You Know Orion Always Comes up Sideways?


Image credit & copyright: Daniel LaShomb.

Just because I was at the famous Robert Frost Farm in Derry New Hampshire last night and Orion happened to be in the neighborhood, I give you, Robert Frost……..

The Star Splitter

By: Robert Frost.

“You know Orion always comes up sideways.

Throwing a leg up over our fence of mountains,

And rising on his hands, he looks in on me

Busy outdoors by lantern-light with something

I should have done by daylight, and indeed,

After the ground is frozen, I should have done

Before it froze, and a gust flings a handful

Of waste leaves at my smoky lantern chimney

To make fun of my way of doing things,

Or else fun of Orion’s having caught me.

Has a man, I should like to ask, no rights

These forces are obliged to pay respect to?”

So Brad McLaughlin mingled reckless talk

Of heavenly stars with hugger-mugger farming,

Till having failed at hugger-mugger farming,

He burned his house down for the fire insurance

And spent the proceeds on a telescope

To satisfy a lifelong curiosity

About our place among the infinities.


“What do you want with one of those blame things?”

I asked him well beforehand. “Don’t you get one!”


“Don’t call it blamed; there isn’t anything

More blameless in the sense of being less

A weapon in our human fight,” he said.

“I’ll have one if I sell my farm to buy it.”

There where he moved the rocks to plow the ground

And plowed between the rocks he couldn’t move,

Few farms changed hands; so rather than spend years

Trying to sell his farm and then not selling,

He burned his house down for the fire insurance

And bought the telescope with what it came to.

He had been heard to say by several:

“The best thing that we’re put here for’s to see;

The strongest thing that’s given us to see with’s

A telescope. Someone in every town

Seems to me owes it to the town to keep one.

In Littleton it may as well be me.”

After such loose talk it was no surprise

When he did what he did and burned his house down.


Mean laughter went about the town that day

To let him know we weren’t the least imposed on,

And he could wait—we’d see to him tomorrow.

But the first thing next morning we reflected

If one by one we counted people out

For the least sin, it wouldn’t take us long

To get so we had no one left to live with.

For to be social is to be forgiving.

Our thief, the one who does our stealing from us,

We don’t cut off from coming to church suppers,

But what we miss we go to him and ask for.

He promptly gives it back, that is if still

Uneaten, unworn out, or undisposed of.

It wouldn’t do to be too hard on Brad

About his telescope. Beyond the age

Of being given one for Christmas gift,

He had to take the best way he knew how

To find himself in one. Well, all we said was

He took a strange thing to be roguish over.

Some sympathy was wasted on the house,

A good old-timer dating back along;

But a house isn’t sentient; the house

Didn’t feel anything. And if it did,

Why not regard it as a sacrifice,

And an old-fashioned sacrifice by fire,

Instead of a new-fashioned one at auction?


Out of a house and so out of a farm

At one stroke (of a match), Brad had to turn

To earn a living on the Concord railroad,

As under-ticket-agent at a station

Where his job, when he wasn’t selling tickets,

Was setting out up track and down, not plants

As on a farm, but planets, evening stars

That varied in their hue from red to green.


He got a good glass for six hundred dollars.

His new job gave him leisure for stargazing.

Often he bid me come and have a look

Up the brass barrel, velvet black inside,

At a star quaking in the other end.

I recollect a night of broken clouds

And underfoot snow melted down to ice,

And melting further in the wind to mud.

Bradford and I had out the telescope.

We spread our two legs as it spread its three,

Pointed our thoughts the way we pointed it,

And standing at our leisure till the day broke,

Said some of the best things we ever said.

That telescope was christened the Star-Splitter,

Because it didn’t do a thing but split

A star in two or three the way you split

A globule of quicksilver in your hand

With one stroke of your finger in the middle.

It’s a star-splitter if there ever was one,

And ought to do some good if splitting stars

‘Sa thing to be compared with splitting wood.


We’ve looked and looked, but after all where are we?

Do we know any better where we are,

And how it stands between the night tonight

And a man with a smoky lantern chimney?

How different from the way it ever stood?

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The Lone Wanderer; NGC 6503

At the edge of the abyss

Image Credit & Copyright: NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope

Located 17 million light years away in the constellation Draco (The Dragon) is this beautifully active galaxy cataloged as NGC 6503. Vast regions of orange (usually pink but unusual filters were used) star birth rip through the spiral arms and it appears that there is plenty of material in the form of gas, dust and molecular hydrogen to continue populating the galaxy for a long time even with the super massive black hole at its core.

One thing that’s not so evident in this image is that it’s alone. It has no local group and no company to speak of for millions of light years. Just an individual island oasis on the edge of what’s known as the “Local Void.” The Local Void is a gravitationally induced, seemingly empty region of space that spans upwards of 150 million light years and is where few other luminous objects exist.

