Monthly Archives: October 2013

The Ring Plane

Cassini looks at Saturn's ring plane. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
Cassini looks at Saturn’s ring plane. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

A rather unique look at the ring-plane of Saturn. It appears we are looking at the F-ring to the right then the wide gap called the Roche Division. The light colored part is the A-ring with it’s Keeler
Gap. Keeler Gap is home to the moon Daphnis and the Cassini’s camera was pointed at Daphnis in this image. I cannot see the moon, however I can see the ripples in the ring caused by the moons gravity as it goes around. Look on the other side of the narrow Keeler Gap and you will notice a “ragged” look, those are the ripples.

The leftmost gap, is the Encke gap.

The Keeler gap looks pretty narrow and it is, being only 42 km (26 miles) across and little Daphnis keeps things in an orderly state, other then the ripples or waves it creates as it zips by.  Zips is a good description too, Daphnis makes a complete orbit in about 14 hours!.

Daphis is one of the more recent discoveries and was made by Cassini in 2005.

Mean radius: 3.8 km

Orbit radius: 136,505 km

Mass: 7.7 (+/-1.5) x 1013 kg

More about Saturn here.

Next Gen Falcon 9 Launch

Some very nice video from SpaceX:

SpaceX launched a demonstration mission of it’s upgraded Falcon 9 (Falcon 9 v1.1) on 29 September in this video released on 15 Oct.

There were four small satellites released into obit on the mission:

CASSIOPE – Cascade SmallSat and Ionospheric Polar Explorer

CUSat – a nanosatellite developed by Cornell University.

DANDE – Drag and Atmospheric Neutral Density Explorer

POPACS – Polar Orbiting Passive Atmospheric Calibration Sphere

SpaceX YT channel

Hubble’s ISON Update

Hubble's look at ISON.  Click for larger. Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
Hubble’s look at ISON. Click for larger. Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

The impending ISON breakup that seems to be predicted on certain Internet sites is a FAIL so far. Not to say it won’t happen, just so far it hasn’t happened.

Comet ISON has brightened by a half a magnitude since Monday’s post, it has broken the mag 9 mark and is now 8.99 according to Stellarium and The Sky program I use. I am going to try and get a small scope on it this weekend. If I have REALLY good weather I might try using the big scope I think it is high enough to see. I have a problem in that direction due to trees, normally not too much of an issue because I can wait, but this is a close call with sunrise.

From Hubblesite:

A new image of the sunward plunging Comet ISON suggests that the comet is intact despite some predictions that the fragile icy nucleus might disintegrate as the Sun warms it. The comet will pass closest to the Sun on November 28.

In this NASA Hubble Space Telescope image taken on October 9, the comet’s solid nucleus is unresolved because it is so small. If the nucleus broke apart then Hubble would have likely seen evidence for multiple fragments.

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Lunar Eclipse Tonight

The path of eclipse visibility. Eastern Canada will see the entire event while the rest of Canada and the USA will see moonrise with the eclipse already in progress. Observers in Europe and Africa will also see the entire event, while eastern Asia misses the end because of moonset. Credit: NASA

You may be able to see the eclipse tonight. It’s not a total eclipse and you could easily miss it. This is a Penumbral Lunar Eclipse.

The Penumbral region is the region of the shadow outside of the darkest area, think of it as shaded as opposed to shadowed, if that makes sense. NASA (back open too BTW) has the times to be looking and a nice cartoon (shown above) of where and what portion of the eclipse is visible.

What you will notice is some coloring of the moon.  The coloration change could be rater subtle so this isn’t one of those “ooohhh ahhhh” kinds of things but quite cool none-the-less.

When and Where from NASA:

The last lunar eclipse of the year is a relatively deep penumbral eclipse with a magnitude of 0.7649. It should be easily visible to the naked eye as a dusky shading in the southern half of the Moon. The times of the major phases are listed below.


