Could Life Live Under the Ice Layers of Other Worlds?

Written by The Night Sky Guy on August 22, 2014 – 10:13 am -

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A study conducted in West Antarctica has revealed a whole ecosystem living under an ice sheet.

The surprising discovery centres on an extreme dark and frozen habitat  dominated by a highly diverse amount of microorganisms, about 4000 species.  Finding an isolated biosphere teaming with organisms gives scientists an indication that life could be hidden on planets or moons beyond Earth.

For the full story read my Yahoo science column, Geekquinox.


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Glowing Star Factories Captured

Written by The Night Sky Guy on August 20, 2014 – 10:21 am -

Two giant star clusters tucked away in one of the neighboring arms of our Milky Way galaxy glow in full display in a dramatic new portrait. They also offer a fun opportunity for backyard astronomers.
Using the giant eye of the European Southern Observatory’s La Silla Observatory in Chile, astronomers captured two dynamic star-forming regions in the Carina-Sagittarius spiral arm of our Milky Way galaxy. A minor limb of our galaxy, the spiral arm consists mostly of gas and dust. Recent research shows that it is surprisingly devoid of stellar activity, making these two star factories real standouts in our galactic neighborhood.
The star cluster on the left side, named NGC 3603, is located some 20,000 light-years from Earth. Its companion on the right, a colorful gas cloud known as NGC 3576, sits much closer to Earth at only 9,000 light-years distant.
NGC 3603 is real stellar jewel box filled with hundreds of young, massive stars, one of the richest open star clusters in the entire galaxy.
Originally, these stars formed behind a veil of gas and dust. However, as they matured, they cleared away much of this material and left behind the glowing clouds that we see today surrounding the hot, young stars.
Meanwhile, NGC 3576 brandishes the same horn-shaped clouds of gas. They were carved by strong stellar winds billowing out from the young stars cocooned within the colorful nebula.
Above the nebula, the two conspicuous black clouds called “Bok globules” are ripe for future star formation as well.
Star formation in the southern Milky Way

From ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile shows two swirling star formations in the southern Milky Way in a smaller arm of our galaxy. Courtesy of ESO/G. Beccari

In a neighbouring arm of our Milky Way lay two glowing giant star clusters that produced this new dramatic photo. These stunning star factories can be seen from viewers’ own backyards in southern latitudes.

At the European Southern Observatory’s La Silla Observatory in Chile, astronomers captured what appears to be swirling dust and gas in the Carina-Sagittarius spiral arm of our Milky Way galaxy. Surprisingly this minor arm showed very little stellar activity making these beauties standout in this mostly dark part of our neighbourhood.

While visiting South Africa in 1834, British astronomer John Herschel first noted these fiery clusters in the Southern Hemisphere. Now backyard sky-watchers can see these same nebula using a small telescope.

Read all the details and get sky charts for these and other events on my National Geographic Viewer’s Guide.


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Moon Sees Red Eye of Bull

Written by The Night Sky Guy on August 19, 2014 – 10:58 am -

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The crescent moon was hanging just 8 degrees (just a fist held at arm’s length) to the lower left of the red eye of Taurus that happened Tuesday, August 19 just before dawn.

Otherwise known as Aldebaran, the eye of the celestial bull is a orange giant star located 66 light years away and located in the middle of the Taurus constellation. If you missed this event, there’s much more the see.

On Wednesday August 20, with Venus and Jupiter will be in close conjunction and will become a trio of beauties. Try taking out some binoculars and looking to the upper left of Jupiter to see a cluster of stars called the Beehive (Messier 44).

Get all your observing details for these and other sky events this week at my weekly skywatching column at National Geographic News.

Moon visits Aldebaran. If you managed to stay up for the Perseids, then why not check out the moon parked near the bright orange star Aldebaran? The lunar rendezvous will come to pass just before local dawn on Tuesday, August 19.
The waning crescent moon will be to the lower right of the 66-light-year-distant red giant that marks the eye of the constellation of Taurus, the bull.
The cosmic pair will be appear separated by about 8 degrees, a bit less than the width of your fist held at arm’s length.

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Scooped Dust Sampled by Stardust Spacecraft

Written by The Night Sky Guy on August 14, 2014 – 10:17 pm -

337882main_galex-20090428-516Microscopic sized dust particles have been scooped up by NASA’s Stardust spacecraft and may be our first samples from beyond our solar system.

Launched in 1999, the craft journeyed through the solar system, swung by a comet, and all throughout, steadily holding out its aerogel panels in hopes of collecting this tiny treasure.

For the full story read my Yahoo science column, Geekquinox.


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Amazing Stargazing Sights This Week

Written by The Night Sky Guy on August 11, 2014 – 10:46 pm -

This image of uranus was captured by Voyager 2 back in 1986. This week sky-watchers get to see the Green Giant through binoculars next to the moon.Credit: NASA

This image of uranus was captured by Voyager 2 back in 1986. This week sky-watchers get to see the Green Giant through binoculars next to the moon.Credit: NASA

The starry skies this week offer up a quite a wide variety of celestial sights, including planetary duos and one of the year’s best flurry of meteors.

While the moon may have just past its full phase and still dominates the evening sky, the planets still are easy to spot even from urban location.  Folks should keep an eye out for a coming close encounter between Mars and Saturn over the course of the coming weeks in the late evenings, while Venus and Jupiter have their own conjunction in the early mornings in the east.

Read all the details and get sky charts for these and other events on my National Geographic Viewer’s Guide.


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August Sky: Sayonara Saturn and Milky Way

Written by The Night Sky Guy on August 10, 2014 – 5:36 pm -

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August tends to be some of the best times to glimpse the ghostly glows of the mythical Milky Way galaxy in the late night sky.

