December 31, 2007

Featured Flickr Photographer: OpoTerser

This guy definitely has some awesome wide angle Milky Way shots. Cruise by his gallery to check them out; he also has some awesome Moon shots to boot.

Great Job OpoTerser!

December 29, 2007

Mars Near To Earth

This is a photo I took of Mars two nights ago. Mars is currently near its closest point to Earth, and I wanted to snap a shot before it returned in 2016!

Orion, the Hunter

Constellation Name: Orion
Observed Date: 12/27/07, 8:14pm EST
Sky Conditions: Clear
Coordinates: (Will be updated)
Note: This Orion photograph is to replace the original photos I have taken which can be found here.

December 23, 2007

Things to See in 2008

There's a bunch of cool stuff that is going to be going on this upcoming year in 2008. A couple notable things are:

Comets - There will be quite a few comets coming around in 2008. Four of these will likely be visible with binoculars. 8P/Tuttle will remain visible for awhile. For a complete list of comets, check resources at and the Institute of Astronomy to see what we can look forward to in 2008.

Planets & Moon - Look forward to many solar and lunar eclipses. Also check out the many planets coming into opposition (their closest approach to Earth) and conjunctions (in which planets appear very close to each other). A full list of expected phenomena can be found at Sea and Sky.

Asteroid Events - Any dedicated asteroid hunters out there can check out Poyntsource for a complete list of all global asteroid events. This site even let's you import information into Google Earth.

Meteor Showers - According to the International Meteor Organization, " The meteor year ahead starts well for the stronger showers, with moonless maxima for the Quadrantids, α-Centaurids, η-Aquarids and δ-Aquarids, but things go somewhat awry in August with the Perseids peaking near full Moon, while the Orionids in October, the Leonids in November and the Geminids in December are even worse-placed." Check out their 2008 calendar for a full listing of what to expect when meteor hunting in 2008.

The year 2008 will be a great year for observing, and remember, 2009 is the International Year of Astronomy.

December 22, 2007

Flickr Find: Jupiter & Computer Science Geek

Check out this awesome twilight photo of Jupiter. I'm a real sucker for wide angle astrophotography, and this one is definitely a gem. Check out the author Computer Science Geek on his Flickr page.

Tunguska-sized Asteroid Misses Earth; Sets Sights on Mars

On November 20, 2007, NASA-funded observers discovered an asteroid, subsequently named 2007 WD5, after it had made its closest approach to Earth at 4.7 million miles. In terms of NEOs (Near Earth Objects), this is a very close call.

While we may be out of the woods, Mars certianly is not. At 5:55am EST on January 30, 2008, it is scheduled to pass within a mere 30,000 miles of Mars. This means there is at least a statistical probability of 1 in 75 that it would collide.

This would be an event the size of Tunguska, or larger. It would slam into the surface at more nearly 28,000 mph, create a crater more than a half mile wide, and release more than three megatons of energy.

On another note, notice that the asteroid was discovered after it made its closest approach to Earth. We need to do better than this NASA; you're gonna let another Tunguska or dinokiller through.

December 20, 2007

Peace on Earth

Michele from the Earth and Weather Space has beat me to the punch on a great Christmas-related article. Dwight D. Eisenhower transmitted the first broadcast through space on December 19th, 1958 from the Atlas satellite.

Check out the Earth and Weather Space to find out what he said!

Ursid Meteor Shower

Referring back to our brief post on Comet 8/P Tuttle I actually forgot something very important about that comet; we are only two days from passing through the debris left along the path of the comet. The radiant will be in the Little Dipper (Ursa Minor), near Polaris.

The Ursid meteor shwoer has been quite dull in the preceding years, but experts are expecting a much grander show this year because the comet is quickly approaching us. For some pics of this comet, which is as big but not as bright as comet Halley, check out the always cool Flintstone Stargazing, or some more amateur photos at SETI's dedicated website.

Unfortunately, viewing conditions will not be ideal for this meteor shower because of the fact that it will be peaking when North America is in the day time, and Europe and Asia will have a bright moon, obscuring their view of outburst as well. Suggestions for successful viewing on SETI's website include blocking the Moon with an obstruction such as a telephone pole and viewing the constellation.