NAME: NGC 6503.

WHAT IS IT?: Dwarf spiral galaxy.

HOW BIG IS IT?: Roughly 30,000 light years in diameter.

HOW FAR AWAY IS IT?: Roughly 17 million light years.

APPARENT MAGNITUDE?: At mag 10 it’s within small to moderate sized telescope view.

WHERE IS IT? (General): Northern constellation Draco (The Dragon).

WHERE IS IT? (Exact RA/DEC J2000): RA 17h 49.4m 00s / DEC +70° 09′ 00″.

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Heart Broken NGC 922


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

150 million light years away lies the remains of a cosmic murder. It appears that as we see it, NGC 922 here was (Cue the Bon Jovi music) shot through the heart some 330 million years ago, killing the spiral galaxy that it once was.

So what do we have for clues here? Well for starters the galaxy is now a ring galaxy with its core now destroyed and vast circular ripples radiating through the structure like ripples from dropping a rock in water. We also have vast regions of star formation created by the shockwave of material as it distorts and compresses the gas and dust that were once spiral arms. As they come to life, the telltale pink hue of star forming nebulae dominates the area.

It’s been observed by the Chandra X-ray telescope that this galaxy also contains at least a couple handful of stellar mass black holes upwards of ten solar masses; at least seven of which are currently feeding.

What about clues as to how this ring galaxy looks as it’s not exactly an obvious ring. If the aggressor punched through the nucleus of this galaxy face on the ring structure would likely be more defined. That means that this collision, even though it passes through the nucleus, was at a steep angle which disturbed the galaxy in a much different way.

So we have the galaxy, its shape and classification, star formation, stellar mass black holes and by the state of things and knowing how long things take to progress all over the universe we should be able to trace, like blood spatter, the culprit that created this mess.

Well it turns out they have and its name is 2MASXI J0224301-244443 and in wide field images of this region it can still be seen speeding away from the scene.

Of course the personification of this galaxy is just being used as an example to illustrate how astronomers, like forensic detectives, have to comb through objects like these very carefully to determine what they’re looking at. Timelines, formations, actions, different wavelength observations, comparisons to like objects seen in previous cases etc. and as new means to investigate are brought to bear, they can even go back and someday solve some current cosmic cold cases.

NAME: NGC 922.

WHAT IS IT?: Ring galaxy and former galaxy involved in a collision where 330 million years ago a smaller galaxy pierced its heart.

HOW BIG IS IT?: 75,000 light years in diameter.

HOW FAR AWAY IS IT?: 150 million light years.

APPARENT MAGNITUDE: 12 (very dim).

WHERE IS IT? (General): Constellation Fornax.

WHERE IS IT? (Exact RA/DEC J2000): RA 02h 25m 04.40s / Dec -24° 47′ 17.00″.

ESA Space Telescope page for this image:

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A Long Time Ago In a Galaxy Far Far Away


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

Here’s a beautiful and interesting image from the Hubble Space Telescope of a pair of overlapping galaxies cataloged as 2MASX J00482185-2507365 but don’t let the boring name fool you because this duo is actually pretty cool.

For starters, this pair is a little counterintuitive because the small spiral galaxy is actually in front of the large galaxy. In countless images we’ve seen smaller galaxies in the distance behind larger, closer counterparts but not in this case.  The larger galaxy dwarfs the smaller galaxy as it’s about 10 times its size.  The exact distance between the two objects is unknown but it’s believed that they are far enough apart to where there’s no interaction between them.

Another amazing aspect to this image is the fact that the background galaxy illuminates the smaller galaxy which allows us to see the skeleton of the dust lanes as they extend out well past what we would normally see on the dark background of space.

Here’s the kicker to this entire image for. Typically, when we view images of galaxies they are full of stars because we have to look past the screen of stars in our own Milky Way galaxy to view out into the universe.  Well the stars seen in this image are from NGC 253, a galaxy 12 million light years away.  The galaxy itself is to the right, just out of frame and I’ll add the post I wrote about it below.  That means the galaxies we’re seeing must be very far away, and they are; how about 780 million light years away to be precise.  Think about that for a moment.  This light that was captured by the legendary Hubble Space Telescope left those galaxies nearly 300 million years before life on Earth even appeared on land.  Today, in real time these galaxies are certainly no longer overlapping and they are nowhere near the location that we see them in on our night sky.

NAME: 2MASX J00482185-2507365

WHAT IS IT?: Large spiral galaxy with a smaller spiral galaxy in front of it

HOW FAR AWAY IS IT?: 780 million light years.

HOW BIG IS IT?: Unsure but background galaxy is about 10 times bigger then she foreground galaxy.


WHERE IS IT? (General): Constellation Sculptor (The Whale).

