Jupiter | Juno Flyby | Venus Conjunction

On 27 August 2016, Jupiter was involved in two interesting events. At around 7:44 am CDT the Juno spacecraft made a very close and fast flyby of the planet going 130,000 mph. It came within 2600 miles of the cloud tops, the closest to the clouds for the entire mission of 35 more orbits. NASA reported the entire suite of scientific instruments was turned on and functioned well. Data will be returned over the next days and weeks.



The image at left is a view of the north pole of Jupiter just prior to the flyby. The polar orbit is a first for Jupiter exploration.

According to Scott Bolton, principal investigator, “We are getting some intriguing early data returns as we speak. It will take days for all the science data collected during the flyby to be downlinked and even more to begin to comprehend what Juno and Jupiter are trying to tell us. We are in an orbit nobody has ever been in before, and these images give us a whole new perspective on this gas-giant world.”

High resolution images will be released in the next two weeks.

More information and details about the Juno mission are available at this previous post.

At sunset also on the 27th, Jupiter and Venus aligned about 1/2˚ apart low in the western sky. That is the width of a full-moon. The dense cloud cover earlier in the day gave way to some partially clear sky for the evening show. The air was laden with much moisture and cloud remnants. The planets were visible. But, hazy conditions made their images not sharp and clear. I couldn’t wait for darkness because the clouds were approaching. Below is a wide view and a fully zoomed view. Venus is the upper and brightest of the two.



Jupiter aligned with Venus but was much more distant, small and dim.

Solar Transit | ISS Crosses the Sun

I’ve been waiting patiently. Today, three parts of a challenge finally came together. The sky was clear. I had the correct video equipment. And, the International Space Station crossed the face of the Sun as seen from my location. I received an email notice from CalSky this morning about this event. The track of the centerline was directly over our communities. I had to be ready in about an hour if I was to record video of the event.

I put the solar filter over the lens of my camera and put it on the tripod. I stepped outside to test the video settings. A test video of the Sun turned out as I hoped. I went inside and set a timer. The transit across the Sun was to occur moments after 1:03 local time. I figured to record from 1:02 until 1:04. The transit would show a silhouette of the ISS for only 0.6 seconds since it is going so fast at 5 mile/sec. I used my cell phone to accurately keep track of time. It was within a second of the national atomic clock.

Here is the result. The video is slowed down to half speed. Transit occurs about 6 seconds into it. You can slow it down even more with the gear tool on the video panel.


I was thrilled with the result. This isn’t the first time I’ve recorded a transit. Others are here and here. But, this is by far the best quality. I am still waiting for an opportunity to record an ISS transit of the Moon.

Here is a sequence of superimposed screen shots from the video showing a more detailed look at ISS. Two large solar array panels are quite visible. Total transit time was 0.6 sec. Each position of ISS is about 0.1 sec apart. Notice a few small sunspots left of center and to the far right limb. The faint concentric rings are imaging artifacts and not real. North is to the top of the frame.


Sturgeon Moon | 17 Aug 2016

We were fortunate to have clear sky last evening. The nearly full Moon rose above the southeast. Here it is about 6 hours before full. Full phase was at 4:27 am CDT on 18 August.



According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, this is known as the Sturgeon Moon.

Some Native American tribes called the August Moon the “Sturgeon Moon” because they knew that the sturgeon of the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain were most readily caught during this Full Moon. They also called August’s Moon the “Full Green Corn Moon.”
Different tribes had different Moon name preferences. Other examples for August are: “Wheat Cut Moon” (San Ildefonso, and San Juan), or “Moon When All Things Ripen” (Dakotah Sioux) or “Blueberry Moon” (Ojibway).

Mars | Antares | Saturn | A Triangle

Fellow blogger and sky enthusiast, Scott Levine, pointed out the grouping of two planets and a star in the southern sky in recent nights. Our overcast conditions finally parted and gave us a beautiful view of the grouping the evening of 13 August 2016.

It was about 9 pm local time as we headed home from a gathering of about 30 friends. We have all been to Cuba in the past 3 years and were celebrating with some Cuban foods and drinks. We looked to the south and saw this view exactly as Scott described it. That is the roofline of our house at the bottom right.

Click to embiggen

Click to embiggen

Below is a screen shot of the same part of the sky taken from the software Stellarium. Each planet and some stars are labeled. Since Mars and Saturn are in orbits around the Sun, their positions in the sky change each night. Their arrangement with Antares looks different each night. Watch their progress.


