Thursday, January 31, 2013

Historic First as Curiosity to Drill 1-31-13

Hey SPace Placers!

Today, 1-31-13,  Curiosity is poised to make history by drilling into Martian rock for the first time ever. It is not known exactly when it will happen but the nuclear rover is all set to go:

The percussion drill in the turret of tools at the end of the robotic arm of NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has been positioned in contact with the rock surface in this image from the rover's front Hazard-Avoidance Camera (Hazcam).

Stay tuned for updates.

Sky Guy in VA

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Evidence for Subsurface Martian Water

Hey Space Placers!

New research by a team from Brown University has developed strong evidence regarding subsurface water flow on Mars in the past. They studied thousands of ridges found in crater-rich regions and came to the conclusion that the ridges were the result of mineral deposits from flowing water. These deposits worked their way into the surrounding rock and were harder thereby causing the ridges to form.

Mineral deposits mark subsurface water flowA photo taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows ridges formed by fossilized subsurface water flow. Orientation of the ridges, mapped by researchers, is consistent with fractures formed by impact events. Credit: NASA and Mustard Lab/Brown University
Mineral deposits mark subsurface water flow
A photo taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows ridges formed by fossilized subsurface water flow. Orientation of the ridges, mapped by researchers, is consistent with fractures formed by impact events. Credit: NASA and Mustard Lab/Brown University

This brings up the intriguing possibility of underground lakes, pools, caverns and of course the possibility that conditions could have been right for life. We certainly know on our own planet life is abundant underground in caves and caverns that have water. Such an environment would be less hostile than the surface of the Red Planet.

Read More ABout It:

Sky Guy in VA

Monday, January 28, 2013

Record Setting Asteroid 2012 DA 14

Hey Space Placers!

With asteroid mining in the news recently - see my blog of January 27, another asteroid is in the news as 2012 DA 14 will set a new record for the largest asteroid to pass closest to us on February 15, 2013.

The 150 foot space rock will pass ONLY 17,200 miles above the surface of our planet. That dear Space Placers is BELOW the orbit of our geosynchronous robot satellites! It is a close shave by a big rock but there is NO DANGER of a collision.

A rock this size is believed to have created Meteor Crater in Arizona (the impactor was made of iron) 50,000 years ago and was also the size of the 1908 Tunguska object which resulted in a multi-megaton air blast several miles above the Siberian wilderness. Earth is hit by such an object on average every 1200 years.

Ground based radars will observed 2012 DA 14 when it makes it close approach and get images and good data to learn more about the record setting space rock.

It will move very quickly across our sky but I and countless others will be trying to get a picture of this "one for the history books" space rocks.

I'll have more on this as the data results come in but Read More About It:

Sky Guy in VA

A Lot of Earth Size Planets

Hey Space Placers!

A new study has estimated that at least 1 in 6 stars has an Earth-sized planet. We know there are a lot of stars in our Milky Way Galaxy so when the math was done this turned out to be at LEAST 17 BILLION Earth-sized planets! Wow, that is a big MINIMUM number!

If you have such a planet inside of the "habitable zone" of its star, essentially an area where the temperatures on the planet would allow for the presence of liquid water, you can't help but think about the possibility of life. 

This study adds to those that have determined that planets abound in our galaxy and therefore the rest of the Universe. If there are so many other Earth-sized planets out there as well, life must be teeming throughout the galaxy and Universe.

Sky Guy in VA

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Asteroid Mining Developments

Hey Space Placers!

There was some buzz earlier this week about asteroid mining. Several start up companies have announced that they want to get into the asteroid mining business and are putting their (and numerous investors) money where there mouth is.

Read the details in this great article

The timeline is sure aggressive and it will be interesting to watch and see how it all develops.

Sky Guy in VA

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Curiosity Works on Mars At NIGHT!

Hey Space Placers!

For what I think if the first time in the exploration of Mars, a rover has done some work-analysis of rock at night! Curiosity fired up some LED's to examine a rock sample at night and I think that is just so      cool!

