Friday, December 29, 2017


Hey Space Placers!

Can you guess what my 'Top Space Story for 2017' is?

Hint: it was golden!

Enjoy the read.

Sky Guy in VA

Wednesday, December 27, 2017


Hey Space Placers!

This is a truly amazing find.....the most distant black hole yet discovered is 800 million times the mass of our Sun AND it formed only 690 million years after the Big Bang.

This artist's concept shows the most distant supermassive black hole ever discovered. It is part of a quasar from just 690 million years after the Big Bang. Credit: Robin Dienel/Carnegie Institution for Science
Astronomers are really scratching their heads to come up with how such a whopper black hole could grow so large in such a short time (cosmically speaking).

This find also seems to be the only one of its kind which will be very valuable to astronomers trying to determine the conditions in the Universe when it was only 5% of its age.

Sky Guy in VA

Tuesday, December 26, 2017


Hey Space Placers!

I hope everyone had a GREAT Holiday get together.

Mighty (and bright) Jupiter is visible in the hours before dawn in the eastern sky. NASA's Juno spacecraft continues to explore the 'King of the Planets' and the data continue to be received and analyzed.

The Great Red Spot (GRS) of Jupiter has been visible in telescopes, including backyard 'scopes for centuries. The GRS has been slowly shrinking and the color has faded. It has been the longest lasting storm in the solar system.

I hope to get a pic of the GRS to share when the weather clears. But in the meantime enjoy flying into the Jovian maelstrom:

Sky Guy in VA

Saturday, December 23, 2017


Hey Space Placers!

The Center of the Milky Way Galaxy
Taken by Greg Redfern in the Coral Sea
Did you know the Roman Catholic Church employs a staff of professional priest-astronomers who conduct a wide variety of astronomical research and observations? That Pope Francis believes in the Big Bang  - the leading theory as to how our Universe came into being?

With Christmas upon us this is a GREAT article to read about science and faith (at least in the Catholic Church).

I have encountered people who say that their particular pastor says "the Universe is only 40,000 years old according to the Bible" or similar type exultations. My standard response is that "everyone is entitled to their beliefs" - I don't even try to change their minds because they are making their statement(s) AFTER hearing one of my astronomy presentations.

For those who debunk the "Big Bang" because it isn't faith based, I simply tell them about the Vatican Observatory and the Catholic Church's stance on the validity of the Big Bang. That is usually an eye opener to them and takes them aback a bit, usually wandering off muttering to themselves.

Modern day science and mainstream religion are NOT in conflict from what I have seen, read and experienced. The conflict usually arises when someone has been exposed to dogma from an individual who professes to know precisely what the Bible says/means when it comes to the Universe.

Science-faith conflict is like all other conflicts we have in this world - they are human made.

Enjoy this Holiday season and revel in the beauty and majesty that is the night sky - AND our ability to seek to understand it by ALL legitimate means available to us.

Sky Guy in VA

Friday, December 22, 2017


Hey Space Placers!

If you like the annual December Geminid Meteor Shower you will want to read this article about how 3200 Phaethon was imaged when it passed by Earth recently.

Even better is the fact that the Arecibo Radio Telescope that was damaged recently in the Puerto Rico hurricane has been repaired and was able to take these amazing images.

Sky Guy in VA

Thursday, December 21, 2017


Hey Space Placers!

The EXACT moment of the Winter Solstice is today, December 21, 2017 at 11:28 a.m. EST. The Sun will be at its lowest point in your sky for the year and the night will be the longest. We start gaining more daylight each day after.

I hope to post a pic of the Sun at the moment of the Solstice later.

Winter Solstice 2017 Sun

Winter Solstice 2017 Sun
Greg Redfern
Enjoy the holiday season and especially the winter stars......

Sky Guy in VA

Wednesday, December 20, 2017


Hey Space Placers!

Portrayal of 'Oumuamua (1I/2017 U1)
This portrayal of 'Oumuamua (1I/2017 U1) suggests a less elongated shape. Some asteroid specialists have questioned how extreme this body's length-to-width ratio might be.
ESO / M. Kornmesser

Here are the latest findings on Oumuamua which I blogged about previously.

Results are still pending from the radio observations that were made of the object.

Sky Guy in VA

Monday, December 18, 2017


Hey Space Placers!

