Thursday, May 31, 2012

Milky Way Galaxy - Andromeda Galaxy Will Collide Head On

Hey Space Placers!

Well, it is official and a certainty: in 4 billion years our Milky Way Galaxy and our closest big galactic neighbor the Andromeda Galaxy (M31) will collide head on. NASA announced in a live web cast on Thursday May 31 the results of precise observations done of M31 with the Hubble Space Telescope (HST).

For about a hundred years we have known that the two galaxies were speeding towards one another at about 250,000 miles per hour - roughly the distance to the Moon. What we didn't know until now, was the circumstances of any possible collision, when it might happen AND what it might look like.

Years of measuring the movement of stars within M31 using HST has now given us the when, how and possible visual result - thanks to computer simulations - of this collision and subsequent merger of the Milky Way Galaxy, M31 and possibly third galaxy, M33.

illustration depicting the collision paths of Triangulum, Andromeda and Milky Way

The galaxies will collide head on and then take another two billion years to finally complete the merger. The Sun and our solar system are expected to survive intact as will the stars of each galaxy as there is so much space between individual stars in each galaxy.

The Milky Way, Andromeda and M-33 are currently all spiral galaxies but will merge to become a giant elliptical galaxy. Our solar system is projected to be farther from the new galactic core than where we are now in the Milky Way.

Such collisions and mergers are seen throughout the Universe and were far more common when the Universe was younger and more compact than it is now.

M31 is currently the most distant object you can see with your unaided eye at  about 2.5 million light years away and closing "fast" on our galaxy. It should be quite a sight in the distant future to see M31 filling our sky and seeing the cosmic dance of the galaxies unfold. 

Read More About It and see the great video of the collision and merger: and

Sky Guy in VA

Sky Guy Viewing ALERT! Thursday 5/31/12 Moon, Saturn, Spica

Hey Space Placers!

We have ALOT of sky events coming up next week with the partial lunar eclipse on the morning of the 4th - more on that this weekend and the transit of Venus on the 5th/6th.

But tonight we have a nice pairing of the almost Full Moon with the planet Saturn and the star Spica.

Twilight view

It is groupings like this that add a 3D view of our sky. We know the distance to each of these objects and how long it takes for their light to reach our eyes traveling at 300,000 km/second (186,000 miles/second).

The Moon is about 360,115 km away - 1.2 light seconds; Saturn is 1.35 billion km away or 75 light minutes; and Spica is 250 light years distant. So when you look up at this celestial trio you can try to envision the distances and time it takes for you to enjoy the view.

Look at your watch to get the time and try subtracting each of the trio's light time to see when it left. It is quite an eye opener!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

One Week to Venus Transit

Hey Space Placers!

NYC was GREAT and I had a grand time seeing the highlights in two jammed packed days of walking, subwaying and sight seeing.

A week from today, June 5-6 - depending which side of the International Date Line you are on - the second planet from the Sun, Venus, will transit or cross the face of the Sun as seen from Earth. This will be the last transit of Venus until December 2117 so everyone alive today won't be then.

Where to see the transit of Venus

Eye safety is the most important consideration in this event: NEVER LOOK DIRECTLY AT THE SUN AS EYE DAMAGE WILL RESULT; USE ONLY SAFE AND APPROVED SOLAR FILTERS. See this link for safely viewing the transit:

This link gives you all the information need to know about the transit:

I will be providing some Internet sites in the next few days that will be webcasting the transit so if you want to watch on the Internet you can do so.

Sky Guy in VA

Friday, May 25, 2012

Space X to Dock at ISS

Hey Space Placers!

I'm heading out to the Big Apple (NYC) this Memorial Day weekend and do not know if I will be able to post a blog each day. We'll just have to see.

Space X's Dragon spacecraft is approaching the ISS as I write this at 7 a.m. on Friday, May 25. The spacecraft will conduct a number of maneuvers to test the ability of Drago to abort an approach to ISS. Once NASA is satisfied that Dragon is safe, Dragon will close to 30 meters of ISS and then be grappled by the robotic arm by the ISS crew.