The best place to observe its faint band of light is away from light pollution, however with binoculars even Montreal suburbs can offer lots of stunning sights.

The Milky Way is a collection of stars, clouds of gas and dust we call a galaxy. Our Sun and its family of planets live inside this vast spinning pinwheel shaped island of stars. Home to about 100 billion suns, this Frisbee-shaped disk stretches some 100,000 light years across and is about 1000 light years thick. Yet, the Milky Way is only one of over 100 billion other galaxies that are thought to inhabit the Universe.

Look for the misty, white powder trail that is our Milky Way galaxy, stretching up from the northeastern horizon, arching high up the eastern sky, and then reaching down to the southern horizon.

The splash of Milky Way that we see in the summertime consists mostly of stars from one of its spiral arms and stars from its dense, bright core. The core hangs above the southern horizon when viewed from northern latitudes.

Sit back comfortably on a reclining lawn chair and cruise this entire swatch of glittering sky with binoculars, and you will notice that the galaxy’s hazy glow is actually a river of countless stars, all of them thousands of light-years distant.

Turning to planets, look for Venus, our next-door neighbour, shining like a stellar beacon throughout August in the early evening skies.

Gaze towards the low western sky about 30 to 45 minutes after sunset – you can’t miss it since it will be the brightest celestial object visible after the Moon.

If you have a telescope, check the planet out because its partially illuminated and looks like a miniature crescent moon.

If you have not looked out Saturn this summer yet, then do so now since the ringed marvel will be quickly sinking towards the western horizon by next month.  Look for a yellowish star in the west after nightfall and remember that to see those famous rings and its retinue of moons, you will need a small telescope.

Finally mark August 31 on your calendar as when to catch sight of the crescent Moon posing with Saturn. The cosmic pair will appear spectacularly close – less than the width of the disk of the moon will separate the two.

Make sure you grab your binoculars or telescope to get a high powered, ring-side seat for this pretty sky show.


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Rosetta Falls into Orbit After Ten Year Journey

Written by The Night Sky Guy on August 10, 2014 – 5:35 pm -

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The Rosetta spacecraft is making it’s final at its target comet and now has entered into orbit after a ten-year journey.

Putting on the brakes for it’s last 62 miles (100 Km), it starts to beam down high-resolution images of its soon-to-be host, a strangely shaped chunk of ice and rock. While on it’s extended stay on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko scientists are hoping to unlock some of the secrets of the entire solar system!

Read the whole story at National Geographic News.


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Amazing Stargazing Sights This Week

Written by The Night Sky Guy on June 2, 2014 – 7:35 pm -

Jupiter and its largest moons will be one of this weeks highlights in the night sky.

Jupiter and its largest moons will be one of this week's highlights in the night sky.

Sky-watchers in the right place and the right time may get to see a green comet, a very rare triple shadow on Jupiter and the moon having close encounters with planets and stars.

By far the easiest sky events for the unaided eyes and visible nearly everywhere around the world will be when the moon has close encounters with Mars and the bright star Spica towards the end of this week.

Easily seen even under heavily light polluted skies within city limits, the moon and a handful of stars and planets never fail to please even the beginner sky-watcher.

So take the time to get outside the next clear night and look up!

Get all your observing details for these and other sky events this week at my weekly skywatching column at National Geographic News.


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Tonight: Watch Meteor Shower LIVE Webcast

Written by The Night Sky Guy on May 23, 2014 – 6:21 am -

Are you clouded out for the surprise meteor shower peaking on May 24th?

Then tune in to a live web broadcast of the sky show offered by Slooh, an astronomy outreach company that will cover this possible meteor storm and the parent comet live as it nears Earth during its orbit.

Slooh will broadcast the comet event from its telescopes located off the west coast of Africa, at the Institute of Astrophyiscs of the Canary Islands, on May 23rd starting at 3 PM PDT / 6 PM EDT / 22 UTC – International Times – and then will follow up with live coverage of the new meteor shower starting at 8 PM PDT/ 11 PM EDT/ 03 UTC (5/24) – International Times.

Viewers can ask questions during the comet show by using hashtag #slooh.

Comet Broadcast: Starts 6 pm EDT

Meteor shower broadcast: starts 11 pm EDT


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Possible Major Meteor Shower This Weekend

Written by The Night Sky Guy on May 22, 2014 – 8:30 pm -

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Skywatchers across North America are waiting with much anticipation for a new meteor shower that may even rival the trusty Perseids in August.

Some predictions are calling for up to 200 shooting star per hour between 2 and 4 am Eastern Daylight Time on Saturday, May 24th (11 pm on May 23 to 1 am PDT).  And there is one prediction by an astronomer that it may even be a meteor storm coming our way with up to 1000 meteors per hour!

About three years ago astronomers studying comets and their deris stream made a prediction that on May 24, 2014 Earth may be graced by a never-before-seen meteor shower called the ‘May Camelopardilids’.  Like all other showers, this one gets its name from the constellation where it appears to radiate out from, which in this case is Camelopardis – the giraffe.

While all this sounds extremely exciting we have to remember that these are based on computer models that are plotting out where Earth may be plowing through a cloud of debris floating between the inner planets.  Meteor showers occur when our planet slams into a stream of particles left behind by comets.  In this case its debris deposited in the 1800’s.   So basically one big educated guess where exactly Earth will be crossing the cometary debris cloud that causes the meteor shower.

It could literally be the best sky show in decades or a big bust.

But since no one knows for sure, I know what I will be doing in the early morning hours of Saturday. Getting out my blanket, brew some hot chocolate and keep looking up.

Read my complete viewer’s guide with skycharts at National Geographic News.


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