Seeing the Previously Unseen

Written by The Night Sky Guy on September 30, 2009 – 2:00 pm -

Click image to Enlarge

Click image to Enlarge

Yesterday, as the MESSENGER spacecraft approached Mercury for the mission’s third flyby of the Solar System’s innermost planet, it captured this striking view  (image on right). This image shows portions of Mercury’s surface that had remained unseen by spacecraft even after the three flybys by Mariner 10 in 1974-75 and MESSENGER’s two earlier flybys in 2008. In this image, just returned to Earth early this morning, the newly imaged terrain is located in a wide vertical strip near the limb of the planet (on the left side of Mercury’s partially sunlit disk). This image is just one of 11 taken through the camera’s narrow-band color filters, and this set of images will be used to examine color differences on Mercury’s surface and to learn about the evolution of crustal rocks on the planet.


In this image below, Mercury’s northern horizon cuts a crisp line against the blackness of space. The surface in the lower right corner of the image is near Mercury’s terminator, the line between the light dayside and dark night side of the planet. Looking toward the horizon, smooth plains extend for large distances, similar to volcanic plains seen nearby during MESSENGER’s second flyby of Mercury. Members of the MESSENGER Science Team are gathered today at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, discussing these high-resolution images in detail.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

-Announcement and photos courtesy of NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

 For more info on MESSENGER probe visit the official mission website.

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Posted in Planets, Solar System, Space Exploration | 62 Comments »

Meteor over Cleveland

Written by The Night Sky Guy on September 30, 2009 – 11:30 am -

Here is the first good shot of last Friday night’s meteor that was seen across southern Ontario, Ohio and parts of New England. It was taken from downtown Cleveland and can be seen as a broken green streak above the buildings. Miranda Nenadovich snapped the photo purely by chance as she happened to be taking a series of photographs of the skyline. Experts believe the meteor may have been centred somewhere above the Hamilton, Ont. region, which would be the reason for it not being as bright from this more distant location.


Meteor above Cleveland, Ohio; Courtesy of Miranda Nenadovich

Meteor above Cleveland, Ohio; Courtesy of Miranda Nenadovich


“It was taken in downtown Cleveland off of Franklin Ave and West 25th… (not too good about directions like north and south) with a digital SLR Canon Rebel XTi. ” says photographer Miranda Nenadovich. “I set my camera on my tripod and walked away to look out at the skyline and saw the bright green flash off to the left out of nowhere…only lasted about 3 to 4 seconds. I didnt think it would show up on my camera but luckily it did.”

Note: Still waiting for release of Ontario university fim footage.  Will keep you posted…

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Posted in Meteors | 555 Comments »

Moon Joined by Jupiter Tonight

Written by The Night Sky Guy on September 29, 2009 – 10:19 am -

Pretty Pairing Tonight

Pretty Pairing Tonight

Look at the Moon in the southeast skies after sunset and you will see that there is a sparkling creamy coloured star hanging just underneath it – Jupiter, the largest planet in the solar system. They are sitting in the faint zodiac constellation Capricornus, a mythical creature that is half fish, half goat. It’s interesting to note that this faint triangular pattern of its brighter stars is one of the oldest known -first recorded in Babylonian star catalogs around 1000 BC.

To the unaided eye these two bright worlds you see tonight, appear to be only 4 full moon disks apart. Of course this cosmic odd couple varies greatly in size and distance from us. While the waxing gibbous moon is only 3,475 km wide and about 400,900 km away, Jupiter is a whopping 143,900 km wide and is 645 million km distant.

Just think that while it takes reflected light off the surface of the Moon only 1.5 seconds to reach your eye, light travels for nearly 36 minutes from the gas giant to reach Earth. Just something cool to think about when taking in this celestial sight tonight.

Posted in Planets, Solar System, Stargazing, The Moon | 330 Comments »

Searching for Videos and Pieces of Meteor

Written by The Night Sky Guy on September 26, 2009 – 10:21 pm -

There is no doubt that Friday night’s meteor event was a spectacular one, just from the hundreds of people relaying their personal experiences here and through emails.  Astronomers will be interested in using these eyewitness reports from across the region to triangulate the direction the meteor was heading and figure our where, if any, fragments may have landed.

From many of the accounts received here the ball of light did appear to break up into sparkling pieces before fizzling out. So there is good reason to think that pieces may have rained down across one specific locale. The question is where?

The search continues for good photos and videos of the meteor itself. In past events like these security cameras, like in parking lots for instance, may have recorded something. Also police car dashcams can make amazing records of fireballs like this one. Check out this video made last year in November 20, 2008 from a cop car in Edmonton, Alberta. It would be wonderful to get footage like this from Friday’s event.