Dragon, once hard docked, will be accessed to unload the 1200 pounds of supplies it is carrying. The spacecraft will then be loaded with used scientific equipment and stay attached to ISS for three weeks. It will then return to a splashdown off the California coast, be recovered and undergo post-flight testing.

ISS Crew Watching Falcon 9-Dragon Launch

NASA will be televising the Dagon's approach to ISS starting at 7:30 a.m. EDT at

For updates: and

For my American readers please remember this Memorial Day weekend those who have provided us with our freedom and blessings that we enjoy each day....

Sky Guy in VA

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Space X-NASA Historic Milestone

Hey Space Placers!

Check out the launch video of Space X from May 22, 2012: This is a significant milestone in the history of US spaceflight as it marks the first time a commercial company and not a government agency, has sent a resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS).

The Dargon spacecraft launched by the Falcon 9 rocket is chasing ISS and will catch up with the station this weekend. The ISS's robotic arm will capture Dragon and couple it to the docking station. Astronauts onboard ISS will unload the 1,200 pounds of supplies and fill the capsule up with items for return to Earth. Dragon can carry over 7,000 pounds of cargo but was lightly loaded during this test flight.

Dragon will be uncoupled from ISS via the robotic arm in a few weeks and will return to spalshdown off the California coast. If all goes well with the remainder of the mission it is a big, big step forward to commercial space coming of age. With SPace X regularly supplying ISS the US will no longer have to rely on the Russians. It will also help to get the manned spaceflight program of Space X that farther along.

Getting commercial spaceflight on a routine schedule will open space to more people and possibilities eventually. NASA now has to hold up its end of the equation by getting out to the solar system with new spacecraft, rockets and missions.

Sky Guy in VA

Monday, May 21, 2012

Venus to Cross the Sun June 5-6

Hey Space Placers!

Two weeks from today Venus will cross the face of the Sun. Known as a transit, this will be the last one for Venus until 2117 - no one alive today will be then. So, to see this literally once in a lifetime  event (Venus last transited the Sun in 2004) everyone should make an effort to do so.

Once again you cannot look directly at the Sun as this will damage your eyes.....only use a safe and approved solar filter.

NASA has provided a nice introduction on the event and I will have more as we get closer

I plan on seeing this event and hope to do a live shot with local news media.

Sky Guy in VA

The Eclipse Amazes Millions Worldwide

Hey Space Placers!

Even in the 21st century, the meeting of the Sun and Moon in the day time sky amazes millions of people on our planet. Sky watchers from Asia and the western U.S., along with untold numbers of armchair viewers via the Internet, watched an annual eclipse of the Sun on Monday (Tokyo) and Sunday (U.S.)

Solar Eclipse 2012

This eclipse really began two weeks ago with the Supermoon that we enjoyed when the Full Moon was 14% larger which two weeks later meant that the New Moon was smaller as it was at apogee. This is why the New Moon could not completely cover or eclipse the Sun.

The "Ring of Fire" was on full display and observers at National Parks and observatories in the U.S. and an expedition on Mount Fuji in Japan had a ringside seat. The view on the Internet was excellent from a number of sources as well. I have not seen any photos from the NASA JAXA Hinode solar satellite yet and am looking forward to seeing the results.

The next next U.S. annular eclipse of the Sun occurs in 2023. Our next total solar eclipse in the U.S. is in August 2017.

Tomorrow I will give a sneak preview to the next visitor to cross the Sun - and it will be visible for us on the east coast and a lot of the world.

Sky Guy in VA

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Sun and Moon Meet Today

Hey Space Placers!

The New Moon and the Sun meet today in the sky to create an annular eclipse for some, a partial eclipse for others, and a day to watch online for me and millions more who are not in the path of the Moon’s shadow.

