Friday, April 29, 2016

Sky Guy Viewing ALERT: MARS!

Hey Space Placers!

The Red Planet is getting brighter and brighter in the Southeast sky as it now rises at 11 p.m. You have to be careful to not confuse Mars with the reddish colored star Antares which is dimmer and below Mars. Antares means "rival of Mars" and you can see why - Mars can appear very similar to Mars when it is at the same brightness as the star.

Mars is also keeping company with the planet Saturn, a yellowish colored "star" to the lower left of Mars.

To top it off both of these planets are near the gorgeous summer Milky Way. All in all it will be a glorious sight to see in the coming months. Mars will be at its brightest around May 22 when it is directly opposite the Sun.

Make sure you get out and see this celestial spectacle.....

Here is what the sky looks like here in VA at 4 a.m.

VA Sky at 4 a.m. 4/29/16
by Sky Safari Plus
Once the clouds clear here in VA I will get some photographs to share with you.

Sky Guy in VA

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Earth Day 2016

Hey Space Placers!

Happy Earth Day tomorrow.  Read all about it here.

I'll be off the grid starting tomorrow for two weeks. I hope to have some pictures to share with you upon coming back.

Enjoy brightening Mars in the SE around 11 pm is going to get even brighter these next few weeks into late May.

Sky Guy Departing VA

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Jupiter Moons Last Night

Hey Space Placers!

I got the 'scope out last night and looked at the Moon and Jupiter. I took this pic as it shows the 4 main moons of Jupiter. From L-R: Io, Europa, Callisto, Ganymede.

I swear I can see some color on Callisto which would be a first for me. The atmosphere was pretty steady last night so maybe those really are true surface disks I captured. I know the focus was spot on but the atmosphere is always dancing around.

 Jupiter is overexposed in the lower left so that the moons could be photographed.

You can see these four main moons just like Galileo did in 1610 using a good pair of binoculars or any size telescope. There will be times when all four are not there as they are passing in front of or behind Jupiter. In a good telescope you can see these transits (in front of) and occultations (passing behind) in your 'scope as the involved moon disappearing and casting its shadow onto Jupiter's cloud cool to see in real time.

Jupiter remains prominent and well placed so take a peek for yourself.

I wanted to see Saturn and Mars this morning but clouds and smoke prevented me from doing so....going to try again tonight.

Sky Guy in Smoky VA From A Forest Fire In Shenandoah National Park

Monday, April 18, 2016

New Horizons Update by Alan Stern

Hey Space Placers!

Been a busy couple days with clear skies in the mountains of VA. Gave two talks and had great star gazing sessions with folks as well.

Here is a very informative article by Alan Stern, the Principal Investigator (PI) on the New Horizons mission. He gives us an update on published papers, the ongoing Pluto flyby data download and extended mission status.

Sky Guy in VA

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Interstellar Dust At Saturn

Hey Space Placers!

Check out this latest finding from the Cassini spacecraft at Saturn. Pretty cool.....

Sky Guy in VA

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

NASA's Kepler A-OK

Hey Space Placers!

NASA's Kepler spacecraft has returned to a stable state after being found recently in emergency mode.

This plucky spacecraft has discovered thousands of exoplanet candidates and observed the 1st ever optical flashes from exploding massive stars - supernovae. Let's hope for a complete return to science operations

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

WHAT A VIEW! Comet 67/P from Rosetta

Hey Space Placers!

Here is an UNREAL view of Comet 67/P from the Rosetta spacecraft:


Be sure to click on the image to see the expanded view. You have to remember that this comet is very dark and not bright as we see it here due to processing.

Rosetta has given us views of this comet that are truly amazing. Browse the archive at the link above to see some of them.

Sky Guy in VA

Sunday, April 10, 2016

SpaceX Does It!

Hey Space Placers!

Read this article about SpaceX making history. I was amazed at how the Falcon 9 1st stage could remain upright on the landing ship in the white capped Atlantic!

Then look at this photograph of SpaceX - on the left - and Orbital ATK -with the circular solar cells - resupply spacecraft being at the International Space Station ISS) together for 1st time ever. That makes SIX spacecraft currently at the ISS!

Image by NASA TV
The SpaceX Dragon joined ISS today at 9:57 a.m. EDT and is carrying 7,000 pounds of cargo including the inflatable Bigelow module.

A good day in space!

Here is what Mercury looks like in the West after it starts to get sure to look for the planet closest to the Sun as it is bright and easy.

Mercury 4-9-16
Greg Redfern

Sky Guy in VA

Friday, April 8, 2016

Sky Sights For April 2016

Hey Space Placers!

Well, when the wild weather we have been experiencing this early spring gives way to clear skies we have some wonderful sky sights awaiting us.

Tonight if it is clear the one day old crescent Moon and the planet Mercury will adorn the western sky as soon as it starts to get dark. You will need a clear view of the western horizon to see them. If you have binoculars please use them as they will really enhance your view.

You will also be able to see the ‘dark of the Moon’ - the portion of the Moon that isn’t illuminated by the Sun. We call this ‘Earthshine’        and it is caused by the reflection of sunlight off our planet’s oceans and clouds which illuminates the lunar surface. 

