Stunning Pic of Shuttle with Earth and Stars

Written by The Night Sky Guy on May 31, 2011 – 11:54 am -

Check out these two amazing photos just released by NASA of the space shuttle Endeavour undocked from the space station with the Earth below – complete with city lights – a backdrop of stars above…

Credit: NASA

Credit: NASA

Here is another beauty….

credit: NASA

credit: NASA

Here is where to get your wallpaper versions


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Planet Alignment Doesn’t Equal Doomsday

Written by The Night Sky Guy on May 9, 2011 – 2:37 pm -

The next few mornings this week a planetary quartet will be the main event in the heavens above. You have to be an early bird to catch it but it will be worth it. Planetary gatherings – or conjunctions  as astronomers call them – are not that rare but they have in history caused a lot of alarm for many cultures which associate it with bad omens.

Many popular scare stories claim that due to the gravitational stress on Earth caused by the combined gravity of the planets, colossal tides, massive earthquakes and other disasters would occur. Despite all the dire prophecies the planets are simply too far away to have any effect on our little blue world. The giant Sun and our own nearby Moon have far greater effects on the Earth than even the combined gravitational effect of all the planets in the solar system.

In anycase it will be a grand sight to see these next few mornings – you won’t want to miss it. Check out my viewers guide complete with skycharts on my National Geographic weekly column.

Don’t  forget you can always get late-breaking, instant stargazing news anytime by joining my fanpage on Facebook, or get  email alerts sent directly to your inbox


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Sky Show: Moon under Stellar Arc

Written by The Night Sky Guy on May 6, 2011 – 4:29 pm -

Watch as Earth’s closest neighbour gets crowned this weekend! Timed perfectly for International Astronomy Day on Saturday, May 7th the crescent Moon will be bejeweled with an grand arc of the most brilliant stars in the western evening skies. This will be a great opportunity to begin learning your way around the night sky by letting the Moon be your guide to some bright stars that are lead members of different Springtime constellations.

On May 7th the Moon is decked out in a beautiful stellar crown.  Courtesy of Starry Night Software

On May 7th the Moon is decked out in a beautiful stellar crown. Courtesy of Starry Night Software

Face towards the western horizon after sunset and here is what you’ll see: To the left of the Moon will be Procyon – the lead star in the constellation Canis Minor- the little dog. Above the Moon will be two bright equally bright stars, Pollux and Castor, representing the heads of the Gemini twins. Then to the Moon’s far right will be the orange hued beacon, Capella – the lead star of Auriga – the charioteer. Step outside Saturday after sunset and see if you can hunt these stellar jewels down for yourself!

Sky Show Bonus: The planets will be on display in the early morning skies throughout the month of May. Four of the brightest, Mercury, Venus, Mars and Jupiter will be clustered very low in the eastern horizon at dawn.  I will have a viewer’s guide ready for tomorrow…so stay tuned!


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Let’s Celebrate International Astronomy Day

Written by The Night Sky Guy on May 6, 2011 – 2:57 pm -

Saturday, May 7th is International Astronomy Day. This annual event, celebrating its 38th year, began as a high profile way of drawing public attention to the science and the hobby  through star parties, indoor exhibits and activities. It has since mushroomed in size and scope and is celebrated in dozens of countries around the world. Local astronomy clubs will be sharing the wonders of the universe so take a look to see what events are happening in your neck of the woods. This is a great chance for you to learn about the night sky and about telescopes. If you are in the market to buy one then a star party – filled with dedicated, seasoned amateur astronomers – is the best place to find out and try telescopes. Come on out and explore the Universe.

Click here for some of the main events in the U.S.A. and elsewhere.  Canadians can check out what their local Roayal Astronomical society of Canada centre is doing here.  Otherwise just Google your town name and ‘astronomy day’ and hopefully you get local events pop up.

FREE GIVEAWAY: How about this as an incentive to go out under the stars. The folks that created Starry Night software – what I use to make all my starcharts – is giving away totally FREE their basic planetarium program-BUT it’s  going to be available for download on Saturday, Astronomy Day ONLY.  Click here to get your copy.

Clear Skies!