This shows the advantage of a nuclear powered rover over one powered by solar panels. Curiosity can survive at night and work due to the steady stream of power as opposed to relying on batteries that would be drained without solar energy replenishing them.

Working at night also allows the use of the ultraviolet light that causes minerals to fluoresce and thereby  identify them.

This work is prepatory to the first drill session that should occur soon. Read More About It:

Sky Guy in VA

MAHLI's First Night Imaging of Martian Rock, White Lighting

Friday, January 25, 2013

F1 Blast From the Past

Hey SPace Placers!

The NASA Apollo-era team shows once again how they got it right for going to the Moon with the machines they created from scratch. Orion, NASA's new manned crew capsule is an Apollo command module on steroids; the J2 engine used on the Saturn family of rockets will be used in the SLS; and the mighty 1.5 million pounds of thrust F1 engine that powered the Saturn V may have its heart transplanted into a new rocket engine.

NASA engineers recently studied a mothballed F1 engine by taking portions of it apart, cleaning the parts and prepping one of the critical components to thunder once again into life. The actual component being tested was the gas generator, a rocket engine in its own right that was used to start the mighty F1 engine.

NASA engineers are looking at the F1 to see if it can be upgraded and play a part in future rocket engines. Test firings of the gas generator are impressive as you can see:
On Jan. 10, 2013, the Saturn V F1 gas generator completed a 20 second hot fire test at the Marshall Center.

I for one would love to hear a F1 roar to life again - maybe I will get my chance someday if NASA flies an upgraded version of a blast from the past F1.

Sky Guy in VA

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Opportunity - The Other Mars Rover

Hey Space Placers!

Designed to last 90 days on Mars and starting its' TENTH year on Mars 1-24-13, NASA's other Martian Rover Opportunity has the record to beat.

'Matijevic Hill' panorama

Curiosity has been getting all the press and accolades since landing on Mars last year but Opportunity and her now dead twin rover Spirit have been there and done that on the Red Planet for almost two decades combined.

Opportunity is still plugging away and acquiring more data each day. No one knows how long the intrepid rover will last but it is truly incredible she has lasted this long.

Read More About It:

Sky Guy in VA

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Betelgeuse Pic

Hey Space Placers!

The closest red giant star to us, Betelgeuse - located in Orion the Hunter and easily visible due to its organish color - was recently photographed by ESA's Herschel Space Observatory:

The pic shows the giant star, 1,000 times the size of our own Sun and 100,000 times as luminous has thrown off mass in the form of arcs. This gas and dust has been expelled by the 10 million year old star and shows that it is unstable. In 5,000 years Betelgeuse the star will slam into the arcs and that may be one for the history books for all to see.

But Betelgeuse is also going to go supernova someday, that is blow its self to bits in the largest explosions that take place in the Universe when a supermassive star has run out of fuel.

When THAT happens, it will be unreal to see as Betegeuse could be anywhere from 400 to 900 light years away. There is so much dust around the star it is next to impossible to get accurate measurements iin order to calculate the correct distance. When, and it is only a matter of time, Betelgeuse goes supernova it is expected to brighten to -12 or about the brightness of the Full Moon and be visible in daylight.

I'd sure like to be around for that event!

Sky Guy in VA

Monday, January 21, 2013

Sky Guy Viewing ALERT 1-21-13 Moon and Jupiter Meet

Hey Space Placers!

Tonight at sunset look at the Moon and see how close the largest, and second brightest planet in the solar system is. Pretty close as you will see. To observers down under the Moon will actually pass in front of, or occult, Jupiter.

Jupiter-Moon pairing
Jupiter dances with the Moon on the evening of January 21, 2013. This diagram shows the appearance of the pair from January 20th through January 23rd, looking south, high in the evening sky. Click the image for a high-resolution version. 
Sky & Telescope diagram

You can watch this celestial pair live via Slooh's telescopes starting at 9:00 p.m. EST here:

This is the closest they will be to one another until 2026.

Enjoy the view!


Sky Guy in VA

Sunday, January 20, 2013


Hey SPace Placers!

Deep in the cold of the solar system out near Jupiter is Comet ISON, a newly discovered comet that has the astronomical community abuzz with speculation and hope that it will put on a show later this year that will be one for the history books.

