Archive for the ‘Astronomy & Stargazing’ Category

Mars probe discovers ice

Friday, June 20th, 2008

It’s official: there’s ice on Mars.

No Shuttle for me

Wednesday, June 11th, 2008

Tried to watch the Shuttle & ISS fly overhead, but the sky was too bright and hazy (even the Moon is somewhat dimmed by wispy clouds, so the spacecrafts didn’t stand a chance). Anyone have better luck elsewhere?

Shuttle & ISS Wednesday night

Tuesday, June 10th, 2008

Assuming the Space Shuttle Discovery undocks as scheduled from the International Space Station at 7:33 AM EDT tomorrow (i.e., Wednesday) morning, there will be an opportunity tomorrow night for folks in parts of the southeastern U.S. to see the Shuttle and ISS flying overhead side-by-side.

Here in Knoxville, the 9:04 PM EDT flyover is just 11 minutes after sunset, so I’m not sure how visible the spacecrafts — particularly the dimmer Shuttle — will be. Certainly, there won’t be much to see if you’re west of Knoxville; the sky will be too bright. But the further east you go, the darker the sky will be at the requisite time. Thus, both the Shuttle and ISS should be easily visible in places that are east of Knoxville and reasonably close to the black line below:


Along the Carolina and Georgia coasts, all across the Florida peninsula, and in the Bahamas, the view should be stunning, weather permitting. As I’ve said before: "Trust me: even if you’re not into dorky stuff like Iridium flares, this is well worth a trip outside at the proper time, if the sky is clear." The sight of "two distinct, bright dots, moving briskly across the evening sky in
tandem — two unmistakable beacons of the human presence in space" is "a really neat thing to see."

You can use Heavens-Above to check the specific viewing conditions for your location. If you’re in the U.S., just click here and enter the name of your city or town, then select it from the resulting list of locales. On the screen that follows, click on "10 day predictions for: ISS" and look for an evening flyover on June 11 (or for that matter, June 12 or 13). If you’re outside the U.S., select your country here and then follow the same steps.

It’s a shame the flyover is so close to sunset here in Knoxville, because from this location, the spacecrafts’ path takes them right past Mars, Saturn and the Moon:


The Phoenix has landed

Sunday, May 25th, 2008

NASA’s latest Mars probe touched down successfully today.

All of God’s creatures

Wednesday, May 14th, 2008

The Vatican says it’s OK to believe in aliens.

But not gay aliens, presumably. ;)

Shuttle to land tonight

Wednesday, March 26th, 2008

The Space Shuttle Endeavour is scheduled to land at Kennedy Space Center at 8:39 PM EDT. Complete coverage here.

UPDATE: The Shuttle landed safely.

Endeavour & ISS over Knoxville

Tuesday, March 25th, 2008

I drove a few miles to Carl Cowan Park this evening, where I figured I’d have a clear-ish horizon and a dark-ish sky to watch the Shuttle & ISS flyover. And, sure enough, I saw both spaceships — preceded a few minutes earlier by the ATV Jules Verne — race across the sky. The view of the Shuttle & ISS wasn’t as spectacular as when I saw them from Nashville (they were much brighter and more directly overhead in that particular instance), but it was still neat. And I got a video!

source file

Pay no attention to my blithering at the end of the video about how the Shuttle “stayed light longer than I thought it would.” I was just a bit confused in real-time. On the video, it’s perfectly obvious that the Shuttle faded into shadow when and where you’d expect it to, based on the ISS’s behavior moments before.

The more interesting question — which I don’t mention in the video — is why the Shuttle flared up so bright, brighter even than the ISS, in the final moments before it disappeared into the Earth’s shadow. I’m sure there’s a good answer to that question, but I don’t know what it is.

P.S. The apparent jerky motion of the ATV, Shuttle and ISS is a result of my camcorder’s “Super Night Shot” feature. In actuality, orbiting satellites move rather smoothly. :)

P.P.S. The title of this post is technically wrong. The Shuttle and ISS were not directly over Knoxville when I saw them, but rather, over the Memphis area.