NASA will be announcing a new solar system mission in a love teleconference this Wed., 12/20/17 at 2 p.m. EST.

Here are the missions in the running:

  • Comet Surface Sample Return
  • Lunar South Pole-Aitken Basin Sample Return
  • Ocean Worlds (Titan and/or Enceladus)
  • Saturn Probe
  • Trojan Tour and Rendezvous
  • Venus In Situ Explorer

OH MAN HOW I WOULD 😍😍😍😍😍😍😍😍😍😍😍😍😍😍  a Lunar South Pole-Aitken Basin Sample Return Mission!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

My $$ is on "Ocean Worlds (Titan and/or Enceladus)" selection. I say that because we just finished 10+ years at Saturn, have had several missions active, with more to come in the asteroid belt, Venus is Venus (not a top planetary priority as there have been previous missions to Venus) and  there have been recent comet missions.

NASA is excited about Enceladus due to its subsurface liquid ocean so that is why I think it is the front runner.

The Lunar mission would be very exciting as we would be returning to the SURFACE of the Moon - no one has done that recently except the Chinese - and we would lear a lot about an area of the Moon that we have only explored by lunar orbiting missions.

I'll be tuning in to see who gets selected.

Sky Guy in VA

Sunday, December 17, 2017


Hey Space Placers!

Read all about the "X-Files" unit in the Pentagon that was dedicated to investigating U.S. military UFO sightings.

I personally think this is a good thing as ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE in the Universe. Are these alien spacecraft? other countries' advanced prototypes? Who knows.

The fact that we do not know more than justifies inquiring about them as best we can.

The Truth Is Out There......

Sky Guy in VA

Saturday, December 16, 2017


Hey Space Placers!

I hope you have signed up to see the International Space Station. It is ALWAYS amazing to see 1 million pounds of space hardware the size of a football field traveling at 17,500 mph with humans on board.

This was my view last night:

ISS Rises in the NW Amidst Clouds & the Milky Way
Sky Guy in VA

Tuesday, December 12, 2017


Hey Space Placers!

A Bright Meteor
Greg Redfern
Here comes the Geminid Meteor Shower!

Bundle up and get outside to see what I think will be the BEST meteor shower of the year!!!!

Sky Guy in VA

Wednesday, December 6, 2017


Hey Space Placers!

Interesting read. Only time will tell as to the origin of these microbes.

As the late, great Carl Sagan said, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof". We have been down this road before with possible life forms found in an Antartica meteorite from Mars.

Let's see what the worldwide scientific community comes up with in their analysis.

Sky Guy 2 days Out of Miami.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Sky Guy Viewing ALERT!!!! SUPERMOON SUNDAY 12/3/17

Hey Space Placers!

Hello from the middle of the Atlantic Ocean aboard Regent Seven Seas EXPLORER. It has been a typical trans-Atlantic crossing in November - read cloudy and stormy - BUT it appears to be clearing just in time for Supermoon Sunday !   I am hoping to photograph the Full Cold Supermoon as it rises above the sea horizon - that should be something to see. 

On Sunday at sunset you will see a glorious Full Cold   Supermoon rising in the East after sunset that may appear brighter and a bit larger than other Full Moons of 2017. The Moon will be at Full phase (directly opposite the Sun) at 10:47 a.m. EST  on Sunday and at perigee (closest to the Earth for the month) on December 4th  at 3:42 a.m. EST - less than 24 hours apart hence the Supermoon.

This is the only Supermoon for 2017 and is also the closest Full Moon for the year. 

This time of year will also make this Supermoon brighter as explained by NASA, ”because the Earth will be at its closest to the Sun (called perihelion) in early January, the sunlight reaching and reflecting off the Moon this time of year is about 7% more intense (than at aphelion in early July), making winter-time supermoons even brighter.” estimates that this Full Cold Suppermoon will be 8% wider and 16% brighter than an average Full Moon. Experienced moon watchers can tell the size difference but the extra brightness is usually noticed by all.

Go out tonight and enjoy the almost Full Cold Supermoon. If Sunday is a wash out don’t fret.  We will have two Supermoons in January - the second being a Blue Moon that will also undergo a total lunar eclipse       that will only be a partial lunar eclipse before sunrise for the DMV.

