Saturday, March 29, 2008

Earthshine, City Aurora and The UFO Show

People I'm loving this camera, in the last 3 months I've taken over 3,000 shots, given me something to do while my scopes are out of commission due to the cold weather, kept me off the street, not like I've ever been on the street, but if I ever was on the street, I'd be off the street now baby. I took the above image of the Moon during it's last crescent phase to show off its Earthshine which is Sunlight reflected off the Earth back onto the Moon's dark phase, to give the Moon an aspen glow.

The interesting thing about the above picture is I wasn't trying to image the aurora, I was trying to image the Genesis 1 satellite that was going to be passing by at that time at that altitude, in fact the aurora wasn't even visible, but after a 30 second exposure at ISO of 3200 the coolest thing happened, the aurora showed up, right over the city, reminds me of how in space shows when a spacecraft attacks another and for an instant the shield of the attacked spacecraft lights up, well we are under attack by all kinds of cosmic rays and the solar wind, and we have our Magnetosphere to protect us and it's lighting up says, hey I'm working.

There was a science fiction show called UFO that ran from 1970-1973, it was set in the 80's and it was basically about aliens trying to capture and kill humans for their body parts, to foil the aliens there was a top secret organization called SHADO, Supreme Headquarters Alien Defence Organisation. I just got my DVD megaset in the mail. This show was so cool for so many reasons, especially for someone my age at the time, it had UFOs, aliens, air battles, oh and the Moon girls had purple hair, and English accents. Another thing, I loved the fact that whenever the pilots go off to battle the aliens, they slide down a ramp to get into their spacecraft, very awesome.
I was lucky enough to find on You Tube a video of the 1 minute intro to the show, yep this is the kind of stuff I watch.

Remember to do your part for Earth Hour tonight March 29 8 pm-9 pm, just turn off a light, a computer, tv just for the hour, we as individuals can make a difference to retard the effects of global warming. I'll be out weather permitting to see the difference in the amount of stars I can see as our city will be turning off non-essential lights between 8 pm and 9 pm.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Shuttle Endeavour Returns Home

Shuttle Endeavour and her crew landed safely at Kennedy Space Center at 8:39 EDT. STS 123's main missions were to deliver and install the first stage of the Japanese Kibo Laboratory as well as Dextre a special kind of mechanical maintenance robot that will be able to do basic repairs outside of the station without having to send an astronaut on a spacewalk, which is always potentially dangerous. The only slight problem the crew encountered was a ding the size of a small ball bearing on one of Endeavours windows that posed no threat to the Shuttle or her crew.

The Auroras from space

Dextre in action

Some interesting facts: STS 123 was the 122nd. Space Shuttle flight, the 25th. to the International Space Station, it was the 21st. flight for the Endeavour and the 2nd of 6th planned for this year. STS 124 Shuttle Discovery is the next flight to the station, it's main mission to deliver and install the main stage of the Kibo (hope) laboratory, launch date TBA.

UPDATE: NASA has just reversed the decision to cut the rovers funds, nobody knows for sure why the sudden reversal, could be the tremendous public outcry against the cuts, whatever the reason NASA has instructed the rover people to carry on as usual, like the cutback letter had never been issued.

Rover Opportunity pointed it's cameras overhead to image these cool cirrus like clouds, wispy clouds formed mostly of ice crystals. Mars surface ice warmed by Sunlight can briefly turn to vapour in Mars atmosphere and form into ice crystals. Due to budgetary cutbacks the Rover program has just been handed a 4 million dollar cutback which means one rover, probably Spirit will be shut down for the rest of the year. The rover people have also been told to expect another 8 million dollar cutback for 2009.

Venus, Mercury Conjunction March 24th, 2008

A conjunction I mentioned here between Mercury and Venus occurred a couple days ago, nearly didn't get the pic. due to some stubborn clouds hanging around, they finally moved and I got some images, bonus, got an image of a cool misty Moon on the opposite side of the horizon getting ready to set.

Venus, Mercury Conjunction March 24th., 2008

I'll leave you now with my misty Moon as an animated gif.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Gamma Ray Burst and Worm Moon

Time and again readers such as Anna and JJ along with others have sent me articles of space happenings and current affairs of the night sky. This is too cool, my readers are taking the time out of their busy day to do this, it means a lot to me, so what I am going to do on my Saturday post is start a new Black holes feature called "Readers Choice" or "You asked for it" haven't really decided yet, and showcase their news item in my post with a mention. If you can think of a better title you can email me or comment about it in the comment section.

