All posts by Tom

Super Moon Eclipse

I’ve been waiting for this eclipse with great anticipation.  I am starting to get settled in to a new location and my skies seem to be nice and  dark.  I probably won’t have the big scope up for a while but I certainly can try to get a decent picture of the eclipse.

I will be participating in the Globe@Night project for October.  You can go to Globe@Night pretty much anytime to see how your skies compare in a measurable way to other locations.  In my case I will compare this place to my former residence of 25 years.  I saw light pollution at my old location degrade my skies by about almost a full magnitude and it happened in just a couple of years.  So Globe@Night is great idea and it is so well done, if you haven’t heard about it before, I will recommend it highly  – it is an especially good  project for the kids that mom and dad can do too.

Anyway, to get back on track, I have always found taking a decent picture of the moon  with a SLR and no filter kind of hit or miss.  So this time I went to YouTube for help and found this video:  Photographing the Total Eclipse (hat tip to Schuch Designs). I will try the settings the video gives at 02:18 into the video. The one thing I need is decent skies and according to the forecast they should be good — I’m still optimistic though.


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The Veil Nebula by Hubble

Veil Nebula Supernova Remnant

Stunning.  I have tried to get an image of the Veil for a long time, so I have a great appreciation for this picture.  Then again this is from Hubble.

Click the image to see a zoomable version at Hubblesite.

Not long before the dawn of recorded human history, our distant ancestors would have witnessed what appeared to be a bright new star briefly blazing in the northern sky, rivaling the glow of our moon. In fact, it was the titanic detonation of a bloated star much more massive than our sun. Now, thousands of years later, the expanding remnant of that blast can be seen as the Cygnus Loop, a donut-shaped nebula that is six times the apparent diameter of the full moon. The Hubble Space Telescope was used to zoom into a small portion of that remnant, called the Veil Nebula. Hubble resolves tangled rope-like filaments of glowing gases. Supernovae enrich space with heavier elements used in the formation of future stars and planets — and possibly life.

Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

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Pluto in Color


WOW!  Larger version?

The New Horizons caption:

In this extended color image of Pluto taken by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, rounded and bizarrely textured mountains, informally named the Tartarus Dorsa, rise up along Pluto’s day-night terminator and show intricate but puzzling patterns of blue-gray ridges and reddish material in between. This view, roughly 330 miles (530 kilometers) across, combines blue, red and infrared images taken by the Ralph/Multispectral Visual Imaging Camera (MVIC) on July 14, 2015, and resolves details and colors on scales as small as 0.8 miles (1.3 kilometers).

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute
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Milky Way’s Black Hole is Getting Active


Is the black hole at the center of the Milky Way becoming more active?  It’s been getting some attention lately.  There is ten-fold increase of X-ray flares from Sagittarius A* since an object called G2 made a close approach.

Here’s the NASA  / Chandra press release:

Three orbiting X-ray space telescopes have detected an increased rate of X-ray flares from the usually quiet giant black hole at the center of our Milky Way galaxy after new long-term monitoring.

Scientists are trying to learn whether this is normal behavior that was unnoticed due to limited monitoring, or these flares are triggered by the recent close passage of a mysterious, dusty object.

Continue reading

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DSA-1 in 3D


Grab those 3D glasses and have a look at this picture from ESA of the Deep Space Network Antenna (DSA 1) with credit to  D. O’Donnell/ESA – CC BY-SA 3.0.

ESA has a large version of this image, see it here.

A visit to DSN Now is a good way to find out which spacecraft are communicating.

From ESA

This 3D anaglyph image, taken on 3 August 2015, shows ESA’s 35 m-diameter deep-space tracking dish at New Norcia, Western Australia, at night. It can be viewed using stereoscopic glasses with red–blue filters.

This Deep Space Antenna, DSA-1, regularly communicates with distant spacecraft such as Mars Express, Rosetta and Gaia. In the near future, it will also work with BepiColombo at Mercury, LISA Pathfinder and ExoMars.

In 2014, it beamed commands and received data from Rosetta, voyaging 800 million km away. On 12 November 2014, it received data relayed by Rosetta as DLR’s Philae craft landed on its target comet.

Despite the moveable structure weighing 580 tonnes, engineers can point it accurately at 1 degree per second in the horizontal and vertical axes.

On 3 August, the dish was illuminated for that evening’s photography – it usually operates in the dark to reduce power usage and avoid light pollution.

In 2015, ESA’s Estrack ground station network celebrates 40 years of European tracking


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Happy Equinox


The September equinox arrived at 08:21 UTC.  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 the equator at 08:21 UTC 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.


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Exploring the Galactic Center

The center of our Milky Way galaxy is a mysterious place. Not only is it thousands of light-years away, it’s also cloaked in so much dust that most stars within are rendered invisible. Harvard researchers are proposing a new way to clear the fog and spot stars hiding there. They suggest looking for radio waves coming from supersonic stars.

“There’s a lot we don’t know about the galactic center, and a lot we want to learn,” says lead author Idan Ginsburg of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA). “Using this technique, we think we can find stars that no one has seen before.”

The long path from the center of our galaxy to Earth is so choked with dust that out of every trillion photons of visible light coming our way, only one photon will reach our telescopes. Radio waves, from a different part of the electromagnetic spectrum, have lower energies and longer wavelengths. They can pass through the dust unimpeded.

