Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Endeavour Set to Land

Hey Space Placers!

I hope our USA readers had a wonderful Memorial  Day and took a moment to pause and reflect on the true meaning of the holiday.

Endeavour is making final preps to land at Kennedy Space Center on June 1st, at 2:35 a.m. This will be her last mission. After STS-134 she prepares for a new life as a museum piece.

The last mission in the history of the Space Shuttle Program is set to launch on July 8th. Space  Shuttle Atlantis is already rolling out to the launch pad, starting at 8:42 p.m tonight.

Read More About It: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/shuttle/main/index.html and http://www.nasa.gov/rss/atlantis_update.xml.

Sky Guy in VA

Saturday, May 28, 2011

A New NASA Asteroid Mission

Hey Space Placers!

Sorry to be off the 'net for the past 2 days but a combination of computer issues and power outages conspired to make it so. Pretty intense weather, including tornado warnings gave just a glimpse of what the dear people of Joplin have had to endure.

NASA has just selected its' first ever asteroid sample return mission - Origins-Spectral Interpretation-Resource Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer, or OSIRIS-REx. This mission is scheduled for a 2016 launch.

According to NASA, "After traveling four years, OSIRIS-REx will approach the primitive, near Earth asteroid designated 1999 RQ36 in 2020. Once within three miles of the asteroid, the spacecraft will begin six months of comprehensive surface mapping. The science team then will pick a location from where the spacecraft's arm will take a sample. The spacecraft gradually will move closer to the site, and the arm will extend to collect more than two ounces of material for return to Earth in 2023. The mission, excluding the launch vehicle, is expected to cost approximately $800 million."

conceptual image of OSIRIS-REx

Asteroids are left over from the formation of our solar system and are extremely important to study. In addition to the scientific aspects of studying them, they are also potential treasure troves of mineral resources and potential threats to our planet from impacts. A returned sample would give us pristine material to study and add to our understanding of theses roaming worlds.

The asteroid to be visited, as described by NASA, is RQ36 and "is approximately 1,900 feet in diameter or roughly the size of five football fields. The asteroid, little altered over time, is likely to represent a snapshot of our solar system's infancy. The asteroid also is likely rich in carbon, a key element in the organic molecules necessary for life. Organic molecules have been found in meteorite and comet samples, indicating some of life's ingredients can be created in space. Scientists want to see if they also are present on RQ36."

This mission will also help provide needed information for a manned mission to an asteroid which has been named as an objective for NASA's manned spaceflight program.

Sky Guy in VA

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Farewell, Spirit, We'll Miss You

Hey Space Placers!

This artist concept features NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover, a mobile robot for investigating Mars' past or present ability to sustain microbial life.

Today NASA will end its attempt to re-establish radio contact with Mars Rover Spirit. The intrepid rover was last heard from on March 22, 2010 and it is almost certain that the "little rover that could" did not survive the Martian winter.

NASA has been sending a variety of commands to Spirit for the past 10 months but has received no response or signals from her. Spirit has been on Mars since January 4, 2003 and was rated for a 90-day mission lifetime. Spirit's  7+ years on Mars has been matched and exceeded by her still operating twin rover Opportunity.

I will miss Spirit as she has provided us with many pictures, discoveries and a persona of a close friend. Opportunity will be our only Martian rover until "Curiosity", NASA's newest and most capable rover arrives. Lauch is scheduled between November and December of this year.

Read More About It: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.cfm?release=2011-156&cid=release_2011-156,
http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov/home/index.html, and http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/msl/index.html.

NASA will occassionally use the Deep Space Network when its schedule permits to listen for a signal from Spirit.

Farewell Spirit and thank you.....

Sky Guy in VA

Monday, May 23, 2011

Movies You Gotta' See

Hey Space Placers!

I love movies. I am watching the "Right Stuff" as I write this.....this is a 4 Academy Award winning movie based on Tom Wolfe's book of the same title. It is about America's Mercury Astronauts. There is great blending of historical footage with the story line. A lot of great and well known actors star. You owe it to yourself to experience this movie - the music is wonderful as is the whole movie.

Other space-themed movie titles worth your consideration (especially in Blue Ray which you can check out at IMDB http://www.imdb.com/:

Forbidden Planet
The Star Trek movies
Moon Pilot
First Men in the Moon
The Black Hole
When We Left Earth (Discovery Channel)

What are your favorites?