Oh, and when looking at the Moon, wink at it in remembrance of Neil Armstrong  - first human to walk on the Moon

Sky Guy In The Atlantic

Friday, December 1, 2017

Voyager 1 Fires Thrusters After 37 Years!!

Hey Space Placers!

Read this incredible story about far flung Voyager 1 using its back up thruster 37 years AFTER they were last used. Boy, can NASA build 'em!

An artist concept depicting one of the twin Voyager spacecraft.
Voyager 1 Artistic Rendition
Sky Guy In The Atlantic Ocean

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Check Out The Latest From The Center Of Our Galaxy

Hey Space Placers!

Check out this story about new stars forming incredibly close to the 4.4 million mass black hole at the center of our Milky Way Galaxy.

An ALMA image of the center of the Milky Way galaxy showing the location of 11 young protostars within about 3 light-years of our galaxy's supermassive black hole. The lines indicate the direction of the bipolar lobes created by high-velocity jets from the protostars. The illustrated star in the middle of the image indicates the location of Sagittarius A*, the 4 million solar mass supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy. The next image is a zoom-in to one of the protostars. 
Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), Yusef-Zadeh et al.; B. Saxton (NRAO/AUI/NSF)
Sky Guy At Sea

Monday, November 27, 2017

At Sea Aboard Regent Seven Seas Explorer

Hey Space Placers!

At sea giving 9 lectures while transiting from Lisbon to Miami.

Will Post again soon!

Sky Guy at Sea

Wednesday, November 22, 2017


Hey Space Placers!

Look at this picture:

The Four RS-25 Engines That Will Power
The 1st Stage of Exploration Mission-1
These are four upgraded Space Shuttle Main Engines powered 21 different Space Shuttle missions.  Now designated RS-25, these are the engines that will power the first stage of the very first Space Launch System (SLS) to be launched. 

Called Exploration Flight-1, the SLS will put an unmanned Orion spacecraft into orbit around the Earth. Upon checkout of all systems the SLS upper stage will conduct a translunar orbital insertion (TLI) burn that will put Orion on course for its 25-day mission.

Just writing this makes me excited...NASA launching its new rocket and manned spacecraft to the Moon.


I am hoping to get to see these 4 engines light on the test stand and on the launch pad. If I do, you will see it too ;-)

Sky Guy in VA

Tuesday, November 21, 2017


Hey Space Placers!

If you recall we recently had a visitor to the solar system that came from interstellar space. NASA and others released yesterday information on the SHAPE of the asteroid and to put it mildly, it is out of this world!

For the first time ever astronomers have studied an asteroid that has entered the Solar System from interstellar space. Observations from ESO’s Very Large Telescope in Chile and other observatories around the world show that this unique object was traveling through space for millions of years before its chance encounter with our star system. It appears to be a dark, reddish, highly-elongated rocky or high-metal-content object. The new results appear in the journal Nature on 20 November 2017.

For those of us who are sci-fi fans this is manna from heaven because the physical shape of Oumuamua conjures up the Monolith from '2001' and '2010',  Rama from 'Rendezvous with Rama' - all Arthur C. Clarke creations.

To top it off we have yet to discover anything remotely resembling this asteroid in our own solar system. It is hard to imagine that we would not have detected a 400 meter long linear shaped asteroid.

Sky Guy in VA

Monday, November 20, 2017


Hey Space Placers!

Check out this short interview with Apollo 17's Jack Schmitt.

Be sure to go out and look at the Moon in the Western sky after sunset tonight. Lunar Reconnaissance  Orbiter is humanity's ONLY active lunar mission.

Hopefully this will change in the future......

Sky Guy in VA

Thursday, November 16, 2017


Hey Space Placers!

Here is info on the Leonid Meteor Shower which should peak the next two mornings. Viewers from a dark sky site might see 10-15 an hour. Best viewing will be in the hours before dawn.

All the best,

Sky Guy in VA

Wednesday, November 15, 2017


Hey Space Placers!

This artist’s impression shows the temperate planet Ross 128 b, with its red dwarf parent star in the background. (M. Kornmesser/ESO)

Read all about the newest exoplanet neighbor to Earth - just 11 light years away

Sky Guy in VA

Monday, November 13, 2017


Hey Space Placers!

No joy on this morning's Jupiter-Venus injunction due to 100% cloud cover :-(

JWST at NASA Goddard in 2016
Greg Redfern
Here are details on the first observation proposals with James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).

