Image Credit & Copyright: Atomic Entertainment & Paragon Space Development Corporation.

October 24, 2014: At dawn, Senior Vice President of Google, Alan Eustace (57) with the help of his Stratospheric Exploration “StratEx” team left an abandoned Roswell NM runway en route to the top of the stratosphere in an attempt to break the skydive record set by Felix Baumgartner and team Red Bull Stratos on October 14, 2012 at an altitude of 128,100 feet.

After breathing pure oxygen for four hours to remove nitrogen from his blood, Eustace was enclosed into a privately constructed “space suit” which was then attached directly to the massive high-altitude helium-filled balloon and off he went. That’s right, no capsule. All necessary life support systems were onboard the spacesuit which, like the mission itself had been in development in secrecy for three years.

Ascending at about 1,000 feet per minute, it took about two and a half hours to deliver Eaustace to an altitude of 135,890 feet (25 mi. or about 1/3 of the way to space). After about a half hour of sightseeing, he used a small explosive charge to sever himself from the balloon. The fall which lasted roughly 20 minutes with a freefall of around five minutes (details hopefully forthcoming) and reached speeds of 822 mph was recorded by GoPro cameras. The small sonic boom was said to be heard by those on the ground as he became only the second person to break the sound barrier with his body. The opening his main chute came at an altitude of 18,000 feet and the landing took place about 70 miles from the balloon launch point.

The official observer for this event was Jim Hayhurst of the U.S. Parachute Association.

Congratulations to Alan Eustace and team StratEx!

Paragon SDC/StratEx:

World View Experience:



Alan Eustace Twitter:

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Image Credit & Copyright: NASA of Orbital Sciences Cygnus S.S. Janice Voss during Orb-2. Look below for links to stream the launch live and maps of where you can see the launch from the east coast.

I hope everyone enjoyed today’s partial solar eclipse and this past week’s Orionids meteor shower (I envy you). Now it’s time to fire some rockets off the planet!

Monday, October 27, 2014 at 22:44 UTC (18:44 EDT) from Launch Pad-0A (LP-0A) at Wallops Flight Facility (WFF), Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS), Virginia; Orbital Sciences will be launching Cygnus Spacecraft atop an Antares rocket as part of Orb-3. This will be Orbital’s fifth launch of the Antares rocket, fourth overall flight to the International Space Station (ISS) and the third official resupply mission as part of NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) initiative. This will also be the maiden launch of the new Castor-30XL second stage engine.

After free-drift the spacecraft will rendezvous with the ISS in the early hours of November 7 where it will be grappled via the Canada-Arm and berthed to the Harmony Module (aka “Node-2” or the “Utility Hub”). It will remain for approximately one month (estimate departure December 3) before being loaded with waste and released to disintegrate in Earth’s atmosphere.

As with every Cygnus flight, it’s been given a name to honor someone in the industry. This missions (Orb-3) Cygnus vehicle has been designated the S.S. Deke Slayton. Donald Kent Slayton was a bomber pilot in WWII, flying 63 combat missions over Europe and Japan. Later he would receive his Bachelor of Science in Aeronautical Engineering from the University of Minnesota and go on to became a Boeing engineer before he was recalled to service. He would later become a test pilot at Edwards AFB and then go on to join the illustrious Mercury 7; the first ever U.S. astronaut class.

During this time he would be diagnosed with a heart condition which kept him from flying. In fact, he was the only member of Mercury 7 that did not fly during Project Mercury. Undeterred, he became the Coordinator of Astronaut Activities which later became the Chief of the Astronaut Office where he had a major role in selecting Gemini and Apollo astronauts.

In 1972 his flight status was fully restored and in 1975 flew as a one of two U.S. astronauts on the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project. After ASTP (which would be his only spaceflight) he continued to work as a pioneer in the industry as head of the space shuttle approach and landing tests and was also responsible for the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA) 747’s. After retirement, he went to work for Space Services Inc. out of Houston which specialized in developing rockets to carry commercial payloads.

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Photo Credit & Copyright: T.A. Rector/University of Alaska Anchorage, H. Schweiker/WIYN and NOAO/AURA/NSF. CLICK the photo to view full size and see below for info and links.

Alright all, this will more than likely be my final Halloween post so if you’re going trick or treating or taking the kids out in the next couple weeks be safe and I hope you enjoyed a few “spooky” space pics to warm you up!

