22)

Hey Space Placers!

Make sure you get outside tonight and check the Full Moon. Because it is the first Full Moon after the Harvest Moon it is traditionally known as the Hunter's Moon.

The name comes from the fields being harvested and therefore bare which would make it easy for hunters by the light of a brilliant Full Moon to hunt game. This was in a time when farmers and others would try to get fresh game for dinner.

Also, check out my on air interview with WTOP radio about yesterday's lunar news:

I hope to have a pic for you.

Sky Guy in VA

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Moon News - Water & More at the South Lunar Pole

Hey Fellow Space Placers!

The Moon is my favorite object and place in the Universe. I have been captured by its' beauty and potential utility for the human race for many decades. I grew up during Apollo and participated in several amateur lunar observing projects back in the late 60's. It remains my favorite observing and photography object.

In June 2009 I wrote a feature article for Sky and Telescope Magazine on the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) and Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) mission that was launched that month to the Moon. This two-for-one mission was unique in that two separate spacecraft were launched with the same launch vehicle, an Atlas V, and were headed for the same destination - the Moon.

LCROSS was designed to shepherd the spent Centaur upper stage to the Moon and direct it to slam into a pre-selected lunar crater at one of the lunar poles. The idea was to kick up enough lunar regolith (soil) from deep within the perpetual darkness crater so that the tell tale presence of water could be detected by the shepherding spacecraft and LRO.

LCROSS spacecraft above the Moon's surface
LCROSS & the spent Centaur Stage

The impact took place as designed in Cabeus Crater located at the South Lunar Pole on October 9th, 2009. A great amount of data as well as photographs of the impact were obtained and have been studied for the past year.

Today the first science results were shared with the public and they are impressive. These results are featured in six papers to be published in the Oct. 22 issue of Science. Besides the presence of water in the impact plume - approximately 40 gallons - NASA reported that, "The suite of LCROSS and LRO instruments determined as much as 20 percent of the material kicked up by the LCROSS impact was volatiles, including methane, ammonia, hydrogen gas, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide."

NASA went on to state, "The instruments also discovered relatively large amounts of light metals such as sodium, mercury and possibly even silver. According to the scientists, these volatile chemical by-products are also evidence of a cycle through which water ice reacts with lunar soil grains."

Guess what, Space Placers. These are the same volatiles that help make up the composition of comets and asteroids!

We have known for some time about asteroid and comet impacts and the resulting formation of craters as a result. The LRO/LCROSS mission results however, confirm that the byproducts of these impacts have been stored deep within a lunar pole crater and probably others that have never seen the light of the Sun and are the coldest places in the solar system.

I had the privilege of interviewing the scientists and engineers who built, flew and acquired the data from the LRO/LCROSS missions. I got to see the spacecraft being built and was with 1-inch of the magnificent machines that were going to where I so wish I could go - the Moon. Iwas an experience I shall never forget and always cherish.

Read More About It:

LRO Web Site:

I'll have more on this in the coming days. Look at the Moon tonight and think of what the giant impacts must have looked like from Earth - wow - what a sight they must have been!

Sky Guy In VA

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Comet Hartley 2 Update

Hey Space Placers!

Comet Hartley 2 passed Earth today, October 20th, at a distance of 11 million miles. Observer reports indicate that the comet's coma (gaseous envelope) has gotten large but still remains dim. The near full moon interferes with observing the comet but it can be seen with binoculars and telescopes - it all depends on the Moon and local sky conditions of light pollution.

If you are familiar with the sky here is a star chart to help you find the comet:

It will be tough to see the comet with the Full Moon on Friday, the 22nd. I would recommend trying to look for it when the Moon is out of the sky, and you get a little more time to look before the Moon comes up starting on the 23rd.

I will be looking myself if the clouds ever end up clearing out.

Let me know if you have any luck.

All systems are still GO for the EPOXI-Hartley 2 rendezvous.

Sky Guy in VA

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Moon & Jupiter Tonight (Oct 19)

Hey Space Placers!

If you see a break in the clouds tonight be sure to look for the almost Full Moon. That big, bright "star"  below it is the planet Jupiter. The two will waltz across the sky and set in the west a few hours before dawn.


Sky Guy in VA

Monday, October 18, 2010

OK, SO It's Cloudy...What's a Sky Watcher to do???

Hey Space Placers!

Wanna' know how many times I have been "clouded out" from an astronomical gotta' see? TOO MANY TIMES, that's how many!!!

