Sunday, June 30, 2013

Saturday, June 29, 2013

NASA's Newest Sun Watcher in Orbit

Hey SPace Placers!

NASA's newest Sun watcher spacecraft is safely in orbit after being launched on June 26th at 10:27 p.m. EDT from an Orbital Science's L-1011 aircraft at 39,000 feet and then placed into orbit aboard an Orbital Science's Pegasus rocket.

Aircraft Carrying IRIS Solar Observatory Takes Off

The Pegasus rocket ignites to send NASA's IRIS spacecraft into orbit.

The Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) is designed to zero in on the interface region of the Sun that marks the region between the photosphere (the visible ball of the Sun) and the corona - the million-degree plus atmosphere of the Sun.

This interface region is not understood and IRIS is designed to make detailed telescopic and spectral observations of small areas of the Sun, unlike the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) which images the entire Sun and large regions. 

I am really looking forward to the observations and data that IRIS will produce.

Sky Guy in VA

Friday, June 28, 2013

Voyager 1 On the Cusp of Interstellar Space

Hey Space Placers!

Voyager 1 is very, very near the edge of the solar system that gives way to interstellar space.

This artist's concept shows NASA's two Voyager spacecraft exploring a turbulent region of space known as the heliosheath, the outer shell of the bubble of charged particles around our sun

NASA has reported that 2 of 3 indicators show the 11 billion-mile away spacecraft is near the edge of the Sun's influence called the heliosphere. But until the magnetic field shifts to indicate the interstellar magnetic field vice the Sun's, Voyager 1 is still in the solar system.

Scientists with the Voyager 1 and 2 missions are watching very closely the readings sent back by the hardy and ancient (by spacecraft standards!) explorers as they continue thier mission.

Read More ABout It:

Sky Guy in VA

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Latest Exoplanet Find Has 3 Super Earths in Liquid H20 Zone

Hey Space Placers!

The excitement of exoplanets grows with the latest discovery having 3 super-Earth planets lying within the "Goldilocks Zone" or the area within a planetary system where liquid water could be expected to exist.

This conjures up all sorts of possibilities as to where there might be water, a larger than Earth type planet, there could be life. A very possible outcome of such paramenters!

Already the main stream media is hyping this up but read the following for the scientific scoop on the M class star (a 1/3 of the size of our Sun) located 22-light years away. Pretty fascinating stuff......

Sky Guy in VA

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

10,000 and Counting

Hey Space Placers!

NASA has just announced the discovery of the 10,000th Near Earth Object (NEO). NEO's are comets and asteroids that pass within about 28 million miles of the Earth. We want to find and keep track of  NEO's to insure that they do not pose a threat of collision with our planet.

While finding 10,000 of these leftovers from the formation of the solar system is a milestone, the fact that there are an estimated 10 times more to be found is sobering. The world has had its' attention focused on asteroids this year due to the February explosion over Chelyabinsk, Russia that coincided with the predicted flyby the same day of a NEO. We have had other high profile NEO flybys this year, notably 1998 QE2 earlier this month.

With NASA's Asteroid Initiative Redirect Mission and NASA's 2014 budget seeking to double the NEO hunt funding from $20 million to $40 million, perhaps the NEO finds will increase. This is pretty cheap planetary defense when you consider the costs in human lives and property damage from a city-killer asteroid.

While we have found over 90% of the big rocks - over a kilometer in size - that could cause damage on a global scale, it is the rocks in the 100-foot size, like Chelyabinsk that we have to find. There could be a million or more of them. It is estimated that there are about 15,000 NEO's in the 460-foot range but they are easier to find.

Simply put, we need more detection capability from ground and space-based assets. With the current assets we have the discovery rate is about 1,000 NEO's a year. We have to do better but it will require the funds necessary to do so. Let's hope the funds get approved so we can watch the skies with more "eyes".

Read More About It:

Sky Guy in VA

Monday, June 24, 2013

Ancient Ideas About the Universe

Hey Space Placers!

