Sunday, July 31, 2011

Juno Mission to Jupiter

Hey Space Placers!

August 5th NASA's Juno spacecraft is scheduled to lift off for Jupiter. The mission's goal is simple - find out what lies inside of Jupiter. The spacecraft will pass within 3,000 miles of Jupiter's cloudtops - the closest orbit ever. Juno will map the gravity of Jupiter and thereby give us the data to model the gas ginat's interior.

Read More About It:

Friday, July 29, 2011

Latest Dawn Image

Hey Space Placers!

Check out this latest image - July 23rd - of the dark side of Vesta. It was taken from a distance of 3,200 miles. It shows the northern hemisphere of the protoplanet. Read More About It:

Dawn's view of Vesta from July 18, 2011

Sky Guy in VA

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Next Stop, Jupiter!

Hey Space Placers!

NASA's next planetary mission to Jupiter, Juno, is securely mated to its powerful Atlas V 551 launch vehicle. Juno is slated for launch to the giant gas planet on Aug. 5th, 11:34 a.m. EDT. Juno will arrive at Jupiter in July 2016 and orbit the poles of Jupiter 33 times to learn about the interior of the planet and get the first detailed views ever of the poles. Read More About It:

Sky Guy in VA                                Juno at Jupiter - Artwork from NASA JPL

NASA's Juno spacecraft passes in front of Jupiter in this artist's depiction.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Raining Onto Saturn

Hey Space Placers!

Highlighting Plumes

The European SPace Agency (ESA) has discovered that Enceladus, pictured above, is raining water onto Saturn from plumes expelling water. As stated by ESA: 

"ESA’s Herschel space observatory has shown that water expelled from the moon Enceladus forms a giant torus of water vapour around Saturn. The discovery solves a 14-year mystery by identifying the source of the water in Saturn’s upper atmosphere. Herschel’s latest results mean that Enceladus is the only moon in the Solar System known to influence the chemical composition of its parent planet. Enceladus expels around 250 kg of water vapour every second, through a collection of jets from the south polar region known as the Tiger Stripes because of their distinctive surface markings."

Sky Guy in VA

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Next Mars Landing Target

Hey SPace Placers!

NASA's next mission to Mars - the Mars Science Laboratory (named Curiosity)  - is undergoing final testing and preparations for launch later this year. Scheduled to land on Mars in August 2012, Curiosity is about twice the size of the Mars Rovers Spirit and Opportunity. Spirit is no longer operational and Opportunity is still going strong.

NASA has selected the 96-mile wide Gale Crater as Curosity's landing point as it is thought to represent the best conditions to look for signs of life on Mars. Curiosity will "follow the water" in its scientific explorations and will be nuclear powered so it will not be dependent on solar power which can get dangerously low for the vehicle in the Martian winter.

Read More About It:

Gale Crater: Future Home of Mars Rover Curiosity

Sky Guy in VA

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Water is Where?????

Hey Space Placers!

Read and ponder this from NASA JPL:

"Two teams of astronomers have discovered the largest and farthest reservoir of water ever detected in the universe. The water, equivalent to 140 trillion times all the water in the world's ocean, surrounds a huge, feeding black hole, called a quasar, more than 12 billion light-years away."

Now look at this:

Artist's concept illustrates a quasar

Quasar Drenched in Water Vapor

"This artist's concept illustrates a quasar, or feeding black hole, similar to APM 08279+5255, where astronomers discovered huge amounts of water vapor. Gas and dust likely form a torus around the central black hole, with clouds of charged gas above and below. X-rays emerge from the very central region, while thermal infrared radiation is emitted by dust throughout most of the torus. While this figure shows the quasar's torus approximately edge-on, the torus around APM 08279+5255 is likely positioned face-on from our point of view." Image credit: NASA/ESA

The Universe never ceases to amaze me. You have to read the whole press release:
Sky Guy in VA

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Pluto's 4th Moon Discovered

Hey Space Placers!

Hubble Space Telescope (HST) has discovered a 4th moon for Pluto. The discovery was made while HST was searching for rings around the dwarf planet during an observing run conducted June 28-July 3rd. The discovery announcement was made on July 20th.

This new moon, temporarily designated P4, is the smallest of Pluto's moons, being only 8 to 21 miles across. When you consider that HST was observing Pluto at a distance of more than 3 BILLION miles, it is an incredible find.

Tomorrow: Huge Water Discovery in space.

Sky Guy in VA

Friday, July 22, 2011

Odds & Ends

Hey Space Placers!

Atlantis on its way home taken by Exp 28 crew of the space station.