Interestingly, the dust in this comet that we see is centuries old; this year's dust is estimated to be from the comet's passing between 300 and 900 A.D. Results of a study making this claim can be found in the Journal of the International Meteor Organization.

Peter Jenniskens, a meteor astronomer with the SETI institute, says this on about a potential mission to study the Ursids meteor phenomena, "To investigate this, we are hoping for an opportunity to observe the outburst from a Gulfstream V aircraft in a mission similar to our campaign to study the September 1 Aurigids."

"If approved, the Ursid flight will be a long 16-hour mission, involving one aircraft, departing from NASA Ames Research Center in the early morning of December 22nd. The plane will fly north-west towards Alaska, land in Anchorage for a refuel stop, and then continue on to follow the Earth's shadow, fly over the Arctic and turn towards Canada to return at Ames just after sunset."

"We don't need to fly all the way to the North Pole, just far enough north to stay in darkness all the time. The aircraft will follow the Earth's rotation, making the meteors fall from a radiant high in the sky throughout the mission. The moon will stay low on the horizon on one side of the plane."

The can view the very cool, official prediction paper of the Ursid meteor shower here. Check this out; it is by far the most in-depth information about this meteor shower available this year.

Below I have included SETI's official Ursid meteor shower debris prediction:

Very cool mission idea. Too bad that this meteor shower won't be easy to view from North America; seems interesting. Maybe we'll be lucky enough to catch a stray...

I usually like to include an amateur photo of any meteor shower I've found, but I've yet to actually find any amateur astrophotography regarding the Ursids (other than the host comet 8/P Tuttle). Seems this is a difficult one to image; let me know if anyone is able to.

Happy meteor hunting!

Sorry for Slow Postings

I'd just like to apologize for the lack of posts recently. I'm going through a bit of a crisis with my home; I've lost water pressure in my well! I've been using all my non-work time to try and fix this problem. You never realize how devastating water-loss can be; no dishwashing, showers, flushing toilets, or water to make coffee and tea. It's been tough, but it should be fixed today.

Thanks for your patience!

December 18, 2007

Mars At Its Closest Photograph

Here's a few pictures of Mars while at its closest point to Earth:

This is a photo by Alan Dyer of what Mars looks like from Earth in an overexposed photograph. Check out how much brighter it is than Orion!

Hubble released this image yesterday of Mars at its closest point to Earth. Great time for Mars astrophotography!

It's been a great time for Mars photographs! Any reader photos would be welcome, just e-mail them to rick.tiffini[at]

December 17, 2007

Comet Visible with Binoculars

While everyone is still checking out 17/P Holmes, it's easy to forget another comet is passing through. Not the biggest or brightest of the comets, but still a nice view if you've got some nice equipment; even a pair of 10x50 binoculars will do.

Check out Sky and Telescope's Observing blog for more detailed information and charts to help you locate it.

I found a new (to me) astronomy/astrophotography blog called Flintstone Stargazing, and its really cool. Check it out; this guy even has some new pics of Comet 8P/Tuttle from this year like the one to the right!

EDIT: Flintstone Stargazing rocks. It's going on the blogroll!

Mars Comes Closest to Earth Tomorrow

Mars will be at its closest point in it orbit to Earth tomorrow. Mars already is an extremely impressive object with its hue very easily distinguishable as red.

Courtesy of Sky & Telescope Observing Blog, we have this handy chart to help us plot Mars' position in the sky, though it's really a formality at this point since it is so easily visible. Look to the constellation Gemini, and it should be easily visible as it is by far the brightest object in that section of the sky.

On an astrophotography note, I've found that Mars is notoriously difficult, at least for me, to photograph. I seem to get lots of streaks, trails, and other problems. I will be getting my gear out shortly to see if I can get a good Mars shot as I add Taurus and Gemini to my constellation list.

Check out the post at Sky & Telescope for more detailed information on what telescope, filters, etc. will give you the best view of Mars.
Michele at the Earth and Weather blog has a great post on the subject as well. Enjoy it; Mars won't be back like this until 2016.

December 14, 2007

Mars Exploration: A Timeline

NASA has a great interactive timeline that discusses every attempt to reach Mars. A great read, you have to check it out. Man, the Soviet Union made a bunch of attempts but their spacecrafts kept burning up...

Check it out here!

