Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy 2010

"All these worlds are yours, except Europa. Attempt no landing there. Use them together. Use them in peace."
--- HAL-9000, 2010

Spirit in trouble.

Looks like our little Spirit Rover could be digging it's grave. The little guy has been trying to crawl out of the soft ground, but just getting deeper and more stuck. The gimpy right front wheel had started turning again much to everyone's surprise, not much, but it's doing a little bit. Not enough to get out of the sand pit. The solar panels aren't in a good angle to survive the next winter. Predictions are that the rover could be lost by May due to lower sun angles. There was talk of just digging it down on one side to tip it toward the sun, but we'll see.
This comes nearly on the 6th Earth year on Mars. Spirit bounced down in Gusev Crater back on January 24, 2004. That seems like a LONG time ago!
There was some talk recently about if the rover could use it's arm to pull itself out. Nope, can't work. The arm is way too weak. Kind of like that skinny kid in school that could never climb the rope (uh...that was me).
(see the rover squirm in the photo)

Friday, December 25, 2009

Nice satellite tracking web app.

Just came across this. Very nicely done web application for tracking satellites in 3D. I've only explored it a little so far, so there is probably a lot to discover. Tom Wagner has a page with a bunch of different 3D images created with this application. Cross your eyes and take a look!

Advent calendar December 25: Crab nebula

I didn't come up with a professional image this time, but figured I would go with an image I took on Christmas day at about 1:30 am. Skies cleared, thermometer was showing 22 degrees at the scope, moon was gone, and wrapping was done in the house so I couldn't get to bed anyway!
There are a lot of theories on what the "Christmas star" really was. Comet, supernova, planetary conjunction or something else explainable. The star that formed the M-1 Crab nebula blew up in 1054, isn't that fairly close to the right date? Anyway, here is what remains of that star that blew up 1,000 years ago....
(click image for full size as always)

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Advent calendar December 24: Genesis

There isn't another photo that fits here. This will always be the best Christmas Eve photo.
"We are now approaching lunar sunrise and, for all the people back on Earth, the crew of Apollo 8 has a message that we would like to send to you."
--Bill Anders

Monday, December 21, 2009

Advent calendar December 21: Winter Solstice

Winter starts today. Bad news if you don't like cold, dark weather, but very good news if you are a spring/summer person since the days are soon getting longer.
In Seattle sunset is 4:18pm at it's earliest. Go to work in the dark, return in the dark. Enough depressing stuff, so here is something cool.
Take a picture of the sun from the same place, same time, every day, and put the images together you'll get a figure-8 pattern in the sky (called an "analemma"). The lowest point is the winter solstice, and the highest point is the summer solstice (flip upside down for Australia).

UPDATE: Check out this page.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Way out and back again.

Ok, I think I've slacked on the advent calender thing, I guess I'll skip a day. There are just too many days until Christmas, but I've decided to do minimal shopping this year since it's just too painful to deal with. There are just too many men in the malls on December 24th that I just can't stand it.
So here is a video that I came across today that just made me fell small, and the need for Christmas shopping seemed even smaller after watching this. Starts over the Himalayas, flies backwards billions of light years, then back again to Earth. Did we stay the same age while everyone aged many generations like Einstein said? Oooh!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Advent calendar December 16: 80s video

Kind of a random item this time, but here is a familiar song from the 80s - if you are old enough to remember those fine years!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Advent calendar December 16: It's full of stars!

