Saturday, December 31, 2016

Top Space Story of 2016 - ‘The Waves Have It’

Hey Space Placers!

Happy New Year’s Eve everyone. Last year at this time I was in the Indian Ocean enjoying the stars way down under and couldn’t get out a ‘Top Space Pick for 2015’. The July flyby of Pluto      would have been my pick.

For 2016’s pick  we leave the solar system and enter the realm of the Cosmos. February’s announcement regarding the discovery of gravitational waves  is my pick for 2016’s “Top Space Story”. 

Illustration of gravitational waves produced by two orbiting black holes. (Image: Henze/NASA)
Ever since humans looked up at the night sky 2.5 million years ago and the invention of the astronomical telescope by Galileo in 1609, almost all information we have gleaned about the Universe has come to us in the form of electromagnetic radiation. Literally the entire spectrum       - radio waves to gamma rays. I say ‘almost all’ because we have sent spacecraft to land on planets, comets and asteroids, obtained comet dust, and sent humans to the Moon. We have recovered over 50 thousand meteorites - rocks from space - including specimens from the Moon and Mars. All of this has added to our cosmic knowledge.

The detection of gravitational waves was made possible by finally developing the exquisite technology that enabled us to detect the physical warping of spacetime by an event. A second event was announced in June 2016  and showed us that more events were going to come our way - that gravitational waves were not a ‘one and done’ occurance.

Gravitational wave astronomy is now a new branch of humanity’s oldest science. Plans are underway for placing gravitational wave detectors in space    and adding a third detection facility in Italy .  New discoveries regarding black holes, neutron stars and the Big Bang  itself await us      . Even more exciting is what we don’t know about that we will uncover - therein lies the prize of new discoveries and knowledge.

What lies ahead space-wise in 2017? NASA will get a new Administrator and we will see what that means for the country’s space program. There are a number of unmanned mission scheduled to go to the Moon in 2017. The U.S. will witness an eclipse of the Sun on August 21st  .

And once again, what we don’t know about in the upcoming space year will be the ultimate prize….

Have a safe and wonderful New Year and we’ll follow the Universe together in 2017.

Sky Guy in VA

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Access The Universe - From Your Computer

Hey Space Placers!

Ever dreamed of roaming the Universe? Well, now you can from the comfort of your computer!

Here is the full news release:


The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Maryland, in conjunction with the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy in Honolulu, Hawaii, is publicly releasing data today from Pan-STARRS -- the Panoramic Survey Telescope & Rapid Response System -- the world’s largest digital sky survey. The Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) is among the partners who contributed to the Pan-STARRS1 Surveys.

“The Pan-STARRS1 Surveys allow anyone to access millions of images and use the database and catalogs containing precision measurements of billions of stars and galaxies,” said Dr. Ken Chambers, Director of the Pan-STARRS Observatories. “Pan-STARRS has made discoveries from near Earth objects and Kuiper belt objects in the solar system to lonely planets between the stars; it has mapped the dust in three dimensions in our galaxy and found new streams of stars; and it has found new kinds of exploding stars and distant quasars in the early universe.”

“With this release we anticipate that scientists -- as well as students and even casual users -- around the world will make many new discoveries about the universe from the wealth of data collected by Pan-STARRS,” Chambers added.

The four years of data comprise 3 billion separate sources, including stars, galaxies, and various other objects. The immense collection contains 2 petabytes of data, which is equivalent to one billion selfies, or one hundred times the total content of Wikipedia.

The first Panoramic Survey Telescope & Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS) observatory is a 1.8-meter telescope at the summit of Haleakala, on Maui. In May 2010, it embarked on a digital sky survey of the sky in visible and near-infrared light. This was the first survey to observe the entire sky visible from Hawaii multiple times in many colors of light. One of the survey’s prime goals was to identify moving, transient, and variable objects, including asteroids that could potentially threaten the Earth. The survey took approximately four years to complete, and scanned the sky 12 times in each of five filters.

Achieving the high quality of the Pan-STARRS1 measurements and maintaining it over such an enormous quantity of data was a unique computational challenge and the results are a tribute to the dedicated efforts of our small team of scientists at the UH IfA and our collaborators who worked to process and calibrate the extraordinary volume of raw image data,” said Dr. Eugene Magnier, lead of the Pan-STARRS Image Processing team.

