NGC 6193 Region (Zoom)


Kfir Simon page for this image:

Kfir Simon APOD page for this image:

A few million years ago, a dense cloud of molecular hydrogen collapsed under its own mass and gravity in select areas to birth stars. As these stars came into being; the intense stellar wind (radiation) associated with them immediately began to push back and blow away the cocoon of material that created it. What remained, we today catalog as open star cluster NGC 6193 in the southern constellation Ara, “Altar” and you can see this open star cluster with no optical aid from the southern hemisphere.

The molecular cloud, which still blocks our view of the open cluster is now cataloged as emission nebula NGC6188 and stretches about 70 light years in diameter or about 2 Full Moon widths on our night sky. If you could collect photons with your eyes enough to be able to see it that is.


Don Goldman page for this image:

Don Goldman APOD page for this image:

Now let’s zoom in and have a look at that smaller bubble-like formation near the bottom of the image. This object is cataloged as NGC 6164 and although it looks like a planetary nebula, it’s an emission nebula. This four light year diameter nebula is created by a massive O-type star more than 40 times the mass of our Sun. This star is only about 4 million years old and because of its size and fuel consumption, it’s probably half way through its life as we see it. At this size when it goes, it will go out with a bang. A Type II aka, core collapse supernova which will deliver more energy in an instant than our Sun radiates in its 10 billion year lifetime. When this event takes place, a few more heavy elements will have been created to someday accrete into a planet for someone to dig up and generate industry with.

NAME: NGC 6188, NGC 6193, NGC 6164.

WHAT IS IT?: Emission nebula being illuminated by young open star cluster.

HOW FAR AWAY IS IT?: Roughly 4,200 light years.

HOW BIG IS IT?: Approximately 70 light years and 2 Full Moon widths on the night sky.

APPARENT MAGNITUDE: A naked eye 5.5.

WHERE IS IT? (General): Southern constellation Ara (Altar) at the center of what’s known as the Ara OB1 association.

WHERE IS IT? (Exact RA/DEC J2000): RA 16h 41m 20s / DEC −48° 45′ 48″.

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Atlas V GPS IIF-12 Launch Friday

ULA GPS IIF-12 Lift & Mate

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

LAUNCH ALERT: Friday, February 5, 2016 at 13:38 UTC (08:38 EST & 05:38 PST) the United Launch Alliance (ULA), utilizing an Atlas V-401 rocket designated (AV-057) will deliver the GPS IIF-12 Global Positioning Satellite into orbit for the U.S. Air Force and users worldwide from Space Launch Complex-41 (SLC-41) at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS), Florida.

This will be the ULA’s 1st launch of 2016, 104th launch over all, the 61st launch of the Atlas V and the 31st launch of the Atlas V in the 401 configuration.

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Maine by Night


Image Credit & Copyright: Matt Milone.

Here’s a great image of the night sky over the Shawnee Peak ski resort in Bridgton Maine. I believe this image was captured from across Moose Pond, obviously looking south in order to capture as much of the core of the Milky Way as possible.

Great capture by Matt and as a relatively new widefield (non-telescope) night sky photographer myself, I love to see what other locals from the New England area are producing although it seems the opportunities I have to escape for a night are few and far between. Make sure you check out more of Matt’s work and keep tagging me in your own night sky images as I love seeing them.



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Tis the Season for Zodiacal Light; Take a Shot at the “Tall Twilight”


Image Credit & Copyright: Yuri Beletsky.

Where do we even begin here? When you’re one of the most prolific night sky imagers out there, it’s hard to meet the bar you have raised for yourself time and time again but this image really goes the distance in my humble opinion. Imaged by Yuri Beletsky, we see the incredible night sky far away and long ago, high above the extinct volcano, Rano Kau on the legendary Easter Island. That same sky, reflected in the waters of the crater lake.


As awe inspiring as this image is, who knows what we’re looking at here? I’m not talking about the Milky Way, but instead that tall pillar of light, seemingly rising from the volcano as if its spirit has been awakened to communicate with the universe. Twice a year the orientation of the Earth places us at a prime vantage point to view a little known, hard to see, and in my opinion underappreciated phenomenon. Known to the ancient Persian as well as Arabic astronomers as “False Dawn” (in the fall months) or “Tall Twilight”, Zodiacal light is a vast towering pyramid of light whose point follows the zodiac constellations (thus the name) and Ecliptic into the night sky, reaching out for the Milky Way, kind of beautiful and spooky right?

