Friday, September 30, 2011

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Fried Egg Nebula

Hey Space Placers!

Check out the image of the "Fried Egg Nebula" just released by the European Southern Observatory (ESO). This is a giant star 1,000 times larger than our Sun and a prime candidate to go supernova sometime in the future. The star is blowing off shells of gas and is, according to ESO, "one of the rarest classes of stars in the Universe, the yellow hypergiants."

Read More About It:

Sky Guy in Still CLoudy VA

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


Hey Space Placers!

NASA will hold separate news conferences tomorrow, 9/29/11, on MESSEGER results from Mercury and WISE's hunt for asteroids. The WISE event will air live on NASA Television and the agency's website.  For NASA TV streaming video, downlink and scheduling information, visit:

The briefing also will be streamed live, with a chat available, at:

For more information about the mission, visit:

Sky Guy in VA

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Big, Bad, Sunspot 1302

Hey SPace Placers!

The Sun has a sunspot, #1302, that has been producing significant solar activity and affecting our spaceweather.

Check out the link and video on this big, bad sunspot:

Sky Guy in Cloudy VA

Monday, September 26, 2011

New Horizons-Pluto Update

Hey Space Placers!

It has been awhile since the New Horizons mission to Pluto has had a n update, so be sure to check out the link to get the latest on the msssion. There is also a neat video you can link to as well. We have about 4 years to go....

Read More ABout It:

Dwarf Planet Mysteries (splash, 558)

Sky Guy in VA

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The UARS Phenomena

Hey Space Placers!

I had Internet issues (again) yesterday but I think I got them ironed out after about an hour on the phone with the tech supprt of my ISP.

The demise of UARS loomed large in the Washington DC area on Friday and Saturday as I did an on air interview with WTOP and was asked to do an in-studio appearance for WTTG Fox 5 on Saturday. It made me wonder why the whoopla over the fall of UARS????

I think it caught the fascination of the public and the media because in this day and age the exact circumstances of the burn up of UARS could not be determined. We think we can know everything: when an earthquake will strike, the exact path of a hurricane, where and when a satellite will fall, the speed of a neutrino.

Well, we do not know everything and UARS continues to confound as we know it is down but do not where it came down and may never.

The Universe and her secrets yield slowly.....but only if we ask and pursue that which we do not know.

Sky Guy in VA

Friday, September 23, 2011

Einstein Error????

Hey Space Placers!

For us in the Northern Hemisphere, happy fall; for our Southern Hemisphere readers, happy spring! Today is the change of seasons....

Physics as we know it may be in for a stunning change as well if the results from a two year CERN experiment hold up. CERN scientists ran 16,000 neutrino beam tests and found that they arrived 60-billionths of a second sooner than they should have. In other words these fundamental atomic particles with little mass travelled FASTER that the speed of light. If this holds up through confirmation by other experimental teams, especially Fermi Lab in Chicago, we will experience a revolution in modern physics unlike anything we have seen in our lifetimes.

This would be a change of our perception of the Universe on the scale of that discoverde by Copernicus, Newton, and yes, Einstein. It would undermine the central tenant of how matter and energy interact and act in our Universe.

Carl Sagan once stated, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof". This is an instance in which his words ring true. It will require careful confirmation by duplicating the results in order for this possible discovery to sytand.

Read More About It: and

Sky Guy in VA

Thursday, September 22, 2011


Hey Space Placers!

The VERY latest from NASA on UARS (see my column from 9-21-11):
"As of 7 a.m. EDT Sept. 22, 2011, the orbit of UARS was 115 mi by 120 mi (185 km by 195 km). Re-entry is expected sometime during the afternoon of Sept. 23, Eastern Daylight Time. The satellite will not be passing over North America during that time period. It is still too early to predict the time and location of re-entry with any more certainty, but predictions will become more refined in the next 24 to 36 hours."

For our overseas readers (I have a world-wide audience of which I am very glad to see) check the link out for more updates:

So, we in the USA and Canada are out of the re-entry zone. I hope someone will be able to capture the re-entry on video so we can all see it.

Sky Guy in VA

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

NASA's Guessing Game

Hey Space Placers!

