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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Photo Credit & Copyright: Travis Rector. CLICK photo for full size and see below for links.

Halloween is once again upon us and to ring in fall’s favorite holiday I believe a few “spooky” space photos are in order. Let’s get creepy!

Planetary nebula SH2-68 or as it’s also known the Flaming Skull Nebula (for obvious reasons) is an interesting nebula who, as all planetary nebula is a star that’s reaching the end of the galactic road and has begun to die. As material is released into the universe the now exposed inner layers of the star radiate incredible levels of ultraviolet radiation causing the entire structure to glow.

The awesome feature here is that this entire structure is moving through the galaxy at a rapid pace, that’s what gives this planetary this very odd shape that we see. The expansion of the expelled material has been halted by interstellar interaction. The orange color in the photo is the result of interaction with gasses and material in the Milky Way galaxy while the blue color-are the emissions from the planetary nebula itself. Astronomers aren’t sure but it’s believed that the dim blue star near the center is the progenitor star. Another theory is that the star in the center is not the progenitor star as it has continued on while the planetary nebula slowed due to galactic interaction.

NAME: SH2-68, Sharpless 68, Flaming Skull Nebula.

WHAT IS IT?: Planetary Nebula that is moving through space.

HOW BIG IS IT?: 8’X8’ arcminutes on the night sky.

HOW FAR AWAY IS IT?: Estimates place it around 350 parsecs or 1000 light years distant.

HOW OLD IS IT?: Approximately 45,000 years old.


WHERE IS IT? (General): Constellation Serpens Cauda (The Serpent’s Tail).

WHERE IS IT? (Exact RA/DEC J2000): RA 18h 24m 58.41s / DEC +00d 51’ 35.9”.

Travis Rector page for this object:

National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO) page for this object:

SIMBAD data for this object:

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Image Credit & Copyright: Arianespace launch of Ariane5 VA-198.


Thursday, October 16th at 21:00 UTC (17:00 EDT) Arianespace will be launching the massive and beautiful Ariane 5 ECA Rocket (designated Flight VA220) with a dual payload of satellites. The Intelsat 30 satellite will deliver Ku-band telecommunications to Latin America. ARSAT-1 is the first geostationary satellite built in Argentina. It will deliver telecommunication, data transmission as well as television and telephone service across Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and Paraguay. Launch will take place from Launch Site, Ensemble de Lancement Ariane-3 (ELA-3) at the Arianespace Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.

Arianespace Ariane 5 rocket is a 2-stage expendable launch vehicle that comes in two variants (ECA & ES) and carries payloads weighing more than 10 metric tons to geostationary transfer orbit (GTO) and over 20 metric tons into low-Earth orbit (LEO).

Ariane 5 ECA is the heavy-lift workhorse for missions to geostationary transfer orbit (GTO), and usually carries two satellite payloads. The Ariane 5 ES is tailored for low-Earth orbit missions with the Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) – a resupply spacecraft for the International Space Station that weighs more than 19,000 kg at liftoff. This Ariane 5 version also is capable of lofting satellites for Europe’s new Galileo space-based navigation system. The primary difference from the Ariane 5 ECA configuration is the use of a storable propellant upper stage, which can perform multiple burns to deploy payloads into the desired orbit.

ARIANE 5 ECA & ES CONFIGURATION EXPLAINED: ARIANE5 ECA & ES = Heavy lift rocket that stands 53m (173.8ft) tall and is 5.4m (17.7ft) in diameter and is equipped with two solid rocket boosters.

PAYLOAD FAIRING = The main payload fairing is a 2-shell fairing that’s 5.4 m. (17.7 ft.) in diameter and 20 m. (65.6 ft.) in length. Roughly 3 minutes and 100 km after liftoff the shells are pyrotechnically jettisoned. Inside the fairing of the ECA configuration is the structure that accommodates two satellites called “Systeme de Lancement Double Ariane 5” or SYLDA 5.

SECOND STAGE (For the ECA configuration) = Also called the Cryogenic Upper Stage or “Etage Superieur Cryotechnique” (ESC-A) is 5.4m (17.7ft) in diameter by 4.7m (15.4ft) in length. It’s powered by a single HM7B engine that burns liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen (LOX/LH2) creating 14,000lb 6.5 t of thrust. Burn time for the second stage varies depending on the mission but can operate for around 945 seconds. The second stage also houses the Vehicle Equipment Bay (VEB-C) or “The Brain” which controls the entire vehicle autonomously and also transmits flight data back to the ground.

SECOND STAGE (For the ES configuration) = “Etage Propergols Stockables” (EPS) is 3.9 m (12.8 ft) in diameter by 3.35 m (11 ft) in length. It differs from the ECA configuration because it is not cryogenic, meaning that it carries storable propellants. It’s powered by a single Aestus engine that burns monomethylhdrazine & nitrogen tetroxide creating 14,000lb 6.5 t of thrust. The second stage for this configuration can be reignited many times to suit the mission’s needs. The second stage also houses the Vehicle Equipment Bay (VEB-C) or “The Brain” which controls the entire vehicle autonomously and also transmits flight data back to the ground.

SOLID ROCKET BOOSTERS = 2 expendable SRBs known as Etage dAcceleration a Poudre or (EAPs) are attached to the Ariane 5 and they provide about 90% of the thrust at liftoff which equates to about 1200 t of thrust. They each stand 31.6m (103.7ft) tall and are 3m (10ft) in diameter. They are each powered by a single engine that burns solid fuel (Ammonium Perchlorate, Aluminum Powder and Polybutadiene); burn time is 135 seconds.

MAIN CORE STAGE (1st Stage) = The Core Stage, known as Etage Principal Cryotechnique or (EPC) stands 30 m. (98.4 ft.) high and has a diameter of 5.4m (17.7 ft.). It’s powered by a single Vulcan-2 engine which provides 136 t of thrust. It burns liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen (LOX/LH2) and burns for 540 seconds.

LIVE STREAMING FEEDS: (They also have a great APP for launches)

Live Streaming Launch:

Arianespace Livestream:

European Space Agency (ESA) Space In Videos:

European Space Agency (ESA) Livestream:

CNES website for launch:


VA-220 mission information:

VA220 Launch Kit:

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