THE ISLAND’S EYES

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Image Credit & Copyright: Ethan Tweedie.

As if you needed another reason to visit the island state of Hawaii, you can go visit this incredible site captured here by Ethan Tweedie. High atop Hawaii’s Mauna Kea volcano, which from base to summit is the tallest mountain on Earth, is also one of the most powerful ground based observatories on Earth.  In this image, the twin 10 meter W. M. Keck telescopes fire their Keck II Laser Guide Star (LGS) Adaptive Optics (AO) lasers into the atmosphere at the heart of the Milky Way.  Adaptive Optics utilize lasers to act as guide stars and they greatly reduce the damage done by atmospheric turbulence which results in incredibly detailed images that otherwise wouldn’t be possible by a ground based observatory.

The mighty Keck twins aren’t the only observatories atop Mauna Kea. There’s a twin of a different sort as well; the 8.19 meter Gemini North Observatory whose partner (Gemini South) resides in Chile.  Another big player is the 8.2 meter Subaru Telescope belonging to the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ).  All told, there are about 13 systems of telescopes atop Mauna Kea serving just about any need that an astronomer could ask for.  I provided links to the different observatories below.

Thank you to Ethan for this brilliant image and as always be sure to check out more of his incredible work.

Ethan Tweedie Photography: http://www.ethantweedie.com/

Blog: http://www.ethantweedie.com/blog/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/EthanTweediePhotography

Google Plus: https://plus.google.com/+EthanTweedie/posts

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ethantweedie

Instagram: http://instagram.com/ethantweedie

Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/ethantweedie/

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/95641109@N00/

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NIGHT OF THE AURORA – KANCAMANGUS PASS

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Image Credit & Copyright: Chris Georgia. See below for info and all related links.

On Wednesday, September 10, 2014 the Sun unleashed a pair of coronal mass ejections (CME’s) that subsequently struck Earth on the 11th & 12th.  The resulting solar storms rained down on Earth’s Polar Regions, giving many observers in the U.S. and Europe a rare opportunity to view the legendary Aurora Borealis or “Northern Lights.”  The ensuing solar storms raised the KP index to a level of KP7 or G3 on the NOAA scale.

The past few weeks I have been displaying some amazing aurora images from this event by a few of what I like to call the “Local Group” of photographers here in my immediate NH, MA, VT & ME region. I truly hope you enjoy them and visit their works as they’re some of the very best at what they do.  Also, when it comes to events like this these images are amazing but I urge every one of you to get out and see these events for yourself when possible because you have a finite amount of opportunities to do so in your life.

If you’re interested in viewing the aurora yourself check my short “Aurora Watcher’s Guide” which I just updated on September 14: http://danspace77.com/aurora-guide/

This amazing image was captured by Manchester New Hampshire’s, Chris Georgia on the evening of the 12th at the Pemigewassett Lookout at the Kancamangus Pass, NH around 20:30.  I was actually just there yesterday (Sunday) as I enjoy spending as much time as I can in the mountains. If you haven’t been to the White Mountains and Kancamangus highway of New Hampshire now is certainly the time as fall foliage is in peak season. Yet another amazing job from Chris as usual and check the links below for more of his amazing work.

Christopher M. Georgia Photography: http://www.cmgfoto.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CMGFoto

Twitter: https://twitter.com/CMGFoto

Vimeo: http://vimeo.com/cmgfoto

Instagram: http://instagram.com/cmgfotodotcom#

Google Plus: https://plus.google.com/+ChrisGeorgia/posts

Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/cmgfoto/

500px: http://500px.com/CMGFoto

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SUN IN HYDROGEN ALPHA (HA)

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Image Credit & Copyright: Paul Stewart.

Here’s a world class view of our home star, the Sun by Paul Stewart of Timaru, New Zealand.

Just have a long look at this image and take pause in what you’re looking at. Of everything in the solar system; the planets, asteroids, comets, even us; this 1,392,684 km diameter spherical thermo-nuclear fusion reactor makes up 99% of the total mass of the solar system. Much of the rest of that last percent is Jupiter. Nearly 1,000,000 spherical Earth’s could fit into the Sun and if Earth were water and the Sun were a bowl, thus eliminating the open space left by the spherical Earths, you could pour 1,300,000 Earths into the Sun.  