I am sure by now that you have heard about NASA's dead satellite that is going to fall out of orbit on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, or Saturday, somewhere, someplace. The last time NASA had such a worry was when Skylab fell from the heavens and pieces of it hit solid land.

The 10 year-old Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) weighs 13,000 pounds and can't be controlled in order to disintegrate over an ocean. Odds are 1-3200 of a piece of UARS hitting someone.

One thing is for sure. UARS will light up someone's sky when it comes in. I will keep you updated.

Read More About It: and

Sky Guy Looking Up in VA

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

See NASA's "Eyes on the Solar System"

Hey Space Placers,

  NASA's "Eyes on the Solar System" interface combines video game technology and NASA data to create an environment for users to ride along with agency spacecraft and explore the cosmos. Screen graphics and information such as planet locations and spacecraft maneuvers use actual space mission data",   as stated in a recent NASA press release.

NASA further stated that, "The virtual environment uses the Unity game engine to display models of planets, moons, asteroids, comets and spacecraft as they move through our solar system. With keyboard and mouse controls, users cruise through space to explore anything that catches their interest. A free browser plug-in, available at the site, is required to run the Web application."

Read More About It: and see it at

Sky Guy in VA

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Webb Space Telescope Update

Hey Space Placers!

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has just had its mirrors coated in a super thin layer of gold - Read More About It And it appears that Congress will let JWST fly in 2018 instead of cancelling Hubble Space Telescope's successor. This is VERY good news as billions have been spent developing JWST and new technology.

JWST will see farther back in time and pierce the dust present in the Universe to show us things we have never seen before: Read More About It

James Webb mirrors

Sky Guy in VA

Friday, September 16, 2011

Latest Vesta Views

Hey Space Placers!

Check out the latest views, animations and videos from Vesta at

The video is REALLY cool as it is a flyover of Vesta made by compiling images DAWN has taken to date. The video is the next best thing to actually being there.

Viewing the South Pole of Vesta

Sky Guy in VA

Thursday, September 15, 2011

NASA Announces New Rocket

Hey Space Placers!

 NASA announced yesterday, 9-14-11, the new generation of launch vehicles for manned and heavy lift duties. The Space Launch System (SLS)  Heavy Lift vehicle will be a combination of Apollo-era Saturn V and space shuttle solid rocket boosters.

What I find intriguing in the photo of the SLS below is that it has a paint scheme similar to the Saturn V. SLS will have an initial lifting capability of 70 metric tons that can evolve to 130  metric tons. The good news is that a lot of the infrastructure and money spent on the now defunct Constellation Program will carry over to these new vehicles. In essence, all of Constellation has evolved except for the missions to the Moon.

Read More About It and be sure to watch the AMAZING videos.

Sky Guy in VA 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

First Space-Rated Orion Capsule Under Construction

Hey SPace Placers!

NASA has started construction on the 1st Orion manned spacecraft capsule that is destined to be launched into space. The capsule is being built at a NASA facility in New Orleans. This is an important step for the US to get back into manned spaceflight. NASA still does not have a launch vehicle to use with Orion.

Read More About It:

Sky Guy in VA

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Busy Night at GMU

Hey Space Placers!

For those of you in the DC area, I recommend coming to one of our George Mason University Astronomy Observing sessions. They are held ever two weeks on Monday and you can see the schedule here:

Last night we had well over 50 people show up and a lot of them stayed for 2 hours. We had the 12-inch telescope and the 32-inch telescope in use and people got to see the Moon and double stars. The Moon was just past full but was beautiful none the less.

I gave our guests a tour of the night sky and interspersed some solid astronomy for them while we were under the dome of the night sky.

In our next session we should be able to tune into Jupiter and some good deep sky objects.

Hope to see you there!

Sky Guy in VA

Saturday, September 10, 2011

GRAIL Is Bound for the Moon

Hey Space Placers!

GRAIL lifted off today at 9:08 a.m. and is bound for the Moon

Read about the GRAIL Mission

Be sure to look at the Moon this weekend, especially on Sunday as it is the glorious Harvest Moon.

Sky Guy in VA

Friday, September 9, 2011

GRAIL Launch Now Set for Saturday

Hey Space Placers!