Sky Guy in VA

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Einstein Was Right

Hey Space Placers!

Another end-of-the-world scenario has come and gone......who will be the next circus we all have to endure?

Science moves on regardless and new research has been published that shows Einstein was right as to his "Cosmological Constant" in his theory of relativity. Einstein's equations showed that the Universe was not static, but in motion. He did away with this constant, not believing it true and later admitted it was his biggest miscalculation.

You may not be aware of this, but the Universe is made up of 4% ordinary matter - stars, people, planets, another 22% is dark matter ( we don't know what this is), and the rest about 74% is dark energy. This dark energy is causing the galaxies to accelerate in their expansion - the Universe is literally flying apart. The newly installed Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) installed recently by STS-134, will help gather data to help answer questions about dark matter- Read More ABout It: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/news/ams.html

According to a news release, "A five-year survey of 200,000 galaxies, stretching back seven billion
years in cosmic time, has led to one of the best independent confirmations that dark energy is driving our universe apart at accelerating speeds. The survey used data from NASA’s space-based Galaxy Evolution Explorer and the Anglo-Australian Telescope on Siding Spring Mountain in Australia."

In this artist's conception, dark energy is represented by the purple grid above, and gravity by the green grid below

The NASA news release further stated, "“The action of dark energy is as if you threw a ball up in the air, and it kept speeding upward into the sky faster and faster,” said Chris Blake of the Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia. Blake is lead author of two papers describing the results that appeared in recent issues of the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. “The results tell us that dark energy is a cosmological constant, as Einstein proposed. If gravity were the culprit, then we wouldn’t be seeing these constant effects of dark energy throughout time.”

Read More About It: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.cfm?release=2011-149

Sky Guy in VA

Friday, May 20, 2011

Strongest Ever Detected Storm on Saturn

Hey Space Placers!

If you have a telescope or are a weather fan, or both, check out this storm that has been raging on Saturn for months. It now circles the entire planet's northern hemisphere.

I hope to see it this weekend and maybe get a picture if conditions are right - ie NO CLOUDS as we have had here in NVA for almost a whole week!

Super Storm on Saturn (ir, 550px)

Sky Guy in VA

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Planets Outnumber Stars????

Hey Space Placers!

Some pretty incredible news coming out of NASA states that Jupiter-size planets exist in such numbers in our Milky Way Galaxy that they may outnumber stars 2-to-1. Also stunning, to me at least, is that these exoplanets are "free floaters", which means they are not associated with a star - they are alone in space. They may have been ejected from their star-planetary system after being formed. It is also possible that there are Earth-size "free floater" planets as well.

A joint Japan-New Zealand survey  "scanned the center of the Milky Way galaxy during 2006 and 2007, revealing evidence for up to 10 free-floating planets roughly the mass of Jupiter. The isolated orbs, also known as orphan planets, are difficult to spot, and had gone undetected until now. The planets are located at an average approximate distance of 10,000 to 20,000 light years from Earth."
Read More About It: http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2011/18may_orphanplanets/

Free-Floating Planets (concept, 550px)

Sky Guy in VA

Monday, May 16, 2011

Endeavour Lifts Off!!!

Hey Space Placers!

Space Shuttle Endeavour blasted off today right on time to start mission STS-134 to the International Space Station (ISS). It was a picture perfect lift off and all systems are go at the end of Day 1.

If you missed the launch see it here: http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/videogallery/index.html?collection_id=14483&media_id=88591351&module=homepage

Sky Guy in VA

Sunday, May 15, 2011

STS 134 is GO!

Hey Space Placers!

Another two-blog day.

STS-134 and Space Shuttle Endeavour are GO for launch tomorrow, Monday, May 16th at 08:56 a.m. EDT.

Read More About It: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/shuttle/main/index.html

Sky Guy in VA

The Birth of a Telescope

Hey Space Placers!

Sorry for the lack of blogs the past few days - the supporting website was down for awhile and I have been very busy with work and watching the birth of a new telescope.

Telescopes are magical in that they are comprised of metal and glass manufactered and assembled in such a way as to open a window to the Universe for those who use it. When a new telescope gathers light from an astronomical object for the first time it is an event called "First Light".