Another chance to see the Shuttle & ISS

Tuesday, March 25th, 2008

If you’re in the South, the lower Great Plains or Midwest, or Texas, and your sky is clear, you may be able to see the Space Shuttle and International Space Station fly across the sky tonight as two distinct, bright dots, the Shuttle trailing about 20 seconds behind the ISS. (That’s "seconds" as a unit of time, not as a unit of angular distance.)

The Shuttle Endeavour undocked yesterday, and is scheduled to land tomorrow, so tonight is the only side-by-side Shuttle & ISS viewing opportunity for this mission, barring delays. As I’ve said before, this is a very cool thing to see, well worth a few minutes standing outside and looking up at the sky.

The flyover will occur between 9:34 and 9:39 PM Eastern time. To find out exactly where in the sky to look, and when, go to Heavens-Above, select your location from the database or the map, and then click on "ISS" or "STS-123" under the heading "Satellites." The closer you are to the solid black line in the graphic below, the better your viewing opportunity will be:

Don’t pay too much attention to the red circle, as it "moves" along with the Shuttle and ISS. Just look at the solid black line. The closer you are to it, the better. But don’t believe me — go to Heavens-Above and found out the local details. And then go outside tonight and look up.

Here in Knoxville, I’ll be looking up to the western sky — just barely south of due west, actually — about one-third of the way from the horizon to the zenith. The sky’s clear now; hopefully it’ll stay that way. Now I just need to pick a viewing location. If I’m able to get any good pictures, I’ll (obviously) post ’em!


Thursday, February 21st, 2008

The military has released video of the spy satellite’s fuel tank exploding upon impact from the missile. w00t!

You can watch it on YouTube, via Fox News, here, or download the military’s video in WMV form here. (Hat tip: SpaceWeather.)

Also, here’s another picture of falling debris from the satellite shoot-down.

A couple of stories about people witnesing re-entering satellite debris, from MSNBC and

And, you know that incredible photo of satellite debris & the eclipsed moon that I posted early this morning? Well, it made the local news out in Oregon.

Speaking of the eclipse, here’s an awesome shot of the International Space Station in front of the partially eclipsed Moon!

Check out this stunning eclipse photo, too. It was taken in Hamedan, Iran.

This long-exposure shot is neat, too. More here.

A lunar eclipse and a manmade meteor

Thursday, February 21st, 2008

Weird things happen during total lunar eclipses. Two eclipses ago, during totality, the Red Sox won their first World Series since 1918. Last night, also during totality, the Navy shot a freakin’ missile at a freakin’ satellite and blew it out of the sky.

Speaking of which: an Oregon-based blogger named Sherry Holub, a.k.a. “scorpy808,” managed, incredibly, to capture a photo of what was almost certainly a piece of that spy satellite burning up on re-entry into the atmosphere — right next to the eclipsed moon in the sky. Here it is:

Wow. Totally awesome. I’m so jealous. :)

(Republished with Holub’s permission. In addition to her LiveJournal blog, she also runs a company called JV Media Design.)

Missile hits satellite; Earth eclipses Moon

Wednesday, February 20th, 2008

It’s a hit! The missile hit the spy satellite! No further details are available yet. [UPDATE, 12:05 AM: According to the AP, "In a statement announcing that the Navy missile struck the satellite, the Pentagon said, ‘Confirmation that the fuel tank has been fragmented should be available within 24 hours.’ It made no mention of early indications, but a defense official close to the situation said later that officials monitoring the collision saw what appeared to be an explosion, indicating that the fuel tank was hit."]

Folks on the west coast and in Canada: Did you see anything unusual in the sky — like a "swarm of meteors", perhaps?

[UPDATE, 12:25 AM: Blogger “scorpy808” captured what appears to be a photo of the eclipsed Moon with a piece of re-entering satellite debris right next to it!. OMG! Awesome! (I found this by searching Google Blog Search for the word “satellite” and the phrase “I saw.”) And here is another possible sighting report. Not to mention Lisa’s in comments!]

