Thursday, April 30, 2009

WHO and the Alien Virus

WHO has declared a Level 5 Alert. Something Born out of a pig farm in Mexico went airborne. This Alien Virus moved freely across the border causing concern in the State of Texas. County Health Officials are telling us it may be a super mutated strain flu bug that spreads easily amongst humans...great! Hysteria took over the TV and newspaper headlines:

AP story dated Apr 29, 4:52 PM EDT, Swine flu alert nears pandemic level.

Swine Flu concerns went National with this MSNBC story.

Locally the Schools are shut down until May 11 and All State Athletic Activity is Cancelled. Civic Leaders are discouraging any and all Large(20 or more) Public Gatherings. Having all these kids out of school with nothing to do, plus parents having to stay home and take care of them, could put a lot of households in a state of chaos for the next ten days. No Quarantine....yet

I recall an Alien Virus being hunted in The Andromeda Strain. In that 1971 Sci-Fi movie one of our space capsules crashed in Arizona (borders Mexico) and released a nasty mutated virus that caused havoc and panic in the southwestern states until a special team of Bug Hunters from "Wildfire" figured out how to slow it down.. . . . Human interaction with extra terrestrial will . . . [be] identical to bacteria or viruses." Paging Dr. Stone... please!

In the 1995 Sci-Fi movie Outbreak, these Bug Hunters chased a Monkey carrying a Killer Ebola like Virus called Motaba. Pretty authentic Stuff, they used up to date MOPP gear and real M17 Gas Mask in that movie.

The current crisis with this mutated Pig Virus could make a great Science Fiction story.
A mutated virus drama may show up soon on a current "Fringe" episode.

As for our current area crisis, I plan to be careful WHO I commune with and promise I will not go to any larage gatherings for the next 10 days.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Dawn... Mission Update

Read the entire Dawn mission update:

Bits and Pieces:
On the way to Asteroid Vesta, the Dawn received a software upgrade on the craft’s “Captain” computer. On April 13, the new software was transmitted to the spacecraft. Dawn receives commands from large antennas of the Deep Space Network at 2000 bits per second. Thanks to the effects of the ion thrusting in the next few years, it will continue to follow an outbound path until late 2012, when once more it will temporarily approach the Sun. It will never again be as close to the solar system's center as it was this month, for the craft will have to climb to more than 2.2 AU to reach Vesta and to more than 2.9 AU as it orbits Ceres. Dawn is 315 million kilometers (196 million miles) from Earth, or 855 times as far as the moon and 2.09 times as far as the Sun. Radio signals, traveling at the universal limit of the speed of light, take 35 minutes to make the round trip.

Gamma Ray Burst

A faint gamma-ray burst (GRB) captured last Thursday April 23, 2009 by NASA’s Swift satellite has smashed the record for the earliest, most-distant known object in the universe — with a redshift of about 8.2. The burst, named GRB 090423 for its discovery date, went off in Leo and was seen to last for 10 seconds. The Swift group determined that it went off about 630 million years after the Big Bang. This means that the GRB's gamma rays traveled for a mind-boggling 13.1 billion years before reaching Earth. "This is a fantastic burst," says Swift lead scientist Neil Gehrels (NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center). "We have been waiting for 4.5 years since the Swift launch for such a distant GRB." posted GAMMA-RAY BURST SMASHES RECORD: A gamma-ray burst detected by NASA's Swift satellite has smashed the previous distance record for the most powerful explosions in the Universe. Researchers are calling it "an incredible find" and a "true blast from the past." Get the full story from Science@NASA.

Here is the ESO Press Release
Here is the Science and Technology Facilities Council Press release
Here is the Gemini Observatory Press release
A photo and article appeared on the APOD posted April 29, 2009

I recall a video on the Swift search for GRBs from the Astropixie Blog posted last year on "A day in the life: Astrophysicists". See a day in the life of rhaana starling and phil evans: two gamma ray burst hunters at the university of leicester (pronounced "lestah" - why??). not all astronomers have their cell phones announce when cool events happen in space, but its fun when to know some who do!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Phases of the Moon

Following the phases of the Moon... we are just four days past new moon. I am hoping to get a glimpse of the waxing crescent Moon tonight if the clouds break. Scan the Terminator for the moonscape highlighting that area between night and day.

