Thursday, January 30, 2014

Way Beyond Cool...

Hey Space Placers!

I hope you got to see the Lunar Transit today as it was impressive (see my blog of 1-29-14). This pic from SDO was at about the half way point in the transit.

With this view of the Moon I thought it appropriate to share with you something that I found just way too cool - one lunar spacecraft photographing another while both are in lunar orbit. I am not aware of this being done for two unmanned spacecraft although it was common during the Apollo lunar landings  for the Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) to be photographed by the Command Module (CM).

NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) was able to photograph NASA's other active lunar spacecraft Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) 9 km below as both were zipping around at 3,600 mph - no small feat!


You have to look very closely at the center of the image to see the "streak" caused by LADEE. But take a look at the computer wizardry done with the image that allows us to really "see" LADEE. It is truly amazing.

The Moon is New today but will be gracing the evening skies in the west this weekend. When you look at the Moon wave to LRO, LADEE, Chang'e 3 and Yutu. I hope the little rover survives the lunar night but it is looking grim as preliminary indications are that one solar panel did not close all the way - perhaps that old lunar dust is to blame - thereby exposing the rover to the -250 degree F temp.

Sky Guy in Thawing VA

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Sky Guy INTERNET Viewing ALERT 1-30-14 Lunar Transit of the Sun

Hey Space Placers!

Tired of winter and being cooped up? How about some Internet observing from the comfort of your hopefully warm room.

On 1-30-14 at 8:31a.m EST tune in on the Internet to SpaceWeather watch the Moon transit the Sun. This lunar transit of the Sun is NOT visible from Earth but it is from space. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) will have a ring side seat and will be capturing the eclipse which will cover about 90% of the Sun and last for about 2.5 hours.

SDO will be taking pictures of the eclipse and relaying them back to Earth. This should be an Internet astronomer's dream to watch.

I'll be tuned in and it is interesting that the Moon will not be "New" or directly between us and the Sun until 8 hours later at 4:38 p.m. EST.

Here's to good Internet connections!

Sky Guy in Arctic VA

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Apollo 1, Challenger, Columbia Remembered

Hey Space Placers!

This time every year I remind my readers of the 17 American astronauts that gave their lives in the pursuit of spaceflight. The crews of Apollo 1, Space Shuttles Challenger and Columbia were killed on January 27, 1967,  January 28, 1986, and February 1, 2003 respectively.

Apollo 1 was on the launch pad in a full dress rehearsal when fire broke out in the Command Module and suffocated Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee. Challenger was in flight and exploded 73 seconds after liftoff while Columbia disintegrated on re-entry.

In each instance the cause of the disaster was found, fixed and as a result, made the successive flights safer. But we cannot forget that these lessons learned were at the cost of human lives. We have seen how an ocean liner can take lives in this modern age 100 plus years after the sinking of the Titanic.

Spaceflight and space exploration are a risky business. But the rewards of discovery and furthering human knowledge are worth the risk. A new generation manned spacecraft - Orion - will need a new generation of astronauts, the new class of 2013,  willing to take the risks inherent in their job. We can try to take as much risk as possible out of the equation of manned spaceflight but it will always be there.

Humanity needs to leave this planet to explore and colonize new worlds in our solar system, and perhaps someday, planetary systems orbiting stars other than our Sun. To not do so, dooms the fate of humanity to extinction.

With each new manned mission and step forward, let us always remember those who gave their lives exploring the final frontier.

Read More About NASA's Day of Remembrance 2014.

Sky Guy in VA

Monday, January 27, 2014

Sky Guy Viewing ALERT - 1/27 to 2/4 2014 See All The Bright Planets

Hey Space Placers!

Now is the time to see all of the bright planets. Mercury and Jupiter are visible in the west and east respectively after sunset while Mars, Saturn and Venus adorn the sky in the hours before dawn.

Now is prime time for Mercury for all of 2014. It is fairly easy to spot now until 2/4/14.

Sky & Telescope Diagram

Be sure to look on 1/31/14 in the west as the beautiful young crescent Moon will be to the right of Mercury and will make a good photo op.

Jupiter is up in the east right after sunset and is the brightest object in the sky besides the Moon so you can't miss the King of the Planets. A pair of binoculars will show you the four main moons of Jupiter although there may be fewer when you look as they can pass in front of and behind the planet, You can photograph the moons with a 200mm lens as I did below (enlarged view).

Mars is headed towards closest approach to Earth in mid-April and is getting brighter every week. It rises in the southeast around 11 p.m. and is near a bluish-white star, Spica. Mars is orangish so it sticks out in the sky. Mars is always fascinating to watch as it gets brighter in the sky and earns its name as "God of War" as the planet looks fiery in the sky.

Saturn rises about 1 a.m. in the southeast and is to the upper right of organism Antares.


Beautiful Venus returns to the morning sky being visible about an hour or so before dawn. Seeing Venus today as we prepare for another brutal Arctic Air BLAST put a smile on my face. It is in crescent phase which is visible in binoculars and a telescope. The Moon will join Venus in the eastern sky on 1/29/14 for a splendid photo op.


