ULA to Return Cygnus & Deke Slayton to Flight


Image Credit & Copyright: United Launch Alliance (ULA).

LAUNCH ALERT: Thursday, December 3, 2015 at 22:55 UTC (17:55 EST & 14:55 PST) the United Launch Alliance (ULA), utilizing an Atlas V-401 rocket designated (AV-061) will be embarking on their first International Space Station (ISS) resupply mission, by returning the Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo ship (S.S. Deke Slayton II) to flight, as part of Orbital ATK-4 (OA-4 or Orb-4 or CRS-4), from Space Launch Complex-41 (SLC-41) at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS), Florida.

This will be the ULA’s 103rd launch, the 60th launch of the Atlas V and the 30th launch of the Atlas V in the 401 configuration.

This will be Orbital ATK’s 4th of 10 contracted ISS resupply missions.

CYGNUS SPACECRAFT = is an expendable, unmanned, pressurized cargo re-supply spacecraft that’s 6.3 m (21 ft.) in length by 3.07 m (10.1 ft.) in diameter. This iteration of Cygnus boasts a great increase in payload capacity (roughly 7,500 lbs. or 3,500 kg) due to the increased size of the ship with its stretched or “enhanced” Pressurized Cargo Module (PCM) as well as lighter weight components such as the ATK Ultraflex solar arrays.

CYGNUS Fact Sheet: https://www.orbitalatk.com/space-systems/human-space-advanced-systems/commercial-resupply-services/docs/FS006_08_OA_5449%20Cygnus.pdf

After free-drift the spacecraft will rendezvous with the ISS in the early hours of December 6 where it will be grappled via the Canadarm2 and berthed to the Unity Module (aka “Node-1) where it will remain before being loaded with waste and released to disintegrate in Earth’s atmosphere.


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Image Credit & Copyright: Brent Goldman.

What a view! In this image from Brent Goldman, we see two titans of legend in the same image. The great and humbling Yosemite National Park spans the foreground with its unique features such as Half Dome on the left side of the image. Above and beyond is the great Milky Way galaxy; our home in the universe.

You often hear night sky photographers talking about the summer Milky Way “season,” and this image really drives home why that’s so important. You can see that over on the right hand side of the image the core of the galaxy, even though it’s shrouded by vast bands of material, is still relatively very bright and with enough exposure you can really pull those colors and detail out. As you leave the nucleus, the bright core tapers off dramatically and gives way to the rural outskirts of the galaxy which is where we actually live.

Also, you often hear me talk about how the foreground of an image can make or break that image at times and that it’s important (but not necessary) to have a quality foreground image that’s lit to fit the night sky you’re trying to show. For obvious reasons this is on the short list of amazing foreground images in the world. Shot from Glacier Point, this shows thy Yosemite is one of the world’s greatest natural formations. The park is a glacier carved landscape that spans well over 1,000 square miles and boasts elevations ranging from 2,100 ft. to over 13,000 ft. Lined with treacherous yet awe inspiring formations everywhere it’s not hard to see where “The Killer” or “Those Who Kill” got its name!

Brent Goldman Photography: http://brentgoldmanphotography.com/

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/brentgoldman/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/brentgoldmanphotography

500px: https://500px.com/bbgoldm

Instagram: https://instagram.com/bbgoldm/

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Gradatim Ferociter 2


Video & Image Credit & Copyright: Blue Origin.

“Now safely tucked away at our launch site in West Texas is the rarest of beasts; a used rocket.” – Jeff Bezos.

Surprise, again! On Monday, November 23, 2015 Blue Origin, founded by Amazon billionaire founder Jeff Bezos took to the West Texas skies with the second test flight of their developmental suborbital New Shepard spacecraft.

The “Propulsion Module” serial number 2 (PM-2) which is what they call the booster, jumped off their Texas proving grounds launch pad, located roughly 65 miles west of Pecos TX and soared to an altitude of 329,839 ft. or 62.4 mi. (100.5 km) which breaks the 62 mi. (100 km) boundary of space. The crew module separation from the propulsion module worked perfectly before parachuting back to Earth. The rocket itself returned to Earth and completed a successful vertical landing and for the first time, a rocket has become reusable.

Bezos also stated that Blue Origin has already begun work on New Shepard’s Propulsion Module 3, as well as its “Very Big Brother” which will be an orbital spacecraft and powered by the company’s BE-4 engines. The BE-4 will also be the main engines on the United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) Vulcan rocket.