A great photo of the Crescent Moon and Earthshine was on today: Readers, tonight you can find the crescent Moon hanging high in the western sky after sunset. Go outside and see Earthshine at its best: sky map.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Moon-Pleiades-Mercury Conjunction

This did happen after sunset last night. Did not see it here!
The clouds blanketed the sky here, so I did have to trip to Cyberspace to see it. Last night, sky watchers around the world witnessed a beautiful conjunction of the Moon, Mercury and Pleiades. Thanks to we can see what the event looked like where the sky was clear. The one from Ohio was interesting because it reminded me of the tree line in my backyard. There will be more posted at

The alignment is now breaking up--Moon exit stage left--but there is still something to see. Mercury and the Pleiades are converging for a mini-conjunction of their own on April 30th. Keep an eye on the sunset: sky map.

A chance the sky will clear for Thursday's photo op. The Weather forecast continues to be cloudy through Thursday.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Ares Rockets....

According to the latest NASA launch schedule the first flight test for the Ares I-X is July 11, 2009. I have not heard or seen much of any thing on the development lately.
I ran across this Video after reading the Martian Chronicle Blog. Thanks for sharing Ryan!

The video makes this statement:
“Imagine a rocket the size of a small skyscraper. Now imagine shooting it into the air with so much force that it goes from zero to a thousand miles an hour in less than a minute. What kind of engines can generate that much thrust? And why is that rocket built in stages? Go inside Marshall Space Flight Center to meet members of the Ares Rocket team who can answer those questions and more.”

While we are waiting for that first Ares to shake the ground and rumble through the sky into space here’s the link.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Ramblings through the Sky

Find a good horizon and look west thirty minutes after sunset this Sunday, April 26! Mercury will be bright and below the Moon that is anchored near the Pleiades. Get the full story from Science@NASA. Bring your camera and hope the clouds break! If you miss the event, Remember:
It is always clear in Cyberspace and someone on this globe will have a clear sky.

The Constellation Hercules is finally up and in a good a viewing area of the Sky. I tried to catch M13 Wednesday night with the 10"Dob. I do not have a good Horizon and I waited until 11pm for the strong man to climb over the trees. The sky was not as sharp/clear Wednesday night, but I found the "keystone" and began a search for one of my favorite Globular Clusters. I had to abort the search when my leg problems caught up with me for the day. I will try again soon.

The clouds are back for this weekend!! Some rain is in the forecast and this may continue through the first part of next week. Cover the scopes for now; review your reference/lists for when we have a clear night.

If your sky is clear this weekend, the Universe Today web site posted Tammy Plotner's Weekend SkyWatcher’s Forecast - April 24 - 26, 2009 .

It appears the Group's Event, set for this Saturday is A GO for evening set up, although the clouds may be a problem.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Lyrid Meteor shower update

Space Weather posted this today:

Yesterday, April 22nd, Earth passed through a stream of debris from Comet Thatcher, and the encounter sparked the annual Lyrid meteor shower. According to the International Meteor Organization, rates peaked at 16 meteors per hour--not an intense display. Nevertheless, a number of pleasingly bright Lyrids were photographed by spaceweather readers.

I did not catch any of these falling stars!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Moon and Venus Occultation Event

This morning the sky was clear and we had Good Seeing: 5AM

I focused on Jupiter with the 10" Dob, counted 4 moons:3 on the left-1 on the right. Did a drawing.

I started a visual search of the moon at 5:30 AM and found the Waning Crescent still below the trees. Finding the right location over the terrain with so many trees made it tuff to set up early this morning to catch the movement of Venus and the Moon. I had two scopes out but the Dob just could not swing low enough to catch the event at first. The Celestron Refractor met the challenge. First I set up the camera in an open area where both objects could be seen and I snapped a few pictures there. As the event climbed higher above the trees, I moved the camera around and as the planet got closer to the moon, I set up the Celestron scope to view the Event.

