Saturday, August 31, 2013

Sky Guy Viewing ALERT 9-1 and 9-2 Moon and Mars

Hey Space Placers!

If you are an early riser before dawn over the next two mornings, make sure you look to the East. The waning crescent Moon will be joining bright Jupiter on the 1st and Mars on the 2nd as you can see in the graphic below.

If you have binoculars make sure you view the Moon as it may exhibit Earthshine, that beautiful glow on the unlit portion of the Moon that is caused by the reflection of sunlight off our planet's clouds and oceans. If you hold your binoculars steady enough, you will also be able to see some of the main moons of Jupiter as small points of light to either side of the gas giant planet.

Mars will be getting brighter as the months go on and it is currently closing in on the Beehive cluster - a loose grouping of stars in the Zodiac constellation of Cancer. Binoculars will enhance your view as well.


Also enjoy the stars and constellations of winter as you look to the east.

Clear skies and good viewing!

Sky Guy in VA

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Life on Earth Due to Mars?

Hey Space Placers!

The following press release is being provided in its' entirety so you can decide for yourself what to think of it.

My own comment is that I believe that "Life always finds a way" - and that the Universe is in my opinion teeming with life. There are PLENTY of planets being provided with a stable energy source by their stars and there is absolutely no reason to believe that we are unique on this planet compared to the whole Universe. As was said in the movie "Contact"- "It would be a terrible waste of space".

The idea of life on Earth being primed or even started due to meteorites and comets delivering the necessary ingredients to do so is a well discussed theory. I have a meteorite in my collection that at last count had 92 amino acids - the necessary building block proteins for life as we know it - only 12 of which are known on Earth.

Is it possible that an ancient Mars delivered the ingredients for life to begin on Earth via meteorites? Absolutely. Is it proven? Not by a long shot. But this is an intriguing bit of research - see for yourself.


New evidence has emerged which supports the long-debated theory that life on Earth may have started on Mars.

Professor Steven Benner will tell geochemists gathering today (Thursday, 29 August) at the annual Goldschmidt conference that an oxidized mineral form of the element molybdenum, which may have been crucial to the origin of life, could only have been available on the surface of Mars and not on Earth. “In addition,” said Professor Benner “recent studies show that these conditions, suitable for the origin of life, may still exist on Mars.”

“It’s only when molybdenum becomes highly oxidized that it is able to influence how early life formed,” explains Professor Benner, from the Westheimer Institute for Science and Technology in the USA. “This form of molybdenum couldn’t have been available on Earth at the time life first began, because three billion years ago the surface of the Earth had very little oxygen, but Mars did. It’s yet another piece of evidence which makes it more likely life came to Earth on a Martian meteorite, rather than starting on this planet.”

The research Professor Benner will present at the Goldschmidt conference tackles two of the paradoxes which make it difficult for scientists to understand how life could have started on Earth.

The first is dubbed by Professor Benner as the ‘tar paradox.’ All living things are made of organic matter, but if you add energy such as heat or light to organic molecules and leave them to themselves, they don’t create life. Instead, they turn into something more like tar, oil or asphalt.

“Certain elements seem able to control the propensity of organic materials to turn into tar, particularly boron and molybdenum, so we believe that minerals containing both were fundamental to life first starting,” says Professor Benner. “Analysis of a Martian meteorite recently showed that there was boron on Mars; we now believe that the oxidized form of molybdenum was there too.”

The second paradox is that life would have struggled to start on the early Earth because it was likely to have been totally covered by water. Not only would this have prevented sufficient concentrations of boron forming -- it’s currently only found in very dry places like Death Valley -- but water is corrosive to RNA, which scientists believe was the first genetic molecule to appear. Although there was water on Mars, it covered much smaller areas than on early Earth.

“The evidence seems to be building that we are actually all Martians; that life started on Mars and came to Earth on a rock,” says Professor Benner. “It’s lucky that we ended up here nevertheless, as certainly Earth has been the better of the two planets for sustaining life. If our hypothetical Martian ancestors had remained on Mars, there might not have been a story to tell.”

Sky Guy in VA

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

More Moon Water

Hey Space Placers!

   New research results just released show that the Moon has another source of water other than that locked in the permanent shadows of some craters and water in the lunar soil due to interactions with the solar wind. Called magmatic water, it is water from deep within the Moon's interior that has made its' way to the surface.

