Monday, March 30, 2009

Fireball on the Atlantic coast

Spaceweather posted this today: Last night, March 29th around 9:45 pm EDT, people along the Atlantic coast of the USA from Maryland to North Carolina witnessed bright lights in the sky and heard thunderous booms. It was almost certainly a meteoritic bolide--a random asteroid hitting Earth's atmosphere and exploding in flight. Another possibility is being discussed: A spent Russian rocket body reentered the atmosphere on March 29th. According to data published by US Strategic Command, however, the rocket reentered near Taiwan (24° N, 125° E) more than two hours after the Atlantic Coast event. A natural meteor remains the most likely explanation. Stay tuned for updates and more eyewitness reports.
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 March 31, 2009 there were 1049 potentially hazardous asteroids.

The Moon is at crescent in the western sky just four days after the New Moon. Clear skies the past couple of nights. The moon is heading toward First Quarter this Thursday.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Discovery home, new crew at the ISS

After an extra orbit, Discovery glidded home Saturday afternoon. The ISS docked with a Soyuz that brought new members for the Expedition 19 Crew. The ISS is now one of the brightest and biggest objects to circle our Earth.

Atlantis is preparing for a flight to the Hubble Space Telescope next month. May will also bring the launch of the LRO. Another satellite headed for the moon.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Asteroid Alert and More Messier Marathon

Seems like these rocks are getting more frequent in number. No moon nights give us a better chance to view these" white dots in the sky" as they fly by.

Spaceweather posted this today: Asteroid 2009 FD is flying past Earth today less than 620,000 km (1.6 LD) away. There is no danger of a collision with the 160m-wide space rock, but it is close enough to photograph using backyard telescopes. Sunlight reflected from the surface of the asteroid makes it shine like a 13th magnitude star. Use this ephemeris to find it.

There are more Messier Marathon targets listed in this Weekend's Skywatcher's Forecast:
M57-M56-M29-M39-M27-M71-M107-M10-M12-M14 and M9

Thursday, March 26, 2009

A break in the clouds

Last night I stepped outside after watching the Discovery / ISS Highlights to see how thick the clouds were and found the sky was clear.

Orion is still walking along the treetops in the west, bright Sirius followed his footsteps like a bright lantern in the night sky. I observed the bright star Capella in Auriga . I saw the red star Aldebaran in Taurus. The constellations farther west and north were behind the roof and the trees. The Big Dipper was hanging with the handle facing down and the last star was behind the trees. I observed the stars in Leo and Saturn was still there, floating below the Lion.

It did not take long for the clouds had move back in. A front is due in this weekend to give us another chance for viewing a clear night sky.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Solar Minimum and Climate Change

Where have all the sunspots gone?
That is what Spaceweather.com posted on today's page. As of yesterday, March 21st, the sun has been blank on 85% of the days of 2009. If this rate of spotlessness continues through the end of the year, 2009 will match 1913 as the blankest year of the past century. A flurry of new-cycle sunspots in Oct. 2008 prompted some observers to declare that solar minimum was ending, but since then the calm has returned. We are still in the pits of a deep solar minimum.

Our area drought started when the sun was supposed to start back producing more sunspots.
One Theory: Since our sun is aging[middle aged] it has become slower to produce sunspots and get back into an active cycle. Our population[Earth] has caused some pollution to our atmosphere, colder ocean currents and weather air mass change combined with the minimum sunsposts has caused the drought in our area. The evidence points to scientific truth. Hopefully when the sunspot activity does increase, will not cause our weather to shift to extreme rain events! In the meantime we hope for some rain during this Spring season.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Messier Marathon Observing this weekend?

If this weekend has clear skies above your backyard, I have posted a special Weekend's Skywatcher's Forecast. After setting up the Scope start with these Messier targets:

M77-M74-M33-M31-M32-M110-M52-M103-M76-M34

Good Luck with your Marathon!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Spring Equinox

Early Friday morning the Earth shifted it's axis and became level[equal] again along the equator. I was not up early to feel the shift but did "Hug a Tree" to start the day. The oak trees are in bloom and some wild flowers are pushing through even without much needed rain to help soak the ground. Another sign of Spring is "Spring Break" where Lots of people think that going someplace other than their Backyard is the way to enjoy the season. Like livestock they are driven by some unkown drover to pack their vehicles and fill the transportation highway system for the weekend. Parents and Families try to decide what and where to go for a week without school! Break out the lawn chairs stay at home, off the highways and enjoy the night sky because there is always lots going on above the backyard.

