Final Hours before Satellite Splashdown

Written by The Night Sky Guy on September 22, 2011 – 6:27 pm -

If I was a betting man I would say that NASA’s UARS satellite will be re-entering somewhere over the remote south Pacific Ocean basin late Friday evening.  If you want to follow along yourself one of the best sites around is NASA’s official updates on their UARS mission site and  The Center for Orbital and Reentry Debris Studies where you get to see a graphic that shows you the predicted placement of the satellite throughout its remaining last orbits before it plunges through the atmosphere.

There is also a predicted  time window of when it will break through the atmosphere, which as of Thursday evening (Eastern time) stands at Sept.23, 8:58 pm +/- 7 hours.

Check out this awesome animation of how the satellite is predicted to breakup


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M101 Supernova at its Brightest Now

Written by The Night Sky Guy on September 19, 2011 – 3:20 pm -

If you haven’t had a chance to check out the 2011fe supernova blast visible right now in the M101 spiral galaxy off the Big Dipper’s handle – then get out your scope now ’cause it’s as bright as it will ever get.  discovered only 3 weeks ago at a super-faint magnitude 17, the supernova has now peaked in its brightness this past week at 9.9 magnitude and is easily visible with 4 to 6 inch telescopes.While it doesn’t look like anything more than an average, humdrum star – the cool factor is the fact that its all happening 23 million light years away inside this other island universe we call a galaxy.

Well over a hundred amateur astronomers are sending in reports to the AAVSO, an international clearing house for all data related to this supernova,  and even the professional community are keeping close tabs on 2011fe, with the Hubble Space Telescope taking regular glances as the stellar interloper.

Finders Chart for M101, host galaxy for supernova 2011fe; Credit: Stellarium/Sky and Telescope

Finder's Chart for M101, host galaxy for supernova 2011fe; Credit: Stellarium/Sky and Telescope

The only problem for suburban skywatchers who want to hunt it down for themselves from their backyards is that the host galaxy is too diffuse to see very well from light polluted city limits – in fact the supernova itself is much easier to spot as long as you can find it.

But with the peak brightness corresponding to the Moon being out of the early evening sky, this makes the next few nights your best chance for spotting this exploding star above the northwestern horizon.

Your best bet for tracking down M101 is to create an imaginary equilateral triangle with the last two stars of the Big Dipper’s handle.

Read my original Nat Geo story about the supernova here


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Planet Uranus Well Positioned in Sky for Viewing

Written by The Night Sky Guy on September 16, 2011 – 9:57 pm -

If you have never seen the mysterious 7th planet in the solar system then you will find September is a good month to find Uranus.  On Sept.26 Uranus will be at opposition – meaning it will rise in the east as the sun sets in the west – astronomically speaking the gas giant, Earth and Sun form a near perfect lineup in the solar system, offering the closest and best views of Uranus for the year.

With a magnitude of +5.8 it means that from a dark countryside away from light pollution you might even be able to spot it with your unaided eye. Meanwhile the green disk is an easy object in binoculars even from suburban locations. Uranus sits inside the boundaries of constellation Pisces about 15 degrees below the eastern side of the Square of Pegasus- check it out on the chart.

location of Uranus in the September night sky

location of Uranus in the September night sky

With a small telescope you may even see that it has a disk – now around 3.7 arc seconds across – which is a very attractive blue-green colour.

SKYWATCH EXTRA: From September 16 to 19 watch the moon join Jupiter and some stellar jewels. Get your details from my National Geographic story.

Here is this week’s Night Sky Episode too…


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