In short, Zodiacal light is a vast dust ring that lies in the inner solar system. It’s believed that it reaches out past the orbit of Mars into the main asteroid belt. As the Sun sets in the west or rises in the east (depending on what time of year) its glare scatters light of billions of those microscopic dust particles, putting on a show for those wise enough to successfully hunt it. Those billions of interplanetary dust particles, too small for any telescope to resolve, pancake out along the plane of the ecliptic just as the planets and asteroid belts do. To this day astronomers are not 100% certain as to the complete picture but it’s believed that the Main Asteroid Belt contributed to approximately 10% of the particles mass, which in total is only about the same mass as Mars Moon, Phobos. Most of the dust, it is believed, comes from the blown off leftovers of Short Period Comets as well as material that created the solar system itself, 4.5 billion years ago.


The two best “seasons” or times of year to view Zodiacal Light are roughly March/April and again in September/October (Surrounding the equinoxes). You can still spot them during some of the surrounding months as well but it’s tougher the further you get from the equinox as those are the two key times of the year when the ecliptic is highest in the sky. Another note here is that the closer to the equator you are the easier it will be to view because of the location and orientation of the ecliptic as well. The further you venture from the equator the more difficult it becomes to catch because of that angle.

This being the March/April season, you will need to get to the darkest skies you can find that have an open, clear western horizon and begin watching an hour after sunset and just following twilight. The pillar of light should be near vertical and if there are any evening planets find them because they will be in the thick of it.

Also, by dark that means the Moon as well, so shoot for New Moon weeks or weeks when the Moon is opposite that particular twilight. In this case, new and old last quarter moons will be fine because they don’t rise until morning. If you can’t see the Milky Way overhead it isn’t dark enough. Your DSLR will pick up the light much better than your eyes, but that being said, it will also pick up the glow of the surrounding towns which may wash the Zodiacal Light out so just like aurora hunting. Not just in the sky but on the horizon in in the direction that you’re looking as well. Dark is mandatory!

The September/October season means that prime viewing is in the east an hour before sunrise and just before twilight when the ecliptic is closest to vertical. All the same dark sky junk still applies of course.

For my SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE friends, everything is opposite. September/October you will need a western view an hour after sunset and after twilight. In the March/April season prime viewing will be an eastern view an hour before sunrise and before twilight.

All in all, just get out there and give it a shot. Also, don’t take everything written here as a 100% must-follow either; many amazing photos have come from months surrounding peak months. Use this as a guideline and see what your night sky is telling you personally!

The World At Night (TWAN) page for this image:

Yuri’s Facebook:




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Remembering Challenger……..


Image Credit & Copyright: NASA of Space Shuttle Challenger (STS-51-L) Crew.

“I cannot join the space program and restart my life as an astronaut, but this opportunity to connect my abilities as an educator with my interests in history and space is a unique opportunity to fulfill my early fantasies.” -Christa McAuliffe

CREW: (Clockwise from top-left).

Ellison Onizuka: Born: June 24, 1946: Air Force Veteran, first Asian American & first of Japanese ancestry to reach space as a member of STS-51-C. He held a Masters in Aerospace Engineering from U Colorado at Boulder.

Christa McAuliffe: Born: September 2, 1948: Winner of the teacher in space contest, from Concord NH. Bachelors in Education and History from Framingham State College and a Master of Arts degree from Bowie State University. This was to be her first spaceflight.

Gregory Jarvis: Born: August 24, 1944: Air Force veteran with a Masters in Electrical Engineering from Northeastern University, Boston MA. This was to be his first space flight.

Judith Resnik: Born: April 5, 1949: PHD in Electrical Engineering from U Maryland and second U.S. female astronaut in space with shuttle mission STS-41-D.

Ronald McNair: Born: October 21, 1950: Physicist from MIT, Black Belt Karate instructor and veteran of STS-41-B whose mission was delivery of two Hughes 376 communication satellites as well as the mission that saw the first use of the Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU) and first use of the CanadaArm which was operated by McNair himself.

Dick Scobee: Born: May 19, 1939: Veteran of the Air Force, Aerospace research pilot, BS in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Arizona and veteran of STS-41-C.

Michael Smith: Born: April 30, 1945: NAVY Pilot, and Flight Instructor. He attended US Naval Post-Grad at Monterey CA. This was to be his 1st space flight.