WHERE IS IT? (Exact RA/Dec J2000): R.A. 00h 48m 19s.59 / Dec. -25° 08′ 51″.2.

Hubblesite News Center page for this image:

My blog post on NGC 253:

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Next ISS Crew Readies for Launch

Expedition 48 Launch

Image credit & copyright: NASA/Bill Ingalls of the Expedition 48 launch.

Friday, September 23, 2016 at 14:16 EDT (18:16 UTC) a Soyuz-FG rocket; MS-02 (ISS 48S or Soyuz 50) will be lifting off from Launch Pad 1/Launcher 5 (LC 1/5) at the legendary Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. It will carry three crew members of Expedition 49/50 to the International Space Station (ISS) on a two-day, 34-orbit launch to docking vs the now standard, four orbit, 6 hour “fast-track” launch to docking.   This will be the 2nd use of the upgraded Soyuz which replaces the TMA series. The testing of this spacecraft is the reason the launch to docking timeline will be longer this launch.

The crew will dock with the Russian Mini Research module-2 (MRM-2) Poisk “Lit” Module later that evening and that capsule will remain there for approximately 6 months as a crew escape vehicle should they need it and ultimately a return vehicle.

Continue reading

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ESA Releases Gaia’s First Sky Map and its Beautiful


Images credit & copyright: ESA/Gaia/DPAC.

This week, Wednesday, September 14 the European Space Agency (ESA) released the first series of data from their Gaia spacecraft in its ambitious plan to create a 3Dmap of more than a billion stars. This release, which includes data from the first 14 months of collection (up until September2015), has recorded the precise brightness and position of 1 billion, 142 million stars to include 3,194 variable stars.

This first round of data, as beautiful as it is, will be upstaged in coming years as more data continues to come in and as that data begins to construct the 3D map.

ESA Science Gaia main site:

ESA Science page for this non-annotated image:

ESA Science page for this annotated image:


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China’s Second Mini Space Station to Launch Today


Image credit & copyright: China Daily.

Launch Alert:

Thursday, September 15, 2016 at 10:10 EDT (14:10 UTC) China’s national space agency will be launching a Long March 2F rocket carrying the Tiangong 2 “Heavenly Palace” mini space station into low Earth orbit (LEO) from the Jiquan Satellite Launch Center in China’s Gobi Desert.


The 47 ft., 20 metric ton, Tiangong 2 “Heavenly Palace” mini space station is a working prototype for the next generation of Chinese space stations. It will be placed at an altitude of 393 km (244 mi.) where it will await the crew of Shenzhou 11 spacecraft which is slated for launch around mid-October. The 2 person crew will be able to remain on Tiangong 2 for up to 30 days.

This will be the 10th flight of the Long March 2F (CZ-2F) launch vehicle.

Long March 2F (Chang Zheng 2F, CZ-2F or Shenjian) Rocket:

China’s Long March 2F (CZ-2F) rocket is a prominent member of the Long March rocket family and is primarily responsible for human spaceflight (Shenzhou Program) as well as launching Tiangong 1 and 2 mini space stations. The Long March 2F is a two stage, four booster launch vehicle that stands 58.34 m (191.4 ft.) high and is 3.35 m (10.9 ft.) in core diameter.  Liftoff mass for this vehicle is 479,800 kg (480 metric tons) and can deliver a payload of up to 8,400 kg (8.4 metric tons) into low Earth orbit (LEO).

Launch Abort System (crewed launches):

The Long March 2F Launch Abort System can be triggered manually or automatically in the event that taikonauts on board need to be evacuated from the launch vehicle. The launch abort system can be used from T-15 minutes to 160 seconds into flight.

Second Stage:

The Long March 2F second stage is 15.5 m (50.8 ft.) long and 3.4 m (11.1 ft.) in diameter. It is powered by a single YF-25 engine as well as four YF-23 Vernier Jets utilizing Unsymmetrical Dimethylhydrazine for fuel and Nitrogen Tetroxide for the oxidizer and can burn for 300 seconds.

4 Strap-On Boosters:

The Long March 2F utilized four strap-on boosters, each 15.3 m (50 ft.) long and 2.3 m (7.5 ft.) in diameter. They are each powered by a single YF-20B engine utilizing Unsymmetrical Dimethylhydrazine for fuel and Nitrogen Tetroxide for the oxidizer and can burn for 128 seconds.

First Stage (Core Stage):

The Long March 2F core stage is 28.5 m (93.5 ft.) in length and 3.35 m (10.9 ft.) in diameter. It’s powered by four YF-20B main engines utilizing Unsymmetrical Dimethylhydrazine for fuel and Nitrogen Tetroxide for the oxidizer and can burn for 166 seconds.


Watch Live:

CCTV America:

CCTV News YouTube:

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