Friday, March 30, 2018


Hey Space Placers!

Here is my story on the "Return to the Moon" Symposium.

Enjoy  these pics I took at the Symposium.

Acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot
Credit: Greg Redfern
Dr. Harrison Schmitt, Apollo 17 Lunar Module Pilot/Moonwalker and I

The Symposium left me with the belief that humanity, if we don't destroy ourselves, will indeed return to the Moon and STAY this time.

I hope I live to see it happen........

Grumman did it right
Lunar Excursion Module At the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum
Greg Redfern
Sky Guy in VA

Thursday, March 29, 2018


Hey Space Placers!

This new discovery of a galaxy that contains little or NO Dark Matter is so huge it puts my blog about yesterday's "Return to The Moon" conference in Washington, D.C. on hold.

Astronomers just announced yesterday that using an array of commercial 400mm telephoto lenses called Dragonfly they have found a galaxy called NGC 1052-DF2 that is the size of the Milky Way Galaxy (MWG), contains less than 0.5% of the stars in the MWG, and has little or no Dark Matter which is found in every other galaxy to date.

This galaxy is so sparse that when the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) photographed it distant background galaxies could be seen through it!

Hubble Views ‘Ghostly’ Galaxy Lacking Dark Matter
This large, fuzzy-looking galaxy is so diffuse that astronomers call it a “see-through” galaxy because they can clearly see distant galaxies behind it.
The ghostly object, catalogued as NGC 1052-DF2, doesn’t have a noticeable central region, or even spiral arms and a disk, typical features of a spiral galaxy. But it doesn’t look like an elliptical galaxy, either. Even its globular clusters are oddballs: they are twice as large as typical stellar groupings seen in other galaxies.
All of these oddities pale in comparison to the weirdest aspect of this galaxy: NGC 1052-DF2 is missing most, if not all, of its dark matter. An invisible substance that makes up the bulk of our universe, dark matter is the underlying scaffolding upon which galaxies are built. It’s the glue that holds the visible matter in galaxies — stars and gas — together.
The galaxy contains at most 1/400th the amount of dark matter that astronomers had expected. But how it formed is a complete mystery.
The galactic oddball is as large as our Milky Way, but it had escaped attention because it contains only 1/200th the number of stars as our galaxy. Given the object’s large size and faint appearance, astronomers classify NGC 1052-DF2 as an ultra-diffuse galaxy.
Based on the colors of its globular clusters, NGC 1052-DF2 is about 10 billion years old. It resides about 65 million light-years away.
The image was taken Nov. 16, 2017, by Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys.
NASAESA, and P. van Dokkum (Yale University)
The Dragonfly team has other candidate galaxies to explore which is important because other galaxies lacking Dark Matter need to be discovered to provide more examples/data for study. Dragonfly is uniquely equipped for making such discoveries because it can really detect faint objects better than large telescopes.

This discovery will force astronomers to rethink how galaxies form as NGC 1052-DF2  shows that DM isn't present in all galaxies as they once thought. It also shows that DM is real and not some type of gravitational interaction that allows galaxies to form mimicking DM. If that was true then NGC 1052-DF2 would have to be like very other galaxy.

As I have always said, "Stay tuned as the Universe always surprises us."

Sky Guy in VA

Tuesday, March 27, 2018


Hey Space Placers!

JWST Optical Telescope Element Completed
Greg Redfern
If you read my blog yesterday this is the follow on to it.

NASA held a media teleconference today in which I participated to discuss the status of the long awaited James Webb Space Telescope (JWST)  which had been slated for a launch in 2018 and then 2019 . It was announced today that NASA has now tentatively scheduled launch for May 2020.

Acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot stated, “Webb is the highest priority project for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD), and the largest international space science project in U.S. history. All the observatory’s flight hardware is now complete, however, the issues brought to light with the spacecraft element are prompting us to take the necessary steps to refocus our efforts on the completion of this ambitious and complex observatory.” 

JWST consists of two separate elements - the Optical Telescope Element (OTE)  and the spacecraft element which the OTE is attached to.

The OTE consists of the 6.5-meter telescope and its instruments. Over the years it was built, assembled and tested at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland before being completed last year. The OTE then underwent months of additional successful testing at NASA’s Johnson Space Flight Center, Houston, Texas. In early 2018 the OTE was flown by a C-5 aircraft to California for integration and testing with the spacecraft element.

