RIP Neil Armstrong

Written by The Night Sky Guy on August 27, 2012 – 5:36 pm -


Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

Hubble Spies Star Cluster Smashup (Video)

Written by The Night Sky Guy on August 23, 2012 – 1:43 pm -

The keen eye of Hubble space telescope has glimpsed the first moments of a head-on collision between two massive star clusters located 170,000 light years away from Earth, astronomers say.

The impending cosmic crash is occurring within a 25 million year old giant star factory known as the Tarantula nebula or 30 Doradus, buried inside the Large Magellanic Cloud – a small companion galaxy of the Milky Way.

Read the rest of my story about crashing star clusters on National Geographic News

Check out this amazing computer simulation showing the gravitational interaction of two young star clusters. The three and a half million years of the encounter have been compressed into less than a minute!

Tags: , ,
Posted in Space Exploration, Stargazing, stars | 1 Comment »

Monster Galaxy Cluster Breaks Records (Video)

Written by The Night Sky Guy on August 16, 2012 – 11:21 am -

Composite image of Phoenix galaxy cluster. Credit: NASA/NOAO/MIT,NSF

Seven billion light years away a newfound galaxy cluster is breaking records and may help unlock secrets related to galaxy evolution and dark energy, according to a new study released this week.

Using telescopes located in Antarctica and in space, a team of astronomers have discovered not only one of the most massive galaxy clusters known, but a massive individual galaxy at its center that is churning out newborn stars at unheard of rates.

According to the lead author of this new study, Michael McDonald an astrophysicist from MIT, this discovery will shed  light on large scale galaxy evolution in the universe.

“The prevailing idea is that the most massive galaxies in the Universe grow by consuming smaller galaxies and now we have an example of a massive galaxy which appears to be growing on its own, by forming new stars,” he said. “It appears that this starburst could account for a substantial amount of the galaxy’s stars, suggesting that this is an important ingredient for galaxy evolution.”

McDonald’s team also believes there is much more to be learned from this record-breaking cluster halfway across the Universe. The simple existence of such a massive cluster may help understand Dark energy – the mysterious force that is pulling the universe apart – and help constrain its properties.

“The number of exceptionally massive galaxy clusters like this in the Universe is very sensitive to the assumed nature of the dark energy, so even having 2 or 3 clusters of this mass can rule out various theoretical models,” added McDonald.

Here is a short video explainer of what this amazing discovery is all about…

For more details read my National Geographic story…

Tags: , ,
Posted in Space Exploration, stars | Comments Off on Monster Galaxy Cluster Breaks Records (Video)

Perseids Meteor Peak Tonite and Hit Moon!

Written by The Night Sky Guy on August 11, 2012 – 12:30 pm -

Warm summer nights and awe-inspiring shooting stars are an unbeatable combination! That’s why skywatchers look forward to the annual Perseid meteor shower. Visible with the naked eye from the city to cottage country, dozens of “shooting stars” will light up the late-night skies. With the waning crescent moon rising above the horizon only around 1 am tonight, the peak date of August 11th, this cosmic light show will surely put on an impressive display. Skywatchers get to see a flurry of shooting stars start 10 pm with rates increasing until pre-dawn hours Sunday. Anywhere from 20 to 80 shooting stars per hour depending on local sky conditions.

Here is my Night Sky episode that talks all about the shower and some bonus planets that are joining the show too!

EXTRA:  Sky-watchers with backyard telescopes, though, might join NASA in training their lenses on the moon for an elusive, potentially flashy Perseid sideshow.

Read my National Geographic observers guide for more information on how some backyard telescope owners watch Persieds actually impact the moon!…

Tags: , , ,
Posted in Meteors, Planets, The Moon | Comments Off on Perseids Meteor Peak Tonite and Hit Moon!

Biggest Map of Universe Helps Confirm Dark Energy

Written by The Night Sky Guy on August 9, 2012 – 11:15 pm -

Similar to how medieval maps of Earth ranged from speculations of the unknown to concrete scientific observations, cosmologists today are slowly refining our understanding of the structure and evolution of the Universe as a whole. Now a team of astronomers has announced that they have created a 12 billion light year-deep survey map that reveals the most precise makeup of the Universe to date.  Known as the Sloan Digital Sky Survey III, the epic new map  targets nearly a million galaxies, which not only provides the most comprehensive view of the night sky ever made but sheds light on mysterious dark energy and history of the expansion of the universe.