December 13, 2007

Hotspots on Enceladus

Hot spots on Enceladus have lead scientists to believe that it might be less than dead than previously thought, as outlined by William McKinnon in his presentation "Cold Fire: The Geology and Geophysics of Enceladus," on Dec. 10, 2007, at the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.

There is clear evidence now that the icy satellite of Saturn in geologically active. Plumes of ice and vapor are being ejected into the atmosphere, and for this to happen, the temperature has to bee at least 100 degrees C hotter than previously thought.

Enceladus actually isn't cold enough for this to happen, however, a "hot spot" near the south pole is. The thought for this mechanism, similar to the oceans of Europa, is the gravitational pull of Saturn on the moon causings the crust of water ice to rub along fault lines, creating enough firction heat to expel water "smoke" into the atmosphere.

Even though water is present, the existance of life is unlikely, according to McKinnon, because the water shows no sodium content. Sodium content is associated with subterranean water coming in contact with rocks and other minerals.

December 7, 2007

Odyssey Moon Enters Google X Prize

Odyssey Moon, a British-based private spaceflight company, is seeking Google's $30 million X-Prize for successfully landing a rover on the Moon.

Headquartered on the tax lenient Isle of Man in the Irish Sea, the company, brainchild of CEO Robert Richards (founder of International Space University), is fixed to win this new age space race.

The company consists of many experienced space engineers, and is potentially one of the strongest competitors at this point.

The Google X-Prize requires a team to land a rover capable of moving 500 meters and transmitting back video, data, and images to qualify for the entire prize by December 31st, 2012.

Richards, confident of his company's ability, has been quoted as saying, "We believe the Google Lunar X Prize goals are achievable. And we do intend to win."

They intend to reduce the cost of moon travel "by an order of magnitude."

He describes the moon as "an eighth continent rich in energy and resources floating just offshore." Very accurate considering the Helium-3 isotope, an extremely efficient, potent, and clean fuel that could power the Earth, in its entirety, for many centuries.

Along with Carnegie Mellon and a slew of other potential teams, its great to see the competition heating up. The moon is the "gateway" to the private sector of solar system exploration.

Look out moon. We're coming back, and this time it's for good!

December 6, 2007

Voyager 2 Approaches Termination Shock

Astronomers like to make cool names for boundaries in outer space. If you cross the point of no return near a blackhole, it's called the event horizon. However, when you leave the heliosphere of our Sun, it's called the termination shock.

The heliosphere is a sphere surrounding the solar system in which the solar wind, electronically charged particles emitted at high speeds by our Sun, slows to subsonic speeds. The solar wind travels at supersonic speeds when it is emitted and eventually slows as it "pushes" against the interstellar medium of plasma, neutral gas, and dust. This boundary is not fixed, meaning it can change depending on certain variables.

Since the heliosphere moves back and forth, it is estimated that Voyager 2 will cross the termination shock twice: once in the next month or two and again in the middle of 2008. The spacecraft is now in the outer heliosphere, beyond which lies galactic space.

The spacecrafts next big step will be the heliopause: the boundary where the solar wind comes to a complete halt.

This probe was launched nearly 5 years before I was born, yet still is running strong. We can't build a moon base in 2007 but we could send a probe hurtling into space that is functional for a full 30 years? It's very frustrating to see that we have to build back our knowledge back to what it was 30 years ago. Of course this makes the statement, "They don't make 'em like they used," an accurate statement concerning spacecraft.

How to Get Your Wife Interested In Astronomy!

Check out the full scoop on Daily Galaxy

Ever feel like your wife just really could care less about the strength of a magnetic field in a magnetar, the path of a planemo, or the latest discovery of a nova in the constellation Puppis?

Well fear not, because there's one astronomical discovery she will be interested in. The star formerly known as BPM 37093, located in the constellation Centaurus, is actually a large, crystallized carbon mass nearly 2,500 miles in diameter. Don't let the big words fool you: this crystallized carbon is basically a gigantic diamond!

A diamond this large is literally 10 billion-trillion-trillion carats; the number is so incredibly huge it would be followed by 34 zeroes.

The carbon core of white dwarf stars often crystallize into diamonds. This is the largest diamond yet located in the galaxy.

That should get some wives interested...

