Now is the Time to Observe Vesta

Images and illustrations credit & copyright: NASA & Naked Eye Planets.

It’s not every day that you can observe a main belt asteroid with nothing more than your eyes and right now is one of those times. Asteroid 4 Vesta is the second largest main belt asteroid after dwarf planet 1 Ceres and it reaches opposition (its closest point to Earth in its orbit) on Tuesday, June 19. Its apparent magnitude is around 5.7 now and is scheduled to reach about 5.2 or 5.3 at opposition and remember, the lower the number the brighter the object is, and in very dark skies anything under 6 or 6.5 is naked eye visible.

Understanding Magnitudes:

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Bright Light, Bright Light!

Image credit & copyright: NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.

To an astronomer (even us amateurs), nothing is more annoying than light pollution or that neighbor that just won’t turn off their floodlights on the side of the house. Well here we have a different iteration of that same problem. This dwarf galaxy, PGC 39058 is roughly 14 million light years away and contains oh, a few million stars. Now that’s pretty awesome and any amateur astronomer would love to have a look at or an image attempt at this object. I mean how cool is that, there’s even an almost edge on spiral galaxy even further behind still. That is of course, if there wasn’t a Milky Way star directly in the way blocking much of our view.

That’s right. That floodlight of a star is actually a star in our own Milky Way galaxy that just happens to be directly in our way. Obviously you don’t need me to tell you how powerful Hubble is but check this out. When you look up, depending on where you are you see a handful to a few thousand stars and the dimmest stars that you can see with the unaided eye, even in the darkest skies are an apparent magnitude of 6 or even down to 6.5 though you will need very dark skies. This particular star, at an apparent magnitude of 6.7 is just beyond that threshold. If you were in the darkest skies and knew where to look you would still need binoculars to view it. Hubble makes it look like the most ferocious supernova ever witnessed.

Annoying as it is, we just have to deal with it because this light isn’t moving out of the way for a while and it isn’t going lights out for billions more.

Name: PGC 39058

What is it?: Dwarf galaxy obscured by a foreground star in the Milky Way

How big is it?: Roughly a few million stars

How far away is it?: 14 million light years-ish

Apparent magnitude: Foreground star is actually only a magnitude of 6.7

Where is it (general)?: In the constellation of Draco the Dragon

Where is it (Exact RA/Dec J2000)?: RA 12h 14m 08.4s / Dec +66° 05′ 41″

ESA Space Telescope page for this page:

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SpaceX Falcon 9 SES-12

Image credit & copyright: SpaceX. Live stream link and press kit updates are typically the day prior.

LAUNCH ALERT! Monday, June 4, 2018 at 00:29 EDT (04:29 UTC and 21:29 PDT on the 31st) SpaceX will be launching a previously flown Falcon 9 (core B1040.2) from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40), Cape Canaveral, Florida to deliver the SES-12 communication satellite into a Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO) for SES of Luxembourg.

Stats: This will be SpaceX’s 11th launch of 2018 and the 62nd SpaceX flight overall (5 Falcon 1, 56 Falcon 9, 1 Falcon Heavy). At this time it doesn’t appear that a landing attempt will be made so SpaceX’s landing successes will likely stand at 25; 14 on drone ships and 11 on land.

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Cepheid Variable Star RS Puppis from Hubble

Image credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)-Hubble/Europe Collaboration.

Residing about 6,500 light years away in the southern constellation Puppis is this magnificent and seemingly mysterious object, shrouded in a cocoon of stellar material. This image comes to us from the legendary Hubble Space Telescope (HST) and it’s a Cepheid Variable Star called “RS Puppis.”

Don’t worry too much about the “RS” and “Cepheid” classifications as there is a vast list of various types of variable stars (link below). Just know that variable stars are stars that over a regular given period of time brighten and dim slightly. Cepheid’s in short, brighten greatly over a relatively long period. RS Puppis has a brightness of 15,000 times that of our host star, is roughly 20 times its mass and about 200 times larger. Its variability cycle or pulsation takes about 41.4 days or 6 weeks, resulting in an apparent magnitude range of a dim 7.6 to a naked eye visible at 6.5.

So what is a variable star? I’ll give you the “Cliff Notes” version. When a star begins to run low on hydrogen in its core, its millions or billions of years as a stable star begins to deteriorate. This instability causes the stars to swell and shrink over a given period of time. As they swell they brighten and when they shrink back down they get dimmer. When they shrink back down they also leave behind a massive shell of material that becomes the shroud or cocoon that HD 68860 here is surrounded by.
Because of their brightness and regularity Cepheid variable stars are what’s known as “standard candles.” These standard candles allow us to make high precision, distance measurements throughout the galaxy and universe.

