All posts by Tom

The CAT in Orion

The title from ESA for this is: “THE CAT IN ORION – OR WAS IT A FOX?” I was going it’s a FOX!! Has to be.

Then I read the caption ESA included with the the image – it’s a CAT. Good eyes but we don’t know who was the first to spot the cat from the originators at ESA, Gaia or DPAC.

What’s really amazing is this is the work of Gaia.

The caption: What is the first creature that comes to mind when you look at the dark cloud in this image? Perhaps a dark kitten with a vivid white nose, front paws stretching towards the right of the frame and tail up towards the left? Or perhaps a fox, running with its mouth open and looking ahead, its vigilant eyes pointing to the right?

In fact, this animal-themed shape belongs to a dark nebula, a dense cloud of gas and dust in the constellation of Orion, the Hunter, with the cat’s nose (or fox’s eye) corresponding to the Orion Nebula Cluster, a star cluster near the famous Orion Nebula, M42. The image is based on data from the first release of ESA’s Gaia satellite, and shows the density of stars observed while scanning that region of the sky.

While this particular nebula is not visible to the naked eye, similar clouds can be seen against the bright background of the Milky Way from dark locations in the southern hemisphere. Finding shapes in these dark nebulas is part of the astronomical tradition of various cultures, from South America to Australia, that include ‘dark cloud constellations’ resembling a variety of creatures in their firmaments.

Launched in 2013, Gaia has been charting more than a billion stars to unprecedented accuracy. This information is extremely valuable to astronomers who are studying the distribution of stars across our Galaxy.

Even in the dark patches where fewer stars are observed, Gaia’s meticulous census provides important information to study the interstellar material that blocks starlight. It is in these dark clouds of gas and dust that new generations of stars come to life.

The first data release from Gaia, published in 2016, contained the position on the sky of more than a billion stars, as well as the distance and motions of about two million stars. Astronomers worldwide are now looking forward to the next data release, planned for 25 April, which will include the distance and motions for the full sample of stars, greatly extending the reach of the previous survey.

So far, Gaia data have been used to study only the most nearby regions of star formation, within several hundred light-years of us. With the new data, it will be possible to investigate in great detail regions that are much farther away, like the Orion star-forming complex, located some 1500 light-years from us, and to estimate the 3D distribution not only of stars but also of the dusty dark clouds where stars are born.

More on Gaia’s view of dark interstellar clouds

Almost a Parade

The Chinese space station Tiangong-1 just reentered the atmosphere and any pieces that survived the process ended up in the Pacific Ocean.  Tiangong-1 radar image via

I was having great fun trying to figure out for myself where it was going to reenter. Between my internet problems (resolution delayed until today) and the busyness of N2YO I never got an updated elevation after I came up with my guesses. I get to try again.

It turns out there are THREE more objects heading for reentry by the end of this week. Now I have to say I have heard of anything being able to survive reentry but the possibility does exist for a nice show should it occur overhead at the right time.

First is the Indian rocket body PSLV R/B launched on 04 November 2013.
Predicted reentry time: 03 April 2018 at 22:30 UTC / 18:30 ET.

Track PSLV R/B at N2YO
Track PSLV R/B at SatView

Second is FLOCK 2E-3. The FLOCK series of satellites are about the size of a loaf of bread. Launched on 19/20 November 1998*, FLOCK 2E-3 is predicted to reenter on 04 April 2018 at 23:30 UTC / 19:30 ET

*Most sites list 19 November others 20 November – probably timezone dependent.

Track FLOCK 2E-3 at N2YO
Track FLOCK 2E-3 at SatView

The third is also a FLOCK satellite, the FLOCK 2E-6 set to enter at 14:24 UTC / 10:24 ET.

Track FLOCK 2E-6 at N2YO
Track FLOCK 2E-6 at SatView

Or track it with any of the various tracking websites or most of the planetarium software packages. The nice thing about the software programs is you do not need to be online.

Another Look at Enceladus

We have a newly released image of the Saturn moon Enceladus. Cassini took thousands of images so there will be more as time goes by.

Thanks to NASA, JPL-Caltech and the Space Science Institute for the iamge.

