Saturday, February 28, 2009

Moon and Jupiter

Well, for some silly reason, my camera was not cooperating with me for last night when the Moon and Jupiter were in really close proximity to each other (otherwise known as a conjunction). I managed to get a half- decent shot, but only one unfortunately.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

U OF S Named In NASA's Strategic Plan

When I was reading the NASA 2006-2016 Strategic Plan (I'm still not sure why, because it's 48 pages long), I came across a photo that I found interesting and thought fellow residents from Saskatchewan might like it too. In the Plan, NASA makes mention about a team from the University of Saskatchewan. So, congratulations to the U of S team for this accomplishment. Here is the quote from the Strategic Plan document with the photo below -

"A team demonstrates their concept for a robotic climber that could scale a 200-foot cable powered only by the beam from an industrial searchlight during the 2005 Beam Power Challenge. The challenge was part of NASA’s Centennial Challenges. Although none of the 11 teams won the challenge, the University of Saskatchewan Space Design Team had the farthest beam-powered climb, approximately 40 feet."

(Photo: NASA/K. Davidian)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Light Pollution

So, I've noticed lately, that there seems to be an ever-increasing amount of light pollution over Saskatoon. This is especially evident in the Stonegate area where all the new businesses are. They seem to be using a lot of white lights instead of amber ones, thus making for a really bright glow above that area. I think the city should be making a committment to decrease the amount of light pollution by changing to more energy efficient lights, ensuring they are pointing down better than the current ones, and so on.

I'm not sure the exact source for the following photo. I believe that NASA has done these types of satellite images and National Geographic has done stories on this topic as well. The planet is under seige from an increasing amount of light pollution. It definitely makes observing the stars more difficult.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

More ISS Sightings Possible

Below is another chart outlining when the International Space Station may be visible in our area of Saskatchewan. I have a link on the right side of the page that enables you to check for a sighting in your area.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Newfound Comet Lulin to Grace Night Skies

By Joe Rao Skywatching Columnist
posted: 06 February 2009
09:34 am ET

During the next few weeks, a comet bright enough for observation in binoculars and possibly even with the naked eye will provide a fine skywatching target when weather permits.

Comet Lulin will be closest to Earth on Feb. 24 and prime viewing will occur than and on surrounding nights. For sharp-eye viewers with dark, rural, skies, the comet is expected to be visible as a dim, fuzzy star.

People living in cities and suburbs are not expected to see the comet with the naked eye, but binoculars and telescopes will reveal its cloudy head and perhaps a striking tail, too. Comets are unpredictable, however, so it's impossible to say how bright this one might become.

Already Lulin is an enjoyable target for small telescopes, producing several striking photographs in the predawn sky. The object is best found using a sky map tailored to your location.

The Discovery

The comet was photographed by Chi Sheng Lin using a 16-inch telescope at the Lulin Observatory at Nantou, Taiwan on July 11, 2007. But it was a 19-year old student, Quanzhi Ye at Sun Yat-sen University in Mainland China who first recognized the new object on three images that were taken by Lin.

Initially it was thought to be an asteroid, new images taken a week later revealed the telltale presence of a faint coma.

The discovery was part of the Lulin Sky Survey project to explore the various populations of small bodies in the solar system, especially objects that possibly could pose a hazard to the Earth. As such, the comet has been christened Comet Lulin, more formally known to astronomers as Comet C/2007 N3.

This comet is the brightest since the surprising outburst of Comet Holmes more than 15 months ago and in the coming weeks will become favorably placed in the evening sky. During mid-to-late February it will probably be about magnitude 5 or 6, making it perhaps visible to the naked eye in dark, rural locations and easily observable in binoculars or small telescopes.

Unusual Orbit

Brian Marsden of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory has calculated that Comet Lulin passed through the perihelion point of its orbit (its closest approach to the sun) on Jan. 10, 113 million miles (182 million kilometers) from the sun. However, while the comet is now receding from the sun, its distance from the Earth is decreasing, with a minimum of 38 million miles (61 million kilometers) on Feb. 24.

For this reason, the comet should be at its brightest during the last week of February; then it will fade fast by mid-March.

