Sunday, March 31, 2013

Ozone - The Gift of Life

Hey Space Placers!

Did you know that life on Earth could not exist without the protective layer of ozone that circles our planet?

Read More About It:

Sky Guy in VA

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Update on Comet ISON

Hey Space Placers!

NASA has released an update on possible "Comet of the Century" ISON. Observations were made of the comet using NASA's Swift spacecraft which allowed the comet's size and dust and water production to be estimated.

The comet's nucleus is about 3 miles across and is estimated to be producing 112,000 pounds of dust and 130 pounds of water a minute. Not a bad production rate when you consider the icy body was almost a half-billion miles from the Sun.

We will be able to monitor Comet ISON better than ever before as it falls into the Sun, swings around at a very close distance and emerges hopefully on the other side. Such continuing observations will prove very valuable in determining cometary behavior. We'll also get an idea as to whether the comet will live up to the hype being afforded it.....only time and the comet will tell if it is deserved.

Read all about this icy interloper into our solar system from the depths of the Oort Cloud here:

Sky Guy in VA

Swift image of ISON
The Ultraviolet/Optical Telescope aboard NASA's Swift imaged comet ISON (center) on Jan. 30, when it was located about 3.3 degrees from the bright star Castor in the constellation Gemini. At the time of this 5.5-minute optical exposure, ISON was about 5,000 times fainter than the limit of human vision.
Credit: NASA/Swift/D. Bodewits, UMCP

Friday, March 29, 2013

Will Mars Get Clobbered by A Comet?

Hey SPace Placers!

There is a 1-in-2000 chance that Mars will get hit by a comet in October 2014. That's still pretty long odds BUT it is not negligible or zero.

The impact is estimated to carry a punch of 35 million megatons and it would drastically alter Mars. It would also have an effect on the spacecraft orbiting and roving the Red Planet.

Mars Comet (Splash)

Read about this fascinating possibility and view the cool video:

Sky Guy in VA

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Sky Guy Viewing ALERT 3-28-13

Hey SPace Placers!

Thursday night around 11 pm local time take a peek outside to see the just past full Moon nicely positioned between the planet Saturn and the bright star Spica.


Enjoy the smell of spring while you are outdoors.

Sky Guy in VA

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Moon and Asteroids Share History

Hey Space Placers!

Read this very interesting article that details the history that our Moon and the asteroids share. In particular, the asteroid Vesta, which was recently visited by the Dawn spacecraft, has a significant part to the story.

A Shared Bombardment History

Scientists studied the rocks returned from the Moon by the Apollo astronauts and the recovered meteorites that are thought to have originated from Vesta.

What a combination - the Moon and meteorites! Read More About It:

Sky Guy in VA

Sunday, March 24, 2013

GRAIL Goes Boom

Hey Space Placers!

Check out this excellent article in Sky and Telescope's web site about the demise of the lunar gravity mapping mission GRAIL. It has references to the science from the mission and the results of the impacts of the twin spacecraft, including pictures of the craters made that were taken by the still operating Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO).

Sky Guy in VA

Friday, March 22, 2013

UPDATED East Coast Fireball 3-22-13

Hey Space Placers!

UPDATED 6-24-13:
American Meteor Society (AMS) Event Number 667 now has 1,081 reports - quite a large number. There have been 13 fireball reports made to AMS since Friday night's "East Coast Fireball" event. There are more reports out of Canada and some from Ohio as well. This might have been a Nickel composite space rock due to the widely reported green color.

I'll be on WTTG Fox 5 with Maureen at 6:30 p.m. EDT 3-24-13 to discuss the event.

Sky Guy in VA

Hundreds of reports from CT, DC, DE, MA, MD, ME, NC,, NH, NJ, NY, OH, ON, PA, QC, RI, VA, VT and WV , have come in to the American Meteor Society (AMS) stating that at about 8 p.m. EDT, a very bright fireball was seen in their skies.

Trajectory For March 22, 2013 Fireball Event
Trajectory For March 22, 2013 Fireball Event
American Meteor Society

The reports I have seen describe a greenish colored fireball that streaked across the sky. There have been NO reports of damage to the ground or sonic booms like we had with the Chelyabinsk fireball/meteorite over Russia about 5 weeks ago. The vast majority of the reports indicate no sound or explosions were noted.