See my blogs of May 6 and 17 for more information on the eclipse....remember, *****NEVER LOOK DIRECTLY AT THE SUN AS THIS WILL CAUSE DAMGE TO YOUR EYES AND POSSIBLY BLINDNESS.......ONLY USE SAFE AND APPROVED SOLAR FILTERS*******
There are essentially two different viewing events today of the eclipse. Starting at 3:30 p.m. (EDT) today, there will be a live broadcast of the eclipse from atop Mt Fuji Tune in early and read about the project being sponsored by Panasonic and learn about this world famous mountain. There will also be coverage of the Asia eclipse by SLOOH starting at 5:30 p.m. EDT
In the U.S. there are a number of viewing events which will all start at about 8:00 p.m. EDT. Check the following link for these events:
So, sit back and be an armchair astronomer for the day. Enjoy the view of this grand celestial event. Our next annular eclipse in the U.S. comes in 2023. But the GOOD news is that we will have a total solar eclipse in the U.S. in 2017. I can hardly wait.

Have a fun and SAFE day watching the eclipse where ever you happen to be on this beautiful planet of ours.

Sky Guy in VA

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Space X Launch Scrubbed

Hey Space Placers!

Space X had to scrub the launch today - May 19 - to the International Space Station (ISS).

The attempted launch of the Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft was scrubbed "moments after its engines ignited when computers detected higher pressure readings than allowed. The center engine (#5) pressure built above limits and a shutdown occurred one-half second before liftoff, SpaceX officials said."

The next launch date will be no earlier than May 22nd. Engine 5 will have to be inspected to determine the cause of the problem and affect repairs. Engine 5 had started nominally with the other engines but then the chamber pressure started to increase which Space X officials thought may be related to fuel flow to the engine being too low.

This flight to the ISS is a test flight to show that the Dragon spacecraft can carry cargo and dock with ISS.  If successful, the docking of the Dragon spacecraft would be the first ever by a privately owned spacecraft. It would also signify that commercial spaceflight is a viable option for NASA which has made commercial spaceflight a cornerstone in overall spaceflight program.

SpaceX launch prepped for Saturday morning launch.

Read More About It:

Sky Guy in VA

Friday, May 18, 2012

NASA JAXA Hinode Solar Mission To See May 20 Eclipse

Hey Space Placers!

The NASA - JAXA Hinode Solar Mission will be able to observe the May 20 Eclipse from space this coming weekend. The resulting pictures and images will be made available to the public. I can hardly wait to see them.

This is the only space based solar observatory that will be able to see the eclipse as the orbits of all the other spacecraft will not provide the necessary orbit to see the eclipse. This will make the Hinode pics and data all the more valuable.

Read More About It:

Hinode captured this image of the January 6, 2011 solar eclipse.
Hinode captures this 2011 solar eclipse image
Sky Guy in VA

Thursday, May 17, 2012

New Potentially Hazardous Asteroid Count

Hey Space Placers!

NASA has just released a new Potentially Hazardous Asteroid (PHA) survey that has resulted in a higher number of PHA's than was previously thought. PHA's are asteroids that have the potential to pose a threat to our planet due to how close they will come tour home world.

As stated by NASA in its press release:

Observations from NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) have led to the best assessment yet of our solar system's population of potentially hazardous asteroids. Also known as "PHAs," these asteroids have orbits that come within five million miles (about eight million kilometers) of Earth, and they are big enough to survive passing through Earth's atmosphere and cause damage on a regional, or greater, scale.

The asteroid-hunting portion of the WISE mission, called NEOWISE, sampled 107 PHAs to make predictions about the population as a whole. Findings indicate there are roughly 4,700 PHAs, plus or minus 1,500, with diameters larger than 330 feet (about 100 meters). So far, an estimated 20 to 30 percent of these objects have been found.