George Mason University (GMU) Department of Astronomy and Physics is in the process creating a new 32-inch telescope at its Fairfax Campus. The new observatory will be, I believe, the largest on campus telescope anywhere. I am still researching this potential landmark.

A big step forward in the process occurred yesterday, Saturday May 14th, when the major mechanical components of the telescope were delivered by the manufacterer and moved by a huge crane into the observatory dome. The 10+ hour event involved about a dozen workers and volunteers (including myself).

The 1200 pound telescope pedestal, the fork mount, polar axis and telescope tube were lifted by crane from the street and into the observatory dome. Once inside the dome the assembling of the major components occurred.

The primary and secondary mirrors are already at GMU as are their holders, the focuser, drive electronics and instrumentation. It will take more time to assemble and test these components, but the moment of First Light is getting closer.

Once the telescope reaches First Light and enters operation it will be a precious asset to GMU and the region. Countless students will use the telescope to start their science careers while the public will get to see the Universe through a research grade telescope.

The sky is literally the limit for the life of this telescope. It is not every day you get to witness the creation of a 32-inch telescope in your back yard - it is probably a once in a lifetime occurance.

I will post some pictures soon and keep you advised of developments as they occur.

Sky Guy in VA

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

STS-134 New Launch Date Set

Hey Space Placers!

NASA has announced Endeavour's new launch date - Monday, May 16 at 8:56 a.m. EDT. STS-134 will conduct a 16-day mission to the International Space Station and deploy a $2 billion physics detector looking for exotic matter.

Read MoreAbout It: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/shuttle/shuttlemissions/sts134/index.html

Sky Guy in VA

Monday, May 9, 2011

Dawn Dance of the Planets

Hey Space Placers!

No matter where you are make sure you take a look at the dawn dance of 4 planets that is happening the month of May. Mercury,Venus, Mars and Jupiter are in the eastern sky just before dawn and are changing their positions relative to one another almost daily.

Binoculars will help your view. Read More About It: http://www.skyandtelescope.com/about/pressreleases/121379594.html

Sky Guy in VA

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Great Turnout

Hey Space Placers!

I am CONVINCED that people want to learn more about the Universe in which they live. Part of my proof is that you are reading my blog, and the number of people who attend astronomy related events.

Last Wednesday we had almost 50 people show up at George Mason University Observatory to look through telescopes at the night sky. We had a fantastic flyby of the International Space Station which was a real crowd pleaser. Saturn, the stars and general discussion was also popular.

Yesterday's Astronomy Day event hosted by Northern Virginia Astronomy Club (NOVAC) had over a hundred people of all ages attend - in spite of threatening clouds. Even with the clouds people still looked at and through telescopes and listened to a variety of speakers including yours truly. The event, despite the clouds, was a success.

Courtesy of P. Derby

I encourage you to get out to one of these events and have a personal experience with the sky. Who knows, it could change the way you look at the world and the sky above. You can look at my May 1st blog on Earth and sky events to find one in your area within the DC area. For those of you around the world check the 'net for any observatory or club in your area.

You won't regret spending time under the stars with fellow admirers of the night sky.

See you there!

Sky Guy in VA

Friday, May 6, 2011

Join Me at Astronomy Day May 7th

Hey Space Placers!

Come out for some fun in the Sun and a night under the stars!

Northern Virginia Astronomy Club (NOVAC) has a full day of activities for all on Saturday, May 7th, from 3pm tp 11pm at Sky Meadows State Park.

Read More About It:  http://www.novac.com/astronomy-day/

Sky Guy in VA

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Freedom 7 + 50

Hey Space Placers!

Perhaps many of you cannot say "50 years ago I was....", but I can and I was up early watching CDR Alan Shepard,  USN, become the first American in Space.

He went 116 miles in space and was suborbital in his flight. But it was an American first and answered the Russian flight of Yuri Gagarin to an extent.

Al would go on to command Apollo 14 to Fra Mauro and retire as a Rear Admiral.

Those were heady days indeed and I watched EVERY launch and was totally enthralled by the soon to follow Gemini missions in the mid-60's.

Read More About It: http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap110505.html

Sky Guy in VA

P.S. We had a GREAT night at GMU Observatory last night. We had a BIG crowd show up and the line to the telescope was long. We had a fantastic flyby of ISS and Saturn was a big crowd pleaser.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

George Mason University Observatory Public Night May 4th

Hey Space Placers!