Todays "Readers Choice" or "You asked for it" or "Whatever The Reader Comes Up With" post comes from Lynda, a news article about a naked eye Gamma Ray Burst, the above animation.
On March 19, 2008 astronomers using the NASA SWIFT Spacecraft's telescope noticed in the location of the constellation Bootes a Gamma Ray Burst so bright it could be seen by the naked eye, named GRB 080319B it is around 7. 5 billion light years distant. This particular GRB is roughly 2.5 million times brighter then any previously recorded Supernova.

Gamma Ray Bursts occur when large stars die, their core collapses to form Black Holes or Neutron Stars shooting off Gamma Rays and jets of particles into space. Scientists are just now looking into the reasons this ray was so bright, one reason they say is the star seemed to focus most of it's energy and particle jets directly at Earth.

The above Moon image is my 100% of full March Moon, or Worm Moon. Called the Worm Moon by Native Americans because it is the month when the ground thaws, bringing out the worms and providing food for the returning Robins. Other names for the March Full moon, "Buffalo Dropping Their Calves Moon", "Catching Fish Moon", "Noisy Goose Moon", "Long Days Moon", and "Warming Moon"

I always post The Full Moon for each month, this month I thought I would do something different, post a few pics of the Moon as the terminator crosses it's surface to show you the different features and craters of the Moon. If you want a larger view just click on the image.

94% of Full Moon

83% of Full Moon

78% of Full Moon

Half Moon

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Lunar Halo and Mars, Moon Conjunction

Out on my back deck getting some images of the Mars , Moon conjunction last Friday night when I noticed that a lunar halo was starting to form, try to take a picture from my backyard, no go, with all the city lights there wasn't enough contrast, decided to get out of town, literally, not sarcastically, and get the pic. These things come and go real quickly so I run through the house with my camera and tripod telling my wife gotta go , take pictures. Ever since I got the Canon 40D I've been doing a lot of this up and leaving on such short notice, so my wife is used to it.

Get to my site, setup the tripod and camera, get the pics. Lots going on in the night sky, there was Mars conjuncting with the Moon, the Pleiades, Orion out in full force and to top it all off the lunar halo. Quite an awesome sight, maybe even enough to impress my wife.

About a month ago I was driving my wife to work when I noticed Venus shining brightly in the east sky, burning through some light clouds, very impressive indeed, pointed this out to my wife, she said cool. That's what I'm talking about, may not know how to fix a car, or build an addition to a house, but I know where Venus is. We were stopped at a red light when I noticed out of the corner of my eye Venus starting to move, now don't get me wrong planets move, just not that fast and certainly not back into the direction from which they just came. Thinking to myself, please don't be a plane, please don't be a plane, please don't be a plane, crap it's a plane, then I'm thinking, please don't let her notice, please don't let her notice, please don't let her notice, then "Hey that's not Venus, it's a plane", credibility down the tubes, but now with this impressive sight, throw around words like Lunar halo, gotta impress. Get home, tell my wife about the Lunar halo, she says, "You're making this up", I say no, come out and take a look, thinking to myself, still be there, still be there, still be there, it was, she was impressed, everything is right again with the universe. Sorry about the grainy images, blogger wouldn't let me download anything more than 268k, I think one image is like 68k, the originals are fabulous, really.

A couple things to watch out for coming up in April are an occultation/conjunction of the Moon and the Pleiades April 8th., will be very cool as the Moon will be in a crescent phase and showing off it's earthshine, good viewing and photo op. On April 21st. the Lyrid meteor shower takes place, expect around 15 an hour, the Moon will be almost full which will take away some of the shower's bite, but hey, still a meteor shower none the less, and worth a view. Tonight you can see the Moon and Saturn conjuncting , Saturn will be just above the Moon. I will continue to update you on these and other events happening in the night sky on future posts.

Leave you now with my latest Sunset animation, taken a couple nights ago.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Black holes and astrostuff new look and 100th post

I've been saving the above picture for my 100th post, taken February 19 it is one of my favorite Moon images, the Moon brings the clouds to life, I like to call it, Moon in clouds with tree branches in the bottom left hand corner......picture.

I'd like to thank Lady Omega for doing such a great job of designing the new look for Black holes, all her hard work and continuous emails asking technical questions, like, how do you feel about wordpress or blogger, backup this, backup that, blah, blah ,blah, silly Lady Omega, my major concern is if I can get the little funny guys in the comment section, you know those emoticons you can add after your comments, there is a little green alien guy to die for, still working on it.

My 100th post today, I had something deep prepared for this special occasion, but after reading it I thought, this truly sucks, finally said to myself, "Bob step away from the post, step away from the post", you can't do deep, you only got what you got. Therein lies the problem, space is deep. My mission from the outset of this blog was to bring the universe to you from the viewpoint of a guy with a telescope, so that maybe you can somehow feel the wonder and excitement as I do, oh and you would all go out and buy a scope and live happily ever after.

