November 30, 2007

Space Explorer

Just an FYI; I am removing Space Explorer from the blogroll. It appears that this blog cuts and pastes entire articles from new sites. That's plagiarism bro, and it's not going to remain on this blogroll.

Great Worldwide Star Count Results

Some of you may remember my post Fight The Light: Calling All Readers to participate in the Great World Wide Star Count.

There were over 6,600 observations by citizen scientists in over 60 countries! Here is a results map of North America... notice the diagonal string of lower star counts in the northeast region of the United States.

Awesome Astrophotographer

I found this guy while crusing the digital astro group on Yahoo.

Joe Carr has some photos in his astrophoto gallery on Zenfolio. Truly amazing photographs; I thought these were Hubble images or something!

Truly talented, I think this is the type of quality all astrophotographers should strive for. Great job Joe!

Holmes Revival

Johnny Horne from Sky & Telescopes Observing Blog captured this extraordinary example of comet 17P Holmes on 11/27 (when many websites reported it no longer visible to the naked eye). This is probably my favorite Holmes photo yet.

Check out the site and learn the details of how this photo was taken with a new Nikon D300 DSLR camera. Read, and learn from a truly talented astrophotographer!

Lights With No Sun

The ESA's Rosetta, the first ever spacecraft whose destination is a comet, took this picture of the Earth at night. Large cities are clearly visible as mankind's presence on this planet is clearly visible-- even when the Sun is not.

Rosetta has a super complex trajectory is making its course to comet 67P Rosetta. This includes not one, but three gravity assist maneuvers around Earth and another around Mars. This truly will show how efficient current technology can accurately predict the course of our probes.

Once reaching comet 67P Rosetta, the craft will remain in orbit with the comet during its journey to and from the Sun. In a nutshell, Rosetta will ultimately tell us what comets are made of, why they are different (or the same) as other intersolar materials, and give us a better idea of what the surface of a comet actually looks like.

Interesting mission to be sure, and likely it will present us with new information while verifying what we already know about comets. The study of the origin of comets never looked so sweet... just check out this picture of a very overexposed Mars taken by Rosetta's wide-angle camera against the stunning backdrop of our Milky Way. Every astrophotographers dream--wide angle astrophotography with a twist: no atmosphere!

November 29, 2007

Flickr Find: Great Mars pic!

Originally uploaded by chipdatajeffb
Great Flickr find here! Here's an awesome webcam photo of Mars taken with a Phillips ToUCam Pro.

Just shows how incredibly awesome a webcam photo can truly be. Check out our web cam post, and be sure to view all the technical details of this outstanding example of webcam astrophotography.

Flickr Find: Great Venus pic!

Venus, the Morning Star
Originally uploaded by gainesp2003
I found this pic on Flickr and used it in my previous post about all the great new Venus stuff going on. I loved it so much, I wanted to make a post showing it in all its glory.

Check out other photographs from this photographer!

Truly a marvelous Venus shot, congrats!

The Earth Without Humans

I found this interesting chart on one of my favorite blogs, The Daily Galaxy, on the recovery process of planet Earth if humans were eradicated completely. Not sure if it applies to this blog, but cool nonetheless.

Gift Idea: An Acre on the Red Planet!

Looks like there's a hot new real estate market opening up... acre lots on the Red Planet!

That's right friends, you too can own a piece of the red planet! For a mere $34.00, you can own an entire acre on the red planet itself.

Registration includes:

  • Letter of Proclamation

  • Property Fact Sheet

  • Full Color Photo of Mars

  • Lifetime registration in the Red Planet Land Claimss database

I personally think this makes a great gift for the amatuer astronomer; however, like those "star databases", don't take it too seriously. I seriously doubt you'll ever step foot on it and I doubt you'll ever even be on any sort of semi-official map.

Still a pretty cool gift idea! (Wish I thought of that...)

A Different Kind of Venus...

Venus recently seems to be a hot topic, and for good reason: the ESA's Venus Express probe has been churning out some very interesting data. You can even check out our most recent Venus post titled The Oceans of Venus for even more information.

We know that the solar wind interacts with the hydrogen in Venus' atmosphere, causing it to forever be lost in space. More recently, we have discovered that oxygen has been escaping the atmosphere all along as well. This is an exciting discovery because since the structure of water, obviously made up of both hydrogen and oxygen, has been escaping into the atmosphere, with enough data, we can reverse this process mathematically and determine how much water has escaped into space.

Venus expert, David Grinspoon, thinks the amount of water is indeed significant: nearly as much as the oceans of Earth (Source: Daily Galaxy). He actually authors a book called Life on Venus, in which he states that 4 billion years ago, when the Sun's heat output was little more than half of its current output, that Earth was likely too cold to support life but Venus would have been right in the middle of the habitable zone.