But the pursuit of the sky goes with the weather (weax as I call it) unless you happen to be a radio astronomer who can observe day and cloudy night.

My relief for such times is to make the most of reading or surfin' the astronomical related 'net. I want to give you a list of my astro-faves that I check on a daily basis.

Of course my blog is on this list so you know how to get to it ;-)    Main NASA site with science and mission updates  Astronomy Picture of the Day is a mainstay classic  for fellow lunatics like me, all things lunar   global warming DOES EXIST; check this out and see for yourself  the grand-daddy of them all when it comes to astronomy magazines  Vital resource for the Sun and space weather Another Moon Watcher mainstay classic  A vital source for observing Earth orbiting vehicles such as HST, ISS

In a future blog I will post additional web links to space related sites.

Share yours

Sky Guy in VA

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Countdown to Rendezvous

Hey Space Placers,

Asteroids have been in the news lately and now one of their icy relatives, Comet Hartley 2, is making a big splash in the astronomical and spaceflight communities – including our very own University of Maryland (UMD). This comet will not be a crowd pleaser as Comet Hale-Bopp was back in the late ‘90’s as it will be barely visible in the night sky. But that doesn’t mean it will not be of immense historical and scientific importance.

Comets are the left over debris, along with asteroids, from the formation of our solar system 4.5 billion years ago. These two classes of solar system objects are thought to be related as comets and asteroids can exhibit characteristics indicative of one another. Some asteroids could be "dead" comets in that they have lost all of the volatile and icy material that makes up comets while some comets are covered with significant layers of dust. Just recently two asteroids were found to contain water, a major component of comets.

Comet Hartley 2 is a small comet as its' nucleus (the actual body of the comet) is less than a mile across. The coma (the gaseous envelope created by outgassing of volatiles and dust from the nucleus caused by heating from the Sun) is rather large and very active. The coma is expected to increase in size and activity in the coming days, just in time for NASA/UMD's Deep Impact/EPOXI spacecraft cameras to capture it all up close.

This is the spacecraft's second flyby of a comet as it flew by and also impacted Comet Tempel 1 with a launched 800 pound copper impactor on July 4th, 2005. This was a spectacular mission and marked the first time in history that humanity had impacted a cometary body. Much was learned about the composition of a comet 's nucleus as large amounts of water and dust made up the debris ejected as a result of the impact.

Because there was so much debris from the impact the spacecraft’s cameras could not record the resulting crater and view the exposed sub-surface material. This was a disappointment as one of the mission objectives was to see how large the resulting crater was and to examine the crater’s internal and external structure. The images that were obtained were impressive in their detail.

Read More About Deep Impact:

Comet Hartley 2 is currently visible in binoculars and telescopes from dark sky sites and from NASA/UMD's Deep Impact/EPOXI spacecraft. The comet will be closest to the Earth on October 20th at a distance of only 11-million miles - close indeed – and may get to naked eye visibility away from city lights. The Moon will be getting brighter in the sky as well which will make the comet harder to see.

But the nearly Full Moon will not be an issue for NASA/UMD's Deep Impact/EPOXI spacecraft as the intrepid cometary explorer will flyby Comet Hartley 2 at a distance of only 435-miles on November 4th. The flyby will only be the 5th time humans have flown by a cometary nucleus. The others were Comets Halley, Borrelly, Tempel 1, and Wild 2. When you consider that there are billions, if not trillions of comets in the solar system, there is much we need to learn.

The spacecraft’s cameras will remain pointed at the comet’s nucleus during the flyby and will be exposed to impacts from the gas and dust making up the coma. This was not done in the Deep Impact mission. The resulting images are expected to be unprecedented in their detail and may allow us to see actual jets of material spewing forth from visible structures.

Read More About Deep Impact/EPOXI:

Asteroids and comets pose an impact threat to our planet so the more we learn about them the better we can defend ourselves against the threat they pose.

SkyGuy in VA

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Telescope Time!

Hey Fellow Space Placers!

If you have any questions or you want to write to me please do so by either leaving a comment or dropping me a line at I can also make public appearances before school groups or organizations.

This Monday, October 18th,  you can join me and George Mason University astronomers at the Observatory at 7:30 p.m. if the sky is clear. Check out this link for more details: We will have several telescopes available to look at the gibbous Moon, Jupiter and some pretty deep sky objects.

GMU expects to have its new 32-inch telescope completed by the end of the year which will be the largest  aperture telescope on a college campus in Virginia and possibly in the U.S. Please join us!

