Final Days for Life on Earth Reckoned

Written by The Night Sky Guy on October 29, 2013 – 11:44 am -

When the Sun heats up and become a red giant  Earth will slowly begin to die and cook.

When the Sun heats up and become a red giant Earth will slowly begin to die and cook.

Researchers have come up with a detailed model for how and when  life on our planet will be snuffed out. But no worries – it will be at least 500 million years from now when plants will begin to die and another 2 billion years before the final microbe fries. All this thanks to our parent star. When it begins to die so will our planet.

Read all the details about this sobering study in my story at National Geographic News


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Voyager 1 Leaving the Sun’s House

Written by The Night Sky Guy on July 4, 2013 – 11:15 am -

Voyager is now at the doorstep of the Milky Way galaxy, according to NASA.

Voyager 1 is now at the doorstep of the Milky Way galaxy, according to NASA.

After a 36 year cosmic road trip one of the twin Voyager spacecrafts has entered a bizarre boundary of the solar system that leads directly into the interstellar realm of the Milky Way galaxy.

NASA scientists believe new data from the plucky Voyager 1 probe indicates that it is traveling through the final bubble like layer that surrounds the Sun and planets. When will it officially leave the solar empire is anyone’s guess but when it does it will make history as the first human-made object to do so.

Find out how scientists are following Voyager and what they think the future has in store for it in my story for National Geographic News.


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Best Shots of May’s Solar Eclipse

Written by The Night Sky Guy on May 21, 2013 – 6:32 pm -

67288_0_160x120The first total eclipse of the sun occurred earlier this month in Australia and stunned skywatchers. A solar eclipse occurs when the Earth, moon, and sun line up so that the moon’s shadow is cast on the Earth.  A total solar eclipse occurs when the sun’s entire disk is covered by the moon. During an annular eclipse however, the new moon’s apparent diameter is smaller than the visible disk of the sun, making the covered sun appear for a few minutes as a striking annulus (ring)—otherwise known as the ring of fire.

Check out my photo gallery of the best images from this amazing eclipse at National Geographic News


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Aurora Alert This Weekend

Written by The Night Sky Guy on April 12, 2013 – 11:57 am -

Skywatchers should be on the lookout for Northern Lights starting April 11th, Friday night into Sunday morning thanks to the most massive solar flare this year so far.  The Sun threw off  a huge cloud of charged particles a few days ago and it is expected to arrive sometime over the weekend of April 13th.

Latest NOAA forecast reports indicate there is a %60 chance of geomagnetic storms in the early morning hours of Saturday (April 13). The large sunspot group AR1719 is Earth-facing and is quite active still with  15% chances of it producing an x-class solar flare (strongest possible) in the next 24 hours. So this means there may be even stronger solar storms on the way soon. We will just have to wait and see what happens.  Stay tuned…

Read the rest of my solar storm story at National Geographic news.


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Best Aurora Shots from Winter

Written by The Night Sky Guy on April 1, 2013 – 1:39 pm -

The past couple of months have produced wonderful sky shows across many high-latitude countries. We are heading towards the solar maximum in the next couple of months so hopefully more intense and colorful auroras will be in store for skywatchers.

Check out some of the most impressive pics from the editors at National Geographic in my new gallery…


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Watch for Noisy Northern Lights?

Written by The Night Sky Guy on July 13, 2012 – 12:06 pm -

A controversial new study was released this week that states observers of aurora borealis should really perk up their ears and listen for eerie sounds from these cosmic fireworks shows. A Finnish researcher has been able to record baffling ‘clapping’ sounds that appear to be directly connected to intense northern lights episodes.

While this new evidence looks quite convincing, the researcher believes that the best is yet to come. Within the next year the sun’s activity will continue to increase as it reaches its 11 year peak called solar maximum in 2013. Already this past year has seen a pretty noticeable  uptick in the number and size of sunspots and monster solar flares peppering the Sun’s surface. This has resulted in more frequent and intense auroras being visible in southerly latitudes that usually don’t see much sky activity.