Check out this amazing animation fly through of the galaxies plotted in the SDSS survey just released. Amazing to think that you can see nearly 400,000 galaxies in the animation.

Credit: Miguel A. Aragón (Johns Hopkins University), Mark SubbaRao (Adler Planetarium), Alex Szalay (Johns Hopkins University), Yushu Yao (Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, NERSC), and the SDSS-III Collaboration

Read the rest of my story and find out what this new map is telling astronomers about Dark Energy and how it’s helping us understand the birth of the Universe at National Geographic News

Tags: , , ,
Posted in Space Exploration | 1 Comment »

Mars Pic: Target Looms Ahead for Curiosity

Written by The Night Sky Guy on August 7, 2012 – 8:01 pm -


This photo is simply awesome and I think gets all Mars buffs really excited. That’s because we not only see the rover’s own shadow on the pebbly ground, but can also spy in the distance the main science target of the 1 – ton curiosity rover a day after it touched down inside the 150 km wide Gale crater. Even though this is only the first b/w, low-res image of Mount Sharp – a central peak in the crater rising more than 6.5 km in height – we can tell that its going to be an exciting and challenging destination.

NASA hopes to drive the rover to the mountain – which sits about 10 km away from the landing site –  eventually up its slopes, to study its lower layers. To astro-geologists they look like sedimentary rocks, which they are betting may shed some light on past environmental change – ie. water drenched the area. This image was captured by the rover’s front left Hazard-Avoidance camera at full resolution shortly after it landed.  Can’t wait to see full resolution colour panoramic shots in the next week….

Tags: , , ,
Posted in Planets, Solar System, Space Exploration | Comments Off on Mars Pic: Target Looms Ahead for Curiosity

Mars Touchdown!

Written by The Night Sky Guy on August 6, 2012 – 6:42 am -

Wow can hardly believe NASA pulled it off! After a 500 million km voyage over 8.5 months, Mars Curiosity rover touched down on its new home safely early this morning and has taken its first image of its surroundings. Here is NASA’s offical statement released just a couple hours after landing on Mars.

– About two hours after landing on Mars and beaming back its first image,
NASA’s Curiosity rover transmitted a higher-resolution image of its new Martian home, Gale Crater. Mission Control at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., received the image, taken by one of the vehicle’s lower-fidelity, black-and-white Hazard Avoidance Cameras – or Hazcams.

The black-and-white, 512 by 512 pixel image, taken by Curiosity’s rear-left Hazcam, can be found at:

“Curiosity’s landing site is beginning to come into focus,” said John Grotzinger, project manager of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission, at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. “In the image, we are looking to the northwest. What you see on the horizon is the rim of Gale Crater. In the foreground, you can see a gravel field. The question is, where does this gravel come from?  It is the first of what will be many scientific questions to come from our new home on Mars.”

While the image is twice as big in pixel size as the first images beamed down from the rover, they are only half the size of full-resolution Hazcam images. During future mission operations, these images will be used by the mission’s navigators and rover drivers to help plan the vehicle’s next drive. Other cameras aboard Curiosity, with color capability and much higher resolution, are expected to be sent back to Earth over the next several days.

Curiosity landed at 10:32 p.m. Aug. 5, PDT, (1:32 a.m. EDT, Aug. 6) near the foot of a mountain three miles (about five kilometers) tall inside Gale Crater, 96 miles (nearly 155 kilometers) diameter. During a nearly two-year prime mission, the rover will investigate whether the region has ever offered conditions favorable for microbial life, including the chemical ingredients for life.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Mars Touchdown!

Watch Mars Rover Landing LIVE

Written by The Night Sky Guy on August 5, 2012 – 9:26 pm -

Here are live video feeds of the Mars Curiosity rover landing events from various venues….enjoy and hold good thoughts for the intrepid rover!

PlanetFest from California

Broadcasting live with Ustream

NASA feed from JPL

Live video from your iPhone using Ustream

Posted in Planets, Solar System | Comments Off on Watch Mars Rover Landing LIVE

Night Sky Hits for August 2012

Written by The Night Sky Guy on August 4, 2012 – 2:17 pm -

For skywatchers August will be a busy month with a meteor shower and multiple planetary close encounters!