“The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and “slipped the surly bonds of earth” to “touch the face of God.” Thank you. – Ronald Regan in his address to the nation.

The STS-51-L primary mission payload was the second of NASA’s Tracking and Data Relay, (TDRS) satellites. Working in concert with the first Tracking and Data Relay satellite the two were expected to provide 85 percent real time coverage of each orbit to spacecraft. Challenger Pilot Michael Smith said, “It will give us almost global coverage for Shuttle missions of the future. That’s going to be a big improvement not only for the shuttle, but also for the space station when it gets up later on.” The satellite was scheduled to be deployed on the first day of the flight.

The mission was also to include upwards of 40 hours of Halley’s Comet observations. Goddard Space Flight Center and the University of Colorado’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics had produced a low-cost spacecraft that could measure the ultraviolet spectrum of comet Halley when it was too close to the sun for other observatories to do so. The project, named Spartan-Halley, would help scientists determine how fast water is broken down by sunlight. The data was to be saved on what was then a very robust 500 megabytes of storage.

Launching from Launch Pad 39-B this was the first launch of a Space Shuttle from that launch pad as it had not been used since the Apollo-Soyuz missions.

January 28, 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger lifted off from Kennedy Space Center FL from Launch Pad 39-B. At 11:39 EST (16:39 UTC) 73 seconds after liftoff while in view of all onlookers, visitors and those such as myself (who was in 3rd grade) watching on television from McAuliffe’s home state of NH, an O-Ring on the right Solid Rocket Booster (SRB) experienced a catastrophic failure and the Shuttle exploded……..all seven crew members were lost.

Leading up to the launch there were numerous delays and setbacks for different reasons. The ensuing Rogers Commission, appointed by Ronald Regan and aided by the great Richard Feynman, Neil Armstrong, Sally Ride and Chuck Yeager came to the conclusion that the O-Ring failed due to the extreme cold they were experiencing during that particular week. The rubber ring lost its elasticity and became brittle allowing the extremely hot gasses (5000deg F) to escape through the failed joint and then enter into the External Fuel Tank. Even more, it was determined that the Morton Thiokol, NASA decision making process as well as the culture at the time had also been a major cause as they had known about and overlooked the KNOWN risks and did not heed the warning signs. Some of those signs included evidence of the same problem happening on a previous fight but not to the same magnitude.

After the accident, NASA refrained from sending astronauts into space for more than two years as it redesigned a number of the shuttle’s features. Flights began again in September 1988 with the successful launching of Space Shuttle Discovery. There would not be another major issue for almost two decades……

Space Shuttle Challenger (OV-099), the second Space Shuttle to fly. It was also only supposed to be a test article as the Test Shuttle Enterprise (OV-101) was supposed to be re-fitted for flight and come into service as the second orbiter. As design changes occurred along the way it was determined that then, Structural Test Article (STA-099) Challenger would be fitted for flight and its designation changed to reflect that.

Challenger was named after HMS Challenger, a British Corvette that was the command ship for the Challenger Expedition, a pioneering global marine research expedition undertaken from 1872 through 1876. The Apollo 17 Lunar Module that touched down on the Moon in 1972 and the famous Challenger Deep was also named after HMS Challenger. Space Shuttle Challengers remains now lay entombed at the bottom of a retired Minuteman missile silo at Launch Complex 31B at Cape Canaveral.

“I touch the future. I teach.” -Christa McAuliffe

GREAT link to the NASA History Office regarding the Challenger disaster:

SpaceFlightNow . Com Timeline of events:

NASA History information on the crew:

McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center (Concord NH):

Richard Feynman Rogers Commission Appendix:

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Image Credit & Copyright: NASA.

In the video above (there is no audio but still amazing to see) you can actually see exactly when the above photo was taken at 30:37 in the video.

Most enter the last week of January as any other; days begin to get longer and thoughts of spring begin formulating so long as we can dodge a few more winter storms between now and then. However those of us captivated by the sciences and the space industry see this week in an entirely different light. This week we embark on a period of remembrance of NASA’s darkest week….that terrible week that over the course of a couple generations saw 17 Astronauts meet their ends. I will, in the next few days do my best to help us all remember them accordingly.

Lt. Col. Virgil “Gus” Grissom: Born April 3, 1926: Lt Col, USAF & crewman of Mercury-Redstone 4, Gemini 3 and Apollo 1.

