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 - http://physics.gmu.edu/~hgeller/observing.html 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: http://www.berkeley.edu/news/media/releases/2010/11/24_jupiter_stripe.shtml

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 http://www.skyandtelescope.com/skytel  and Astronomy http://www.astronomy.com/en/Magazine.aspx 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 Moon......no 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: http://journalofcosmology.com/Mars108.html

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: http://www.spaceweather.com/

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: http://www.myfoxdc.com/dpps/news/pentagon-calls-mystery-missile-unexplained-dpgonc-20101109-fc_10541776

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: http://www.myfoxdc.com/dpp/news/virginia/video-blue-colored-ufo-in-centreville-110410

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: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/shuttle/main/index.html

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: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/epoxi/index.html

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 http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/shuttle/shuttlemissions/sts133/ 
and on Deep Impact/EPOXI - Hartley 2 at http://epoxi.umd.edu/
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;