X-treme Planets Converge in the Sky

Written by The Night Sky Guy on January 14, 2012 – 3:51 pm -

Throughout mid-January skywatchers get a chance to see two worlds in the extreme – Venus and Neptune – in the same part of the sky. The brightest and faintest planets of the solar system shining in the sky will be huddling together in a close conjunction low in the south-west after sunset.

What can you expect to see the coming week? Read the rest of my article at National Geographic News

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Planets Galore in the Milky Way

Written by The Night Sky Guy on January 11, 2012 – 3:20 pm -

You may have noticed the tsunami of astronomy related news all this week coming through my Facebook and Twitter accounts and National Geographic News feed.  That’s because of the ginormous professional astronomy conference now going on in Austin, Texas called the annual American Astronomical Meeting. You can think of it as sort of like the astrogeek’s version of the Oscars without actual awards being handed out. But boy there are tons of really cool discoveries being announced from black holes spitting hi energy bullets, to the the farthest galaxy cluster ever seen.

Credit: NASA

Credit: NASA

But I think the coolest discovery so far is the latest calculations that show how many planets may exist in our Milky Way galaxy. The number is astounding, 100 billion worlds packed into our home galaxy alone! Astronomers believe that this means at least one planet for every single star in the Milky Way and if this is true this bodes well for future searches for Earth like planets because it would mean at least 1500 exoplanets just within a 50 light year radius of us. And that’s important because that may put many Earth-sized planets within the range of telescopes to be able to make detailed measurements of their physical properties including if they have habitable environments.

Adding to this exciting conclusion as gleaned from  6 years of observations is that terrestrial or small rocky planets, like Earth, Mars and Venus probably outnumber the gas giant type of planets like Jupiter and Saturn. They think there may be as much as 10 billion floating around our galactic home. Wow! If this is true, just think of the possible numbers of Earth-like planets that may be out there.

Unfortunately these predicted numbers are all we have for now. We cannot know the fraction of these alien worlds that may ultimately harbor life.

Today’s telescopes are just not quite up to getting the complete picture just yet – but we are tantalizingly close- maybe within the next 5 to 10 years.

In the meantime, at least for now it’s exciting just to be able to say that with 100 billion worlds jammed into our humdrum galaxy – which is only one of at least 100 billion others in the observable cosmos – its not only possible, but probable that there is another blue marble out there somewhere.

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Tonight: Watch Meteor Shower LIVE online

Written by The Night Sky Guy on January 3, 2012 – 6:18 pm -

Late word from NASA about tonight’s Quadrantid meteor shower is that due to overwhelming interest they will be setting up an all sky camera at their Huntsville, Alabama centre and stream the feed LIVE over the web.  So if you are clouded out or don’t feel like bundling up and heading outside to see the show under the skies then this is the next best way to catch one of the year’s best meteor showers.

Haven’t heard of the Quadrantids before? That’s probably because of its awkward timing in the calendar year; ie: just after the holidays and the coldest time of the year. And I guess its funny, hard to pronounce name doesn’t make it any easier for the media to publicize either. In any case the Quads are one of the best performers of any annual shower, so it’s definitely worth a peak at least as rates can easily top 40 to 60 shooting stars per hour in the early morning hours of Wednesday, January 4th.

Anyways, here’s my Nat Geo viewer’s guide for all the details about the Quadrantids and below is the video feed from Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. The camera is light sensitive and will turn on at local dusk.

Live Video streaming by Ustream

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