Believe me, I know it is cold in a large swath of the Northern Hemisphere. But bundle up and get outside for some fresh air and a view of the planets that we have not had in awhile. You'll be glad you did.

Sky Guy in The Arctic Circle of VA

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Pluto New Horizons Mission Trailer

Hey Space Placers!

Drop what you are doing and watch this trailer for the New Horizons Mission to Pluto. I will be amazed if you do not get goose bumps and play it more than once and save it to see again.

July 2015 can't get here fast enough.

Sky Guy in Arctic VA

Saturday, January 25, 2014

10th Martian Anniversary For Opportunity

Hey Space Placers!

Today marks the 10th year of operations on the Red Planet for rover Opportunity. Not bad for a vehicle that was expected to last 90 days! Her twin rover Spirit died in 2011 when she became mired in sand and could not receive enough sunlight to survive.

NASA / JPL-Caltech / Cornell Univ. / Arizona State Univ.
Oppy as she is called is still going strong in Meridiani Planum returning photographs and data. She was in the news lately because of the "Jelly Donut Rock From Nowhere". This rock is nothing like anything that has been studied before and is really stirring the pot among planetary geologists.

Oppy has found that Mars was once a habitable place for life as we know it to exist on the Red Planet which certainly begs the question if life ever existed on Mars.

Oppy has a bad wheel and some arthritis in her robotic arm but she will continue to add to the more than 25 miles she has driven on Mars. As long as she receives enough sunlight for power she can operate and return pictures and data.

Sky Guy in Frozen VA

Friday, January 24, 2014

NASA Manned Spaceflight - 2 Down, 1 To Go

Hey Space Placers!

Unmanned missions have been getting a lot of attention lately and rightfully so - Rosetta to a comet, Curiosity and Opportunity on Mars with Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter above the Red Planet with Maven to arrive, New Horizons to Pluto next year, Dawn to Ceres next year, Juno to Jupiter and Dragon and Cygnus (the resupply ships to ISS).

Even the Dream Chaser space plane just announced that it will fly to space on a test flight November 1, 2016 atop an Atlas-V launch vehicle. The Atlas-V is the same rocket NASA used last night to place its newest Tracking Data and Relay Satellite (TDRS) into orbit.

But what about NASA's return to manned spaceflight? It has been years since an American went into space using a U.S. vehicle. We have been buying seats from Russia at $76 million a pop to get the space station.

NASA has been working towards manned spaceflight capability quite spectacularly without a lot of public fanfare in my opinion. NASA has been posting updates on a regular basis but mainstream media has not been picking up on it. I have yet to see any major news story on TV or in print that gives the American people a true status report on where NASA is on the Orion-Space Launch System.

If you are a regular follower you know that Orion is the manned spacecraft that will carry astronauts to Low Earth Orbit (LEO), the Moon, Mars and the asteroids. Orion is a capsule that looks like the Apollo spacecraft but much larger. The first flight ready Orion is being built and just completed all welding. The thermal protection system, including the heat shield is due for installation in the coming months.

The first flight ready Service Module (SM) has just been completed and will fly with the Orion capsule attached to it on the Exploration Test Flight-1 (EFT-1) scheduled for September 2014. The other major component, the Launch Abort System (LAS) has been completed for EFT-1 as well.

EFT-1 Service Module - NASA
EFT-1 will be unmanned and last only four hours, reaching orbit at a distance of  3,600 miles above Earth. This will allow Orion, the only component to return to Earth, to reach speeds of 20,000+ miles per hour - or the speed of a return from the Moon or deep space - in order to test the  thermal protection system and heat shield. EFT-1 will be launched by a Delta IV Heavy rocket and the Orion system will be carrying sensors to measure and monitor all aspects of the flight for analysis by engineers.

The first manned spaceflight using Orion and the new SLS is scheduled for 2017.

Progress is being made but politics has to be cut out of the equation. We can't have a new administration in 2016 take office and decide to put their mark on NASA and space. Those days are gone. We need to keep moving forward on Orion and SLS and get manned spaceflight and heavy lift capability back in the American space program.

Sky Guy in Frozen VA

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Fire and Ice

Hey Space Placers!

Here is my first EVER pic of a supernova taken in 7 degrees temp on 1-24-14:

The supernova is the bright "star" in the galaxy's left side. This is a magnified image from the original pic here:

Read about the supernova and the new discovery of water on Ceres here.

Sky Guy Hitting the Sack in VA

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Climate Continues Warming Trend in 2013

Hey Space Placers!

As I look outside and see the snow blowing in sub-zero temps (a rarity in Virginia) I just read about NASA's determination that 2013 was tied with 2009 and 2006 for the 7th warmest year since 1880. The planet has warmed up an average of 1.4 degrees F since 1880. 2013 was the 42nd warmest for the U.S. while the warmest on record for Australia.

I have to cut this short as I have to leave for my observatory so I can photograph the new supernova in a close galaxy, M-82. I hope to have a pic for you and more on the supernova tomorrow.

For those of you in the mid-Atlantic, be safe in this bitter wind and cold.

Sky Guy in Frozen VA

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Rosetta In Good Health

Hey Space Placers!

As I watch the fat snowflakes start to get bigger and more numerous here in Virginia, I got this update on Rosetta.

