Saturday, March 28, 2015

Headed Back to Sea

Hey Space Placers!

I am enroute to join Holland America's Statendam for a 16-day cruise from Lima, Peru to San Diego, CA.

This is a bit of a nostalgic trip as I gave my first cruise lectures on Statendam 17 years ago during the 2/98 total solar eclipse in the southern Caribbean with Sky & Telescope and a number of other Scientific Expeditions lecturers that are now friends, including WTTG Fox 5's Sue Palka. She and her cameraman Joe caught the eclipse on wet film (no digital) and got it off the ship in time for the 10 o'clock news in DC.

HAL Statendam
Image courtesy of
I hope to see the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds which are the largest dwarf galaxies to our Milky Way Galaxy - this is on my bucket list to do so. I also hope to see and photograph as well the Southern Cross and the incredible southern Milky Way.

As usual I can't say how well the Internet will hold up but I will try to post each day to share the sky and hopefully pics with you.

Sky Guy not in VA

Friday, March 27, 2015

Pushing the Human Frontier to the Final Frontier

Hey Space Placers!

WOW! They - Scott Kelly, Mikhail Kornienko and Gennady Padalka - are in orbit after a flawless launch from night time Russia at 3:42 p.m. EDT, March 27, 2015.

Their Russian made rocket and Soyuz spacecraft performed perfectly to get the trio into space and begin the six-hour chase to rendezvous and dock with the International Space Station which currently has three crew members aboard.  WTOP Radio spoke live with Astronauts Terry Virts and Samantha Cristoferetti two weeks ago.

Off to Work
Both Scott and Mikhail (Misha) are beginning their epic 'One Year In Space' Mission that will provide medical data on two humans' long term exposure to space. This acquisition of medical data is pivotal to identifying medical issues for humans on a projected 500 day mission to Mars and ways to overcome them. I have always said that is is really human issues, not technical issues, that will make getting humans to Mars so difficult.

As an added medical data bonus Scott has an identical twin brother, Mark Kelly, who is a retired NASA astronaut. Comparison of medical data from Scott to Mark during the course of the one year mission will provide a unique opportunity in the history of manned spaceflight as I do not think such comparisons have ever been done before.

This mission also shows how space exploration brings out the best in us as Russia and America, who certainly are having Earth-bound issues - are still cooperating in the exploration of the Final Frontier. In order to survive and flourish humanity has to follow this model of international cooperation and expound on it. Failure to do so puts us at grave risk for humanity's collective future.

You can follow the mission here.

Sky Guy in VA

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Mars Updates - Part 2

Hey Space Placers!

I actually have TWO items to add to this update from my 3/24/15 blog.

One is that Mars Rover Opportunity just finished the 1st ever MARATHON on Mars as stated by NASA, "by driving  26.219 miles (42.195 kilometers) -- with a finish time of roughly 11 years and two months." 

A Red Planet Record that will last for some time as NASA's other Rover Curiosity has a LONG way to go in terms of time and distance to meet and beat Oppie's record.

Meanwhile in orbit around Mars NASA's newest mission to the Red Planet, the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft,  as stated by NASA, " has observed two unexpected phenomena in the Martian atmosphere: an unexplained high-altitude dust cloud and aurora that reaches deep into the Martian atmosphere".

Artist's Conception of Mars Aurora
These discoveries only further heighten scientists' interest in the Red Planet's atmosphere.

One thing is for sure, Mars will continue to amaze and surprise us.

Sky Guy in VA

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Interesting Find on Mars & Other Red Planet Updates

Hey Space Placers!

NASA's Curiosity rover has made a very interesting find on the Red Planet.
Curiosity Selfie
Using its onboard sample laboratory Curiosity has detected Nitrogen which is a biologically useful element for life as we know it. The discovery was made after a sample was heated up and analyzed. 

This is further evidence that the location where Curiosity has been exploring, Gale Crater, was habitable for life in the distant past. There is no evidence to support that this Nitrogen was caused by biological processes currently ongoing at Mars as the planet is deemed inhospitable for life.

But we know that Mars in its ancient past had loads of water - in fact new research just published states that there was enough water on the planet 4 billion years ago to cover all land to a depth of 140 meters! It is more probable that there was an ocean that held the majority of the water and some depths could have reached 1.6 km.