Here’s the original caption:
Saturn’s rings cast shadows on the planet’s cloud tops, providing a perfect backdrop for the brilliant sphere of Saturn’s moon Enceladus. The tiny world’s bright white surface results in part from a snow of material originating from the towering plume of icy particles at Enceladus’ south pole.

This image looks toward the leading side of Enceladus (504 kilometers, or 313 miles across). North is up.

The image was taken in visible light with the Cassini spacecraft’s narrow-angle camera on June 28, 2007. The view was acquired at a distance of approximately 281,000 kilometers (175,000 miles) from Enceladus. Image scale is about 2 kilometers (1 mile) per pixel.

The Cassini spacecraft ended its mission on Sept. 15, 2017

The Cassini mission is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA (the European Space Agency) and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The imaging operations center is based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

Dragon’s Cargo

The Dragon cargo-spaceship is carrying about 2,630 kg (5,8000 lb) of pressurized mass and will return about 1,770 kg (3,900 lb) of various materials.

One of the really cool (to me) items being sent up is called The Atmosphere-Space Interactions Monitor (ASIM). This monitor surveys severe thunderstorms in Earth’s atmosphere and upper-atmospheric lightning, or transient luminous events, from its perch on the exterior of the European Space Agency (ESA) Columbus module. These include sprites, flashes caused by electrical break-down in the mesosphere; the blue jet, a discharge from cloud tops upward into the stratosphere; and ELVES, concentric rings of emissions caused by an electromagnetic pulse in the ionosphere.

Elves and Sprites

The launch is scheduled for 20:30 UTC / 04:30 ET. Coverage begins around 20:15 UTC / 04:15 ET.  I say “about” because the start time is dependent on Space X.  The link will be up so you might have to check back.

What if the launch does not happen for whatever reason, there is a back up date /time in 24 hours later.

Launch Reminder

Space X is going to launch a Dragon space-cargo ship to the International Space Station from Space Launch Complex 40 at Kennedy Space Center.

I’ll be back in a bit. My internet connection is on the repair list for today!

Hand Prints on Hubble

Kind of a fun video from Science@NASA.

Tiangong Update: The remains of the Space Station ended up in the Pacific Ocean, reentry occurred on 2018/04/02 00:16 UTC.

I also want to mention there is a Space X launch of a cargo-spaceship heading to the International Space Station tomorrow with coverage beginning at about 19:00 UTC / 15:00 ET.

What’s Up for April

Ahhh, April the temperatures are moderating and it is becoming more comfortable to be outside. Usually a lot of moisture in the air but still good viewing.

I can’t even get into the N2YO site at times – busy. Tiangong is very close to coming in, predictions are 01 April (tomorrow) at 16:45, I will update this later as the estimates become more clear.

Oh and the internet problems are still going on; although there is a work order in, I don’t expect resolution until Monday. I did have an epiphany of sorts and am connecting through my phone and it seems to be working.

Space X Launches Iridium-5 – REPLAY

Here’s the replay of this mornings Space X launch. I did not get to see it due to on-going internet troubles.

Hopefully the internet provider can get the issue resolved, connection goes crazy and drops. LOL. I don’t think it is too serious but it is when it is not working.

Anyway, great launch.

Tiangong Coming Down

Tiangong 1 a Chinese Space Station is coming down SOON! Like perhaps this weekend.

Current estimates are April 1st, 2018 14:00 UTC ± 16 hours for the station to re-enter the atmosphere. Where is a matter of atmospheric density, where and when the station drops enough to really feel the drag to the point of breaking apart and mostly burning up.

So the spacecraft has dropped to 180 km (as of last evening) and was losing about 0.35 km per orbit and that rate is increasing all the time too.

Update:  At 14:42 altitude has dropped to 176.48, that’s about  -0.37 km/hr.

The other thing I noticed by watching N2YO and the closest approach is on the upward swing and the point where perigee occurs has been slowly moving north as well.

Go to the N2YO page and watch the spacecraft orbit to see if you agree. The N2YO site has the latest on the Tiangong-1 journey and I highly recommend you check it out.

Image: via N2YO