This Wednesday, 4 May at 9:00 pm, weather permittng, the Observatory at George Mason University will be open to the public.

We will have telescopes and astronomers and yours truly there for enjoying the sky and looking through telescopes at a variety of objects. We will look at Saturn and some galaxies.

Check out this link for more information: http://physics.gmu.edu/~hgeller/observing.html

Hope to see you there!

Sky Guy in VA

Monday, May 2, 2011

STS-134 Update

Hey Space Placers!

NASA Shuttle Team managers met today, 5-2-11, and updated the launch date for Endeavour and STS-134. The earliest the mission could launch is May 10th. The replacement of Load Control Assembly (LCA) -2 and the testing of the 9 systems associated with it will determine the launch date.

NASA plans to meet again on Friday, 5-6-11.

Read More About It: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/shuttle/main/index.html.

Sky Guy in VA

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Washington D.C. Area Sky & Earth Events For May 2011

Hey Space Placers!

Dawn Dance of the Planets

For those of you in the DC area here are our events for May 2011.

You can join me and other astronomers at George Mason University (GMU) Observatory this Wednesday, May 4th at 9 p.m. for our public observing session. Read More About It: http://physics.gmu.edu/~hgeller/observing.html.

Skywatching Highlights

For the whole month of May FOUR planets will be in the eastern pre-dawn sky – Mercury, Venus, Mars and Jupiter. Each clear morning about 30 minutes before sunrise, it will be worth taking a look at how the planets are changing their positions relative to one another. The only problem is that they will not be very high above the horizon. An unobstructed horizon and binoculars will be needed to see this ongoing celestial dance. Read More About It: http://www.skyandtelescope.com/community/skyblog/observingblog/117347948.html.

Saturn is well up in the southeastern sky at sunset. The rings are opening wider and are spectacular in a telescope.

New Moon is on the 3rd, First Quarter Moon is on the 10th and this month’s Full Moon occurs on the 17th. This month’s Full Moon is called the “Full Flower Moon” in recognition of the blooming of spring flowers. Last Quarter Moon is on the 24th. Just before dawn the waning crescent Moon passes above Jupiter on the 29th, Mars and Venus on the 30th and Mercury on the 31st.

The International Space Station (ISS) will be easily visible in the evening hours for the first week of May. While it is currently unknown as to when Endeavour will launch, when she does we might be able to watch the two flyover at the same time as they prepare for docking. That would be a sight indeed as this is Endeavour’s last flight. Read More About It: http://spaceflight.nasa.gov/realdata/sightings/index.html.

The eta Aquarid Meteor Shower will peak on the morning of May 6th. These fast – 148,000 mph – space particles are from Halley’s Comet. You won’t see large numbers of meteors but those you do see can be bright with long trails. Read More About It: http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2011/27apr_eta/.

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: http://www.astro.umd.edu/openhouse/index.html

The National Capital Astronomers (NCA) have their monthly meeting on the 14th at 7:30 p.m. at the University of Maryland, College Park Campus Observatory. The speaker is Dr. Tracy Clarke (NRL), Clusters of Galaxies, the Biggest Bound Objects in the Universe.
Read More About It: http://www.astro.umd.edu/openhouse/programs/NCA.html

The Northern Virginia Astronomy Club (NOVAC) will meet at 7 p.m. at George Mason University (GMU) on the 1st. The speaker is Art Poland.
Read More About It: http://www.novac.com/meetings/index.php.

The United States Naval Observatory (USNO) has Monday night tours but space is limited.
Read More About It: http://www.usno.navy.mil/USNO/tours-events/tour-information/tour-information-for-usno-washington-dc.

The National Air and Space Museum (NASM) has several space related activities this month.
Read More About It: http://www.nasm.si.edu/events/calendar.cfm.

The TriState Astronomers General Meeting will be held on the 18th, 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., at the William Brish Planetarium, Commonwealth Ave, Hagerstown, MD.
Read More About It: http://www.tristateastronomers.org/meetings.htm

The Anne Arundel Community College (AACC) Astronomy Club will meet May 7th, 7:30-8:30 p.m.
Open Observing follows the Astronomy Club meeting (weather permitting). Read More About It: http://www.aacc.edu/science/observatory/clubevents.cfm.