Now the Finnish scientist is banking on this increased aurora activity coupled with the popularity of mobile recording devices like smartphones and iPads translating into more chances for skywatchers to hear and record something than ever before.

“One of the motivations in publicizing these new findings is to wake skywatchers up to keep their ears open and make those observations – using mobile devices and even their home video cameras,” says the researcher.

Read more about this novel research on noisy auroras and hear an actual clip of these eerie sounds in my new story at National Geographic News.


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What is the summer solstice?

Written by The Night Sky Guy on June 20, 2012 – 3:23 pm -

Today, on June 20th at 7:09 pm Eastern Time everyone in the Northern Hemisphere will be officially kicking off the summer season. But did you know that the June solstice is actually  a special astronomical moment we are marking on the calendar?

Here is my short video explanation of what is going on celestially speaking on the solstice (Taped in 2011 – so date mentioned is wrong – but applies to every year)


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Ultra Rare Venus Transit Coming!

Written by The Night Sky Guy on June 1, 2012 – 7:04 pm -

If you missed it in 2004 then this Tuesday, June 5th will be your last chance in your lifetime to witness planet Venus crossing the face of the Sun in the sky. Considered by many as one of the rarest of skywatching events,  you will have to wait until December 2117 for the next one!

Why are Venus transits so rare? It really has to do with the orbit of Venus around the Sun. While it does take significantly less time to circle our parent star than Earth does, its orbit is tilted some 3.4 degrees when compared to the plane of the solar system ie. all the other orbits are in pretty much the same line.  What this means for observers on Earth is that the planet only appears to actually cross the Sun in pairs – 8 years apart – in intervals of 105 and 121 years.  All other times Venus will glide just above or below the disk of the Sun , from our line of sight here on Earth.

Best places in the world to see the whole 6 hour 40 minutes of the entire transit will be in Asia and the Pacific region where it occurs during the middle of the day. In North America observers will see either the first half before sunset while Europeans will get to view the last half after sunrise.

Here is worldwide timetable (credit: Starry Night Software via Space.com)

transit timetable1

Note: Contacts in the table above refer to when the edge of Venus appears to make first and last contact with the Sun’s limb as it enters and exits the solar disk.

Venus will appear as a black dot, 1/30th the size of the solar disk, – looking like a pea in front of a watermelon. While this means that its disk would be big enough theoretically to be seen without any help of optics the safest way to view the eclipse is through telescopes equipped with solar filters, or with #14 welders glass. Remember NEVER to look at the sun directly without protection – it can cause blindness.

MY suggestion is try and look up astronomy clubs that will have public transit viewing parties. In the United States there are tons of events planned right across the country, so check out Night Sky Network listing. Here in Canada I recommend consulting the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada’s for a listing of their local chapters holding events and also check out their excellent Venus Transit site for tons of background information.

What happens if you get clouded out for the event then you can still check it out virtually at least as there will be dozens of LIVE internet feeds of the transit showing live video from telescopes around the world.

Make sure you bookmark this page because on Tuesday afternoon and I will be hosting some of the major video feeds from around the world right here!

in the meantime, to whet your appetite, check out this great NASA video on what all the buzz is about with this Transit of Venus….


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“Shocking” Finding On Solar System’s Shield.

Written by The Night Sky Guy on May 10, 2012 – 8:56 pm -

Hubble image of distant star with gaseous bubble-like shield

According to a new discovery by NASA probe, our sun is moving through our part of the galaxy slower than previously thought,

From its orbit around Earth, the Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) satellite measured the speeds of interstellar particles entering at the fringes of our solar system, 9 billion miles (14.5 billion kilometers) from the sun.

Plugging the new data into computer models, the IBEX team calculates that the sun is moving at about 52,000 miles (83,700 kilometers) an hour—about 7,000 miles (11,000 kilometers) slower than thought.