A number of CfA scientists were involved in analyzing Pan-STARRS data and extracting groundbreaking results. For example, Dr. Douglas Finkbeiner and students Edward Schlafly and Gregory Green led the effort to map the interstellar dust in the Milky Way in three dimensions. They used the colors of nearly 1 billion stars, requiring photometric calibration at a level unprecedented for ground-based surveys.

“The tiny particles in dust clouds make background stars fainter and redder, for the same reason the sky turns red at sunset,” said Dr. Finkbeiner. “In order to measure the subtle color shifts, we must know the brightnesses and colors of the stars at the percent level. With vastly more data than any human could ever look at directly, this required serious effort, and I’m proud of everyone who contributed.”

“Pan-STARRS also has given us an unprecedented view of the dynamic and transient nature of astronomical phenomena,” said CfA astronomer Dr. Edo Berger. “Our group discovered and studied new types of supernova explosions and the disruptions of stars by supermassive black holes from the Pan-STARRS data.”

This research program was undertaken by the PS1 Science Consortium -- a collaboration among 10 research institutions in four countries with support from NASA and the National Science Foundation (NSF). Consortium observations for the sky survey, mapping everything visible from Hawaii, were completed in April 2014. This data is now being released publicly.

“It’s great to see the Pan-STARRS1 data release supported by the NSF now made available to the general astronomical community,” said Nigel Sharp, Program Director in NSF’s Astronomical Sciences division. “I am impressed by the work the team invested to make the best-calibrated and best-characterized data set they could. I eagerly anticipate the science from mining these data.”

“The cooperation between STScI and the Pan-STARRS team at the University of Hawaii has been essential to ensuring that this initial data release is successful,” explained Dr. Marc Postman, Head of the Community Missions office at STScI, and liaison between STScI and the PS1 Consortium. “STScI was a natural partner to host the Pan-STARRS public archive given its extensive experience serving astronomy data to the international community. In advance of the release of the Pan-STARRS data, STScI staff helped perform checks of data quality, helped write archive user documentation, tested and installed the local data storage and database query system, and designed, built and deployed the web-based user interfaces to the archive system.”

The roll-out is being done in two stages. Today’s release is the “Static Sky,” which is the average of each of those individual epochs. For every object, there’s an average value for its position, its brightness, and its colors. In 2017, the second set of data will be released, providing a catalog that gives the information and images for each individual epoch.

The Space Telescope Science Institute provides the storage hardware, the computers that handle the database queries, and the user-friendly interfaces to access the data.

The survey data resides in the Mikulski Archive for Space Telescopes (MAST), which serves as NASA’s repository for all of its optical and ultraviolet-light observations, some of which date to the early 1970s. It includes all of the observational data from such space astrophysics missions as Hubble, Kepler, GALEX, and a wide variety of other telescopes, as well as several all-sky surveys. Pan-STARRS marks the nineteenth mission to be archived in MAST.

The data can be accessed at

So when those clouds have you bummed, just click your way to who knows, a new discovery!

Sky Guy in VA

Monday, December 26, 2016

Vera Rubin - American Astronomer & Pioneer

Hey Space Placers!

2016 has taken another space great from us - Vera Rubin.

Read all about her here.

The stars and galaxies shin a little brighter now......

Sky Guy in VA

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Eve 2016

Hey Space Placers!

Not even heavy fog can dim the stars of Orion and Sirius on Christmas Eve and this Holiday season.

May you and Yours have a SAFE and wondrous Holiday season.......

Orion & Sirius in Heavy Ground Fog Christmas Eve 2016
Sky Guy in VA

Friday, December 23, 2016

Season's Greetings Cards Courtesy of ESA

Hey Space Placers!

Go to for a wonderful selection of space oriented holidays cards you can email to friends and family.

Here are some of my own "cards" from this morning of the Moon, Jupiter and Spica.

Moon, Jupiter (top) and Spica

Celestial Trio

The Waning Crescent Moon

The Waning Crescent Moon & Earthshine
Sky Guy in VA

Thursday, December 22, 2016

For Moon Lovers!