Check out the picture taken from ISS of Atlantis re-entering Earth's atmosphere! It is AWESOME!

I spent a few hours last night with Dr. Geller and Jon from Optical Guidance Systems tinkering with George Mason University's new 32-inch telescope. The telescope software and finders need some more work as we are having a hard time pinpointing objects in the center of the field of view. You would be surprised how hard it is to get what you want to see in the center of the eyepiece. I saw stars in the eyepiece for the first time and they were beautiful. I can hardly wait for all the final adjustments to be made. Oh, and yes, it was hot! We were drenched in sweat and had to work hard to keep sweat out of the eyepiece!

Sky Guy in VA

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Tranquility Base is 42 Today

Hey Space Placers!

With Atlantis closing out the Space Shuttle Program tomorrow when she lands, it is difficult to reflect back on Apollo 11 landing on the Moon 42 years ago today. An active and flying American built manned spaceflight program comes to an end for years to come as of tomorrow.

Neil Armstrong became the first human to set foot on another world in the lunar regolith of Tranquility Base. I doubt I will ever see an American do so again in my remaining lifetime.

You can see all of Apollo landing sites at

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter was the spacecraft that was going to find the future landing sites for American astronauts as a result of the planned (and now canned) Constellation Program. NASA was doing it right.......let's hope they can again.

Sky Guy in VA

Monday, July 18, 2011

HELLO Vesta!

Asteroid Vesta

Hey Space Placers!

What a picture! Dawn captured this view of Vesta after entering orbit. It is the most detailed photo ever taken of Vesta. This is just a preview of the photos to come as Dawn gets ever closer to Vesta. This pic was from about 9,900 miles its' closest Dawn will only be 120 miles above the surface!

Read More About It:

Sky Guy in VA

Dawn Makes TIME

Hey Space Placers!

Check out the story in TIME on Dawn:,8599,2083452,00.html

More to come.....

Sky Guy in VA

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Dawn Is In Orbit!!!!

Hey Space Placers!

Dawn is in orbit around Vesta! Dawn is the first spacecraft ever to enter orbit around an asteroid in the asteroid belt.

Artist's concept of Dawn

From NASA: "The spacecraft relayed information to confirm it entered Vesta's orbit, but the precise time this milestone occurred is unknown at this time. The time of Dawn's capture depended on Vesta's mass and gravity, which only has been estimated until now. The asteroid's mass determines the strength of its gravitational pull. If Vesta is more massive, its gravity is stronger, meaning it pulled Dawn into orbit sooner. If the asteroid is less massive, its gravity is weaker and it would have taken the spacecraft longer to achieve orbit. With Dawn now in orbit, the science team can take more accurate measurements of Vesta's gravity and gather more accurate timeline information."

Read More ABout Dawn

Sky Guy in VA 

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Now We Wait....

Hey Space Placers!

Dawn should be in orbit around Vesta but it will be awhile until we know it. Vesta should have captured Dawn at 1 a.m. today 7-16-11. The communication window to confirm all went well opens later today as explained in a NASA press release: "

They expect to hear from the spacecraft and confirm that it performed as planned during a scheduled communications pass that starts at approximately 11:30 p.m. PDT on Saturday, July 16 (2:30 a.m. EDT Sunday, July 17). When Vesta captures Dawn into its orbit, engineers estimate there will be approximately 9,900 miles (16,000 kilometers) between them. At that point, the spacecraft and asteroid will be approximately 117 million miles (188 million kilometers) from Earth."

So now all we can do is wait.  Read More About It:

Sky Guy in VA

Friday, July 15, 2011

Countdown to Vesta

Hey Space Placers!

We are less than 24 hours from DAWN entering orbit around Vesta. All systems are GO! The spacecraft is performing beautifully and according to the NASA JPL Press Release,

"Engineers expect the spacecraft to be captured into orbit at approximately 10 p.m. PDT Friday, July 15 (1 a.m. EDT Saturday, July16). They expect to hear from the spacecraft and confirm that it performed as planned during a scheduled communications pass that starts at approximately 11:30 p.m. PDT on Saturday, July 16 (2:30 a.m. EDT Sunday, July 17). When Vesta captures Dawn into its orbit, engineers estimate there will be approximately 9,900 miles (16,000 kilometers) between them. At that point, the spacecraft and asteroid will be approximately 117 million miles (188 million kilometers) from Earth."

The latest photo was taken on July 9th :

Here's the link for the latest news:

Sky Guy in VA

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Vesta on Fox 5!