Just that filament alone stretching across the disk of the Sun in this image radiating out toward the ten o’clock position is roughly 400,000 km long and the prominences along the outer edges of the disk are many times the height of Earth. Solar observing is a favorite of mine as each time you observe it there are always changes. Not to mention the facts and figures that accompany it are never short of staggering.

Thanks so much to Paul for giving us these images and I hope you check out the rest of his work as it’s equally impressive. Incredible detail, incredible quality and any time that I’ve ever had a question he’s been more than willing to help straighten me out.

Paul Stewart: http://upsidedownastronomer.wordpress.com/

Google Plus: http://plus.google.com/+PaulStewartNZ

Twitter: https://twitter.com/astrostew

AstroBin: http://www.astrobin.com/users/pstew/

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/astrostew/

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WONDERLAND ON THE PACIFIC COAST

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Image Credit & Copyright: Evan Thomas.

Here’s an incredible image from the brilliant night sky photographer Evan Thomas. Those who find themselves land locked as he does, also often find themselves yearning for the shores. I suppose it’s no different from me (just the opposite) as I too often dream of getting back to the southwest desert for some hiking, and of course that night sky and horizon.

Tempted by the coast, he ambitiously embarked on a trip west to the Oregon coast for some night sky shooting and adventure. The fruits of that ambition yielded some pretty amazing captures. I mean who doesn’t love the coastline no matter which coast you’re on? I’ve spent a few years on the south western coast and I loved it and here in the north east everywhere you go the endless coastline is just inspiring as well; day or night.

I’d also like to take a moment and offer some advice for whatever its worth to you. Our lives, as fragile as they are, in hindsight come and go in a flash. That’s if you’re one of the lucky ones who have the true privilege of a long and healthy life as many do not. As I slowly creep into my late 30’s I am day after day just stunned at how fast it all happened. My high school and military years seem like yesterday. I clearly remember conversing with my troublemaker friends as a teen discussing how it will suck to be our parents age someday. Well, I blinked and here I am. In fact; our close group is still well intact though life and its obligations don’t allow for as much time together as it once did. You know what? Physically and mentally I feel no different than I did then. I still run a lot, go out a lot, talk like a sailor and play sports. Those thoughts of being my parents age is now realized and not only do I feel the same, but it all happened so fast. For you very young people, faster than you will ever believe. There’s a reason that time and time again people say that you shouldn’t waste your life. Once you hit 20, you will never be a teen again. Once you hit 30, your 20’s become history for the rest of your life.

That’s why images like these mean so much to me. You can take your time, stare into them and envision the future, reflect on the past and calmly observe the reality of Earth and the universe all in the same place, all in one image. You can almost disappear and place yourself in the image. Whatever you do and wherever you are in life, learn to enjoy every day. Take trips and see as many amazing things and places as you can for yourself because in the end, it’s not about where you finish as we all have the same finish line ahead of us, but it’s about the experiences that you had along the way.

Yet another terrific job by Evan and if you agree please visit more of his work in the provided links!

Even Thomas Photography: http://www.evanthomasphoto.com/

Blog: http://exploreabitmore.blogspot.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/evanthomasphoto

500px: http://500px.com/evanthomasphoto

Instagram: http://instagram.com/exploreabitmore

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MARS MEETS ITS RIVAL IN THE HEART OF THE SCORPION

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

On the night of Sunday, September 28, 2014 just after sunset look southwest to the constellation Scorpius to witness a beautiful sight; the red planet will be alongside the red heart of the scorpion, Antares.

The pair will be about three (3) degrees apart low on the horizon so you will need an unobstructed view in that direction and depending on exactly where you are you may not want to wait too long because they will set fairly quickly after sunset. According to http://aa.usno.navy.mil/data/docs/mrst.php I have Mars setting around 21:15 EDT on Sunday, September 28 at my location. That’s with an unobstructed, ocean or desert-like horizon.

