Mega rover on its way to Mars!

Written by The Night Sky Guy on November 26, 2011 – 1:15 pm -

After a near flawless launch at 10:02 am ET this morning NASA’s biggest and most complex rover ever flung towards the Red Planet is safely on it way. Amazing to think that it will have to travel 354 million miles and 8.5 months before any human eyes will see Curiosity again. can’t wait for touchdown and the breathtaking Martian vistas!

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Watch Blast Off of Mars Rover Now

Written by The Night Sky Guy on November 26, 2011 – 9:34 am -

NASA’s rover is sitting on top of its rocket booster which is filling its fuel tank now and is scheduled for launch starting at 10:02 am Eastern Time today, Saturday.

So far everything is ‘go’ for blast-off! Amazing to think the rocket will blast off with 2.5 million pounds of thrust! Crossing fingers all goes well.

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Guide to Mars Rover Launch

Written by The Night Sky Guy on November 24, 2011 – 4:22 pm -

MSL-launchHow will the launch of NASA’s new mega-rover go down? I have been getting a lot of emails the last few days about the latest mission to Mars so here is a great rundown on what will happen (hopefully) this Saturday, put out by the good folks at JPL-NASA today…

“NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory is tucked inside its Atlas V rocket, ready for launch on Saturday, Nov. 26, 2011, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The Nov. 26 launch window extends from 7:02 a.m. to 8:45 a.m. PST (10:02 a.m. to 11:45 a.m. EST). The launch period for the mission extends through Dec. 18.

The spacecraft, which will arrive at Mars in August 2012, is equipped with the most advanced rover ever to land on another planet. Named Curiosity, the rover will investigate whether the landing region has had environmental conditions favorable for supporting microbial life, and favorable for preserving clues about whether life existed.

If the spacecraft lifts off at the start of the launch window on Nov. 26, the following milestones are anticipated. Times would vary for other launch times and dates.


The rocket’s first-stage common core booster, and the four solid rocket boosters, will ignite before liftoff. Launch, or “T Zero”, actually occurs before the rocket leaves the ground. The four solid rocket boosters jettison at launch plus 1 minute 52 seconds.

Fairing Separation

The nose cone, or fairing, covering Mars Science Laboratory will open like a clamshell and fall away at about 3 minutes 25 seconds after launch. After this, the rocket’s first stage will cut off and then drop into the Atlantic Ocean.

Parking Orbit

The rocket’s second stage, a Centaur engine, is started for the first time at about 4 minutes 38 seconds after launch. After it completes its first burn of about 7 minutes, the rocket will be in a parking orbit around Earth at an altitude that varies from 102 miles (165

kilometers) to 201 miles (324 kilometers). It will remain there from 14 to 30 minutes, depending on the launch date and time. If launch occurs at the beginning of the launch Nov. 26 launch window, this stage will last about 21 minutes.

On the Way to Mars

The second Centaur burn, continuing for nearly 8 minutes (for a launch at the opening of the Nov. 26 launch window), lofts the spacecraft out of Earth orbit and sends it toward Mars.

Spacecraft Separation

Mars Science Laboratory will separate from the rocket that boosted it toward Mars at about 44 minutes after launch, if launch occurs at the opening of the Nov. 26 window. Shortly after that, the separated Centaur performs its last task, an avoidance maneuver taking itself out of the spacecraft’s flight path to avoid hitting either the spacecraft or Mars.

Sending a Message of Good Health

Once the spacecraft is in its cruise stage toward Mars, it can begin communicating with Earth via an antenna station in Canberra, Australia, part of NASA’s Deep Space Network. Engineers expect to hear first contact from the spacecraft at about 55 minutes after launch and assess the spacecraft’s health during the subsequent 30 minutes.

The spacecraft will arrive at the Red Planet Aug. 6, 2012, Universal Time (evening of Aug. 5, 2012, PDT).”

Launch sequence of Mars Science Laboratory; credit: NASA

Launch sequence of Mars Science Laboratory; credit: NASA

Source:  JPL/NASA News Announcement

(Note: Apologies for forgetting to add source before)

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Home Movies of Asteroid YU55 Hit the Web

Written by The Night Sky Guy on November 9, 2011 – 10:50 am -

Within a matter of hours after the asteroid’s close encounter with Earth on Nov.8th, backyard astronomers began posting their videos they managed to snag of the interloper. Its amazing to think that everyday people with the right equipment – motor driven telescope with CCD guiders and cameras – are able to really get such good quality footage of the giant space rock zipping through the starry skies.

Footage like these really stand as testament to the long hours amateur astronomers spend with their telescopes and associated gadgets, practicing, tweaking their equipment,  and going through night after night of trial and error, in the hopes of refining their techniques to get that moment of nirvana and obtain that special ‘wow shot’. My tip of the hat to you all!

Check them out here:

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Watch the Asteroid Flyby Online

Written by The Night Sky Guy on November 8, 2011 – 4:55 pm -

A robotic telescope on the Canary islands, off the coast of West Africa will be tracking the asteroid 2005YU55 as it zips by Earth tonight (Nov.8) and you can watch along from the comfortable confines of your home starting at 4 pm ET. So if you are clouded out or don’t have 6 inch or larger telescope this is the next best way to witness this close asteroid flyby.Remember that the closest encounter will be at 6:28 pm Eastern Time, but the asteroid is expected to be visible for many hours thereafter as its surface gets lit up by the sun, offering great views through larger telescopes. For a viewer’s guide check out my National Geographic story.

Here is the link to the SLOOH website

Here is another telescope watching the asteroid streaming LIVE online – its the Clay Center Observatory in Massachusetts, USA.

Also check out this video of the asteroid flyby and what it will look like from a space perspective:

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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Space Rock Close Encounter Tuesday Night

Written by The Night Sky Guy on November 7, 2011 – 6:56 pm -

A giant asteroid by the name of 2005YU55 the size of an aircraft carrier (400 meters) is about enter the Earth-moon system and and become the biggest near-miss asteroid ever.

On Tuesday, November 8 at 6:28 pm ET (23:28 Universal Time) it will be 319,000 km from our planet — closer than the Moon’s orbit. Professional astronomers around the world will closely follow the asteroid as it glides across the sky.

Here is a neat NASA video explaining everything we know now about the asteroid:

If you have clear skies Tuesday night, know your way around the sky, and have a big enough telescope you can actually spot this interloper zip across the starry skies. Check out my quick viewer’s guide to the asteroid pass and upcoming views of Venus and Mercury close together.

Discovered nearly six years ago by Robert McMillan at Steward Observatory’s Spacewatch Telescope in Arizona, 2005 YU55 has been this way before. In April 2010, it ventured close enough for detailed radar probing by the giant radio dish at Arecibo, Puerto Rico. It also approached even closer in 1976, though it went by undetected.

Professional astronomers have recruited advanced backyard amateurs to do precision brightness measurements of the asteroid during its flyby; more information:

– with reporting from Sky & Telescope.

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