   Observations made of the lunar crater Bullialdus with NASA's Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3) flying aboard India's Chandrayaan-1 lunar orbiting spacecraft in 2009, scientists found tell tale minerals in the crater that were not found nearby. Studying the distribution of these minerals led to the conclusion that the crater had the water bearing deposits.

Bullialdus Crater

This discovery doesn't mean that the Moon is awash in water - far from it. The water is locked up in the minerals but it is there. This finding shows that the Moon is not so dry after all in its' rocks as was originally thought during the study of the Apollo lunar samples.

Sky Guy in VA

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Curiosity Drives and Navigates On Her Own

Hey Space Placers!

The nuclear powered Mars lab-rover Curiosity drove and navigated herself today autonomously for the first time. This was a big step in the rover's exploration of Mars as it will allow the rover to determine where it is safe to drive without human intervention.


Sky Guy in VA

Monday, August 26, 2013

Quick - What Is IT?

Hey Space Placers!

What is this picture of:

Give up?

It is a picture of a quasar that has been gravitationally lensed into SIX separate images - the blue spots - by an intervening cluster of galaxies. This is the only known instance in which this has happened.

Distant objects such as galaxies or quasars - active black holes - are captured by these gravitational lenses that allows us to see objects we might not be able to see otherwise. 

Sky Guy in VA

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Comet ISON Recovered

Hey Space Placers!

Comet ISON has been hidden since June by the Sun but has been photographically recovered on August 12th by an amateur astronomer. That's the good news.


Photo by Bruce Gary, courtesy Sky and 

The bad news is that the comet has not brightened as anticipated. In fact, it has hardly changed in brightness since last seen in June and is dimmer than had been predicted to be at this point in time.

Comet ISON is a comet from deep within the Oort Cloud - see my previous blogs - that is making its' way into the inner solar system for the first time. Accordingly these type of comets have a predicted brightness based upon the behavior of similar comets in the past but are notorious for not following predictions.

The comet is close to or at the point where it is receiving enough radiation from the Sun to make water evaporate which should increase its' brightness. But apparently this has not happened to date.

Comet ISON's overall brightness will be monitored as it approaches the Sun for a closest approach on Thanksgiving Day. More observations will give us a better idea of the comet's brightness as well as what the comet is doing.

Bottom line at this point in time is don't hold your breath for a "Comet of the Century" appearance in December by Comet ISON.

Read More About It Here:

Only time will tell what Comet ISON does.......

Sky Guy in VA

Saturday, August 24, 2013

New NASA Imagery on Asteroid Retrieval Mission

Hey Space Placers!

NASA has developed an awesome video that shows how the new Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle  and the Space Launch System (SLS) in its' 70-ton configuration will launch from Pad 39B at Kennedy Space Center in the future to rendezvous with a captured and redirected asteroid.

NASA, under President Obama's established manned mission priorities, will find a suitable asteroid - see my previous blogs - to rendezvous with, capture, and redirect to an orbit near the Moon. Orion will then fly to the asteroid and conduct spacewalks to explore the space rock and return with samples to the Earth.


This exciting mission will take astronauts beyond Low Earth Orbit (LEO) for the first time since 1972. It will use new technologies and spaceflight hardware and concepts to go where we have never been before - an asteroid beyond lunar orbit.

NASA is starting the search for a suitable asteroid using the newly reactivated WISE spacecraft - see my recent blog - as well as other ground based assets. Orion is preparing for its unmanned inaugural launch in September 2014 and SLS is scheduled for launch in 2017 with an unmanned Orion capsule. The whole SLS-manned Orion stack is planned for a 2021 launch.

Read More About It and see the video/images here:

Sky Guy in VA

Friday, August 23, 2013

Back Home From the Sea

Hey Space Placers!

I got back home today from being at sea on Grandeur of the Seas, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines.

It was a great trip and I got to meet people with an interest in astronomy and space exploration. Families were on the ship and some attended my presentations. I also had the pleasure of sharing a meal with some of them and talking about astronomy and science in general.

They gave me hope, as do you dear readers, that people do care about the future of space exploration in this country and have a passion and interest in the Universe in which they live. I saw generations represented in these families and how they shared this cruise together as a way to enjoy the sea, sky, ship and each other.

I will go on future cruises and give my presentations to hopefully more generations of families.