Back here in the southeast, the only thing unusual in the sky right now is a very reddish moon, which is just starting to show a sliver of white on the lower right edge as it begins to emerge from the Earth’s umbra. As I mentioned below, the clouds eventually cleared and Becky, Loyette and I were able to see it. Well… Loyette may not have seen it, per se, but she was in its presence, anyway. :)

Here’s a photo I took of the eclipse at 10:45 PM:

That’s Saturn at the bottom of the photo, and the star Regulus at the top.

UPDATE: Here’s a wider view, taken at 10:56. The clouds appear orange due to the Greater Knoxville light dome:

Reader Ken Wagner sends along eclipse photos from Nashville. Thanks, Ken! Others’ photos can be found here and here.

Don’t forget…

Wednesday, February 20th, 2008

…about the eclipse tonight! It’s the last total lunar eclipse until December 2010 — which will be almost two years into the Obama Administration! :)

Visibility map here. Totality goes from 10:01 PM to 10:51 PM EST, with mid-eclipse at 10:26. The partial portion begins at 8:43 PM and ends at 12:09 AM.

UPDATE, 8:44 PM: Here in Knoxville, it’s completely overcast at the moment. Perhaps it’ll clear, but I’m pessimistic about getting to see the last total lunar eclipse of the decade. :(

In a not-really-related story, Brian Williams stated on NBC Nightly News that the weather west of Hawaii has now improved to the point where the military thinks it probably will be able to go ahead with tonight’s satellite shoot-down attempt, around 10:30 PM EST. More here. Apparently Defense Secretary Gates gets to give the final order.

UPDATE, 10:27 PM: Just stepped outside with Becky and Loyette (the latter wrapped up in a blanket, sound asleep) and caught a glimpse of the eclipsed Moon, in between clouds. Yay! Baby’s first eclipse! (She’ll be almost 3 years old when the next one rolls around…)

A fireball, a spy satellite, and an eclipse

Wednesday, February 20th, 2008

Did any readers up in the Northwest (i.e., Washington, Oregon, Idaho or Montana) happen to see the fireball yesterday morning at around 5:30 AM? (Video here; lots of local news articles here). I’d love to see one of those someday…

Speaking of skywatching events, don’t forget about the total lunar eclipse tonight. Mid-totality, at 10:26 PM EST, will be visible all across the 48 contiguous states. And those in the Pacific Northwest may also want to keep a weather eye to the western sky right around then — i.e., approx. 7:30ish local time — because, as I mentioned yesterday, they might be able to see some spy-satellite fragments streaking across the sky. Just call it Fireball Country!

And now for something completely different

Thursday, January 31st, 2008

Every single post on the homepage right now is about presidential politics. Ick. Overkill. As Obama might say, time for a change!

Let’s see… how about a pretty picture of an Iridium flare?

I took that from a random roadside spot in Loudon last Monday. My parents were in town, and I wanted to show them what an Iridium flare is, so we drove out and watched it. We also dragged Jay and Ashley out to watch, so they got to meet my parents. The flare itself was somewhat less impressive than I expected, given its predicted negative-7 magnitude, but it made for a very nice photo, especially with the thin, wispy clouds all around. Here’s the wider view.

Previous Iridium flare posts can be found here, here, here and here. Explanations of the flares can be found here and here.

Unless you’re a serious dork like me, Iridium flares probably aren’t worth a drive out to some random spot — but if one happens to take place where you are, it’s well worth a look up to the sky in the proper spot at the proper time. Heavens-Above can tell you when flares will happen near you. (It also has predictions for lots of other stuff, including when and where you can see that decaying spy satellite pass overhead, though you’ll need a darkish sky for that.)

Did a comet ravage North America in 11,000 B.C.?

Saturday, January 12th, 2008

Donald Sensing has a fascinating post about a hypothesized cataclysm 13,000 years ago. It’s not a new theory (the linked articles are from last spring), but it’s one I don’t think I’d read about before. Anyway, check it out.