This is a great opportunity to see how Antares got its name (anti or ante Ares) as it’s Greek for “rival of Ares” or “equal to Ares.” Ares of course is the Greek God of War, which is actually the counterpart to the Roman God of War and namesake of the planet; Mars.  Late this month the two will battle it out and you get to decide who’s most impressive………Pretty cool right?!

All rivalry aside, that’s where the comparisons end……let’s have some thought fun!

When you view these two in the sky, keep in mind that you will be viewing Mars at a distance of roughly 1.4AU (133.4 million mi.) at an apparent magnitude (brightness as we see it) of about 0.8. Antares will be at a similar apparent magnitude of 0.9 but this massive red giant will be slightly further away at a distance of 550 light years.  If you were traveling at the speed of light you would reach mars in about 12 minutes and Antares in, well, 550 years!

Let’s have a side by side size comparison! Little old Mars with a diameter of 6,800 km (4,225 mi.) is smaller than Earth and bigger than the Moon.  It’s roughly the diameter of the Earth’s outer core and it orbits the Sun at a distance of 1.52 AU or about 50% further away than Earth does. Antares, with a diameter of 1.2 billion km (735 million mi.) or 800 times that of the Sun is one of the largest stars known.  Just as you could squeeze 1.3 million Earths into the Sun, you could squeeze about 500 million Suns into Antares!

Here’s what could be the knockout blow to our rusty planetary partner. If you removed the Sun and replaced it with Antares, it would be so big that it would swallow the orbit of Mars and much of the main asteroid belt!  It would appear that Mars stands no chance against the red supergiant right?  However, this may not be true as Antares goes by the “Live Fast & Die Young” mantra, which means that someday in the future, possibly during this encounter, Antares will detonate into a supernova and if it’s close, it will truly wash Mars out of the sky for a time.  But then, it will fade…….and Mars, the God of War will still be there, its rival, gone.

 

Exact RA/DEC J2000 for Antares: RA 16h 29m 24s / DEC −26° 25′ 55″.

SAO for Antares: 184415.

SIMBAD data for Antares: http://simbad.u-strasbg.fr/simbad/sim-id?Ident=HD+148478

Terrific “Distance to Mars” visual by David Paliwoda & Jesse Williams: http://www.distancetomars.com/

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HISTORY TO BE MADE ONBOARD THE ISS

Expedition 30 Soyuz Rollout

Photo Credit & Copyright: NASA/Carla Cioffi of TMA-03M rollout.

On Thursday, September 25th, at 20:24 UTC (16:24 EDT) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan a Soyuz-FG rocket; TMA-14M (Soyuz 40) will be lifting off from Launch Pad 1/Launcher 5 (LC 1/5 or Gagarin’s Start). TMA-14M will carry three crew members of Expedition 41/42 to the International Space Station (ISS) on a four orbit, 6 hour “fast-track” launch to docking flight which began manned operations on TMA-08M on March 28, 2013. The crew will dock with the Russian Mini Research module-2 (MRM-2) Poisk “Search or Explore” Module at Thursday night and that capsule will remain there for approximately 6 months as a crew escape vehicle. Docking & hatch opening coverage begins at 21:45 EDT on the 25th (01:45 UTC on the 26th).

Want to see the ISS overhead? Here’s everything you need! http://danspace77.com/iss-tracking/

HISTORY IN THE MAKING:

When cosmonaut Elena Serova arrives onboard the ISS, she will become the first female cosmonaut to do so. In the process she will become only the fourth female cosmonaut to reach space and the first to launch since Yelena Kondakova launched onboard STS-84 space shuttle Atlantis on May 15, 1997.

CREW OF TMA-14M (Soyuz 40):

NASA astronaut Barry Wilmore:

Roscosmos cosmonaut Elena Serova:

Roscosmos cosmonaut Alexander Samokutyaev:

THEY WILL JOIN:

Roscosmos cosmonaut and ISS Commander, Maxim Suraev: https://twitter.com/Msuraev

NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman: https://twitter.com/astro_reid

ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst (Germany): https://twitter.com/Astro_Alex

*This will fulfill Expedition 41 which began on September 10, 2014 and these three crewmembers will begin Expedition 42 on a later date.

