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Google the Heavens!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

hubble orion picture
Screenshot of detailed description of the Hubble Orion Nebula Image in Sky in Google Earth. Image credit: NASA, ESA, Digitized Sky Survey Consortium, and the STScI-Google Partnership.

Exploding stars and faraway galaxies are now just a mouse click away through Sky in Google Earth. The program is modeled after Google Earth, which allows you to tour our planet. With Sky in Google Earth, you can travel across the vastness of the night sky, making tour stops at all the popular Hubble images. Though these celestial objects are far away from Earth, you can reach them in a few seconds with Sky in Google Earth. This new, free, downloadable browser is produced by Google through a partnership with the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, the science operations center for the Hubble Space Telescope.

Google: Sky in Google Earth Information and free download

NASA: Hubble Teams With Google to Bring the Cosmos Down to Earth

STScI Hubble: Hubble Teams With Google to Bring the Cosmos Down to Earth

STScI Hubble: Gallery

Mars Close Encounter?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Earth and Mars are converging, and right now the distance between the two planets is shrinking at a rate of 22,000 mph. Ultimately, this will lead to a close approach in late December 2007 when Mars will outshine every star in the night sky. Contrary to rumor, though, Mars is never going to outshine the Moon.

For more information, see the article NASA: Hurtling Towards Mars

Lunar Eclipse, 28 August 2007

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

A total eclipse of the Moon will occur during the early morning of Tuesday, August 28, 2007. The event is widely visible from the United States and Canada as well as South America, the Pacific Ocean, western Asia and Australia. In Arizona (GMT-7), the eclipse will begin around 1:51AM, reach totality around 3:37AM, and end around 5:24AM.

NASA: August 2007 Total Lunar Eclipse Information and Schedule

NASA: 2007 Lunar Eclipses

Comet McNaught visible in morning and evening skies

Friday, January 12, 2007

Comet McNaught
Comet McNaught from Hammerfest, Norway Jan. 6, 2007.
Credit: Roger Johansen
If you watch the morning or evening sky these days and have a clear view of the horizon, you will be able to spot Comet McNaught, a bright object with a prominent tail.

Instructions for viewing the comet in the morning from

  1. At dawn, go outside and face east
  2. Using binoculars, scan the horizon
  3. The comet is located just south of due east

Instructions for viewing the comet in the evening from
  1. At sunset, go outside and face west
  2. Using binoculars, scan the horizon
  3. The comet is located low and to the right of Venus
  4. A clear view of the horizon is essential

More: NASA - A Bright Comet is Coming - information about Comet McNaught

More: - Comet McNaught Photo Gallery

Soyuz Fireball seen over Colorado

Friday, January 5, 2007

Something from space disintegrated over Denver, Colorado, this morning around 6:20 am MST (1320 UT). Witnesses describe it as "brilliant, slow, twinkling, sparkly and full of rainbow colors." It was not a meteor. The fireball was the decaying body of a Soyuz U rocket that launched the French COROT space telescope on Dec. 27th. The re-entry caused no damage on the ground--just a beautiful display in the sky.

Story Credit:, January 4, 2007

More: Cloudbait Observatory January 4, 2007 Fireball

Link: CNES - COROT Space Telescope

Meteor impacts on the Moon

Friday, January 5, 2007

"On Dec. 14, 2006, we observed at least five Geminid meteors hitting the Moon," reports Bill Cooke of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office in Huntsville, AL. Each impact caused an explosion ranging in power from 50 to 125 lbs of TNT and a flash of light as bright as a 7th-to-9th magnitude star.

The explosions occurred while Earth and Moon were passing through a cloud of debris following near-Earth asteroid 3200 Phaethon. This happens every year in mid-December and gives rise to the annual Geminid meteor shower: Streaks of light fly across the sky as rocky chips of Phaethon hit Earth's atmosphere. It's a beautiful display.

More: Science@NASA - Lunar Geminids

Meteor Shower Friday (7/28/2006)

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

This week, Earth is passing through a meteoroid stream from--where? Its source is unknown. Every year in late July, the mystery stream produces a mild but pretty meteor shower, the Southern Delta Aquarids. The best time to look is Friday morning, July 28th. These meteors tend to be faint, so dark country skies are recommended.

Visit for sky maps and more information.

A Heavenly Sky Show on the 4th of July

Friday, June 30, 2006

The Moon and Jupiter
(side by side in May 2006)
Photo credit: Jason A.C. Brock of Wichita Falls, Texas

June 29, 2006: This drives astronomers crazy. Every summer, on the one night when millions of Americans are guaranteed to be outside at nightfall, necks craned upward watching the sky, almost no one pays attention to the heavens. It's all fireworks, fireworks, fireworks. Stars and planets don't stand a chance.

But this 4th of July is different.

At sunset, just as the fireworks are about to begin, the Moon and Jupiter will pop out of the twilight side-by-side: sky map. These are the brightest objects in the night sky, easily beaming through the flash and smoke of a fireworks display.

Sidewalk astronomers, deploy your telescopes! Here is a wonderful opportunity to show off Jupiter's moons, the Great Red Spot, lunar craters and mountain ranges, and the long creeping shadows at the Moon's day-night divide. Bonus: Point your telescope at blank sky and wait for some fireworks. A good starburst at 25x magnification can be very entertaining.