ESO/M. Kornmesser/N. Risinger (
And NASA's other operating Rover, 11-year old Opportunity, just had its memory reformatted to help keep the science coming. Pretty amazing that a rover with a projected lifespan of 90 days on the Red Plane is still going strong 11 years later! Opporunity's sister rover, Spirit, ceased operations a few years ago when it got stuck and could not get solar power to stay alive.

Here is a recent photo taken by Opportunity of Marathon Valley:

I'll have one more update tomorrow on Mars. Such an interesting planet!!

Sky Guy in VA

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Twins & A Year in Space

Hey Space Placers!

We had a wonderful audience of 80-90 at the Peaks of Otter last night listening to my talk on "The Future of U.S. Manned Spaceflight." The sky was so-so but clear enough for us to go outside and see the brighter stars. The tree frogs were LOUD (wonderful!!!) and a lone owl Hoo-Hooed for a magical time.

Next Friday a new 3 person crew will be sent to the International Space Station (ISS) with two of them earmarked to spend a full year on board instead of the usual six months. American Astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian Cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko will provide crucial data with their bodies about what happens to humans in long duration exposure to spaceflight. This will help fill in gaps in our knowledge that will be necessary for making manned flights deep into space.

An added bonus to this knowledge to be gained by this mission is the fact that Scott Kelly has an identical twin, Mark Kelly, that is a retired NASAAstronaut. The ability to compare what happens to Scott's body to his Earth-bound brother 's body will really provide valuable medical and scientific data that would not be available otherwise. I do believe that this identical twin comparison is the first to be done as related to spaceflight. Such studies have been common in medical studies.

To get to Mars and other deep solar system destinations is as much of a challenge, if not more really, from a human perspective as well as a technical one. You have to keep astronauts healthy during their mission as well as the rest of their lives. Radiation exposure, the effects of long term zero-g, and psychological factors are just a few that come to mind.

The On Year-Twin Comparison Mission will go a long way in helping humanity prepare for and complete long term solar system missions.

Sky Guy in VA

Friday, March 20, 2015

Help Name Features on Pluto

Hey Space Placers!

Been watching March Madness and my UCLA Bruins and UVA Cavaliers ARE IN!

New Horizons Pluto System Flyby
The New Horizons Mission to Pluto Team needs your help in coming up with names for features they are GOING TO FIND when they flyby Pluto and its moons in the coming months. The Team wants to have a library of names to draw from because the features are going to come fast and furious, especially at closest approach on July 14, 2015.

Get all the information here  and vote for your favorites by April 7, 2015.

Sky Guy in VA

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Sky Guy INTERNET ALERT 3/20/15 Arctic Total Solar Eclipse

Hey Space Placers!

There will be a total solar eclipse on 3/20/15 for viewers in the Arctic and Northern Europe locations. It is not visible from the U.S.

Sky & Telescope illustration; source: Fred Espenak
Details about the eclipse are here:

Internet viewers can watch the eclipse live starting at 4:30 a.m. EDT.

Sky Guy in VA

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Celebrate 50 Years of Spacewalks

Hey Space Placers!

Today, 3/18/2015, marks the 50th anniversary of the first walk in space. This daring feat was accomplished by USSR Cosmonaut Alexi Leonov.

Take a wonderful photographic tour  to see how far we have come.

Astronaut Selfie

By the way I never did see the Aurora get down to VA or any other state in the mid latitudes. But it was fun looking and following NOAA & Tweeting live.

Sky Guy in VA

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Sky Guy Viewing ALERT Night of 3/17-18/15 - Aurora May Be Visible

Hey Space Placers!

The Earth was hit by a major solar storm today  that has made Aurora, the glowing Northern Lights, visible in many Northern Hemisphere locations including Europe, the U.S. and the International Space Station (ISS).

Aurora from ISS 3/17/15
Astronaut Terry Virts
Check here to see if the Aurora will be visible tonight from your location.

Take your camera out and try to get some time exposures from a tripod. I last saw Aurora in VA (and photographed them) in 2003.

Let me know if you see any.

Sky Guy in Hopefully Clear VA

Monday, March 16, 2015

"Philae, Can You Hear Me?"

