Giant Asteroid Rich in Hydrogen

Written by The Night Sky Guy on September 21, 2012 – 4:00 pm -

The giant asteroid Vesta may not have giant reservoirs of water ice but is surprisingly rich with a key ingredient – hydrogen- and sports associated oddly pitted terrain features too, new studies reveal.

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft made the unexpected discoveries during its yearlong mapping mission while orbiting the 530 km wide space rock, which scientists are hoping may help unlock some of the mysteries surrounding the formation of the solar system and the distribution of water in it.

Read the rest of my story abotu Vesta’s riches at New Scientist

Also check out this cool NASA animation of Vesta and its hydrogen hotspots as seen by Dawn spacecraft.

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Beehive cluster has ‘B’s

Written by The Night Sky Guy on September 21, 2012 – 10:58 am -

sun-like-star-clusterNewfound alien worlds around sun-like stars nestled within nearby star cluster surprise astronomers and may help widen the net cast in the search for habitable planets.

Located some 550 light years away in the northern constellation Cancer, the Beehive cluster is home to 1000 young stars  born about 600 million years ago. It is a popular binocular target for skywatchers during winter and spring and can even be glimpsed with the naked eye from a dark location.

The new planets, dubbed Pr0201-b and Pr0211-b, are both “hot Jupiters”—gas giants that orbit extremely close to their parent stars, and while there’s little chance for life on these worlds, they are offering tantalizing new directions for planet hunters to follow…

Read the rest of my Beehive story at National Geographic news

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Jupiter Hit by Meteor Again!

Written by The Night Sky Guy on September 13, 2012 – 2:22 pm -

Early Monday morning two American amateur astronomers  independently spotted a bright flash of light in the upper cloud-deck of Jupiter – the fourth impact on the gas giant discovered in just the last three years.

Early suspicion by astronomers is that a meteor or comet had hit the atmosphere of the planet – and the fact that it was visible from Earth through backyard telescopes more than 730 million km away – indicates it was probably a significant event.

Read the rest of my Jupiter explosion story at National Geographic News

Check out the actual 2-second video frames of the impact on Jupiter this week as captured by a webcam attached to a 12″ LX200 Meade telescope by a backyard astronomer in Dallas, Texas.

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Galactic Alphabet Online

Written by The Night Sky Guy on September 12, 2012 – 9:09 am -

Ever wanted to see your name written in the stars? Well now a cool, new web application lets you do just that – thanks to a gigantic cosmic database filled with galaxies mapped across the visible Universe by citizen scientist volunteers. Here is the official statement….

Volunteers participating in the Galaxy Zoo project have been helping scientists gain new insights by classifying galaxies seen in hundreds of thousands of telescope images as spiral or elliptical. Along the way they’ve also stumbled across odd-looking galaxies which resemble each letter of the alphabet.

The international team behind Galaxy Zoo, including astronomers from Oxford University, are inviting people to be involved in more discoveries as they launch a new incarnation of the site at

From today, the site includes more than 250,000 new images of galaxies, most of which have never been seen by humans. By classifying them, volunteers will add to our understanding of the processes which shaped our universe.

“We’d like to thank all those that have taken part in Galaxy Zoo in the past five years. Humans are better than computers at pattern recognition tasks like this, and we couldn’t have got so far without everyone’s help,” says Galaxy Zoo principal investigator Dr. Chris Lintott from the University of Oxford. “Now we’ve got a new challenge, and we’d like to encourage volunteers old and new to get involved. You don’t have to be an expert — in fact we’ve found not being an expert tends to make you better at this task. There are too many images for us to inspect ourselves, but by asking hundreds of thousands of people to help us we can find out what’s lurking in the data.”

More than 250,000 people have taken part in the Galaxy Zoo project since its launch in 2007, sorting through over 1 million images. Their findings have ranged from the scientifically exciting to the weird and wonderful.

Among the spiral and elliptical galaxies that the volunteers have characterized and classified, they have found an entire alphabet of galaxies. Galaxy Zoo team member Dr. Steven Bamford of the University of Nottingham has created a website at where anyone can write their name in the stars.

Here is my brand name written in galaxies

Here is my brand name written in galaxies

The team are also keen to add more animals to the volunteers’ celestial zoo, having found a convincing penguin-shaped galaxy.

Along with the quirky appeal of such findings, the researchers suggest such unusual formations may also tell us something about what happens when galaxies collide.

