Saturday, March 31, 2012

Moon's Creation Theory Thrown a Curve Ball?

Hey Space Placers!

Read something VERY interesting about our Moon.

The leading theory as to how the Moon was created involves a theory in which the Earth was hit by a Mars-sized body and in the ensuing aftermath the material thrown out form booth bodies ultimately formed into our Moon. Known as the "Big Splat" this theory has been the leading idea as  to how our Moon came to be.

Recent research into the Apollo lunar samples has thrown a curve ball at the Big Splat. The researchers concentrated on comparing the amount of titanium isotopes found in Apollo lunar samples and meteorites to the amounts found on Earth. What they found was that the amount found in the lunar samples was the

"The Big Splat"
Image Copyright Nova Celestia

same as Earth's; the meteorites were significantly different. Just like each of us has DNA that can be traced back to each of our parents, the researchers were looking for two different traces of titanium isotopes in the Apollo lunar samples - they only found one.

Now there are possible explanations for this finding such as the collision involved an ice only world that contained no titanium but that is highly unlikely as we have not found any objects like that in the solar system. Or there may have been some dynamics that deleted the titanium from the other body due to the collision - again not thought to be very likely.

The bottom line is that we still do not know for certain, even 40 years after Apollo, how our planet's companion was made.

Read More About It:

Sky Guy in VA

Friday, March 30, 2012

More Than One Moon????

Hey Space Placers!

When you look up at the Moon this weekend or any other time, it is a beautiful sight - and there is nothing else like it as Earth has only one Moon, right? Well, wrong, if a recent study is correct.

A team of astronomers used a super computer to do a computation of what would happen to 10 million asteroids that came by Earth. After running the long and complicated computation, the result predicts that Earth should have at least one meter-sized moon that has been captured by the Earth's gravity. The asteroid-turned moon of Earth will only keep its special status for about nine months before it is tugged away from Earth's gravitational field and returned to the family of the Sun as an asteroid once again.

Astronomers have found asteroid-moons around Earth before and it is likely that much smaller asteroids than the one-meter size could be orbiting our planet.

Earth captures a minimoon

Sky Guy in VA

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Ebb and Flow (GRAIL A & B) Fly A Tight Formation

Hey Space Placers!

Being a fan of the Navy's Precision Flight Team - the Blue Angels - I have always marveled at their wing tip to wing tip flying.

In reading NASA's recent news release about Ebb and Flow (GRAIL A & B) flying formation around the Moon at 3,600 mph, I was amazed - I mean AMAZED (!) at the tolerances that the two spacecraft are capable of.

Here is what NASA says as to the twins' flying ability: "How slight a distance change can be measured by the science instrument beaming invisible microwaves back and forth between Ebb and Flow? How about one-tenth of one micron? Another way to put it is that the GRAIL twins can detect a change in their position down to one half of a human hair (0.000004 inches, or 0.00001 centimeters).  For those of you who are hematologists or vampires (we are not judging here), any change in separation between the two twins greater than one half of a red corpuscle will be duly noted aboard the spacecraft's memory chips for later downlinking to Earth. Working together, Ebb and Flow will make these measurements while flying over the entirety of the lunar surface."

Why such precision? As explained by NASA: "From the data collected during these minute distance changes between spacecraft, we will be able to generate an incredibly high-resolution map of the moon's gravitational field.  From that, we will be able to understand what goes on below the lunar surface in unprecedented detail, which will in turn increase our knowledge of how Earth and its rocky neighbors in the inner solar system developed into the diverse worlds we see today."

Ebb and Flow's precision lunar flying and the analysis of the data they return will provide a quantum leap forward in our knowledge of the Moon.

I can hardly wait to "see" what we find and learn.

As the GRAIL twins (Ebb and Flow) fly over areas of greater and lesser gravity at 3,600 mph

Sky Guy in VA

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Mercury Surprises

Hey Space Placers!