For a spacecraft that is soon to be 10-years-old, been asleep for 957 days and is a half a billion miles from home, this is just an incredible testament as to how well the European Space Agency (ESA) and their partners, including NASA, build spacecraft.

NASA has old-timers still operating after years in space - the oldest of old Voyagers 1 and 2 (we're talking DECADES) , Cassini at Saturn, New Horizons enroute to Pluto next year and of course rover Opportunity on Mars for 10 years now.

Rosetta will have many challenges this year and especially next when she arrives at her cometary destination. But what a ride we are all in for with this mission that will give us a front row seat to the life a comet that swings by the Sun.

Sky Guy in Snowy & Cold VA

Monday, January 20, 2014


Hey Space Placers!

WOW - you could't have scripted a Hollywood scene any better than how Rosetta's much anticipated call to home went today. The spacecraft was to send a signal half a billion miles back to Earth between 12:30 and 1:30 p.m. EST to indicate that Rosetta had awakened from a 957 day lumber - see my story from yesterday.

With each passing minute after 1:00 p.m. EST you could feel the tension building in ESA's Operations Room. All eyes including mine and almost 12,000 others watching via Livestream were glued to the monitor showing the signal from NASA's Deep Space Network antennas……a mostly flat signal that never showed the much anticipated spike until 1:18 p.m. EST.


That was when I noticed an obvious spike in the background signal which moments later ESA Ops confirmed by shouts, applause and cheers - that Rosetta had indeed woken up, aligned herself with the energy of the Sun and phoned home.

The power of technology was on display today with Rosetta enduring so much to come back to life but so was the power of the Internet and Social Media. People around the world shared in the experience live and with each other. I am pleased to say that in my Twitterverse I was the first to report the spike from Rosetta.

ESA will be checking the health of Rosetta and preparing her for a very busy time. We'll be following her all the way until the mission ends in December 2015.

Way to go ESA and Rosetta!

Sky Guy in Snow Warning in Effect VA

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Rosetta Wake Up Call Approaches

Hey Space Placers!

The European Space Agency (ESA), NASA and countless people who follow space missions are holding their collective breath for the biggest wake up call in the solar system. Tomorrow morning at 5 a.m. EST, ESA's Rosetta spacecraft is scheduled to wake up after 957 days of hibernation. 

The spacecraft is supposed to wakeup, turn on heaters for its star trackers, fire thrusters and get aligned with the Sun and call home. Being 500 million miles away this most anticipated signal to NASA's Deep Space Network (DSN) antennas is expected between 12:30 and 1:30 p.m. EST. There will be a lot of people, including me, waiting for Rosetta's call home.

Because Rosetta is solar powered the spacecraft had to shutdown everything but its computer and a couple of heaters in order to conserve power. The spacecraft can now wake up because the solar panels are receiving enough energy from the Sun to power up all systems.

Rosetta was launched in March 2004 and made 3 flybys of Earth and 1 of Mars to pick up enough speed to intercept periodic Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko later this year. Rosetta is designed to rendezvous and enter orbit around the comet in August and survey it. Once a suitable landing site is found, the Philae lander will detach and land on the surface of the comet, currently scheduled for November 2014.

Unlike last year’s Comet ISON which originated from the Oort Cloud (the vast repository of a trillion-plus comets located a light year from the Sun) and made its first ever journey to the Sun only to be destroyed, Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko is a periodic comet which orbits the Sun regularly every 6.5 years. It has been observed seven times dating back to 1969 when it was discovered.

Rosetta will give us our best view and data ever of a comet, a leftover from the formation of the solar system 4.6 billion years ago, Comets contain the original material of our solar system, the elements, molecules, gas, dust and ices that weren't used in making the planets or dwarf planets.

What sets Rosetta apart from previous cometary missions of the past is that for the first time we will orbit a comet and land on it instead of a one and done flyby mission. What is really thrilling to me is that we will have an up close and personal view of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko transforming from an inert icy dirt ball into a full fledged active comet spewing off gas and dust due to the intense heat of the Sun. 

With Rosetta and Philae we will see how the comet changes as it approaches the Sun, begins to heat up, passes closest to the Sun in August 2015 and then begins to shutdown as it zooms away. An array of instruments are on the orbiter and lander, including 3 from NASA, will gather a treasure trove of never before acquired data and pictures during these critical stages in the life cycle of a comet’s journey around the Sun. Philae will also drill into the nucleus - the solid core of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko - for a first ever drill sampling of a cometary nucleus.

There are over a trillion comets and millions of their believed to be siblings, asteroids, in the solar system. The more we learn about them the more we learn about our origins. It is possible that comets and asteroids seeded the primitive Earth with the necessary precursors for life. We know that comets and asteroids have impacted the Earth in the past and will do so again in the future so anything and everything we can learn about them is beneficial not only for science but survival as well.

Rosetta, if successful, will provide us with data and pictures that will go a long way in filling in the gaps of our knowledge about comets and our solar system's origins. 

But it all hinges on Rosetta phoning home. I'll let you know what happens because I will be listening in. You can follow Rosetta too via the @ESA_Rosetta twitter account.