Comet ISON was discovered last September and when its orbit was calculated it turned out that this comet was a sun grazer - a comet that orbits very close to the Sun. Comet ISON will pass less than 600,000 miles from the Sun on November 28, 2013.

If the comet survives this very close encounter with our Sun it could become so bright that it will be visible during the day. What's more, for Northern Hemisphere observers the comet would be circumpolar which means it would be visible all night.

We won't know how this comet will behave as to its brightness until the comet is much closer to us and the Sun. Comets are NOTORIOUSLY fickle as to how they behave....previous "Comets of the Century" were colossal duds.

Maybe some of you remember Hale Bopp back in 1996-97. That was a GREAT comet as was the recent Comet Lovejoy down under. Comet Ikea-Seki was the last truly extraordinary comet with a huge sweeping tail that captured the attention of the whole world in the '60's.

I can only hope that Comet ISON will be THE Comet of the 21st Century that will allow all of us to view the grand splendor of a comet brighter than the Full Moon with an incredible tail sweeping across the sky.

Read More ABout It:

A hopeful Sky Guy in VA

Saturday, January 19, 2013

NASA Inauguration Activities

Hey Space Placers!

If you are in the Washington D.C. area, NASA is hosting some Inauguration activities which start today, 1/19/13.

NASA will also have some participants in the Inaugural parade so our International friends should look for them.....they will be cool to see.

Check it all out here:

Sky Guy in VA

Friday, January 18, 2013

See The Future of US Manned Spaceflight

Hey SPace Placers!

Check out the video of what the U.S. Orion spacecraft and SLS rocket booster will look like when launched in 2017:

Very, very cool......maybe we will get back to the Moon and the asteroids after all. Too many years in Low Earth Orbit.

Using ESA to provide the Service Module for Orion makes a lot of sense financially and politically:

Sky Guy in VA

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Earth is Getting Warmer

Hey Space Placers!

Shouldn't come as a surprise but 2012 was another hot year, according to findings by NASA.  We now have enough data to conclusively state that Earth is warming. The cause is carbon dioxide we continue to pump into our atmosphere.

Warming Trend (nasavnoaa)
Temperature data sets collected by NASA and NOAA provide independent confirmation of recent warming trends. [more data]

Read More ABout It:

Sky Guy in VA

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Drill Baby, Drill

Hey Space Placers!

NASA announced yesterday at their teleconference about Curiosity that a site has been selected to conduct the first ever drilling on Mars. Curiosity is equipped with a drill that will enable her to probe the interior of a rock and learn much more than would be possible with static study. The area has been named 'John Klein' for a member of the Curiosity team that died in 2011.

The area selected is intriguing as there are veins of minerals that interlace with a flat rock surface which means that water probably was active in forming the region long ago. Drilling is expected to commence in the next few days.

This view shows the patch of veined, flat-lying rock selected as the first drilling site for NASA's Mars rover Curiosity.

NASA also commented that the "flower" on Mars is nothing more than a clear mineral grain.

Sky Guy in VA

Monday, January 14, 2013

NASA to Host Curiosity Update 1-15-13

Hey Space Placers!

NASA will hold a teleconference on 1-15-13 at 1 p.m. EST to update Curiosity's progress.

My guess is that NASA will also announce the site for the first drilling target.

Check it out here and watch on line.

Hard to believe that Curiosity is already 5 months on Mars!

Sky Guy in VA

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The LARGEST Known Structure in the Universe

Hey Space Placers!

Yesterday I blogged on the biggest spiral galaxy known. Today it is the LARGEST known structure in the Universe.

Spanning some 4 BILLION light years, the structure is known as a Large Quasar Group or LQG. Quasars - active and super luminous centers of galaxies powered by black holes - are known to exist at the center of most galaxies and have been found to congregate in groups since about 1982.

An artist’s rendering of the most distant quasar
Artist Rendition of a Very Distant Quasar
What makes this LQG so large is the linear dimension that spans such a large distance and encompasses 73 quasars.