Hey Space Placers!

With the Anniversary of Apollo 8's orbiting the Moon coming up I thought this would be appropriate to view.

Moon Village Concept
Credit: ESA
The Moon is no longer the "Rodney Dangerfield" of solar system exploration. Nations are planning lunar missions designed to explore new regions, prospect for resources and eventually land humans once again on the Moon. No more one and done - humanity will come and stay this time.

Sky Guy in VA

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Happy Winter Solstice!

Hey Space Placers!

Today is the Solstice so the Northern Hemisphere is in winter and the Southern enjoys summer.

Here's a great article to explain it all.

The nights start getting shorter and the days longer each for us in the North......

Sky Guy in VA

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Water World in Asteroid Belt

Hey Space Placers!

Read about the Water World Ceres located in the asteroid belt. Water, water everywhere in the solar system!

Sky Guy in VA

Friday, December 16, 2016

The Breathing Earth

Hey Space Placers!

Look at this wondrous GIF that was part of today's Earth & Sky.

CREDIT: John Nelson IDV Solutions
It brings our beautiful and wondrous planet alive which it is in the sense of being an ecosystem that supports ALL life. We are doing harm to Earth and ultimately ourselves and the other life forms that exist with us.

The planet doesn't need us, WE need the planet. Humanity is causing climate change regardless of what clueless and ill informed politicians or others say.  In my personal opinion we are entering the Dark Ages of old with this new Trump Administration where petro-dollars, big oil/fossil fuels come first and political attempts to disrupt, discredit and attack climate science will happen.

Scientists, informed citizens and politicians, US Government employees and world leaders will have to stand up for Earth in the Trump era. Nothing less than the future of the planet, which determines our future, is at stake.

Sky Guy in VA

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Happy Birthday Tyco Brahe

Hey Space Placers!

Today is Tycho Brahe's  birthday.

Here is his Round Top Observatory in Copenhagen which I visited earlier this year.

Greg Redfern

Greg Redfern

Tycho's observations led to Kepler's 3 laws of planetary motion which carried over to Issac Newton's Laws of Gravitation.

Happy Birthday Tycho!

Sky Guy in VA

Monday, December 12, 2016

Sky Guy Viewing ALERT - The Geminids VS the Full Cold Supermoon

Hey Space Placers!

Back in Virginia after 24 hours in the air.

A celestial duel takes place in our skies the night of December 13-14 - the Full Cold Supermoon    versus the peak of the annual Geminid Meteor Shower    . Our third of three Supermoons in a row will win the fight overall as the Full Cold Moon’s light will significantly diminish the number of meteors that can be seen from 75-100+ an hour from an ideal viewing site to about 12. But oh those 12 we can see will be worth the effort.

I say worth the effort as I think is the Geminids     are the best meteor shower of the year. I say best because it reliably produces a large number of meteors per hour (75-100) in a dark sky and many of them are bright enough to be classified as fireballs - a meteor that is brighter than the planet Venus. With Venus in the southwestern sky after sunset you can readily see how bright that really is. Plus the Geminids is the only major meteor shower where you can see a good number of meteors starting at 10 p.m. local time instead of the hours just before dawn.

The predicted peak of the 2016 Geminid Meteor Shower is the night of December 13-14 but you can see Geminids from the 12th to the 16th. Each year at this time our planet encounters a debris stream of rock particles made by Asteroid 3200 Phaethon. The Geminids is the only meteor shower caused by an asteroid or what astronomers call a rock comet                - all others are due to cometary debris. 

As Earth moves in its orbit around the Sun it collides with this rocky debris stream and the particles hit our atmosphere at 22 miles per second to become “shooting or falling stars”. It is thought that the Geminds are brighter than other meteor showers because they involve larger and heavier debris than normal cometary dust and penetrate deeper into the atmosphere.

The best place to see the Geminids is a location that is away from lights and obstructions such as trees and buildings. If you are a city dweller you still may see the brightest Geminids as long as you are not staring into a street light or nestled in amongst tall buildings. Out in the country or along the beach is the best place to be. But with the Full Cold Supermoon this year city dwellers have just as good a chance to see fireballs as anyone else.