SUPERSTISION & TRADITION: Just some the seemingly endless tradition and superstition; Before leaving Star City near Moscow, the crew leaves red roses at the memorial wall which commemorates Gagarin and the 4 other fallen Russian cosmonauts. They also visit Gagarin’s office, sign his guest book and ask his ghost for permission to fly before heading to the Cosmonaut Hotel in Baikonur. Behind it, a road of trees planted by former crews. Before launch the crew will add their three trees as well. The Soyuz rollout begins at 0700 Baikonur Time as it has done since the Gagarin Flight on April 12, 1961. The rollout is not allowed to be watched by the primary crew as it is considered bad luck. To help with good luck, technicians flatten coins on the tracks. The rocket will also be blessed by an Orthodox Priest before flight. Anointing the rocket began in 1994 at the request of cosmonaut Alexander Viktorenko before his TM-20 launch to MIR. One of the few traditions not started with Yuri. The main crew will, before flight, get a haircut and watch the 1969 movie “White Sun of the Desert.” Suit up happens in a tiny room, on display relatively close to onlookers from behind glass. Before leaving the hotel for the launch pad the crew is blessed and they sip wine at breakfast. As they leave, they sign the door of their room. As they leave they are played the song, “The Green Grass Near My Home” which speaks of a cosmonauts love of Earth. The bus, which has horseshoes on it makes a stop and the crew partakes in a tradition again, started by Gagarin himself; urination of the right rear wheel of the bus. When they finally reach the launch pad they are presented with the talisman in the form of a stuffed animal to be hung from inside the Soyuz capsule for the flight. Also, there are no launches on October 24. And that’s just for LAUNCH! Never mind the landing ritual.

STREAM THE LAUNCH LIVE:

Live Streaming Feed (NASA TV): http://www.nasa.gov/ntv

NASA TV on Ustream: http://www.ustream.tv/nasahdtv

NASA TV on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/user/NASAtelevision

NASA TV on LiveStream: http://www.livestream.com/nasa

Live Streaming Feed (Tsenki): http://www.tsenki.com/en/broadcast/

Expedition 41 Mission Summary: http://www.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/files/NP-2014-08-010-JSC-Expedition-41-summary.pdf?bcsi_scan_df193da5ba4c5bc6=0&bcsi_scan_filename=NP-2014-08-010-JSC-Expedition-41-summary.pdf

NASA ISS expedition 41 crew: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/expeditions/expedition41/

NASA’s HDEV 24hr LIVE streaming feed from the ISS: http://danspace77.com/2014/05/07/nasahdev-deliver-live-streaming-view-of-earth-from-the-iss/

NASA ISS main mission page: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/main/

NASA ISS Mission pages: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/multimedia/index.html

NASA ISS Photos (All the photos you will ever need from the ISS): http://spaceflight.nasa.gov/gallery/images/station/index.html

NASA “2 Explore” Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/nasa2explore/

NASA “HQ Photostream” Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/nasahqphoto/

NASA “Goddard” Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/gsfc/

NASA Spaceflight TMA-14M: http://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=34875.0

Spaceflight 101 Soyuz FG: http://www.spaceflight101.com/soyuz-fg.html

Roscosmos homepage: http://www.federalspace.ru/

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OBJECTS IN THE HUNTER MAY BE CLOSER THAN THEY APPEAR

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Image Credit & Copyright: Rogelio Bernal Andreo http://www.deepskycolors.com/.

I’d like to get your mind working a little bit today, aside from seeing this incredible image from Mr. Andreo, I hope that you read this through because I think you may enjoy it.

As summer fades into fall so to the constellations of the summer night give way to the familiar Winter Hexagon of the Orion neighborhood. Orion is of course, one of the most familiar regions in the night sky but there may be something you haven’t yet given thought to that may just change how you look at this constellation.  Let’s have a look.