Spaceweather.com posted this: On March 20th, asteroid 2009 DO111 flew past Earth about 288,000 miles away--just beyond the orbit of the Moon. About the size of a football field, the dangerous space rock was visible in backyard telescopes as it raced through the constellation Cassiopeia shining like a 13th magnitude star. March has been a busy month for flybys with at least nine asteroids passing within a million miles of Earth. Stay tuned for more.

Saturn is still center stage in the evening and the ISS now has all it's wings, that will make it brighter and easier to spot when it soars by the backyard. The moon is up in the early morning and will be near Jupiter Sunday morning for a photo op. Hoping for Clear Skies!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Big Bang Theory

A member of the local Astonomy group threw a talk and reviewed the Big Bang Theory for the Thursday night meeting. There was a good crowd of around two dozen folks that showed up to listen to the information drawn together from a 2005 American Scientific article. Most prominent in the evidence was that the Cosmos is expanding...not things in Space. It was an interesting session with links to other related topics. The Group may continue these discussion sessions on a Quarterly time frame. using other topics.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Asteroid Flyby...Tonight

Posted on Spaceweather.com:
Newly-discovered asteroid 2009 FH is flying past Earth tonight only 85,000 km away. That's about twice the altitude of a geosynchronous communications satellite. Advanced amateur astronomers in North America can photograph the 20-meter-wide space rock racing through the constellation Gemini after sunset on March 17th. It should be about as bright as a 14th magnitude star. [ephemeris] [3D orbit]

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 March 18, 2009 there were 1043 potentially hazardous asteroids.

St. Patricks Day brings Clear Skies!

Perhaps St. Patrick drove away the Clouds! At least for a little while.

Finally a Blue sky and some Clear nights. Last night I stepped out and observed Saturn, the Big Dipper and other stars from my backyard, not seen for some time. There was no moon at 10 pm but it was great to view the constellations Leo and Gemini again. Orion is moving a bit more west but still hanging above the trees from my location.

Discovery will rendezvous with the ISS this afternoon at 4:13. I will catch it live then tape the Highlights late tonight. The ISS should have a new set of wings by the end of the week. There may be more debris headed for the path of these two ships. Space Defense radar is watching in case the crew needs to move out of the way!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Discovery STS 119 Launch

Discovery is headed for the ISS. Here is a launch video I copied from the Astropixie Blog. It shows a long uncut SRB separation and return.

Friday, March 13, 2009

More Cloudy Skies

The clouds have covered the sky now for nearly a week! No stars, moon nor fading comet can be seen from my location. Forecast is for more cloudy days and nights with a bit more rain.
Monday night might bring a clear night sky.

For Observing from the backyard with clear skies, this weekend Skywatcher's Forecast is worth looking into. Scope out the clusters on this list:
Collinder 106- open cluster
An unnamed ‘‘cross’’ astersim of stars 2 degrees south of 18 Monocerotis
Open cluster NGC 2301
Open cluster NGC 2360

This was posted on Spaceweather.com: Almost three weeks after its close encounter with Earth, Comet Lulin is returning to the cold and inky depths of the outer solar system. "The comet is fading rapidly," The head of the comet is now about as bright as a 7th or 8th magnitude star--invisible to the naked eye and a good target for experienced astrophotographers only. Comet Lulin is on a hyperbolic trajectory out of the solar system, crossing the orbit of Mars on March 29th, transiting the asteroid belt between April and August 2009, and passing Jupiter in early 2010. Farewell Comet Lulin. Comet Lulin Photo Gallery

Discovery is scheduled for launch Sunday evening and headed for the space station. The ISS was nearly hit by a 5" piece of space junk Thursday. The near miss caused a bit of a panic and the crew was sent to the Soyuz for a quick exit...if the piece of metal hit the station. We will miss the ISS pass Saturday night due to clouds and the station will leave us without a pass over our sky for some time.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Full Moon in the clouds tonight

The clouds broke some last night and it lit up the night sky. I looked up and saw Saturn but with clouds and the Moon light, I did not get the scope out.

Spaceweather says Tonight's full Moon has a special name--the Worm Moon. It signals the coming of northern spring, a thawing of the soil, and the first stirrings of earthworms in long-dormant gardens. Step outside tonight and behold the wakening landscape. "Worm moonlight" is prettier than it sounds.

