Saturday, October 31, 2015

Happy Spookyween

Hey Space Placers!

Here's my write up on WTOP  on now dead comet 2015 TB145.

These are the pics I took EARLY this am

Tune in to at 12:30 pm EDT today for a live view.

Sky Guy in VA

Friday, October 30, 2015

1st Enceladus Flyby Pics Are In

Hey Space Placers!

My last blog gave you the scoop on Cassini's deepest flyby through the plumes of Enceladus.

Here is the unprocessed pic of the plumes and the other unprocessed pics. These will get better as they are processed and there will be more as well as data in the coming weeks.

This unprocessed view of Saturn's moon Enceladus was acquired by NASA's Cassini spacecraft during a close flyby of the icy moon on Oct. 28, 2015.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Unprocessed view of Saturn's moon Enceladus
This unprocessed view of Saturn's moon Enceladus was acquired by NASA's Cassini spacecraft during a close flyby of the icy moon on Oct. 28, 2015.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
Unprocessed view of Saturn's moon Enceladus
This unprocessed view of Saturn's moon Enceladus was acquired by NASA's Cassini spacecraft during a close flyby of the icy moon on Oct. 28, 2015.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
Unprocessed view of Saturn's moon Enceladus
This unprocessed view of Saturn's moon Enceladus was acquired by NASA's Cassini spacecraft during a close flyby of the icy moon on Oct. 28, 2015.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
Unprocessed view of Saturn's moon Enceladus
This unprocessed view of Saturn's moon Enceladus was acquired by NASA's Cassini spacecraft during a close flyby of the icy moon on Oct. 28, 2015.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Sky Guy in VA

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Historic Flyby Through the Plumes of Enceladus

Hey Space Placers!

Ever seen “Old Faithful” or other smaller geysers erupt at beautiful Yellowstone National Park     ? It is quite the sight. Located on a small, ice covered moon around the ringed planet Saturn there is a continuous eruption of huge Yellowstone-like geysers that an intrepid spacecraft will fly through at very close range to further discern their secrets.

On Wednesday morning the Cassini spacecraft    that has been exploring the Saturn system for over 11 years will perform its 21st flyby    of Enceladus, the amazing ice covered moon with a global sub-surface ocean. This daring flyby will be only 30 miles above the South Pole of Enceladus    and it will be the deepest penetration ever of the fascinating plumes that are located there. Closest approach will be at 11:22 a.m.EDT.

The plumes of Enceladus, originally called fountains,  were discovered      in November 2005 and have been flown through before but at a higher altitude. These earlier flybys showed that the plumes are made up of ice, water vapor and organic molecules and occur continuously only at the South Pole of Enceladus. This deeper plume penetration will allow for the best sampling ever of the particles and complex chemistry contained within.

This artist's rendering showing a cutaway view into the interior of Saturn's moon Enceladus. NASA's Cassini spacecraft discovered the moon has a global ocean and likely hydrothermal activity. A plume of ice particles, water vapor and organic molecules sprays from fractures in the moon's south polar region. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The plumes are believed to be caused by “Yellowstone” like eruptions that originate from the global ocean and hydrothermal heat concentrated at the South Pole. The plumes might be erupting from the “Tiger Stripes” of Enceladus - fractures in the surface ice. The makeup and structure of the plumes is one of the key science objectives of this flyby    .

During a teleconference held on Monday , scientists stated that traveling at over 19,000 miles per hour Cassini will spend only a few tenths of a second flying through the plumes. But its instruments have been prepped and tuned specifically for this encounter and are expected to gather data that will help answer a number of questions including “is the Enceladus ocean habitable for simple life?”. The spacecraft can detect complex organic molecules but can’t determine if they are biological in nature.

Cassini will gather data and take pictures inbound and outbound of Enceladus. The North Pole is visible for the first time ever while the South Pole will be illuminated only by the light of Saturn itself. I asked Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), “How bright will the South Pole be during the flyby?”. She responded that, “It will be much, much less than our own Full Moon. Enceladus is very bright and we have done this before.” Dr. Spilker stated that the Cassini science team is “excited and awaiting results”.

Cassini will be flying by so fast that it must take “smeared” pictures which software should be able to convert to regular view. By late afternoon Wednesday the spacecraft is expected to do a call back followed by transmission of data and pictures. It will take a week to process the initial results followed by weeks and months of analysis but we may see the first pictures by late Thursday or Friday morning.

