Amateur Sleuths Help Solve Cosmic Cold Case

Written by The Night Sky Guy on May 28, 2013 – 10:46 am -

After being at the centre of a constant  stakeout by backyard stargazers for over a century , the cosmic suspect known as SS Cygni has finally blown it’s cover.  By  accurately pinning down the star system to 372 light years from Earth – which is much closer than what the Hubble Space Telescope suggested in 1999-  a major astronomical mystery surrounding our understanding of explosive binary star systems like SS Cygni has finally been cracked .

With the help of a worldwide network of dedicated amateur sleuths,  professional astronomers tracked down leads, sifted through evidence, finally putting to rest a decade old controversy surrounding the actual distance to this white dwarf-binary system.

Read more about a hobbyist stakeout helped solve a dwarf star enigma in my story at New Scientist magazine


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Asteroid Mining in our Future?

Written by The Night Sky Guy on April 24, 2012 – 4:18 pm -

Mining asteroids in outer space and bringing the valuable resources back to Earth … sounds like science fiction. In fact, it’s the tantalizing plan unveiled today by a company in California. And that company – Planetary Resources – isn’t your average start-up … it’s backed by a few well-known billionaires, including Hollywood director James Cameron and Google founder Larry Page.

Here is the company’s promo video:


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Rocket Chem Trails Light Up Sky

Written by The Night Sky Guy on March 27, 2012 – 4:34 pm -

Credit: Mark A. Brown, Carlisle, PA, USA

Sometimes some of the more interesting sights in the heavens are not natural but artificial. High flying satellites come to mind at first but rocket trails also make for impressive objects too.  That’s exactly what happened this week.

After many delays NASA shot off 5 unmanned rockets off the east coast of North America early Tuesday in the hopes of gaining a better understanding of the dynamics of the upper atmosphere. It appears to not only have been a scientific success but also a great photo op for skywatchers too.

Read the rest of my story at National Geographic News.


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New Night Sky episode

Written by The Night Sky Guy on October 29, 2011 – 4:20 pm -

This week’s spot highlights Jupiter’s close encounter with Earth, inner planets play peekaboo after sunset and the space station makes evening flybys. What more do you want for Halloween weekend.


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Final Hours before Satellite Splashdown

Written by The Night Sky Guy on September 22, 2011 – 6:27 pm -

If I was a betting man I would say that NASA’s UARS satellite will be re-entering somewhere over the remote south Pacific Ocean basin late Friday evening.  If you want to follow along yourself one of the best sites around is NASA’s official updates on their UARS mission site and  The Center for Orbital and Reentry Debris Studies where you get to see a graphic that shows you the predicted placement of the satellite throughout its remaining last orbits before it plunges through the atmosphere.

There is also a predicted  time window of when it will break through the atmosphere, which as of Thursday evening (Eastern time) stands at Sept.23, 8:58 pm +/- 7 hours.

Check out this awesome animation of how the satellite is predicted to breakup


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Recreation of Yuri’s Flight 50 Years Ago

Written by The Night Sky Guy on April 12, 2011 – 3:40 pm -

Check out this real-time recreation of Yuri Gagarin’s 108 minute voyage into space on April 12, 1961. It was made by astronauts aboard the International Space Station filming out their porthole – looking down at Earth below. Very moving film.

Also it is the 30th anniversary of the maiden flight of the space shuttle. First time in history a reusable space vehicle in operation and landing like a glider. Here is a neat video that compresses all 133 shuttle flights into 133 seconds.

Sky Show: You can also check out the International Space Station for yourself all week long. It is making visible passes in the skies above your backyard in the early morning hours. You can read more on my National Geographic column here.


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New Night Sky Episode

Written by The Night Sky Guy on April 9, 2011 – 10:10 am -

This week’s episode highlights the Moon pairing up with a star cluster, where to find Venus, and the space station makes bright flybys.


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Space Station Spotting

Written by The Night Sky Guy on April 9, 2011 – 12:58 am -

Over the course of the next week or so the International Space Station will be  making bright flybys in the early morning hours up until dawn. Making it a grand sight is that construction is so near completion that the station is about as big as a football field so that it is very reflective to sunlight, making it superbright in the sky.

Just look for a bright white star glide across the starry sky in a out 2 to 4 minutes. Click on the Space Station icon on the right-hand sidebar or go to my Sky Tonight page and click on your city of choice or choose Elsewhere, and get your customized viewing table.

click image to enlarge

click image to enlarge

For an explanation of how to read your viewing timetable chart click on the image to the left. It is a sample chart for Toronto that gives you a brief rundown on what the main sections mean.

Amazingly there are times when the Sun hits the station just the right angle  making it brighten to levels that surpass the most brilliant star or planet – meaning only the Sun and Moon are only brighter! For skywatchers like you and me this means that it is really easy to spot even from within city limits – as long as you don’t have buildings blocking your way. How cool is that! The ISS will be best place for anyone living in North America and Europe so enjoy the show!


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Space Station above the Burbs

Written by The Night Sky Guy on January 10, 2011 – 7:21 pm -

The Interenational Space Station is making a series of flybys in the early evening skies this week. I just caught it on film above some townhomes in Montreal. The satellite is so bright it is easily seen even with all the light pollution.

Football field sized space station making overhead passes above suburban townhomes in Montreal. Canon 450D, 30 sec., f/5.4, ASA 200, Credit: Andrew Fazekas

Football field sized space station making a trail in the sky in this long esposure photo as it makes a pass above suburban townhomes in Montreal. Canon 450D, 30 sec., f/5.4, ASA 200, Credit: Andrew Fazekas

ISS-jan10-2011b

ISS competing with plane and streetlamp Credit:Andrew Fazekas

It is amazing to think that this gigantic structure is travelling at 27,000 km per hour and is so easily visible even from brightly lit city neighbourhoods. Just take a look at the photo I took on the left. This image was snapped about 3 minutes after the one above as the station made its way across the overhead sky and then started to rapidly sink towards the southeast skies.

You can see that a superbright streetlamp and houses did not hamper the views. Look closely and you can see a faint streak of light going near horizontally – that is a trail of an airplane that flew through the 30 second exposure.

The station only takes 2 to 4 minutes to travel across the sky and because it takes  90 minutes to make one orbit – you sometimes get two chances to see it in one night. Remember that it is 400 km in altitude and has 6 astronauts onboard. Way cool to see!


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New Night Sky Episode

Written by The Night Sky Guy on January 9, 2011 – 5:41 pm -

This week highlights catching the planets Mercury, Jupiter and the Moon, as well as spotting the International Space Station above your backyard.


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