Sky Guy in VA

Saturday, January 18, 2014

NASA's Astrophysics Roadmap for the Next 30 Years

Hey Space Placers!

Interested in knowing what NASA wants to know about astrophysics for the next 3 decades? You can read the 110 page document like I am now - it just came out on January 15th. Titled "Enduring Quests -  Daring Visions: NASA Astrophysics for the Next Three Decades", it asks the following three questions:
  • Are we alone?
  • How did we get here?
  • How does the universe work? 

    The study is the result of a team chartered to put together a roadmap for NASA Astrophysics that was set in motion in May of last year. The group came from a wide variety of institutions and backgrounds.

    I look forward to reading the results and to seeing where the roadmap takes us.

    Sky Guy in VA

Friday, January 17, 2014

Pluto Here We Come UPDATED

Hey Space Placers!


NASA's New Horizons mission to Pluto has less than a year to go until it starts preparations to finally close in on that far away world and its moons. Closest approach to Pluto will be on July 14, 2015 at a distance of 10,000 km or 6,000 mi. New Horizons is zipping along at over a million miles per day and was launched in 2006. It has been traveling in frigid space longer than some space missions last!

New Horizons was brought out of hibernation recently for check out and communications and will be placed back in hibernation until late June. 2 1/2 months later the spacecraft will slumber again until December 7, 2014 and then wake up for good to start 2 years of Pluto encounter preparations and operations.

New Horizons is a flyby mission as it does not have the fuel to enter orbit around Pluto and its main moon Charon. NASA is looking for where to send New Horizons post-Pluto encounter 2016-2020. A telescopic search is underway for a Kupier Belt Object (KBO) to send the spacecraft to. KBOs are thought to be dwarf planets like Pluto that exist beyond the orbit of Neptune.

New Horizons is boldly going where no spacecraft has ever gone before and will be charting brand new territory. Everything we see and discover will be a first and it is a good bet that humanity won't be heading this way again for a long time. New Horizons will definitely rewrite the textbooks on the outer solar system. Read More About It.

I'll keep you up to date on the mission's progress.

Sky Guy in VA

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Join Me for Starfest 2014 at the Inn at Perry Cabin

Hey Space Placers!

Want a wonderful winter get away under the stars?

I have the perfect place for you - the Inn at Perry Cabin, MD January 31- February 2, 2014. We will be hosting Starfest 2014, the perfect answer to winter-time blues.

We'll have 2 star parties if the weather is clear, 3 lectures and a grand time. You can book your reservation at 410-745-2200.

I hope to see you there!

Sky Guy in VA

Send Your Name to An Asteroid

Hey Space Placers!

It has become a tradition of the space faring agencies to invite the public to submit their names online to be included on spacecraft in the form of a microchip. I have done this for several missions and have done so again for NASA's Origins-Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security Regolith Explorer, or OSIRIS-REx, spacecraft:

You can do so as well by going to this link. You can print the certificate out and you can submit as many names as you like.

OSIRIS-Rex is a mission to the Bennu asteroid that will include a two year study of the 1,760-foot space rock and a sample return to Earth of at least 60 grams of material. The submitted names will fly round trip to Bennu and back to Earth plus remain on the asteroid with the lander on a second microchip.

The mission is scheduled for launch in September 2016 and arrive at Bennu in October 2018. OSIRIS-Rex will map Bennu from orbit and eventually touchdown to begin surface operations culminating in the blast-off of the sample return capsule.

Bennu is a very interesting space rock as it belongs to a special category of asteroids - Carbonaceous C-Type, Sub-type B, all of which means the rock is primitive or unaltered and contains carbon based components. It is very dark and passes near Earth every 1.2 years. It is a Near Earth Object (NEO) and has a 1-in-1800 chance of hitting us in 2182.

Studying Bennu in its space based environment would provide much needed information on the composition, structure and orbit of Bennu. The study of the returned samples would add greatly to our knowledge of the early solar system and the composition of Bennu. Carbonaceous asteroids are of extreme interest as they contain organic (carbon-based) compounds and may have seeded early Earth with the components necessary for the development of life on Earth.

You can submit your name until September 30, 2014. You can also register at Facebook to get updates on the mission and where your name is.

Come on, be a part of space history….submit your name today.

Sky Guy's Name is Going to Bennu

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Sky Guy Viewing ALERT - SMALLEST Full Moon for 2014 1-15-14

Hey Space Placers!

The smallest Full Moon for 2014 occurs tonight, 1-15-14 at 11:52 p.m. EST. The Full Moon will be at the farthest apogee (greatest distance) from Earth for the year at 9:00 p.m. EST at a distance of 406,532km or 243,919mi.

You probably will not be able to detect any size or light difference by the unaided eye. I was planning on photographing the Full Wolf Moon - the name the American Indian tribes gave January's Full Moon due to the roaming packs of hungry wolves - but clouds will cover VA with MORE rain - the ground is SQUISHY we've had so much rain!

Enjoy the view and check out bright Jupiter in the vicinity. Here's my pic of them last night:


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Spacecraft Wake-ups

Hey Space Placers!