Daily Galaxy blogger Doug Aamoth brought up an interesting point in his article: if intelligent life existed on Venus we'd have no clue. The solar system is 5 billion years old, and if a civilization were present on Venus, all traces would be completely wiped clean in a mere 50,000 years by natural geologic process. Very intriguing and makes one think: if they were there, could they have made it off the rock before the greenhouse effect ran rampant?

The ESA held a press conference today discussing the findings of the Venus Express. We can look forward to the findings to be officially published in an upcoming issue of the Nature journal, but we can see what researcher Dmitri Titov says about the findings:

"An important first set of results concerns the complex dynamics and
structure of Venus's atmosphere, studied with a whole suite of instruments. The
spacecraft has revealed the structure and movements of the atmosphere, from its
upper reaches to just above the surface, and has obtained the best global map of
atmospheric temperatures to date. This is already improving our understanding of
the global dynamics and the meteorology of Venus." (Source: Astronomy Report)

One thing is for certain: Venus is shaping up to be a much livelier, active planet with a richer and more mysterious past than anyone could have ever guessed. This is a planet we will be watching with a close eye for some time, and who knows, maybe there's an archaelogical ruin or two on the scorching surface?

November 19, 2007

New Nova Found in Puppis

From Sky & Telescopes Observing Blog:

Nova Puppis 2007 can be found about 1° northeast of RS Puppis, a Cepheid variable star. The nova's 2000.0 coordinates are right ascension 8h 16.3m, declination –34° 15′. Its type is not yet known, nor whether it is still brightening or beginning to fade.

Looks like there's a new nova in town! Enjoy looking for this one; it's visible with binoculars. From what I hear, this is a rare helium nova.

November 17, 2007

Leonid Meteor Shower Peaks Tonight

The Leonid meteor shower will peak tonight at 11pm. This year will provide clear, favorable conditions for viewing the powerhouse Leonid meteor shower show. The moon is only the first quarter phase, and will have long set in the West by the time the constellation Leo, for which the Leonids are named after, climbs high in the sky to provide the best atmospheric viewing conditions.

The Leonids are the remains of the Tempel-Tuttle comet. The Earth annually passes through its dusty debris trail, which contains debris as tiny as a grain of sand, and creates an incredible light show for patient observers.

Occasionally, we pass through an unusually thick concentration of debris, and in 1999, 2000, and 2001, observers were graced with meteor showers showing more than one thousand objects per hour. The comet had passed through the inner solar system near these times, creating a much higher than expected concentration. The comet has long since vacated our region of the solar system, and these areas of high concentration are expected to be gone, creating a much more modest estimate of what to expect this year.

These bits of "debris" are actually coined meteoroids, the proper term for debris before entering Earth's atmosphere. Meteors are meteoroids that have entered the atmopshere and "lit up". Leonids never hit the ground due their brittle composition, but if one did, which is literally nearly impossible, it would be called a meteorite.

Leonids turn up the heat, literally and figuratively. The meteors can heat up to over 3000 degrees Farenheit. They also have been clocked travelling more than 80mps (that's miles per second, kids) through the atmosphere until they eventually burn up about 60 miles above us.

Leonids were once thought to be the heralds of the end of the world. Thank goodness we know different. We can just enjoy their annual wonder.

Five Tips for Great Moon Photography

Photographing the moon can be a daunting task. There are several tips I can give about photographing the moon.

  1. Pick a Clear Night - This is very important. Any haze, clouds, wisps, or fog can ruin a shot. The less atmosphere you shoot through, the better the picture will be.

  2. Know Your Phases - Knowing the phase of the moon is crucial for what to expect in the resulting photograph. A full moon gives great pictures of features on the moon's surface, but half moons create shadows on the moon's surface that results in better definition.

  3. Know Your Camera Settings - The single most important fact of moon photography is a rudimentary understanding of your f stops, ISO, and shutter speed. The "auto-picture setting" features on most digital cameras will create a bright blur in the sky with absolutely no detail visible. It is possible to take great photos without the need of a tripod with the correct settings. Use a lower ISO setting to reduce noise, a shorter shutter speed to reduce blurring and negate the need for a remote shutter, and a higher aperture (f/stop) to collect as much light as possible in the short amount of time allowed by the camera to create the photograph. Focus on infinity.

  4. Know Where The Moon Is In The Sky - This is a basic one, but still an important one. If you have a clear view of the horizon, when the moon is rising at night time, you will get a deep orange color. As it rises it will become more of a yellowish color, and it will eventually become the bluish-white color we generally think of when we think of the moon. Depending on what you are going for, keep this in mind.