Mercury has always fascinated me because we knew so little about the planet closest to the Sun. NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft has changed this as "MESSENGER completed its one-year primary mission on March 17. Since moving into orbit about Mercury a little over one year ago, the spacecraft has captured nearly 100,000 images and returned data that have revealed new information about the planet, including its topography, the structure of its core, and areas of permanent shadow at the poles that host the mysterious polar deposits." So goes the opening paragraph of the news release from Johns Hopkins to mark the one-year anniversary of MESSENGER in robot around Mercury.

MESSENGER will now enter the extended mission phase and conduct further data and photographs. As stated by NASA, ""During the extended mission we will spend more time close to the planet than during the primary mission, we'll have a broader range of scientific objectives, and we'll be able to make many more targeted observations with our imaging system and other instruments". "MESSENGER will also be able to view the innermost planet as solar activity continues to increase toward the next maximum in the solar cycle. Mercury's responses to the changes in its environment over that period promise to yield new surprises." 


Read More About It:

Sky Guy in VA

Monday, March 26, 2012

Sky Guy Viewing ALERT 3-26-12 and GMU Observatory Night!!!

Hey Space Placers!

Don't miss the rendezvous of the thin crescent Moon and brilliant Venus tonight in the western sky..

The Moon Visits Jupiter and Venus

If you are in the D.C. area join us at the George Mason University Observatory at about 8:30 p.m.

Sky Guy in VA

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Recent Solar Storms Dumped Huge Amounts of Energy

Hey Space Placers!

Remember the recent solar storms we all were in awe over? Well, the amount of energy that these solar storms dumped into our planet's atmosphere was enough to power each and every single home in New York City for two years!

That by the way, comes out to be 26 BILLION kilowatt hours (kWH) of energy. Unfortunately there is no way for us to harness this energy because it is deposited in the top most layers of the atmosphere and is so diffuse.

This was the biggest dose of energy received by the upper atmosphere from a solar storm since 2005 and much more activity is expected as the solar maximum is predicted for 2013.

Read More About It:

Sky Guy in Cloud VA

PS - ATREX is now scheduled for March 27, midnight to 5 a.m.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Sky Guy Viewing ALERT!!!!! 3-24 to 3-26

Hey Space Placers!

Tonight and the next two nights, the crescent Moon will will be a sight to see and then will pass by Jupiter and then Venus in the west at dusk forming a beautiful sight.

Venus and Jupiter pair up with the Moon in twilight

The best time to view the lovely trio will be when the deep blue of the sky forms a gorgeous contrast and background for viewing. The Moon will have Earthshine present - the dark of the Moon will be visible because of the sunlight reflecting off of Earth's clouds and oceans to illuminate the Moon's surface.

Get and enjoy this viewing treat as Jupiter is sinking low into the west and will soon disappear into the Sun's glare.

Also, the launching of the 5 ATREX sounding rockets - see my blog on the 17th - is now set for March 26, probably midnight to 3 a.m.

Tomorrow I will have an amazing report on the amount of energy dumped into our atmosphere by the recent solar will not want to miss it.

Sky Guy in Cloudy and Rainy VA

Thursday, March 22, 2012

ATREX To Try Again 3-23-12

Hey Space Placers!

The 5 sounding rocket laucnh is still trying to get off the ground. Cloudy weather along the east coast has spoiled launch attempts since the 18th.

NASA is going to try again tonight (3-23-12) from midnight to 3 a.m. See my previous blog on the 17th for more details.

Sky Guy in VA

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Wanna' Do Some Lunar Science?????

Hey Space Placers!

Any armchair lunar scientists out there? If you are interested in helping to explore and chart the Moon, do I have a deal for you. And it is free.

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) has been taking detailed photographs of the Moon for over a year and has acquired thousands of images. The time has come to analyze these images and scientists as asking for the public's help.

MoonMappers uses LRO images and a clever and easy to use Internet interface for citizens to contribute their time and effort to the project of literally mapping the Moon.  Crater images are provided through the Internet for citizens to view and classify and submit their results.