Hey Space Placers!

I have had several blogs on the Rosetta Mission and its Philae Lander that touched down on Comet 67P but landed in a shady spot. Phil had to shut down due to lack of power from its solar cells.

Comet 67P is getting closer to the Sun and the angles of sunlight are changing on the comet so Philae might wake up if she gets enough solar power to charge her batteries.

Rosetta is trying to make contact with Philae and will continue to do so.

Tune in to this wonderful video that gives background on Rosetta and Philae.

I sure hope Philae wakes up as I got attached to that daring little spacecraft that could.

Sky Guy in VA

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Peach Cobbler, Uber & ISS

Hey Space Placers!

On Friday, March 13, 2015 WTOP anchors Debra Feinstein and Mark Lewis did a LIVE 10-minute interview with NASA Astronaut Terry Virts and European Space Agency (ESA) Astronaut Samantha (Sam) Cristoforetti aboard the International Space Station (ISS)

Debra & Mark Talking LIVE to Terry and Sam
Greg Redfern
WTOP had set up a live blog page in advance so that our audience could send in their questions to ask Terry and Sam. The response was gratifying especially with the number of students from kindergarten and up that sent in wonderful questions. Several of the students’ questions were asked and then answered by Terry and Sam, all to the thrill I am sure, of classrooms in the DMV. 

I was fortunate to be in the ‘Glass Enclosed Nerve Center’ with Debra and Mark while they did the interview and watched Terry and Sam on NASA TV. The clarity of the reception during the interview was amazing - it was better than a cell phone or landline - especially when you consider where the ISS is located!

WTOP is a 24x7x365 all news organization staffed by seasoned professionals that research, write, broadcast and report all of the news on air and on line. It is a busy place. But for 10 minutes, 10:20 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., the newsroom got quiet and all eyes were on TV monitors and computer screens watching Terry and Sam floating aboard ISS while they talked with Debra and Mark. 

The wonder of it all, from the technology that put ISS and the astronauts in space to the ability to talk LIVE with them, was not lost on me. But the real discovery is what I saw on the faces of my colleagues, the response from our listeners/readers/students and what followed.

To put it simply, people are fascinated by space. The WTOP staff looked on with smiles and I must say a bit of wonderment at what they were seeing and hearing. The follow on emails I have received from teachers and Twitter followers reinforced this. Teachers set aside time during their busy class day to listen in; they are going to share the event with parents; and their students want to learn more about space and the Universe they live in. 

While having lunch afterwards at Cafe Deluxe in D.C. the General Manager asked me how my meal was (it was excellent as always) but then saw my WTOP hat. The conversation got around to the ISS interview and she was ecstatic. She had heard it and loved every word. I showed her pictures of the event to her delight and gave her my contact card. Well, next thing I know I was the recipient of an amazing house desert specialty, Peach Cobbler with TWO scoops of vanilla ice cream - yum yum. I also gained a new Twitter Follower as a result.

The allure of space transcends earthly activities such as taking Uber in the District. My first ever ride in Uber found me talking about space with my driver who saw my WTOP hat and had heard the ISS interview. He too gushed with excitement about hearing it while driving in D.C. traffic. He was thrilled to see the pictures taken during the event and said he hoped more would come.

These experiences add to what I already know - people get excited and care about space. In my lectures about astronomy and space that I conduct at sea, Shenandoah National Park and at other venues, people from around the world listen and ask great questions. Invariably they always want to learn more and they want a robust space effort. 

We will see great things in 2015 as we explore a comet, two dwarf planets and probe matter itself. New rockets and spaceships are being built by governments and commercial businesses to take us to the Moon, asteroids and one day, Mars. My hope is that our ISS interview sparked the interest of a student, teacher, parent, voter, tax payer that will carry through to making space part of their lives.

You can follow ISS, Terry and Sam on Twitter as I do. Terry and Sam have Tweeted gorgeous and stunning pictures from ISS. By the way, you can actually see ISS fly over your location by subscribing to Spot The Station. It is a beautiful sight, especially when you realize you are looking at a million pounds of space hardware and six humans 250 miles up traveling at 17,500 miles per hour!