I'm not an intellect or a writer, but being both those things would make it so much easier, well life's not like that, at least not for me, so all I can do is continue to do what I've been doing, inform you about the latest happenings in the night sky, so you can walk out your back door, look to the stars and have a better understanding and appreciation of all that has been given to us, maybe just for a moment you can forget your daily woes, they will be there once you walk back in the house, but for a time you will have gained a little of what God has so graciously bestowed upon me, a love for the utter magnificence of our cosmos.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Auroras

Tis the season, season for what you may ask. The season for the Aurora Borealis or the Northern Lights, if you live in the Southern Hemisphere, the Aurora Australis or Southern Lights. Seems the magnetic field between the Sun's solar winds that cause the Auroras and the Earth's magnetic field are oriented perfectly in spring and fall more so then summer and winter.

What causes an aurora? Basically the Sun sends out hot plasma and charged particles into space, deadly radiation to human life, this is called the Solar wind. When the Solar wind gets to Earth, the Earth's Magnetosphere forces the Solar wind harmlessly around us and out into space. Some of the Solar wind however gets through and is trapped in the Magnetosphere and the Earth's upper atmosphere where it's charged particles collide with the oxygen and nitrogen particles of our atmosphere, the spent energy of the collision is turned into light energy, the greens and the reds we see are called the Auroras. They come and go before you know it. The closer you are to the poles the brighter they are but in high solar activity the Northern lights have been spotted as far south as Southern California. Look to the North in the Northern Hemisphere or South in the Southern Hemisphere on any particular night, if there has been heavy Solar activity chances are during the spring and fall seasons you'll see them, they spread out from the west to east. I just happened to be taking a picture of earthshine on the Moon and noticed they were starting to form, only lasted for a few hours, got a few pics and hope to get more through the spring.

A couple of updates for you. Kaguya the Japanese Lunar Orbiter has released more HD images of the Moon as well as some HD movies. Also, and I have discussed this previously here, the complete lunar photographic record, that is the original filght films from the Apollo project are being duplicated with high resolution scans and are releasing new scans on a daily basis here.

The above image is the hires scan of the week for the Apollo scan project, it is an image of the Apollo 17 landing site taken in 1972, this scan was released March 4th. The Kaguya image, ( top lunar image) was also of the Apollo 17 landing site, taken November 19/2007 released March 6th.

I would like to leave you now with one of my Aurora images as an animated gif.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Red Moon Rise

The day after the Total Lunar Eclipse was perfectly clear, a good time to try and capture a 98% of Full Moon Rise. The Moon was scheduled to rise at 7:40 pm, a perfect time, just the right darkness. So I head out to my dark location on the outskirts of the city. I'm driving along and there is a truck in front of me. Just up ahead of us is my little pull off the road area where I usually park my car and set up to take pics. We are getting closer and the truck slows down and pulls into MY spot, I don't think so, it's my spot, I pull in along side of the truck and notice it's full of people, 2 in the front, 2 in the cab, probably up to no good. As I'm pulling in they're all staring at me, and I'm staring back at them, its a stare down, people this is my spot and I'm staying, not leaving. So after what seems like an eternity the driver says something like fine, but not fine and speeds out, I win.

So I get out of my car, only after I can no longer see their truck and set up my tripod and look to the east for what I hoped to be a red Moon Rise. A little bit of background on the color of the Moon at rising. During the day the Sun heats the Earth causing turbulence which creates or lifts more dust into the lower atmosphere, this dust scatters the blues and allows the reds of the Sunlight or Moonlight through to be viewed by the observer here on Earth, that's also why Sunsets are generally more colorful then Sunrises.

Back to the story, I notice that the Moon is starting to rise, but behind a bunch of trees, good news it is going to be red, bad news, by the time it gets over the trees it will no longer be red, so I have to pack up and leave my hard fought for spot to find an area off the side of the road to get the proper angle to image the red Moon. I find a spot, of course there is no place to pull over except for the ditch so I keep the car running with the parking lights on to prevent people from running into the car and me as I'm taking the pic.

The Moon is in the perfect location for me and is red, I'm happy and I start taking the pics, as I'm doing all this I notice a truck pull up behind me slowly, crap it's the no goodniks from before, they stop and they stare at me, I don't stare back, that would be bad, I look ahead at the Moon, thinking, should I casually run back to the car or stay there and continue to take pictures.