The spacecraft that the OTE will be integrated with was built by primary contractor Northrop Grumman. It consists of a five layer sunshield the size of a tennis court to protect the OTE from heat of the Sun, Moon and Earth. The spacecraft also carries solar panels and batteries for power, radio communications and propulsion systems and the avionics/onboard computer system. The spacecraft will fly the OTE out to a gravitational point called L-2 one million miles from Earth where the telescope will operate just 40 degrees above Absolute Zero.

For the first time in the project’s history both elements are at the same facility in Redondo Beach, California for integration and testing. 

It was during the testing of the spacecraft element that several technical issues arose.

NASA said in a press release today    that,“Testing the hardware on the observatory’s telescope element and spacecraft element demonstrate that these systems individually meet their requirements. However, recent findings from the project’s Standing Review Board (SRB) indicate more time is needed to test and integrate these components together and then perform environmental testing at Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems in Redondo Beach, California, the project’s observatory contractor.

Because JWST, consisting of both integrated elements, has to be folded up in order to fit into the payload fairing of the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Ariane-5 rocket, a complex deployment sequence has to take place in the proper order. Part of this sequence is the unfolding of the large sunshield. During testing of the sunshield’s folding process and subsequent deployment sequence it was found that tears developed and the sunshield’s tensioning cables had to be redesigned as the original design left too much slack. Additionally there were problems that developed with the spacecraft’s propulsion system, specifically thruster valve propellant leaks. A technical issue with transducers developed as well.

The discovery and fixing of these issues, the ongoing complex integration of the two JWST elements, plus the time needed for rigorous and thorough testing of the completed integration all led to the slipping of the launch date. 

Dr. Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, stated that,“We have a 70% confidence level for the May 2020 launch date. Rigorous testing is needed, we need to do it right on the ground and failure is not an option.  We want to get to a higher confidence level and will take no shortcuts.”

Besides the technical issues, JWST has a congressionally mandated spending cap of $8 billion dollars. Acting Administrator Lightfoot said, “NASA has spent $7.3 billion so far. If JWST needs more funding than the $8 billion, it will take a reauthorization from Congress.”

To determine more accurately the launch date and costs of JWST, today’s NASA press release stated, “NASA has established an external Independent Review Board (IRB), chaired by Thomas Young, a highly respected NASA and industry veteran who is often called on to chair advisory committees and analyze organizational and technical issues. The IRB findings, which will complement the SRB data, are expected to bolster confidence in NASA’s approach to completing the final integration and test phase of the mission, the launch campaign, commissioning, as well as the entire deployment sequence. Both boards’ findings and recommendations, as well as the project’s input, will be considered by NASA as it defines a more specific launch time frame. NASA will then provide its assessment in a report to Congress this summer.”

When I asked Dr. Zurbuchen what he thought was the most critical step going forward, he replied, “To learn how to make the changes to insure mission (JWST) success using lessons learned to get better, to do everything we could to insure mission success.”

JWST “mission success” will be a 10 year cycle of observations revealing what we have never seen in the Universe before - the first stars and galaxies forming, new discoveries in our own solar system and other planetary systems and most tantalizing, things we have not even imagined.

I will provide updates on JWST as they develop.

Sky Guy in VA

Monday, March 26, 2018


Hey Space Placers!

NASA to hold media teleconference tomorrow on James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).

JWST Optical Telescope Element at NASA Goddard
Credit: Greg Redfern
I'll let you know what takes place. My guess is a delay in launch.

Sky Guy in VA

Thursday, March 22, 2018


Hey Space Placers!

 Here's a fascinating article about the 3 way tug of war going on between the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds (LMC, SMC) which can be seen in the Southern Hemisphere and our very own Milky Way Galaxy (MWG).

LMC & SMC and Achenar
Taken by Greg Redfern Underway On Oceania
LMC and SMC orbit our MWG and all 3 are undergoing gravitational interactions, some of which result in the Magellanic Stream and Leading Arm which can be seen in the following photo:

Caption From NASA:
This is a photo mosaic of an edge-on view of the Milky Way galaxy, looking toward the central bulge. Superimposed on it are radio-telescope images, colored pink, of the stretched, arc-shaped Magellanic Stream below the plane of the galaxy and the shredded, fragmented Leading Arm crossing the galaxy’s plane and extending above it. These gas clouds are being gravitationally pulled apart like taffy from the Small and Large Magellanic Clouds—satellite galaxies to our Milky Way—which appear as bright clumps within the gas. 
The source of the ribbon-like Magellanic Stream was uncovered by the Hubble Space Telescope about five years ago, and it was found to come from both Magellanic Clouds. However, the source of the Leading Arm remained a mystery until today. Now, scientists have used Hubble’s ultraviolet vision to chemically analyze the gas in the Leading Arm and determine its origin. Because they could not directly sample it, they instead used the light from seven quasars—the bright cores of active galaxies—to measure how it filtered through the Leading Arm’s gas. These quasars reside billions of light-years beyond the Leading Arm and act as “lighthouses” shining through the gas.
Scientists looked for the absorption of the quasars’ ultraviolet light by oxygen in the cloud. This is a good indication of how many heavier elements reside in the Leading Arm’s gas. The team then compared Hubble’s measurements to hydrogen measurements made by the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope in Green Bank, West Virginia, as well as several other radio telescopes. 
Marked locations indicate the three brightest of the seven quasars used to study the composition of the Leading Arm. Spectra for these three quasars are superimposed at the bottom of the graphic. The vertical axis of each spectrum indicates how much absorption is taking place. The more absorption, the greater the signal strength is. The horizontal axes indicate the velocities of the gas at different points. Blue boxes isolate the velocities unique to the Leading Arm.
The oxygen, combined with the hydrogen, provided conclusive chemical “fingerprints” to match the origin of the Leading Arm’s gas. The team found that the gas matches the contents of the Small Magellanic Cloud. 
Illustration: D. Nidever et al., NRAO/AUI/NSF and A. Mellinger, Leiden-Argentine-Bonn (LAB) Survey, Parkes Observatory, Westerbork Observatory, Arecibo Observatory, and A. Feild (STScI)
Science: NASAESA, and A. Fox (STScI)

It is amazing to think that gas from the SMC will possibly provide the MWG the raw material needed  to form new stars and solar systems far into the future.

Sky Guy in VA

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

The Moon Beckons Us

Hey Space Placers!

Back from sea and just in time to go from 89+F to 6+" of it.

Watch this video, it will only take a few minutes but will bring a smile to your face I am sure:

If you are a long time follower - my thanks to you - you know the Moon is my fave place in the Universe and I truly love our planet's companion.

As the video shows and Phil Plait writes, the Moon is a great unifier for us all - if we ONLY look. Whether it is with our eyes, binoculars or in a telescope, the Moon captures us when we look. I too have seen the light of the Moon going into the pupil of a human looking through my telescope and heard the exclamations that erupt forth.....they are music to my ears.

Take a look at the Moon for yourself.....enjoy the'll be glad you did.

Sky Guy in VA

Sunday, March 18, 2018


Hey Space Placers!

Find a good clear view of the Western horizon as tonight the THIN Waxing Crescent Moon will be going Mercury and Venus in the sky after sunset. 

The planetary duo, Venus being the brighter of the two, has graced our skies for the past few weeks as you can see in this pic I took aboard Azamara Quest underway off the NW coast of Cuba a few days ago:

Venus, lower left, and Mercury grace the Western sky after sunset
off the NW coast of Cuba
Taken underway on Azamara Quest
Greg Redfern

The key to seeing this trio is going out about a half hour after sunset and looking due West. If you have binoculars that will help. Venus and Mercury will be in the same field of view. The Moon will be to the lower left of Venus. You may even be able to see Earthshine on the Moon - the ghostly light that is from the reflection of sunlight off our planet's oceans and clouds that illuminates the dark of the Moon.

The Moon will move to the upper left in the next few days and will be easier to see with some Earthshine as well.

I'll be underway on Azamara Quest enroute to Miami so I'm hoping to get a great pic which of course I'll share.

Good luck and clear skies!

Sky Guy Greg

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Stephen Hawking Dies

Hey Space Placers!

Sad day as Dr. Stephen Hawking is dead at 76.

Read the Washington Post news story about his life.

The world will miss his intellect and wit.

Sky Guy in Cienfuegos, Cuba

Tuesday, March 13, 2018


Hey Space Placers!

There's a new theory out about how double lobed comets are formed.

Check out the video:

This video shows modelling of how a high-speed collision between two objects could have resulted in the comet 67p/Churyumov–Gerasimenko.

Sky Guy in Santiago de Cuba

Saturday, March 10, 2018

VIEWING ALERT: Mercury Venus at Sunset; Saturn, Mars, Moon, Jupiter before Dawn

Hey Space Placers!

Underway on Azamara Quest to Haiti and Cuba.

