All posts by Tom

See Mercury


Today Mercury is at its greatest WESTERN elongation. Put in simple terms it is the point where Mercury appears to be at its furtherest point in it’s orbit as seen from Earth. The planet In western elongation appears to the West of the Sun and will be at its highest in the sky as seen by us, so that means we can see Mercury in the mornings just before sunrise, leading the Sun. If the planet is in EASTERN elongation it will be in its highest point in the evening sky just after sunset.

The same can be said for Venus and the other planets, however for the Superior planets, i.e.: not Mercury or Venus things are a little different. Wikipedia has a pretty good explanation.

Mercury is one planet we don’t get to see often or as often as the other planets so I always try to have a look. Mercury this time around is 18 degrees above the horizon today and will start receding rather quickly day by day. I cannot see that low to my east, so the other day I took a little ride where I could.

If you try and see Mercury and I do encourage it, be careful. The Sun is not far off and you don’t want to look at the Sun especially with binoculars or a telescope, you can seriously damage your sight.

Water Plumes on Europa?


Does Saturn’s moon Enceladus have an analog at Jupiter?  Hubble images of Europa seem to make this a possibility.

There’s a video too, a couple minutes long. Have a look.

Caption released with image:

This composite image shows suspected plumes of water vapor erupting at the 7 o’clock position off the limb of Jupiter’s moon Europa. The plumes, photographed by NASA’s Hubble’s Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph, were seen in silhouette as the moon passed in front of Jupiter. Hubble’s ultraviolet sensitivity allowed for the features — rising over 100 miles (160 kilometers) above Europa’s icy surface — to be discerned. The water is believed to come from a subsurface ocean on Europa. The Hubble data were taken on January 26, 2014. The image of Europa, superimposed on the Hubble data, is assembled from data from the Galileo and Voyager missions.
Credits: NASA/ESA/W. Sparks (STScI)/USGS Astrogeology Science Center

More from NASA detail here.

ALMA Finds Ice Giant Planet?


Could there be a Neptune sized planet in one of those dust lanes in the image above?

From the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan:

Astronomers found signs of a growing planet around TW Hydra, a nearby young star, using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA). Based on the distance from the central star and the distribution of tiny dust grains, the baby planet is thought to be an icy giant, similar to Uranus and Neptune in our Solar System. This result is another step towards understanding the origins of various types of planets.

These observation results were accepted for a publication as Tsukagoshi et al. “A Gap with a Deficit of Large Grains in the Protoplanetary Disk around TW Hya” by the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

September Equinox 2016


The September equinox arrives/arrived at 14:21 UTC. or 10:21 EDT.  Autumn in the north and spring in the south.

The image here came from and is a good depiction of what is going on:  Today at 14:21 UTC the equator of the Earth is pointed right at the center of the sun.  As the Earth travels in its orbit the position of the Sun with respect to the equator changes.  In September the tilt is such that the center of the Sun is moving south.  By late December the Earth has moved sufficiently in orbit the apparent movement stops (the December solstice) and starts going back north.


China Launches Space Lab

This is the Tiangong-2 launch published on 15 September 2016.

Tiangong (-1) is currently in orbit, sadly control of the space station has apparently been lost and it is anticipated the station will re-enter the atmosphere next year (2017).

You can track Tiangong 1 here at N2YO.  Exactly when and where re-entry will occur is unknown at this point.

Image: CCTV


Hubble and PGC 83677


Oh my just look at this!

Hubble took this image of the lenticular galaxy PGC 83677 and it is just magnificent. We can see many other galaxies which are mere hazy spots at best in most of the images I’ve seen of the area.

The original caption:
A lone source shines out brightly from the dark expanse of deep space, glowing softly against a picturesque backdrop of distant stars and colorful galaxies.

Captured by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope’s Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS), this scene shows PGC 83677, a lenticular galaxy — a galaxy type that sits between the more familiar elliptical and spiral varieties.

It reveals both the relatively calm outskirts and intriguing core of PGC 83677. Here, studies have uncovered signs of a monstrous black hole that is spewing out high-energy X-rays and ultraviolet light.

Text credit: ESA – Image: NASA/ESA/Hubble; acknowledgements: Judy Schmidt (Geckzilla)