Although you don't need a telescope to enjoy the sky, it sure opens up a whole new perspective - literally. It takes time and effort to figure out what type of telescope - if any - you want to buy. But it is a real treasure when you have one.

I have had several telescopes so far, starting when I was 12. It was a department store refractor and I stepped up to the big time with a 6-inch Newtonian Reflector from Edmund Scientific when I was 16. Then followed two 8-inch telescopes, one I sold, one I kept for over 20+ years until I donated it to GMU. It now serves a variety of students. I still have a 4-inch "suitcase size" telescope that I grab and go with to have something to observe with. My current 10-inch is a dream and will be with me to the end of my days.

Before you get a telescope, spend some time checking out what you want to do with it.  You can write me and I can help you along with your decision making process. You can got to local astronomy clubs and "test drive" some 'scopes at a star party - events where amateur astronomers bring their telescopes out to dark sky sites to observe. I will post these events each month so you can check them out.

If you have binoculars use them to observe the Moon and the stars. These are handy to learn your way around the sky and enjoy the view while you are at it. If you don't have them, you should get a pair of 7x50's as you can use them at sporting events, during the day and then for skywatching.

This weekend Jupiter will dominate the night sky in the southeast right at sunset and the Moon will keep the king of the planets company as they move closer together in the coming days. Enjoy the view, the cool crisp air, and the changing leaves.

SkyGuy in VA

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Hubble Space Telescope Catches Possible Asteroid Collision

Since we have been talking about asteroids the past two days, check this out.....

Look at this sci-fi-ish photo:

Astronomers think that HST has captured detailed images of what happens when two space rocks (asteroids) collide. The images were taken over a period of time and show the changes occuring within the collision remnant.

After some detective work astronomers think the collision occurred early last year and involved a smaller asteroid slamming into a larger one. The discovery photos looked all the world like a comet but HST showed the bizzarre and never before seen "X" pattern which ruled out the object being a comet.

The astro-collision took place in the busy solar system byway of the asteroid belt where millions of space rocks orbit the Sun. Such collisions are thought to take place about once a year but this is the first ever photo of such an event. Astronomers will look in on this "X-File" object next year to see how the crash scene is progressing.

Read More About It:

Sky Guy In VA

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

2010 TD54 Follow Up

A newly-discovered car-sized asteroid will fly past Earth early Tuesday.
NASA NEO Graphic showing the path of 2010 TD54

With additional observations the path of today's (Oct 12th) close flyby of mini-asteroid 2010 TD54 was refined. Singapore was the area where closest approach took place at 6:50 a.m. EDT. The space rock passed at a distance of 27, 960 miles above the surface of our planet.

2010 TD54 was discovered on October 9th at 3:55 a.m. EDT) during a routine sky patrol by a telescope of the NASA-sponsored Catalina Sky Survey north of Tucson, Arizona. NASA has several telescopes dedicated to finding Nearth Earth Objects (NEO's) that could pose a threat to our planet.  

Although this space rock did not pose a threat to our planet, it still carried quite a punch. If it had entered our atmosphere it would have probably disintegrated into pieces that might have survived to become meteorites. It also could have exploded high in the atmosphere with the force of a small nuclear detonation or the equivalent of tens of thousands of tons of TNT.

Read More About It:

Sky Guy in VA

Monday, October 11, 2010

Another Close Asteroid Flyby

Hey Space Placers,

By the time you probably read this we will have had a close, and I mean CLOSE, flyby of a 10 meter or so asteroid - a space rock. Named 2010 TD54 this chunk of debris left over from the formation of our solar system 4.5 billion years ago will whiz by between 33,000 and 40,000 miles above our planet at 6:14 a.m. EDT, October 12th.

2010 TD54 was discovered by astronomers just a few days ago while on telescopic sky patrol looking for rocks just like this that could pose an impact threat. Fortunately this asteroid will miss us completely. A 10 meter or 33-foot spacerock would probably survive entry into our atmosphere and make a heck of a fireball in the sky. In all likelihood an object that size would breakup into fragments that would impact the Earth as meteorites. Based on whether this was an iron or stone asteroid would determine how big the surviving fragments would be.... and what kind of damage they would cause. This space rock's fragments could possibly cause some damage to cars, houses or heaven forbid, people if they were hit.

Earth is bombarded every single day with cosmic debris and some of it survives the heat and aerodynamic pressures of Earth's atmosphere. Cars, ships, houses and people have been hit by meteorites. We collectors call these special space rocks "Wammers".