What do three spacecraft - Chang'e 3 and rover Yutu, New Horizons and Rosetta - have in common? All 3 have experienced hibernation or sleep mode during their missions. This is done by spacecraft controllers to protect the spacecraft from extreme cold and to conserve resources such as power and fuel      during long transits to a destination.

The Chinese lunar lander and rover went into hibernation during the holidays to protect the two from the extreme cold of the lunar night and were awakened on January 12th to begin science operations.

New Horizons was awakened on January 5th to begin preparations for next year's flyby of Pluto. Launched on January 19, 2006, New Horizons is now over 2 billion miles from Earth and preparing for a busy year of pre-flyby operations and preparations. New Horizons will go back into hibernation again  and wake up December 7th to begin final preps for flyby of Pluto beginning January 12, 2015. I can hardly wait for Pluto flyby - it is going to be historic.

Rosetta will be roused on January 20th after 957 days of hibernation. This ambitious cometary exploration mission will rendezvous with Comet Churyumov–Gerasimenko in August 2014 and begin mapping the comet to determine the best landing site for the Philae lander in November 2014. This will be an amazing mission as we will get long term views and data of an active comet plus the first ever touchdown on a cometary nucleus. Philae will drill into the nucleus and give us composition data as well. That is impressive.

I will continue to follow each of these missions and share with you events as they happen. I can hardly wait.

Sky Guy in VA

Monday, January 13, 2014

223rd AAS Meeting Highlights-Part 2

Hey Space Placers!

Here's Part 2 to yesterday's blog on AAS highlights.

Supermassive Black Holes in Dwarf Galaxies
It was a bit of a surprise to learn that dwarf galaxies - galaxies that are much smaller than galaxies like our own Milky Way - harbor supermassive black holes. What was even more of a surprise is that no one had ever looked before to see if this was the case. The prevailing belief was that only big galaxies could have massive black holes at their center. A large sample review of dwarf galaxies found over 100 of them had black holes at their center. This definitely changes the landscape on black holes and galaxies. I look forward to more research findings.

Speaking of Dwarf Galaxies, Hubble Space Telescope (HST) Finds Ancient Dwarfs
HST has found the "Holy Grail" of ancient dwarf galaxies suspected to exist but never imaged, until now. In a deep (i.e. long exposure) photograph taken by HST in ultraviolet light 58 dwarf galaxies at a distance of over 10 billion light years were found thanks to a cosmic magnifying lens. Using a massive cluster of galaxies to act as a gravitational lens - a byproduct of general relativity wherein objects behind the gravitational lens can be seen due to the bending of background light by gravity caused by the mass of the cluster - these dwarfs were found. Long suspected as being 100 times more numerous than galaxies like our Milky Way Galaxy, but 100 times dimmer, they have been elusive to detection until now. These dwarf galaxies were imagined as they looked when the Universe was only 3.4 billion years old and undergoing an intense period of star formation. In addition, astronomers believe that these dwarf galaxies are only the tip of the cosmic iceberg because they are the bright ones and many more existed that were too dim to be seen. The most amazing finding to me is that these dwarf galaxies are thought to be responsible for the majority of stars born at that time in the Universe.

Exoplanets and Brown Dwarfs
There were many poster papers, presentations and press releases devoted to exoplanets - planets beyond our solar system - and brown dwarfs - failed stars that were too small to initiate nuclear fusion to become stars. I have followed both topics closely and covered a brown dwarf observing run in 2003 at the 200-inch Hale Telescope. My, how far we have come. The hope in 2003 was to directly image a brown dwarf, which has been done. Now, astronomers are detecting clouds in the atmosphere of brown dwarfs and getting an idea as to atmospheric conditions on these fascinating objects.

A really exciting development was the unveiling of a new and powerful camera designed to directly image exoplanets - the Gemini Planet Imager. The latest from NASA's planet hunting spacecraft, Kepler, was fascinating as well.

Weather on Other Worlds (WOW)
This was a fascinating subject at AAS as astronomers can now detect clouds and weather on brown dwarfs and some exoplanets. My good friend of many years, Dr. Stanimir Metchev, a principal investigator for WOW using the space-based NASA Spitzer Telescope, headed up an international team to study brown dwarfs. Their conclusion based on observations with Spitzer is that most, if not all brown dwarfs have clouds and storms. The research capability will only grow as larger telescopes and better imagers and techniques come on line which will mean even better data. A lot of people are working in this area and I expect we will see some amazing results in the coming years.

Last Thoughts
American astronomy is dealing with funding issues as is everybody else. But there are a number of large telescopes coming online in the future and international collaboration is the name of the game as evidenced in the authors of many of the papers and posters. There are over 7,000 professional members of AAS and about 50% of them are women which is a wonderful change from years gone by. Youth is also prevalent in the AAS, or at least for those who attended this AAS meeting - about 3,000 people. Many of them are social media connected and enthralled with what they are doing. I just hope the pipeline continues to be replenished by up and coming astronomy students.

Sky Guy in VA

Sunday, January 12, 2014

223rd AAS Meeting Highlights-Part 1

Hey Space Placers!