Why is this shocking for scientists and what does this mean for our search for life? Read the rest of my story on National Geographic News


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Night Sky Hits for May 2012

Written by The Night Sky Guy on May 2, 2012 – 3:10 pm -

credit: Greg StevensWhen it comes to stargazing, clear May nights are among the best with the cool but pleasant nighttime air.

As soon as the sun sets on May 5, check out the full moon rising in the east. It’s traditionally known as the flower moon by some Native American cultures. This month, however, it has also taken on the popular name of “supermoon” because it may appear more impressive than usual.

The moon will be at its closest approach to Earth in its orbit for the month – known as perigee by astronomers – and, in fact, closest it will get to our planet at 356,955 kilometres, until 2014!

This closeness will also make the moon appear a bit bigger in the sky than usual, hence the name “supermoon.” While the visual effect may not be all that “super” to the unaided eye, it will offer some great photo opportunities with telephoto lenses, as it rises above your local horizon at sunset on the 5th.

Let’s just hope for clear skies.

Also worth a quick mention is the Eta-Aquarid meteor shower that peaks on the 5th as well. Skywatchers int he southern hemisphere will get a better show as the radiant is quite far south. While its main claim to fame is that the meteors we see are actually parts of Halley’s comet shed centuries ago, the fact that the full moon is in the sky at the same time as the peak of the shower, means that we won’t get much of a show this year. According to Spaceweather.com the best time to look will be in the hours before sunrise on Sunday, May 6th with expectations of under 30 shooting stars per hour from locales far from city light pollution.

The grand sky event for this month will be an annular solar eclipse on May 20th – the first visible from the U.S. in 18 years. An annular eclipse is different from a total in that when the moon slips in front of the sun it does not cover the entire solar disk – leaving visible a ring of sunshine – what is called the ‘Ring of Fire’. According to eclipse-maps.com (get great eclipse charts here) after moving over China and Japan, the eclipse shadow sets down in North America at “the California/Oregon border, passes in the late afternoon over Nevada, Utah, Arizona, a corner of Colorado, New Mexico, and ends at sunset in Texas.”

Considering local sky conditions at this time of the year – the best chance of seeing it will be from the southwestern U.S. region – not to mention the spectacular local scenery that can act as a backdrop for the event.

Meanwhile much of Western and Central US.S. and Canada will get to have a consolation prize of experiencing a partial solar eclipse. According to SkyNews magazine, if you want to see the biggest bite taken out of the Sun you will want to head as far south and west as possible (Ex: Vancouverites will see 73% eclipse, while Torontonians get to observe only 18% of the sun’s disk covered by the moon).

Remember never to look directly at the Sun even when eclipsed as it can seriously damage your eyes. Always use proper solar filters on eyeglasses, binoculars or telescopes.

In terms of planet watching, two neighbouring planets – Mars and Saturn – dominate high in the southern sky long after dusk all month long.

Look just to the lower right of orange hued Mars and find the 78-light-yeardistant brilliant white star named Regulus, the brightest member of the constellation Leo.

Saturn is to the far lower left of Mars in the southern sky after sunset. The ringed planet appears as a brilliant yellow coloured star. Amazing to think that we see this 1.5-billion-kilometre-distant gas giant, like we do all the other planets on display, due to sunlight reflecting of its surface.

may28-2012Just like the Red Planet, Saturn is also paired with a bright star; its companion, shining just below is 263-light-year-distant Spica, in the constellation Virgo.

As an added cosmic treat, watch for the first quarter moon to first pair up with Mars on May 28. Then with Saturn on May 31.

Meantime, Venus is still the brightest in the western evening skies.

As the month progresses, observers will notice that it is making a steady plunge toward the glow of the sunset each progressive night. But by training a steadily held pair of binoculars or a small telescope at the planet, it’s crescent shape is easily revealed under high magnification.

By the end of the month, the goddess of love will be lost in the sun’s afterglow as it heads for a historic transit across the sun’s disk on June 5.  The rarest of astronomical events that won’t repeat until the year 2117!

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