Venus, seen as a Crescent, slowly moved closer to the rim of the Moon. It was a phenominal site in the eye piece. The WOW factor was in play several times. Around 7:22 AM the Planet had moved behind the Moon's rim. Photo is from DSLR with telephoto lens just as Venus was moving behind the rim of the moon.

Fifteen minutes later the Planet's smaller crescent was visible again moving out from the Moon’s rim. At 7:47 AM the Planet was fully away from the Moon’s rim. The Sun's light had bleached out most of the Moon; I did not take any shots at the end of the event.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Lyrid Meteor Shower early Wednesday

The meeting of Venus and the Moon occurs smack-dab in the middle of the Lyrid meteor shower. Earth is passing through a trail of debris from Comet Thatcher, the source of the Lyrids, and this is expected to produce 10 to 20 meteors per hour over the northern hemisphere on Wednesday, April 22nd. The best time to look is during the dark hours before dawn.

Royal Obseratory Greenwich posted Astronomy Now's Greg Smye-Rumsby on YouTube, he explains how to see the Lyrid meteors tonight and tomorrow night.

Early Morning Sky

Started observing and finding stars in constellations at 3:30 AM this morning. The Sky was clear but seeing was not good. I set up the 4" Celestron near the porch.
I found the Summer Triangle hanging more to the North East. I Star Hopped beginning with Altair, swung over to Vega and finally Deneb. I pointed the telescope to the red star Antares and searched for M4 near by. Then moved the Scope to the blue and yellow double, Albireo. Hercules was overhead but with the four inch scope on the equitorial mount any object hanging straight above is not easy to view. I found the handle of the Big Dipper sliding down into the trees and at 5:38 AM, the ISS glided in view and made a short run above the trees through the handle.

The Moon was hiding among the tree tops. I moved away from my spot andwalked toward a gap where the drive is; that's where I found Jupiter. Venus and Mercury were to low to observe. The Crescent Moon did finally float above the trees near dawn. I did not see any shooting stars during my three hour stay under this early morning sky.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Early Morning Planets and a Meteor Shower

Set the Alarm and get up early for the next couple of days...

Venus, Mars and Jupiter are dancing near a Crescent Moon before Dawn: sky map.

Morning sky maps: April 20, 21, 22.

Earth is entering a stream of dusty debris from Comet Thatcher, source of the annual Lyrid meteor shower. Forecasters expect the shower to peak during the dark hours before dawn on Wednesday, April 22nd, when observers should count 10 to 20 meteors per hour: more information.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Looking up Astronomical Objects in Cyberspace

Surfing the Astronomy Blogs today, SarahAskew posted a note about a new site that is anchored in Cyberspace to help us find an Astronomical object. This site is from a fellow at the Jordell Banks Astrophysics Group and the site is called “LookUP” . It could be you want to find and look up a constellation, a star, or a nebula! Put in a NGC number, M number or Name. Use the Astronomical name not a Common name. When I did an inquiry on Kemble’s Cascade, they could not find it, but they did have information on NGC1502.

I have used the Seds.Org. Group's Search Page for some time in looking up objects with NGC or M numbers. This new site is a unique search tool for looking up objects with the connection to the DSS reference. It is great surveying the sky in Cyberspace! Observing the objects you have looked up... you may discover something new!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Observing this weekend?

Always lots on the list to look at and view but the clouds are winning for the next couple of days. Many targets are listed with the Skywatcher's Forecast from Tammy Plotner at Universe Today. Venus and a Crescent Moon stand out next week in the early morning sky, Wednesday April 22 from Sky and Telescopes Week at a Glance.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Notes on the Group Gathering

This month's Astronomy group meeting was small but there was a large discussion covering Telescopes and Speaking Events. Two new faces and just four regulars sat at a round table and discussed using scopes at events and personal set ups. The new collapsable dobs were top on the list. We heard that Jim Lovell may come to Texas State U. in January of 2010 to speak. And the Apollo 8 reuninon would be in Austin next week, Thursday 23 April at the LBJ Library in Austin. "Good luck getting Tickets!" The TSU Observatory or lack of one at the campos was a topic. One of the group members mentioned a couple of dark sky sites that smaller groups had used to set up in were discussed. One was Pedernales ("Perdinales") Falls State Park . Ravenstar had requested a quarterly star party, but will need to be discussed further before that will fly. Something about the lights not getting turned off at the park the last time. And that would be two events to contend with that month. Like many meetings some topics needed a forum and more of the group needed to be there to discuss but lacked we a good number on this topic.

