Earth-Hunting Space Scope Ready for Action

Written by The Night Sky Guy on August 6, 2009 – 5:02 pm -

NASA’s new Kepler space telescope has detected the atmosphere of a known giant gas planet, demonstrating the telescope’s extraordinary scientific capabilities….these new data indicate the mission is indeed capable of finding Earth-like planets, if they exist….”When the light curves from tens of thousands of stars were shown to the Kepler science team, everyone was awed; no one had ever seen such exquisitely detailed measurements of the light variations of so many different types of stars,” said William Borucki, the principal science investigator….

The observations were collected from a planet called HAT-P-7, known to transit a star located about 1,000 light years from Earth. The planet orbits the star in just 2.2 days and is 26 times closer than Earth is to the sun. …It is so close to its star, the planet is as hot as the glowing red heating element on a stove.

…”This early result shows the Kepler detection system is performing right on the mark,” said David Koch, deputy principal investigator of NASA’s Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif. “It bodes well for Kepler’s prospects to be able to detect Earth-size planets.”

– adapted from material taken from a NASA news announcement.

click image to enlarge

click image to enlarge

Backyard Astro Hunt: Try your hand at hunting down where in the sky this alien world is located. No chance in seeing the planet but its neat to be able to point out where it is in the sky. The parent star HAT-P 7 goes by another more widely used but even less romantic designation TYC 3547-1402-1. The star’s coordinates are RA: 19h 28m 59s ; Dec: +47 58m 10s which lies in the constellation Cygnus, the swan, otherwise known as the northern Cross. Those of you with planetarium softwares might be able to find it using this other name and position. Cygnus dominates the southern overhead skies at night during the entire summer. HAT-P 7 is located just underneath the right arm of the cross.

click to enlarge

While we can only imagine what this 1000 light year distant world looks like, I think its kind of cool to find the general area in the night sky with just the naked-eye where these kind of discoveries are being made.

The parent star is classified as a yellow dwarf quite similar to our own Sun – hence all the interest in observing it for planets. It has a magnitude 10.4 which makes it possible to spot the general area where it is located if not the diminutive star itself in small telescopes.

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Posted in Constellations, Satellites, Space Exploration, Stargazing, stars | 3 Comments »

Galactic Hurricane’s Eye

Written by The Night Sky Guy on July 26, 2009 – 3:51 pm -

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope has imaged a wild creature of the dark — a coiled galaxy with an eye-like object at its center. The galaxy, called NGC 1097, is located 50 million light-years away. It is spiral-shaped like our Milky Way, with long, spindly arms of stars. The “eye” at the center of the galaxy is actually a monstrous black hole surrounded by a ring of stars. In this color-coded infrared view from Spitzer, the area around the invisible black hole is blue and the ring of stars, white.The black hole is huge, about 100 million times the mass of our sun, and is feeding off gas and dust along with the occasional unlucky star. Our Milky Way’s central black hole is tame by comparison, with a mass of a few million suns. The ring around the black hole is bursting with new star formation. An inflow of material toward the central bar of the galaxy is causing the ring to light up with new stars. In the Spitzer image, infrared light with shorter wavelengths is blue, while longer- wavelength light is red. The galaxy’s red spiral arms and the swirling spokes seen between the arms show dust heated by newborn stars. Older populations of stars scattered through the galaxy are blue. The fuzzy blue dot to the left, which appears to fit snuggly between the arms, is a companion galaxy.

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Posted in Satellites, stars | 467 Comments »

Radio Show: Guide to Satellite Hunting

Written by The Night Sky Guy on July 22, 2009 – 3:34 pm -

Coming up on my next CBC Radio One column today (Wednesday) we talk about spotting satellites above your backyard and how to conduct your own satellite hunting expedition. Tune in to the drive-home show between 3 pm and 6 pm on your city’s local CBC Radio One station.