Hey Space Placers!

If you couldn't see our segment on Fox 5 this morning with Tony and Tucker - the Weather Guys - check it out here:

2 days to orbit around Vesta! Get Vesta updates here:

Sky Guy in VA

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

AMAZING Sun Videos

Hey Space Placers!

If you have a fast Internet connection, you HAVE to see these videos put togther following the spectacular solar outburst on June7th.You can see my blog on the event and then view this link to see the videos and background information.

You can catch me on Fox 5 here in Washington DC tomorrow (7-14-11) at 0645. I'll be talking about the Dawn mission.

Sky Guy in VA

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Happy Birthday Neptune!

Hey Space Placers!

The beautiful and blue planet Neptune has completed 1 full orbit around the Sun since its' discovery on Spetember 23-24, 1846. Neptune was discovered as a result of the gravitational influences its had on the planet Uranus. Astronomers were able to calculate the predicted position of the unknown planet  and started searching. Neptune was found within 1 degree of the predicted positon.

Pretty amazing to consider all of this calculation was done by paper and pen - no calculators, no computers, no digital cameras, no computer controlled telescopes. Amazing and a tribute to the state of science at the time.

Read More About It:

UPDATE: Hubble Space Telescope has taken "Birthday" images of Neptune:

Neptune from Voyager 2

Sky Guy in VA

Saturday, July 9, 2011

End of An(other) Era

Hey Space Placers!

(Note: The opinions expressed herein are entirely my own.)

When Space Shuttle Atlantis achieves “Wheels Stopped” at the Kennedy Space Center, July 20th (the 42nd anniversary of Apollo 11), another era in America’s manned spaceflight program comes to an abrupt end. The Mercury and Gemini programs gave us the ability and experience necessary to do all the things required by the Apollo program to get to the Moon and back.

Apollo got us to the surface of the Moon six times and was cancelled with ready to go lunar missions left hanging due to fiscal cutbacks caused by the Vietnam war. Instead of going to the Moon we flew one Apollo mission with the Russians and then several others during Skylab – America’s first orbiting space station.

Then came a gap of several years while the Space Shuttle program developed fixes for vexing technical problems. Now 30+ years later, America is once again at a manned spaceflight crossroads – where to go and what to use to get there. America is once again out of the intrinsic manned spaceflight business for the foreseeable future.

How Did We Get Here?
In 2004 President Bush launched a post-Shuttle plan called the Constellation Program which was going to use Apollo and Space Shuttle derived hardware designs to go to the Moon and beyond – including Mars. No longer would America be locked into low Earth orbit (LEO) as we were with the Space Shuttle. We would be going TO space places again. There was no budgetary plus up forthcoming however, to jump start this new program.

In response to Constellation, NASA started building hardware in the form of the Ares 1-X test launch vehicle, the Orion crew capsule, launching science missions to the Moon to learn more about this future colonization site. NASA was going back to the Moon and was going to stay this time. 4 astronauts would stay on the Moon’s surface for two weeks at a time. Resources would be sought at promising landing sites so that the astronauts could learn to live in-situ on the Moon. Read More About It:

A change in administrations as well as the fiscal state of the country led to the creation of the Augustine Commission in 2009 which was to study NASA manned spaceflight and come up with recommendations.

Bottom line of the Commission’s findings involved a fiscal bottom line – NASA could not pay for Constellation with its current and projected budget. NASA was short at least $3 billion a year from achieving its stated goals in Constellation. Read More About It:

So Constellation was shut down after billions had been spent although the Orion crew capsule is still going forward as the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV). There also may be other hardware aspects from Constellation going forward but that remains to be seen.

As it stands now, NASA is getting out of the Low Earth Orbit business and turning that over to private industry. We still have to support the International Space Station (ISS) which is slated for another 10 years of operations. Astronauts, supplies, parts and trash removal still have to be shuttled to and fro from ISS. Commercial spacecraft are being developed to perform these tasks but it will take years to achieve manned spaceflight certification. Until then, Americans will pay $63 million per seat for passage to ISS on Russian Soyuz spacecraft And the follow on commercial per-seat costs could be even more

So what is NASA itself to do now that it is supposed to be out of the LEO business? The stated goal of the President and the NASA Administrator is a manned spaceflight mission to a Near Earth Object (asteroid), the Moon and eventually Mars -

We are gathering a lot of data about asteroids from a number of missions that have flown to them. NASA’s DAWN mission is slated to go into orbit for a year around the second largest object in the asteroid belt (located between Mars and Jupiter) on July 16th. DAWN will then fly to Ceres, the largest object in the asteroid belt and orbit it for detailed study. Such missions will help prepare for a manned spaceflight mission to an asteroid

The final design of a new heavy lift vehicle is to be announced shortly but I have not seen any mention of a lander-type spacecraft. Why fly astronauts to someplace without landing? We can do far more with robotic orbiters than orbiting astronauts. This is something else NASA will have to do.