Here is the full list of the proposals.

Sky Guy in VA

Thursday, November 9, 2017


Hey Space Placers!

Pre-dawn observers will spot a pretty neat sight in the East starting on Friday, 11/10/17.  Venus and Jupiter are very close to one another and will be less than a degree apart - or in conjunction - 45 minutes before dawn on 11/13. Venus is the brighter of the two planets.

To see the planetary pair observers will need a very clear horizon to the East as the planets will only be a scant 5 degrees - 3 fingers held together at arm's distance - above the horizon. Binoculars will help in the view and it may even be possible to see the 4 main moons of Jupiter with 7x50 binoculars. The view in a telescope with a low power eyepiece will show both planets and Jupiter's moons easily.

Observers can watch the two get closer together and then separate which is always neat to do. The slim Crescent Moon will be joining them on the 16th and 17th. 

The day to day movement in the sky of these celestial objects is due to their own orbits around the Sun, including the Earth's, and the Moon's orbit around the Earth. Venus is 246 million km (14 light minutes) distant while Jupiter is 957 million km (53 light minutes distant.

I will be trying for pics and will share if I get any worthwhile.

Clear skies!

Sky Guy in VA

Wednesday, November 8, 2017


Hey Space Placers!

Well, here is one for the astro-history books......a star that goes Supernova (explodes) and then is discovered to have gone Supernova before!!!!

This is the first discovery of such an event. Get the details here.

What a Universe!

Tuesday, November 7, 2017


Hey Space Placers!

Get creative and pick a name for 2014 MU69, New Horizons' next flyby target.

Artist's concept of NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft flying by a possible binary 2014 MU69 on Jan. 1, 2019. Early observations of MU69 hint at the Kuiper Belt object being either a binary orbiting pair or a contact (stuck together) pair of nearly like-sized bodies with diameters near 20 and 18 kilometers (12 and 11 miles).

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute/Carlos Hernandez

Get details here.

Good luck!

Sky Guy in VA

Sunday, November 5, 2017


Hey Space Placers!

Sunday night the almost Full Moon will cover, or occult, the bright orangish star Aldebaran. The Moon will cover the star at 7:58 pm EST for Washington, D.C. The star will reappear at 8:52 pm EST for D.C. See the link below to look up your viewing site for times - this will be visible in North America and parts of Europe (on the 6th.

To see this event really requires a telescope for the disappearance due to the brilliant Moon but the reappearance can be seen with binoculars. It will be quite a sight.

If the wx cooperates (clouds are predicted) I will have my 'scope set up to photograph.

Sky Guy in VA

Friday, November 3, 2017


Hey Space Placers!

It is the Full Hunter Moon tonight - Nov 3-4.

Here is everything you need to know about this beautiful Fall sight.

Oh, and here is NASA's take on the Hunter Moon.

Here was last night's view of the Moon.
Last Sunset Before the Full Hunter Moon
Greg Redfern

Sky Guy in VA

Thursday, November 2, 2017


Hey Space Placers!

Here's something you don't see every day (or night ;-) )

HST taking a deep (long exposure) photograph of a huge and distant galactic cluster only to get Photobombed by chunks of solar system debris we call asteroids!

Enjoy looking at the incredible photos of the Cluster and the space rocks.

This reminded me of fireflies photobombing sky pics in the summer months.....

Sky Guy in VA

Tuesday, October 31, 2017


Hey Space Placers!

Happy Halloween!

A very appropriate topic for today is "What is Dark Matter".  The hunt still goes on to solve this key mystery of the Universe.

Today's APOD combines Halloween and "Dark Matter Day

See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download
 the highest resolution version available.
Dark Matter in a Simulated Universe 
Illustration Credit & Copyright Tom Abel & Ralf Kaehler (KIPACSLAC), AMNH
Perhaps we will know more about Dark Matter next Halloween!

Sky Guy in VA

Monday, October 30, 2017


Hey Space Placers!

Hope you got to see the Moon on InMON night Saturday - it was cloudy for me.

Here is a very good article on the interior of Neutron Stars - the amazing dead cores of massive stars that went supernova.

Sky Guy in VA

Saturday, October 28, 2017


Hey Space Placers!

