Creepy Mars Spectacle

Written by The Night Sky Guy on October 30, 2009 – 4:33 pm -


Click image to enlarge

Stay up late  over the course of the next few nights and you can catch sight of red star-like Mars crossing through a bright star cluster in the constellation of Cancer. Rising well above the eastern horizon after midnight on Halloween, the Red planet will appear to slowly begin to move into the Beehive cluster. Sunday night-Monday morning the planet will actually appear to be the closest to the cluster and be positioned at the top edge of the group (see image below). Of course their proximity is just an optical illusion because while Mars is only 170 million km away from us, the cluster is over 600 light years away. There is also a huge size difference too. Mars is 6,800 km wide, and the star cluster is nearly 23 light years across. The pair is best seen through binoculars or a small telescope using low power.  

Clcik image to enlarge

Click image to enlarge

Interesting to ponder when you look at this cosmic couple, that ancient Romans thought that the Beehive cluster looked like a manger and could only make it out as a hazy patch of light with the unaided eye. Then centuries later, Galileo first saw the Beehive through a telescope (actually 400 years ago this year) in 1609, and counted 40 stars belonging to this group. Did you know that the binoculars you may have at home is about as powerful as Galileo’s scope.

How many can you see?


Space News extra: Take a gander at another deep sky beauty online, snapped by both ground and space based observatories. It’s a breathtakingly beautiful hi-rez image of the  open star cluster known as the Jewel Box. It sits over 6000 light years away and is a favourite target for backyard astronomers in the southern hemisphere. Check out all the details here.

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Posted in Planets, Solar System, stars | 189 Comments »

Cool Space News

Written by The Night Sky Guy on October 29, 2009 – 10:44 pm -

NASA: Booster rocket damaged in test flight, AP

“NASA says the booster rocket used in a test flight was badly dented when it fell into the Atlantic. The new Ares I-X rocket was launched on a brief flight Wednesday. NASA officials said Thursday that the first-stage booster was found to be dented near the bottom when it was recovered from the ocean. NASA spokesman Allard Beutel says there’s still no official word on whether all three parachutes on the booster deployed properly. A parachute failure could account for the damage.”

Physicist makes high-res Milky Way photo, UPI 

” A U.S. physics professor says he has put together 3,000 individual photographs to produce a high-resolution panoramic view of the Milky Way galaxy…An interactive version of the panorama image can viewed at ”

 Huge Explosion Was Biggest Space Rock to Strike Earth Since 1994,

” A space rock explosion earlier this month over an island region of Indonesia is now being viewed as perhaps the biggest object to tangle with the Earth in more than a decade.

On Oct. 8, reports from Indonesia told of a loud air blast around 11 a.m. local time. One report indicated a bright fireball, accompanied by an explosion and lingering dust cloud, as the origin of the air blast.

According to experts at the NASA/JPL Near-Earth Object Program Office in Pasadena, Calif. – Don Yeomans, Paul Chodas, Steve Chesley – the blast is thought to be due to the atmospheric entry of an asteroid more than 30 feet (10 meters) in diameter. Due to atmospheric pressure, the object is thought to have detonated in the atmosphere, yielding an energy release of about 50 kilotons (the equivalent of 110,000,000 pounds of TNT explosives).”

Posted in Uncategorized | 179 Comments »

NASA Rocket Launch Take 2

Written by The Night Sky Guy on October 28, 2009 – 11:09 am -

Wednesday update: successful launch occurred at 11:30 EDT. Engineers at Kennedy Space Center are looking at the returned telemetry from the 4 minute flight to see if everything worked as it should. Upper stage has impacted the ocean 8 minutes after launch. The lower stage should be coming down with parachutes. Check out the video of the launch below.

NASA Launched the unmanned Ares X-1 this morning, a test version of the rocket it hopes will be replacing the shuttle when it retires. The agency says this is the vehicle that will one day take humans to the Moon and even Mars. But this is a vital test flight  of the yet untried design of the world’ largest rocket – 324 feet high. The Ares program has had a lot of critics for being an unstable design and too expensive. So a lot is riding on this morning’s liftoff. NASA says they got “reams of data” from onboard sensors and cameras that will take many months to analyze. Reports will be issued to the public as they come in.

Posted in Uncategorized | 45 Comments »

Weeknight Sky Show

Written by The Night Sky Guy on October 27, 2009 – 10:51 pm -

Canon EOS 450D, 1 sec, 400 ASA, 55 mm, f/5.6
Canon EOS 450D, 1 sec, 400 ASA, 55 mm, f/5.6


After being totally a washout yesterday for the close conjunction between the Moon and Jupiter, I was hoping to catch the second act today. Sometimes persistence pays off. I waited for about an hour this evening for a little thinning of the clouds above my driveway to catch both the Moon and Jupiter (lower right) to peek through. Amazing to think that despite being 750 million km away from us, Jupiter ‘s light is still bright enough to pierce through clouds.   Just shows that you don’t need to have totally clear skies to see celestial sights.

Posted in Planets, Solar System, The Moon | 65 Comments »

Preview of Evening Sky Show

Written by The Night Sky Guy on October 26, 2009 – 10:19 am -

I snapped this picture last night, Sunday, at around 6 pm EDT from my Montreal suburb driveway showing the Moon and Jupiter. The pair is heading for a close encounter you will see tonight and Tuesday in the southern sky. Photo info: Canon EOS 450D, 55 mm, f/5.6, 2 sec., 200 ASA.