The Moon was sure beautiful this weekend, especially on Sunday night as lightning and fireflies accompanied the moonlight.

Here is a link to a very informative news story about an archeological find regarding prehistoric art that appears to depict the artist's view of the Universe. What's more, this discovery and others are along the Appalachian Trail (I have hiked portions of the AT encountering billion-year old granite).

Here is the link:

Astronomy, perhaps more than any other science, invokes the imagination and musings of each of us that look up at the sky. Perhaps some people feel the same way about chemistry, biology or other sciences. But astronomy, and more specifically cosmology - the study of the Universe itself - allows each of us to ask when we look at the night sky, where did all that I see come from?

We in 2013 know what we know because of those before who have wondered, considered, studied and shared their thoughts, theories and yes, art. We are unravelling a bit more about the Universe with each generation.

What will our ancestors 6,000 years from now think of our depictions of the Universe?

Sky Guy in VA

Friday, June 21, 2013

Supermoon Weekend At Fox 5

Hey Space Placers!

Learn all about the Supermoon weekend here:

Sky Guy

Summer is Here

Hey Space Placers!

Summer began officially for the northern hemisphere at 1:04 a.m. EDT today, June 21st and marks the Sun's highest point in the sky for those above the equator. Today marks winter in the southern hemisphere and the Sun's lowest point in the sky for them.

Get out and enjoy the Sun - wear quality sunscreen and sunglasses to protect yourself.

Also look at the Moon as we will be entering "Supermoon Weekend" tomorrow night - more on that later.

Sky Guy in VA

Thursday, June 20, 2013

A BILLION Martian Pixels

Hey Space Placers!

You have to check out the just released BILLION pixel panorama view of Mars taken by NASA's Curiosity lab-rover 


You can zoom in and choose your color preference. I prefer the raw color as that is what the view would be like if you were on Mars.

It is quite spectacular to see and explore the area, especially Mt. Sharp in the background.


Tune in tomorrow on Fox 5 at 6:45 a.m. and WTOP at 9:20 as We discuss Sunday's SUPERMOON!

Sky Guy in VA

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Say Cheese - to Saturn

Hey Space Placers!

Mark your calendars now for July 19th. That is when we will have our planetary photo taken by NASA's Cassini spacecraft that is in orbit around Saturn.

As seen in the simulated view below Earth (and us) will be visible next to the rings of Saturn - our "pale blue dot" will easily be visible.

Cassini's Blue Dot (splash)

There have been several times when our planet has been photographed from space - the most famous in my opinion was the Apollo 8 "Earthrise" photo that showed our world to all of us from another world for the first time - and it was on Christmas as well

There was also the famous 1996 "Pale Blue Dot" pic that the late Carl Sagan talked NASA into taking using one of the Voyager 1 cameras before it was turned off. The origianl pic also included other planets in our solar system for the first ever solar sytem planetary family portarait.

Cassini has photographed Earth before but this time the pic will be in natural color using the highest resolution camera. The image will be small but is it us at 800 million-plus miles away! When the pic is taken it will be daylight for the U.S. so I will not be able to get a pic to coincide with the 5:27 p.m. EDT snapshot. Darn, that would have been way cool to do.

Read More About It:

Sky Guy in VA

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

UPDATED: Tune In To NASA's Asteroid Forum Today

Hey Space Placers!

UPDATE: Hear my WTOP interview for more information on today's planned forum:

Today NASA is hosting Asteroid Initiative Industry & Partner Day    starting at 9:30 a.m. EDT until 11:30 a.m. EDT. The event is open to the public but requires pre-registration, and will be streamed live on the Internet. 

NASA officials will update the media, public and industry representatives on NASA's Asteroid Initiative. NASA is also planning on providing details on how the public can send in ideas to NASA.

Read More About It:


Tune in to hear the latest on NASA's plans to capture an asteroid and other asteroid related topics.

Sky Guy in VA

Monday, June 17, 2013

1998 QE2 Unique

Hey Space Placers!