Tonight is “International Observe the Moon Night”      or InOMN for short. Observers and lovers of the Moon (like me) around the world will be observing the Moon and sponsoring Moon watching events.

As stated on the InOMN webpage, “International Observe the Moon Night (InOMN) is an annual worldwide public event that encourages observation, appreciation, and understanding of our Moon and its connection to NASA planetary science and exploration, as well as the cultural and personal connections we all have with Earth's nearest neighbor. Everyone on Earth is invited to join the celebration by hosting or attending an InOMN event — and uniting on one day each year to look at and learn about the Moon together.”

InOMN is sponsored by NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO)       with support from NASA's Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI)    and the Lunar and Planetary Institute   .

In the DMV there are a number of InOMN events being held. NASA Goddard, Baltimore Science Center, the National Air and Space Museum’s Haas Public Observatory and Udvar Hazy Center are all hosting InOMN events. Click their links on the InOMN website for further information.

If you can’t make an event or if the skies aren’t clear there will be a live InOMN webcast    from 6 p.m. EDT to 11 p.m. EDT, and a live Virtual Telescope event  at 1 p.m. EDT.

On a personal note I watched LRO   being built at NASA’s Goddard Spaceflight Center and have stayed in touch with the mission throughout the years. LRO is currently the ONLY active lunar mission and has enough fuel for another ten years of operations. LRO’s mission team is working on getting NASA funding to extend the mission. LRO is a pathfinder for humanity’s return to the Moon which all of the spacefaring nations are preparing to do.

Take a look at the Moon tonight, or any night. It is beautiful, eternal and transforms the night into something magical. 

While we contemplate the Moon the solar system has a passing through visitor that has come from outside our solar system - WOW!

Designated A/2017 U1 astronomers have been making ongoing observations of what they believe may be an asteroid or comet that originated in another part of our galaxy. 

Traveling for untold eons this denizen from the vastness of space was discovered on October 19th and determined to have come from the direction of the constellation Lyra, which is currently visible in the western sky. It passed closest to Earth on October 14th at 15 million miles and is now on a course to the constellation Pegasus which we see right after sunset high in the eastern sky.

I have been following the email traffic on this discovery and astronomers have determined that A/2017 U1 is reddish in color - perhaps similar in color to the objects that occupy the outer reaches of our solar system - and traveling a very fast 27 miles a second. It was predicted that such objects existed in our Milky Way Galaxy, especially with planet formation being a natural byproduct of the birth of stars. Now we know. 

Enjoy the Moon’s night and contemplate the vastness and splendor of the Universe in which you live and are part of.

Sky Guy in VA

Friday, October 27, 2017


Hey Space Placers!

Here's a great article on the James Webb Space Telescope .

JWST at NASA Goddard
Greg Redfern
JWST's launch has been pushed back to 2019. I hope to get out to the West Coast to report on the integration of the telescope to the spacecraft.

Be sure to check tomorrow about International Observe the Moon Night on October 28th.

Sky Guy in VA

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Wednesday, October 25, 2017


Hey Space Placers!

Here's another topic for you to learn about in our solar system - the Zodiacal Light.

If you live in dark skies try to spot the faint pyramidal glow in the East several hours before dawn. It is an amazing sight.
4 Planets and the Zodiacal Light (the faint pyramid of light in the middle)
from Shenandoah National Park
Greg Redfern

Sky Guy in VA

Tuesday, October 24, 2017


Hey Space Placers!

Here is an excellent article about the Solar System's Kuiper Belt - a region of millions of icy bodies located billions of miles from Earth.

The New Horizons spacecraft is enroute to flyby a denizen of the Kuiper Belt - 2014 MU69 - on 1/1/19.

Sky Guy in VA

Monday, October 23, 2017


Hey Space Placers!

I have written about the many citizen science projects (just do a search on my blog "Citizen Science").

There is a new one now that involves helping to identify features on Earth captured by photos taken from the International Space Station.

If you have the time and inclination, participating in these projects is very gratifying and who may make a discovery.

Sky Guy in VA

Sunday, October 22, 2017


Hey Space Placers!

The Moon returns to the early evening sky this week. I was able to get my youngest Moon pic ever at 1.1 days old.

1.1 Day Old Waxing Crescent Moon 10/20/17
Greg Redfern
Before the Moon gets bright in the evening sky try to look for the farthest planet you can see with your unaided eye - Uranus. Almost 2 billion miles away it takes light 157 minutes to get to your eye or camera.