Here are some online resources that can help you further explore satellites from your computer and backyard. article on how to spot various manmade objects in the sky
NASA has its own SkyWatch page for catching satellites
NASA produced LIVE Tracking Chart of orbiting satellites
Read my recent blog entry on how to read those viewing charts
How-to article and 101 guide on finding iridium flares

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Posted in Satellites | 227 Comments »

Watch Space Station and Shuttle Flyby at Night

Written by The Night Sky Guy on July 18, 2009 – 12:15 pm -

Great opportunities to spot the space station over the course of the next week at least. In fact there are three passes the International Space Station (ISS) is making each night, so there is plenty of chances to see it, even if you get clouded out for a night or two. And with space shuttle Endeavour docked to the orbiting lab the pair together will be extremely bright in the sky. Brighter than anything else, except for the Sun and Moon. It’s kind of cool to think when you watch it fly over your backyard at nearly 29,000 km per hour, that there are 13 astronauts aboard the station with the shuttle crew included – a record. There are also  two Canadians (Julie Payette and Bob Thirsk) in space for the first time – something us Canucks can be proud of too. 

Click on image to enlarge

Click on image to enlarge

Generally the passes will last a couple of minutes and it will appear like an unblinking, bright, white star gliding across the sky from generally the NW to the E. Exact viewing times and directions


where you will see the station/shuttle exactly in the sky depends on your location – they are different for each city or town.  So best thing to do is 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 yor customized viewing table.  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.

So go out tonight and hunt down the space station for yourself – it’s a lot of fun!

Also don’t forget to check out the Moon pairing up with bright starlike Venus Sunday morning – see blog entry below!

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Posted in Satellites | 1,637 Comments »

Watch the Space Station from your Backyard

Written by The Night Sky Guy on July 4, 2009 – 4:22 pm -

Over the course of the next week, tonight included, the International Space Station (ISS) will be making overhead passes throughout North America. For the next week or so, most of the viewing opportunities will be very late into the night – in fact mostly early morning hours. But after this upcoming week,  viewing times will be more civilized being in the late evening hours. This will make it more convienient for parents and their children to catch sight of this space ship before bedtime.

The ISS will look like a bright unblinking star silently moving across the background of fixed fainter stars.  What you are seeing is the reflection of sunlight off its shiny metal surfaces. But be aware that It takes only 2 to 4 minutes to fly across the sky before it dissapears into the shadow of the Earth so you have to be quick to see it. With all the major components attached, the football-field sized laboratory shines as one of the brightest objects in the sky, sometimes coming in third, behind only the Sun and Moon. This makes it very easy to spot even from the city – as long as you don’t have buildings or trees obstructing the flightpath.

How do you know when and where to look?  Just click on the Space Station icon on the right hand sidebar and go down the page to ‘See the Space Station’ section and pick your city from the list. If not there, then just choose Elsewhere to enter your nearest town. The globe graphic shows you the current LIVE position of the space station over the Earth.

Check out this little podcast on viewing the space station.


Posted in Satellites | 71 Comments »

Smashing Success on the Moon

Written by The Night Sky Guy on June 11, 2009 – 9:39 am -

Reports are coming in this morning that Australia’s Anglo-Australian Observatory with its 3.9 meter telescope successfully detected a brief flash in the shadowy area of the Moon yesterday exactly when and where the Japanese probe, Kayuga was supposed to impact at 6 000 km per hour.  From the photos it looks like that the impact flash was quite weak and probably too faint for amateurs to see it- but folks are waiting to hear if any reports do come in – so stay tuned. The question being asked in the blogosphere this week however, has been why did the Japanese decide to terminate the mission yesterday on a part of the moon that is so awkward for observers to find and when the moon was near full phase which makes its glare so blinding that it would be hard for anyone to see the show? You kind of wonder if the space agency really consider the true scientific and PR value properly when making their decisions. Hopefully NASA’s efforts in October with their LCROSS mission will be better planned. Anyway, check out the preliminary photo series of Kayuga impact from the giant observatory below- it’s pretty cool. That little dot in the dark area on the second frame is the explosion of the spacecraft on the lunar surface.

University of New South Wales/Anglo-Australian Observatory (J. Bailey and S. Lee)

University of New South Wales/Anglo-Australian Observatory (J. Bailey and S. Lee)

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Posted in Satellites, Solar System, Space Exploration, The Moon | 5 Comments »