Edge-on view of near-Earth asteroids
In this simulated view of the near-Earth asteroid population, potentially hazardous asteroids (PHAs) are denoted in orange. Less dangerous near-Earth asteroids are blue. Earth's orbit is green.  NASA

The good news is that we are devoting resources to look for these potential killer rocks. With their size, if one of these PHA's were to hit us, it would at the very least, and in all likelihood be a city killer. We get atmospheric "hits" every month that are on the order of tens of  kiloton (thousand tons of TNT) energy but they are fortunately high up and do no damage.

The bottom-line in all of this is that it is only a matter of "when", not "if", that our planet - and us - face an incoming asteroid, or comet, that has our name on it. Planetary defense and emergency response can only begin once we know what we are up against....knowledge is power to react and we will all be safer as a result.

Sky Guy in VA

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

2012 Mayan End of the World (NOT!!) Update

Hey Space Placers!

As we fast approach the middle of the 2012 year, here is an excellent article from TIME magazine that reports on a new research article in Science concerning the Mayan calendar,8599,2114645,00.html.

In case you missed it, the end of the world was predicted to happen this year because of the Mayan calendar coming to an end. Add to all of this drivel a good movie  - 2012 - and the good folks of lah lah land are off and running to make a buck -, make preparations for the end or  - whatever.

Rest assured the end will not come this year based on the alleged predictions -

The Earth will be around for quite awhile to come....

Sky Guy in VA

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Free App and Courses UPDATED

Hey Space Placers!

NASA has a free game app based upon the Rosetta mission to a comet:

We are excited to announce another free NASA iPhone/iPad game created by the Space Place team. Learn about comets and the Rosetta mission while playing the fast-moving, immersive action game “Comet Quest.” It’s like the real Rosetta mission, but with you in control of the spacecraft: First, drop the comet lander carefully onto the nucleus; observe and record gas jets, craters, cracks, and other happenings; dodge and dart around ice chunks flying off the nucleus; and, in your spare time, communicate with the lander and with Earth. Find it at the Apple app store at

While at at the Apple Store make sure you browse through the free Yale University Open courses and other FREE classes. There are astronomy courses through Yale and in other free Apple offerings courses on Moons. Very, very cool. I look forward to taking these as a refresher.


The good folks at Sky and Telescope just released a new app that is free for a limited time 

I highly recommend this app for sky watchers as it is the best skywatcher daily there is for what is happening in the observable sky.

Sky Guy in VA

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Sky Guy Viewing ALERT!!! Venus Heads Towards the Sun

Hey Space Placers!

Now is the time to go outside as it starts to get dark and find brilliant Venus in the western sky. The Goddess of Love has dominated our western skies for the past few months and is now headed towards the western horizon and ultimately, the Sun.

Watching Venus now night to night will reveal just how quickly the second planet from the Sun is moving in the sky. In a telescope Venus reveals Moon-like phases and is becoming a larger and slimmer crescent night by night. In a matter of a few weeks Venus will be gone from the evening sky and a very large crescent in the eyepiece.

All of this is leading to the historic transit of the Sun by Venus on June 5-6, 2012, when most of the world will be able to see this event, the last until 2117. See my blog of May 7, 2012 for more details.

Crescent Venus waning in May

Sky Guy in VA

Have you bought your solar filter yet??? I

Friday, May 11, 2012

Fly Over Vesta via DAWN Movie

Hey Space Placers!

NASA has compiled a Vesta fly over movie that is just about as good as it can get for being there yourself. We see what the spacecraft has been seeing for almost a year and the view is very, very impressive. The movie is narrated by a senior member of the DAWN team so it is educational as well as entertaining.

Scientists now think of Vesta, the second largest asteroid in the solar system, as being very much like our own Moon and a true protoplanet. They have also conclusively linked a class of meteorites found here on Earth as being from Vesta - I have several specimens in my meteorite collection.

DAWN will remain at Vesta a bit longer before heading out for the biggest asteroid Ceres.