I highly recommend to everyone to go on a cruise with family, friends,  and/or significant other. The blending of sea and sky is a wonderful experience that you cannot achieve on land - trust me.

Sky Guy Back in VA

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Heading Into Baltimore On Friday

Hey Space Placers,

   Signing off from at sea as we prepare to enter into the long channel into Baltimore.

   Saw a butterfly on board ship before I saw land - maybe our winged friend was a stowaway from the Bahamas.  Looked like a VA butterfly to me.

   Lots of clouds and sea is calm.

   Blog with you tomorrow.

Sky Guy at sea headed back to port

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

WISE Going Back to Work

Hey Space Placers!

NASA is bringing back into service the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) spacecraft to start a three-year mission dedicated to finding new asteroids and Near Earth Objects (NEOs). WISE will also perform observations using its’ 16-inch telescopes and instruments to study already known asteroids and NEOs.

The goal is to find potentially dangerous space rocks AND find suitable candidates for NASA’s Asteroid Retrieval Initiative. Work to bring WISE back on line will start in September and observations will begin after checkout.


Sky Guy at Sea off the coast of the eastern U.S.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Next Step Begins

Hey Space Placers!

The Kennedy Space Center is a busy place these days as I saw in my visit.  

You wouldn’t think so with no manned launches taking place. But the ground work, literally, is being done to take America’s next step into manned spaceflight.

Pad 39B where space shuttles were launched has been taken down and is being rebuilt to handle Orion and the Space Launch System (SLS). Pad 39A has been left intact as it was not cost effective to take it down so one can still see the past. 39A was where man left for the Moon.

The Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) looks the same on the outside but it is being modified to handle SLS and Orion. The crawlway where the massive crawler and Mobile Launch Platform take the stack (launch vehicle and spacecraft) to the pad is being modified also. The track was bare of Arkansas Riverstone - the top layer of the track - in sections with work vehicles aligned along the crawlway.

SLS is being built now as is Orion. The RS-25 Space Shuttle Main Engines that will power the first stage of the SLS are ready to go; the Saturn V derived J2X engine is being tested, fired and working towards manned spaceflight certification. The modified Space Shuttle Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs) are roaring in the Utah desert with over 2.5 million pounds of thrust per SRB.

Astronauts are being trained to fly Orion and the United States Navy and NASA are conducting Orion spacecraft recovery operations planning and testing.

Yes, the next step to going beyond Low Earth Orbit for the first time since December 1972 and going farther into the solar system than ever before is being prepared for. Each day gets us closer to September 2014, the inaugural unmanned flight of Orion launched by a Delta IV Heavy. Orion will go out to 3,600 miles and then come screaming back into the atmosphere at 25,000 miles per hour to test the thermal protection system, parachutes and water integrity of the spacecraft.

SLS in the 70-ton configuration is scheduled for launch in 2017. The whole stack with a crewed Orion is scheduled for launch in 2021.

I can hardly wait. I’ll be there to see it........

Sky Guy at Sea

Monday, August 19, 2013

Goddess of the Night

Enjoy Space Placers!!!!!!!!

The almost Full Moon at sea playing with the clouds.........

Sky Guy at Sea

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Atlantis Exhibit

Hey Space Placers!

If you ever get to Central Florida make sue you visit the Kennedy SPace Center. You will see where the new SPace Launch System (SLS) launching pad is being built AND you will see SPace Shuttle Atlantis up close and personal:

Sky Guy in VA

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Life At Sea

Hey Space Placers!

Life at sea, sunset off the coast of Virginia. Tomorrow it is the Kennedy Space Center and I hope to see Space Shuttle Atlantis which will be all 5 of the orbiters for me to have seen. I will share a pic that turns out.


Friday, August 16, 2013

NASA Tracks Dust From Chelyabinsk

Hey SPace Placers!

Day 1 at sea.....cloudy.

Remember the big meteor/meteorites that blew up over Chelyabinsk, Russia last February? NASA tracked the dust plume for 3 months.

Read More About It:

Sky Guy in VA

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Mars' Moons Movie

Hey Space Placers!

As I prepare to sail tomorrow on MS Grandeur of the Seas, it is my hope I can continue to blog for you while underway. I am looking forward to seeing the sky while at sea and sharing them with the passengers as well as some presentations I have lined up for them.