  5. Trial and Error - Experiment with different settings and record their results in a notebook, or even on back of the finished photographs. Get a feel for your camera; I can't provide exact settings because every camera is different. Keep this in mind: auto-picture won't work; you're gonna have to go all manual.

Planetary Possibilities of the Pleiades

Planets Forming In Pleiades Star Cluster, Astronomers Report

ScienceDaily (2007-11-15) -- Rocky terrestrial planets, perhaps like Earth, Mars or Venus, appear to be forming or to have recently formed around a star in the Pleiades ("seven sisters") star cluster, the result of "monster collisions" of planets or planetary embryos. Astronomers using the Gemini Observatory in Hawaii and the Spitzer Space Telescope report their findings in an upcoming issue of the Astrophysical Journal, the premier journal in astronomy. ... > read full article

Science Daily has released this article (along with a few other astronomy publications) about the planetary possibilities of the Pleiades. This has long been my favorite cluster because of the fantastic view it provides with or without binoculars, the ease of its locations, and the cool blue colors of these young stars. Below is a previously published photograph I took of the Pleaides:

November 16, 2007

Video: Watch the Kaguya Earthrise!

Kaguya (Selene), the Japanese lunar orbiter, has sent back this amazing video of an earthrise as seen from the surface of the Moon. Enjoy!

Deep Sky Blog on Google

Well, I haven't checked in awhile, but it turns out we are PageRank 2 out of a possible 10. Not bad considering we were N/A for a long time, then we were PageRank 1 for awhile, and now 2. We're growing in popularity and I'd like to thank all the other bloggers who are linking here. Thanks for your support!

November 15, 2007

The Amazing Green Flash

I just found this post over at a blog called The Earth and Weather Space. This is an atmospheric optical phenomena that is quite rare which makes the Sun appear green, and in rare cases, even shoot a green ray into the sky.

Wikipedia describes the green flash phenomena as:

The reason for a green flash lies in refraction of light (as in a prism) in the atmosphere: light moves more slowly in the lower, denser air than in the thinner air above, so sunlight rays follow paths that curve slightly, in the same direction as the
curvature of the
Earth. Higher frequency light (green/blue) curves more than lower frequency light (red/orange), so green/blue rays from the upper limb of the settingsun remain visible after the red rays are obstructed by the curvature of the earth. Green flashes are enhanced by atmospheric inversions, which increase the density gradient in the atmosphere, and therefore increase refraction. A green flash is more likely to be seen in clear air, when more of the light from the setting sun reaches the observer without being scattered. We might expect to see a blue flash, but the blue is preferentially scattered out of our line of sight and remaining light ends up looking green.

Other great "green flash" sites are here:

November 14, 2007

November's Naked Eye Northern Hemisphere Objects

November has quite a few interesting stars that are visible in the Northern Hemisphere. Check these stars out if you find yourself being new to astronomy and without any "expensive gear":

  • Altair - This is the brightest star in the constellation of Aquila, the eagle. The name Altair literally means "the flying eagle" in Arabic. It is also the apex of the Summer Triangle.

  • Capella - This is the brightest star in the constellation of Auriga. It appears yellowish in color and is a spectroscopic binary.

  • Deneb - This is the brightest star in Cygnus, the swan. This star is one of the most luminous stars known. It is a blue supergiant.

  • Vega - This is the fifth brightest star in the sky and is of the blue-white variety. It is actually the second brightest star in the Northern Hemipshere. It is the brightest star in the constellation Lyra.

  • Algol - This is the brighest star in the constellation Perseus. It means "the ghoul" in Arabic and represented the head of the Gorgon, Medusa. It is actually located quite close at the present time to Comet 17P/Holmes. This binary star flucuates magnitude frequently.

  • Fomalhaut - This is a young star that is the head of the fish constellation, Piscus Austrinus.

  • Pleiades - This open cluster is easily visible to the eye in the Taurus constellation. Binoculars reveal many more than the seven obvious stars in this cluster. This cluster resembles a tiny "dipper" like the Ursa constellations.

  • Hyades - This is an easily visible open cluster noticed but never catalogued by Messier. Shaped like a triangle, it is very easy to locate using sky maps.

  • Aldebaran - This is a red giant, and has the Alpha designation, in the constellation Taurus. It is one of the brighest stars in the night sky. It appears to be a part of the Hyades open cluster, but it is just merely in the line of sight.

  • Polaris - The northen star, this is the brightest star that is closest to the celestial north pole. This keeps it position relatively uniform. It is the brightest star in Ursa Minor.

Check out the Sky Maps link in our links section. It points directly to some high quality maps that make locating all of these objects very easy.