Blue Origin is a partially secretive private aerospace manufacturer founded in September of 2000 by Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos. Its goal is to dramatically cut the cost of spaceflight and increase spaceflight vehicle reusability. Headquartered in Kent, Washington, their proving grounds reside in West Texas, roughly 65 miles west of Pecos Texas in Culberson County. Future plans are to incorporate their New Shepard spacecraft in suborbital commercial spaceflight and in the distant future progress into orbital commercial spaceflight.

Blue Origin’s company motto is Gradatim Ferociter “Step by step, ferociously” and that’s what they’ve been doing with their New Shepard capsule and propulsion module. With Blue Origin and New Shepard thrust into the spotlight this week, it seems a good a time as any to detail the capsule and Vertical Takeoff Vertical Landing (VTVL) launch vehicle in greater detail; let’s check it out.

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A Swan’s Scars (Zoom)

Wispy tendrils of hot dust and gas glow brightly in this ultraviolet image of the Cygnus Loop nebula, taken by NASA's Galaxy Evolution Explorer.

Image Credit & Copyright: NASA/JPL/Caltech/ Galaxy Evolution Explorer GALEX.

GALEX Explorer page for this ultraviolet wavelength image: http://www.galex.caltech.edu/media/glx2012-01r_img01.html

Sometime in the past, between 5,000 and 8,000 years ago, a massive star at least ten or twenty times the mass of the Sun detonated in the constellation of Cygnus the Swan. This supernova, at a distance of 1,500 light years must have been a spectacular sight and because of the relatively close proximity to us in age and distance this object is huge on our night sky. It stretches three full degrees from end to end and with the Full Moon being a half-degree, this object is six times the diameter of our Moon as we see it on the sky. Observing this object will take some black skies and some massive apertures as it’s very faint. If you’re ever at a star party and you see a nice 18” inch Dobsonian telescope, ask them to nudge it on over to the Veil Nebula for a look.

Also because of its great size, this object is regularly broken up into separate objects for observation and classification. Let’s take a look at a few of these regions.

Western Veil Nebula (NGC 6960):

This brilliant image below of the Western Veil Nebula is provided by the Digitized Sky Survey, the NOAO, 0.9 meter telescope at the Kitt Peak National Observatory and the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope which details the wispy filaments along this 15 light year-long, two light year-wide region of the Cygnus Loop which is at the far right side of the top image. The bright star, likely in the foreground, is cataloged as 52 Cygnus and is unrelated to the explosion.







Eastern Veil Nebula (NGC 6992 & NGC 6995):

The Eastern Veil (left side on the top image) as shown to us here by the incredible night sky imager, J.P. Metsavainio, is another, roughly 15 light year-long region of the supernova remnant with the main difference being, that it appears to be roughly more than three light years-wide in some areas.



Pickering Triangle:

The final region that we’re going to detail is the area known as Pickering’s Triangle with image provided by the great astrophotographer, Bill Snyder. This region of the Cygnus Loop is also roughly 15 light years-long and 3 light years-wide at its widest point. It’s called Pickering’s Triangle because, well it slightly resembles a triangle and Charles Pickering was credited with the discovery (Though he was just the Director of the observatory). In all, there are many more regions of the Cygnus Loop that named and cataloged, these are just a few of the major ones.



NAME: Cygnus Loop, Sharpless 103, Radio Source W78.

WHAT IS IT?: Super nova remnant approximately 5,000-8,000 years old.

HOW FAR AWAY IS IT?: Roughly 1,500 light years.

HOW BIG IS IT?: 110 light years in diameter and 3 degrees on the night sky. That’s six times the diameter of the Full Moon.

DISCOVERY: William Herschel discovered the eastern Veil on September 5, 1783. He discovered the Western Veil two nights later on the 7th. Pickering’s Triangle was discovered at Harvard University in 1904 by Williamina Fleming but credit was given to the Director of the Observatory, Charles Pickering.

APPARENT MAGNITUDE: Extremely dim and diffuse.

WHERE IS IT? (General): Constellation Cygnus the Swan.

WHERE IS IT? (Exact RA/DEC J2000): Western Veil: RA: 20h 45m 38.0s / DEC +30° 42′ 30″.

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The Great Double Cluster of Perseus


Image Credit & Copyright: Vangelis Souglakos

In the northern hemisphere, on a clear night you have the ability to view one of the most beautiful star clusters in the night sky; the Perseus double. One look at this object resolves itself as a duo of open star clusters containing a few hundred stars each. The double was discovered, or at least cataloged in 130 BC by Greek astronomer Hipparchus. The stars within this formation, based on luminosity and color, prove to be much hotter and younger than that of our Sun. Add their close proximity and any detective would be certain that they were formed of the same star forming region. The double is cataloged into two NGC components; NGC884 on the left is slightly larger than NGC869 and it’s also decorated with a few red giant stars. NGC869 on the right is the brighter denser cluster of the two.