The orbit of Comet Lulin is very nearly a parabola, according to Marsden. It is also rather unusual since it is moving through space in a direction opposite to that of the planets at a very low inclination of just 1.6-degrees from the ecliptic. As such, because it is moving opposite to the motion of our Earth, the comet will appear to track rather quickly against the background stars as one observes the object from one night to the next.

In addition, over the next three weeks, the comet will appear to rise an average of about 20-minutes earlier each night. Right now, it is best seen in the predawn sky.

Rapid Track

On the night of Feb. 7, for instance, Lulin will rise above the east-southeast horizon around midnight and will appear at its highest in the sky toward the south at the break of dawn. But on the night of the 24th, when it will be passing nearest to Earth, Lulin will be visible all night, rising in the east at dusk, peaking high in the south shortly after midnight and setting in the west around sunrise.

Currently located in the constellation Libra, Comet Lulin will appear to move on a northwest trajectory, crossing over into Virgo on Feb. 11 and passing 3-degrees north of the 1st-magnitude star Spica in Virgo on Feb. 16 (for comparison, your clenched fist held at arm's length measures about 10-degrees in width).

On the night of Feb. 23, now virtually at its peak brightness, the comet will be sitting just 2-degrees south-southwest of the planet Saturn, which you can use as a benchmark to locate the comet. Moreover, around this time, Comet Lulin will be racing at more than 5-degrees per day -- that's roughly the equivalent of the distance between the stars Dubhe and Merak, the "Pointer Stars" of the Big Dipper; so even a few minutes of watching with a telescope should reveal the comet's slow shift relative to background field stars.

On Feb. 27, the fading comet will slip just 1-degree south of the 1st-magnitude star, Regulus in Leo. And come the night of March 5, Lulin -- by then probably between magnitudes 6 and 7 and no longer visible without binoculars or a telescope -- will pass to within 2-degrees of the famous Beehive Star Cluster in Cancer.

Look for an Antitail

Comets are visible because radiation from the sun releases gas and dust from the comet. That material then shines with reflected sunlight, creating a cloudy head, or coma, and sometimes one or two tails.

Even when it's at its very brightest, naked-eye observers probably see Comet Lulin as resembling only a dim, fuzzy star. In binoculars, or a small telescope the comet may resemble an apple on a stick; that is, the comet's diffuse head or coma should appear round and somewhat condensed toward its center, with perhaps a tinge of blue or green, while a narrow tail of gas extends out to the northwest.

In addition, telescopic observers should also look for a "spike" of light, pointing in a direction opposite to the tail. This strange effect, called an "antitail," is caused by a thin sheet of dust that is expelled by the comet but normally is visible for a brief interval when the Earth passes through the comet's orbital plane.

But because Earth will remain in the comet's orbital plane through February and on into March, there will be an ongoing chance of catching a glimpse of the antitail as well.

Modest Lunar Eclipse Monday Morning

By Staff
posted: 08 February 2009
10:45 am ET

A modest eclipse of the moon will occur early Monday morning, Feb 9. The outer portion of Earth's shadow will cover part of the moon, causing a slight darkening of the moon.

Sky watchers will not see a dramatic "bite" taken out of the moon as occurs with a partial eclipse. Nor will the moon get very dark, as in a total eclipse. In fact most people will not even notice this eclipse unless they're aware of its timing and watch the event unfold.

The eclipse will be visible just before dawn from western North America, as well as earlier in the morning in Hawaii and Australia. The moon will be near the western horizon, about to set. Only those with dark skies during the timing of the event will have a chance to see much, weather permitting.

The moon shines because it reflects sunlight. Lunar eclipses occur only at the time of full moon, and only when the sun, Earth and moon are all in a line, causing Earth to block sunlight and throw a shadow on the moon. A total eclipse occurs when this alignment is perfect, so that the Earth's full main shadow, called the umbra, makes the moon go dark.

But because the moon orbits Earth in a slightly different plane compared to our planet's orbit around the sun, the setup is rarely perfect. Most full moons come and go without generating an eclipse.

Earth's outer shadow, called the penumbra, is not as dark. Monday's event is called a penumbral eclipse, because only this outer, partial shadow will fall on the moon.

The moon begins to slide into the penumbra at 4:36 a.m. PST as viewed from along the coast of California, according to the U.S. Naval Observatory's eclipse calculator. The middle of the eclipse comes at about 6:38 a.m. PST. The moon sets before the eclipse is done.

