Space News This Week

Written by The Night Sky Guy on January 22, 2011 – 12:19 pm -

This week in space news we talk about the hottest and smallest exoplanet discoveries to date and a unprecedented storm of comets has been seen to bombard the Sun. Check out my national news interview below…


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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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Catch Mercury in the Morning

Written by The Night Sky Guy on January 7, 2011 – 6:36 pm -

For a about a week in mid-January Mercury will be far enough away from the Sun to observe in the morning sky

For a about a week in mid-January Mercury will be far enough away from the Sun to observe in the morning sky. It will be joining two much brighter planets - Venus and Saturn.

Check out the innermost planet in the solar system with the unaided eye as it rises to its best morning showing in months. Little Mercury will be at its greatest elongation – or farthest away from the Sun it can get from our vantage point on January 9, 2011. This means that the planet will be the easiest to spot, especially for casual skywatchers because it will be higher up in the eastern sky, away from the glare of the rising Sun. Mercury is quite a tricky target to obseve, especially for beginner stargazers because it is never far away from the Sun. It is also a small planet, only one-and-a-half times larger than our own moon and orbits our star in just 3 months.

For Earth-bound viewers around mid-January Mercury will be positioned in its orbit such that it appears farthest from the Sun; click image to enlarge

For Earth-bound viewers around mid-January Mercury will be positioned in its orbit such that it appears farthest from the Sun; click image to enlarge

If you face towards the eastern sky at dawn over the course of the next week, you get a three-for-one planetary deal with Venus,  Mercury and Saturn. The three planets will actually line up diagonally in the sky this weekend. Venus will be the brightest of the trio and so the easiest to spot.

On January 9th, Sunday, Mercury will officially be at greatest elongation west at 23 degrees- meaning it will be about 46 full moon disks away from the Sun in the sky. This elongation for Mercury is not the best ever – it can be as much as 27 degrees.

Here is a photo I took of Mercury in the evening sky in 2009.


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Ten Year Old Bags Supernova

Written by The Night Sky Guy on January 4, 2011 – 6:08 pm -

Supernova discovery image; credit: RASC

Who says doing astronomy is for boys or is not cool!  Check out this story of a ten year old Canadian girl Kathryn Gray,  discovering an exploding star over 200 million light years away.  Turns out her Dad (co-discoverer Paul Gray) is an avid amateur astronomer (who has a few supernova discoveries to his credit already) and received  images taken through an automated telescope in co-discoverer Dave Lane’s observatory (more info at this link) and the young grade 5 girl simply started scanning through the photos and noticed a bright spot in one of them where there wasn’t one before. According to the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada’s press statement the exploding star – known as a supernova- occurred 240 million light years away on the outskirts of a galaxy

After independent confirmation by other astronomers  she has now been officially co-credited with the find and has become the youngest person to have made such a discovery. Here is a short video of the young astronomer…

I think this story is very inspirational and shows how important it is to have a parent who encourages their children to pursue science hobbies and shares in their journey of exploration.  BTW astronomy is one of the best sciences for youngsters to explore because it can be done with little investment of money and preparation and the hobby can grow with the child/parent as their interest and expertise develops.  Being a parent myself, I can tell you there is nothing more satisfying than being out under a starry sky, with telescope and star map in hand, while sharing the wonders of the universe with your kids.


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Catch Year’s First Meteor Shower Monday Night

Written by The Night Sky Guy on January 2, 2011 – 5:37 pm -

Quadrantid shooting stars appear to radiate out from a spot in the northeast nigth sky just off the handle of the Big Dipper.

Quadrantid shooting stars appear to radiate out from a spot in the northeast night sky just off the handle of the Big Dipper.

The first meteor shower of the year 2011 – the Quadrantids  peak on the night of January 3 (Monday) into the following early morning hours.  Peak rates on that night range anywhere from 60 to 120 shooting star per hour from a dark location.

The Quadrantids get their name form the obsolete constellation – Quadrans Muralis – they appear to radiate out from in the northeast sky just off the Big Dipper’s handle. The stars in this defunct star pattern have been absorbed by the Bootes constellation and so that is where you will find the shower’s radiant today.

While the shower officially peaks at 1 am Universal Time – and so favours Europe – North Americans should be able to still see a decent show with the trailing end of the peak in the late hours of Monday night. Also some experts say that there may be sudden outburst after the predicted peak. Remember that even if you get clouded out on peak night Monday, you can still see straggler meteors until the end of the first week of 2011.

The Quadrantids are known to surprise observers sometimes with more intense displays before and after forecasted peaks so keep an eye out. It is definitely a sky show worth braving those chilly temps for so good luck!

Here is my latest Night Sky episode highlighting the Quadrantids…


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