Lt. Col. Edward H. White: Born November 14, 1930: Lt Col, USAF and was the 1st in the United Stated space program to conduct extravehicular activity during Gemini 4.

Roger B. Chaffee: Born February 15, 1935: Lt Cmdr. U.S. Navy. This was to be his 1st spaceflight.

“If we die, we want people to accept it. We are in a risky business and we hope that if anything happens to us it will not delay the program. The conquest of space is worth the risk of life.” – Virgil “GUS” Grissom after the Gemini 3 mission in 1965.

January 27, 1967 Cape Canaveral – Launch Pad 34 As the three man crew worked through a training exercise high atop the Saturn 1B vehicle sealed inside Command Service Module (CSM) CM-012 in preparation of the AS-204 (Apollo 1) mission all seemed to be going to plan. The main purpose of the test was to prepare the Command Module for its 1st manned flight which was scheduled for Feb 21 of that year. This type of test is what is known as a “Plugs Out” test where the crew was fully dressed out and the command module was running completely off on its own systems. The test was fraught with minor issues (that’s why they were testing) to include an odd smell in the oxygen lines reported by Grissom as well as astronaut induced air pressure issues with the suits. At one point a communication issue cropped up which angered Grissom to the point of saying; “How are we going to get to the Moon if we can’t talk between three buildings?”

What’s more is that the crew was so concerned with the amount of flammables in the cabin that on August 19, 1966, just a week before delivery they held a meeting with Joseph Shea, then Apollo Project Manager to voice that very concern. Following the meeting the crew gave Shea a photo of the three of them, hands clasped in prayer over a miniature service module with the inscription; “It isn’t that we don’t trust you, Joe, but this time we’ve decided to go over your head.”

CM-012 was delivered to Kennedy Space Center on August 26, 1966 under a conditional flight worthiness certificate. However even after delivery 623 engineering change orders had to be made as well as 113 incomplete engineering changes. This clearly wasn’t the first time that the patience of the crew was tested. Prior to this day Grissom had become so frustrated with the number of changes as well as the lack of ability of the simulator to keep up with those changes he had actually brought a lemon from a tree at his home and hung it on the simulator to say the craft was a lemon.

At 23:30:54 UTC (18:30:54 EST) during the Plugs Out test electrical power momentarily failed which likely caused arcing to the interior equipment. The crew first noticed the fire approximately ten seconds later as Chaffee was heard yelling “HEY!” Two seconds later White yelled “I’ve got a fire in the cockpit!” a few more brief transmissions were heard along with the sound of the hull of the spacecraft itself rupturing from the pressure. All transmissions ended only 17 seconds after the first report of fire……The crew of Apollo 1 had been lost.

The fire, as it would be determined, had 3 main causes. 1: Faulty electrical system 2: Pure oxygen environment 3: Large amounts of flammable material in the cabin. Buzz Aldrin later stated that after the meeting with Shea, he gave the order to have the flammables removed but did’t oversee the order personally and they were later placed back in before packaging and shipping to Cape Canaveral.

On April 24, 1967 at the request of the widows, Mission AS-204 was officially changed to Apollo-1 as the three astronauts themselves called the mission.

Here’s a quote from a December 1966 interview with Gus Grissom concerning his concerns with the testing.

“You sort of have to put that out of your mind. There’s always a possibility that you can have a catastrophic failure, of course; this can happen on any flight; it can happen on the last one as well as the first one. So, you just plan as best you can to take care of all the eventualities, and you get a well-trained crew and you go fly.” – Virgil “GUS” Grissom.



NASA Apollo 1 site:

NASA History Apollo 1 page:

Apollo 1 Foundation:

Space Images – Apollo 1:

USGS Project Apollo photo archives:;free_form=Project%20Apollo;start=0

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1st Ariane 5 Launch of 2016 to Carry Intelsat 29e


Image Credit & Copyright: Arianespace image of the launch of VA-227.

LAUNCH ALERT: Today, Wednesday, January 27, at 23:20 UTC (18:20 EST) Arianespace will commence the 2016 launch season with the massive and beautiful Ariane 5 ECA rocket (designated Flight VA228). This mission will place the Intelsat 29e communication satellite, which will service the Americas and the Caribbean Sea, into a geostationary transfer orbit (GTO).

Launch will take place from Launch Site, Ensemble de Lancement Ariane-3 (ELA-3) at the Arianespace Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. This will be the 81st launch of the Ariane 5 and its 1st launch in 2016.

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