Perseid Meteors | 2016

The annual meteor shower called the Perseids is due to peak in the early morning hours of August 12. The best show is forecast to occur between 3 am and 5 am on the 12th when the radiant is highest in the northeast. The Moon will have set earlier providing the dark sky essential for their easiest viewing. If the predictions are correct, a rate up to 200 meteors per hour is possible, twice the usual rate. Time exposures over several hours could yield an image like this one from 2009 when the Perseids last gave such a high rate.

NASA | JPL | 2009

The Perseids are dust grains from comet Swift-Tuttle which orbits the Sun every 133 years. Every time the comet orbits the Sun, it leaves more particles. Earth crosses the path of debris each year. Some enter the atmosphere at very high speeds up to 132,000 mph (59 km/s) and burn up in flashes of light. Their Perseid name is because they appear to radiate out of the upper part of the constellation Perseus close to Cassiopeia in the upper right part of this graphic.

The NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory shared this video summary of the Perseids and some other features of the night sky in August you might find interesting.

What is the best way to view the Perseids? This short video sums up the task. It is very easy. Basically, you need to lie on your back and watch the sky. Thanks to the folks at the Meteoroid Environment Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Their job is to monitor meteor impact hazards to spacecraft.

What if clouds are a problem? A live broadcast of the Perseid meteor shower will be available via Ustream overnight on Aug. 11-12 and Aug. 12-13, beginning at 10 p.m. EDT.

Creating | New Ideas – Things – Ways

I think we all find creativity captivating. We see it happening and open our minds to gather it in. It inspires us. It motivates us. We act in new ways. It is an essential element of humanity.

Each of us has different ways of expressing our creativity. We write, sing, play music, speak, teach, paint, sculpt, lead, mentor, parent, etc, in various creative ways as part of our daily lives. Children are especially good at creative play.

I get to see it happen when Melanie works on a quilt project. Each of the hundreds she has made involved an evolution of ideas, fabrics, and methods. Many started with the seed of an idea from a book or article. Some started on a piece of scrap paper across from me at the breakfast table. Some design got sketched out and saved for a long time as the idea jelled in her head.

Later, pieces of fabric are arranged by colors and patterns on the floor of the living room or her workspace downstairs. Once in a while, I am asked for a ‘consultation’ about design or color. Funny, I am somewhat color blind.

Eventually, cutting and piecing and sewing begins. It grows into a fully formed quilt top ready to be sandwiched with batting and a back. It is loaded on the long-arm machine and quilted. Binding is sewn around the edges to finish the work of art.

I get to help with one of the final steps, that of photographing it. Recently, Melanie finished a special quilt. We hung it to set the lighting for a good photograph. I fiddled with the camera settings. When I looked up, I saw this. She was carefully looking it over for loose threads or bad stitches. I quietly stole the shot without saying much. For me, it was a moving scene. She had put much effort and love into the process of creating. It is a joy to watch it happen.


Earth and Moon | A Different Viewpoint

Position a satellite camera 1 million miles from Earth directly toward the Sun, 4x the distance to the Moon. Keep it at that location and make it stare toward Earth. Eventually, this happens.


The Moon orbits Earth in a 5˚ tilted plane relative to Earth’s orbit plane. Rarely does the Moon pass directly between the camera location and the Earth. It happened twice in the past year. This pass was captured on 5 July 2016 by the camera on the satellite. It did so once before on 16 July 2015 shortly after the satellite became operational. The Moon passed behind Earth on 27 Sept 2015 as captured in this video. A solar eclipse was captured on 9 March 2016 as the umbra of the Moon’s shadow crossed the Pacific.

These views of Earth are provided by NOAA’s DSCOVR satellite. It is located at a point where the gravitational pull of Earth and Sun on the craft are equal and opposite. This stable location serves as an early warning site for geo-magnetic storms from the Sun. The Space Weather Prediction Center will begin using DSCOVR data on 27 July 2016 to monitor conditions and make predictions.

In much the same way distant off-shore sea buoys serve as early warning beacons for tsunamis, this satellite gives Earth 15-20 minutes of warning for solar storms that might affect Earth.



Recent true color views of Earth are available at this site. You can navigate forward and backward in time by clicking the right and left margins of the screen.

Scientists with the DSCOVR mission have compiled a video from over 3000 images of Earth taken by the EPIC camera on board during the year from July 2015 to July 2016. Notice how the tilt of the poles changes between summer and winter.