Read the press release for more information
and visit MoonMappers

I'll be joining the project myself and am looking forward to seeing the Moon through the cameras of LRO.

Sky Guy in VA

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Happy 1st Day of Spring & ATREX Launch Update

Hey Space Placers!

Today, March 20, is the first day of spring - the Vernal Equinox - and leads to a few days of almost equal daylight and night time hours, hence the name equinox.

NASA is due to launch the 5 sounding rockets in 5 minutes from Wallops Island - see my 3-17-12 blog - between midnight and 5 a.m. Tuesday. Check for further launch updates.

Sky Guy in VA

Monday, March 19, 2012

ATREX Launch Now Sked for 3/20/12

Hey Space Placers,

The 5 sounding rockets scheduled for launch today are now set for Tuesday, 3/20/12. There is extensive cloud cover over the mid-Atlantic region today-tonight so we are now looking for the 20th.

Read my blog of 3-17-12 to get background on the ATREX mission launch of 5 sounding rockets and how to see them.

Sky Guy in Cloudy VA

Sunday, March 18, 2012

ATREX Launch Now Sked for 3/19/12

Hey Space Placers,

The 5 sounding rockets scheduled for launch today are now set for Monday, 3/19/12. There is extensive cloud cover over the mid-Atlantic region today-tonight so we are now looking for the 19th.

Read my blog of 3-17-12 to get background on the ATREX mission launch of 5 sounding rockets and how to see them.

Sky Guy in Cloudy VA

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Sky Guy Viewing ALERT!!!!!! the mid-Atlantic

Hey Space Placers!!!!

Tomorrow night, Sunday, March 18, opens the launch window that extends through April 3, for NASA's launching of 5 sounding rockets from Wallops Island, VA, to study high altitude winds.

Depending on your location along the mid-Atlantic, you will be able to see the rockets and the scheduled release of a substance into the atmosphere that will luminesce and then spread due to the wind action. NASA will have cameras positioned in key locations to capture the wind action that can then be studied to discern the patterns and actions taking place high in the atmosphere.

This will be quite a sight to see and I recommend that if you are in a location that allows you to see this event that you take some time to try and find a viewing location today.

For the launch to occur the skies have to be clear so that the cameras can capture the results. So check your weather and that of Wallops area tomorrow night.
Tracer release and camera observation locations for ATREX mission.

Read More About It: and for launch updates,

A launch decision will be made later today, Saturday, so I will update the blog when NASA makes its announcement.

Sky Guy in VA

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Scale of the Universe

Hey Space Placers!

We live on an extraordinary planet in an ordinary galaxy surrounded by the smallest and largest of all the Universe. In our hustle and bustle of everyday life we focus on the immediate and what we can see.....we forget or are not aware of what constitutes all that we see and all that is.

Here is a very informative and entertaining (a necessity in today's uber-technology world) segment that goes from the smallest to the largest components that combine to make up our Universe. It is said that the very small makes up the very large and this is true. The subatomic particles ultimately make up the stars, planets, galaxies and us.

Take some time and contemplate the very small to the very will provide some cosmic awareness that you will appreciate:

Sky Guy in VA

For Moon Lovers Like Me

Hey SPace Placers!

NASA Goddard Scientific Visualization Studio  has put together a wonderful 2+ minute movie about the formation of the Moon. I highly recommend that you tune in and watch how our closest neighbor in the sky became what it is today. You can also do 3D if you want.

Fields of dark rock left by volcanic eruptions, mistaken for huge seas, were named 

Check it Out:

There are also other great movies from this same Studio that you can download and see here: and

Sky Guy - Moon Lover for Ever - in VA

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Planetary Trio

Hey Space Placers!

Took these pics on 3-13-12. Click on the photos for a larger view
 Jupiter is now lower than Venus after months. They will still be mesmerizing for a few more days before they move apart.

Mars in the eastern sky with distinctive color.

Sky Guy in Light Polluted NVA

Monday, March 12, 2012

Where in the Solar System?

Hey Space Placers!