Penumbral Eclipse Begins: 21:50:38 UT
Greatest Eclipse: 23:50:17 UT
Penumbral Eclipse Ends: 01:49:49 UT


Note that the beginning and end of a penumbral eclipse are not visible to the eye. In fact, no shading can be detected until about 2/3 of the Moon’s disk is immersed in the penumbra. This would put the period of nominal eclipse visibility from about 23:30 to 00:10 UT. Keep in mind that this is only an estimate. Atmospheric conditions and the observer’s visual acuity are important factors to consider. An interesting exercise is to note when penumbral shading is first and last seen.


Super Star

An enlargement of the cluster from the original image, linked below.  Credit: ESO
An enlargement of the Westerlund cluster of stars from the original image, linked below. Credit: ESO

The star at the heart of this story is called Westerlund 1-26 or just W 26, it is about the biggest star we know of in our galaxy. It is some 1,500 + times the size of our sun! As the press release below tells, the star is in the process of dying, surly to become a black hole.

The star W 26 is part of a cluster of stars especially notable because of the large number of very massive stars.

The cluster was discovered in 1961 by Bengt Westerlund. The cluster was difficult to study for a long time because of dust and gas clouds and is one of the reasons distance estimates vary so much, last estimate I saw was a little over 4,900 pc, or around 16,000-light years.

The problem of the gas and dust doesn’t seem to be much of a problem for a very amazing telescope the VLT Survey Telescope. If the telescope isn’t cool enough, the camera on it, the OmegaCAM is incredible!

From the ESO (use this link to see the original image):

This new picture from the VLT Survey Telescope (VST) at ESO’s Paranal Observatory shows the remarkable super star cluster Westerlund 1 (eso1034). This exceptionally bright cluster lies about 16 000 light-years from Earth in the southern constellation of Ara (The Altar). It contains hundreds of very massive and brilliant stars, all of which are just a few million years old — babies by stellar standards. But our view of this cluster is hampered by gas and dust that prevents most of the visible light from the cluster’s stars from getting to Earth.

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Atmosphere of Saturn

Atmosphere of Saturn. Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute
Atmosphere of Saturn. Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Here is one of the latest Cassini images of Saturn. The image has pretty nice detail of the atmospheric features of the planet. You can see the polar vortex, the question is which one. The image caption was no help, just saying the camera was pointed at Anthe.

Anthe is a very tiny moon of Saturn, only about 1km in diameter and I’m not sure it is even in frame, Anthes has a semi-major axis of 197,700 km (122,845 mi) and was discovered in 2007 by the Cassini spacecraft.

Rosetta Update

An update on a very exciting mission a long time in the making.

From the ESA:

This animation tracks Rosetta’s journey through the Solar System, using gravity slingshots from Earth and Mars to reach its final destination: Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. Rosetta made three flybys of Earth, on 4 March 2005, 13 November 2007 and 13 November 2009, and one of Mars, on 25 February 2007. Rosetta has also visited two asteroids, taking extensive close-up images of 2867 Steins on 5 September 2008 and 21 Lutetia on 10 July 2010. Once the spacecraft is woken up from deep space hibernation on 20 January 2014, it will head for rendezvous with the comet in May. In November the Philae probe will be deployed to the comet surface. Rosetta will follow the comet to its closest distance to the Sun on 13 August 2015 and as it moves back towards the outer Solar System. The nominal mission end is December 2015.

Video Source

Comet ISON

Comet Lovejoy 12 Oct 2013.  Credit: Andrew
Comet Lovejoy or ISON? 12 Oct 2013. Credit: Andrew

Andrew took this image Saturday morning. He said the sky was a little “milky” so that probably explains the chroma effect in the comet’s tail.

>>Yeah there are some live edits as the discussion continues  :mrgreen:

Ok, we have settled on ISON, so I changed the title.  Boy, what fun, I enjoyed that!

This is sort of a tale of two comets:

Originally I was thinking this was Lovejoy but after quite a bit of discussion I was convinced otherwise.