The cluster is easy to find if you are at all familiar with the basic constellations. If you can identify the classic “W” of Cassiopeia, follow the two stars Navi and Ruchbah in a straight line down to the double. Also as the asterism of the Big Dipper sets in the northwest, Perseus rises in the northeast.

Here’s a fun little story behind this duo.  Perseus; the mythological Greek symbol for adventure. The son of Zeus and Danae he was a demigod though not immortal. When challenged by King Polydectes to slay Gorgons (Medusa), he was given a helmet, shield and curved sword with studded jewels in the handle by other gods; namely Athena and Hermes. Perseus did indeed behead Medusa but he didn’t stop there. He also saved Andromeda (Daughter of Cepheus and Cassiopeia and future wife to Perseus) who was chained to a rock, left as a sacrifice by Zeus’s brother Poseidon to the sea monster Cetus. His reward for his amazing deeds, the gods placed Perseus among the stars……One hand holding the head of Medusa and in the other, the jewel studded sword, represented by the double cluster.

NAME: Perseus Double Cluster, Caldwell 14, NGC 884 (Chi Persei), NGC 869 (h Persei).

WHAT IS IT?: Double open star cluster.

HOW FAR AWAY IS IT?: NGC 884 is 7600 light years distant while NGC 869 is 6800 light years distant. They are both hurtling toward Earth, blue shifted at about 22 kilometers per second.

HOW BIG IS IT?: NGC884 is approximately 35’ arcminutes in size while NGC869 is approximately 29’ arcminutes in size on the night sky. They are each roughly 70 light years in diameter.

HOW OLD IS IT?: NGC884 is listed as 3.2 million and NGC869 is listed as 5.6 million years old, making them very young.

APPARENT MAGNITUDE?: Each are approximately at an apparent magnitude of around 4.5 which makes them observable with your eyes alone in a dark location.

WHERE IS IT? (General): Constellation Perseus (Circumpolar). If you know the constellation Cassiopeia, follow the stars Navi and Ruchbah as they point directly down at the double.

WHERE IS IT? (Exact RA/DEC J2000): NGC884 = RA: 02h 22m 32s Dec: +57d 08′ 39″. NGC869 = RA: 02h 19m 04s Dec: +57d 08′ 06″.

Vangelis Souglakos Astrophotography:  http://www.celestialpixels.com/Star-Clusters/

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Oregon Under the Stars


Image Credit & Copyright: Rick Parchen.

Here’s a beautiful image of the core of the Milky Way galaxy crossing the skies of Oregon. This image captures a homestead in the open plains; the dark skies provided by the lack of human population create an eerie, yet beautiful scene that I would love to see for myself. This image also helps me to gain perspective as well because when most people (who don’t live in the Oregon area) think of Oregon, they typically think of the mountains and that incredible coastline. The wide open expanses of its plains are rarely the focal point of thought when, at least I think of the state.

Much of this area is actually an ancient volcanic field known as Oregon’s High Lava Plains and the area is a geologic paradise. It stretches west to the Idaho border and the Snake River Plains of Idaho where the ancient footprints of the supervolcano that now resides in Yellowstone reside. Or to phrase it properly; Yellowstone now resides over the stationary supervolcano hotspot.

Rick Parchen Photography: http://www.parchenphotography.com/

Instagram: http://instagram.com/parchenphotography

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ParchenPhotography

500px: https://500px.com/ParchenPhotography

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/54876374@N00/

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Galactic Pine

Image Credit & Copyright: John Davis of Bucksnort Observatory.

High in the northwest region of the United States resides some of the darkest skies that the country still has to offer. If you need evidence of that, you need to look no further than this image by John Davis. This image was captured while camping in the black nights of Idaho and you can easily see from this image how beautiful the sky is at this location.

What I love most about this image isn’t just the amazing Milky Way arcing overhead to remind us of our place in the universe; but it’s mainly because of the foreground manipulation. I repeatedly say that how you treat the foreground can make or break an image. Sometimes light painting is the way to go, sometimes silhouettes are the best bet so you can place the focus on the night sky. The incredibly well-lit pine right in front of us sets the tone while the rest of its immediate family surround it, though they can only be seen by silhouette. Its images like this that really allow you to take part in the image vs. one which you just look at for a moment and pass over. You can almost smell the pine in the cool breeze while you sit amongst them in the Idaho hills.

Great image and if you agree please check out more of his work!

BuckSnort Observatory: http://www.bucksnortobservatory.com/nightlandscapes.shtml

Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/neutronman/sets/

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