Take a look at this photo and take a guess what body it is...Moon, Mercury??????
Shadowed Rhea
If you guessed Saturn's moon Rhea, you guessed right! NASA's Cassini spacecraft is still exploring the Saturnian system and made this and several other raw photographs of the moon on March 10, 2012 at a distance of 71,495 miles while doing a close flyby of just 26,000 miles.

These photos will help to gather better information on the ringed planet's second largest moon - Titan is the largest - and allow for better global geological mapping.

Saturn is visible in the east at about 10 p.m. and Rhea can be seen in quality amateur telescopes. I hope to get some Saturn pics this weekend as I observed Saturn and Mars last Saturday. While still low in the sky the view was stunning.

Sky Guy in Cloudy VA (hope to get another Venus-Jupiter pic tomorrow night!!!)

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Jupiter-Venus 3-11-2012

Hey Space Placers!


Sky Guy in VA

Venus and Jupiter Meet

Hey Space Placers!

The wait is over as the two brightest planets in the sky, Venus and Jupiter, will waltz their way towards one another in  the western sky this week. For months the two planetary luminaries have been edging closer and closer together with Venus being the lower and brighter of the two.
That changes this week as Jupiter will finally be even with Venus on the nights of the 12th and 13th. Jupiter then becomes the lower of the two planets after all these months. Why this is happening gives us insight into the mechanics of our solar system.
All of the objects in the solar system - asteroids, dwarf planets and the 8 main planets - orbit the Sun once in each of their years. An object’s year is defined as how long it takes it to orbit the Sun. For Earth, it takes us 365.25 days to orbit the Sun once. The planets closer to the Sun orbit faster while those farther from the Sun orbit slower. 
When we see Venus and Jupiter move in the sky from night to night we are seeing the result of Earth’s motion around the Sun as well as the orbital motion of Venus and Jupiter - all three planets are moving relative to one another. You really get a sense of this motion when these bright planets move each night and this week really highlights it with a closest approach of three degrees or three finger-widths distance.
We see the same orbital motion for our planet every night but in a much smaller sense by the annual migration of the seasonal constellations. Right now the constellations of winter are edging closer to the western side of the sky while the constellations of spring rise in the east. The constellations of summer are well up in the east as the sun rises. 
We will be able to see this Venus-Jupiter cosmic dance again and even better in the coming years. May 2013 and especially June 2015 will offer us the chance again to watch solar system orbital mechanics. In June 2015 Venus and Jupiter will be so close they will fit inside the view of a high power telescope eyepiece! That will be stunning to see in the sky with the unaided eye - they will almost merge.
While you are out observing this planetary duo, do an about face and see Mars in the east. It is bright orangish and the brightest object in that section of the sky. I observed Mars with my 10-inch telescope last night and could make out quite a bit of detail. Mars is over 60 million miles away but will be getting closer from here on out with each opposition to follow until it is closest in 2018.
Saturn rises in the east about 10 p.m. and was spectacular in the telescope. Both Mars and Saturn will be  coming highlights at our George Mason University Observatory Public Viewing Nights. You can check the schedule at

Sky Guy in VA (Hoping to get pics this week!!)

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Space Weather Primer

Hey SPace Placers!

The following link provides an excellent primer on the basics of space weather. With the Sun becoming more active and heading for what I think will be a very busy solar maximum,, I recommend taking the time to read the article.

Read About Space Weather Basics:

Artist illustration of events on the sun changing the conditions in Near-Earth space.

Sky Guy in VA

I'm on Twitter

Hey SPace Placers!

Trying to be part of the social media I joined Twitter yesterday:

Greg Redfern  @SkyGuyinVA

Posted my first tweet about a GORGEOUS fireball last night at 8:45 pm. I'll send out tweets such as these  to supplement my blog.

Hope you will follow along.

Sky Guy in VA

Friday, March 9, 2012

GRAIL A and B Observing the Moon

Hey SPace Placers!