This image just came down from the Hubble yesterday, so nice I had to include it in the advent calendar. Pretty!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Advent calendar December 15: Bright Comet

In the winter of 2007, comet McNaught came into the local solar system. The comet made a close pass around the sun and left a huge tail behind it. The tail was easily visible in daylight if you knew where to look (too hazy at the time here in Seattle). The comet saved it's best show for when it passed to the Southern skies and down in Australia they got views like this.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Advent calendar December 14: Equinox Saturn

Probably my favorite shot of Saturn - at least until the next really cool one comes out. This was taken at the Equinox at Saturn when the rings were nearly edge-on to the sun, and leaving very little shadow on the planet. Yeah, I've shared this one before, but it's just so dark, spooky looking, and very awesome!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Advent calendar December 13: IR Horsehead

Here is a view of the Horsehead and Flame nebula never seen before. This is taken from the European Southern Observatory, down in South America. This is an Infrared view and covers about twice the area of the full moon.
I took a photo of the same area a couple nights ago with visible light. Obviously, South America has no atmosphere!
(click for full size on both images)

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Advent calendar December 12: Push/pull storms

I really don't think I'm doing this advent calender quite right since I don't really have a theme of any sorts. Just random cool stuff that I can come up with. Oh well, it's my blog and I can do what I want!
So here is another random shot. Looking down instead of up for a change. This photo was from the NOAA 18 weather satellite back in April 2008. It was received from my basement satellite station. I just liked it since it has such a strange pattern of storms that day. They both seem to be sucking off each other and San Francisco area had some pretty ugly rainstorms that day.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Advent calendar December 11: Hubble M42

Another favorite shot from Hubble. Orion Nebula M42.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Advent calendar December 10: Deep Space IR

What does empty space look like? A lot more than you think! This is the latest release of the Hubble Ultra Deep Field image that was taken recently with the IR camera installed on the last servicing mission. This image is about the same location as the first famous image from a few years ago. This looks back to a point just 600 million years after the "Big Bang". Hubble is a time machine as well as a telescope!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The mysterious Norwegian spiral.

I first saw this photo this morning and thought "yeah, right...whatever" another stupid UFO bad Photoshop. Then reading closer, found that it was real and several other photos from all around the area showed up.
The Russians were in denial at first, but now it seems that a missile was launched from a submarine which had a bit of a malfunction and climbed while spinning. (Reminds me of my first try at a 2 stage model rocket years ago, flew just like this!). Seems that the tank ruptured spewing fuel out into space while spinning causing the big spiral pattern (see the videos).
The reason for the large size, in space there isn't the atmosphere to hold plumes in tight, so rocket exhaust plumes (or fuel leaks) will spread out a great distance without the restrictions of the atmosphere. Look at any NASA videos of rockets launching or even just this photo of a Saturn V plume, and remember that rocket is 363 feet tall- for scale of the plume.

Similar to this old photo of a Trident missile out of control, but today's got a lot higher!
| "Bad Astronomy" Phil has some good info |

Advent calendar December 9 : Saturn from Hubble

Probably one of my favorite images of Saturn from the Hubble Telescope. In Fall 2009, Saturn tipped it's rings directly toward Earth so they would nearly completely disappear since they are so thin. Unfortunately, when this happened in September it was pretty much out of view behind the sun, so we missed seeing them totally vanish. Saturn is back out the other side now and up in the early morning skies.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Advent calendar December 8: Comet Holmes

I almost appeared like the Death Star suddenly showed up in the sky or even a new planet beamed in from a wormhole. That's no space station, that's a comet!
Comet Holmes is one of those short period comets that just kind of float around in the solar system not all that exciting and one of those that you can find if you try with a big scope. It usually may just look like a fuzzy star and not all that special. Holmes decided to put on a show in October 2007 and exploded into a huge bright ball earning it's place up there with Hale Bopp, Hayakutake, McNaught and other famous bright comets.
It looked like a bright yellow/green planet in the eastern sky when I first saw it in binoculars. Didn't need binoculars either, it was a new "star" in Perseus. It lasted until February until it dimmed back down to it's usual non-exciting self again.
My photo below was taken November 5, 2007 just over a week after it first brightened.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Advent calendar December 7: Apollo 17

On December 7, 1972, Apollo 17 launched on the last flight to the moon. Apollo 18 - 20 were canceled due to budget cuts (familiar story). I guess this is party good, otherwise there wouldn't be any Saturn Vs fully intact in museums to drool over. Apollo 17 was the longest manned lunar landing flight; longest total lunar surface extravehicular activities; largest lunar sample return, and longest time in lunar orbit.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

One small step for darker skies....

