The Lights of Arctic Henge

Image credit & copyright: Stephane Vetter.

Locked away in one of the most remote locations in Iceland, stands the ancient structures of Arctic Henge. The mysterious…..ok, ok no need to yell. So it’s construction began in 1996, it’s still an amazing monument dedicated to the Norse and neo-Pagan heritage of the region. Located in Raufarhofn, this structure really is located in one of the most northern locations in Iceland with the Arctic Circle just offshore. Inspired by the eddic poem, Voluspa (Prophecy of the Seerees), it states that there are 72 dwarfs that represent 72 seasons. When complete, 72 blocks each named for one of the dwarfs, will encircle the five upright structures; one in the center and four outer ones representing the four directions and the midnight sun will interact with the structures at different times of the year.

Incredible as that may be, you can also do what Stephane did in this image which is to use the beauty of these spires to capture the natural phenomenon of the Aurora Borealis. Its curtains of color pulsing and waving, sent as a message from the sun to let us know that even though its dark, it is still very much with us. This is a place that if I ever visit, I really hope to find time for. Have a great weekend everyone, and if you enjoy this image check out more of Stephane’s work.

Stephane Vetter:

The World at Night (TWAN):




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SpaceX to Launch Telstar 19 VANTAGE (19V)

Images credit & copyright: SpaceX and NASA. Presskit usually comes out a day before launch.

LAUNCH ALERT! Sunday, July 22, 2018 at 01:50 EDT (05:50 UTC and 22:50 PDT on the 21st) a SpaceX Falcon 9 Block 5 (core 1047.1) will be launching from Cape Canaveral’s Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) carrying the Telstar 19 VANTAGE (Telstar 19V) communication satellite to a Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO).

Stats: This will be SpaceX’s 13th launch of 2018 and the 64th SpaceX flight overall (5 Falcon 1, 58 Falcon 9, 1 Falcon Heavy). Mission parameters will allow for a landing on SpaceX’s East Coast Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ships (ASDS) “Of Course I Still Love You (OCISLY)” which will bring to total successful landings to 26; 15 on drone ships and 11 on land. Some other notes; this will be SpaceX’s second Falcon 9 Block 5 launch and I don’t believe that this will be the first payload fairing attempt with the newly modified (larger catch net) recovery ship, “Mr. Steven.” I think that’s being reserved for the Iridium launch at the end of the month.

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Mount Shasta Milky Way

Image credit & copyright: Jeremy Johnson.

No, Northern California’s looming Mount Shasta hasn’t realized its true potential yet but the Milky Way galaxy sure does substitute as a safe and beautiful plume in this image captured perfectly by Jeremy Johnson. As with all night sky images, the image is just the end result of a grand adventure of planning, traveling, hiking, finding the right angles settings and being one with the elements. Here’s Jeremy’s take on this night’s adventure.

“I’ve had this shot in mind for a long time. Last year it was put on hold because of wild fires, this year after I made my reservation I heard a wild fire broke out just north of here. I kept a close eye on the weather and wind patterns and decided it was a GO. I knew the Milky Way would be visible 1 hour after sunset and the Moon wouldn’t rise till 1 am. I had a favorable wind for most the night but things would change around 11pm and the smell of fire started to fill the air. We hiked through thick volcanic sand that would almost cover your whole boot and fought off bats and all kinds of crazy bugs. Thanks to my Star Walk app I knew the Milky Way would rise exactly over Mount Shasta facing South. I moved around till I found these neat dead branches and aligned them with the Mountain. I took the picture, looked at my display and knew I got my shot.”

I hope you all enjoy this image and be sure to check out more of Jeremy’s work!

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Now is the Time to Observe Mars!

Image credit & copyright: NASA/JPL/USGS of Mars’s Schiaparelli Crater (front & center) by the Viking 1 Orbiter.

If you’re a fan of the night sky, you’ve been noticing the trio of Jupiter, Saturn and Mars rising one at a time in the East as it’s been quite a treat for the past few months.  If you haven’t seen this yet I would urge you to do so because it’s a fantastic view that’s at its peak right now.  Jupiter reached opposition back on May 8. Saturn reached opposition on June 27 and on Friday, July 27, 2018 Mars will attain its closest opposition since August 27, 2003 (which was its closest opposition in 60,000 years) and will be its closest until September 15, 2035 though unless you’re a planetary imager the exact date and time of opposition doesn’t really matter.

Mars reaches opposition about every 2 years (26 months, or 113 weeks or 791 days) and in addition to that, every 15 or 17 years opposition happens within a few weeks of Mars perihelion or Mars closest point to the Sun in its orbit which means its closer than a normal opposition. This opposition will bring Mars to within 44 million mi. (70.8 million km) from Earth. That’s not quite as close as the 2003 opposition but it’s the closest one since then. And if you’re wondering, that 2003 opposition distance of 34.6 million mi. (55.8 million km) will stand until August 28, 2287. To help paint a picture of the vast distances in our solar system, when Mars is at its furthest point from Earth (known as conjunction) on the opposite side of the Sun its roughly 2.65 AU (250 million mi. or 401 million km) from Earth.

