A Lenticular Galaxy

The lenticular galaxy NGC  6861 Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA; acknowledgement: J. Barrington

The lenticular galaxy NGC 6861 Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA; acknowledgement: J. Barrington

Hubble gives us this spectacular view of NGC 6861. I always thought this was an elliptical galaxy. Not so, it’s a hybrid of sorts between an elliptical and a spiral called a lenticular.

Not viewable here at 45 deg North, it is a southern object.  Too bad, it’s a beauty.  I believe this galaxy is in the order of 31 Mpc distant or a little over 101 million light-years and still it is a magnitude 11 to 12.  Distances are very tough to determine so there is some room for error.

Note: My computer is failing. Should I disappear for a short time you will know why. I think I can keep it going long enough to get a replacement – still one never knows.

From ESA via the NASA site:

The subject of this image is NGC 6861, a galaxy discovered in 1826 by the Scottish astronomer James Dunlop. Almost two centuries later we now know that NGC 6861 is the second brightest member of a group of at least a dozen galaxies called the Telescopium Group — otherwise known as the NGC 6868 Group — in the small constellation of Telescopium (The Telescope).

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New Horizons Launch

New Horizon launch on 19 January 2006. After nine years the spacecraft is nearing its primary goal – Pluto.

The spacecraft is speeding along at 14.61 km/sec (relative to the sun) that’s 9 miles per second or 32,682 miles per hour. That is something like 16 times faster than a rifle bullet and as fast as that is, the spacecraft will not get to the closest point to Pluto until 18 July 2015!

We are at the first stages of the encounter and in just days we will get some of our first looks at Plutoian system. The view will be improving slowly and by May the images will be better than the Hubble can provide.




Kuiper and Asteroid belt objects compared. Credit: NASA via Space Ref


NASA produced this image as part of a televised event back on 25 August the same day New Horizons passed the orbit of Neptune and 25 years after the Neptune/Voyager encounter with Neptune in 1989.

Since Voyager we have made signifcant discoveries in the Kuiper Belt. The image shows objects from both the Kuiper and Asteroid Belts. The Asteroids include little Vesta that was examined in detail by Dawn up to the largest asteroid Ceres the asteroid where Dawn is heading to now. The Kuiper Belt objects include Pluto, the destination of New Horizons spacecraft and it’s getting very close.

NASA set the objects to scale to show how they compare to each other. I wanted to compare then to something more provincial, so if you click the image I have added the moon. I’m not saying it is exactly to scale, it is close enough to get the idea.

Have a look.

See Comet Lovejoy Tonight

A beautiful image of Comet Lovejoy from Andrew Dumont.

A beautiful image of Comet Lovejoy from Andrew Dumont.

Want to see a comet?

You can see this comet for yourself. The comet C/2014 Q2 or Comet Lovejoy is easily visible with binoculars. If you can see the constellation Orion and Taurus you should be all set.

I just used the finders chart from NASA (see it here). Stepped out on back porch and after watching a satellite pass over, found the Comet in just a couple of minutes. I did use binoculars (could not see the comet otherwise). The binoculars were nothing special so if you have a pair handy give it a try. If you have a even a small telescope this looks really cool.

Cloudy skies?  The comet will be around for a bit so don’t worry if you have to wait a short time.

Could it be visible with the naked eye?  I would think so.  I am going to try in the morning, the best skies I get.  I could not see it a while ago, too cold to be outside for too long and not be well prepared, so I can’t say for sure.

Impressive Flare

Sunspot group AR2257 produces a flare. Image Credit: NASA/SDO

Sunspot group AR2257 produces a flare. Image Credit: NASA/SDO

A beautiful shot of the Sun by the Solar Dynamics Observatory showing the rather impressive first flare of the new year. The flare was produced by the sunspot group AR2257.

I mentioned last week conditions seemed right for an aurora (from this sunspot group). While I didn’t see an aurora on that time out and an aurora is not likely from this particular flare any longer, I would expect to have other viewing opportunities over the next months as the solar cycle progresses. Flares can become more numerous as the solar cycle passes peak activity. We shall see.

This flare/sunspot group did produce a pulse of UV radiation  that ionized the upper atmosphere over Australia and the Indian Ocean. The ionization could have impacted HF radio frequencies below about 10 Mhz – being a ham operator these events are important.

Could this be the start of increased activity? Possibly and these things can happen quickly. You can be alerted when an aurora is apt to occur from a few sources. Two of my favorites is Aurora Service Europe based in Scandinavia and as always, Spaceweather.com.

Here is the NASA caption released with the image:

The sun emitted a mid-level solar flare, peaking at 11:24 p.m. EST on Jan. 12, 2015. NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, which watches the sun constantly, captured an image of the event. Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation. Harmful radiation from a flare cannot pass through Earth’s atmosphere to physically affect humans on the ground, however — when intense enough — they can disturb the atmosphere in the layer where GPS and communications signals travel.

Rosetta Still Busy

One of the latest Rosetta images of Comet 67P/C-G.  Copyright ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0

One of the latest Rosetta images of Comet 67P/C-G. Copyright ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0

Rosetta continues to orbit around Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. This image is a mosaic taken on 03 January with Rosetta’s NAVCAM.

The view shows the newly named Imhotep region which is the smooth area and at least some of the rougher area above it. The name Imhotep is for the famous architect of Egyptian pyramids from the 27th century BC The name was released during the American Geophysical Union on 17 December 2014.

Check out the Rosetta Blog for the details and a larger version to really take advantage of the excellent detail.

Happy Birthday RAS

Mineral flow on the asteroid Vesta, from Feb 2014.  Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLAMPS/DLR/IDA via RAS

Mineral flow on the asteroid Vesta, from Feb 2014. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLAMPS/DLR/IDA via RAS

There are a few things going on these days and among them:

The Dawn spacecraft is about to start Ceres approach imaging very soon – last I heard was tomorrow, 13 January 2015.

The image above was created by researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Katlenburg-Lindau, Germany, have used the multiwavelength filters on NASA’s Dawn spacecraft to create compositional maps of the surface of the asteroid Vesta. More about the image from RAS.

I found the image at the Royal Astronomical Society and as it happens as of today has been around 195 years. Here’s to many more!

At one time (link) “New Horizon’s Distant Encounter Operations” (approaching Pluto) were to begin today, I’m sure there is much to do before the “Closest Enounter Operations” being in just 30 days.

And finally at 06:00 EST / 11:00 UTC the SpaceX Dragon cargo ship should arrive at the International Space Station – I will be away briefly at that time and will update this a little later.

SpaceX Launch Replay

Here’s a replay of the SpaceX CRS-5 launch yesterday morning.

The attempt at landing the first stage on a “drone spaceport ship” almost worked. The rocket did not soft-land successfully on the floating spaceport, it did however, make it back so it appears they almost have a handle on the procedure.


What’s Up for January

Here’s a look at what’s doing in the skies this month from JPL.

We had an aurora alert the other night. I was out and about on three different occasions and did not see anything. I do have a bit of light pollution these days. Still the way the forecast was going I still should have seen it.

I did’t look long though I must admit especially early on. Temps to -25 C / -13 F and wind chill to -40 C / -40 F meant I was not having fun. I was having to work on an electrical problem outside too. I diagnosed the problem and bypassed the circuit and did the repair the next day.

Video source