Read the original paper

Sky Guy in VA

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Meet the BIGGEST Spiral Galaxy Known

Hey SPace Placers!

Sorry I missed everybody yesterday but I was exploring Harper's Ferry - quite a place historically with an incredible view of nature. It is where the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers merge an is situated in a valley gorge. Truly incredible to see where John Brown led his revolt against slavery October 17, 1859. The National Park Service has done an excellent job with this historical and natural treasure.

Astronomers have announced the largest spiral galaxy currently known spans 522, 000 light years, or five times the size of our own rather large Milky Way Galaxy. Known as NGC 6872, it is located in the southern hemisphere constellation Pavo and is 212 million light years from Earth.

composite of the giant barred spiral galaxy NGC 6872

The galaxy was measured from "tip to tip" and is so large because of the gravitational interaction between the main galaxy and a dwarf companion galaxy.

Sky Guy in VA

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Asteroid Apophis Update

Hey Space Placers!

If you tuned in to watch Apophis live last night, you will enjoy this update on the asteroid

The research shows that the asteroid is much bigger than we thought. All the more reason to track this big space rock before its' 2029 and 2036 flybys of our home world.

Sky Guy in VA

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Sky Guy Viewing ALERT - Asteroid Today, Moon Venus Tomorrow

Hey Space Placers!

Tune in today, 1-9-13, at 7 p.m. EST to watch live the closest approach of the asteroid Apophis via SLOOH. This is the asteroid that will pass very close to Earth in 2029 and 2036. Read about it here

Tomorrow morning, 40 minutes before dawn check out the close pairing of Venus and the slim crescent Moon low on the SE horizon. This will be it for the two brightest objects in the night sky until May so take a peek. The Moon will be in full Earthshine mode and will be a sight to see. This will also be a perfect camera shot for those of you with tripods and time exposure capability. You will need a clear view of the horizon for best viewing but that will add to the view.

The crescent Moon meets Venus

Sky Guy in VA

Monday, January 7, 2013

Martian Flower

Hey Space Placers!

Have you heard about the Martian "Flower" found by Curiosity on Mars? The news media are all abuzz  - nasa martian flower - about a raw image taken by the roving lab on 12/19 and recently posted on Curiosity's web site .

Curiosity has found other strange "things" on Mars that turned out to be pieces of Curiosity herself. But this time around NASA does not think this object comes from the lab. Initial thoughts are that the pictured object appears to be part of the rock itself.

To me the object looks like opal, as it has that same translucent and shiny appearance the beautiful earthbound gem does.

It remains to be seen if NASA will take a closer look and try to find out what this item is. After all, that is what Curiosity was sent to Mars to do - explore and find answers. But Curiosity is looking for its first rock to drill into and complete the final instrument checkout. Time will tell if we learn more about the "Martian Flower" or if it will go into Martian lore.

Ah, don't we all love a Martian mystery???!!!!!

Sky Guy in VA

  • mars-flower-curiosity-closeup

Sky Guy Viewing ALERT - Follow The Moon in the Morning Sky 1-8 to 1-10

Hey Space Placers!

Watch the motion of the Moon in the sky in the hour before dawn Tues-Thurs as the stars of summer form the backdrop.

Thursday morning will be the highlight as the very slim crescent Moon joins bright Venus low in the southeast sky. This sky show is worth seeing as it will be the last of the Moon-Venus conjunctions until much later in the year as Venus will soon be gone from view. It won't be until May that we see the "Evening Star" in the sky.

The crescent Moon meets Venus

Read More ABout It:

Sky Guy in VA

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Green Bean Galaxies

Hey Space Placers!

Yes, you read the title of this blog correctly! Astronomers have given this cool and non-technical name to an extremely rare new class of galaxies - Green Bean Galaxies. These galaxies are very distant and the entire galaxy glows from the light of the massive black hole at their center.

There are only 16 of these galaxies known at present after scanning through a billion galaxies. Ionized oxygen makes the color of these galaxies but the fact that the ENTIRE galaxy is aglow and not just the center as with other galaxies with a supermassive black hole at the center is really special.