Enjoy this movie taken by Curiosity of the two moons of Mars as they pass each other. Quite a feat to capture this with the cameras aboard the nuclear powered rover.

Below is a still image that was used with others to create the movie which can be seen here:


Sky Guy in VA

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Tune in to Curiosity Update

Hey Space Placers!

August 15th at 7 p.m. PDT NASA will have a live talk that will be carried on the Internet to provide an update on Curiosity's 1st year on Mars.

The live talk will go back to the landing and discuss the science and findings of the past year.

You can get details on the live talk and how to tune in here:

Sky Guy in VA

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Photographing Comet ISON From Mars

Hey Space Placers!

I have blogged about Comet ISON and will continue to do so as new information comes in as it did today.

NASA is planning a photography run of Comet ISON from Mars using the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) High Resolution (HIRISE) Camera. Slated for August 20th, the MRO spacecraft will have to be maneuvered into position so HIRISE is pointing up and away from Mars instead of looking down on it.

It will take some software command planning and nifty operational execution to pull the photography run off, but if anybody can do it the good folks at NASA JPL can.

The pictures should be of interest as will the instrumental data obtained by using MRO's imaging spectrometer which should give us an idea as to the composition of the comet's nucleus, coma (the cloud of sublimating (evaporating) gas and frozen ices surrounding the nucleus) and tail.

These observations from Mars are important as Comet ISON will not be readily visible from Earth during this time. Getting good data and pics will help fill in the blanks on Comet ISON as the visitor from the far reaches of the solar system makes its first ever journey to the Sun.

As I have blogged before, NASA and other world agencies are going to use as many spacecraft, instruments and telescopes they can to observe Comet ISON. The results should tell us much about the earliest history of our solar system.

Read More About It:

Sky Guy in VA

Monday, August 12, 2013

Perseids Helping Astronomers

Hey Space Placers!

I hope you got to see the Perseids either by eye or by radar - or both! Tonight into dawn is still a good night to see the shower. By all accounts this was a good year for the Perseids and the numbers will be tallied in the coming days.

Astronomers are using the Perseid meteors to track the flow in the upper atmosphere of the debris they leave behind and analyzing the make up of the particles. This work is being done using radar and lasers and can help answer some fundamental questions as to how this debris mingles and flows in our atmosphere as well as determining the composition of this material.

Read More About It:

Astronomers are also using the Perseids as well as other meteor shower debris remnants to help focus  the Gemini Telescope in Hawaii. Using the meteor debris in the upper atmosphere to"focus"five laser beams allows special equipment - adaptive optics - to enable the telescope to perform far better.

Read More ABout It:


Sky Guy in VA

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Perseids 2013 - by Radar

Hey Space Placers!

Be sure to read my blog on the Perseids. But if you are looking to be clouded out like I am, please read on as to how you can still observe the Perseid Meteor Shower.

As I write this I am listening to meteor radar - yes radar that scans for incoming meteors as well as satellites and space debris. It is a fascinating way - just heard one!! - to monitor a meteor shower like the Perseids. Essentially the louder a ping is, the brighter the meteor would be in the sky.

You can listen during the day and night, so tune your browser to to listen in just like you would go out to watch.

Good hunting, clear skies or not!

Sky Guy in VA

Saturday, August 10, 2013

2013 Perseid Meteor Shower

Hey Space Placers!

Here is everything you need to know about the 2013 Perseid Meteor Shower in one convenient place:

Tomorrow I'll have more on how the Perseids are helping astronomers in ways never possible before.

Here's to clear skies!

Sky Guy in VA

Thursday, August 8, 2013

UPDATED: Perseids Kickoff on WTTG Fox 5 Friday

Hey Space Placers!

UPDATE:See our segmenbt here -
The 2013 Perseid Meteor Shower is currently heading towards predicted maximum next Sunday-Monday. I'll have more on the shower this weekend.

I'll be on WTTG Fox 5 live at approximately 6:45 a.m. EDT on Friday, August 9. You can tune in and watch -

I'll post a  link of the broadcast when it becomes available.

Sky Guy in VA

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Direct Image of Exoplanet GJ 504b

Hey Space Placers!

Pretty amazing that we live in an era when we are discovering planets outside of our own solar system.