The new images on the Galaxy Zoo site come from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, a ground-based telescope in New Mexico, and from large surveys with NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope.

Astronomer and Galaxy Zoo team member Kevin Schawinski from ETH Zurich in Switzerland says: “The two sources of data work together perfectly: the new images from Sloan give us our most detailed view of the local universe, while the CANDELS survey from the Hubble telescope allows us to look deeper into the universe’s past than ever before.”

The team are hoping that the hard work of volunteers on the new site will allow data from the two telescopes to be compared, offering insights into how nearby galaxies as we see them today may have arisen from how the universe looked in the past.

Dr. Karen Masters from the University of Portsmouth, another team member, explains: “In astronomy, we’re lucky enough to get to see both the past and the present of the universe. By comparing the two, we can try to understand the forces which have shaped the formation of the galaxies in it, including our own Milky Way.”

– adapted from UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD press release.

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Origin of Earth’s Silver Revealed

Written by The Night Sky Guy on September 11, 2012 – 4:12 pm -

It’s long been known that earthly metals like gold and silver were forged in supernova explosions, but the metals’ exact origins have been shrouded in mystery. Now a new study has identified the unique nuclear recipe for silver in space.

While most common light elements like hydrogen and helium were formed in the big bang, heavier elements like carbon and oxygen are formed within stars through nuclear fusion.

Rare heavy metals like silver and gold, however, need the most extreme stellar environments to form—found only during the explosions of massive stars, or supernovae.

Read the rest of my Silver story at National Geographic News

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Night Sky Hits for September 2012

Written by The Night Sky Guy on September 3, 2012 – 1:27 pm -

As summer slowly turns to fall this month skywatchers get some of the best views of the cosmos from stars to planets.

Ruling over the late summer season, look into the high southern skies on any clear evening for three hard to miss brilliant stars. Even under the bright lights of suburbia they form an unmistakable giant triangle in the sky. While not a constellation itself, the Summer Triangle offers a great three-for-one-deal to backyard stargazers. The stars not only anchor the triangle, but also act as a guide to three separate constellations.

Leading the triangle is the brightest of the trio, 25 light year distant star Vega, part of the constellation Lyra, the harp. The other points of the triangle are 1300 light year away Deneb, the tail of Cygnus the swan, and Altair, the eye of Aquila the eagle constellation low towards the horizon.

In the darker skies of the countryside – at least 30 minutes outside city limits, where there is less light pollution, you may even be able to catch sight of the ghostly glow of our Milky Way galaxy in this part of the sky. This hazy band of light can be spotted flowing straight through the Summer Triangle cutting across from Deneb to Altair. Try scanning the area with binoculars and telescopes and see countless number of diamond-like stars scattered everywhere.

On the morning of September 9 the waning crescent moon will occult Ceres, the asteroid or dwarf planet (depending on your take). Take note however that Ceres is a pretty faint star-like object, sitting at about magnitude 8.8 magnitude so binoculars or a small telescope will be your best bet to capture this event. But with the glare of the moon beside it – it may even take CCD imagers to actually capture this rare event. Ceres hides behind the moon at about 3:30 am EDT and reappears at he dark limb at 4:27 am EDT.

Meanwhile the lord of the rings planet Saturn getting trickier to catch as it dims and sinks fast in the western sunset skyglow. By end of October it will be directly behind the Sun making it invisible from our Earthly skies.
The rock- star planet Mars is also quite tricky to track down as it fights against the setting sun’s afterglow however on the 19th the waxing crescent will hover only 3 degrees away – making it easier to see.

Located nearly 280 million km away, it takes nearly 14 minutes for the newly arrived Mars Curiosity rover to send its radio signals back to our planet. This ambitious mission will explore an ancient crater, twice the size of Montreal island, looking for signs that the planet once could have harbored life.

sept13-2012 beehiveTurning to the morning skies, early risers get to see the second planet from the Sun shine like a bright beacon at dawn. Look high above Venus and you can’t miss brilliant Jupiter, The crescent moon joins the morning cosmic party first with Jupiter on the 8th and then with Venus on the 12th.

For those with binoculars and telescopes – view Venus as it passes by the famous Beehive star cluster (M44) in Cancer constellation on the 13th and 14th.

Fall season officially begins on 22nd at 10:49 am ET, and marks the time of the year when we have a 12 hour long day and the Sun rises due east and sets due west. Also Earth’s axis is neither tilted away nor towards the Sun, but has both northern and southern hemispheres experiencing equal amounts of sunshine.

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