Read More ABout It:

Sky Guy in VA

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Billions and Billions

Hey Space Placers!

Back on 9/16/12 I wrote about how I thought that there had to be billions if not trillions of planets in the Universe.

Well, a new study by astronomers has determined that our very own Milky Way Galaxy has at LEAST 100 BILLION planets, or to put it another way, one planet per star. That is a lot of planets!

As I said in my previous blog, planets seem to be a natural byproduct of stellar formation and we are finding exoplanets everywhere we look. We now know of a planetary system around the nearest star system to us located 4 light years away, of a planet that is made of diamond, big Jupiter-sized and bigger planets, and near-Earth sized planets. In short, our Milky Way Galaxy is a veritable zoo of planets - each distinct and incredible.

And if our galaxy has at least one planet per star, so too should the 100 billion+ galaxies that comprise our observable Universe. Wow, what a number of worlds that is.

We have to ask ourselves with all of these worlds are we the ONLY one that has evolved a species that can look out amongst the stars and know that there are other worlds out there? I highly doubt it. There are other life forms out there doing the same and maybe even traveling amongst the stars. We are. Voyager 1 and 2 will roam interstellar space for countless years.

Some day in the future humankind will learn that we are not alone - that intelligent life does exist elsewhere in the Universe. Throughout history we have been knocked off our high and mighty perch of thinking we were the center of everything only to discover through science that we are not.

I don't think it is possible to roam the stars as we do in science fiction because our current knowledge says it is not scientifically feasible. But we do not know everything there is to know so interstellar travel may one day be a reality.

Humanity is the greatest threat to humanity achieving longevity and thereby perhaps roam amongst the stars ourselves. Global warming/climate change, current economic models, endless war and savagery threaten the human race. Only time itself will tell how our species fares.

Enjoy looking at the night sky with a new perspective that we now have. Look at each star you see and imagine what planetary wonders may be accompanying that point of light. Also ask yourself if anyone is looking back and pondering the same as well.

Read More ABout It:

Sky Guy in VA

Friday, January 4, 2013

New Type of Martian Meteorite

Hey Space Placers!

NASA has announced that a meteorite found several years ago in the Sahara Desert is a brand new type of meteorite from the planet Mars. Known as NWA 7034, is thought to be the first Martian meteorite to have come from the crust of Mars.

There are over a hundred known Martian meteorites in our earthbound collections worldwide but NWA 7034 marks the first of its kind/class but is still related to the SNC meteorites that make up our current collection.

NWA 7034 also contains carbon and water which makes the Curiosity mission on Mars even more tantalizing if a similar composition could be found in the rocks the roving lab will study in its journey to Sharp Mountain.

Sky Guy in VA

Thursday, January 3, 2013

A New Year's Gift From NASA and PSU

Hey Space Placers!

Want to see the invisible? Or more accurately, see pictures taken in space at wavelengths we cannot see?

NASA and Penn State University have released an online photo gallery of space objects photographed by the Swift Telescope. These photos are special in that they were taken in wavelengths of light we cannot see and therefore bring our details and views normally not seen.

There are some impressive photos and you will want to view the online gallery:

Sky Guy in VA

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Sky Guy Viewing ALERT! 1-3-13 Early AM Meteor Shower

Hey Space Placers!

Early tomorrow, 1-3-13, starting at about 1 a.m. to dawn, viewers can see a good meteor shower, the Quadrantids.  Bundle up and enjoy these shooting stars which should still be visible even though the Moon will be in the sky.

Quadrantid meteor finder chart

Sky Guy in VA

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy 2013!

Hey Space Placers!

Happy New Year! May the year bring peace and good tidings to us all.

As we start the new year, check out the great photo taken from the International Space Station (ISS)  of the Moon and an approaching spacecraft - a Soyuz - bearing new crew members.

There will be more Falcon Space-X missions to ISS as well as more crew transfers. Next year NASA will be closer to restoring its own manned spaceflight capability with the first test flight of the Orion spacecraft.

The Moon beckons us to return - China will land taikonauts there within the next 20 years. Will the U.S. and others do so as well?

Sky Guy in VA