Earthshine Moon
Greg Redfern
Tonight’s Earthshine should be particularly noticeable as the Moon was at perigee, or closest to the Earth for the month yesterday. In fact, yesterday’s New Moon was a Supermoon 

If you look to the lower right of the Moon about a fist width or so you will see a bright yellowish colored ‘star’ which is actually the planet Mercury. Mercury will be visible in the western sky all month and this will be our best view of the year for the planet closest to the Sun.

Mercury At Sunset
Greg Redfern
When it is dark you will see bright Jupiter high in the southeast sky all month. The four main moons of Jupiter    can be seen in binoculars and mimics the view Galileo would have had in his crude telescope in 1610 when he discovered them. NASA’s Juno spacecraft    is closing in on the king of the planets and is due to arrive July 4, 2016.

If you are up late - around 1:30 a.m. - or an early riser before dawn, The Red Planet Mars and Saturn await your gaze. Mars will be closest to our planet next month and it is very noticeable now as a reddish-colored ‘star’ in the southeast sky. Do not confuse Mars with the reddish-colored star Antares that is almost directly below it - Mars will be brighter. The Greek name Antares means ‘rival of Mars’ and this month you can really see why the star got its name.

Mars has several active and planned missions exploring it from orbit and on the surface . It is a fascinating world and in amateur sized telescopes   actual features can be seen for the next several months. I hope to get some pictures to share with you.

Saturn is a yellowish-colored ‘star’ to the lower left of Mars. NASA’s Cassini mission   has been studying the ringed planet for 11 years and is still going strong.

Mars, Saturn and Antares make a beautiful triangle in the sky this month. If you have a dark sky you can see the gorgeous Milky Way to their lower left. The view will be best around 5:00 a.m. in the South over the next week before the Moon starts to light up the sky as it approaches Full on the 22nd. The waning gibbous Moon will be in the heart of this celestial triangle on the 25th.

In case you were wondering, Venus is too close to the Sun now otherwise we could have seen all five visible planets this month.

Not to be left out of this planetary parade Earth Day 2016 occurs on the 22nd and this year’s theme is “Trees for Earth”.

As you can see there is much to enjoy in the sky this month. I hope you can join me at Shenandoah National Park for one of my lectures and sky viewing sessions .

Enjoy the view!

Sky Guy in VA

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

NASA's Oldest Mars Mission

Hey Space Placers!

Check out the scoop on NASA's 15 year Mars Odyssey mission.

At 11:02 a.m. EDT on April 7, 2001, crowds watch a Boeing Delta II rocket lift off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, carrying NASA's 2001 Mars Odyssey spacecraft into space on its seven-month journey to Mars.
  • Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Arizona State University
Mars is getting brighter each week as it get closest to Earth next month. I hope to get some pics of it soon.

Sky Guy in VA

Sunday, April 3, 2016

3rd Season "Let's Talk About Space At Shenandoah National Park" & Pluto Insights

Hey Space Placers!

In the spirit of Global Astronomy Month GAM - see my previous blog - I will be starting my third season of “Let’s Talk About Space at Shenandoah National Park” tonight  and hope to see you there during the season. 

This week the National Academies   Science Division   held its annual Space Science Week      at its D.C. headquarters. Luminaries from across the country in space science met in the following committees:

Each year during Space Sciences Week a public lecture is held and this year it was given by Dr. Alan Stern     the Principal Investigator for the New Horizons Mission to Pluto  which is controlled by our very own Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory.

Dr. Stern’s lecture attracted quite a large crowd including young adults and children. The highlight for me, besides getting to meet Dr. Stern, was finding out that his favorite photograph of the Pluto flyby was the backlit portrait of Pluto showing its blue atmosphere. He said it was his favorite because “it proves that we were there”. 

Dr. Stern's Fave Pluto Photo
Greg Redfern
The other highlight was seeing the young attendees clamoring for autographs and pictures with Dr. Stern. To see such an accomplished scientist taking the time to sign autographs and pose with each and every single person - including me - well after his lecture had ended speaks volumes to his character. I’d like to think that Dr. Stern will be the catalyst that propels some of these admirers into science.

Dr. Stern & I give a  'High Nine" for Pluto
With the return of data from last year’s flyby at the halfway point Pluto will no doubt continue to amaze us. And if NASA approves the funding, the New Horizons spacecraft will conduct a flyby of Kuiper Belt Object 2014 MU 69  in January 2019 - a billion miles beyond Pluto. 

You can see Dr. Stern’s lecture here 

Sky Guy in VA

Friday, April 1, 2016


Hey Space Placers!

Today marks the start of Astronomers Without Borders GLOBAL ASTRONOMY MONTH.

As described in their press release:

Global Astronomy Month 2016 (#GAM2016) fills the entire month of April again with exciting programs for astronomy enthusiasts worldwide. Whether it’s stargazing, sharing with the public, or the cosmos in art, there is something for everyone in GAM 2016.

"Global Astronomy Month (GAM,, organized each April by Astronomers Without Borders, is the world’s largest annual global celebration of astronomy. Each GAM brings new ideas and new opportunities, and GAM 2016 is no exception, once again bringing enthusiasts together worldwide to celebrate Astronomers Without Borders’ motto One People, One Sky."

Check it out to see if there is an event in your area.

Look at the night sky this month as part of the celebration.

Sky Guy in VA