Find Your Happy Place


Image Credit & Copyright: Rick Parchen.

In life, at least for me, there’s not much that rivals getting away from it all.  Those rare times when you can put your worries away (or at least attempt to) and be close to nobody but yourself, a couple close friends and nature should be treasured.  This dream-like image from Rick Parchen cannot be put into words, it can only be felt.  Taken at a site along Oregon’s Central Cascade mountains, you can almost feel the air on your face, the sounds of life everywhere around you yet they’re not concerned with you in the least.  High above and beyond we can see our star city seemingly rising from the ground, the core shining with the energy of tens of billions of stars, much of which are shrouded by that thick band of gas and dust.

This is a situation that I can see myself in where I’m torn between not wanting the Sun to come up because it’s a sight that when you see it, you don’t want to end and also wanting to get home to process these images.

Rick Parchen Photography:




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New Horizons Tests its Eyes


Image Credit & Copyright: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

Not only is this one of my favorite images of the solar system but the facts surrounding it make is a pretty appropriate post for the day.  First of all it was taken today (March 2) back in 2007.  Secondly, it was taken by New Horizons as it made its Jupiter flyby.

If you haven’t guessed by now this is an image of two of the moons of Jupiter, Io and Europa.  Or as I call them Yin and Yang….you know, fire and ice.  In this mage Io is the more distant of the two at a range of 4.6 million km (2.8 million mi.) while crescent Europa is closer at a range of 3.8 million km (2.4 million mi.).  This is also an example of what’s called line of sight imagery.  Though the two seem close they are still separated by 790,000 km (490,000 mi.).

The beautiful 300 km (190 mi.) high false color volcanic plume coming from Io is generated by the volcano Tvashtar.  Go down slightly and to the left and the smaller volcano Amirani becomes apparent. Go even further left to just about the 9 o’clock position and volcano Prometheus can be seen.

I hope you guys enjoy this image and although there won’t be this much light reflection out there by Pluto, this mission has some great things in store for us through 2015.

JPL Photojournal page for this image:

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Crossing the Galactic River

River Crossing

Image Credit & Copyright: Mark Gee.

Sometimes those unexpected shots end up being some of the most incredible.  Mark Gee demonstrates that here in stunning beauty as, after gathering some night sky images he was headed back to his car along New Zealand’s Wainuiomata Coast when he noticed this.  The immense Milky Way star city rising high into the sky, the core shining brightly over the hilltops while below, in a shallow valley, a lone bridge seemingly crosses a river of stars.  I can’t help but to see this as sort of a metaphorical wormhole of sorts, just beautiful.

It’s important to note that although the scene is unexpected, the image is very elaborate as most night sky images are.  It’s a vertical panorama of 6-30 second images that were later stitched together to deliver this incredible sight.

I hope you all enjoy this image and get over to his sites to check out more great night sky imagery.

Mark Gee Photography:




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Space Junk: March 2015

Photo Credit & Copyright: ME of the big grey rock in the sky.

Below I have listed most of the major night sky events for this month, birthdays, events in history etc. I have also listed all resources used to generate these monthly calendars at the bottom of the post so dig in, learn and enjoy!

Here’s a list of all major 2015 Celestial Events here:

Interested in Planetary Motions for 2015? Here ya go!:

How about Meteor Showers for 2015?

You want Eclipse info too?! Ok fine!

WERE YOU BORN ON A FULL MOON?! This great page from Moon Giant shows you what phase the Moon was in when you were born; check it out. (this may not work on your phone):

All dates and times were calculated using Military Time & Universal Time (UTC) and I also throw in eastern U.S. time (EST or EDT depending on whether its Daylight Savings or not) but beware, early morning events for UTC will actually likely be late night events on the previous date for the US. For example if something is scheduled to occur at 02:00 UTC on the 14th, that’s 21:00 EST on the 13th.

Another important thing to remember is that a calendar day is actually daylight sandwiched between two darks so when an event says, March 29 for example, you’ve got to check the time because March 29 could very well be in the morning before sunrise and not that coming night.