It was a wonderful week attending the 223rd American Astronomical Society (AAS) meeting held at the beautiful (it truly is) Gaylord Convention Center at National Harbor, MD - note Jupiter and Orion in the pic below of the Center.

It was impossible to attend all of the presentations and poster sessions as each day was chock full. The latest in astronomy through a never ending firehose of information, data, photographs and the people involved - what a delightful experience.

Rock Star
Attending the talk on Monday evening by Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson - truly the "rock star" of astronomy and heir apparent to Dr. Carl Sagan - was informative and entertaining. He discussed social media and astronomy/science and his personal experiences in the "Twitterverse". He has over 1.5 million followers which he claimed was "not bad for a scientist". He also mused that "I have power and I cannot abuse it" which is in reference to the following he commands in the social media world. He is truly an icon in popular culture - t-shirts, decals, pumpkin carvings, Comic Con appearances, TV, the 'net. He is the face and voice of the remake by Fox Network of the classic 1980 series "Cosmos" done by Carl Sagan. It is due to premier in March 2014. The meeting room was packed and a lot of the attendees were very young. Three professional female astronomers, two from my alma mater UCLA, decreed Neil has "Rock Star" status and is a good ambassador for astronomy. I'll have more on Cosmos as we get closer to the premier.

Dietary Supplement
The supermassive black hole (SBH) at the center of our Milky Way Galaxy was predicted to "come alive" in 2013 due to the very close passage of what is thought to be a gas cloud but it never did. Further refinement of observations of the very center of our galaxy and its SBH, called Sagittarius A*, or SgrA*, has determined that our SBH will get a "dietary supplement" of matter from a possible gas cloud called G2 in March 2014. G2 is starting to show shearing from the gravitational influence of SgrA* and it could cause "fireworks". When I asked the presenters what they meant by fireworks, they stated that SgrA* could come alive and active with the influx of matter from G2. SBH, or "regular" black holes cannot be seen unless they gravitational interaction with matter. Matter being eaten by the black hole will accelerate to incredible speeds and thereby extremely hot temperatures which can be seen by our ground and space based telescopes. Even matter that passes close by but not eaten will undergo some effects caused by the black hole which can be seen just as is happening with G2 now. I'll be following this story as it develops.

1% Measurement
How well do you know the size and scale of your home? Your neighborhood? Astronomers using very sophisticated techniques were able to measure the distance to galaxies 6 billion light years away - almost half the age of the Universe - to within 1% accuracy. That is an amazing accomplishment that allows the astronomers the ability to study the properties of dark energy - the component of the Universe that makes up over 70% of it and is unknown as to what it is.

Part 2 tomorrow.

Sky Guy in VA With His 100th Twitter Follower - a teacher

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Huh? Starting Fire with WATER?

Hey Space Placers!

You have to read this story that comes to us from research done on the International Space Station (ISS).

Astronauts have been able to make water start a fire in experiments aboard ISS. This would have profound applications here on Earth for helping to cut pollution.

More on AAS tomorrow.

Sky Guy in Rainy VA

Friday, January 10, 2014

"Tracking" Curiosity From Orbit and NASA JWST Social Selection

Hey Space Placers!

The AAS meeting is over and I have a lot to digest. I will be blogging on WOW and some other items that are truly incredible in the next couple of days.

Here is a neat look at Mars rover Curiosity from orbit in the meantime.

I also was just notified by NASA that I have been selected to attend a NASA Social Event on the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) to be held at Goddard Space Flight Center on January 22nd. I am so EXCITED about this as it will be an up close and personal visit to see JWST flight hardware, mirror segments and interview the scientists and engineers who are building Hubble Space Telescope's replacement.

I look forward to sharing with you all that I see and learn.

Sky Guy in VA is PUMPED UP about NASA JWST Social

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Obama Administration Extends ISS to at Least 2024

Hey Space Placers!

Great news. Yesterday the President has extended the lifetime of the International Space Station (ISS) to at least 2024. This is an extension of at least 4 years for ISS that will allow more crews and science to be done. This is being done as part of the international collaboration on ISS and is really a no-brainer because it would be near impossible to get something like ISS done today because of financial and political (probably) issues.

Read More About It.

Sky Guy at AAS Waiting to See Antares-Cygnus


Hey Space Placers!

NASA and Orbital Sciences Corporation are counting down to the scheduled launch today at 1:07 pm EST from NASA's Wallops Island Flight Facility of the Antares-Cygnus resupply mission to the ISS. The launch had been scrubbed from yesterday as a precaution due to the solar radiation storm caused by sunspot AR1944 - see my blog for yesterday for details on AR1944.

Although not as spectacular as a night launch, viewers in the DMV will be able to see the launch in certain areas:

We might be able to see Cygnus in orbit as it catches up to the ISS but viewing details will have to wait until launch and orbit.

Good luck!

Sky Guy in VA

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

UPDATE 1: Incoming CME From Sunspot AR1944

Hey Space Placers!