Check out the movie: "Fly Over Vesta" DAWN Movie:

Also check out the more news from Vesta: and the very latest

Here is a scale photo from NASA showing Vesta and Ceres compared to Mars and the Moon:

Composite images showing three views of terrain near asteroid Vesta's Aquilia crater

Sky Guy in VA

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Dance of the Dunes

Hey Space Placers!

Check this out

WHat we are seeing are large scale changes in sand dunes on Mars! WHat makes this blinking sequence amazing is that it was thought that Mars' atmosphere was too thin to cause such large sacale changes - about the size of sand dunes here on earth.

The pics were taken in 2007 and 2010 by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). We will have quite a one-two punch for exploring Mars between MRO and when Curiosity reaches the Red Planet in August of this year.

Sky Guy in VA

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Light From "Super Earth" Exoplanet Detected

Hey Space Placers!

NASA's Spitzer space telescope has added another exoplanet first to its' long list of accomplishments. NASA just announced that the telescope was able to directly detect the light from a "Super Earth" exoplanet located 41 light years away.

Called 55 Cancri e, it is twice as big as Earth and 8 times more massive. It is believed to be water covered with a temperature of 3,140 degrees F on the side facing its star, 55 Cancri. The water is not like our oceans but rather it is in a "supercritical" state - water and gas at the same time and covered by a layer of steam. Not a very hospitable place!

The ability of Spitzer to directly detect the light from the exoplanet by analyzing its' parent star's light is quite an accomplishment. The technique will be used on other other exoplanets and will help in finding one that is more like our planet.

Read More ABout It:

Super Earth (splash)

Sky Guy in VA

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Take All of Earth's Water.....

Hey Space Placers!

Here is an interesting question/answer from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

Q: If you were to take all of the Earth's water and put it into a sphere, how big would the sphere be?

Hmmm, when I read this I really was hard pressed to come up with an answer. We know that the oceans cover 75% or so of the planet, but how much water is that, and how much comes from streams, groundwater, ice caps, etc?

A: A sphere that is 860 miles across, or as described by USGS, "reaching from about Salt Lake City, Utah to Topeka, Kansas".

When you see the water sphere set against the planet, it is quite a comparison and shows us in a different perspective how valuable and precious water is.

Conserve water when and wherever you can....remember the small blue sphere.

Read More About It:

Picture of Earth showing if all Earth's liquid water was put into a sphere it would be labout 860 miles (1,385 kilometers) in diameter.

Sky Guy in VA

Monday, May 7, 2012

Planning Ahead

Hey Space Placers!

I want to give you a heads up on two upcoming astronomical events so you can plan accordingly. But before I do, read the following safety advisory:

****NEVER look directly at the Sun as it will cause eye damage and possibly blindness; ALWAYS use approved and safe solar filters.******

On May 20th there will be an annular eclipse of the Sun that will be visible for much of the globe, but not the eastern U.S. In an annular eclipse the New Moon cannot cover the Sun completely so a "ring" is seen around the Sun. For details on this event check:


On June 5th/6th the planet Venus will transit the Sun - cross the face of the Sun as seen from Earth. This is literally a once-in-a-lifetime evnt as the next Venus transit of the Sun is in 2117! For the eastern U.S. we will see the start of the transit but the Sun soon sets afterwards. For details on this event check:

Here are some tips on how to SAFELY view and photograph these events:

I'll have more on these events as we get closer.

Order your safe solar filter/solar filter glasses now from one of the companies listed in the articles.

Sky Guy in VA

Sunday, May 6, 2012

T Plus 51 Years, T Minus 13 Days

Hey Space Placers!

51 years ago, May 5, 1961, Alan B. Shepard became the 1st American in space. He was launched from then Cape Canaveral in his Mercury capsule atop a Redstone rocket. His flight lasted only 15 minutes and was sub-orbital, but it put America in the manned space race with the Russians who had put Yuri Gagarin space the previous month.