This majestic bird I like to call the “Ghost of Phoenix” though I’ve never heard it go by an actual given name of any sort due to the fact it’s relatively unknown. Cataloged as vdB 141-south, this object is just above and out of arms reach of the spirits in the Ghost Nebula that I showed you yesterday. It’s not hard to look at this photo and come up with a bird like structure. The fact that it looks as if it had risen, moments ago from its fiery demise……smoke still trailing behind as it screams off into the universe to me, just begs to be called Phoenix.

Again, the reality of what we are looking at is a globule/reflection nebula that is really just fuel for the universe to create newborn stars over time. To me it would be incredible to not just see the Phoenix in space as we do here but to see the star that will someday be born of its material.

NAME: vdB 141 South or as I call it, the “Ghost of Phoenix.”

WHAT IS IT?: Globule and reflection nebula in the Cepheus Flare Molecular Cloud.

HOW FAR AWAY IS IT?: Approximately 1200 light years distant.

HOW BIG IS IT?: Approximately 1 light year across.

WHERE IS IT? (General): Constellation Cepheus as part of the Cepheus Flare Molecular Cloud.

WHERE IS IT? (Exact RA/DEC J2000): I have no exact data for this object but because it’s so close to vdB 141 I will issue the same coordinates: RA 21h 16m 26s / DEC +68° 15′ 37″.

NOAO page for this photo:

Travis Rector University of Alaska page for this photo:

Sidney Van Den Burgh (vdB) Catalog:

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Photo Credit & Copyright: T.A. Rector/University of Alaska Anchorage, H. Schweiker/WIYN and NOAO/AURA/NSF. CLICK photo to view full size and look below for information and links.

1200 light years distant in the constellation Cepheus is this vast 2 light year-long reflection nebula cataloged as vdB 141 or Sharpless 2-136 though it is well known for its given name; the Ghost Nebula. Like spirits or ghosts rising up through the fog, reaching out, arms raised in hopes that the Ghost of Phoenix (just above and out of frame) will rescue them (I will post the Ghost of Phoenix next). In reality, this cloud of star forming material is actually creating life; stellar life.

Gas and dust move through space, as they do perturbations can create density pockets which then causes gravity to begin to pull more gas and dust together in a process known as accretion. The material continues to condense, compress, heat up and eventually as the pressures, mass and heat build, it sparks to life a new fusion reactor, a star. This region, though its spooky appearance is no different. Within the nebula are several newborn stars. As their light shines through it gives the entire structure a yellowish-brown hue, illuminating these ghostly figures that escort them.

On the right side of this photo the cloud is undergoing a gravitational collapse and is likely the early stage formation of a binary star system. The system being created has already been given a designation; BD+67 1300.

NAME: vdB 141, Sharpless 2-136, S2-136, Bok Globule CB 230, Ghost Nebula.

WHAT IS IT?: 2 light year long section of a star forming reflection nebula in the Cepheus Flare molecular cloud.

HOW FAR AWAY IS IT?: Approximately 1200 light years distant.

HOW BIG IS IT?: Approximately 2 light years in diameter.

WHERE IS IT? (General): Constellation Cepheus.

WHERE IS IT? (Exact RA/DEC J2000): RA 21h 16m 26s / DEC +68° 15′ 37″.

NOAO page for this photo:

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Photo Credit & Copyright: NASA/STScI Digitized Sky Survey/Noel Carboni. CLICK photo for full size and see below for links.

Let’s keep Halloween week rolling! Every year in the northern hemisphere as summer begins to cool and the nights begin to grow longer, IC2118 or as it’s known, the “Witch Head Nebula” begins to appear nightly. Located approximately 900 light years distant in the constellation of Eridanus (yep, not Orion), the Wicked Witch of the Winter (as I call her) is actually a 50 light year-long reflection nebula that’s being illuminated by the famous blue supergiant Rigel (not shown) the lest foot of Orion. If you have a photo of the constellation Orion and it’s at an anatomically heads-up position, at the bottom right you will find Rigel and to the right of the star you will see the witches face. It will however be upside down though so you may have some trouble making it out but I suspect pareidolia will kick in and the face will appear. Here, check out this recent post that I did on Orion and see if you can spot her in the image:

The reason for the bluish color to this nebula is not just the color of the star but it’s because the particles of material that comprise this molecular cloud are about 1 micron in size thus they pass red light and scatter blue for us to catch in our light collectors. This is the same reason that the sky is blue and also why forest fire smoke, cookout grill smoke etc. often has a blue tint to it.