Wave as ISS flies over and thank the current and past crews for all they have done on our behalf. Then turn to the stars as ISS fades and say hello to our species’ destiny.

Sky Guy in Clear and Windy VA

Saturday, March 14, 2015

ICYMI - LIVE ISS Interview With WTOP 3-13-15

Hey Space Placers!

I'll be writing a more in depth column on the wonderful experiences I had regarding the LIVE Interview of astronauts Terry Virts and Samantha (Sam) Cristoferetti aboard the International Space Station (ISS) - see my 3-13-15 blog for background.

But in case you missed it here is the 10 minute segment. It is worth a listen.

Sky Guy in Clearing VA

Friday, March 13, 2015

SKYGUY INTERNET ALERT Listen to The ISS LIVE Today at 10:20 am

Hey Space Placers!

March 13, WTOP will be carrying a LIVE 10-minute interview at 10:20 am EDT with two astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS). WTOP will be talking live with NASA Astronaut Terry Virts and European Space Agency (ESA) Astronaut Samantha (Sam) Cristoforetti

Listen Live today:

You can follow ISS, Terry and Sam on Twitter as I do. Terry and Sam have Tweeted gorgeous and stunning pictures from ISS. By the way, you can actually see ISS fly over your location by subscribing to Spot The Station. It is a beautiful sight, especially when you realize you are looking at a million pounds of space hardware and six humans 250 miles up traveling at 17,500 miles per hour!

Sky Guy at WTOP Today

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

INTERNET VIEWING ALERT - Let's Light This Candle - 3/11/15 11:00 a.m. EDT

Hey Space Placers!

Tomorrow (3/11/15) at 11:00 a.m. EDT you will want to tune in to NASA TV to watch the live test firing of NASA's newest Solid Rocket Booster (SRB). The test, QM-1, will last two minutes and be a full up firing of the new and improved and more powerful SRB that will be used to launch NASA's Space Launch System (SLS).

Image Credit: Orbital ATK
As Al Shepard said, "Let's Light This Candle!" This will be something to hear and see as 3.6 MILLION pounds of thrust blast into the Utah desert.

Sky Guy in VA - Home of Orbital ATK

Monday, March 9, 2015

HST 25th Anniversary Events-VOTE For Your FAVE HST Photos

Hey Space Placers!

FINALLY I think winter has gasped its last cold breath for us on the US East Coast. I am hoping skies will clear so I can get the telescope and camera out.

In the meantime NASA is holding celebrations this month leading up to the 25th anniversary (hard to believe it's been that long) of the launching of Hubble Space Telescope (HST). Yes, HST turns 25 next month and is still going strong. It is not known how long HST will continue to operate but it is a good bet that NASA and its partners will keep the space telescope going as long as they can before they have to deorbit HST for safety.

Check out this listing of events from NASA. There will be more next month.

Be sure to vote for your favorite HST photo! You have until April 6th. This fun event mimics March Madness in NCAA Basketball by having brackets and HST photos in "playoffs" against each other - brilliant idea.

Sky Guy Waiting For Clear Skies in VA

Friday, March 6, 2015

UPDATED: History Is Made At Ceres!

Hey Space Placers!


The late Leonard Nimoy, "Mr. Spock", narrated a neat video about the Dawn mission in 2007. It explains what the mission would do and how the ion propulsion engine works.

Robert Mase, right, project manager for the Dawn mission at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, speaks at news conference, with Carol Raymond, deputy project scientist at JPL, left, at JPL in Pasadena on Monday, March 2, 2015. NASA’s Dawn spacecraft is scheduled to slip into orbit around the dwarf planet Ceres on Friday, the last stop in a nearly eight-year journey. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)

Read all about today's historic arrival at dwarf planet Ceres. I'll be following these and other missions and sharing with you.

Sky Guy in VA

Thursday, March 5, 2015

ISS Helps In Fight Against Alzheimer's

Hey Space Placers!

The International Space Station (ISS) does a lot of research in a variety of fields including medicine. One of the biggest medical issues facing humanity is dreaded Alzheimer's which gradually robs a person of their mind and their very self. In the U.S. a new diagnosis is made every 67 seconds!

Research is currently being conducted aboard ISS that will help to determine the origins of the disease which may ultimately help researchers find a cure or way to combat the disease.