We all know that light pollution is one of the major factors that screws up our hobby, and view of the night skies that we used to see when we were kids. There was a test given to kids in a city once where a question was "what color is the night sky?", the kid that answered "pink!" was correct.
When I was a kid, I remember lying out in the backyard on summer nights in a sleeping bag on the back lawn, I'd sleep out there and often wake up when I rolled over on the slug on my pillow. Anyway, there was still a stripe of the Milky Way visible across the skies in Bellevue, WA back then. Now, it's just that familiar pink color between the 92 stars, the moon, and an occasional planet that can be still seen.
There is some good news, it seems that the city of Tumwater just passed an ordinance to reduce light pollution. Good for them! Skies are already darker down there, but this is a start. I'm hoping that the darkness creeps north to the Seattle area over time (white area with the "+" on the map on right).

Advent calendar December 6: Aries 1-X

Agree or disagree, this may be the only ride for the US astronauts when the shuttle's are grounded and tucked into museums.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Advent calendar December 5: Latest Hubble

This is the latest release from the newly improved Hubble space telescope. This is part of the Iris Nebula (or NGC 7023 for you techie types).
As always, click photo for full size.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Astronaut tour of the ISS.

Here is a video showing a lot of details of the whole inside of the International Space Station. Astronaut Michael Barratt, expedition 20 flight engineer, gives a 28 minute tour of the station through all the modules.
Unless you are the founder of Ubuntu Linux, created Microsoft Office, or maybe a popular circus, we will never get a chance to see this ourselves. Watch the video in HD to see all the stuff crammed in the corners of the space station.

Free 2010 ISS calendar - just download and print.

Looking for a way to get a free calendar for next year? NASA released the 2010 ISS calendar this week. Looks pretty nice, but will take a lot of black ink. So unless you want to burn up your cartridges at home printing this, sneak the print job at work! (Don't mention I suggested this, and do it at your own risk!)

From NASA web page:
2010 International Space Station Calendar

NASA is offering a 2010 calendar that describes the work being done on the International Space Station and gives information about the crews that have lived there. The calendar contains photographs taken from the space station and highlights historic NASA milestones and fun facts about the international construction project of unprecedented complexity that began in 1998. (Note: In order to print the document correctly, please select the two-sided print option in your printer dialog box)

Advent calendar December 4: Hubble M51

My favorite galaxy to try to image. I'm not sure how many hours I've spent trying to get the ultimate image of this galaxy, but I keep trying! Can't come anywhere near Hubble though.
(my latest attempt)
Hubble M51

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Advent calendar December 3: ISS from ground

"You can't see the space station, it's in space!" a comment of disbelief I have heard when I point out the ISS passing overhead. So wrong! Of course it can be seen, it's only about 250 miles straight up. The photo on the right is one of my attempts from my backyard. The photo was taken with a cheap $30 webcam off Ebay, and hand guiding the 12" LX200 scope.
The photo below (which still amazes me when I see it) was taken with a 25 inch telescope from the Clay Center observatory in Boston.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Advent calendar December 2: Saturn

Other blogs are doing an advent calendar thing for the days before Christmas. Big Picture is doing a good one with a daily Hubble shot. Seemed like a fun idea, so I'm starting a day late with mine. More fun than Christmas shopping too.
So here is my first image for the day leading to Christmas. An old crusty view of Saturn from Pioneer 11 in 1979 from a distance of about 2.8 million miles. Ha!
This was from a spacecraft that flew past the planet, but I can take better images from my backyard through light pollution, a gunky atmosphere, and approximately 800,000 million miles.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The playground I would have liked....

This comes from "Bad Astronomy" Phil Plait's blog, but had to borrow this from it since it was so much fun. This is a playground toy in Portugal. Probably an old playground from the 70s when Space: 1999 was still on TV and popular (or I think it was popular?). I used to watch it every week!
If kids still play outside on playground equipment, I'm sure this is wasted on them anyway since they would have no idea how cool this really is.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The best of STS-129 launch.