They continue to stare, I'm finished and turn the camera off, grab the tripod and start to walk back to the car. The last count there were 4 of them, let me see I can maybe take out zero of them, but I am packing a camera and tripod, could throw them at someone. As I was walking back to the car I looked up at them and smiled they didn't return the smile, just stared, I then remembered the driver's last word to me wasn't fine. Finally made it to the car got in and locked the doors, they then sped off and I started to breath again. Got home and the pics turned out great, was it worth it, well in the end it turned out fine, next time someone pulls into my spot, they can have it.

I'll leave you now with one of my favorite Sunrises I just took this morning. I really like the way the Sun lit up the landscape and the plant life at the front of the the image.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Venus, Mercury and The Crescent Moon Conjunction

Got a cool shot this morning of the 5% crescent Moon and Venus, Mercury unfortunately was washed out by the glare of the rising Sun. The oddest thing happened to me as I was taking one of my images, this wild white and gray rabbit goes whizzing by me about 10 yards in front of me, went looking for it after the long exposure shot, but he was long gone.

I love these kind of conjunctions, don't need any equipment to see them , everybody can enjoy them, pretty cool to see a crescent Moon and Venus during daytime, the scene was almost surrealistic with a fine early morning mist adding to the photo op. Mercury would have been in between the Crescent Moon and Venus. Some more conjunctions coming up are, The evening of March 14, a gathering of the Moon, Mars and an open star cluster M35 will occur for all of Canada. The Moon and Mars will meet up again April 11th, if you live in Labrador and Northern Quebec you will see Mars partly covered by the Moon, should be very cool. The evening of April 8th. if you live in North America look to the west during twilight to get an awesome view of the Moon illuminated with Earthshine sitting beside and covering some of the stars of the Pleiades, very cool. Finally April 27th. look to the South East early morning to see the Moon passing just under Jupiter a beautiful morning star at that time in Sagittarius.

An awesome image of an avalanche happening on Mars was taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). An image of ice, rock and dust falling from a cliff over 2,300 ft high in the Martian Northern Polar region was captured February 19th. and released March 3rd. Scientists are saying it is great to see something so dynamic happening on Mars, a lot of what they see on Mars hasn't changed for millions of years. No one is really sure what caused the avalanche, some figure it is the result of the changing seasons happening on Mars right now. Regardless of the cause it is a good example how the Martian surface can change very fast. What scientists learn from this could give them a better understanding of the water cycle on Mars. It might interest you to know that over 2,400 images were released March 3rd, including the image below of a blue crescent Earth and Moon taken as well by the Orbiter.

I'll leave you now with a beautiful Sunrise I captured the other day, showing a Solar pillar and some Sun dogs.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Phoenix Mars Lander

I haven't been this excited about a spacecraft landing, well since way back in '97 when little Rover Sojourner landed on the red planet and into our hearts, while at least mine, never seen anything like it before, the thing could roam, get out and look for things and drill, anyways it was very cool. May 25th. the Phoenix Mars Lander enters the Martian atmosphere to begin it's mission which is to uncover clues to the geologic history and biological potential of the Martian arctic.

There are 3 major reasons why I think this is a pretty cool mission. I'll start with number 3 and work my way to number 1.

3. It is actually going to use rockets to land like a real spacecraft, not inflatable balloons. I've always thought what an undignified way for the little rovers to land, bouncing around, making them all dizzy and such. Phoenix's heat-shield will hit the Martain atmosphere at around 12,000 mph. Approximately 7 minutes later it's parachutes will open, then descent rockets cut in reducing the speed to 5.4 mph before landing on 3 legs, now that's the way to land.

2. Phoenix has a built in lab, and a neat robotic arm, get the picture? With its robotic arm Phoenix can dig down below the protective top soil layer to the ice water below, bring the sample to its lab and perform complicated scientific analysis to further NASA's overall Mars science strategy, "Follow The Water".

1. My most favoritist reason I love this mission is, it's going to land the furthest north of any craft on Mars to date, where there is going to be frozen water within reach of the lander's gathering equipment, now isn't that cool. There is one advantage the little rovers have over the lander, lets say there is ice water 40" away from the lander and the lander's robotic arm is only 39" long, well it would suck to be the lander, the rovers would just rove over, but with the lander, it's not like wheels are going to pop out of the landing legs and then rockets pop out of the wheels, although that would be cool, unfortunately the lander is stationary.

Right now 3 Mars orbiters are adjusting their orbits to be at the right place at the right time to be able to observe and record the Phoenix landing as well as trying to determine the ideal landing site for Phoenix, even the rovers are helping out by simulating transmissions from Phoenix for tests with the orbiters.

This coming Wednesday March 5th. we got a beautiful conjunction going on, just before the Sun rises look to the SE. to see a crescent Moon, Mercury and Venus all huddled together, perfect photo op, I'll be ready weather permitting with my camera.

Below is my most current Sunset image as an, that's right an animated gif.