In Alaska, the eclipse begins at 3:36 a.m. local time. In Hawaii, it's 2:36 a.m. local time. East Asia will have good viewing opportunities even earlier.

In Phoenix, Arizona, only the beginning of the event will be visible, starting at 5:36 a.m. local time. The farther east you are, the less the eclipse will be visible. In fact for most of the country the even won't be seen.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Daytime Moon Shots

I took the following pictures while trying to capture some neat sun dogs. Unfortunately, I didn't get the sun dogs. They actually looked like a complete ring around the sun. So, I got some daytime Moon shots instead.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Canadians in Space

Canada is relatively new at the astronaut game. The search for Canada's first person in space didn’t begin until 1983, when the United States invited its neighbour to join the crew of the space shuttle. The National Research Council of Canada asked interested people to apply: 4,000 responded.

The Canadian Astronaut Program was born when the NRC whittled down the list to six bona fide astronauts-in-training. They were Roberta Bondar, Marc Garneau, Steve MacLean, Ken Money, Robert Thirsk and Bjarni Tryggvason.

As of July 2005, 10 Canadians have trained to be astronauts. Eight have tested their skills in space, but two – Ken Money and Mike McKay – haven't flown a space mission.

Astronauts (first row, left to right) Roberta Bondar, Chris Hadfield, Robert Thirsk, Bjarni Tryggvason, and (second row, left to right) Marc Garneau, Steve Maclean, Julie Payette and Dave Williams pose for a photo at the John H. Chapman Space Centre in St. Hubert, Que., on Friday, Sept. 26, 2003. All eight Canadians who have spent time in space attended a ceremony where Canada Post unveiled an eight-stamp set. (Andre Pichette/Canadian Press)

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Fuel valve concerns push back space shuttle launch

Updated Tue. Feb. 3 2009 8:39 PM ET

The Associated Press

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - NASA on Tuesday delayed next week's launch of space shuttle Discovery while it runs tests to determine whether newly installed valves would cause damage if they broke during liftoff.

The launch will take place no sooner than Feb. 19, seven days after the shuttle was originally scheduled to take off on a space station construction mission. The delay is needed to make certain that Discovery can fly safely with the valves that control the flow of gaseous hydrogen into the external fuel tank, said NASA's space operations chief, Bill Gerstenmaier.

"We want to make sure we've got this right. This has important consequences to us," Gerstenmaier said. "So we think standing down for a little bit of time and letting the folks do a little more work is a good thing."

Three new gas pressure valves were installed in Discovery's engine compartment after a small part of one broke off during shuttle Endeavour's launch in November. Endeavour's fuel tank maintained good pressure and, in the end, no harm was done.

Engineers believe fatigue caused by acoustic vibrations caused the valve in Endeavour to break. Over the next week, experts will use lab tests to try to ascertain whether a broken chunk of valve could damage any of the downstream plumbing.

Top NASA managers decided on the delay Tuesday night after an entire day of closed-door meetings at the Kennedy Space Center to discuss launch preparations.

Discovery and its seven-man crew are set to deliver the last set of solar wings to the International Space Station.

Moon Halo

These were also taken tonight. The Moon is not really outstanding and clear in them, but I like the effect of the shot. These are untouched as well. A lunar halo is formed in the troposphere through the refraction of moonlight (which is reflected sunlight) by ice crystals in upper thermosphere.

New Moon Pictures

These were taken over a span of about 3 hours tonight. There was a haze over the Moon. I took these while waiting to try and capture the Moon and Pleiades conjunction. These are untouched photos. They do appear slightly out of focus, but I would attribute that to the haze. Photos were taken with Nikon D80 with 1.5x tele-converter and 70-300mm lens.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Google's Lunar X Prize race to the Moon

Below is the video that details Google's Lunar X Prize. It has a total value of $30 million. Prizes will be awarded to the first privately funded team to land a vehicle on the Moon, drive that vehicle 500 meters, and send photos/videos back to Earth.

Here is a link to the Google Lunar X site -

Google Lunar X

International Space Station Visible over the next four days

The International Space Station will be visible tonight, tomorrow and Wednesday night. Below is the information provided by NASA as to when and where to look for it.

Click the link below to be taken to the NASA ISS site where you can get viewing data -

International Space Station fly-overs