NOTE: Please don’t believe or share any ridiculous hoaxes in regard to the opposition of Mars. Even at its closest for example, it will be 24.4” arcseconds in diameter on our sky which is still very small. Jupiter for example is 44” arcseconds at opposition and the Sun and Full Moon is about 1,800” arcseconds. On the night sky it’s certainly brighter than usual but through a telescope you still see some dark regions and some polar caps mixed in with the red that’s about it.

Jeffrey Beish illustration of the 2018 apparition of Mars showing the approach as Mars comes out from behind the Sun grown larger until opposition and then gets smaller as we bypass it and leave it behind.

What is Opposition?:

Opposition, in planetary terms is when a superior (outer) planet, dwarf planet or planetary body reaches a point almost exactly opposite the Sun from Earth’s vantage point so we see its full, bright disk.  Another way to say it is Earth is positioned directly between the Sun and that object.  This occurs because as the outer planets orbit more slowly than the inner planets so every so often we come up on the inside like turn 1 at Laguna Seca, make the pass and we’re on our way until next time. Though Mercury and Venus can never reach opposition as seen from Earth; Earth reaches opposition as seen from them. Opposition also places the object near its closest point that it can get to the Earth in its orbit (perigee). Technically opposition and the actual closest point usually differ from a few hours to a few weeks.

Why opposition doesn’t also equal perigee or that body’s closest point to Earth?  Well, as I said above it pretty much does but you have to remember that orbits are elliptical and no two orbits mirror each other, so even though a planet may be directly opposite the Sun from us, the elliptical nature of orbits usually means that the actual closest point tend to be slightly before or after opposition.

Why oppositions have different distances from opposition to opposition? The reason is the same as the above paragraph; the orbits of the planets aren’t actually circular, they’re slightly elliptical. For example, Mars reaches opposition around the same time it reaches perihelion (closest point to the Sun) every 15 to 17 years so when that happens opposition is closer.  Conversely, if Mars reaches opposition at its furthest point from the Sun it will be a more distant opposition than if it were at its closest point.

Also, during the immediate hours of opposition look for a phenomenon known as the Seeliger Effect; also known as Opposition Surge, Opposition Effect or Opposition Spike. This is a sudden brightening of the planet (especially Saturn and the Moon) right before through right after opposition. The main culprit for this phenomenon seems to be coherent backscattering and shadow hiding. To use the Moon as an example of shadow hiding; just hours before full moon, the suns light is hitting the lunar surface squarely and almost all major shadows on the lunar surface from our vantage point are gone. When this occurs the Moon can brighten by about 40 percent and usually lasts until a few hours after full phase. When this happens during an opposition of Saturn for example, the rings actually become brighter than the planet itself for those few hours.


Mars Basic Data:

Name: Mars, the Roman God of War and the Red Planet

What is it?: 4th planet from the Sun, 4th and final terrestrial planet

Size (diameter): 4, 212 mi. (6,778.5 km) or roughly half the size of Earth

Size (mass): 6.42 X 1023 kg or about 10 times less than Earth

Orbital Period (a Martian year): 1.88 Earth years or 686.97 Earth days

Rotational Period (Sol or Martian day): 1.02 Earth days or 24h 37m 22s

Satellites (moons): 2; Phobos and Deimos

Discovery: Unknown; pre-historic


Mars Opposition 2018 Data:

Date of Opposition: Friday, July 27, 2018

Time of Opposition: 01:07 EDT (05:07 UTC)

Date of Closest Point to Earth: Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Time of Closest Point to Earth: 03:50 EDT (07:50 UTC)

Where is it? (constellation): Capricornus

Where is it? (exact RA/Dec J2000): RA 20h 31m 30s / Dec -25d 33’ 15”

Apparent Magnitude: a very bright -2.8

Apparent Size (Angular Size): 24.4” arcseconds and 100% illuminated. For perspective Jupiter is around 44” arcseconds at opposition.