2014-01-08 12:30 UTC  G3 (Strong) Geomagnetic Storming Expected

SWPC Forecasters are anticipating G3 (Strong) Geomagnetic Storm conditions to occur on January 9 and 10.  The source of this disturbance is a fairly fast Earth-directed coronal mass ejection (CME) launched from centrally-located Region 1944 at 1832 UTC (1:32 p.m. EST) on January 7.  Full evaluation and modeling of this event has refined the forecast and indicates a fairly direct interaction with Earth, with the WSA-Enlil model putting arrival mid-morning UTC on January 9 (very early morning EST).  In addition, the S2 (Moderate) Solar Radiation Storm associated with this event is currently near, but below, the S3 (Strong) threshold, with values leveling off at this time.  At the Sun, Region 1944 remains well-placed and energetic.

The incoming CME has slowed down which means it will take longer to get here BUT the predicted geomagnetic storm has increased in intensity from G2 to G3 and the latitudes affected has dipped down another 5 degrees to 50 degrees N and poleward.

More updates as they come in.

Sky Guy at AAS


Giant Sunspot Group AR1944 lived up to expectations and blew its spot today at 1:32 pm EST producing a powerful X-class solar flare.

An incoming Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) is headed towards Earth.

Here is the latest Space Weather Alert for this event from NOAA NWS Space Weather Prediction Center:

2014-01-07 22:11 UTC  CME Impacts Expected January 9
SWPC Forecasters are anticipating G2 (Moderate) Geomagnetic Storm conditions to occur on January 9, followed by G1 (Minor) levels January 10. The source of this pulse is an Earth-directed CME launched from centrally-located Region 1944 at 1832 UTC (1:32 p.m. EST) today January 7. This forecast is pending the acquisition of some data as yet unavailable, and may be updated. In addition, the current S1 (Minor) Solar Radiation Storm is likely to linger for another 24 hours. At the Sun, Region 1944 remains well-placed and energetic. Watch here for more as conditions warrant.

I will update/Tweet as more information comes in.

Sky Guy at AAS.

(TEASER ALERT) WOW - Weather on Other Worlds (TEASER ALERT)

Hey Space Placers!

Astronomers now have the ability to detect clouds and the characteristics associated with them on brown dwarfs - or failed stars. I will be learning more about this in the next few days at AAS and will provide a more in depth blog on it.

I think you will be amazed by it all - I know I was.

Sky Guy at AAS

NASA's Reactivated NEOWISE Spacecraft Finds 1st Near Earth Asteroid

Hey Space Placers!

NASA's reactivated Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) spacecraft has discovered its first Near Earth Asteroid (NEO) since its reactivation in December 2013. NEO 2013 YP139 was discovered on December 29, 2013 and is pictured in the series of NASA photos below:

NEOWISE is a welcome addition to our planetary resources for searching and finding hazardous space rocks. NEOWISE is expected to discover hundreds of NEOs and will be discussed here at AAS on Thursday. 

I hope to have more for you then.

Sky Guy at AAS

Monday, January 6, 2014

1-7-14 NASA and and Smithsonian To Host 10th Anniversary Mars Rover Events

Hey Space Placers!

Tomorrow, 1/7/14, NASA and the Smithsonian invite the public and media to attend a commemoration of the 10 years spent on Mars by rovers Spirit and Opportunity. The event will be televised and carried on the Web.

NASA JPL will host its commemoration event on Thursday, 1/16/14.

Get more information here.

Sky Guy at AAS

223rd Meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) - 1st Impressions

Hey Space Placers!

I am here in the press room of the AAS and I wanted to share my impressions.

First, the National Harbor complex is stunning in its locale - along the Potomac River on the Maryland side - and its facilities. The Convention Center is huge and the surrounding hotels, restaurants and businesses is impressive.

Over 3,000 attendees from all over the astronomical community and world, literally, are here. The exhibits have on display the very latest in detectors, spacecraft, textbooks, telescopes, research organizations and of course, radio and optical observatories. NASA's booth has been one of the busiest in terms of foot traffic.

There are presentations ranging the whole spectrum of astronomy and there is what seems to be an acre of floor space for the poster papers. The researchers/authors are present to answer questions and discuss their research.

I will be attending press conferences and presentations which I will pass on.

Sky Guy in VA

Sunday, January 5, 2014


Hey Space Placers!

On a more down to Earth note, the American Astronomical Society (AAS) is having its 223rd meeting at National Harbor starting today and lasting until Thursday. Over 3,000 professional astronomers are expected to attend.

The public is invited to attend daily special sessions on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday that feature professional astronomers speaking about current topics. A star party is scheduled for Tuesday night at Gaylord pier from 7:30-10:30 pm EST. I spoke with AAS today and if it is clear the “show” will go on even with the bitter cold - just BUNDLE UP. You can get the latest updates at the AAS Facebook page.

There will be a number of press briefings and major astronomical news announcements during this meeting. I will be attending sessions and look forward to reporting back to  readers on my experiences and what I learn.

Sky Guy in VA

Sky Guy Viewing ALERT 1-5-14 Jupiter at Opposition

Hey Space Placers!

Here in the DMV we are enjoying freezing rain while awaiting the dreaded "polar vortex" to bring us record setting low temps I am sure on Monday night-Tuesday morning.

In the meantime the solar system continues to move and Jupiter is at opposition today, or directly opposite the Sun at 4 pm EST. The brightest object in the night sky besides the Moon, the "King of the Planets" will rise in the East at sunset and be visible all night. Jupiter will dominate the night sky for months to come.