You do not need any equipment or know how to enjoy this sky show duel as the Full Cold Supermoon will be up and you need to just find a place where you can put a lounge chair or blanket to see the sky for the Geminids. Starting at 9 p.m. look in the east for the constellation Gemini for which this meteor shower is named. A meteor that is part of the shower can be traced back to Gemini. Sporadic meteors that are not part of the shower can be normally seen during the night as well but the Full Cold Supermoon will eliminate all but the brightest sporadics.

The shower will continue all night before dawn - about 4 a.m. The very bright Full Cold Supermoon will be in the sky which will eliminate the fainter meteors.  The key to watching the shower is being comfortable, in other words WARM. The Geminids can appear anywhere in the sky but looking straight up gives you the widest viewing area - this is where the lounge chair or blanket come in handy.  Enjoy the shower with family, friends or your significant other. Some music, food and beverages are an added plus. 

The weather may cloud us out  this sky show duel. Our best bet is to check the sky to see if it is clear when you want to go out to look for Geminids and see the Moon.  If it is cloudy you can still observe the Geminid Meteor Shower. Tune in live from 8 p.m. Dec. 13 until 6 a.m. on Dec. 14 on Marshall’s Ustream account      

Good hunting, clear skies or not!

Sky Guy BACK in VA

Thursday, December 8, 2016

End Of An Era

Hey Space Placers!

John Glenn - Marine Colonel, Distinguished Naval Aviator,  Mercury 7 and Space Shuttle Astronaut, U.S. Senator - a true American hero and one of the finest human beings to ever walk and orbit the Earth, now belongs to the ages with his passing today at the age of 95

With his death an era comes to an earthly end. An era when seven white military men who were proven warriors and pilots of the sky were chosen by the fledgling National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to be America’s Mercury 7 astronauts     . These 7 would go up against the Communist Cosmonauts in the declared Space Race - America and democracy against the Communists of the U.S.S.R in competition for the hearts and minds of the earthbound via the new high ground of space.

It was a different time for the world and humanity, much simpler and everything was in black and white, including TV news coverage from ABC, NBC and CBS - the only news channels available that signed off at midnight with the playing of the National Anthem. People depended on their daily newspapers for information - there was no Internet, let alone computers in the home. Watching the TV was a family affair and the evening news a daily routine.

The Cold War between the US and USSR with its doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) had thousands of nuclear weapons in fleets of bombers and eventually, thanks to the Space Race, atop Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) that together could rain total and complete destruction of the enemy’s civilian population and industrial capability through the horror of all out nuclear war. The world held its breath for 13 days in October 1962 as the threat of nuclear war loomed with the Cuban Missile Crisis 

Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy guided American efforts to match the Soviets in space. And America was losing badly. The Soviets with their captured Nazi German rocket scientists from World War II who developed the V-1 and V-2, coupled with their devil may care and secretive space program, startled the world October 4, 1957 with the orbiting satellite Sputnik . Every 90 minutes the beeping spacecraft could be seen flying overhead telling the world that it and the Soviets who put it there were in command of space. For American military and political leaders it was catastrophic - next the Communists could be putting nuclear bombs in space.

American attempts to launch a satellite ended in spectacular explosions seen by the world as these attempts were broadcast live. America finally got a diminutive satellite into orbit, Explorer 1, on January 31, 1958 .

It was only a matter of time until either side would attempt to put a man in orbit. NASA launched a recruiting effort in January 1959     to obtain the best fighter/test pilots in the U.S. military to become astronauts. After arduous medical, physical and psychological testing the Mercury 7 were introduced to the world in a April 9, 1959 press conference held in Washington, D.C. John Glenn was the only Marine astronaut, wore a bow tie and became famous in an iconic photo for raising both of his hands as to only one by his fellow astronauts, following a reporter’s question as to “which of you will be first in space?” 

The U.S.S.R. shocked the world again with the successful orbiting of the Earth by Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin on April 12, 1961 in Vostok 1     . NASA responded a few weeks later with the suborbital flight of Alan Shepard, the first American and Naval Aviator to go into space on May 5, 1961. Gus Grissom followed with a second suborbital flight in which his spacecraft was lost at sea.