Venus and Mercury are in the West after sunset and will be getting easier to see each night.


The Zodiacal Light is in the West also about 90 minutes after sunset from a dark sky sight and should be visible for another week or so.

Zodiacal Light at Sea
Greg Redfern

Mercury will be getting higher until after mid-month when it will start to descend into the Sun's glare. This is the BEST view of Mercury for Northern Hemisphere observers this year so make sure you get out to see the planet closest to the Sun.

Venus will keep getting higher and brighter and will dominate the western sky for month's to come.

In the Southeast before dawn the Moon, Saturn, Mars and Jupiter, along with the Milky Way will be a beautiful view for the next few days. Once the Moon moves out of the scene it WILL REALLY be something as the Milky Way will dominate the view with the planets on full display.

This pic was taken this morning on Azamara Quest with 30+ knot winds. The image was defocused a bit to highlight the colors and seaspray is on the lens filter.

SkyGuy at Sea Aboard Azamara Quest

Wednesday, March 7, 2018


Hey Space Placers!

Just about every mission NASA sends into the solar system carries along the names of Earthlings.

I have sent my name on every mission that has offered to do so and I have carried on that tradition with NASA's Parker Solar Probe.

Hey, if Captain Kirk and Sky Guy in VA have signed up, shouldn't you?????? Sign up the whole family!

Sky Guy in VA

Tuesday, March 6, 2018


Hey Space Placers!

The Earth-Moon Synestia Visualization
 Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
As promised yesterday here is the newest theory on how the Moon formed. 

Previously the leading theory was that the Moon formed as the result of a Mars-sized object called Theia impacting the Earth.

In this new theory the Earth has been vaporized due to a huge impact forming a Synestia - a hypothesized structure that forms - and the Moon emerges shortly afterwards followed by the Earth reforming.

This is a very intriguing, and to me, very plausible theory. More computer modeling and analysis of the Apollo lunar samples, including hopefully a new sample box - see yesterday's blog - will provide further refinement, and maybe, just maybe, a way to confirm how Luna came to be.

Sky Guy in VA

Monday, March 5, 2018


Hey Space Placers!

I have had some posts recently on the Moon so here is one more (with another to follow tomorrow ;-))

I hope NASA opens at least one of the sample boxes as we have come a LONG way in our ability to analyze lunar samples as the article describes. Wow, NEW lunar findings from pristine samples. It would be like a whole new lunar mission.

I'll be on the look out for updates on this story and hope to visit the Astromaterials Curation Center myself later this year.

Sky Guy in VA

Sunday, March 4, 2018


Hey Space Placers!

As March progresses make an effort to watch the movements of Mercury and Venus in the Western sky this month.

I got this pic on 8/3/18 when the two were at their closest to one another. Venus is on the left and always the brighter of the two.

Venus (L) and Mercury in the West after sunset
Greg Redfern
For the next two weeks the planetary pair will rise higher in the West making them easier to see and on the 18th the Waxing Crescent Moon will join them to make a nice view.

To see them find a Western horizon clear of obstructions, and go outside about 20 minutes after sunset. Look to the left of where the Sun set, or to the left go the bright horizon glow of the set Sun. If you have binoculars this will help too although they will be visible to the unaided eye as the month progresses.

Venus and Mercury will change their positions in the sky due to their respective orbits around the Sun as well as that of our own planet. It is viewing opportunities like this that show us that we live in a dynamic solar system where constant motion is the name of the game.

Venus will remain visible and resplendent in the Western sky for the most part of 2018. Mercury will move from the evening to morning sky later this month.

While looking West after sunset if you have a dark sky site look for the Zodiacal Light as it gets dark now that the Moon rises later each night. This will be visible as a pyramid shaped band of dim light that is tilted to the left in the sky from the horizon.

Zodiacal Light At Sea
Greg Redfern
We see it due to the reflection of sunlight off of the countless particles of interplanetary dust. The best time to look is when it just gets dark, about 80 or so minutes after sunset.

For my southern hemisphere Space Placers it will be visible in the East before sunrise but you have to wait a few days for the Moon to be less bright.

Enjoy your time outdoors looking at the sky as we get nearer and near to the Vernal Equinox.

Sky Guy in VA

Thursday, March 1, 2018


Hey Space Placers!

Get the scoop about March 1st AND the planets...FIVE OF 'EM are coming to a sky near you.

2018 will be a grand time for the planets as Venus returns to the evening sky with Mercury no less and Mars takes center stage this summer.


Sky Gy Greg