I want NASA to succeed and I think Administrator Bolden – a retired Marine aviator and astronaut – is sincere in his efforts to steer the agency to success. But, it cannot happen without funding…..”No bucks, no Buck Rogers”, as succinctly stated in the classic movie, “The Right Stuff”. NASA has to have the funding stream – years of guaranteed funding – in order to succeed.

Already Congress is putting NASA on the chopping block and is moving to cancel the James Webb Space Telescope – the follow on space telescope to Hubble Again, billions spent and Congress wants to throw it out.

Do you know what NASA’s budget is? It is .5%, yes, .5% of the total federal budget. A paltry, yes paltry, $18 billion and change. That is the equivalent of what Americans spend on pet food every year Also consider this – the greatest “Ponzi Scheme” in American history was proven to be over $50 billion or three years of NASA’s current budget, scammed from investors by one man.

NASA is not an extravagant luxury. It is the ultimate life insurance policy for the human race. We need to move the species off the planet to other worlds and learn to be self-sufficient on those worlds. We need to be able to respond to an incoming asteroid or cometary threat that could conceivably wipe us out as happened to the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. We need to use natural resources that space can give us. None of this is possible from the ground.

America is not alone in space pursuits as Russia, China, India, Japan, and Europe have space programs. China is working towards landing men on the Moon and with their fiscal capabilities should be able to sustain their effort to do so. I wonder how their lunar landings will take place – one and done or long term towards colonization. If they are successful at least humanity will once again have a personal presence on another world.

As Atlantis fulfills her mission to “stock the shelves” at the ISS and bring the historic Space Shuttle program to a close, America needs to focus on manned spaceflight more than ever. We can’t let our significant problems, polarized politics or fiscal woes keep us on the ground. We have to step forward and build the spacecraft and launch vehicles that will get us to space places of the future.

I longingly await the day when there is again fire on the pad and thunder in the air as American astronauts in an American spacecraft launch on a mission to a new world.

Sky Guy in VA

Friday, July 8, 2011

Atlantis Lifts Off!

Hey Space Placers,

   Atlantis lifted off after a hold at T-31 seconds and thundered into orbit for the very last time. Carrying as much cargo as possible to the International Space Station (ISS), Atlantis is scheduled to land on July 20th - the anniversary date of Apollo 11.

  The end of an era - the Space Shuttle era - is one step closer with the successful lift off and ascent to orbit of Atlantis.

  Follow the mission at

Sky Guy in VA

STS-135 IS GO!

Hey SPace Placers!

Tune in Live:

More later.

Sky Guy in VA

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Saturn's Super Storm Up Close

Hey Space Placers!

Catching Its Tail

Wow, what a STORM! NASA's Cassini spacecraft caught an incredible, up close image of the superstorm that has been raging on Saturn since last year. The storm has "ringed" the ringed planet - that is looped back upon itself. The storm is 8 times the total are of our entire planet! In nice round numbers that is 2 billion square miles.

You can read (and hear more) about it:

SkyGuy in VA

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

HST Hits 1 Million Observations!

Hey Space Placers!

Here's a stat for the record books: 1 million science observations for the Hubble Space Telescope (HST). Acheived appropriately enough on July 4th, HST "logged its one millionth science observation during a search for water in an exoplanet's atmosphere 1,000 light-years away."

Transiting Exoplanet HAT-P-7b

Well done to the HST Team and here's to the next million observations!

Sky Guy in VA

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Next Step

Hey Space Placers!

Here she is - Orion, the next manned spacecraft for the U.S. Known also as the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, Orion is to replace the Space Shuttle as America's manned access to Low Earth Orbit, the International Space Station , and beyond. Lockheed Martin, the prime contractor for Orion, is conducting rigorous ground testing for the first Orion capsule built to spaceflight specifications. Read More About It:
How Orion is to gain access to space and when remains unclear. First flight is scheduled for 2016 - a long gap for U.S. manned access to space. Private companies are working as well to develop manned access to space.

Sky Guy in VA

Sunday, July 3, 2011

A GREAT Article in Time

Hey Space Placers!

