Monday, January 31, 2011

Discovery Set To Roll Out To The Pad

Hey Space Placers!

Space Shuttle Discovery is scheduled to roll out to Launch Pad 39A from the Vehicle Assembly Building at 8 p.m. tonight - January 31st. The launch of Discovery - STS 133 -  to the International Space Station (ISS) is currently slated for February 24th. The cracks in the External Tank (ET) have been repaired and the underlying reason why they occurred has been determined. Also, a mission crewmember who broke his hip in a bicycle accident has been replaced.

Read More About It:

Sky Guy in VA

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Most Distant Galaxy????

Hey Space Placers!

You might of heard or read in the news about "Farthest Galaxy Discovered" this past week. Well, the headlines are not totally accurate as the OBJECT detected by the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) MAY be a galaxy, but it is currently an 80% chance that it is.

HST took a 40 hour exposure with the newly installed Wide Field Camera 3 and analysis of the resulting image led to the detection of a possible primordial galaxy candidate that is 13.2 BILLION light years from Earth - the figure is an enlargement of the galaxy candidate.

If this IS a galaxy, it is present only 500 million years after the Big Bang - the event that evidence shows created the Universe. This would be a big find indeed as it would show us what the Universe looked like at 4% of its estimated age.

Read More About It:

Sky Guy in VA

Zoomed-in view of UDFj-39546284

Friday, January 28, 2011

You Gotta' See This!!!!

Hey Space Placers!

Sadly, today marks the 25th anniversary of the Challenger accident - see my 1-27-11 post.

And there are only 3 space shuttle missions left before the program retires.

So, sit back and enjoy this YouTube view of the shuttle:

Sky Guy in VA

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Lest We Forget.......

Hey Space Placers!

Today (January 27) is the day NASA and the Nation pause to remember the crews of Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia. All of them (17 total) died from accidents involving manned spaceflight.

Visit the NASA web and pause a moment to remember the sacrifice of these crews:

Sky Guy in VA

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Check Out This "Far Out" Website

Hey Space Placers!

With billions of galaxies populating the Universe it was interesting to come across This is a top notch site to learn about and stay abreast of all things regarding the first galaxies formed - or put another way - the oldest and farthest from us.

The site has great background material and the very latest in research and publications. The content can get technical but it is still worth purusing.

I have it on my "Dailes".

Sky Guy in VA

Monday, January 24, 2011

Phobos Close Up

Hey Space Placers!

Check out the UNREAL photos of Phobos, one of Mars' two moons.

There is some speculation that Phobos and Mars' other moon, Diemos, are captured asteroids. They have very dark surfaces and are very small compared to typical "spherical" moons such as our own Moon.

I hope the Russians are successful in their upcoming launch and mission to Phobos.

Sky Guy in VA

Saturday, January 22, 2011

"Two Suns in 2012"

Hey Space Placers!

Several MAJOR news outlets are picking up a news article that says Earth will have two suns in 2012. Well I gotta' tell you I was amazed to read these articles and dreaded the effect it would have on people reading them.

The story centers on the red giant star Betelgeuse going supernova - exploding - in 2012 and becoming bright enough "so that there are 24 hours of sunlight", hence the 2 suns. Well, couple that with the doomsday poppycock of 2012 and there you have it - a story to go viral on the 'net just like the Mars hoax that blossoms EVERY year in August. The Mars hoax dates back to August 2003 and said that Mars will be as big as the Full Moon. I get questions about it every year......

Betelgeuse WILL go supernova some day and become very bright but will NOT become a second sun - no way, no how. It MAY become bright enough for a few weeks to a month to be visible during daylight hours right after it explodes as it is about 600 light years away. That is far enough away to protect us from the gargantuan explosion yet close enough to be a very bright sight indeed.

Betelgeuse is about 20 times more massive than our own Sun and is rapidly depleting the hydrogen fuel at its core. Once that fuel is spent the star will struggle to find other fuel sources to keep nuclear fusion going and thereby survive but it will eventually implode on itself and then explode in spectacular fashion. I hope to see it but there is NO WAY to predict when this will happen. It could be tonight or it could be in 100,000 years. We won't know until it happens.

I still don't know how the  predicted Mayan calendar Armageddon of 2012 got hitched to Betelgeuse. I guess it is easy when facts and science do not matter as much as an attention grabbing headline.