For early bird skywatchers the goddess of love, Venus dominates the dawn skies in the east perched firmly in the constellation of Gemini, the twins. The great white beacon rises nearly 3 and half hours before the sun every morning and through a small telescope appears like a miniature version of a quarter moon.

Look below Venus for its fainter companion Jupiter – the largest planet in the solar system – sits below nestled between the horns of Taurus the bull constellation. On August 11th the moon will form a celestial triangle with the jovian giant and the eye of the bull – the star Aldebaran. Two mdays later a razor thin crescent moon will park itself to the upper right of Venus.

Watch these two worlds closely and you will notice that while they have been hanging around each other for the past couple of months, the much speedier Venus will quickly increase the gap with Jupiter so that by the end of the month there will be 40 degrees apart.

On August 13 for those with telescopes, Venus will do a disappearing act as it slips behind the very upper portion of the crescent Moon during the daytime. Known as an occultation, this dramatic event however will be a real challenge to catch because it will be occurring in the late afternoon while luna sinks quickly in the low western horizon sky. The first hint of Venus creeping behind the moon will begin at 4:36pm and will take about 25 seconds to completely disappear. Since the moon will be only a few degrees in altitude (eastern N. America)  your best bet to catch this event is to find a location that has a clear line of sight right down to the western horizon – like highway overpasses, hilltops and lakesides. Check out a listing of occulation times here.

Moon joins Mars Triangle.  Credit: Stary Night Software

Moon joins Mars Triangle. Credit: Starry Night Software

But there is even more cosmic action in the evening skies. Look towards the west at nightfall for an impressive stellar grouping of the planets Mars, Saturn and the star Spica, in the constellation Virgo. Take note of the diverse colours of these three objects, with orange-hued Mars, yellowish Saturn and brilliant blue-white Spica.  The most  eye-catching aspect of this stellar trio will be watching them play musical chairs in the sky as they shift positions over the course of the month as they move along in their respective orbits around the Sun.

Then at dusk on August 21th the three objects form an equatorial triangle with the waxing crescent Moon just below.

Shooting Stars Galore

Persieds peak Aug11/12.   credit: Sky & Telescope

Persieds peak Aug11/12. credit: Sky & Telescope

The big astronomical crowd pleaser this month however has to be the famous Perseid meteor shower. Peaking on the night of August 11th and into the early morning hours of August 12th, conditions promise to be good this year because there will only be a crescent moon rising after 1 am so minimal interference from its light is expected. You can expect up to 20 to 30 meteors per hour visible from suburbs and up to 60 from a dark sky.

You can expect about half that many the night before (Aug.10) and after (Aug.13). Best way to see the shower is to lie back on the ground or on reclining lawn chair facing the northeast sky with your naked-eyes. Most of these meteors  are the size of a grain of sand and are travelling at about 150,000 km per hour,  burning up at about 100 km above your head.

The Perseids get their name from the constellation Perseus – where the shooting stars seem to radiate from in the sky.  The meteor shower originates from a cloud of particles in space that was shed by a comet that orbits the Sun. Every year at the same time of year, Earth slams into this cloud of debris, creating a cosmic shower in the heavens above.

BTW if the skies are clear and you are in Montreal area on August 11th, join me and the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada for a free Perseids star party at the Morgan Arboretum in Ste. Anne De Bellevue starting at 8pm with a lecture- rain/cloudy date is August 12th.

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

Tags: , ,
Posted in Constellations, Planets, Solar System, Stargazing, stars, The Moon | Comments Off on Night Sky Hits for August 2012

Catch Mars Triangle in the Sky this Weekend

Written by The Night Sky Guy on August 4, 2012 – 12:15 pm -

Space buffs and skywatchers are gearing up for ‘Mars Day’ on Sunday, August 5th as a striking sky show coincides with the daring landing of NASA Mars rover!

Only a hours before Curiosity touches down, Mars, along with ringed Saturn and one of the brightest stars in the heavens, Spica, will form an eye catching grouping as they huddle together in the southwest evening sky. To the naked eye they will appear to be in a equilateral triangle, separated by only 5 degrees on each side – equal to the width of a fist at an outstretched arms length.

Get my complete viewer’s guide at National Geographic News.

Tags: , ,
Posted in Solar System, Stargazing, stars | 2 Comments »