Veiwing through our Atmosphere

After seveal nights of clear skies the clouds dominate the sky again.
Rain is expecteded today through the weekend.

A question came up the other night while a friend was observing from his backyard. Does the sky become more clear as it gets later? My answer was yes, it has been my experience while viewing later in the night, seeing does become better.

I reviewed past StarLogs and my notes confirm better seeing later at night. I also went to my Backyard Astronomy reference. That site has lots of information on viewing and I went to the bottom of the page to the article on "Seeing". That article also confrimed my observations.

I concluded that there are many variables that affect our atmosphere. These need to be considered during the time of observations on any given night in order to view the stars through our ocean of air.

I recall another friend(moved to another state) in the group who always stayed after the group had packed up and gone home after observing. He was always patient and secure that the sky would get better. On the nights I stayed and observed with him, the sky did get better.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Asteroid Apophis posted this today: Twenty years from today, on April 13th, 2029, asteroid Apophis will buzz Earth only 18,300 miles above the planet's surface--well inside the belt of geosynchronous communications satellites. At closest approach, the 300-meter-wide asteroid will shine like a 3rd magnitude star, visible to the unaided eye from cities in Africa, Europe and Asia. There is a small chance (1 in 45,000) that the 2029 encounter will bend the asteroid's orbit so that it returns to Earth and actually hits the planet on April 13th, 2036. Experts believe that future observations will probably rule out a collision. Nevertheless, NASA and others are thinking about asteroid deflection strategies ... just in case. Yeah OK, I will mark my Calendar.

Here is a video, where a JPL, Near Earth Asteroid group takes a CSI look at this Asteroid:

Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHAs) are space rocks larger than approximately 100m that can come closer to Earth than 0.05 AU. None of the known PHAs is on a collision course with our planet, although astronomers are finding new ones all the time.
On April 13, 2009 there were 1050 potentially hazardous asteroids.

Clear Skies tonight with no moon.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

SciFi "Moon"

Saw reviews and a clip on this movie posted on the SpaceBuzz Blog. Actually it was posted on Bad Astronomy and then picked up on Spacebuzz. Bad Astronomy posted it because of the distance error in the Moon Movie Poster [The Moon is 240,000 miles away, not 950,000]. The Movie comes out in June of this year. Pre-release reviews are good and I am looking forward to seeing it at some point after it comes out this summer.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

400 Years of the Telescope

I watched the PBS program on 400 Years of the Telescope last night. They did review several telescopes from Galileo's telescope to how the scope developed through the centuries with Newton's Telescope invention. A review of the Hubble was the only orbiting scope I recall having seen. Once they reviewed some of the “Big” ground scopes, the topic moved to the current expansion of the universe theories. I thought they got off track a bit. I wanted to see more on…Telescopes. They did review Radio Astronomy but not the use of the old Arecibo radio telescope or many of the newer ones. They left out the upcoming James Webb Telescope and the new Planet Hunter-Kepler [They did discuss finding new planets]. Many more ground based and Orbiting eyes in Space like the Herschel Space Observatory were not mentioned. Going to the website after the program, I did discover a link to the IYA calendar of events. That web site will be useful.