Finally, in this image exists a fairly common variable star phenomenon known as “Light Echo.” Think first of what a standard sound wave echo is. If you yell or make an audible noise in a place with even the most rudimentary acoustics and in a moment’s time you hear your voice or that particular noise return to you after it has traveled out, bounced off something or multiple somethings and returned to you. A light echo is pretty much the same thing just with light instead of sounds. That sounds pretty unrealistic as light travels fast (7 times around the Earth per second) but the distances here are large enough so that even at 186,282 miles per second we can still see it in motion. The material in this star’s environment enables this effect to be shown with stunning clarity. As the star expands and brightens, we see some of the light after it is reflected from progressively more distant shells of dust and gas surrounding the star, creating the illusion of gas moving outwards. Want to see this in amazing detail? Then watch the Hubblecast 71 video above!

Name: HD 68860, SAO 198944, RS Puppis

What is it?: Cepheid Variable Star with a period of about 41.4 days

How big is it?: Roughly 10 stellar masses & 200 X larger than the Sun

How far away is it?: 6,500 light years or 2000 parsecs

Apparent magnitude?: 6.5 to 7.6

Where is it (general)?: Southern constellation Puppis

Where is it (exact RA/Dec J2000)?: R.A. 08h 13m 04s / DEC -34° 34′ 42.7”

NASA Hubble News Center:

ESA Hubble Space Telescope:

ESA Hubble Space Telescope Information:

AAVSO Variable Star Type Designations:

AAVSO RS Puppis Page:


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Etheridge Range Milky Way

Image credit & copyright: Jay Daley.

Let’s roll into our week with this fantastic image by Jay Daley of our home star city over Seamans Hut memorial and shelter, 2,030 m (6,660 ft.) in altitude along the Etheridge Range in Kosciuszko National Park, New South Wales, Australia.

National Parks in any country, especially those in mountain ranges offer spectacular views as well as history and this location is no different. During the day the spectacular range delivers views of the 6,900 sq km (2,664 sq mi.) national park and at night it boasts views of the infinite universe, the glow of the Milky Way and its companions. Coming from my bright night sky, every time that I take that first look at a dark sky site I’m still blown away at just how much it jumps out at you. If you haven’t, you must.

Main Site:





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SpaceX Iridium NEXT 51-55 (Iridium 6) from CA

Image credit & copyright: SpaceX. Live stream link and press kit updates are typically the day prior.

LAUNCH ALERT! Tuesday, May 22, 2018 at 12:47 PDT (15:47 EDT & 19:47 UTC) a previously launched SpaceX Falcon 9 (core B1043.2) will be launching from Vandenberg Air Force Base’s Space Launch Complex 4E (SLC-4E or “Slick” 4E) to deliver five Iridium satellites (NEXT 110, 147, 152, 161, 162) for the Iridium Corporation as well as the GRACE-FO 1 & 2 science satellites for NASA and the German Research Centre for Geosciences (GFZ).

Stats: This will be SpaceX’s 10th launch of 2018 and the 61st SpaceX flight overall (5 Falcon 1, 55 Falcon 9, 1 Falcon Heavy). At this time it doesn’t appear that a landing attempt will be made so SpaceX’s landing successes will likely stand at 25; 14 on drone ships and 11 on land.

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ISS Resupply Launch from VA This Week

Images credit & copyright: NASA & Orbital ATK.

LAUNCH ALERT: Monday, May 21, 2018 at 04:39 EDT (08:39 UTC & 01:39 PDT) an Orbital ATK Antares 230 rocket will be launching from Launch Pad 0A (LP-0A) at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) on the South end of NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility (WFF), Virginia, carrying the Cygnus cargo ship (S.S. “JR” Thompson/Cygnus 10) as part of Orbital ATK-9 (OA-9) to resupply the International Space Station (ISS). This launch has a 5 minute launch window.

After rendezvous with Station on Thursday, May 24, it will be grappled via Canadarm2 and berthed to the Earth facing (nadir) side of Station’s Unity Module (Node-1) where it’s scheduled to remain for about a month before being loaded with waste and released to disintegrate in Earth’s atmosphere.

This will be the 8th launch of the Antares rocket, the 3rd launch of Antares in its 230 configuration, the 9th of 10 contracted launches of Orbital ATK’s Cygnus cargo spacecraft and the 6th “enhanced” Cygnus.

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