This pioneering close flyby is our first step in exploring other oceans in our solar system. Sniffing, probing and photographing the plumes of Enceladus will reveal much about its hidden global ocean. In turn this may give us another  place in addition to Mars to look for life. Jupiter’s moon Europa   also has a global liquid ocean and is a target for future exploration. The science and lessons learned by Cassini will go a long way in preparing for future exploration of Europa and Enceladus.

Cassini, described by the scientists during the teleconference as “a perfect mission” has two years left. It will flyby Enceladus one more time in December   , take high resolution pictures of the F-ring of Saturn, fly close to tiny ring moons and in April 2017 hop across the entire ring system to fly in between a gap in the rings - wow.

At its end Cassini will do a death plunge into the atmosphere of Saturn and will have written THE book on the ringed planet and its moons.

I’ll have updates on the flyby and Cassini as they become available.

Sky Guy in VA

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Sky Guy Viewing ALERT Predawn 10/26 Jupiter & Venus Meet

Hey Space Placers!

Predawn on 10/26 Venus and Jupiter are going to be very close - a little over two Moon-widths.

Go outside an hour or more before dawn to see Venus (brightest) near Jupiter with Mars just below both.

If you have a clear view of the horizon Mercury might be visible just before it gets light.

Sky Guy in Cloudy VA

Friday, October 23, 2015

New Horizons Spacecraft On Its Way To New Mission

Hey Space Placers!

NASA's New Horizons spacecraft that completed its historic flyby of Pluto last July, is on its way to a billion mile voyage to a new mission - to explore for the first time ever a Kuiper Belt Object (KBO).

Artist's Concept of a KBO & New Horizons Flyby
Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute/Steve Gribben
From the 10/22/15 news release:

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has carried out the first in a series of four initial targeting maneuvers designed to send it toward 2014 MU69 -- a small Kuiper Belt object about a billion miles beyond Pluto, which the spacecraft historically explored in July.

The maneuver, which started at approximately 1:50 p.m. EDT on Oct. 22, used two of the spacecraft’s small hydrazine-fueled thrusters, lasted approximately 16 minutes and changed the spacecraft’s trajectory by about 10 meters per second. Spacecraft operators at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, began receiving data through NASA’s Deep Space Network at approximately 8:30 p.m. EDT that indicated a successful maneuver.

All told, the four maneuvers will change New Horizons’ trajectory by approximately 57 meters per second, nudging it toward a prospective close encounter with MU69 on Jan. 1, 2019. That flyby would be part of an extended mission that NASA still must approve; the New Horizons team will submit a formal proposal to NASA for that mission in early 2016.

The remaining three KBO targeting maneuvers are scheduled for Oct. 25, Oct. 28 and Nov. 4.

New Horizons is approximately 74 million miles (119 million kilometers) beyond Pluto and 3.16 billion miles (5.08 billion kilometers) from Earth. The spacecraft is healthy and continues to return data stored on its digital recorders from its flight through the Pluto system on July 14, 2015.
KBOs are a class of solar system objects that reside beyond Neptune and contains dwarf planets like Pluto. This is a totally unexplored by spacecraft region in our solar system. New Horizons flyby of 2014 MU69 will be another historic first in the exploration of our solar system.

Sky Guy in VA

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Sky Guy Viewing ALERT NIGHT OF 10/21-10/22 Orionid Meteor Shower

Hey Space Placers!

Tonight is the predicted peak of the Orionid Meteor Shower. The best time to look for these bits of Comet Halley debris hitting our atmosphere is after midnight, especially in the hours before dawn. The Orionids are expected to produce about 20 meteors and hour.

Viewing tips are here and NASA will be live to follow the Orionids at 10 pm EDT.

Here's to clear skies!

Sky Guy in VA

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

New NASA Web Site Provides Daily Views of Earth

Hey Space Placers!

NASA has a new web site that will have daily pics of our Earth taken from a point 1 million miles distant.

Here's NASA's press release:

NASA launched a new website Monday so the world can see images of the full, sunlit side of the Earth every day. The images are taken by a NASA camera one million miles away on the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR), a partnership between NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Air Force.
Once a day NASA will post at least a dozen new color images of Earth acquired from 12 to 36 hours earlier by NASA’s Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC). Each daily sequence of images will show the Earth as it rotates, thus revealing the whole globe over the course of a day. The new website also features an archive of EPIC images searchable by date and continent.
The primary objective of NOAA’s DSCOVR mission is to maintain the nation’s real-time solar wind monitoring capabilities, which are critical to the accuracy and lead time of space weather alerts and forecasts from NOAA. NASA has two Earth-observing instruments on the spacecraft. EPIC's images of Earth allow scientists to study daily variations over the entire globe in such features as vegetation, ozone, aerosols, and cloud height and reflectivity.
EPIC is a four megapixel CCD camera and telescope. The color Earth images are created by combining three separate single-color images to create a photographic-quality image equivalent to a 12-megapixel camera. The camera takes a series of 10 images using different narrowband filters -- from ultraviolet to near infrared -- to produce a variety of science products. The red, green and blue channel images are used to create the color images. Each image is about 3 megabytes in size.
"The effective resolution of the DSCOVR EPIC camera is somewhere between 6.2 and 9.4 miles (10 and 15 kilometers)," said Adam Szabo, DSCOVR project scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland.
Since Earth is extremely bright in the darkness of space, EPIC has to take very short exposure images (20-100 milliseconds). The much fainter stars are not visible in the background as a result of the short exposure times.
The DSCOVR spacecraft orbits around the L1 Lagrange point directly between Earth and the sun. This orbit keeps the spacecraft near the L1 point and requires only occasional small maneuvers, but its orbit can vary from 4 to 15 degrees away from the sun-Earth line over several years.
EPIC was built by Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Technology Center, in Palo Alto, California. Using an 11.8-inch (30-centimeter) telescope and 2048 x 2048 CCD detector, EPIC measures in the ultraviolet, visible and near-infrared areas of the spectrum. The data from all 10 wavelengths are posted through a website hosted by the Atmospheric Science Data Center at NASA's Langley Research Center, Hampton, Virginia. All images are in the public domain.
NASA uses the vantage point of space to increase our understanding of our home planet, improve lives, and safeguard our future. NASA develops new ways to observe and study Earth's interconnected natural systems with long-term data records. The agency freely shares this unique knowledge and works with institutions around the world to gain new insights into how our planet is changing.
For daily images from EPIC, visit:

For more information about the DSCOVR mission, visit:

Make sure you tune in and see our beautiful planet....

Sky Guy in VA

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Enceladus Close Ups

Hey Space Placers!

NASA's Cassini spacecraft has spent 11 years studying the ringed planet and its moons. In the past week Cassini started its final series of flybys of Enceladus. The returned pics have been amazing as can be seen in this close up of the moon's North pole.

The closest pics are to be taken on October 28th as the spacecraft will zoom to within a mere 30 miles above the frozen and contorted surface of Enceladus. This will be Cassini's deepest penetration of the icy spray plumes that erupt out of cracks in the moon's frozen surface.

Enceladus has a global ocean underneath its icy surface and is a desire future mission for NASA. The exploration of this ocean would give us our first look at such a feature beyond our own planet and who knows what we would find.

Sky Guy in VA

Saturday, October 17, 2015

1st Scientific Paper on Pluto From New Horizons Team

Hey Space Placers!

I have been on the road with family and no computer for the past several days so no blog!

Here is the 1st Scientific Paper on Pluto From New Horizons Team that was just published yesterday, 10/16/15.

It is a good read from the team that brought us the Pluto Flyby just 3 months ago.

I'll have some interesting pics in the next few days of my trip to New Jersey.....

Sky Guy in VA

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Sky Guy Viewing ALERT! Morning Planets & Moon 10-8 to 10-11

Hey Space Placers!

For the next few morning the crescent Moon will be sliding by Venus, Jupiter, Mars and Mercury in the East before sunrise.

Sky &
This is a nice morning sequence that is a warm up for the grouping of Mars, Jupiter and Venus later in the month.

Clear skies and enjoy!

Sky Guy in VA

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Andromeda Galaxy

Hey Space Placers!

The skies finally cleared and I took my 1st pic for the Fall of M-31, the Andromeda Galaxy. M-31 is the closest large galaxy to our own Milky Way Galaxy and contains about 1 TRILLION stars - our Galaxy has several hundred billion stars.

It stretches out over 260,000 light years as opposed to the Milky Way Galaxy's 100,000-150,000 light years. A light year is how far light, traveling at 186,000 miles per second travels in one year - it is about 6 trillion miles.

Greg Redfern
The pic was taken with a 300mm f/4 telephoto which tells you something about the size and relative closeness of M-31. In the pic you can see spiral arms, dust lanes, star clouds and M-110 to the immediate left and M-32 to the immediate right which are two large dwarf galaxies to M-31.

The Andromeda Galaxy is the farthest object you can see with your unaided eye. It is 2.5 million light years away which means the light I captured in this pic left M-31 2.5 million years ago! This is about the time in Earth's history when our ancestors started walking upright.