NASA decided to move on to a flight using the Atlas missile, the most powerful rocket in the U.S. inventory but also one with a history of spectacular failures. It was not a totally reliable launch vehicle but if America wanted a man to orbit the Earth it was the only way to go. NASA wanted to fly a 3 orbit mission as soon as possible to eclipse the success of Gagarin’s flight.

On August 7, 1961 the Soviets triumphed again with the amazing feat of Gherman Titov whose Vostok 2 spacecraft orbited the Earth for a full day and 17 1/2 orbits   . This was unprecedented and totally beyond the capability of the U.S. to respond in kind. But, America had to respond with getting an American into orbit as quickly as possible.

NASA finally responded on February 20, 1962 with the launch of John Glenn in Friendship 7 atop an Atlas rocket. He orbited the Earth 3 times and was in space a little over 4 hours. His spacecraft suffered a technical malfunction that required him to take manual control to fly Friendship 7 and there was an indicator light that a heat shield clamp had released. This meant that the attached retropack which fired to slow the spacecraft and bring it back to Earth would remain attached to the heat shield - something that had never been done before. It was a very distinct possibility that the heat shield could come loose and fail - literally frying John Glenn . The heat shield held - it was determined post-flight that the indicator light was a false reading but the tension and apprehension for Glenn’s safe return was not.

He returned to a well deserved hero’s welcome and became close to President Kennedy who told NASA he did not want John flying in space again for fear he may be killed. John left NASA and the Marines and went into business and politics - becoming a long term U.S. Senator from Ohio.

John flew in space again at the age of 77 - the oldest human to date - aboard space Shuttle Discovery in 1998 for 9 days . He provided valuable medical knowledge about aging in space and wasn’t one bit worse for wear upon return to Earth - something critics had predicted.

I watched the Mercury missions enthralled but while still quite young. It was the Gemini program followed by Apollo that I truly immersed myself in while growing up. We soundly defeated the Soviets in the long run of the space race and the Moon race. Now American astronauts and Russian cosmonauts fly together aboard the International Space Station. I hope this international cooperation continues.

John Glenn was the last of his fellow Mercury astronauts to walk amongst us. They leave a legacy of history and accomplishments that can never be repeated - the first American astronauts - in a time that will never be again. I will always remember them in their group poses - in fighter pilot attire near a sleek F-106 fighter, dirty, unshaven and in long johns during survival school, and the iconic silver spacesuit portrait. 

God speed, Mercury 7. You now belong to the stars.

Back Row: L-R Alan Shepard, Gus Grisson, Gordo Cooper
Front Row: L-R Wally Schirra, Deke Layton, John Glenn, Scott Carpenter
Mercury 7
Sky Guy in the South China Sea

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

ESA To Supply Service Module For Orion Crewed Mission

Hey Space Placers!

The European Space Agency (ESA) will supply a fully functional service module for the 1st Orion crewed mission set for sometime in 2021.

Orion & Service Module
This mission will be essentially a repeat of Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1) currently scheduled for 2018 which will be an unmanned Orion launched by the new Space Launch System (SLS) on a 3 week plus mission out to lunar orbit & beyond.

Sky Guy in the South China Sea

Thursday, December 1, 2016

UPDATED SKY GUY VIEWING ALERT 12/2-4 Sunset Planets & Moon

Hey Space Placers!

Here was my view of Mars, Moon, Venus and Mercury in the South China Sea 12/5/16:

Top to bottom: Mars, Moon, Venus, Mercury at sea
Greg Redfern
Here was sunset that evening:

Sunset South China Sea
Greg Redfern

Be sure to get outside on Dec 2-4 after sunset and watch the crescent Moon approach Venus on 12/2 & 3 and then Mars on 12/4.

As an added bonus Mercury is very low on the horizon as well.

I hope to get pics art sea to share but the weather has to improve!

Sky Guy at Sea


Hey Space Placers!

At sea off the coast of Thailand on Azamara Journey. We have had some heavy weather so no sky pics yet.

Astronomers have discovered an asteroid that is ONLY 6 feet across! That is quite a find. Read all about it here.

Sky Guy at Sea