Odds are that this was a big beach ball sized space rock that entered the Earth's atmosphere and became very bright as it descended through the atmosphere. Fireballs or very bright meteors, happen daily around the world. There is no danger from these spectacles in the sky and they are quite common.

Faked video was circulating via social media and the Twitter-verse was running amok with reports. There seemed to be one "real" home security camera in MD that caught what appeared to be a very bright fireball passing parallel to the horizon with a trail of "flames" and  smoke.

There might be more as the reports come in.

Sky Guy in VA

Best Map To Date of the Universe

Hey Space Placers!

Take a good look at this unusual looking map:

Planck (splash)

At first glance it may look like a piece of modern art or something a psychologist may use to elicit a response from a patient.

But what we are seeing here in this collage of colors is the best map to date of the oldest light in the Universe - the light from the Universe when it was just 370,000 years old! The map is the result of over 15 months of data acquired from the European Space Agency's Planck spacecraft that surveyed the entire sky. The colors represent tiny temperature differences in the cosmic microwave background - light that originated billions of years ago from the very early Universe.

The clumping that we see is where the formation of galaxies and clusters of galaxies was to occur as the Universe grew older. The study of this map also shows that the Universe is older than we previously thought by about a 100 million years to ring in at 13.82 billion years of age. The map also shows us that there is less dark energy and more dark and regular matter present.

The map also provides a new rate of expansion of the Universe that is slower than previous estimates determined by other means and has some new and heretofore unknown features that will push our current theory of the Universe to explain.

More results will be forthcoming in 2014 following further observations by Planck.

Sky Guy in VA

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Voyager 1 Is STILL in The Solar System

Hey Space Placers!

There was an announcement yesterday that stated that Voyager 1 had left the solar system and much to my surprise it wasn't coming from NASA but rather the American Geophysical Union (AGU). What's more, NASA and JPL were not aware according to some news stories I have read that the announcement was forthcoming. Hmmmmm.

Later in the day a modification was released by the AGU that brought the findings of a paper more into line with NASA by describing Voyager 1 as being in a "new region of space".

NASA released an update of its own which clearly stated that the spacecraft that is destined for the stars is still under the influence of the Sun and therefore still in the solar system. NASA monitors Voyager 1 daily and is looking for the expected changes that will indicate Voyager 1 has reached interstellar space.

SO we have another interesting episode of science news reporting that happens every once in awhile in which the story gets published but is incorrect. This has happened before and it will happen again.

Sky Guy in VA

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Curiosity Back On Track

Hey Space Placers!

Happy Spring! Saw the International Space Station (ISS) flyover before dawn today, March 20, which is the first day of spring starting at 7:02 a.m. (EDT). Sky was ver clear and the constellations of summer are in full bloom in the sky.

As I expected, Curiosity exited "Safe Mode" yesterday and is just a few short days away from resuming full science operations which is very good news indeed.

This self-portrait of NASA's Mars rover Curiosity combines 66 exposures

Curiosity will stay on Computer B side and use the Computer A side as a back up. The change over occurred Feb 28.

The nuclear powered lab-rover should start science ops be week's end. Other operations include preparing for a moratorium on commands sent from Earth in April as Mars will be passing behind the Sun and the JPL team does not want to take a chance on commands getting garbled by the Sun.

Sky Guy in VA

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Curiosity Update

Hey Space Placers!

Curiosity had another minor software glitch that was quickly resolved but she had to put herself into "Safe Mode" on the 16th. She was still operating on the B side computer - see my previous blog of March 12 - when this happened.

The nuclear powered rover-lab is expected to resume science operations in the next couple of days and have all of the computer issues resolved.

Read More ABout It:

I'll have more on Curiosity tomorrow.

Sky Guy in VA

Monday, March 18, 2013

Mount Sharp

Hey Space Placers!

Check out the latest image from Curiosity on Mars - Mount Sharp.

A raw-image mosaic of Mars' Mt. Sharp from NASA's Mars rover Curiosity

Pretty impressive and higher than any mountain in the lower 48 of the U.S. Visit this link to see the full size image of the pic above - in Mars colors - and the pic below in Earth colors.