Rest assured Space Placers......we will be alive and well when 2013 comes around.

You can see Betelgeuse in the sky tonight and for the rest of winter. Look at the Orion blog I posted the other day with the star chart. Find his three stars-in-a-row belt and  look to the upper left - Betelgeuse is bright and reddish in color. You really can't miss it.

Sky Guy in VA

Betelgeuse as seen by the Hubble Space Telescope

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Tired of Winter?

Hey Space Placers!

Well, we are 1 month into winter with 2 months to go to Spring.

Have you noticed that the hours of daylight ARE getting longer. By the end of January sunset will be at 5:30 pm and by the end of February sunset is at 6 pm. We are gaining a minute or more of daylight a day.

Check the link for Washington DC sunrise and sunset times :

If you need another location here is the link:

Happy sunshine!

Sky Guy in VA

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Orion Nebula

Hey Space Placers!

If you go outside at about 10 pm and look to the South you will see one of the most famous and beautiful constellations in the winter, and whole sky - Orion the Hunter. Orion is easy to spot as there are three fairly bright stars that form a line. Below this "belt" of the Hunter is a "fuzzy" spot that is really a huge cloud of gas and dust - a star forming region called a nebula. Check out this link to see a great picture of the nebula

SkyGuy in VA

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Sun Measurements to Help Understand Climate Change

Hey Space Placers!

To follow up on my blog yesterday 1-17-11, the Sun, which powers Earth's climate by the amount of energy it transfers to the surface, seas and atmosphere, has to be monitored for intrinsic changes. These changes then must be studied to see what, if any influence the Sun has on climate change.

Our ability to monitor the Sun and detect these changes has been greatly improved and is detailed in a press release by the American Geophysical Union (AGU). AGU states, "Scientists have taken a major step toward accurately determining the amount of energy that the sun provides to Earth, and how variations in that energy may contribute to climate change. In a new study of laboratory and satellite data, researchers report a lower value of that energy, known as total solar irradiance, than previously measured and demonstrate that the satellite instrument that made the measurement—which has a new optical design and was calibrated in a new way—has significantly improved the accuracy and consistency of such measurements."

The bottom line as a result of the study of these solar measurements is that "(the Sun) is likely not the main cause of global warming in the past three decades."

See the AGU press release:

SkyGuy in VA

Monday, January 17, 2011

2010 Equals 2005 as Hottest Year on Record

Hey: Space Placers!

Here is the NASA New Release link on  a global temperature record that was set for 2010 that ties 2005 as the hottest year on record:

What is interesting is that data from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administartion (NOAA) came to the same conclusion:

It is more data to add to the puzzle of our planet's climate. I think it is safe to say that the Earth's global temperature has increased. But the reason why is at the center of debate and ongoing research. You can measure the temperature of the oceans, land masses, atmosphere and the amount a glacial and Arctic ice lost each year. Then notice an increasing upward trend and finally try to figure out why it is happening. And perhaps, what if anything can be done about it and the affect on the planet.

Data from NASA and NOAA goes a long way in providing proof from two different verifiable and reliable scientific sources of global warming. But the why, how and what it does the data mean has a ways to go before possible answers develop.

Sky Guy in VA

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Shuttle Discovery Update

Hey Space Placers!

Here is the latest from NASA on getting Discovery launched to the International Space Station (ISS).

Discovery is targeted to launch at 4:50 p.m. EST on Thursday, Feb. 24, for its mission to the International Space Station.

As stated by NASA, "In NASA Kennedy Space Center's Vehicle Assembly Building, technicians will continue installing additional support structures, called radius blocks, to space shuttle Discovery's external fuel tank's support beams known as "stringers" through the weekend. The radius blocks are being added to 94 stringers, meaning the entire circumference of the external tank will be strengthened by the time all the repairs and modifications are finished. Teams will be off Monday, Jan. 17, in observance of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. At NASA's Johnson Space Center, STS-133 crew will conduct an integrated simulation of the mission's first spacewalk in the fixed based simulator today.

For more information see:

Sky Guy in VA

Thursday, January 13, 2011

End of Year Sun Divers

Hey Space Placers!