Asteroid 1998 QE2 was observed in depth when it recently flew by our planet. Some of the observations have revealed that this space rock is unlike any other that has been observed flying by. QE2 is very dark, red and primitive in surface composition, meaning it has not been heated or melted.

Asteroid 1998 QE2

There are no meteorites in our possession that match up to QE2 either. So in the words of the scientists who studied this big boy, "It is an entirely new type of beast".

Sky Guy in VA

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Comprehensive Update/Prediction on Comet ISON

Hey Space Placers!

Happy Father's Day to all of you Dads out there......If you are reading my blog I hope you have the opportunity to involve your kids in your interest in astronomy as it is a family friendly activity.....

Here is a link to the most comprehensive update and plainly stated prediction for Comet ISON that I have seen to date. John Bortle is Mr. Comet within amateur astronomy circles and when he speaks we listen.

My two cents is that we will see Comet ISON is some manner and most likely naked eye when the comet comes around from the Sun. It will be a matter of how bright and how big. I'd love to see another repeat of Comet Ikeya-Seki in 1965 which I didn't get to see and regret not having done so.

Read All About It here:

Comet ISON
Hubble captured this view of Comet ISON on April 10, 2013, when it was slightly closer than Jupiter's orbit to the Sun.
NASA / ESA / J.-Y. Li (PSI) / Hubble Comet ISON Imaging Science Team

Sky Guy in VA

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Sky Guy Viewing ALERT 6-15-13 Venus and Mercury at Sunset

Hey Space Placers!

Pretty much your last chance to easily see Mercury over the next few days as the planet closest to the Sun swings by Venus. The two will be closest on the 19th at about a finger width apart.

Get out about 45 minutes after sunset and face the NNW. Venus is easy to spot and Mercury will be the bright golden-yellow "star" nearest to Venus. Use of binoculars really helps to spot the planetary duo and highlight their colors.

With yesterday's blog about seeing all 360 degrees of Mercury courtesy of the MESSENGER spacecraft, this is a good time to see the planet with your own eyes and then look at the video again. 

Sky Guy in VA

Friday, June 14, 2013

Mercury - All 360 degrees

Hey Space Placers!

NASA has produced a 360-degree view video of Mercury courtesy of the MESSENGER spacecraft.
Colors of the Innermost Planet: View 1
Watch it and see the planet closest to the Sun in glorious enhanced color:

The enhanced colors are not what Mercury would like like to our eyes. The colors represent the different minerals that make up the planet's surface and gives us our best idea about the planet's history and evolution.

Read More About It:

Sky Guy in VA

Thursday, June 13, 2013

A Must See Viedo of the Nearby Universe

Hey Space Placers!

Got 20 minutes or so to spare? I HIGHLY recommend that you visit and read this web page
and watch the video here
to gain a fundamental understanding and appreciation for what the nearby Universe looks like.

map of galaxies

The map above shows what structures lie within about 300 million light years of our Milky Way Galaxy. While each dot represents a galaxy, note that there is structure within the banding or filaments that we see.
There are also voids where relatively little visible mass resides.

The video does an excellent job ginving us information on whre we are in this whole vast structure and what may be causing the structure that we see.

I feel very confident that you will have a new appreciation for the nearby Universe and our place in once you have seen the video.

Sky Guy in VA

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Cause of Tracks on Mars? - UPDATED

Hey Space Placers!

Quick, what is causing these tracks on Mars?

This image from the UA-operated HiRISE camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows linear gullies extending almost 1.2 miles inside Russell Crater. Unlike gullies caused by water-lubricated flows on Earth and possibly on Mars, they don't have aprons of debris at the downhill end of the channel, just an empty pit – most likely left behind by dry-ice chunks. (Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UA)

Would you believe dry ice? That's what planetary scientists think is causing these intriguing marks on the Red Planet. Sand dunes here on Earth became test beds to send blocks of dry ice down gully slopes which in turn created similar looking marks. 

Of course the dry ice would eventually sublimate away and leave no traces behind. Read More About It: and

Sky Guy in VA

Monday, June 10, 2013

Most Lightweight Dwarf Galaxy Discovered

Hey Space Placers!