NASA will try to launch the next mission to the Moon - GRAIL - on Saturday at 8:29 a.m.

Read More About It:

NASA's GRAIL twin spacecraft await launch atop a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.

Sky Guy in Water Logged VA

Thursday, September 8, 2011

GRAIL Launch Scrubbed

Hey Space Placers!

Weather has scrubbed today's lunach attempt of GRAIL, NASA's newest mission to the Moon. The next launch attempt will be tomorrow, 9/9/11 at 8:33 a.m.

Read More About It:

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

September Skies

Hey Space Placers!

Autumn begins on September 23rd at 5:05 a.m. EDT and brings with it longer nights. As the temperatures begin to become cooler – hopefully – this is a good time of year to get out and enjoy the night sky.

Skywatching Highlights

Mercury will be low in the east before sunrise during the first 10 days of the month. If you have a clear and unobstructed horizon you should be able to see golden-yellow Mercury. On the 8th and 9th Mercury will be visible about a half-hour before sunrise and very close to the star Regulus. Binoculars will help your viewing.

Venus is not readily visible this month.

Mars is visible in the east-northeast after rising around 2 a.m. (daylight savings time (DST)). The thin crescent Moon will be just below and to the right of Mars on the 23rd.

Jupiter dominates the eastern sky rising around 10 p.m. DST. Iti is very bright and will continue to brighten over the next 2 months

Saturn is getting very low in the west as the sky gets dark and will no longer be visible around the middle of the month.

This month’s Full Moon occurs on the 12th and is called the “Full Harvest Moon” in recognition of the harvesting season. Last Quarter Moon is on the 20th and New 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) has their monthly meeting on the 10th at 7:30 p.m. at the University of Maryland, College Park Campus Observatory. Speaker Dr. Julie McEnery, GSFC, will present “Results from the Fermi Gamma Ray Space Telescope”. Read More About It:

NCA will hold an Exploring the Sky program at Rock Creek Park on the 24th starting at 8:00p.m.
Read More About It:

The Northern Virginia Astronomy Club (NOVAC) will meet at 7 p.m. at George Mason University (GMU) on the 11th. The speaker is Dr. Pamela Gay and her topic is “Modern Solar System Exploration by You -- (No Telescope Required)”. 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:

On the 24th join star party host Sean O’Brien of the Museum’s Albert Einstein Planetarium and amateur astronomers for telescopic observing under dark, star-filled skies, away from city lights. Read More About It:

The TriState Astronomers will have a meeting on the 21st at the Brish Planetarium. Read More About It:

The Astronomical Society of Greenbelt (formerly the Greenbelt Astronomy Club). ASG will hold a star party on the 17th starting at 8 p.m. at the Northway Field and Observatory. ASG will meet on the 22nd at 7:30 at the Owens Science Center and the speaker is Patty Seaton, Topic: New Horizons Planetarium Show.
Read More About It:

Sky Guy in VA

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Closer Look at Apollo Landing Sites

Hey Space Placers!

NASA has JUST released new photographs of selected Apollo landing sites obtained with the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) taken from a lower orbit. They are twice as detailed as those released in 2009. You can see greater detail in this photo of Apollo 17's landing site than in previous images.

Be sure to visit the link for a side by side comaprison as well as viewing the other landing sites provided:

Sky Guy in VA

Monday, September 5, 2011

Supernova Visible In Binocs?

Hey Space Placers!

Sorry I was off-line for several days. I lost my router and it took awhile to get everything back in synch and I still have some intersting issues to monitor.

For those of you with clear skies it is worth trying to spot the new supernova that is located just above the handle of the Big Dipper. Check out this link for details and charts

Let me know if you see it.

Sky Guy in VA

Friday, September 2, 2011

Latest From Mars

Hey Space Placers!

NASA's Opportunity rover has started exploring Endeavour Crater and is examining a rock type that is has not been seen before on Mars. Known as Tisdale 2, the flat top rock is of interest as it appears to have volcanic properties as well as other characteristics. The crater is providing a whole new area of exploration.

Read More ABout It:

Opportunity at Work Examining 'Tisdale 2,' Sol 2695

Sky Guy in VA - P.S. Hope to see Apollo 18 this Labor Day!

Thursday, September 1, 2011