Now astronomers have DIRECTLY imaged in an Earth-bound telescope a Jupiter sized planet orbiting a Sun-like star. composite image of  GJ 504

The planet is a dark magneta color and is about 4 times more massive than Jupiter. It is the lowest mass exoplanet ever directly imaged. It will be able to be studied using a variety of instruments which will tell us more about this world.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Lazarus Comets

Hey Space Placers!

A team of astronomers has published a paper which states that there are asteroids in the asteroid belt that are really comets. Their paper details that 12 rocks came to life as comets thus the name for them - "Lazarus Comets".

It has been thought that some asteroids and some comets could be one in the same, defined only by the current state in which they exist. An asteroid could have the ingredients necessary to become a comet but for the lack of energy received from the Sun prevents its ices from evaporating. A comet could have    been so active that it has evaporated off all of its cometary raw material to reveal bedrock.

Jupiter's gravity has a major role in jostling the asteroid belt so that these dead comets can come back to life by being moved closer to the Sun. The extra energy from the Sun begins the process of evaporating the ice and frozen gases from the surface of the former dead comet to form a live comet.

No one knows how many of these Lazarus Comets exist in the asteroid belt. Perhaps continued and improved observations of the asteroid belt can identify characteristics of these asteroid-comets or comet-asteroids if you prefer.

Read More About It:

I look forward to more research results.

Sky Guy in VA

Solar Reversal

Hey SPace Placers!

Our star is getting ready to reverse magnetic fields in the next few months to mark the halfway point in the current solar maximum. Not to worry, this is an event that happens as part of the 11-year solar cycle


The Sun is in Solar Cycle 24 and the magnetic field reversal will mark the half-way point of the current Solar Maximum. Up to this point the Solar Max has been a weak one compared to others - the weakest of the Space Age and in the past 100 years.

This solar cycle has astronomers a bit stumped as to what is going on and what will happen in Solar Cycle 25. Read More About It:

The current cycle shows that even though we have the most sophisticated solar observing instruments and spacecraft missions in history, we have observed such a small span of time. Astronomers are going back through historical observations made the old fashioned way -  Earth-bound telescopes observing the Sun - for clues as to previous weak Solar Cycles.

The bottom line is that we do not know all there is to know about the Sun which is why it is essential to study our star 24 hours a day and 365 days a year.

Sky Guy in VA

Sunday, August 4, 2013


Hey Space Placers!

Here's a term in astronomy that you may not have heard of before- "kilanova". Hubble Space Telescope (HST) has obtained observations of a fireball formed when two massive compact objects merge in a huge explosion that gives off gravitational waves and a major burst of radiation that we see as a "Gamma Ray Burst".

Kilonova (splash)

Sky Guy in VA

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Upcoming Events - Perseids, At Sea, LADEE

Hey Space Placers!

Greetings from Long Island, New York. I'm in the Big Apple for the weekend and I wanted to give you a heads up on upcoming BIG events so you can mark your calendar.

A week from now the annual Perseid Meteor Shower will be hitting our atmosphere in earnest and is predicted to give us quite a show. The Perseids are underway right now and will peak on the night of August 12-13. So figure out where you are going to be that night and scout out a nice location free of lights and trees. You will want a view of the whole sky if possible as meteors or shooting stars will be seen falling  everywhere.  BUT they will all trace back to the constellation of Perseus. The Perseids produce a number of fireballs - meteors brighter than Venus. From a dark sky site an observer could possibly see a 100 a year.

I will have more on the Perseids next week and will be on Fox 5 in D.C. as well.

On Friday, August 16, 2013, I will be getting underway on MS The Grandeur of the Seas from Baltimore to the Bahamas. I will be giving some astronomy and space exploration lectures on board and hope to stay in touch with you while at sea. I look forward to getting back to sea and under the stars.

Finally, I have been accredited with NASA to attend the September 6, 2013 night launch of NASA's latest mission to the Moon - Lunar Atmosphere Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE). The launch will be from NASA's Wallops Island and will be the first planetary mission for Wallops. My plans are to video the Atlas V launch and post it for my readers.

And this is only what I know of.....

Sky Guy in VA

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Evolution of the Moon Video

Hey SPace Placers!

Sorry this is late but I had trouble getting today's post to press.

Here is a wonderful video done by the good folks at NASA Goddard on the evolution of the Moon. There is no narration but the graphics are superb.


Sky Guy in VA