The Orion constellation is dominated by eight highly visible stars as well as the area around M42, the Orion Nebula, also known as the sword in the hunter’s belt. Orion is also home to some of the most amazing nebulae that the winter sky has to offer but that’s a post for a different time.  In this post we don’t care about what size and composition the stars are.  In this post we will just touch on the distance to the naked eye points of light that make up the hunter.

Have a look at this distance list of the major players in the constellation Orion. This list is compiled in distance order and not by the anatomic locations on the constellation.

BELLATRIX (left shoulder): 240 light years away.

BETELGEUSE (right shoulder): 427 light years away.

SAIPH (right foot): 720 light years away.

RIGEL (left foot): 770 light years away.

ALNITAK (left belt star as we see it): 800 light years away.

MINTAKA (right belt star as we see it): 900 light years away.

MEISSA (Orion’s head): 1000 light years away.

M42 ORION NEBULA: 1300 light years away.

ALNILAM (middle belt star): 1340 light years away.

Let’s break this down a little further then as soon as the opportunity arises, go outside and look up when you wake up for work or school and realize that many of the stars in the Orion constellation are closer to us here on Earth than they are to each other!

For example, if you lived on a planet around Bellatrix which is the left shoulder star across from Betelgeuse, and you wanted to visit some old friends on Earth you would have to travel 240 light years. After returning home to Bellatrix, you get the urge for a milkshake at that hopping 50’s diner on that planet around the middle belt star Alnilam; well, you would have to travel at least 1100 light years in the opposite direction.  I say at least because the actual distance between the two is actually greater once you include the side to side distance as well.  Remember, we’re just talking about raw straight line distance from us on Earth.  In fact, the only star in Orion closer to Bellatrix than the Sun is Betelgeuse……and just barely!

Let’s do it again from a different angle. Let’s assume that you lived on a planet in orbit around Betelgeuse and you wanted to hit up your favorite gym at that planet around Meissa the head star in Orion and the closest star to Betelgeuse in the constellation (as we see it).  If you just found a suitable gym here on Earth instead of traveling to Meissa you would save yourself a 575 light year trip each way!

One final thought experiment. Let’s assume all the stars in Orion cease to shine in unison, right now.  Your great grandchildren may see the 1st star, Bellatrix, Orion’s left shoulder, blink out of existence in 240 years but surely none of our grandchildren will be here to witness it.  187 years after that and nearly a half a millennium after it burned out, the red supergiant and right shoulder star, Betelgeuse disappears from the night sky.  293 years after that, we lose Orion’s right foot, Saiph and 50 years after that we lose the other foot, Rigel.  In the year 2784 the constellation of Orion will be unrecognizable as both stars representing its shoulders and feet are gone.  But the light from the three belt stars, the head star and M42 are still incoming.  30 years after losing Rigel we finally lose the first belt star, Alnitak, the left belt star as we see it from Earth.  100 years later the right belt star, Mintaka goes dark.  100 years after that and 1000 years after the stars went dark we lose Meissa, the head star in Orion.  We’ve now clicked into the next millennium, it’s the year 3014 and all that’s left from the incredible Orion constellation is the Orion Nebula region and Alnilam, the middle belt star.  As those distant generations view Orion in the digital records of history it’s all but gone.  About 300 years later, after that generation’s great grandchildren come and go, the region of M42 (assuming that entire region went out together) disappears leaving only the middle star in what once was the belt of the mighty hunter.  But that won’t last long, as just 30 years after being left alone, the light streaming to us from Alnilam runs out, making Orion once again, a ghost in mythology and folklore.

Pretty incredible right? I got the idea for this post from a tweet sent on August 27 of this year by NASA astronaut Doug Wheelock.  He posted an image of Orion with the words, “Some of these stars in Orion are closer to Earth than they are to each other.”  Needless to say, my mind has been running with that thought for a while now.  One of the hardest things to do is to look up at the night sky and see the many constellations and asterisms as three and four dimensional tapestries.  Exercises like this are not only fun and mind-blowing but it helps to give you a better understanding to the true vastness of the universe.  I hope you all enjoyed this short post and I hope it was effective in its delivery and content.  As always, feel free to let me know what you think!

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