With ALL of the recent solar, Venusian and asteroid news, I can finally get around to updating you on the progress of lunar spacecraft Gravity Recovery And Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) A and B. The lunar twins - renamed Ebb and Flow -  are in fine shape and have started their 84-day science mission of mapping the gravity of the Moon.

The data collected will be analyzed and transformed into a ground breaking understanding of the Moon's interior. Many questions that have lingered about whether the Moon has a molten core, differences between the near and far sides, and general structure are expected to be answered. This information will help us understand how the Moon formed, whether it could still be geologically active today and provide insight on the interiors of other planets in the solar system.

Read More ABout It:

Artist's concept of GRAIL flying in formation

Sky Guy in VA

Thursday, March 8, 2012

3-8-12 Solar Storm Update

Hey Space Placers!

Please read yesterday's blog before this one for background.

The X5 (Extreme Class) event from Sunspot Group 1429 was so powerful that the Sun experienced a "tsunami" shock wave that is plainly visible in the video here:

The true effect on the Earth has yet to be determined but there is the possibility of a G3 (strong) geomagnetic storm:
Power systems: voltage corrections may be required, false alarms triggered on some protection devices.
Spacecraft operations: surface charging may occur on satellite components, drag may increase on low-Earth-orbit satellites, and corrections may be needed for orientation problems.
Other systems: intermittent satellite navigation and low-frequency radio navigation problems may occur, HF radio may be intermittent, and aurora has been seen as low as Illinois and Oregon (typically 50° geomagnetic lat.)**.

Get space weather updates here:

Sunspot Group 1429 may still produce additional solar flares and is now almost pointed directly at Earth:

You can get aurora predictions here:

More to come as the Sun is just beginning solar maximum!

Sky Guy in VA

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Anther Solar Storm Underway

Hey Space Placers!

Remember back in January when we had a solar storm.....the largest in years? Well, the Sun has another storm producing sunspot, AR1429, that has been having numerous solar flares, including this one:

This solar storm could produce effects on Earth affecting GPS, airline flights near the poles, high frequency radio and power grids. As I said back in January, the space weather professionals are monitoring this storm and will issue alerts and updates as necessary.

Auroras may be visible for higher latitude observers but they would have to be very bright to overcome tonight's Full Moon. This sunspot group has been getting larger and has been very active. It is possible that it will continue to produce solar flares. It is going to be facing directly at Earth very soon and this is when we would receive a direct impact from any solar storm events.

Sky Guy in VA

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Sky Guy VIEWING ALERT!!!! Full Moon and Mars

Hey Space Placers!

Another double post day.

On March 7, the Full Worm Moon - the name for this month's Full Moon comes from the fact that worms are preparing their appearance with spring - will be keeping Mars company. Mars will be easily visible next to Moon as you can see.

When looking at the Moon-Mars vista, turn around and see Jupiter and Venus in the west...they have 5 more days to closest approach.

Evening twilight view to the east

Sky Guy in VA

Venus Transit Upcoming

Hey Space Placers!

I have another Venus story for you following yesterday's blog. In June 2012 Venus will pass between Earth and the Sun in an event called a "transit of the Sun". This is a very unique opportunity for astronomers to study Venus as the next Venus transit of the Sun will occur after every human alive today passes on - it occurs in 2117.

Astronomers are making final preparations for the June Venus solar transit all around the world. Much more will be coming on this event as it gets closer.

Read More About It:


Sky Guy in VA

Venus Research Update

Hey Space Placers!

With Venus riding high, bright and beautiful in the western sky and getting closer every day to Jupiter for the March 12-13 close encounter, I thought it appropriate to share the latest Venusian research.

Venus has space weather just like Earth does. But even though the two planets share almost identical physical charactertics such as size and mass, they are literally worlds apart as to their weather conditions both on the planet and in space. New research into the space weather of Venus has yielded some very interesting surprises.

Read More ABout It:

Sky Guy in VA

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Flying With the Auroras

Hey Space Placers!

Another wonderful video from the International Space Station (ISS), perhaps the best one yet. This one keeps company with a dazzlingly beautiful array of auroras with the Earth's surface in the background. It is truly as though "you are there" when watching.