Full Worm - March Moon As the temperature begins to warm and the ground begins to thaw, earthworm casts appear, heralding the return of the robins. The more northern tribes knew this Moon as the Full Crow Moon, when the cawing of crows signaled the end of winter; or the Full Crust Moon, because the snow cover becomes crusted from thawing by day and freezing at night. The Full Sap Moon, marking the time of tapping maple trees, is another variation. To the settlers, it was also known as the Lenten Moon, and was considered to be the last full Moon of winter.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Saturn behind the clouds

Last night the clouds covered SATURN AT OPPOSITION: This was the weekend of Saturn.
Spaceweather logged this file: On Sunday, March 8th, the ringed planet will be at its closest to Earth for the entire year, and a marvelous sight through small telescopes. The rings are experiencing the opposition effect. When Saturn is close to Earth, it is also directly opposite the sun: diagram. From our point of view on Earth, sunlight shines directly down on the rings. Ring particles hide their own shadows, producing a surge of reflected brightness. Finding Saturn: The planet rises in the east at sunset and soars almost overhead at midnight. Look for the bright, golden "star" in the constellation Leo: sky map.

The Forecast is for more cloudy nights through the week!

The Kepler Telescope Mission is now headed for orbit after a successful launch.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Obsevering this weekend?

Time to observe the sky from the backyard.

Scope out theses targets from this Weekend Skywatcher's Forecast.
Target the Moon's Rupes Recta, or the ‘‘Straight Wall.’’
Alpha Leonis…Regulus
Moon's Hershel Crater
Alpha Canis Minoris…Procyon
Saturn
C Hydrae a group of stars SE of Procyon

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Clouds rolling in again

Around 10 last night I wanted to take another look at the Comet Lulin, still near Regulus. There were clouds scattered throughout the night sky. That made my observation a quick one. If only some of these clouds would bring us some moisture to settle the dust over our parched land. The forecast is more clouds to gather over my backyard for the next several nights.

The Kepler Telescope Mission is set to Launch Friday, March 6 from Pad 17-B at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. There are two launch windows, from 10:49 - 10:52 p.m. and 11:13 - 11:16 p.m. EST.

The Kepler Telescope will be in an Earth-trailing heliocentric orbit and will monitor 100,000 main-sequence stars for planets. Kepler has a Mission lifetime of 3.5 years extendible to at least 6 years. This weekend we start searching the Habitable Zone within our region of the Milky Way Galaxy.

The Kepler Scope will be looking at the Constellations Cygnus and Lyra between Deneb and Vega searching for Planetary Transits!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Lulin Update and a big Asteroid

Chasing Lulin around the sky this past month has been interesting. This was a fast moving comet. Last night Lulin passed Regulus. I missed the event but Spaceweather.com had an update:

Yesterday, Feb. 28th, Comet Lulin executed a beautiful flyby of the first-magnitude star Regulus in Leo. The color difference between the blue star and the green comet was striking in this photo taken by Alessandro Dimai of Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy. The color of Regulus is a sign of heat: Regulus is a young, massive star that burns fiercely blue-hot. The color of Comet Lulin is a sign of cold: The comet's atmosphere contains cyanogen (CN, a poisonous gas) and diatomic carbon (C2)--two substances that glow green when exposed to sunlight in the cold vacuum of space. Browse the gallery for the latest color photos:UPDATED: Comet Lulin Photo Gallery[Comet Hunter Telescope] [Sky maps: March 1, 2]

Spaceweather posted this today on an ASTEROID FLYBY : Newly-discovered asteroid 2009 DD45 is about to fly past Earth only 73,000 km away (0.2 AU). The space rock is about 35 meters in diameter, similar in size to the Tunguska impactor of 1908. At closest approach on March 2nd, around 1400 UT (6 a.m. PST), 2009 DD45 will speed through the constellation Virgo shining as brightly as an 11th magnitude star. Experienced amateur astronomers can track the asteroid using this ephemeris.
On March 1, 2009 there were 1033 Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHAs)
None of the known PHAs is on a collision course with our planet, although astronomers are finding new ones all the time.

With all these Asteroids and Comets darting around, it makes you wonder! Early this morning one of the movie channels showed the movie "Deep Impact". I watched the begining where young Leo was out with the Astronomy group and found that comet near Mizar. The group was not using any red lights at all when they checked charts etc. I wish these producers would set up the scenes more realistically.