A white-balanced mosaic of Mars' Mt. Sharp from NASA's Mars rover Curiosity

Shows the difference between the two worlds as far as how landforms and the sky look.

Sky Guy in VA

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Sunset Comet and INCREDIBLE STEREO Pics

Hey Space Placers!

Have you seen Comet PanSTARRS yet? You can see my other blogs on the comet and my first pic taken with the Moon for background.

You can learn more about this one-time visitor to the solar system and see some incredible photos and a movie of the comet taken from space here: and see updates here:


This comet is the brightest we have had in quite a while for the Northern Hemisphere. I hope it is just a teaser for this fall when Comet ISON comes our way and MAY put on a show for the ages.

Be sure to get out and see Comet PanSTARRS before it gets too dim to see without a telescope.

Sky Guy in VA

Friday, March 15, 2013

Amplified Greenhouse Effect

Hey Space Placers!

Happy Friday and an early Happy St Patty's Day!

Since people are wearing green this Friday I thought I would go "green" with a blog about the Earth's Greenhouse Effect and how it is being impacted by global warming.

The surface or our planet is undergoing change as higher latitudes are changing snow/ice for gree ground cover. Read More ABout It here:

Greenhouse Shift (splash)

Sky Guy in green but COLD VA

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Mars Had Conditions For Life in the Past

Hey Space Placers!

NASA JPL announced the results of Curiosity's analysis of the rock powder sample yesterday, March 12. The nuclear powered rover-lab found that the chemical composition of the sample would have been able to support microbial lifeforms on Mars in the past.

Simply put, the analysis of this one sample has answered one of the most fundamental questions Curiosity was designed to answer - "Could conditions necessary for life have existed on Mars in the past. Now we know and the answer is yes.

Read More About It: 

Curiosity's mission is just beginning and I expect many more surprises are in store for us.

SKy Guy in VA

Tuesday, March 12, 2013


Hey Space Placers!

Well, I finally got to see the comet tonight and here is a pic. I know it isn't much but cold temps, VERY gusty winds and an urban environment made it a challenging pic to get. The comet will get higher every night this week and will remain about the same brightness before it begins to fade.

I never saw Comet PANSTARRS with my unaided eye but will be looking each night it is clear.

Good hunting for you too.

Sky Guy in VA

Sunday, March 10, 2013

See Comet PanSTARRS This Week

Hey Space Placers!

This week the western sky has a visitor from the deep depths of the outer solar system - Comet PanSTARRS. March 12-18 is prime time to view the comet as after this week it will start to fade. Officially known as Comet C/2011 L4 in order to distinguish it from the other comets discovered by the automated sky survey observatory Pan-STARRS
in Hawaii, the comet will finally be visible to observers in the Northern Hemisphere. 

are named after their discoverers so Pan-STARRS gets the credit for finding this icy interloper from the outer solar system in June 2011. 

Comets are best described as dirty snowballs as they are frozen leftovers from the formation of our solar system 4.6 billion years ago. They are thought to have a rocky or rubble pile center a couple of kilometers in diameter known as the nucleus that is covered with frozen water and gases. 

Over a trillion comets are thought to form the Oort Cloud
a vast spherical reservoir of comets very distant from the Sun. A passing molecular cloud, a collision with another cometary body or other gravitational encounters can cause a cometary body to begin its long fall into the inner solar system. Comets such as these and PanSTARRS pass through the solar system only once and are known as long period comets.

Another reservoir of comets lies out in the area of Pluto and are known as short period comets. These comets can become regular visitors to the inner solar system with “Halley’s Comet”  being the most famous of our time.   

When a comet passes through the inner solar system the surface of the nucleus gets heated by the Sun which causes the water, gases and dust to form an atmosphere around the comet called the coma. The coma can grow in size to hundreds or thousands of kilometers in size. Solar wind and pressure from sunlight act upon the coma and can cause a tail to form flowing from the comet. These tails can be grand in their size and scope, sweeping across whole sections of the sky and be quite spectacular. 