Venus Through The Treeline

This is a great picture of Venus (yes, Venus, not the moon) through the treeline at about 4:57am EST. Venus is so bright that long exposure photographs, even with my non-DSLR digital camera, makes it appear almost as bright as the moon because of the amount of light collected in the camera's lens. Hope you enjoy this picture as well!


Constellation Name: Cepheus
Observed Date: 11/13/07, 8:17pm EST
Sky Conditions: Clear
Coordinates: (Will be updated)

Ursa Minor

Constellation Name: Ursa Minor
Observed Date: 11/13/07, 8:05pm EST
Sky Conditions: Clear
Coordinates: (Will be updated)

November 11, 2007

Mars Phoenix Lander

My thoughts frequently drift to the Mars Phoenix Lander, which at this moment in time, is hurdling through space at astounding speed to the red planet Mars.

The Phoenix will once for all run definitive tests on the orangish-red soils of our less than hospitable neighbor. In honor of my thoughts and wishes for the Phoenix team, I am creating a countdown clock until the day Phoenix lands. Once it lands, who knows what it will find out about the organic (or inorganic) history of Mars' geology.

A Few Projects...

First of all, let me apologize for my lack of posting recently. I have officially moved to the country, and its been a long, hard work, and I couldn't get off of work. That being said, here's a few things I have in store:

  1. For this blog, the next post will be a detailed post about building your own newtonian refractor.
  2. I have also created a photo blog only for my astrophotography. Check it out at
  3. I am creating another blog about eco-friendly living at

This blog is not dead, I apologize for the lack of updates and these should pick back up to normal pace shortly.

November 3, 2007

Blackberry Gets An Astronomy Lesson

Starry Night software is now available, and get this, FREE of charge! Simply type this URL into your Blackberry's browser:

The download will begin automatically. Enjoy; you now have mobile access to awesome sky maps! Generate real images on-the-fly!

This is a huge deal to me because if you're a corporate-type like me, you live on your Blackberry! Finally, something a little less stressful comes from my Blackberry (besides BrickBreaker)!

BTW, for all you Apple fans out there, and iPhone version is available too.


Some More Astrophotos!

This is a photo of Venus over the treeline on my property. I zoomed in to get a better shot, but if you look at the stars in the picture, you can see them start to trail. If you use a zoom lens on your camera, 30-second exposures are out of the question unless you have some sort of tracking.

This is a picture of the open cluster, the Hyades. Notice they form a perfect 'V' with the tip pointing to the upper-righthand corner of the photo. Again, this is a 20-second exposure with NO zoom.


Constellation Name: Cassiopeia

Observed Date: 11/2/07, 12:52am EST

Sky Conditions: Clear

Coordinates: (Will be updated)


Constellation Name: Orion the Hunter
Observed Date: 11/1/07, 12:34am EST
Sky Conditions: Clear
Coordinates: (Will be updated)

Constellation Hunter

I'm going to be starting a new project on this blog. I'm going to be going for the Constellation Hunter certificate through the Astronomical League. The rules for this award are that you:

  • List date and time.
  • List latitude and longitude of observation.
  • List constellation name.
  • List sky conditions and/or transparency
  • A sketch of all stars that were visible to the unaided eye, out to the limits of the constellation's boundary. Named stars should be identified on the sketch.
  • The sketch should include other objects that are visible within the boundaries of the constellation, including but not limited to: galaxies, open clusters, globular clusters, and nebulas.

I'll be photo-logging all my constellations in the Northern Hemipshere. It might not be up right away, but I'll have a links box to all constellations I have located and cataloged.

November 1, 2007

Let's Get Our Kids Involved!

Astronomy is a rewarding, interesting, and ultimately fulfilling hobby. This hobby, as most involved know, is very kid friendly. Here are a few ideas for parents looking to get there kids involved in astronomy:

  1. 1.) Join an astronomy club. These clubs have meetings and usually some sort of educational presentation. They also have observing sessions at designated spots, and they also may host star parties, which are fun events for guests and other people to enjoy astronomy. Check these out at

  1. 2.) If you join a club, or if you join the Astronomical League, you can complete observer challenges. These can be as simple as sketching the listed constellations, observing galaxies with binoculars, or even observing obscure nebulae with a 17" telescope.

3.) Learn a little and share it. My daughter was nearly excited as me when I showed her 17P/Holmes, and let's face it: if you didn't know what you were seeing, it wasn't that incredibly impressive. Her enthusiasm drew off my enthusiasm.

Astronomy is an important science and as technology advances, it is becoming more and more important each passing day. Who knows where the space program is going to be in fifteen years, but I know one thing: if there are great opportunities in the space program available in the future, I would love my kids to have a passion for that branch of science.