Very cool video just came out from NASA. We have all seen the booster cams, tank cameras, and parachute views. This video takes the best parts of those videos and puts them all together, edited nicely so the slow parts are minimized - jumps straight to the action that we like to see.
There are views I've never seen too, including a view out the pilot's window showing the view of the ET during launch, and the covers blowing off the RCS rockets on the nose. Good job to NASA on this 10 minute video, keep it up and maybe the public will gain some more interest!
For best view, click the video to go direct to YouTube, turn up the volume, and watch the HD version.
Another source for the video. It went off Youtube, then back on again. This should be a good alternate.

| |

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Can't stop being amazed by these images...

Another really cool shot from Cassini of the low buzzing over Enceladus the other day. Not sure of the scale of this, but looks like a cold, rough place.
This is a mosaic created by Astro0 on Unmannedspaceflight. (Click for bigger view)

That geyser image from yesterday rates way up there on the coolness scale of space images. I think we have a 3 way tie between Apollo 8's Earthrise, and Phoenix on the chute.
I just have to share that MRO shot one more time. This is still my all time favorite so far.

ISS vs. Arthur C. Clarke's vision.

I was looking for some ISS size comparisons and came across this...

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Artist's rendition of Enceladus.

AstroO on Unmannedspaceflight posted this view that he created. VERY pretty! Even has Cassini passing over on the right side of the frame. Not sure what all the rules are for posting things like this, but if there are any copyright issues with sharing these, let me know.
The amateur image processors do such fantastic work compared with JPL that I'm just so impressed with what they do with the data.
(This is my desktop wallpaper now).

Titan eclipsed

Just another stunning image of Rhea passing Titan from Cassini. Nothing needs to be said just look at the photo. (Colors processed by a reader on

Amazing Enceladus image from flyby

WOW! We have been wondering about those plumes from Enceladus for a long time now. Cassini has made a few flybys also, but never got a good image of the plumes from the source.
Yesterday the spacecraft buzzed the moon at 997 miles over the surface doing over 17,000+ mph. This was the last chance for a close view of the spew for several years since the moon is going into "winter" and darkness on that southern pole. I'd say this last chance view really worked out exceptionally fine.
Awesome view of the plumes spewing from the cracks in the surface, and the part on the dark side with the plumes...uh..uh...uh....speechless!
Click the image on the right, and cross your eyes for the 3d view. | Some more info on Emily's site |
| Ciclops imaging site |

Friday, November 20, 2009

If the Earth had rings like Saturn?

If the moon got too close, or a past moon broke up long ago so we had rings around the Earth, what would they look like?
I came across this interesting video that shows just that. I think from a lot of locations, this would block the southern sky along the ecliptic making it hard to view the planets or a lot of other good stuff to the south. Then again, the light pollution from this would be miserable too.
But then again, everything is so perfectly balanced to have life on this planet that if a moon broke up like that at one time, maybe we never would have evolved in the first place?

Of course we already have a ring around Earth that we made ourselves!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Trying new processing tricks....

I went to the Advanced Imaging Conference in San Jose a couple weekends ago and learned some new processing tricks and ideas. I've been playing with my new skills on some of my old data to see if I can make improvements. Tony Hallas had some really great tricks that made a lot of sense and had everyone saying "oooh!" when he demonstrated them. I did buy his set of tutorial DVDs and they are great! But as expected, my stuff never looks like his. I just need to keep practicing.
Here are a couple of images that I've been playing with: (click the images to see full size)

M81 - I combined a few nights of images for some cleaner data this time. I brought out some more detail in the core dust lanes, didn't burn out the center (new trick!), and played with the colors a little. I think it looks better now.

