Category Archives: Cool Stuff

The Transit of the ISS


This is a remarkable image! I have tried on numerous occasions to get an image of the International Space Station as it passes over the disk of the Sun, something always goes wrong. It is a VERY difficult endeavor with so many variables.

Then there is a master at the craft of astrophotography:  Thierry Legault. Not only did he capture the ISS, he did it during the transit of Mercury!

This from ESA (be sure to watch the video linked below):

On 9 May Mercury passed in front of the Sun as seen from Earth. These transits of Mercury occur only around 13 times every century, so astronomers all over Earth were eager to capture the event.

For astrophotographer Thierry Legault, capturing Mercury and the Sun alone was not enough, however – he wanted the International Space Station in the frame as well.

To catch the Station passing across the Sun, you need to set up your equipment within a ground track less than 3 km wide. For Thierry, this meant flying to the USA from his home near Paris, France.

On 9 May there were three possible areas to capture the Station and Mercury at the same time against the solar disc: Quebec, Canada, the Great Lakes and Florida, USA.

Choosing the right spot took considerable effort, says Thierry: “Canada had bad weather predicted and around Florida I couldn’t find a suitably quiet but public place, so I went to the suburbs of Philadelphia.”

With 45 kg of equipment, Thierry flew to New York and drove two hours to Philadelphia to scout the best spot. Even then, all the preparations and intercontinental travel could have been for nothing because the Station crosses the Sun in less than a second and any clouds could have ruined the shot.

“I was very lucky: 10 minutes after I took the photos, clouds covered the sky,” says a relieved Thierry.

“Adrenaline flows in the moments before the Station flies by – it is a one-shot chance. I cannot ask the space agencies to turn around so I can try again. Anything can happen.”

The hard work and luck paid off. The image here includes frames superimposed on each other to show the Station’s path. Mercury appears as a black dot at bottom-centre of the Sun.

For Thierry, the preparation and the hunt for the perfect shot is the best part.

“Astrophotography is my hobby that I spend many hours on, but even without a camera I encourage everybody to look up at the night sky. The International Space Station can be seen quite often and there are many more things to see. It is just a case of looking up at the right time.”

Watch a video of the pass, including another moment with an aircraft flying by. 

Visit Thierry’s homepage here:

Image and caption: Thierry Legault and ESA



The Jovian moon Europa might have an Earthlike chemical balance in the ocean thought to be under the surface of ice.  This enhanced image was produced by the Galileo spacecraft.

We will be learning much more about Jupiter and probably the environment it creates for its moons beginning in just over a month with the arrival of the Juno spacecraft.

Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ SETI Institute

From NASA:

A new NASA study modeling conditions in the ocean of Jupiter’s moon Europa suggests that the necessary balance of chemical energy for life could exist there, even if the moon lacks volcanic hydrothermal activity.

Europa is strongly believed to hide a deep ocean of salty liquid water beneath its icy shell. Whether the Jovian moon has the raw materials and chemical energy in the right proportions to support biology is a topic of intense scientific interest. The answer may hinge on whether Europa has environments where chemicals are matched in the right proportions to power biological processes. Life on Earth exploits such niches.

In a new study, scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, compared Europa’s potential for producing hydrogen and oxygen with that of Earth, through processes that do not directly involve volcanism. The balance of these two elements is a key indicator of the energy available for life. The study found that the amounts would be comparable in scale; on both worlds, oxygen production is about 10 times higher than hydrogen production.

Continue reading

Super Pressure Balloon

Balloon launch! This one from Wanaka Airport, New Zealand, at 11:35 a.m. Tuesday, May 17, (7:35 p.m. EDT Monday, May 16) on a potentially record-breaking, around-the-world test flight.

As the balloon travels around the Earth, it may be visible from the ground, particularly at sunrise and sunset, to those who live in the southern hemisphere’s mid-latitudes, such as Argentina and South Africa. Anyone may track the progress of the flight, which includes a map showing the balloon’s real-time location, at:

MMS Mission Returns Data

We are starting to get data back from the MMS mission.

MMS is made of four identical spacecraft that launched in March 2015. They fly in a pyramid formation to create a full 3-dimensional map of any phenomena it observes. On October 16, 2015, the spacecraft traveled straight through a magnetic reconnection event at the boundary where Earth’s magnetic field bumps up against the sun’s magnetic field.

After more than 4,000 trips though the magnetic boundaries around Earth gathering information about the way the magnetic fields and particles move a surprising result resulted. At the moment of interconnection between the sun’s magnetic field lines and those of Earth the crescents turned abruptly so that the electrons flowed along the field lines. By watching these electron tracers, MMS made the first observation of the predicted breaking and interconnection of magnetic fields in space.

Credit: NASA/GSFC/Genna Duberstein


Watch the Transit of Mercury

There are a number of sites offering live coverage of the transit all will be good.  Here are the places I will be watching.  Along with actually viewing the transit for myself if the weather cooperates (??). I managed to get a peek through binoculars in between clouds.

Coverage should start about 10:00 UTC / 6 EDT and the transit from about  11:12 UTC / 7:12 a.m. and 18:42 UTC / 2:42 p.m. EDT

From the Griffith Observatory:

ESA has a fantastic list of events!

From the Solar Dynamics Laboratory.

From MIT Wallace Observatory

From NASA TV (updated the link):

Broadcast live streaming video on Ustream

10 Billion Year-old Neutrino Found

Way to go Fermi!

Nearly 10 billion years ago, the black hole at the center of a galaxy known as PKS B1424-418 produced a powerful outburst. Light from this blast began arriving at Earth in 2012. Now astronomers using data from NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope and other space- and ground-based observatories have shown that a record-breaking neutrino seen around the same time likely was born in the same event. — NASA