Finally, calculating events on the Moon is that it’s not as simple as “Ok it’s 40% illuminated so we should see this.” I wish it was that easy but because of libration, locations on the disk of the moon move slightly as we see them. One month an event could occur at 52% illumination and the next month it could occur at 54% illumination.

MARCH 01 (Sun) – Entering the month the Moon is 11 days old in its 29.53 day Synodic Cycle and 85% illuminated in its waxing gibbous phase.

MARCH (All Month in mid-northern latitudes) – If you have dark skies (I mean REALLY dark) look west about an hour to an hour and a half after sunset to witness the “False Dawn” or Zodiacal Light rising high into the sky along the plane of the ecliptic. Want more info?

MARCH (All Month) – Only a month past Opposition, Jupiter is still looking great through March. Keep an eye on it, look for the Great Red Spot and the 4 Galilean moons as they will be eclipsing and occulting each other through summer in a process known as “mutual events.”

MARCH 01 (Sun) – Meteorological Spring begins!

MARCH 01, 1966: Soviet Venera 3 becomes 1 man-made object to impact another planet (failed landing).

MARCH 02, 2004: ESA Rosetta launch.

MARCH 03, 1847: Birth of Alexander Graham Bell.

MARCH 03, 1968: Happy Birthday Brian Cox.

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Image Credit & Copyright: T.A. Rector (University of Alaska Anchorage) and H. Schweiker (WIYN and NOAO/AURA/NSF)

This image is of planetary nebula HDW-3 and it’s a highly evolved, ancient planetary nebula in the constellation Perseus. The faint appearance is due to the vast expansion that this object has been undergoing for an extremely long, yet unknown amount of time. The portion of its shell that almost seems braided is a result of the nebula interacting with the material in the surrounding interstellar medium as it moves through it. The star that died to create this object isn’t that bright orange star near center but instead it’s the faded blue star (white dwarf) just to the right and down a bit from that bright star.

What are planetary nebulae? Read below or hit the link for even more info!

As for the objects themselves they are very low density and comprised of mostly gaseous materials. They range in size depending on the mass of the dying star, composition, speed of material ejection and the amount of time the event has been taking place as well as under what processes it was undergoing while it was being formed. Density in PN’s are so low (Approximately a million atoms per cubic centimeter) that no vacuum on Earth can recreate these conditions. Though planetary nebulae were known about for over 200 years, nobody knew what they were or what their origins were besides the fact that they could look and see them.

Inside the core of a star, pressures and temperatures are so great that a process called Thermo Nuclear Fusion can take place. It’s important to remember that stars don’t “burn” as burning is a chemical reaction. Thermo Nuclear Fusion is a nuclear reaction. Hydrogen atoms are being fused together to create helium atoms. When the two nuclei fuse together the combined mass is slightly less than the sum of the original nuclei and the difference is released as energy. As the progenitor star burns through all of its available fuel the star quickly begins to die. The key word here is “available” fuel as most of the hydrogen in a star will never be fused in the core. When this happens gravity begins to win over the outward pressure of the nuclear reaction. The star then begins to crush down onto itself from the extreme inward pressure that gravity is now imposing on it.

Ironically enough, this very process of compression causes the core to become super-heated. Core temperatures rise to ten-times the temperature they were while in the main sequence phase. Once the temperature reaches 180,000,000 degrees the temperature will be hot enough to fuse helium into carbon. As this continues, the star will begin to quickly use up its available helium fuel. The massive temperatures cause the star to swell and the asymptotic giant branch aka, the infamous red giant phase begins. Vast layers or shells of gas are then released into the surrounding cosmos creating what’s known as proto-planetary or pre-planetary nebula (PPN’s). The furiously hot star whose inner layers are now exposed radiate massive amounts of ultraviolet radiation rendering the surrounding material aglow and that’s where the planetary nebula (PN) phase begins.

When the available helium begins to run dry, gravity once again begins to take over, and again the star is crushed in upon itself; this time down to about the size of the Earth. It is at this point when electron degeneracy pressure is enabled. This means that electrons themselves are being crushed together so tightly that their repulsive pressure on one another will hold the star up. That is where it will remain for billions of years as a white dwarf.