As 2010 was coming to a close, interesting things were happening concerning the Sun. 25 comets did nose dives into the Sun during Dec. 13th to 22nd. These cometary kamikazes were observed by SOHO - the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO).

It is fairly common for SOHO to spot a sundiving comet every few days but this "storm" of sundivers was unusual due to the numbers involved. The comets were thought to be in the 10-meter size and this is small as comets go.

But, and this is the part that excites me, there has to be big sungrazer comets out there that could be so large and bright that they could be seen in daylight! The last such comet was Ikeya-Seki in 1965. This was before I was interested in astronomy so I never saw it.

I would sure like to see one now!

Read More About It:

Sky Guy in VA

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Holy Cow! Anti-Matter From T-Storms!

Hey Space Placers!

You gotta' love Mother Nature! Just when you think we have seen it all as far as Earth's weather goes, a NASA space telescope designed to hunt down high energy events finds such events in our weather! Anti-matter, from thunderstorms?? Are you kidding me????

Obviously not as NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope has spotted beams of antimatter produced above thunderstorms on Earth, a phenomenon never seen before. It appears to be a fairly common occurrence as well, happening about 500 times a day!

Read More About This and see the GREAT graphics:

 Sky Guy in VA

Monday, January 10, 2011

Sky Sights for New 'Scope Users

Hey Space Placers!

On Jan. 2nd I posted some advice for new telescope users. The good folks at Sky & Telescope have posted a great article  for sky sights to see for new telescope users -

Have any questions let me know.

Sky Guy in VA

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Sky Guy Viewing Alert!!

Hey Space Placers!

No matter where you are tonight and tomorrow night (1-9 and 10 )take a look at bright Jupiter and the waxing crescent Moon in the west. The celestial duo will be a beautiful sight especially in the deepening dark after sunset.

If you have binoculars be sure to look at Jupiter as you can see the four main moons as tiny points of light stretching out to both sides of brilliant Jupiter. The moons change their position constantly so their number can vary as to visibility. You have to hold your binoculars steady - propping them against something solid can help.

The Moon offers a wealth of detail to biocular viewers. Craters abound and the view along the terminator -the line between day and night - is a real treat to explore.

Watching the position of the Moon change relative to Jupiter from hour to hour and night to night lends a 3D effect to the sky scene.

You can also try taking pictures by putting your camera on a tripod and take time exposures of 1 second.

Here's to clear skies!

Sky Guy

Saturday, January 8, 2011

New View on the Moon's Core

Hey Space Placers!

You know the Moon is my favorite place in the whole Universe. I am always looking for news about our companion in space and came across a GREAT article that I want to share with you. Using Apollo era data from the Apollo Seismograph instruments left behind on the lunar surface and modern research techniques a a team of scientists has found the Moon has an Earth like core.

Quoting NASA's Press Release, "The team’s findings suggest the Moon possesses a solid, iron-rich inner core with a radius of nearly 150 miles and a fluid, primarily liquid-iron outer core with a radius of roughly 205 miles. Where it differs from Earth is a partially molten boundary layer around the  core estimated to have a radius of nearly 300 miles. The research indicates the core contains a small percentage of light elements such as sulfur, echoing new seismology research on Earth that suggests the presence of light elements -- such as sulfur and oxygen -- in  a layer around our own core."

Another BIG result of this research is that the lunar core provides evidence that supports the theory on how the Moon was formed - impact between Earth and a Mars size object billions of years ago.

NASA has future lunar missions slated to further study our Moon. NASA that "the Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory, or GRAIL, is a NASA Discovery-class mission set to launch this year. The mission consists of twin spacecraft that will enter tandem orbits around the Moon for several months to measure the gravity field in unprecedented detail. The mission also will answer longstanding questions about Earth’s moon and provide scientists a better understanding of the satellite from crust to core, revealing subsurface structures and, indirectly, its thermal history."

Sky Guy in VA

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Andromeda Galaxy Seen As Never Before

Hey Space Placers!

The farthest thing you can see in the night sky with just your eyes is the Andromeda Galaxy - a great spiral that is larger than our own Milky Way Galaxy. The Andromeda  Galaxy is 2.5 million light years distant, which means the light we see today left the galaxy 2.5million years ago.