Astronomers using the twin 10-meter Keck telescopes in Hawaii have discovered the most lightweight dwarf galaxy in the Universe - a mere 1,000 stars or so:

The most intriguing aspect of this discovery is that the dwarf galaxy couldn't exist unless dark matter were holding it together. Astronomers believe that a halo of the elusive and yet unseen dark matter is the only way this small collage of stars could be held together.

This discovery helps to gain further understanding of dark matter and how it shapes the Universe. This also may be just the tip of the iceberg as perhaps thousands more of these mini-dawarf galaxies surround our galaxy as well as the billions of other galaxies in the Universe.

Sky Guy in VA

Sunday, June 9, 2013

My WTOP Interview on NASA's Asteroid Mission

Hey Space Placers!

Tune in to hear my interview on WTOP radio regarding NASA's Asteroid plans: and scroll down to my interview at 9:50 a.m.

Sky Guy in VA

New Movie for Asteroid 1998 QE2

Hey Space Placers!

Check out the new movie released by NASA of 1998 QE2 and its' moon. Pretty impressive too see the moon and the big rock together.

See it here:

Sky Guy in VA

Friday, June 7, 2013

Did Comet Impacts Jump Start Life on Earth

Hey Space Placers!

Here is a VERY interesting article that describes how comets could have brought the very building blocks of life to Earth in the form of impacts:

Synthesis of prebiotic hydrocarbons in impacts of simple icy mixtures on early Earth.
It is also thought that comets brought the water to form our oceans.

Sky Guy in VA

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Curiosity To Head Towards Mt. Sharp

Hey Space Placers!

The news from Curiosity's news conference yesterday is that very soon the nuclear powered roving lab will make a turn towards the southwest. Destination will be looming Mt. Sharp about 5 miles away. The drive will take many months and it is not known when the rover will arrive as there is always the possibility that scientifically intriguing targets will pop up along the way.

With 6 months experience working in Gale Crater on the Red Planet Curiosity is ready for the trek. Much has been accomplished since her arrival last summer but much more remains to be done and discovered. Mt. Sharp has been a looming presence and now we will get to see ever better pics as we get closer.

Read More About It:

Sky Guy in VA

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Milky Way Galaxy Gets a New Look

Hey Space Placers!

Our home spiral galaxy, the Milky Way Galaxy, just got a new look and it involves our neck of the woods. The "Local Arm", a spiral arm that includes the Sun and us, went from being a minor feature to one that is on the same scale as other major arms.

Old picture: Local Arm a small "spur" of Milky Way.


New picture: Local Arm probable major branch of Perseus Arm.
CREDIT: Robert Hurt, IPAC; Bill Saxton, NRAO/AUI/NSF.
We can see portions of the Sagittarius Arm in summer and the Perseus Arm in winter.

Sky Guy in VA

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Comet ISON Update

Hey Space Placers!

Now that asteroid 1998 QE2 is receding into the depths of the solar system the next known BIG THING is Comet ISON. This dirty snowball is being dubbed by some as the "Comet of the Century" in that it could become very bright in our skies in late November through December.

The comet is a sun grazer that will pass within about 800,000 miles of the surface of the Sun. It is a big IF whether the comet survives the million degree temperature exposure/gravitational pounding to emerge. It is very hard to predict what will happen to the comet and what we will see in the sky.

The following pictures of Comet ISON were taken by Gemini Observatory in Hawaii over a period of several months, the latest being in May. I must say it is remarkable to see this much activity on a comet that is so far away from the Sun - 455-360 million miles - during the time of the photo sequence.

Only time will tell what happens to Comet ISON. I personally hope that the comet does become a sight to behold because it has been decades since the northern hemisphere had a showpiece comet - Comet Hale Bopp in the late '90's.

One thing I am sure of is that Comet ISON will be thoroughly studied and photographed from now until it is gone. I'll keep you informed as we go along.

Read More About It:

Sky Guy in VA