M31 - My continuing quest of getting a decent shot of this that I can enlarge to a poster sized print. Sharpened up some of the dust lanes some more, brought out some more colors, but still fighting noise in the background. I'm slowly getting happier with this one.
Someday, I'll get some clear skies to test out my $360 worth of new filters. I bought a CLS filter, which should help with light pollution, and another H-Alpha filter (this goes into the camera body rather than screw on externally). I'll sell my old H-Alpha filter to justify the cost of this one. :-)

"Try SCE to Aux" - Apollo 12 + 40 years

Another 40th anniversary. This time it's the launch of Apollo 12, November 14, 1969. Pete Conrad, Dick Gordon, and Alan Bean were the 2nd flight to the moon after Apollo 11. Launching into a thunderstorm, the Saturn V was hit by lightning twice. "I got three fuel cell lights, an AC bus light, a fuel cell disconnect, AC bus overload 1 and 2, Main Bus A and B out!" was the call to Mission Control from Pete Conrad - who sat there with his hand on the abort handle.
The Saturn was still flying, so rather than yank the handle, they got a call from John Aaron, who had an idea "Try SCE to Aux" was his call. Alan Bean knew where that switch was, and flipped it to Aux. Telemetry was restored and Apollo 12 continued to the moon.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Dangers of Astronomy

You would think that Astronomy would be a fairly safe hobby other than tripping over stuff in the dark, dropping expensive eyepieces, being frightened by sounds in the darkness, screwing up your back lifting a 12" LX200 onto a tripod...
This photo shows another potential danger of this hobby, depending on your focal length and aperture. (click for full size)(Credit to forum on CloudyNights for the photo - and Astromick blog where I saw this!)

Friday, November 13, 2009

Second and final Rosetta flyby of Earth.

The ESA spacecraft Rosetta, made it's second flyby of the Earth today. The spacecraft was launched back in March 2004, swung past Mars, back past Earth again in 2007, and then one more time today. They flybys close to the planets are for "steering" and boosting the spacecraft on course to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (no, don't ask me how to say that either!) where it will deploy a lander to the surface in November 2014.
This is the timeline for the mission:
Launch 2 March 2004
1st Earth swingby 4 March 2005 (distance from Earth
: 1955 km)
Mars swingby 25 February 2007 (distance from Mars: 250 km)
2nd Earth swingby 13 November 2007 (distance from Earth: 5301 km)
Steins flyby 5 September 2008 (distance from Steins: 800 km)
3rd Earth swingby 13 November 2009 (distance from Earth: 2500 km)
Lutetia flyby 10 June 2010 (distance from Lutetia: 3000 km)
Comet rendezvous maneuvers 22 May 2014 (distance from comet: 600 000–100 000 km)
Lander delivery 10 November 2014 (distance fr
om comet: 1–2 km)
End of mission December 2015
The spacecraft whizzed past our planet at 29,820 mph missing by 1,541 miles.

Day before the flyby:
Close approach over Eastern US/Gulf of Mexico - Pick out the cities!

Looking back at home on the way out| Rosetta ESA site |
| Emily from Planetary Society's blog entry |

Water - and lots of it - confirmed on the moon.

Today one of the big stories on a lot of the news sites (CNN, and other non-science sites even!) was that NASA released results from the LCROSS impact last month. Water has been confirmed on the moon. "Indeed yes, we found water. We didn't find just a little bit we found a significant amount," said Tony Colaprete, principal investigator for LCROSS at a press conference.
When the booster hit the moon, it created a crater about 30 meters across. About 25 gallons of water was detected by instruments on the LCROSS spacecraft before it too hit the moon.
Pretty cool! May not have been much to see from Earth, but very successful and found what was being searched for.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Another view of Tranquilty Base.

Once again, another view of one of the Apollo sites is released from the new lower altitude of the LRO. You can easily see the boulder field that Neil had to dodge when landing in this photo. Although, if it was your final landing in the LM, it would have been tempting for just a few more seconds of 'stick-time' to pad your logbook with! Yeah, we see he had his reasons for the overshoot.
Compared with the images recently released of some of the other sites, you can see that they really didn't walk far on this landing. They stayed very close just in case things got ulgy and they had to leave quickly.
I wonder how much other stuff will be imaged and identified?