Sky Guy in Snow Covered & Soon to be SINGLE DIGIT TEMPS VA

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Curiosity on Mars Has Short Circuit

Hey Space Placers!

NASA's premier on Mars science lab/rover Curiosity is undergoing diagnostic tests following a transient short circuit on February 27, 2015.

This raw-color view from Curiosity's Mastcam shows the rover's drill just after finishing a drilling operation at "Telegraph Peak" on Feb. 24, 2015. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
As a result the rover will remain stationary while these tests are done to see what caused the event and what the fix may be. The rover is not in any immediate distress.

Curiosity has been on Mars for over a year and is in the Gale Crater making her way along the slopes of Mount Sharp.

I'll let you know further developments.

Sky Guy in Soon To Be Snow Covered (AGAIN) VA

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

See Rosetta's SHADOW on Comet 67P

Hey Space Placers!

Been awhile since I posted anything on the amazing Rosetta mission, so check this out:

That rectangular black shape you see at the bottom of this pic is of the Rosetta SPACECRAFT. I really can't recall another mission where the spacecraft's shadow was recorded on the surface of the celestial body it was orbiting.

This remarkable pic shows the surface of Comet 67P as it appeared on Valentine's Day 2015.

Rosetta will be orbiting the comet while it gets closer and closer to the Sun. What a ring side seat we are going to have!


Sunday, March 1, 2015

RIP Mr. Nimoy-Live Long And Prosper Mr. Spock

Hey Space Placers!

I am a Trekkie dating back to the original 3-season TV show 'Star Trek' that aired on NBC 1966-69, I THINK on Monday nights. I NEVER missed an episode. It was such a groundbreaking series that was created by a former Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) patrolman named Gene Roddenberry.

As a street officer in LA I am sure he saw plenty to give him reason to envision a better world for humanity and Star Trek was the result I believe of those images.  Star Trek dealt with racism, interracial mixing of the sexes - the 1st EVER kiss of a white man (Capt. Kirk) and black woman (Uhura) on TV took place on Star Trek, poverty, communism vs democracy, the cold war, space-time and a host of other themes. I can honestly say I never saw a bad episode and each caused me pause to think and ponder.

In 1966 I was in full astronomy mode to follow in 1968 with telescope and camera. NASA was in full swing to get to the Moon and astronauts were flying Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions while Star Trek was on the air. There were other GREAT science fiction series on TV during this time too: 'Outer Limits', 'Twilight Zone' and 'The Invaders'. This was an incredible time to be a sic-fi and space lover.

The most iconic Star Trek character that will endure as long as humanity has a memory, is Mr. Spock, played so fully and completely by Leonard Nimoy. His was the most difficult role on the show (including make-up) as he played an alien-human mix that had to contend with emotional humans when he himself sought to suppress his emotions and live by logic alone. Boy, was there some great writing and episodes about that conflict.

Mr. Nimoy passed away into eternity on 2/27/15 at the age of 83. The Internet came alive with his passing and did not reach the levels of the 'llamadrama' and 'whatcoloristhedress' but it did trend and he received just due and respect. He was able to have a last Tweet posted on his official Twitter account which was touching and led to the #LLAP - 'Live Long and Prosper' Twitter hashtag based upon Spock's icon greeting.

Another icon was created by Astronaut Terry Virts' tribute to Mr. Nimoy which was taken aboard the International Space Station (ISS) while she flew over Boston, MA, Mr. Nimoy's birthplace.

A lot of tributes from NASA, including astronauts, were sent out via Twitter thanking Mr. Nimoy for his role as Mr. Spock. They cited how he and Star Trek caught their imagination and kindled their desire to explore "Space, the final frontier…." which was used in the opening monologue of each Star Trek episode and is known to all Trekkies.

Three of the actors for the main characters of the original Star Trek series - Scotty/James Doohan, Bones/DeForrest Kelly, and now Mr. Spock/Leonard Nimoy - are gone. Only Captain Kirk/William Shatner remains. Several other Star Trek actors remain but these 4 were the core of every episode and Star Trek movies 1-6.

Live Long and Prosper Mr. Spock, and thank you Mr. Nimoy for bringing him to life.

Sky Guy in VA