You may recall seeing Comet Hyakutake in 1996 and Comet Hale-Bopp in 1997. These comets were wonderful and awe inspiring to see and had decidedly different and distinct tails. Comet PanSTARRS has a reported tail but it is rather small in the sky due to the large distance from us.

Comet PanSTARRS has been visible for observers down under for a few weeks now and has been spotted fairly easily in their western sky in twilight sporting a short but visible tail. The comet is over 105 million miles from Earth which is farther than the distance to the Sun and is pretty far when it comes to encounters with comets that can be seen.

To see the comet this week you need to have a clear western horizon that is free of trees, bright lights and buildings. You will likely need binoculars as well to find the comet which may be visible to your unaided eye once you have found it. The thin crescent Moon will be a guidepost to see the comet on March 12th and 13th as you can see in the accompanying diagram. 

Start looking 30-45 minutes after sunset. Slowly scan the sky with binoculars or your eyes. Comet PanSTARRS will look like a fuzzy star with a short tail. If you have a camera and tripod try taking some pictures of the comet. It truly will be a once in a lifetime shot. Read more about Comet PanSTARRS

I hope you will see this piece of solar system history. Your experience in hunting down Comet PanSTARRS will prove useful as in the fall we will be witnesses to what may be an historic flyby of Comet ISON Some are speculating that this will be THE comet of the 21st century. We’ll have to wait on that claim to see how Comet ISON develops - it could be spectacular as a sight to behold or a dud to be forgotten. 

Looking west in bright twilight. (Don't expect the comet to look as obvious as this.) Credit: Sky & Telescope. Online use must include a link to .
Look for Comet PanSTARRS low in the west in twilight. Don't expect it to appear as obvious as shown here.This chart is drawn for viewers in the world's mid-northern latitudes (U.S., Canada, Europe except far north, China, Korea, Japan). Feel free to reprint it, but include the credit line Sky & Telescope magazine, and online use must include a link to . Click for high quality version.
Sky & Telescope diagram

Good Hunting!

Sky Guy in VA

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Tune In to See New Asteroid 12:15 PST and Prepare for Comet PanSTARRS

Hey Space Placers!

Tune in here to see the flyby of the newly discovered asteroid 2013 ET

The live broadcast begins at 12:15 PST/3:15 EST. This 500 foot long rock was discovered just last Sunday and will pass 2.5 lunar distances so no worry for impact.

Tomorrow I will have Comet PanSTARRS info so you can search for this icy interloper this week. Today try and find an observing location that is clear of buildings and trees in along your western horizon. Also have a pair of binoculars ready and a tripod for your camera.

Enjoy the show and prepare for next week's sky show today!

Sy Guy in VA

Friday, March 8, 2013

Curiosity Weathers Solar Storm

Hey Space Placers!

NASA commanded Curiosity to prepare for an incoming solar storm and she responded by ceasing operations and hunkering down. The predicted solar storm was due to an energetic event on the Sun that was predicted to hit Mrs yesterday, 3-7-13.

In characteristic fashion, here is the tweet from the rover herself:

That all you got Sun? The solar storm was less energetic than predicted so no sleeping in tosol. Operations have resumed.
8:44 PM - Mar 7, 2013

This self-portrait of NASA's Mars rover Curiosity combines 66 exposures taken by the rover's Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) during the 177th Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity's work on Mars (Feb. 3, 2013).

Curiosity is working towards full recovery from the computer problem that occurred last week - see my 3-2-12 blog entry - and is expected to be in full operations mode next week. The cause of the problem is still undetermined.

NASA will be announcing the results of the drill sample analysis next week as well so stay tuned for news from Mars!

Sky Guy in VA

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Europa Ocean Findings

Hey Space Placers!

Astronomers are sure an ocean exists under the surface ice of the Jovian moon Europa. The ocean is thought to be about 60 miles deep and circles the entire moon.

Observations using the Keck Telescopes in Hawaii and their powerful adaptive optics which compensate for the blurring of telescopic images due to the Earth's atmosphere, has revealed new information about the surface of Europa.

Astronomers now believe that they can learn about the unseen ocean by studying the surface of Europa which has had breaks in the ice. These areas where a fracture or break has occurred allows the flow of material from the ocean to the surface where it eventually freezes.