Comet ISON is getting brighter all the while. At the moment it is near the planet Mars. The comet is now in the mag 9.3 range, probably not quite bright enough for binoculars. I’m continuing to look because who knows if everything is just so, I wouldn’t rule it out.

My rule of thumb, and this seems to be pretty close for my typical sky, is a comet’s magnitude is about two more than the measured brightness when compared to a nice focused star of the same magnitude. In other words: ISON at about a mag 9.5 so looks to me about the same as a mag 11.3 star.

If you would like to see ISON which is in the same area as Lovejoy but further east, and you have a telescope, set up on the area of RA/DEC: 10h6m55s/+14deg 16’52”.

With binoculars find Mars and check the area around Az/Alt: 86 deg 15′ / + 16 deg 52′.   if you just center Mars in your binoculars that should be good enough too and if ISON is bright enough to spot at all, it should be apparent.  The same goes for Lovejoy you can also pick out the constellation Orion in this image quite easily and use that to help get you close.

Lovejoy is a bit dimmer than ISON so it will be that much trickier to see. Don’t give up, ISON has brightened by nearly a whole magnitude in the past week as nearly as I can tell and it should get a lot better.

The only thing is, for now, you will need to be looking about 03:30 to 04:00 your local time, before daylight, but not so early it will be too near the horizon.

Grasshopper Flies Again

The SpaceX Grasshopper took another test flight on 7 October 2013. This amazing view was made using a hexacopter giving a unique look at the 744 meter (2,441 ft) vertical flight which is the highest for Grasshopper so far, and the successful landing.

The Grasshopper is made from the first stage of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket a Merlin 1D engine put together with four steel and aluminum legs with hydraulic dampers. The assembly creates a 10-story vehicle to test Vertical Takeoff Vertical Landing technology. SpaceX rockets are being designed to return to the launch pad and land upright so they can be reused.

According to their website, SpaceX is preparing for a number of launches in the remainder of the year, in particular:

In November the SES 8 satellite will launch. This is a communications satellite to serve fixed and mobile customers in India, Indonesia and Indo-china.

In December it’s back to the International Space Station with a resupply mission featuring the Dragon. Look for this launch to happen around 9 December from Cape Canaveral (maybe).

Source: SpaceX

Observe The Moon – Tonight!

Tonight is International Observe the Moon Night (InOMN) and it looks like I will have clear skies!


InOMN is an annual event dedicated to get people to ‘look up’ and take notice or our nearest neighbor. I’m looking forward to this. It’s a great excuse to spend a good bit of time looking at some of the features of the moon and there is a lot to see.

Nice thing is you don’t need anything other than your eyes to take part and if you have a pair of binoculars you raise the bar a lot. PLUS, the moon is about half full so features along the terminator (the light/dark boundary) stand out wonderfully AND (yes there’s more) the moon will be “up” before it gets dark so it is a great opportunity to get the kids out and looking too.

I get side tracked a lot so I find it helpful to go out with a plan for viewing. I like to read up on my targets to make the best use of my time and if I have company (especially kids) they get more out of it too.and one of the better tools for this is a program I’ve linked before: The Virtual Moon Atlas. It’s free and works great.

I think I’ll use my ETX-70 tonight, I can easily move it around to get away from trees (which could be an issue with the big scope).

All I need to do is find my older sunglasses. Sunglasses? Yes! The moon is so bright under magnification it’s actually difficult to look at for longer periods of time.

My main target for tonight? Craters around the south pole, a crater called Shomberger in particular (Long: 24.69 W / Lat: 76.64 S). Seems like a good match for my ETX.

Another target isn’t a crater at all, it’s a mountain. Mons Piton is a  ~ 2,250 meter mountain feature rising out of the Mar Imbrium (Long 0.92 West / Lat: 40.72 N). While I’m in the area I’ll see how many of the Cassini family of craters I can make out.

Visit “The Moon” here The Nine Planets for some great info.

Have a look if you can!