Posted in Planets, Solar System, The Moon | 285 Comments »

New Feature on Talk Show

Written by The Night Sky Guy on October 24, 2009 – 2:48 pm -

I invite you to check out a way-cool, new, weekly podcast talk show called The Stuph File which has begun featuring a short stargazing vignette of mine. First show with my spot is The Stuph File program # 0009.

 I am honoured to have master Hollywood voice-over talent, actor, and author, Ben Patrick Johnson serving up my intro. You may recognize his voice from blockbuster movie trailers and TV show promos.  Each spot will feature celestial highlights you can hunt down in the night sky. This week I talk about catching sight of the Northern Lights.

Hosted and produced by veteran radio personality Peter Anthony HolderThe Stuph File is a cutting-edge, humorous show available online at the show’s official blog or on iTunes. Take a listen and you might just get hooked!

Posted in Uncategorized | 88 Comments »

Moon and Planets Highlight Skies

Written by The Night Sky Guy on October 23, 2009 – 4:04 pm -

Click image to enlarge

Click image to enlarge

Morning skywatchers can view Venus in the morning with Saturn just above it in the low eastern sky at dawn. Can you see Venus after sunrise? It is possible to actually track Venus well into the morning daylight hours, as long as you know where to look. Binoculars will help scan the blue sky.

Then on Monday and Tuesday evening look for the crescent Moon in the southeastern sky. You will find it next to a bright creamy coloured star- which is planet Jupiter. The pair will be separated by about 1 degree or one full Moon disk on Tuesday night -so don’t miss this spectacular sky show.

Stargazing Events!  This weekend check out some great outdoor and indoor astronomical events called Galilean Nights being put on for free for the public around the world. Amateur and professional astronomers are putting on cosmic shows in honour of International Year of Astronomy and the 400th anniversary of Galileo using the telescope to look at the heavens.  Check out what events are happening in your neck of the woods on the official Galilean Nights website

 Orionids Update:  The Orionids peaked earlier this week as predicted with excellent metoer counts of up to 70 per hour.  The show is still not over as reports are still coming in of about 20 shooting stars per hour. So if you have clear skies over the next few late nights into predawn hours you will still get plenty of shooting stars to wish upon.

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Posted in Planets, Solar System | 144 Comments »

Moon and Star Dance Tonight

Written by The Night Sky Guy on October 21, 2009 – 3:33 pm -

Skywatchers who have clear skies late this afternoon and early evening can catch the waxing crescent moon slide by the brilliant Red giant star Antares. You can even spot the 600 light year distant star during daylight hours if you know exactly where to look – about the 4 o’clock position from the Moon.

The pair will be separated by only 1 degree or 2 full moon disks, so this will be quite a beautiful sight. Binoculars will help you pick off the star in the blue sky. Of course once the Sun has set it will be much easier to see the lead star of the constellation Scorpius.

Posted in Stargazing, stars, The Moon | 64 Comments »

Orionids Fast and Furious

Written by The Night Sky Guy on October 21, 2009 – 10:58 am -

Latest estimates gathered by the International Meteor Organization says that the predicted major spike in Orionid meteor shower occurred this morning at 6 am EDT. Observers are recorded an average of 54 shooting stars per hour. Early reports so far are mostly coming in from Asia and Pacific region where the show might have been a bit better. North American numbers may have been more modest with about 25 meteors seen per hour on average. But these numbers will most likely change as more weary skywatchers who stayed up last night will start logging on and filing their reports. Check out the IMO graph in my post below that shows in realtime what the reported metoer numbers are as they come in. Check back often and you will see the values change as more observations are added from Canada and U.S.A..

But the show is not over yet. It will be worth going out tonight and over the next couple of nights to see straggler Orionids – some of which are known to be bright, fast fireballs.

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Posted in Meteors | 86 Comments »

Orionids have Started Falling

Written by The Night Sky Guy on October 20, 2009 – 3:45 pm -

According to observers reports sent in that last few hours to International Meteor Organization (IMO) – a clearinghouse for shower activity, the Orionid shower has begun and there is a definite upswing in the numbers of shooting stars seen per hour.  One observer in Greece reports seeing rates as high as 24 meteors per hour and another in Germany reports seeing 30 plus in the pre-dawn hours this morning. Latest predictions say that the real peak should occur around 6 am EDT tomorrow but there should be lesser peaks where bunches of shooting stars can be seen racing across the sky in 15 minute time periods in th hours before and after. In the last few years some observers have counted as many as 60 to 70 per hr. So while there is no guarantee on how intense the shower will be this year, it does put on a decent show for those keen observers willing to brave the outdoors.

For a viewing guide to the Orionids and skychart see my blog entry below.

IMO Graph below charts in red the number of meteors seen per hour (vertical-axis) over the past few days (horiz. axis), as reported by skywatchers worldwide. The trend is definitely upwards as Earth plows into the densest part of the cloud of Halley’s comet debris.

Realtime activity of early Orionids seen across the globe

Realtime activity of early Orionids seen across the globe

Stay tuned for more updates right here on what skywatchers are seeing and how good the show turns out to be. If you go out tonight or in the morning to watch the Orionids then share your obsevations and photos in the comments section below or by email at

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Posted in Meteors | 164 Comments »