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Posted in Meteors | 484 Comments »

Meteor Flash Across South Ontario

Written by The Night Sky Guy on September 26, 2009 – 10:22 am -

Update Sept. 26, 10 am ET: Eyewitness from GTO caught the meteor flashes reflected off the ground on a videocam, “… shows a faint glow from that meteor in the Toronto area. The location is Laird and Eglinton in Toronto. Top right corner of the video is west left is towards the south.”

Reports are still coming in from all over the South Ontario region with many witnesses describing a loud rumble that shook homes associated with the flash of white and green light that lasted about 3 to 4 seconds. Click on this link to see the video:  Toronto videocam records meteor flash, Courtesy of Glen McKiernan, Toronto, Ontario

Update 11:30 pm ET: Just got two eyewitness reports from Ottawa region. One observer recounts, “From the size it was that we saw, we thought someone was setting off fireworks in the area.”

Reports are coming in from between Hamilton and Toronto area, that a spectacularly bright flash of light has streaked across the skies in a amtter of just 4 seconds, happening just after 9 pm Eastern time. One observer in Hamilton saw the sky light up as if by a lightening bolt. Some report hearing a thud or thunder-like sound associated with it. One Mississauga resident reports a firecracker sound associated with the streak of light.

These descriptions sound like the object was a meteor, probably the size of a basketball up to a sofa-sized rock from space that burned up in the atmosphere. Astronomers call these unusually bright flashes fireballs or bolides. Meteors can travel around 70 km per second and mostly get ionized in the upper atmosphere, but when they are this big they can fragment and pieces can make it to the ground. Stay tuned for more details to come. 

Did you see tonight’s event? Send me your observation at the comments section below and if you have any photos to share you can send them to

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Posted in Meteors | 1,069 Comments »

Peak Time for Northern Lights

Written by The Night Sky Guy on September 25, 2009 – 8:06 pm -

Early Autumn nights are some of the best times to catch sight of the beautiful Aurora Borealis. These shimmering and dancing ghostly glows in the night tend to increase in frequency at this time of the year, for as yet an unknown reason. And when they occur more often, there is a better chance for folks in more southerly latitudes to see the stronger storms. In fact sometimes auroras can be seen as far south as Florida and Mexico.  For those in Canada, you might be surprised to learn, cities near the US border can get good displays at least once a season.

CME thrown off Sun

CME thrown off Sun

These cosmic light shows begin on the surface of the Sun where giant clouds of high energy particles are produced and ejected into space. Known as Coronal Mass Ejections or CMEs, these clouds travel at breakneck speeds reaching Earth in only a matter of two or three days. We have sun-watching satellites that keep tabs on when these CMEs are heading our way, but we only can get a few days warning at best. When they do arrive within Earth’s vicinity, our planet’s magnetic field acts as force field protecting us from their potentially damaging radiation, but the particles do get funnelled down through the poles along the magnetic lines. The more energy the particles have, the deeper they can penetrate into our atmosphere. hey collide with oxygen and nitrogen molecules in the air and make them glow in shades of green, pink, red, and violet colours.

To catch these elusive displays, take a look outside around local midnight, facing the northern horizon in a dark location away from light pollution. There are no guarantees that you will see one on any old clear night, but there is a way to hedge your bets, and that is by signing up for an email alert at . It is a great service and gives you a fighting chance to hunt down an aurora display  and not waist your time.  Also check out my Sky Tonight page and examine the real-time LIVE satellite shot looking down at auroras happening right now over the North American continent. You can tell if there are any Northern Lights activity going on in your neck of the woods.

Posted in Auroras | 363 Comments »

Confirmed: Moon is Full of Water

Written by The Night Sky Guy on September 24, 2009 – 4:44 pm -

Water signature around crater, click to enlarge

Water signature around crater, click to enlarge

NASA team of scientists gave a news conference this afternoon detailing their groundbreaking discovery of finding large reservoirs of water molecules covering most of the lunar surface. Three different spacecrafts (Cassini, Deep Impact, and Chaandryan-1), all equipped with water-sniffing spectrometers, independently detected the chemical fingerprints of water. The amounts relative to Earthly terms are modest – about one litre of water per tonne of lunar soil, but experts estimate that it may well equal over a billion tonnes of water locked into the minerals in just the top few millimeters of soil. They found that there were higher concentrations of water around young craters, forming distinctive ejecta deposits of deeper material dug up by the impacts, as well as higher concentrations detected around the lunar poles.

But how did all this water get there? This has left researchers scratching their heads, and will surely be a point of debate for years to come. We just don’t know enough about the processes that are going on to say definitely, but there are few theories, which may be complimentary.  one is that there is a lot of oxygen  bound up in the soil naturally, and charged particles of super-fast hydrogen from the Sun bombards the lunar surface daily. The oxygen is knocked out of its bonds and fuses with the newly arrived hydrogen forming water. Another, more established theory that has been around for a number of years states that ancient comets that bombarded the Moon, deposited their frozen water, and we can find them still hidden in the permanently shadowed bottoms of craters in the southern lunar pole.