Most stars in the universe (about 95%) will end their lives this way; the rest will die as supernovae.

NAME: Hartl-Dengel-Weinberger 3, HDW 3.

WHAT IS IT?: Planetary Nebula.

HOW BIG IS IT?: Roughly 1.5 light years in diameter.

APPARENT MAGNITUDE: Extremely dim, around 18.

WHERE IS IT? (General): Constellation Perseus.

WHERE IS IT? (Exact RA/DEC J2000): RA 3h 28m 19s / DEC +45° 27′ 30″.

NOAO page for this image:

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VLA Startrails


Image Credit & Copyright: Mike Ince.

What a beautiful sight. A classic set of polar startrails over a single element of one of the most iconic ground based telescopes on Earth, the Very Large Array (VLA) on the plains of San Agustin, about 50 miles (80 km) west of Socorro in New Mexico. This image was created using 120 images spanning over two hours to create the vast arcs of star movement created by the Earth spinning away in the night while Polaris stands almost perfectly steady on the northern sky, the landscape and sky illuminated by the waxing gibbous Moon.

The VLA is one of the world’s leading Radio Telescopes and has been for decades. It consists of 27 82 ft. (25 m) diameter antennas (dishes) configured in a “Y” shape pattern resulting in the combined resolving power of a single 22 mile (36 km) diameter antenna and with the sensitivity of a single 422 ft. (130 m) diameter antenna. Although this telescope is famous enough on its own, it has been featured in countless movies, books and magazines and was raised to legendary status when it was featured in Carl Sagan’s 1997 movie Contact.

A quick note on Polaris, the “North Star.” I am often surprised to find that many people think of Polaris as the brightest star in the night sky. Frighteningly, many people, when I ask them to point it out to me, go directly for Vega in the summer or Sirius in the winter. Hopefully these people aren’t navigating or lost in the woods using these stars as north. Polaris IS however the brightest star in the rather dim constellation of Ursa Minor and the asterism of the “Little Dipper.” As far as the entire night sky it comes in way down the list at the 45th brightest. Just some food for thought, tell your friends because you’d be surprised and hey, you might inadvertently save a life some day because of it.

I really hope you enjoy this image and if you do go visit more of Mike’s links and enjoy what you see.  Thanks all!

Mike Ince Photography:


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SpaceX Falcon 9 to Launch New Tech on Sunday


Image Credit & Copyright: SpaceX.

LAUNCH ALERT: Sunday, March 1, 2015 at 22:49 EST (03:49 UTC on the 2nd) a SpaceX Falcon 9, version 1.1 rocket will be launching from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS), Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40 or “SLICK-40”) carrying the Eutelsat 115 West B and the ABS 3A communications satellite. These Boeing built satellites are the 1st to be launched in a conjoined configuration and they are also the first to use electric propulsion for orbital attitude adjustments.

This will be the Falcon 9’s 16th flight “F9-16”, the Falcon 9 version 1.1’s (F9v1.1) 11th flight, the 5th with affixed landing legs and 3rd with Grid Fins.

HISTORY IN THE MAKING?! SpaceX has, in the past attempted three vertical soft water landings in the Atlantic with affixed landing legs and by re-firing a single Merlin 1D engine to some success. They also have one near success landing the first stage back on a barge in the Atlantic using the same technique but also adding four hypersonic grid fins in an “X-wing” configuration that deploy at hypersonic speeds to help slow and control the first stage during the descent. Each grid fin moves independently for pitch, yaw and roll. This launch will be the second attempt at landing the first stage back on the Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship as the last was scrubbed due to weather.

Here’s a video of the F9R with affixed legs and grid fins during a 1000m test at SpaceX’s proving grounds in McGregor, TX.