We'll follow up on this story when more is known.

Sky Guy in VA

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Collecting Some Light Tonight.....

Hey Space Placers!

The sky will be clear tonight and I am getting my 10-inch Takahashi Mewlon telescope out. I will be observing and hopefully photographing Jupiter, Comet Hartley and a few other items of interest. If any pics turn out I will share.

Do you have a telescope? Do you want to get one?

Share your telescope and or what you want to get.

Sky Guy in Va

Sharing an Answer....

A good friend and colleague of mine sent me the following question:

"I have always been fascinated with "Space' and questions such as "Where does the Universe begin and where does it end?" Any comment?

Here is what I sent back to him and I thought I would share it with you:

Yeah, space is something else and it challenges us. Beyond the "big questions" it is so beautiful and peaceful to enjoy.

The questions you ask are indeed "big" and I will try to give you a simple answer. Our current best theory is that the Universe is 13.7 billion years old - having been created in an event we call the "Big Bang" - the moment in which all space and time erupted from literally out of nothing. Was there anything before the Big Bang? Some say this is a non-sensical question as the Big Bang created everything from a single event....others pursue the question on a purely mathematical basis.
The end of the Universe is a vexing question as we are still discovering new things all the time. Right now we know that the Universe is made of the stars and galaxies and people that we can see but that this is only a fraction of the mass (5%)that makes up the Universe. There exists far more Dark Matter (23%) than ordinary matter and we do not know for sure what Dark Matter is. There also exists Dark Energy (72%) - an unknown force that is accelerating the expansion of the Universe caused by the Big Bang.

Current theory states that the Universe is "flat" which means that it will expand "forever" and there will come a time when we will see no other galaxies due to the accelerating expansion. Stars have a finite life, and there is only so much raw material (gas and dust) to create new stars and planets, so at some point in the very distant future, all of the stars will have ended their lives and the Universe will grow dark. There is also a possibility that matter as we know it - atoms, electrons, quarks - has a finite life as well so the Universe ends up being nothing but a dark, vast graveyard of exotic ghost particles. Depresssing, indeed.

So, while there is light and life in the Universe we must make the most of it. Our own Sun will cease to exist in about 5 billion years as it will have used all of its hydrogen fuel and will become a Red Giant star, most probably enveloping our own Earth. Indeed, ashes to ashes, dust to dust will be the Earth's ultimate fate.

What do YOU think about this? I would like to know your opinion.....

Sky Guy in VA

Saturday, October 9, 2010

October 2010 Skies

Hey Space Placers!

Want to know "What's Up" for October??????

Check out all the sky and Earth-based happenings for the month at my WTOP column,

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

All You Have To Do Is......

Look up - safely ;-) - to enjoy the night sky.

Skywatching in its simplest form is what human beings have been doing since they first stood erect eons ago. They would have huddled together at night for warmth and safety. In a sky free of light pollution thousands of what we know to be stars would have been visible. And our own Miky Way Galaxy would have been quite a sight to them.

They didn't know what it was they were seeing but the same astronomical objects we see today, so did they. The sky of then is not significantly different from our sky of now except for light pollution in metrpolitan areas.

Did they wonder at night by moonlight? What did they think of when they saw the source of light and warmth disappear and the dark and cool begin to prevail? Solar and lunar eclipses, meteor showers, fireballs and bright comets must have been either wondrous or terrifying to our ancestors.

 Today we have the luxury of knowledge about the Universe and night sky. But skywatching is getting back to  basics. Looking at the sky is pleasing and not unlike fishing....cast your eyes skyward and you never know what you might see beyond the expected.

Try to find a safe and convenient place to look at the sky. Perhaps from your own bakyard or a nearby spot that offers a clear view of the sky and is free of trees and lights. As we go along I will have observing tips for you and events you can go to observe the sky with others - a star party.

The sky is for everyone to see and enjoy. Try to think of our ancestors next time you are out under the canopy of night. What thoughts would they have had in looking at the distant cold lights above them? What are yours?

Clear Skies

It doesn't take specialized knowledge or equipment.....

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Hello Universe!!!

Dear Reader,

This is my first post for my very own blog!

I am sharing with you, future readers, what I hope I will accomplish - open a link between you and I so we can share the Universe together. You have questions, I will hopefully have the answers.

News about NASA missions, things happening in the day and night sky, my own sky pics, will all be here.

The Universe is ours to enjoy and explore!

Clear Skies!