And don't forget to watch out for spaceships.

Continue reading "A Heavenly Sky Show on the 4th of July"


Wednesday, May 10, 2006

More than 60 fragments of dying comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 are racing toward Earth. There's no danger of a collision. At closest approach on May 12th through 16th, the mini-comets will be 6 million miles away.

That is close enough, however, for a marvelous view through backyard telescopes. Many of the fragments are themselves crumbling, producing clouds of gas and dust mixed with boulder-sized debris. As some fragments fade, others brighten, surprising onlookers. It's an amazing display. More: Sky maps, updates and images from around the world.

Mini-Comets Approaching Earth in May

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

In 1995, Comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 did something unexpected: it fell apart. For no apparent reason, the comet's nucleus split into at least three "mini-comets" flying single file through space. Astronomers watched with interest, but the view was blurry even through large telescopes. "73P" was a hundred and fifty million miles away.

We're about to get a much closer look. In May 2006 the fragments are going to fly past Earth closer than any comet has come in more than twenty years.

Comet 73P
Comet 73P breaking up in 1995. Photo credit: Jim V. Scotti 250X145

"This is a rare opportunity to watch a comet in its death throes—from very close range," says Don Yeomans, head of NASA's Near Earth Object Program at JPL.

There's no danger of a collision. "Goodness, no," says Yeomans. "The closest fragment will be about six million miles away--or twenty-five times farther than the Moon." That's close without actually being scary.

Credit: NASA-Full Story: Mini_Comets Approaching Earth

Where Art Thou Mars?

Thursday, January 26, 2006

If you are looking for Mars, According to JPl, it is at 60 degrees above the horizon at dusk and sets near 1:30 a.m. On Februrary 5, 2006, you will find Mars near the first quarter Moon, and on February 16, 2006 near the Pleiades star cluster (M45).

More:NASA -Mars Viewing Tips for 2006

Fireball Alert!

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

FIREBALL ALERT: On Sunday morning, Jan. 15th, between 1:56 and 1:59 a.m. PST (0956 - 0959 UT), a brilliant fireball will streak over northern California and Nevada. It's NASA's Stardust capsule, returning to Earth with samples of dust from Comet Wild 2. The best observing sites: near Carlin and Elko, Nevada, (see map below) where the man-made meteor is expected to shine as much as 60 times brighter than Venus.

Map: Google maps
Credit: Image:courtesy P. Jenniskens/Seti Institute

If you're too far away to see the fireball, you might be able to hear it--on the radio. The technique is called "meteor scatter." Tune an FM radio to a silent spot between local stations and point the radio's antenna in the general direction of northern Nevada. When the Stardust capsule rips through the atmosphere, it will create an electrically ionized wake that reflects radio waves. You could suddenly pick up stations hundreds to thousands of miles away reflected in your direction from the fireball's tail. - Fireball Alert

Earth and Mars Close Encounter

Saturday, August 20, 2005

star map
Star Chart showing Mars (large red circle with symbol) rising, 20 August 2005 at 7AM UTC (midnight Arizona time).

Image Credit: Your Sky
800x800 20 KB
Earth is racing toward Mars at a speed of 23,500 mph, which means the red planet is getting bigger and brighter by the minute. In October, when the two planets are closest together, Mars will outshine everything in the night sky except Venus and the Moon. Because of the close proximity of Earth and Mars, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) launch was planned for August 2006. Because it takes six or more months to reach Mars, the best time to start the trip is a month or so before closest approach--thus, August. MRO, launched August 12, will arrive at Mars in March 2006 after a seven month journey, enter orbit, and begin a two year mission to map the red planet in greater detail than ever before.

More: Science@NASA - Approaching Mars

Link: NASA - Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter

Link: Your Sky - Make your own star chart!

The 2005 Perseid Meteor Shower

Thursday, July 28, 2005

star map
A Perseid sky map. The red dot denotes the shower's radiant, a point in the eastern sky from which meteors appear to stream. Image credit: Science@NASA

The Perseids come every year, beginning in late July and stretching into August. Sky watchers outdoors at the right time can see colorful fireballs, occasional outbursts and, almost always, long hours of gracefully streaking meteors. Among the many nights of the shower, there is always one night that is best. This year: August 12th.

More: Science@NASA - Mars joins the Perseid meteor shower for a beautiful display on August 12th

Transit of Venus

Tuesday, June 8, 2004

Transits of Venus across the disk of the Sun are among the rarest of planetary alignments. Indeed, only six such events have occurred since the invention of the telescope (1631, 1639, 1761, 1769, 1874 and 1882). Two transits of Venus are occuring within a few years of eachother - the first was on June 08, 2004, the next will be June 06, 2012. Transits of Venus are only possible during early December and early June when Venus's orbital nodes pass across the Sun. If Venus reaches inferior conjunction at this time, a transit will occur. Transits show a clear pattern of recurrence at intervals of 8, 121.5, 8 and 105.5 years. The next pair of Venus transits occur over a century from now on 2117 Dec 11 and 2125 Dec 08.

More: NASA Sun-Earth - Venus Transit 2004

More: Science@NASA - James Cook and the Transit of Venus

More: Space Weather - Transit of Venus Photo Gallery