Analyzing the light from Europa's surface using spectroscopes attached to the telescopes allows for the identification of minerals and elements that are present. A brand new discovery was made recently when this combination of telescope-adaptive optics-spectroscope-analysis was used for the Europa observations.

A very subtle dip in the obtained spectrum of Europa was noticed and after further speculation and analysis it was identified as the mineral magnesium sulfate salt. This doesn't come from the ocean but helped to lead scientists to the conclusion that Europa's ocean must be chloride-rich and very similar to our planet's oceans.

Sky Guy in VA

Close Comet Flyby of Mars in 2014

Hey Space Placers!

With the arrival of Comet PANSTARRS in our northern hemisphere skies next week, here is a fascinating story from NASA about a comet that will pass extremely close to Mars in October 2014.

This computer graphic depicts the orbit of comet 2013 A1 (Siding Spring) through the inner solar system.

Comet Siding Spring's current orbital predictions are that it could pass as close as 31,000 miles from the surface of Mars. With additional observations over the coming year the orbit will be refined and perhaps the comet will come even closer.

What is REALLY cool about this is that the current fleet of Mars-based assets both n the surface and in orbit could image the comet and give us a ring side view. Current estimates are that the comet could get as bright as zero magnitude - about as bright as the summer star Vega - or even brighter.

To Earth-bound the viewers the comet will probably be visible in binoculars and small telescopes. Now that will be a sight to see - a comet flying by Mars!

I will be following this story as it develops so stay tuned for more updates in the months to come.

Read More About It:

Sky Guy in VA

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Twin Peaks For the Sun

Hey Space Placers!

Check out the latest on the Sun's current Solar Maximum and why we may have two maximum peaks to this cycle.

Read all about it and see the video here:

Sky Guy in VA

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Dragon Docks and Orion Prepares to Fly

Hey Space Placers!

Dragon (see yesterday's blog) successfully docked at the ISS today at 8:56 a.m. EST after being grappled by the Station's Canadarm at 5:31 a.m. EST. Over 1200 pounds of supplies will be brought aboard and experiments and trash will be loaded in the Drago capsule for return to Earth on March 21.

Some other great U.S. MANNED space exploration news is that NASA's Orion spacecraft is on schedule for a September 2014 test flight. The first American spacecraft designed to go beyond low earth orbit (LEO) since the Apollo moonship, Orion is being prepared as well as ground facilities to support the spacecraft.

Orion will be capable of going to the Moon, Mars and asteroids once the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket is built, currently slated for 2017. Read More ABout It:

Sky Guy in VA

Saturday, March 2, 2013

UPDATED Technical Glitches for Dragon and Curiosity

Hey Space Placers!

UPDATE: Dragon is cleared for approach and grapple with ISS for 0601 EST, 3-3-13. Read More About It:

On the Red Planet and in low Earth orbit (LEO) two vehicles - Space X's Falcon resupply ship to the International Space Station (ISS) and NASA's nuclear powered lab-rover Curiosity suffered technical glitches.

On Mars for reasons currently unknown, Curiosity had to switch to its' backup computer on February 28th due to memory problems with the main computer that were discovered the day before. Curiosity has a two computer redundancy for situations just like this. When the computer switch over occurred the rover went into safe mode and suspended operations. Mission controllers expect to get Curiosity back into operational mode in the next several days. The lab-rover can operate using the B side computer.

Curiosity in the past few days had completed loading fine rock powder from its historic drilling into Mars' surface into the lab analyzer for testing. This work will have to be rescheduled following the assessment and fix to the computer. Read More About It:   and

SpaceX launched its' Falcon resupply ship to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard its' Dragon 9 rocket on March 1st without a hitch and made it to LEO only to discover a problem with the thruster system aboard the Falcon capsule carrying over 1,500 pounds of supplies to the ISS. Only 1 of the 4 thruster clusters was initializing and flight rules require at least two before approach can be made to the ISS.

Troubleshooting eventually cleared the problem and all four thruster clusters became operational and the solar panels deployed. SpaceX will continue to check out the spacecraft by performing orbital maneuvers and once it is determined that Dragon is A-OK, will work with NASA to schedule rendezvous with the ISS.

See the launch here 
and get updates here:

Sky Guy in VA