On their own, stars aren’t bright enough in the radio for us to detect them at such distances. However, if a star is traveling through gas faster than the speed of sound, the situation changes. Material blowing off of the star as a stellar wind can plow into the interstellar gases and create a shock wave. And through a process called synchrotron radiation, electrons accelerated by that shock wave produce radio emission that we could potentially detect.

“In a sense, we’re looking for the cosmic equivalent of a sonic boom from an airplane,” explains Ginsburg.

To create a shock wave, the star would have to be moving at a speed of thousands of miles per second. This is possible in the galactic center since the stars there are influenced by the strong gravity of a supermassive black hole. When an orbiting star reaches its closest approach to the black hole, it can easily acquire the required speed.

The researchers suggest looking for this effect from one already known star called S2. This star, which is hot and bright enough to be seen in the infrared despite all the dust, will make its closest approach to the Galactic center in late 2017 or early 2018. When it does, radio astronomers can target it to look for radio emission from its shock wave.

“S2 will be our litmus test. If it’s seen in the radio, then potentially we can use this method to find smaller and fainter stars – stars that can’t be seen any other way,” says co-author Avi Loeb of the CfA.

This work is reported in a paper authored by Idan Ginsburg, Xiawei Wang, Avi Loeb, and Ofer Cohen (CfA). It has been accepted for publication in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Headquartered in Cambridge, Mass., the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) is a joint collaboration between the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and the Harvard College Observatory. CfA scientists, organized into six research divisions, study the origin, evolution and ultimate fate of the universe.

– See more at:

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No Asteroid Impact Expected

meteorshowerThis would have been more fun at the end of October.

NASA: There is No Asteroid Threatening Earth

Numerous recent blogs and web postings are erroneously claiming that an asteroid will impact Earth, sometime between Sept. 15 and 28, 2015. On one of those dates, as rumors go, there will be an impact — “evidently” near Puerto Rico — causing wanton destruction to the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the United States and Mexico, as well as Central and South America.

That’s the rumor that has gone viral — now here are the facts.

“There is no scientific basis — not one shred of evidence — that an asteroid or any other celestial object will impact Earth on those dates,” said Paul Chodas, manager of NASA’s Near-Earth Object office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

In fact, NASA’s Near-Earth Object Observations Program says there have been no asteroids or comets observed that would impact Earth anytime in the foreseeable future.  All known Potentially Hazardous Asteroids have less than a 0.01% chance of impacting Earth in the next 100 years.

The Near-Earth Object office at JPL is a key group involved with the international collaboration of astronomers and scientists who keep watch on the sky with their telescopes, looking for asteroids that could do harm to our planet and predicting their paths through space for the foreseeable future. If there were any observations on anything headed our way, Chodas and his colleagues would know about it.

“If there were any object large enough to do that type of destruction in September, we would have seen something of it by now,” he stated.

Another thing Chodas and his team do know — this isn’t the first time a wild, unsubstantiated claim of a celestial object about to impact Earth has been made, and unfortunately, it probably won’t be the last.  It seems to be a perennial favorite of the World Wide Web. 

In 2011 there were rumors about the so-called “doomsday” comet Elenin, which never posed any danger of harming Earth and broke up into a stream of small debris out in space. Then there were Internet assertions surrounding the end of the Mayan calendar on Dec. 21, 2012, insisting the world would end with a large asteroid impact. And just this year, asteroids 2004 BL86 and 2014 YB35 were said to be on dangerous near-Earth trajectories, but their flybys of our planet in January and March went without incident — just as NASA said they would.

“Again, there is no existing evidence that an asteroid or any other celestial object is on a trajectory that will impact Earth,” said Chodas. “In fact, not a single one of the known objects has any credible chance of hitting our planet over the next century.”

NASA detects, tracks and characterizes asteroids and comets passing 30 million miles of Earth using both ground- and space-based telescopes. The Near-Earth Object Observations Program, commonly called “Spaceguard,” discovers these objects, characterizes the physical nature of a subset of them, and predicts their paths to determine if any could be potentially hazardous to our planet. There are no known credible impact threats to date — only the continuous and harmless infall of meteoroids, tiny asteroids that burn up in the atmosphere.

JPL hosts the office for Near-Earth Object orbit analysis for NASA’s Near Earth Object Observations Program of the Science Mission Directorate in Washington. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena

Image Credit: A Geminid meteor by  Jimmy Westlake
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Edge On


The Cassini spacecraft captures two of Saturn’s moons as it looks across the ring plane from below almost edge on – less than a degree below the ring plane.

Both moons show up nicely in the larger version (click the image above)

Prometheus and Pandora are almost hidden in Saturn’s rings in this image.

Prometheus (53 miles or 86 kilometers across) and Pandora (50 miles or 81 kilometers across) orbit along side Saturn’s narrow F ring, which is shaped, in part, by their gravitational influences help to shape that ring. Their proximity to the rings also means that they often lie on the same line of sight as the rings, sometimes making them difficult to spot.

In this image, Prometheus is the left most moon in the ring plane, roughly in the center of the image. Pandora is towards the right. — 

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