G. Redfern 12-24-13
Jupiter is also at its closest approach to the Earth for 2014 (closest was 1-4-14 at 391 million miles) and will be a prime viewing target in telescope and binoculars. In good binoculars you can see the four main moons of Jupiter discovered by Galileo. Galileo first observed these moons on January 7, 1610 and he noticed that they moved over a period of time. 

You can tune in to watch Jupiter live today on the SLOOH network at 3 pm EST.

If you are in the DMV, stay safe in the dangerous temps.

Sky Guy in VA

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Earthshine 1-4-14

Hey Space Placers!


Sunspot Group AR1944 1/4/14

Hey Space Placers!

Enjoy white light pic of Sunspot Group AR1944. It is complex and could cause some outbursts on the Sun :


More pics later…..

Sky Guy in COLD VA

Friday, January 3, 2014

1st Asteroid of 2014 Hits Earth

Hey Space Placers!

This is my 1,000th post and I think it is appropriate that it would be about an asteroid, 2014 AA, the very first one discovered for the new year. I'm writing this as I listen to hoping to hear the Quadrantids peak which is predicted for 3 p.m. EST today (1-3-14) - see my previous blog.

2014 AA was discovered on January 1, 2014 (Universal Time, 12/31/13 local time) by the Catalina Sky Survey and was determined to be only 3-4 meters across. The initial orbital determination indicated with a virtual certainty that 2014 AA would impact the Earth, sometime on the 1st or 2nd.

No visual evidence has been reported of the impact but analysis of infrasound waves from the global network by Dr. Peter Brown, indicates that the asteroid hit the atmosphere on January 2nd (0230 Universal Time) and very likely was destroyed. His analysis indicates a release of 500-1000 tons of TNT energy - a respectable amount of energy for something the size of a car.

Peter Brown via Sky and
From discovery to impact was a scant 22-hours. And this is the second asteroid in history to be discovered before impacting Earth. 2008 TC3 did the same thing in 2008 but pieces of it survived and over 600 meteorites were recovered.

We'll see what other asteroid events 2014 brings us.

Sky Guy in Cold and Clear VA

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Preview of 2014 Skies

Hey Space Placers!

Tune in to hear a preview of 2014 skies.

I will have blogs covering these events so you can see them yourself.

Sky Guy in VA

UPDATED Sky Guy Viewing ALERT - Quadrantids Meteor Shower 1-2/3 and Venus-Moon

Hey Space Placers!

Updated: Correction - peak is on the 3rd, not the 2nd. Sorry for the confusion.

Although the DMV will be clouded out tonight and perhaps part of tomorrow morning, NASA will be carrying a Livestream of the Quadrantids meteor shower starting at 6 p.m. EST on 1-2-14. You can also try to tune in on radar to listen to the shower during the peak which is predicted for 3 p.m. EST on 1-3-14.

For my worldwide followers who may be able to see the first main meteor shower of 2014 tonight and tomorrow morning, here are some details to help you.

Comet of Origin: 2003 EH1 
Radiant: constellation Bootes
Active: Dec. 28, 2013-Jan.12, 2014
Peak Activity: Jan. 2-3, 2014
Peak Activity Meteor Count: 80 meteors per hour
Meteor Velocity: 25.5 miles (41 kilometers) per second
Notes: The thin crescent moon will set at dusk, providing moon-free darkness ideal for meteor watching. Note: This shower has a very sharp peak, usually only lasting a few hours, and is often obscured by winter weather. The greatest numbers of meteors are expected in the early morning hours before dawn.

QuadrantidsActive from January 1st to 10th 2014

The Quadrantids have the potential to be the strongest shower of the year but usually fall short due to the short length of maximum activity (6 hours) and the poor weather experienced during early January. The average hourly rates one can expect under dark skies is 25. These meteors usually lack persistent trains but often produce bright fireballs. Due to the high northerly declination (celestial latitude) these meteors are not well seen from the southern hemisphere.
Radiant: 15:18 +49.5° - ZHR: - Velocity: 26 miles/sec (medium - 42.2km/sec) - Parent Object: 2003 EH (Asteroid)
ShowerActivity PeriodMaximumRadiantVelocityrMax.TimeMoon
Quadrantids (QUA)Jan 01-Jan 10Jan 03283.16°15:18+49.5°42.22.1120050002

Read More About It Here .

The thin crescent Moon and Venus will be visible in the SW sky right after sunset tonight

Clear Skies and good luck.

Sky Guy in Cloudy VA

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

M33 On 1-1-14

Hey Space Placers!

Keep trying to improve.

Never ceases to amaze me how we can collect photons in a telescope and an ordinary camera and see galaxies…..

Sky Guy in VA

Venus 1-1-13

Hey Space Placers!

Venus at 3% illumination and only 15 degrees from the SUn. Tough to photograph because of atmospheric turbulence. Going to keep trying each day but weather is going to move in on Thursday and Friday.

Sky Guy in VA


Wishing all of you a safe, peaceful and WONDERFUL 2014!

Thank you for following my blog.

Sky Guy in 2014