The most detailed image to date of Andromeda Galaxy was obtained by combining images from different wavelengths of light. Each wavelength gives a different perspective as to the processes going on within the galaxy. For instance, infrared details the dust that lies within the spiral arms of the galaxy and x-ray shows high energy sources at work in the core of the galaxy.

Read More About It:

By the way, in 5 billion years the Milky Way and Andromeda will merge and new galactic forms will take place. But that is another blog.

Sky Guy in VA

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Another View of Opportunity

Hey Space Placers!

If you saw my 1-3-11 blog (with photo) of Opportunity then you will appreciate this high resolution photo taken of the Rover by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) on New Year's Eve 2010.

Such photo comparisons are valuable for figuring out exact positions and relationships in terrain features as well as pinpointing where the Rover is.

Sky Guy in VA 

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

10-Year Old Makes History

Hey Space Placers!

Hear about the 10-year-old girl who, with her father,  discovered a supernova - an exploding massive star?

She is the youngest person in history to make a supernova discovery.

Read more about it:

Sky Guy in VA

Monday, January 3, 2011

Latest From Mars

Hey Space Placers!

Check out the latest pic from Opportunity:

Opportunity and her twin (and stuck) rover Spirit mark their 7th year on Mars this week - not bad considering their original mission length was 90days!

We can see detail in the layers of the crater which acts like a time machine to look deeper into the history of the Red Planet.

I ALWAYS love the colored pics from Mars as the planet is so alien and beautiful.

Sky Guy in VA

Sunday, January 2, 2011

New 'Scope?

Hey Space Placers!

Were you fortunate enough to get a new telescope this year? Or do you already have one and do not know how to use it?

Sky & Telescope has a great article for new 'scope owners:

And of course if you have further questions you can drop me a line at

Sky Guy in VA

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year - Jan 2011 Skies

Hey Space Placers!
Happy 2011 everybody! We start the new year with planets aplenty visible in the morning and evening skies. But first, be sure to join me and other astronomers at George Mason University (GMU) Observatory this year during our public observing sessions. The schedule is being established and GMU will have a new 32-inch telescope to “wow” you in the near future. I’ll post the link as soon as it is available.

Skywatching Highlights

The Earth reaches its closest approach to the Sun, or perihelion, for the year on January 3rd. We will be 91,407,000 miles from the Sun or 1.7% less than average.

Mercury provides an excellent opportunity to be easily seen, relatively speaking for Mercury, during the first two weeks of January. Mercury rises in the eastern sky almost two hours before dawn, making it well up an hour before dawn. To see Mercury, find a clear southeastern horizon and look for a golden-yellow “star”about a fist-width above th horizon starting at 6:30 a.m. On the 2nd, the thin crescent Moon will be just below Mercury.

Brilliant Venus continues to grace the dark morning sky in the southeast rising almost 4 hours before dawn as the month begins. On the 29th and 30th the Moon passes to the lower left of Venus. As the month progresses Venus will be getting lower to the horizon.

Mars cannot be seen.

Bright Jupiter is well up in the south at sunset and remains visible until about 11 p.m. as the month begins but sets by 9:30 p.m. by month’s end. The Moon passes to the right of Jupiter on the 9th and 10th. 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 12:30 a.m. on New Year’s Day and at 10:30 p.m. by month’s end. The Moon passes below Saturn on the 25th. If you have a telescope be sure to check out the ringed planet as a large storm half the size of our entire planet is taking place high in Saturn’s clouds and should be visible in amateur telescopes – see my 12-28-10 blog.

New Moon is on the 4th, First Quarter Moon is on the 12th and this month’s Full Moon occurs on the 19th. This month’s Full Moon is called the “Full Wolf Moon” in recognition of the packs of wolves that hunt during the winter months. Last Quarter Moon is on the 26th.

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 8th at 7:30 p.m. at the University of Maryland, College Park Campus Observatory. The speaker is Ruben Kier, Best Targets for Winter Astrophotography. Read More About It:

The Northern Virginia Astronomy Club (NOVAC) will meet at 7 p.m. at George Mason University (GMU) on the 9th. The speaker is Gary Hand and he will be speaking on the topic of consumer optics.
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 19th, 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., at the William Brish Planetarium, Commonwealth Ave, Hagerstown, MD.
Read More About It: