Barred Spiral Galaxy NGC 6217

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

This incredible image of barred spiral galaxy NGC 6217 was the first image captured by the Hubble Space Telescope after the completion of STS-125 Atlantis’s Hubble Servicing Mission 4 (HSM4). This galaxy at 44,000 light years in diameter is less than half the diameter of the Milky Way and resides 60 million years into the past in the constellation Ursa Minor.

This city is very much alive with star formation as can be seen in the pink regions, where newborn stars are coming to life all throughout the two major arms. Those arms are also alive with young bright blue stars creating an amazing color contrast. At the nucleus the telltale sign of yellow ancient stars glows, showing traces of gas and dust lanes.

Name: NGC 6217.

What is it?: Barred Spiral Galaxy.

How big is it?: 44,000 light years in diameter.

How far away is it?: 60 million light years.

Apparent magnitude: 11.2.

Where is it (general)?: Constellation Ursa Minor and the asterism of the Little Dipper.

Where is it (exact RA/Dec J2000): RA 16h 32m 39s.2 / DEC +78° 11′ 53″.

NASA Hubblesite News Center page for this image:

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SpaceX Iridium 8 from CA

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

LAUNCH ALERT! Friday, January 11, 2019 at 07:31 PST (10:31 EST & 15:31 UTC) a SpaceX Falcon 9 Block 5 (core B1049.2) will be launching from Vandenberg Air Force Base’s Space Launch Complex 4E (SLC-4E or “Slick” 4E) to deliver ten Iridium satellites (NEXT 167, 168, 169, 170, 171, 172, 173, 175, 176, 180) into a polar orbit for the Iridium Corporation.

Stats: This will be SpaceX’s 1st launch of 2019 and the 73rd SpaceX flight overall (5 Falcon 1, 67 Falcon 9, 1 Falcon Heavy). Mission parameters will allow for a landing on SpaceX’s West Coast Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ships (ASDS) “Just Read The Instructions (JRTI)” which will bring to total successful landings to 33; 21 on drone ships and 12 on land.

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January’s Total Lunar Eclipse

Images and illustrations credit & copyright: Eclipse images are mine and illustrations are via Sky & Telescope.

Head’s up! On Sunday, January 20, and into the morning of Monday, January 21, 2019, the Earth will pass directly between the Sun and Moon, creating a total lunar eclipse with a totality of 63 minutes. This total lunar eclipse will be visible throughout the America’s (North and South) as well as Iceland, Greenland, Western Europe and Western Africa.

Sky & Telescope

Sky & Telescope

What is a lunar eclipse?

Typically there are two lunar and two solar eclipses every year to varying degrees. Sometimes it’s a partial and sometimes it’s a total with the Sun having a couple more possibilities like the annular and hybrid eclipses in there as well. When one happens, the other will take place two weeks later. Unlike a solar eclipse where the Moon passes between the Sun and the Earth, casting the Moon’s shadow upon us, a lunar eclipse is where the Earth passes between the Sun and the Moon, casting the Earth’s shadow upon the Moon.

The shadow of the Earth has a couple different conical regions that extend from the earth outward and are set up in a target-like fashion. It has the outer shadow cone; the penumbra and the inner shadow cone; the umbra. When the Moon wanders into the Penumbra (outer region) somewhere on the Earth will witness a partial lunar eclipse. If all the Moon does is enter and exit through the penumbra, the entire event will just be a partial lunar eclipse. However if the Moon’s path takes it through the center of Earth’s shadow it will encounter the umbra and thus somewhere on Earth will witness a total lunar eclipse. A total lunar eclipse always starts and ends with a partial eclipse.

Not anywhere near as dramatic as a total solar eclipse, the total lunar eclipse has some benefits of its own. Where a total solar eclipse can only be seen along a relatively narrow path called the “Path of Totality,” a total lunar eclipse is usually witnessed by half the planet. Also a total solar eclipse’s totality lasts only a few minutes while a lunar eclipse’s totality can potentially last more than two hours.

Sky & Telescope

What will I need to see this event?

Not much. The only requirements are clear skies and to be in an area where the eclipse is visible from. Even if it’s cloudy, if you can catch a break during totality you can still see it because it’s a fairly long lasting event. If you have a telescope and or binoculars, great have at it but you don’t need it. You also don’t need dark skies because you’re looking at the brightest object on the night sky, the full moon. So grab a blanket, some friends and go witness a beautiful celestial event.

My 2019 eclipse page:

Time and Date (use the bar about half way down on the right to find your specific times):

Sky & Telescope page for this event:

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

Fred Espenak’s “EclipseWise” page for this event:

Apogee & Perigee Calculator:

The Danjon Scale of Lunar Eclipse Color:


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Christmas Tree Nebula (zoom)

Image credit & copyright: Rolf Geissinger:

NASA APOD for this image:

I hope you’ve all had an amazing 2018 thus far and let’s finish strong with something a little seasonal.  The Christmas Tree Cluster (also called Christmas Tree Nebula) is cataloged by the open star cluster NGC 2264 which is embedded in this diffuse nebula roughly 3,000 light years away in the winter constellation of Monoceros. This entire region is beautiful and full of objects to observe. It’s also appropriately named because the Christmas tree is loaded with color and you don’t have to stretch those spiked egg nog induced imaginations too far to see the tree shape to the overall structure.

This image spans three quarters of a degree or about 1.5 full moon widths which in reality stretches about 40 light years in length.  There are roughly (everything’s roughly) 40 stars that, with the help of the nebula, form a pretty well defined tree shape and many of these stars you can see without any optical aid at all.  The naked eye visible 6th magnitude star HD 47887 sits just above the top of the tree, near the Cone nebula (the Cone nebula pretty much points at it) while S-Mon or 15 Monocerotis at magnitude 4.5, is the brightest star in the cluster and sits at the base of the cluster.

Within this region of gas, dust and newborn stars are a few other notable locations such as the Fox Fur Nebula and the Cone Nebula which we will detail next.

NOTE:  NGC 2264 also includes the Cone Nebula, not just the open star cluster.

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Comet Lovejoy from Station

Image credit: NASA Dan Burbank.

On December 21 & 22, 2011 while onboard the International Space Station (ISS) as a member of Expedition 30, NASA astronaut Dan Burbank caught these incredible images of Comet C/2011 W3 Lovejoy after it had just passed through and survived a perihelion (its closest approach to the Sun) of 140,000 kilometres (87,000 mi.) above the Sun’s surface on December 16.  Dan called this “The most amazing thing I have ever seen in space.”

Expedition 30 astronaut Dan Burbank captures Comet Lovejoy from the ISS:

NASA astronaut Mike Massamino interviews Expedition 30 astronauts Dan Burbank and Don Pettit about seeing Comet Lovejoy:

NASA Spaceflight Expedition 30 imagery (page 31):

NASA Spaceflight Expedition 30 imagery (page 32):

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Blue Origin New Shepard 10 Launch

Images credit & copyright: Blue Origin.

Gradatim Ferociter “Step by Step Ferociously!”

Wednesday, January 23, 2019 at 08:50 CST (14:50 UTC, 09:50 EST & 06:50 PST), Blue Origin will be launching their New Shepard suborbital launch vehicle for the 10th time. This flight, designated (NS-10) will be launching from their West Texas proving grounds and carry along with it nine NASA sponsored payloads.

Note: This will be the 10th launch for New Shepard launch vehicle and the 4th launch of this particular launch vehicle (Propulsion Module 3).

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Arianespace Soyuz VS20

Images credit & copyright: ESA/Arianespace.

LAUNCH ALERT: Wednesday, December 19, 2018 at 16:37 UTC (11:37 EST) Arianespace will launch the medium lift Soyuz 2 launch vehicle (VS20) carrying the Composante Spatiale Optique CSO 1 spy satellite for CNES, DGA & the French Government into a polar orbit from the Soyuz Launch Zone (ZLS) or Ensemble de Lancement Soyuz (ELS) at the Guiana Space Centre or Centre Spatial Guyanais (CSG), in Sinnamary, near Kourou, French Guiana.

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