With the last launch of a Space Shuttle a mere 5 days away, Time Magazine has a great article on NASA,8599,2080388,00.html?hpt=hp_t2
I highly recommend reading it.

I have seen Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Skylab, amd now Space Shuttle all come and go. I was so excited to think we were going to go back to the Moon with the Constellation program. Perhaps the Moon will still be reachable although I think the Chinese will be the next humans to step on lunar regolith. Politics and economics have again doomed US manned lunar exploration, 30 years ago it was Vietnam and public apathy that killed Apollos 18, 19, 20. The Skylab program was born as a result which in turn was doomed by the delays in the Space Shuttle.

I think private industry will take care of LEO and ISS. I think going to an asteroid with the new manned spacecraft would be exciting and scientifically worthwhile. But I hope we do not give up on the Moon.

Sky Guy in VA

Saturday, July 2, 2011

July Skies & DC Area Events

Hey Space Placers!

Whether you look at the sky in the early morning before dawn or just after sunset, July offers planets to suit you. We also will have the last ever launch of a Space Shuttle on the 8th and a lot of summer star party events. So get out and enjoy the sky this month

Skywatching Highlights

Mercury will be in the west-northwest after sunset until the 20th. If you have a clear and unobstructed horizon you should be able to see golden-yellow Mercury about 45 minutes after sunset. On the 2nd Mercury will be just above the thin crescent Moon. Binoculars will help you find the elusive planet. Also get the latest on the MESSENGER mission at Mercury:

Venus is very low in the east-northeast and visible about a half hour before sunrise.

Earth is farthest from the Sun on the 4th – 94,512,000 miles or a difference of 1.67% from the average distance or 3.3% from the minimum distance. Doesn’t do much to cool the summer temps around here, however!

Mars is dim in the east-northeast and visible about an hour before sunrise. The thin crescent Moon will be just above and to the right of Mars on the 27th. Use the Moon as a guide to finding Mars. The next NASA mission to Mars, Mars Science Laboratory, named Curiosity, is at Cape Kennedy undergoing final checkout for a launch later in the year. Read More About It:

NASA’s DAWN mission finally arrives at Vesta on the 16th. The spacecraft will enter orbit and study the second largest asteroid in the main belt up close and personal for a year. Then DAWN will set sail for the largest asteroid, Ceres. Read More About It:

Jupiter claims its’ title “King of the Planets” as it dominates the eastern sky rising at about 2 a.m. as July begins and at around midnight as the month ends. The gibbous Moon will be just to the left of Jupiter on the 24th. NASA’s next mission to Jupiter is called Juno and you can read more about it here:

Saturn is up in the south sky at sunset. The ringed planet is close to a famous double star, Porrima (Gamma Virginis) all month long. The Moon glides below this duo on the 7th. NASA’s Cassini mission is till going strong and you can read about it here:

New Moon is on the 1st and the 30th, First Quarter Moon is on the 8thth and this month’s Full Moon occurs on the 15th. This month’s Full Moon is called the “Full Buck Moon” in recognition of the new antlers seen on bucks. Last Quarter Moon is on the 23rd. Just before dawn (4 a.m.) the waning crescent Moon passes to the right of the Pleiades star cluster on the 25th. NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter remains in orbit around the Moon. Read More About It:

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 9 p.m. on the 5th and the 20th.
Read More About It:

The National Capital Astronomers (NCA) have a star party at Rock Creek Park on the 2nd at 9 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 10th. The speaker is Warren Keller and his topic: S x 9 - Stack, Stretch, Sharpen, Setup, Select, Saturate, Smooth, and Share your Astro-Images.
Read More About It:

NOVAC will hold a public star party at C.M. Crockett Park on the 23rd from 7:30 to 11:00 p.m.
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:

Join NASM astronomer Sean O’Brien as he hosts a public star party on the 30th at Sky Meadows State Park from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. Read More About It:

The TriState Astronomers General Meeting will not have a meeting this month as the Brish Planetarium is closed for the summer. Read More About It:

The Astronomical Society of Greenbelt (formerly the Greenbelt Astronomy Club) (ASG) will hold a star party on the 9th and 23rd starting at 9 p.m. at the Northway Field and Observatory. ASG will meet on the 28th at 7:30 at the Greenbelt Community Center. The speaker is Elizabeth Suckow and her topic is: Past, Present, and Future of the International Space Station.
Read More About It:

Sky Guy in  VA

Friday, July 1, 2011

Another Peek at the Peak!

Hey Space Placers!

Here is another incredible closeup of Tycho's Peak! See more:

Sky Guy in VA     Tomorrow: July Events