Be sure to read the article and then watch the Sky Guy rated "4 star" video.

Read More About It:

Auroras Underfoot (splash)

Sky Guy in VA

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Sky Guy VIEWING ALERT!!!! Mars Arrives

Hey Space Placers!

This is a rare two-in-one-day post but I had to alert you to the Red Planet Mars being at opposition today, March 3, 2012. Mars on this date is directly opposite the Sun which means that it will rise tonight in the east at sunset and be in our sky all night long.

Mars is the brightest "star"-like object in the east and its' distinct reddish-orange color is very distinct. Mars is bright and will adorn our night sky along with Mercury, Jupiter and Venus in the west at sunset.

Mars will be closest to the Earth for this 2012 opposition on March 5th and will be about 62 million miles away. A far cry from 2003 when it was about 35 million miles away.

If you get access to a telescope make sure you observe Mars. A good quality medium-apertue telescope is capable of showing surface features, clouds and the polar caps. Mars is in prime time for observing and will start to recede from Earth and be beyond backyard telescope range after July. So make the most of the upcoming nights....I plan to.

Sky Guy in VA

Better Tornado Forecasting Coming

Hey Space Placers!

I am sure you are as heartbroken as I am over the terrible tornadoes that have absolutely ravaged several states over the past few days. According to one of my weather forecasting friends, this will be a historic March in U.S. tornado history. In the span of just two days the number of tornadoes has surpassed the historical average for the entire month of March. One cannot help but wonder what lies ahead for the rest of the month and tornado season. As you read the NASA article please note that it was published before the tornado outbreak of the past few days.

NASA is preparing the next generation of weather satellites that will launch in late 2015 and vastly improve the forecasting of tornadoes, even at night an in hilly terrain. The amount of warning time will significantly improve as well.

When the GOES-R satellites get in orbit they will literally be saving countless lives. I just wish they could have been operational already.

Read More About It:

Sky Guy in VA

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Do We Need Bruce Willis????

Hey Space Placers!

Anybody know how old Bruce Willis will be in February 2040? That's when the asteroid that has the best chances for striking Earth (and they are VERY LOW) has a 1-in 625 chance of doing so. Called Asteroid 2011 AG5, this 460-foot wide space rock was discovered in January 2011 by the 60-inch telescope of Project Spacewatch located atop Mount Lemmon in Arizona.

The asteroid is only 1 of 2 that out of 8, 744 is listed as a "1" on the TORINO Impact Hazard Scale - kind of a green, yellow, red chart that has a scale of 0 to 10 with 0 being no threat and 10 being "look out".

Astronomers were able to get some observations of 2011 AG5 before its' orbit took it behind the Sun. We will not be able to get further observations and nail down the space rock's orbit - and the exact nature of the very low threat to Earth - until 2013. The head of NASA's Near Earth Object Program feels that the odds will increase in Earth's favor that we will be safe from an impact.

IF this rock were to hit it would carry an energy of about 100 million tons of TNT - a large amount of energy to be deposited in one place, that is for sure. Such an impact would cause regional devastation but it would not be anywhere near the size that would cause an extinction event like that of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

2011 AG5 has caused the international astronomical community to once again address the threat that asteroids pose to our species. While experts think there would be enough time to mount a defense against 2011 AG5 if necessary, this event underscores the reason why we need a robust space program.

The threats from an asteroid or cometary impact are is not a matter of IF this will happen but rather WHEN. We get hit every single day from about 100 tons of space debris from space rocks and comets. And we have had a multi-megaton air burst from an asteroid (probably) that occurred in June 1908 over remote Siberia

Being able to mount a planetary defense against asteroids and comets requires being able to get out into space far from Earth and intercept them so we can divert them. Plans on how to do this are being discussed now. We have landed on asteroids and impacted comets so we know how to get to the enemy. The question is how best to defeat them.

Read More About 2011 AG5

See our segment on Fox 5 here:

Sky Guy in VA