If you have dark skies you can find Uranus AND see it with your own eyes. I did on October 20, 2017. Try following the tips here and if you have binoculars use them to zero in on the 7th planet from the Sun and then try using just you eyes.

Uranus on 10/20/17
Greg Redfern
Good luck!

Sky Guy in VA

Friday, October 20, 2017


Hey Space Placers!

Orion the Hunter its visible rising in the East at around 11 pm local and remains visible all night. The mighty hunter prepares to roam the skies of winter with his trusty hunting dogs Canis Major and Canis Minor.

Tonight into tomorrow morning before dawn be on the look out for shooting stars - meteors - from the Orionid Meteor Shower. The expected peak of the Orionids, which can produce up to 10  meteors an hour and peak at 25 an hour, is on Saturday-Sunday night. The best time to look is after midnight and before dawn as we will be facing the meteor stream.

How to See Orionid Meteors
Star Chart For The Orionid Meteor Shower
Credit: Sky &

None other than Halley's Comet is the source for these dust particles which hit our atmosphere at a speed of 238,000 KM/SEC....that dear reader is SMOKING!!!

If you want to try and capture pics of the shower here are some tips.

Be sure to enjoy the bright star Sirius and the other stars of winter's sky while watching.

Here's to clear skies for all.

Sky Guy in VA

Thursday, October 19, 2017


Hey Space Placers!

UPDATE: Today's  NASA Press Release  on this new finding.

Here is research that shows that our Moon once had an atmosphere due to volcanic activity that took place billions of years ago. It is thought that this atmosphere would have lasted 70 million years before finally being lost to space.

Artist's impression of the Moon, looking over Imbrium Basin, with lavas erupting, venting gases, and producing a visible atmosphere. Credit: NASA MSFC

This lunar atmosphere would have been 1.5 times thicker than the current atmosphere on Mars. Calculations show that a water volume twice that of Lake Tahoe could have been released into the lunar atmosphere. The water at the Moon's poles could have been deposited during this era. 

Sky Guy in VA

Monday, October 16, 2017


Hey Space Placers!

Do you remember what you were doing at 8:41 a.m. EDT August 17, 2017? 

At that moment two Gravitational Wave Observatories in the U.S. called LIGO   were detecting a ripple in space time caused by gravitational waves. LIGO had already discovered several black hole mergers  but this signal was far different in that it lasted 100 seconds and indicated a merger of two less massive objects had occurred. 

LIGO had just detected the merger of two neutron stars   

This animation captures phenomena observed over the course of nine days following the neutron star merger known as GW170817. They include gravitational waves (pale arcs); a near-light-speed jet that produced gamma rays (magenta); expanding debris from a "kilonova" that produced ultraviolet (violet), optical and infrared (blue-white to red) emission; and, once the jet directed toward us expanded into our view from Earth, X-rays (blue).
Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/CI Lab
Two seconds after LIGO’s gravitational wave detection NASA’s space based Fermi Gamma Ray Telescope     and shortly thereafter the European Space Agency’s INTEGRAL spacecraft also observed gamma rays. 

An alert went out to the worldwide astronomical community. Teams of astronomers scrambled to try and find the source of the gamma rays thought to be associated with the gravitational waves. A team of four Carnegie astronomers  
along with colleagues at UC Santa Cruz   used the Swope telescope at Las Campanas Observatory to be the first to discover the light produced by the merger.

This was the first-ever glimpse in visible light of two neutron stars colliding and pinpointed the origin of the gravitational wave signal less than 11 hours after it was detected by LIGO.  This team also obtained the earliest spectra - or chemical fingerprints - of the merger, which will help astronomers explain how many of the universe’s heavy elements were created.

Their observations and others using the Italy based VIRGO gravitational wave observatory, 70 telescopes both space and ground based, 100 instruments and thousands of astronomers and physicists resulted in the birth of “Multi-Messenger Astronomy”.

For the first time ever observation of gravitational waves and light across the entire electromagnetic spectrum had been conducted. The source of this neutron star merger was in a galaxy called NGC 4993 located 130 million light years from Earth in the southern constellation Hydra  .