See the launch: and see the view from Mercury 7:

A new era in American space efforts is now scheduled for May 19th as SpaceX is set to launch the first ever private cargo flight to the International Space Station (ISS). If successful, SpaceX will continue to resupply the ISS and will be that farther along in one day sending crews to the ISS. To follow SpaceX updates check here:

Oh, SuperMoon Saturday was clouded out but for 1 minute or so for me....the Moon was brighter.

Sky Guy in VA

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Sky Guy Viewing ALERT!!!!! Super Moon Saturday

Hey Space Placers!

Tonight at sunset the nearly Full Moon will rise in the east at about 8 pm local time. At 11:34 pm EST the Moon will be closest to Earth for the month, or at perigee, and at 11:35 pm EST, the Moon will be directly lined up with the Earth and Sun to be at Full Moon. Popular culture now refers to this perigee-Full Moon event as a Super Moon.

For 2012 this will be the closest Full Moon of the year and it will appear 14% larger and 30% brighter. If you have clear skies and a clear view of your surroundings, you should notice the extra amount of moonlight.

I hope to get some pics and share them with you.

Read More About It:

Sky Guy in VA

Friday, May 4, 2012

Lightning as an Astronomical Tool

Hey Space Placers!

Had an incredible lightning storm last night as I was between two lines of severe thunderstorms. At the peak of the storm there was a lightning bolt every few seconds somewhere in the sky. I saw the clouds form, the first flashes and then a continuous lightning storm for about 2 hours. The National Weather Service issued a severe thunderstorm warning for our area here in the Charlottesville, VA area and it was something to see and hear. The lightning that hit our house last Sunday did not originate from such an intense outbreak.

All of this lightning helps to contribute to the study of the origin of the solar system according to new research. The good folks at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center just published a paper that  discusses how lightning on Earth can be used for astronomical studies:

"Every second lightning flashes some 50 times on Earth. Together these discharges coalesce and get stronger, creating electromagnetic waves circling around Earth, to create a beating pulse between the ground and the lower ionosphere, about 60 miles up in the atmosphere. This electromagnetic signature, known as Schumann Resonance, had only been observed from Earth's surface until, in 2011, scientists discovered they could also detect it using NASA's Vector Electric Field Instrument (VEFI) aboard the U.S. Air Force's Communications/Navigation Outage Forecast System (C/NOFS) satellite."

"In a paper published on May 1 in The Astrophysical Journal, researchers describe how this new technique could be used to study other planets in the solar system as well, and even shed light on how the solar system formed."

"The frequency of Schumann Resonance depends not only on the size of the planet but on what kinds of atoms and molecules exist in the atmosphere because they change the electrical conductivity," says Fernando Simoes, the first author on this paper and a space scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD. "So we could use this technique remotely, say from about 600 miles above a planet's surface, to look at how much water, methane and ammonia is there."

Read More About It:

Sky Guy in VA

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Cassini Flyby of Enceladus

Hey Space Placers!

Cassini completed its flyby of Enceladus yesterday and flew within 46 miles of the geyser spewing moon. This will be the last flyby of Enceladus for 3 years.

Read More ABout It:

In the raw, unprocessed picture below, Cassini was 239,799 mils away and the south pole geyser can be seen spewing water and other liquids into space.

Sky Guy VA


Wednesday, May 2, 2012


Hey Space Placers!

With Internet back and surfing I just found this INCREDIBLY moving NASA video - PUSUIT of LIGHT

It was done by NASA Goddard and it gave me goosebumps and such a rush of positive feelings.

I hope it does for you too.

Sky Guy in VA


Hey Space Placers!

Well, I have been offline while getting my telephone and Internet systems back on line due to the lightning strike I shared with you.

I want to share this with you as well - probably the BEST sound rendition of a space shuttle launch to date: I think it is very appropriate that is of a Discovery launch since she is the most historic of the remaining space shuttles.
NASA Photo of Discovery and SCA 905

I saw Endeavour launch at night and this is about as close to real that I have ever heard.

Tomorrow I hope to have the Cassini flyby pics from today's close approach.

Sky Guy in VA