Altitude: It will reach about 22 degrees in altitude

Distance from Earth: 0.39 AU (44 million mi. or 70.8 million km)

Opposition Frequency: just over 2 Earth years (26 months, or 113 weeks or 791 days)

Moon Phase: 14 day old, waxing gibbous, 99% illuminated or basically full

Current Visiting Spacecraft: Many

Former Visiting Spacecraft: Many

Naked Eye Planets Mars Finder Chart:

Dominic Ford’s “In-The-Sky” page for this event:

In-The-Sky’s, Solar System Body Finder Chart:

The Sky Live page for Mars:

The Sky Live, Mars Tracker:

The Sky Live, Mars Planetarium:

The Sky Live, Mars Rise & Set Times:

Chris Peat’s “Heavens-Above” Planet Summary:

U.S. Naval Observatory Planet Rise and Set Times:

Time and Date Sunrise and Sunset calculator:

Time and Date Moonrise and Moonset calculator:

Time and Date Lunar Calendar:

Moon Calendar:

Moon Giant Moon Phase:

Heavens-Above Moon Data:

The Planets Today (current solar system configuration):

NASA JPL Small Body Database:

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Soyuz Progress 70P (Progress MS-09) ISS Resupply

Images credit & copyright: Roscosmos.

Launch Alert! Monday, July 09, 2018 at 17:51 EDT (21:51 UTC) a Russian Soyuz 2.1a rocket will deliver a Progress MS cargo ship designated “Progress MS-09” (cataloged as 70P or Progress 70 by NASA) to the International Space Station (ISS) from Site 31, Pad 6 (Site-31/6) at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan. When it docks to the nadir (Earth facing) port of the Pirs “Pier” docking module in a very quick 3.5 hr. (2 orbits) later, it will deliver roughly 6,063 lb. (2,750 kg) of food, fuel and supplies and will remain at Station until January 2019.

This will be the 159th Progress flight and the 70th to the ISS in its nearly 40 year history.

NOTE: This is actually a pretty significant mission as upon completion, MS-09 will remove the Pirs docking module from Station where it will then be deorbited making it the first permanent segment of Station to be decommissioned. The removal of Pirs will be in the name of progress however as it will likely be replaced by the Russian Nauka “Science” Multipurpose Laboratory Module (MLM) sometime in 2019. The Pirs docking module was launched on September 14, 2001 and docked to the nadir (Earth facing) port of Station’s Zvezda “Star” service module on September 16, 2001.

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The Speedy Barnard’s Star

Image credit & copyright: Daniel LaShomb.

Here’s an interesting star that doesn’t look like much but it’s not what it looks like, it’s what it does.  I captured this image last week and not only is this not the first time that I’ve imaged it, it won’t be the last. Located just six light years away in the constellation Ophiuchus the serpent bearer, is Barnard’s Star named after American astronomer, E.E. Barnard. What’s so special about this star is that it’s the fourth known closest star to earth after the three in the Alpha Centauri system and at 10.358 arcseconds of motion a year, it displays the highest proper motion of any star in our night sky. Second is Kapteyn’s Star in the constellation Pictor at 8.67 arcseconds of motion and third is Groombridge 1830 in the constellation Ursa Major with 7.05 arcseconds of motion.

Proper motion, in short is a star’s (or anything) apparent motion relative other stars. Most objects in the universe will show very little to no motion at all through the course of your life but if you image this star every year it will have moved slightly.  If you have the means to image this star what a great legacy tradition it would be if you cataloged this star’s motion through the years and pass that task on to your children and your children’s children. Every generation adding to the track of motion that can be looked back upon with fondness and wonder.  Have a great week everyone. Feel free to use this image with credit.

NASA illustration

Name: Barnard’s Star

What is it?: Runaway star

How far away is it?: 6 light years

Proper motion: 10.358” arcseconds a year

Apparent magnitude: 9.5

Where is it (general)?: Constellation Ophiuchus the Serpent Bearer

Where is it (exact RA/Dec J2000): RA 17h 57m 48.5s / Dec +04d 41’ 36.2”

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Albireo the Beautiful Summer Double

Image credit & copyright: Daniel LaShomb.

Here’s the beautiful Beta Cygni or as it’s famously known, Albireo that I captured last week. This incredible summer double star resides about 430 light years away in the constellation Cygnus the swan. The sapphire and gold color contrast of these two is unmatched by any other pair that I can think of and interestingly enough, although it’s labeled as Beta Cygni, it’s actually the 5th brightest star in the constellation. It’s unknown if in fact this pair is an actual double star or just a line of sight double as if they are together they have an orbital period of at least 100,000 years. This sight is available to even small telescopes so get out there and have a look.  Just wear bug spray, I did the experiment for you. Also, for those of you who like to know; I captured this at ISO 3200 with single 30 second images with my Celestron C8 on a Celestron CGEM equatorial mount and a Nikon D750 camera. Feel free to use this image with credit, thanks.

Name: Beta Cygni, Albireo.

What is it?: Double star

How far away is it?: 430 light years

Apparent separation: 35” arcseconds

Apparent magnitude: 5.1

Where is it (general)?: Constellation Cygnus the swan

Where is it (exact RA/Dec J2000)?: RA 19h 30m 43.2s / Dec +27d 57’ 34.8”

Other designation: SAO 87301

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