This abundance of water may have big implications for any future manned missions to the Moon. Billions of tonnes of water ripe for the taking, is exactly what any lunar residents would need to extract for drinking water, rocket fuel, and for greenhouses to make food. This discovery may very well be a game changer for NASA’s plans to return to the Moon. Definitely something they have been hoping for since the early Apollo days!


Here is the entire NASA news conference…

Posted in Space Exploration, The Moon | 173 Comments »

Soggy Moon?

Written by The Night Sky Guy on September 23, 2009 – 10:05 pm -

The web is buzzing tonight with word that NASA scientists have confirmed that our Moon is awash with water in many locales. These findings will be formally released during a press conference tomorrow afternoon  to coincide with 3 scientific papers being published in the journal SCIENCE this week. Here is a summary of the articles as released tonight by folks at AAAS, who run the journal…

“This week, three reports utilize data collected by three separate spacecrafts to provide evidence of hydroxyl (OH) or water – or both – on the surface of the Moon. These findings are forcing a reexamination of the notion that our Moon is completely dry. Carle Pieters and colleagues reviewed data from the Chandrayaan-1 space mission and found that infrared light was being absorbed near the lunar poles at wavelengths consistent with hydroxyl- and water-bearing materials.

This report, along with the others, state that the bound water or hydroxyl on the Moon’s surface seems to become more abundant as one gets closer to either of the lunar poles. Roger Clark uses data from a high-tech spectrometer on the Cassini spacecraft to identify this water or hydroxyl near the poles and at lower latitudes as well. Jessica Sunshine and colleagues describe infrared mapping by the Deep Impact spacecrafts that likewise confirms the presence of bound water or hydroxyl in trace amounts over much of the Moon’s surface. Their results suggest that the formation and retention of these molecules is an ongoing process on the lunar surface – and that solar wind could be responsible for forming them.

Taken together, these reports suggest that the water or hydroxyl in the polar regions of the Moon might have migrated there over time, attracted to the colder environment. ”

NASA Television and the agency’s Web site will provide live coverage of the announcement at 2 pm Eastern time, Thursday, Sept.24th. You can follow along live here.

Posted in Solar System, Space Exploration, The Moon | 389 Comments »

Tonight: Moon next to Antares

Written by The Night Sky Guy on September 23, 2009 – 2:57 pm -

Tuesday night

Tuesday night

For skywatchers in the western hemisphere the waxing crescent Moon will swing by the Scorpion’s heart, Antares, early this evening.

Look for the Moon in the low southwest sky after sunset. About seven full moon disks to its upper left will be the bright orange supergiant star that is the lead member in the constellation Scorpius. While this ancient pattern of stars is well above the horizon for northern latitude observers in the late summer, by end of September its lower half is hidden below the horizon – except for 600 light year distant Antares.

For observers in most of Asia and Pacific basin, the Moon will actually occult – or eclipse – Antares in the late Wednesday afternoon.

Did you know that the portrait of this beast in the sky has no claws -like a real scorpion does? Actually when the ancient Greek’s fomed this constellation it did have claws.  But later in Roman times around the first-century AD, Julius Ceasar and his senator buddies decided that Rome needed a cosmic  tribute – so they cut off the Scorpion’s claws and made it into its own constellation representing scales of justice, we call Libra. Legends had it that the Moon was in the part of the sky occupied by Libra when Rome was founded, hence its special place in history.

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Posted in Constellations, Stargazing, stars, The Moon | 51 Comments »

Touring the Andromeda Galaxy

Written by The Night Sky Guy on September 22, 2009 – 3:25 pm -

In a break from its usual task of searching for distant cosmic explosions, NASA’s Swift satellite has acquired the highest-resolution view of a neighboring spiral galaxy ever attained in the ultraviolet. The galaxy, known as M31 in the constellation Andromeda, is the largest and closest spiral galaxy to our own.

“Swift reveals about 20,000 ultraviolet sources in M31, especially hot, young stars and dense star clusters,” said Stefan Immler, a research scientist on the Swift team at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. “Of particular importance is that we have covered the galaxy in three ultraviolet filters. That will let us study M31’s star-formation processes in much greater detail than previously possible.”

M31, also known as the Andromeda Galaxy, is more than 220,000 light-years across and lies 2.5 million light-years away. On a clear,dark night, the galaxy is faintly visible as a misty patch to the naked eye.

Check out this amazing NASA video telling the story behind the image…

– adapted from a NASA news announcement

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Posted in Space Exploration, stars | 185 Comments »