Progress 58 Leaves ISS

If all goes well the cargo ship Progress 58 will leave the International Space Station this morning at 10:19 UTC (06:19 EDT).

The Progress 58 will undock from the Zvezda Service Module and after several hours will be deorbited by Russian controllers. Shortly after the deorbit Progress 58 will interface with the atmosphere and burn up over the Pacific Ocean.

NASA will initiate television coverage at 10:00 UTC / 6:00 EDT.

Streaming video can be found at NASA TV and hopefully here:

Broadcast live streaming video on Ustream

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Name an Exo-Planet and Star?

There are 20 newly discovered worlds in need of names and you can vote for which names they should from a list submitted previously. Not only that but there are 20 parent stars in need of names and you can suggest a name. Imagine that, you could come up with the offically recognized name for a star of a solar system.

There are rules and guidlines though. You will need to read the International Astronomical Union (IAU) page carefully (don’t worry it’s not complicated).

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Martian Landscape


The image above is a portion of a beautiful image from the Mars rover Curiosity.

The image portrays a nice mix of geological features on Mount Sharp.

The full image is located here (2.37 MB)

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Here’s the caption released with image:

A southward-looking panorama combining images from both cameras of the Mast Camera (Mastcam) instrument on NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover shows diverse geological textures on Mount Sharp.

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Pluto’s Nitrogen Source


Early in the Pluto encounter there was talk about nitrogen being lost from the atmosphere. Right from the start we were all asking where is it all coming from given the size and age of Pluto. Now we have some insight into the question and just look at that picture!

Image Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

From New Horizons:

Mission scientists are studying New Horizons data to discover what’s pumping up the nitrogen in Pluto’s atmosphere, even as it escapes into interplanetary space. This enhanced color image – created from four images from New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) combined with color data from the spacecraft’s Ralph instrument – helps scientists detect differences in the composition and texture of Pluto’s surface. The data hint that Pluto may still be geologically active, a theory that could explain how Pluto’s escaping atmosphere remains flush with nitrogen.

Geologically active? Read the details at the New Horizons site.

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Saturn’s Atmosphere


The Cassini spacecraft took this image with an infrared filter on its camera.

This particular filter is sensitive to infrared wavelengths absorbed by methane. There isn’t a lot of methane in Saturn’s atmosphere but there is enough to make a difference in how much light is reflected by different clouds.

The darker areas are showing clouds lower in the atmosphere and scientists think the atomosphere is descending. The brighter areas are higher altitude clouds and it is belived the atmosphere is rising. So we get some sense of the vertical movements of atmospheric gasses.

The filter used admits wavelengths in the near-infrared centered at 890 nanometers.

Cassini was 1.5 million km / 930,000 miles from Saturn when it took this image.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

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Cosmic Butterfly – NGC 2346


This new image of NGC 2346 located in the constellation Monoceros showing unprecedented resolution of the molecular hydrogen gas. The image is about 1 arc minute on a side: north is up, east is to the left. In contrast, the size of the full moon is 30 arc minutes.

Credit: NOAO

From the National Optical Astronomy Obersvatory (NOAO):
NOAO scientists, using the Gemini Observatory 8-meter telescope in Chile, have obtained the highest resolution image ever obtained for the planetary nebula NGC 2346. Shaped like a butterfly, or an hourglass, but known scientifically as a bipolar planetary nebula, this object is at a distance of 2300 light years from our sun in the constellation Monoceros.

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RGG 118


The dwarf galaxy RGG 118 located about 340 million light-years away has been found to have the distinction of having the “smallest supermassive black hole” at its core.

Basically the boundry of the supermassive black sizes has been cut down to a mere mass of 50,000 times our Sun. Pretty cool how scientists estimated the mass, check out the story below.

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Magellan’s Venus Anniversary

The Magellan spacecraft arrived at our neighboring planet, Venus 25 years ago today – 10 August 1990.

Magellan mapped 84 percent of the planet during its first 8-month mapping cycle and during a mission extension was able to bring the total to 98 percent.

The mapping was a big step in imaging quality over earlier missions with resolutions of around 100 meters.

The mission came to a close in October 1994 when Magellan was purposefully crashed into the surface of the planet to gather information on the atmosphere.  This was the first spacecraft to be crashed on purpose.

Take a look around at the Magellan webpage.


This Magellan full resolution mosaic, centered at 12.3 north latitude, 8.3 degrees east longitude, shows an area 160 kilometers (96 miles) by 250 kilometers (150 miles) in the Eistla region of Venus. The prominent circular features are volcanic domes, 65 kilometers (39 miles) in diameter with broad, flat tops less than one kilometer (0.6 mile) in height. Sometimes referred to as “pancake” domes, they represent a unique category of volcanic extrusions on Venus formed from viscous (sticky) lava. The cracks and pits commonly found in these features result from cooling and the withdrawal of lava. A less viscous flow was emitted from the northeastern dome toward the other large dome in the southwest corner of the image.

Image and caption: NASA / JPL

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The Little Gem Nebula

A colorful nebula seems a great way to start the week.


Hubble’s view of the Little Gem Nebula (via NASA):

This colorful bubble is a planetary nebula called NGC 6818, also known as the Little Gem Nebula. It is located in the constellation of Sagittarius (The Archer), roughly 6,000 light-years away from us. The rich glow of the cloud is just over half a light-year across — humongous compared to its tiny central star — but still a little gem on a cosmic scale.

When stars like the sun enter “retirement,” they shed their outer layers into space to create glowing clouds of gas called planetary nebulae. This ejection of mass is uneven, and planetary nebulae can have very complex shapes. NGC 6818 shows knotty filament-like structures and distinct layers of material, with a bright and enclosed central bubble surrounded by a larger, more diffuse cloud.

Scientists believe that the stellar wind from the central star propels the outflowing material, sculpting the elongated shape of NGC 6818. As this fast wind smashes through the slower-moving cloud it creates particularly bright blowouts at the bubble’s outer layers.

Hubble previously imaged this nebula back in 1997 with its Wide Field Planetary Camera 2, using a mix of filters that highlighted emission from ionized oxygen and hydrogen. This image, while from the same camera, uses different filters to reveal a different view of the nebula.

Image credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, Acknowledgement: Judy Schmidt
Text credit: European Space Agency

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Don’t Forget the Perseids!

The Perseid meteor shower is just about here! Named like all showers for the constellation they seem to come from, this is one of the best showers of the year and this time there is no problem with the moon washing things out.

The shower peaks on about 11 August and I would expect good meteor watching for the next few nights.

Why do I like the Perseids? Numbers of meteors.   I wouldn’t be surprised to see upwards of 60 or more per hour, just a wonderful show.

Every year is a little different, some more some less. It just depends on how much dust from Comet Swift-Tuttle we encounter. About the only time I’ve been disappointed is whey there have been clouds and the shower wasn’t visible at all.

How do you see them? It’s really never been a problem around here thanks to pretty dark skies, just look up towards the north and you will see them.

Finders charts (credit: Meteor Showers Online) Northern Hemisphere / Southern Hemisphere. has a nice piece on the showers too.

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