If you look at this article and its star chart you can see where Andromeda and M-31 are located just off of the NE corner of the Great Square of Pegasus. Pegasus is visible in the East as it gets dark and rises higher in the sky as the evening progresses. If you have binoculars the view of M-31 is really enhanced, especially if it is higher in the sky.

M-31 and our own Milky Way Galaxy are on a collision course and will merge about 4 billion years from now into a brand new giant elliptical galaxy called Milkomeda. The two galaxies are moving towards one another at about 250,000 miles per hour.

Get out when the sky is clear and go back in time by looking at the Andromeda Galaxy. I will be getting more pics in the Fall and will share.

I hope you get out and see this beautiful galaxy.

Sky Guy in VA

Sunday, October 4, 2015

This is Ceres

Hey Space Placers!

The OTHER dwarf planet, Ceres, was in the lime light for a bit recently when NASA released a new global map of the icy world showing compositional differences.

Ceres is an intriguing world that we will learn more about while the Dawn spacecraft continues to make observations.

Sky Guy in VA

Friday, October 2, 2015

My Review of 'The Martian'

Hey Space Placers!

I saw Sir Ridley Scott's movie, 'The Martian' today. In a word - OUTSTANDING. I say this NOT totally because I love all things space. I'm saying it because this is a very, very good movie.

You can get the movie's basics from the IMDB link.

Here's my review.

While Matt Damon is the HUMAN star of the movie, make no mistake, Mars as it is depicted in the film is THE STAR of the movie with the impressive space hardware winning best supporting honors.

Scott repeatedly gives us grand and visually stunning views of the Red Planet. I am sure he had access to the thousands of photographs of Mars from orbit and on the planet that NASA has acquired over the years. The huge scale of geological features and the endless sand contrast so vividly with the sky and weather. The night sky scenes took my breath away.

The view of the Earth as a bright star, the transiting of the Martian moons, the famous dust devils, cirrus clouds and sunset are mesmerizing. Add to it the crushing loneliness of being the only living thing on the planet with help 50 million miles and 4 years away.

When I looked at the very plausible space hardware being used for the MULTIPLE trips to and from Mars, living on Mars, I have to be honest. I said to myself that our current broken political system would never be able to pull itself together to pay for what I was seeing. Make no mistake, going to Mars will be very expensive, but so was going to the Moon. Done over a period of decades WITH DEDICATED AND GUARANTEED FUNDING, we can send humans to and from Mars.

The movie also highlighted international cooperation in space. Can you imagine the power of China and the US applied to manned spaceflight? The movie shows what is possible and NECESSARY when it comes to going to Mars. There is real international cooperation in space going on now with the International Space Station (ISS). The U.S. and Russia, even though at great odds with one another here on terra firma, breathe, bathe, eat and watch over one another aboard ISS.

'The Martian' flows smoothly and quickly and is a joy to follow. There is no complicated science to comprehend as there was in 'Interstellar' and the science presented is completely understandable.

There is also plenty of 'feel good' aspects to this move, and yes, I got a few tears going here and there due to the sheer beauty of the scenery and humanity. I became fully enveloped as I think a lot of movie goers will.

NASA obviously plays a big part in the movie - on screen and in its making. When the launch of a new mission to Mars is portrayed, I'm pretty sure it is the actual footage from the unmanned Exploration Flight Test-1, NASA's 1st Orion mission launched December 5, 2014.

Orion is NASA's new manned spacecraft that can take astronauts to the Moon, Mars and the asteroids. The rocket that can get it there is NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) which is being built and is scheduled for its first launch with Orion - unmanned - no earlier than 2018.

'The Martian' is a movie that movie goers should see and yes, the Oscar folks take a look at for Best Actor Matt Damon, Best Director Ridley Scott, Best Special Effects, Best Cinematography and Best Sound.

It is that good.

I saw it in 2D and may (will) go back and see it in 3D.

See 'The Martian'. You will not regret doing so....

Sky Guy in VA

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Enjoy This Latest Pic of Charon

Hey Space Placers!

Enjoy this latest enhance color pic of Pluto's moon Charon.

Besides the reddish color at the north pole of Charon the massive canyons/valleys and different terrain that goes at a diagonal across the whole moon is impressive. There are a lot of rilles (lines in the surface) that can be seen as well.

Image Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI
You can details on this pic here.

There is much, much more to come in the next 13 months as data is returned to Earth by the New Horizons spacecraft.

Sky Guy in VA