Adapted from: Daily Galaxy

Geminid Meteor Shower

The Geminid meteor shower is set to peak on Friday, December 14th. The Geminid meteor shower occurs when the Earth passes through a debris cloud left by near-earth object (NEO) 3200 Phaethon, which, interestingly is not a comet, but an asteroid, some theorists think.

Asteroids don't normally spew debris into space. The tail of a comet leaves debris sometimes as small as a grain of sand that when they come into contact with Earth's atmosphere become a bright flash of light streaking across the sky: a meteor. So where in the world does the debris that forms the Geminids come from?

Some think that the asteroid collided with another NEO that creates a cloud of dust and debris that follows it around in its orbit. Some think that it is actually an extinct comet. The comet's orbit is highly elliptical, like a comets. It comes extremely close to the Sun, twice as close as Mercury, where repeated blasts of solar energy could have reduced it to the rocky comet core we see today.

True to astronomical acronym fashion, this NEO is also classified as a PHA, or Potentially Hazardous Asteroid, because it comes a mere 2 million miles away from Earth's orbit. The size of this asteroid is 5 km wide; half the size of the asteroid assumed to have made the dinosaurs extinct.

3200 Phaethon is visible with a telescope in the constellation Virgo, where it will be 11 million miles away from Earth on December 10th. It appears as a magnitude 14 object not visible to the naked eye.

The meteor showers radiant is just "above" the star Castor, depending on what angle you are observing from.

A pretty sweet animation of the radiant and estimate of the meteors can be found on the incredibly cool Shadow & Substance website. This place has tons of cool fluid animations that can be used to illustrate tons of different things, so I encourage you to check it out.

December 1, 2007

Life's Precursors Found in Titan's Atmosphere

Despite not having nearly any oxygen at all, the atmosphere on Titan has something very interesting in it: negative ions.

These ions act as building blocks that more complex organic molecules form from. Carbon can form using these polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, PAHs, which have been mentioned in this blog before on the post Why I Think There's Life on Mars...

Check out even more details on the Astronomy Report blog which has an adapted version of the official release by University College London.

This makes one think... if Titan has the building blocks for life on it, could there be life on it? I know it rains methane on the moon and has lakes and oceans of methane and that its super-cold, however, what if water was as acidic and destructive to organisms living on Titan as liquid methane is to humans living on Earth? What if the temperature of Earth is as blazing hot to an organism on Titan as the surface of Venus is to us earthlings?

Just food for thought!

Enthusiasts: Vote Prospace!

In the upcoming elections, Colony Worlds, one of my favorite blogs about intersolar colonization, has brought up a very valid point in their recent post. With elections coming up, and different candidates having different directions for our space program, it's important for us to vote prospace to keep Bush'S vision for the space program alive.

Presidential candidate Obama seeks to delay the already long-delayed Constellation space program. The space program

If your a fan of space exploration like me, I urge everyone to vote pro-space. I've created this button anyone can feel free to use on there site if they would like to advertise that they will be voting pro-space.

Chang'e 1 vs. Kaguya

Four days ago, the first lunar pictures taken by China's Chang'e 1 lunar orbiter were released, weeks after Kaguya's HD camera took photos. So compare the two here:

Chang'e 1



While Kaguya is undoubtedly prettier, both missions, hot-on-the heels of each other, are part of a plan laid out by The Planetary Society called the Lunar Decade. Each of these missions, and India's planned mission, Chandrayaan 1, play an integral part in the plan.

Exciting New Fusion Technology

Currently still in its R&D phase is Bussard inertial electrostatic (IEC) fusion. This exciting form of fusion can be used to power spaceships with amazingly cheap costs and extremely short travel times. Travel times with this type of fusion include:
  • Travel to Titan would take 75-90 days.

  • 24 hours to lunar orbit from low earth orbit.

  • Travel to Mars would take 33-38 days.

Amazingly, these almost ridiculous travel times are accompanied by what the general public likes: an equally ridiculous low cost. Cost can be as low as these figures:

  • $200 million of research, development, building, and testing.

  • 2 8-gigawatt thermal fusion engines are nearly 100x less expensive than our best systems available today.

Check out a the Advanced Nanotechnology Blog for more in detail information. Definitely a must for any aspiring space junkie!

I was referred to this site by the always awesome Bad Astronomy Blog.