“Just Read the Instructions” Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship: was built at the Conrad Shipyard in Morgan City, Louisiana. That’s the same place that NASA’s Pegasus barge is being refitted to support the SLS program. Pegasus carried lots of equipment throughout the years but most famously the space shuttle external fuel tanks from NASA’s Michaud Plant in Louisiana to KSC. The barge is 300 by 100 ft. and can deploy wings that extend the width to 170 ft. It has also been fitted with thrusters repurposed from deep sea oil rigs that are able to hold balance and position to within 3 meters even in storm conditions. Its face is painted black with the SpaceX “X” logo acting as a bull eye.

In a tweet that Elon put out on January 23 he lovingly issued the Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship the name “Just Read the Instructions” and he also alluded to another one being built on the west coast named “Of Course I Still Love You.” I have no idea what that means except for the fact that even in the heat of business and innovation there is always time for a little fun.

These fun yet odd names come from Scottish Sci-fi legend Iain Banks’s “Culture” series of 10 novels. They are spacecraft known as General Contact Units (GCU’s) from the novel “Player of Games.” Other spacecraft in the series (which get to name themselves) are even more entertaining such as “Size Isn’t Everything,” “No More Mr. Nice Guy” and “Death and Gravity.” Here’s a fun Wiki page with more info:


NOW FOR THE ROCKET: The Falcon 9R v1.1 rocket is a 2-stage partially reusable rocket with future ambitions of becoming fully reusable. The new version is 3.7 meters (12ft) in diameter and 68.4 meters (224.4 ft.) tall which is much taller than the Falcon 9 v1.0 or “Block 1” in order to house a longer fuel tank. It is also fitted with upgraded and reconfigured Merlin family main engines replacing the 9 Merlin-1C with the more powerful Merlin-1D engines that will provide a thrust of nearly 600,200kg (1.5 million lb.) at sea level which equates to a significant payload capacity increase. Each Merlin-1D provides 147,000 lb. of thrust at sea level or about 55% more thrust than the original 1C engines. The new merlin 1-D engines are also in a circular “octaweb” configuration and are equipped with the capability to throttle between 70% and 100%. All in all the Falcon 9 v1.1 is able to loft 13,150kg (28,990lb) into low Earth orbit (LEO); 4,850kg (10,690lb) into a geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO) or 2.9 tons to escape velocity.

DRAGON SPACECRAFT = The Dragon spacecraft is about 23.6 ft. (7.2 m) tall with trunk attached and 12 ft. (3.7 m) wide. It’s comprised of two main sections; the pressurized cargo area which can carry 388 cubic ft. of cargo as well as the unpressurized cargo area. The trunk (unpressurized area) carries 494 cubic ft. of cargo as well as the solar arrays. OR: MAIN COMPOSITE PAYLOAD FAIRING = the composite payload fairing is 13.1 meters (43ft) in length and 5.2 meter (17ft) in diameter.

SECOND STAGE = is powered by a single Merlin-1D Vacuum engine with aluminum-lithium alloy tanks fueled by liquid oxygen and rocket grade kerosene (LOX/RP-1). This stage can be restarted multiple times to place multiple payloads into desired orbits. For maximum reliability, the second stage has redundant igniter systems and has a burn time of 375 seconds.

INTERSTAGE = a composite structure that connects the first stage to the second stage and holds the release and separation system. Its al all pneumatic stage separation system for low shock, highly reliable separation that can be tested on the ground, unlike pyrotechnic systems used on most launch vehicles.

FIRST CORE/BOOST STAGE = is powered by nine (9) Merlin-1D engines in their circular “octaweb” configuration with aluminum-lithium alloy tanks fueled by liquid oxygen and rocket grade kerosene (LOX/RP-1). The core stage has a burn time of 180 seconds and is gradually throttled. Its 9 Merlin-1D engine system is designed to lose two engines during flight and still successfully complete its mission.

The first stage is fitted with four independently steerable grid fins that are stowed during flight then deploy to help control pitch, yaw and roll during vertical decent. It’s also fitted with four landing legs that are also stowed in flight and deploy before touchdown.


SpaceX Webcast:

SpaceX Ustream:

Spaceflight Now Launch Viewer:

AmericaSpace Launch Viewer:

Eutelsat 115 West B and the ABS 3A Mission info:







Elon Musk Twitter:

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