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:

Continue reading

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Image Credit & Copyright: NASA/JPL

This is the same post as the one back in august but with a few more details and links. Posting as a reminder as it very well could be a once in a lifetime event.

Maybe Comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring thinks Mars is a giant pumpkin careening around the Sun just in time for Halloween or maybe it’s just a near miss event set to occur on Sunday, October 19, 2014 around 18:28 UTC (14:28 EDT) with the potential to result in some spectacular images and or data from the team of orbiting and roving spacecraft now breathing a sigh of relief after learning that the comet will not be impacting as some had initially believed. Many mid and high-northern latitude areas will not be able to see this event because mars will have already set. Use this tool to calculate the rise and set times of major solar system bodies, in this case Mars:

Let’s take a few steps back and start from start.  This comet named C/2013 A1 (Siding Spring) was discovered by great Australian comet hunter Robert McNaught. That’s right, the same McNaught that discovered C/2006 P1 (Comet McNaught), the last bright comet that was obliging enough to give Earth a show back in 2007. The name Siding Spring comes from the name of the Siding Spring Survey in New South Wales, Australia that it was discovered at (link below). This is a very common practice as PANSTARRS and ISON were both named after their founding observatories.

When it was initially discovered on January 3, 2013 there was obviously no record of its history so precovery (archival observations) images of the comet dating back to early December of 2012 were gathered from known images in that general location and a rough trajectory was then established. That data coupled with current observations at that time placed the comet on an orbital trajectory that would come extremely close to the Red Planet.

As longer, current observations have come in; closest approach estimates are currently at 82,000 mi (132,000 km) and scheduled to occur on October 19 at 18:28 UTC (14:28 EDT). For perspective, that distance is almost six times further than Mars most distant moon Deimos at apoapsis.   If it were passing Earth it would be almost five times the distance of asteroid 2012/DA 14 as it passed Earth on February 15, 2013 (but not as close as the Chelyabinsk meteor) and about one-third of the distance to the Moon.  That being said; according to NASA this pass of Mars will be only one-tenth the distance of any known pass of Earth by a comet.

As far as danger to spacecraft, NASA has planned to position its three (once MAVEN arrives in Sept to join Odyssey and MRO) on the opposite side of the planet during close approach.  Even then, the major worry during this entire period will come about 90 minutes later and last for a period of about 20 minutes as Mars passes through the fresh debris field.  It doesn’t appear at this time that Curiosity and Opportunity will be in any danger but they, along with their team of orbiters will have their eyes on the comet as it approaches, departs and will monitor its effects on the Martian atmosphere thereafter.

Incredibly, if you live in the southern hemisphere there’s a chance you can see this encounter with binoculars or telescopes.  Currently the comet is at an apparent magnitude of 9.3 and brightening and in the constellation Horologium.  By the time October 19 rolls around, the pair will be in the constellation Ophiochus and low in the southwestern sky at dusk so dust off your equipment and hope for some clear skies!

The Sky LIVE (Real Time Tracking):

NASA Mars Exploration page on C/2013 A1:

NASA JPL Info Page on Comet C/2013 A1:

NASA JPL Data Page on Comet C/2013 A1:;cad=1#cad

Coordinated Investigations of Comets (CIOC):

ISON-NM Leonid Elenin data on C/2013 A1:

Siding Spring Survey (SSS):

NASA Solar System Simulator:

NASA Eyes on the Solar System:

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Image Credit & Copyright: NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.

Here’s an oldie but a goodie as well as an amazing example of how detective work is crucially important in the field of astronomy. This is a Hubble Space Telescope image of the unusual yet beautiful galaxy known as Hoag’s Object which is named after Arthur Allen Hoag who discovered this object in 1950.  It’s what’s known as a ring galaxy and it’s located in the constellation Serpens a whopping (have a seat for this one) 600 million light years away.  Go ahead and think about that for a while and blow your own mind.

What causes galaxies to form like this? The real answer is that nobody knows as of yet.  The going hypothesis is that it has either undergone a collision or near miss with another galaxy as they passed by one another some two to three billion years ago.  The ring of stars may have even been captured by this galaxy, we’re simply unsure.  One thing is certain however.  The ring of stars is full of fairly new bright blue stars while the nucleus is in stark contrast.  That region is dominated by the telltale sign of ancient yellow stars which is a fairly common feature in most galaxies.  Astronomers are also unsure if that gap is in fact a gap or if it’s laced with a faint layer of stars or star clusters.

As rare as these objects are, amazingly if you look just inside the blue ring at about the 1 o’clock position you will see, millions of light years beyond, yet another ring galaxy bearing a striking resemblance to this one.

NAME: Hoag’s Object, PGC 54559.

WHAT IS IT?: Ring Galaxy.

HOW FAR AWAY IS IT?: 600 million light years (180 million parsecs).

HOW BIG IS IT?: Roughly 120 light years in diameter.

APPARENT MAGNITUDE?: Almost not worth discussing at 16.

WHERE IS IT? (General): Constellation Serpens.

WHERE IS IT? (Exact RA/DEC J2000): R.A. 15h 17m 15s / Dec. +21° 35′ 07″.

Hubblesite News Release page for this image:

Hubble Heritage release of this image:

The Astrophysical Journal; Structure & Evolution of Hoag’s Object:

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