Heads up! Montreal Skywatchers come on out to a free star party being put on by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada at the Dollard des Ormeaux Public Library from noon to 5 pm with safe solar observing followed by a night sky event at the Morgan Arboretum in Ste. Anne-de-Belllevue.  I will be giving a public lecture titled ‘May’s Planet Parade‘ starting at 8 pm followed by telescope viewing of Saturn, the Moon and many wonders of the night sky.  Here are the directions to the Arbo.


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Superbright Station Flybys

Written by The Night Sky Guy on May 5, 2011 – 8:25 pm -

From Wednesday night through Friday night skywatchers in the northern hemisphere will get to see the International Space Station make superbright passes in the skies above. Estimates say that that it may get as bright as -4 magnitude making it far brighter than the brightest planet or star in the entire sky, making only the Moon brighter. If you have never seen the ISS before or its been a long time –  you gotta check it out because you will be surprised at its brilliance.

You can go to  a couple of great websites:  spaceweather.com (uses your zip or postal code) and heavens-above.com (uses city name).


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Preview of Fall Comet Elenin

Written by The Night Sky Guy on May 5, 2011 – 3:54 pm -

March 14, 2011 CCD image of comet Elenin through 6 inch scope in Australia. Courtesy of SKky & Telescope

March 14, 2011 CCD image of comet Elenin through 6 inch scope in Australia. Courtesy of Sky & Telescope

You may have heard the news: Comet Elenin is coming to the inner-solar system this fall. Comet Elenin (also known by its astronomical name C/2010 X1), was first detected on Dec. 10, 2010, by Leonid Elenin, an observer in Lyubertsy, Russia, who made the discovery “remotely” using the ISON-NM observatory near Mayhill, New Mexico. At the time of the discovery, the comet was about 647 million kilometers (401 million miles) from Earth. Over the past four-and-a-half months, the comet has — as comets do — closed the distance to Earth’s vicinity as it makes its way closer to perihelion (its closest point to the sun).

Trajectory of comet Elenin. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Trajectory of comet Elenin. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

As of May 4, Elenin’s distance is about 274 million kilometers (170 million miles). “That is what happens with these long-period comets that come in from way outside our planetary system,” said Don Yeomans of NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program Office at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “They make these long, majestic, speedy arcs through our solar system, and sometimes they put on a great show. But not Elenin. Right now that comet looks kind of wimpy.”

How does a NASA scientist define cometary wimpiness?

“We’re talking about how a comet looks as it safely flies past us,” said Yeomans. “Some cometary visitors arriving from beyond the planetary region — like Hale-Bopp in 1997 — have really lit up the night sky where you can see them easily with the naked eye as they safely transit the inner-solar system. But Elenin is trending toward the other end of the spectrum. You’ll probably need a good pair of binoculars, clear skies, and a dark, secluded location to see it even on its brightest night.”

Comet Elenin should be at its brightest shortly before the time of its closest approach to Earth on Oct. 16 of this year. At its closest point, it will be 35 million kilometers (22 million miles) from us.

Can this icy interloper influence us from where it is, or where it will be in the future? What about this celestial object inspiring some shifting of the tides or even tectonic plates here on Earth? There have been some incorrect Internet speculations that external forces could cause comet Elenin to come closer.

“Comet Elenin will not encounter any dark bodies that could perturb its orbit, nor will it influence us in any way here on Earth,” said Yeomans.  “It will get no closer to Earth than 35 million kilometers [about 22 million miles].”

“Comet Elenin will not only be far away, it is also on the small side for comets,” said Yeomans. “And comets are not the most densely-packed objects out there. They usually have the density of something akin to loosely packed icy dirt.

“So you’ve got a modest-sized icy dirtball that is getting no closer than 35 million kilometers,” said Yeomans. “It will have an immeasurably miniscule influence on our planet. By comparison, my subcompact automobile exerts a greater influence on the ocean’s tides than comet Elenin ever will.”

Yeomans did have one final thought on comet Elenin.

“This comet may not put on a great show. Just as certainly, it will not cause any disruptions here on Earth. But there is a cause to marvel,” said Yeomans. “This intrepid little traveler will offer astronomers a chance to study a relatively young comet that came here from well beyond our solar system’s planetary region. After a short while, it will be headed back out again, and we will not see or hear from Elenin for thousands of years. That’s pretty cool.”

- adapted from JPL News announcement


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