Before we leave, let’s take a look at the star doing all this work for a moment. Rigel, a blue supergiant associated with IC 2118 is actually in the constellation of Orion though the two are separated at the border between the two pretty much. Rigel lights this nebula from over 40 light years away and is 40,000 times more luminous than the Sun. It emits more light in one minute than our Sun does in an entire month and amazingly….if it replaced Proxima Centauri it would shine as bright as the Full Moon in our night sky.

NAME: IC 2118, NGC 1909, Witch Head Nebula.

WHAT IS IT?: Reflection Nebula.

HOW BIG IS IT?: About 50 light years long.

HOW FAR AWAY IS IT?: Approximately 900 light years.

APPARENT MAGNITUDE?: A very dim 13 or +13.

WHERE IS IT? (General): Constellation Eridanus and reflected by light from the blue supergiant star, Rigel in Orion.

WHERE IS IT? (Exact RA/DEC J2000): RA 05h 02m 00s / DEC -07° 54′ 00″.

NASA APOD for this object:

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Photo By: NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope (Links below).

This wonderfully creepy nebula in the constellation Taurus is cataloged as IRAS 05437+2502 and was thankfully given the name “IRAS Ghost”. It was discovered by the Infrared Astronomical Satellite (IRAS) in 1983 and re-imaged here in visible light by the Hubble Space Telescope to reveal new details. This nebula is not well known or as popular as some of its extravagant brethren but it is as awe inspiring as any I’ve seen.

A very dark, relatively small star forming region, it’s not been well studied and was imaged by Hubble just through sheer luck during what’s called a “snapshot survey” where it was on the list of objects to be observed only on the extremely rare chance that Hubble came upon some free time. The bright upside down “V” shape origins are unknown but the current hypothesis is that the nebula may have encountered a fast moving, high velocity young star that was ejected from its forming cluster and passed through or near this structure at a speed of nearly 200,000 km/hr.

Also officially a mystery is how this nebula is being lit though honestly I’ve seen enough nebulae to where it certainly appears that there’s a bright possibly newborn star at top center cloaked behind a band of thick material and the light from that star is radiating down, lighting and perhaps blowing away the cavity we see below it. Honestly that’s just my personal observation from only having this photo as information and seeing formations similar to this, thousands of times over. Make of it what you will, sometimes these untapped objects allow for some creative thinking and that’s not a bad thing…..mostly.

NAME: IRAS 05437+2502, IRAS Ghost.

WHAT IS IT?: Reflection nebula, star forming region.

HOW FAR AWAY IS IT?: Only about 380 light years distant.

HOW BIG IS IT?: Pretty tiny at only about 1/18 of a Full Moon on the night sky.

MAGNITUDE?: Unsure of the integrated magnitude.

HOW OLD IS IT?: Unsure of age estimate.

WHERE IS IT? (General): Constellation Taurus.

WHERE IS IT? (Exact RA/DEC J2000): RA 05hr 46m 51.6s / Dec +25° 03’ 45”

ESA Hubble page for this photo:

NASA page for this photo:

NASA APOD page for this photo:

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Image Credit & Copyright: Me, of Iridium 6 which I conveniently used in lieu of an actual meteor image.

ACTIVE DATES (might see a few): October 4 – November 12, 2014.

PEAK VIEWING: Night of October 20 and morning of October 21.

HOURLY RATE: Approximately 25 per hour.

RADIANT POINT: Constellation Orion.

MOON IMPACT: MINIMAL = Waning Crescent 3% illuminated.

VELOCITY: 41 miles per second.

PARENT BODY: Comet 1P/Halley or “Halley’s Comet”.

HEMISPHERE FAVORED: Northern Hemisphere.

Peak night is usually a given night and next morning with the “next morning” being the absolute best time to watch. In fact the close to morning twilight you can get, the better…’s why.

If you view the solar system from the top, planets orbit the Sun in a counter clockwise motion, we also rotate in a counter clockwise motion. That means just before sunrise the Earth is pointed in the direction of travel of the Earth itself and meteors are mere “bugs (Or if you prefer; “snowflakes”) hitting the windshield” of Spaceship Earth.

What are some of the things you will need for meteor showers? Well, as for seeing them….nothing. The most important things you need are a CLEAR sky and a DARK sky. In fact you really cannot use binoculars or a telescope for meteor showers because the streak is too long and you won’t be able to physically move your equipment into position in less than a second anyway.

Things to consider are weather and subsequently how you plan to dress for that weather. Red flashlights will help save your eyes because dark adaptation is a key in picking out the faint streaks you won’t be able to see after you just check your cell phone. Besides that, good people, chair, blankets, bug spray, food and try not to lie on any ant hills.

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