Friday, April 10, 2009

New Comet Yi-Swan in Cassiopeia tells us: It's up all night long. Northern circumpolar Comet Yi-SWAN is gliding through the constellation Cassiopeia where it can be seen at almost any hour of the night through amateur telescopes. At the moment, the green, fuzzy comet is about as bright as an 8th-magnitude star--too dim for the naked eye. If predictions are correct, it will remain a telescopic comet, brightening only a little as it approaches the sun for a 190 million kilometer not-so-close encounter on May 8th. Astronomers will get a better look at the comet in the evenings ahead as the bright light of the full Moon fades. This appears to be Comet Yi-SWAN's first visit to the inner solar system. A fresh comet exposed to intense sunlight for the first time can behave in unexpected ways. Will it grow a tail, fragment, brighten ... ? Stay tuned for updates.

The clouds have made a comeback in our night sky. The forecast is for some rain and clouds to stay with us most of the weekend. The odds are in favor of Cloudy Skies until Monday. Look at the Yi-Swan comet through sightings and photos off the Net until then.

Use this Weekend's Skywatcher's Forecast to scope out the sky in backyards under Clear Skies.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

A Full Moon

Clouds did not allow me to see the moon early this morning but hoping for a clear sky tonight to see the Full Moon come up in the east as the sun sets.

There was a new moon photo on today's LPOD. This is a full image map of the moon from JAXA. This map shows interesting subtle topographic anomalies. If you do not visit Chuck Woods Lunar Photo of the Day often, you should. He posts lots of interesting shots from multiple astrophotographers.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Astronomy Day at the Park

Our local Astronomy Group has not participated in any “Astronomy Day” activities before that I can recall. Since this is the International Year of Astronomy, the group became more interested. This year the Group hooked up with the Ravenstar Outdoor Group and set up a demonstration of scopes in the Recreation Center Saturday afternoon. The Event was from 2pm til 5pm. Several of us brought our scopes and displayed them as well as posters and literature on Astronomy and the Cosmos. The small crowd of 30 that came in moved through in spurts. There was a Solar Scope set up out side for viewing and a Newtonian scope was set up outside as a demonstration. Several types of scopes were displayed inside as well as Posters and material to handout along side several laptops with slide shows running. Ravenstar had the Portable Planetarium, "The Star Dome", set up and conducted one session that afternoon. It was an interesting event with discussions on Galileo and what he saw used 400 years ago compared to what we use and can see today.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Astronomy Day, April 4 - 100 Hours of Astronomy

April begins with an Astronomy Event Saturday April 4 as part of the International year of Astronomy. Several of our Astronomy Group will be participating in the Astronomy Day Event with Ravenstar Outdoor Center. The Event is in two parts. Saturday from 2 pm to 5 pm at the Landa Park Recreation Center we will set up scopes inside for folks to examine, review and discuss the sky. Ravenstar will have their Planetarium running inside at the same time. There will be a Solar Scope set up along with a Newtonian Scope as a demonstration outside. Saturday night there is a planned Star Party at Cypress Bend Park from 7pm to 11pm.

The 100 HOURS OF ASTRONOMY website is a cool place to visit. Lots of Telescope and Observatories to connect to and continuous broadcasts from parts of the world.

Take your scope out and view the night sky from your backyard.
The Weekend Skywatcher's Forecast looks great!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Zero Sunspots

I have followed sunspots, CMEs and solar flares as long as has been on the net. It has been a while since I have seen or noted any sunspots or activity on our sun. We are past the average time of Solar Minimum and the Solar Scientists are begining to worry about a DEEP SOLAR MINIMUM. Spaceweather. com posted this today:
How low can it go? According to NASA, the sun is plunging into the deepest solar minimum in a century. A new spotless days counter on is keeping track of the record-setting quiet. Look for it beneath the Daily Sun.
April 1 had the first counter as we wait for the first set of sunspots to appear that will bring us into the Solar Maximum Period. Explore the Sunspot Cycle

NEW: Spotless DaysCurrent Stretch: 25 days 2009 total: 79 days (87%)Since 2004: 590 daysTypical Solar Min: 485 days explanation more infoUpdated 01 Apr 2009

This Solar Minimum will make it tough for our group with solar scopes to see any thing on the Sun during the planned 100 Hours of Astronomy Event at the Park this Saturday April 4. And no sunspots for any planned event for Sun Day on April 5.