These two neutron stars were created by two supernovas    just two billion years after the Big Bang   and had been orbiting each other for eleven billion years. They were only 200 miles apart when 100 seconds later they merged to emit gravitational waves and create a Kilonova    that was 200 million times the brightness of the Sun.  

During the media telecon sponsored by the National Science Foundation I asked if astronomers knew what the new object was resulting from the merger and subsequent kilonova. The panel responded that, “No firm knowledge of the end state (yet) but X-ray observations suggest it should be a very light mass black hole or the most massive neutron star. More observations will help us determine the answer”.

What astronomers do know is that the kilonova produced heavy elements, especially gold, platinum, uranium. Stars during their lives and deaths manufacture all of the natural elements we see on the Periodic Table of Elements other than Hydrogen which was created by the Big Bang. This process, called nucleosynthesis   continuously seeds the Universe with the elements necessary to create planets and life. 

According to Dr. Edo Berger, an astronomer at Harvard University and part of today’s panel, the observed kilonova showed “The direct fingerprints of the (creation of) heavy elements for the first time ever, producing 16,000 times the mass of the Earth in heavy elements and tens of times the mass of the Earth in gold and platinum”.

This groundbreaking discovery was made possible by the 30-plus years of LIGO-gravitational wave funding provided by NSF. Dr. Frances Cordova, NSF’s Director, was kind enough to respond to my email questions about this discovery.

As an astrophysicist, what are your personal feelings about this discovery? 
An as astrophysicist and director of the National Science Foundation (NSF), I couldn’t be more excited knowing that on any given day a wondrous discovery is waiting to be found. Each discovery is unique and serves as a beacon to keep searching, to keep seeking, and for NSF, to keep investing in fundamental research. One of my early engagements as a young astronomer was to further multiwavelength astronomy, or linking together telescopes around the world and in space to observe transient phenomena. This was the same theme as today's announcement, but there weren’t gravitational waves then. We had no idea at that time how much more information could be derived by opening the gravitational wave window on the universe.

As a follow up, what is the scientific significance of this discovery?
This discovery is the first verification of a "kilonova" explosion, confirming binary neutron star collisions as one source for the universe's heaviest elements, such as gold and uranium. The fact that we can still learn about the universe is worth its weight in gold, or should I say uranium. It is also confirmation that binary neutron star infall is one way to produce short gamma-ray bursts, whose origin has been a mystery. 

The significance for the National Science Foundation is LIGO demonstrates the value of funding basic research by doing extraordinarily hard engineering projects that can have profound implications for our understanding of the nature and evolution of the universe. LIGO is one of the largest experiments the agency has ever funded and researchers at NSF's twin LIGO detectors and the Virgo detector located GW170817 with unprecedented precision, allowing telescopes on the ground and in space to rapidly turn their attention towards the area of sky where the neutron stars collided.

What do you think will be the "Next Big Discovery" in Gravitational Wave Astronomy?
Not sure! Could be witnessing gravitational waves from supernovae, or the imprint of gravitational waves on the microwave background formed during a very early epoch in the formation of our universe. We didn't know what the first results would be from LIGO, and we can't truly foresee what the next results from this or other gravitational wave experiments operating at different frequencies will be. That's the whole point of fundamental research -- it can lead to new and surprising results that transform our understanding of nature and the cosmos. 

What is the future role of the NSF as to LIGO/Gravitational Wave Astronomy?
This was the first event in a new era of "multi-messenger" observations, a new window on the universe.  Moving forward, LIGO-VIRGO will be making many more observations.  With multi-messenger astronomy, scientists will observe the most powerful events in the universe from the first gravitational-wave pulse to the cascade of particles and electromagnetic energy that streams toward Earth, offering new and more complete insights into nature's biggest explosions. The role of NSF is to keep moving ahead to increase the volume of the universe sampled, and hence the number and perhaps kinds of sources detected; this can be done by steadily increasing the sensitivity of the gravitational wave facilities. 

This was a fortuitous discovery as the LIGO observatories were due to be shut down for a year to undergo major upgrades in sensitivity that will greatly expand their capabilities. Not only that, but just nine days later the Sun would have blocked the signal.

Observations will continue and more science papers will be written about this historic event. But as explained by Dr. Cordova the future is bright for “Multi-Messenger Astronomy” - all you have to do is look at whatever gold you own for proof.

I can hardly wait.

Sky Guy in VA