Iridium Flare Pass | 2017 Dec 1

The Iridium 21 satellite passed over my part of Iowa this morning before sunrise. I set the iPad Air 2 on a firm base pointed at an angle toward the NNW sky. At 6:02 am, I started the 102 sec exposure using the NightCap Camera app, same as for the ISS pass three days earlier. The satellite was going north as it entered the frame at the top. After about 30 sec, a highly reflective mirror-like antenna cast a beam of sunlight down toward me. It brightened to several times more than the planets Venus or Jupiter ever get. Then it dimmed and continued north.

Taken with NightCap Camera | ISS mode | 102 sec | click to embiggen

Another satellite passed at the same time going toward the upper left from north-to-south. It is very faintly visible to the left of the flare. According to the Heavens Above database for my area, it was either a Russian satellite, or an Ariane rocket body.

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Space Station Pass | Plus Three

An email notified me of a pass over my region by the International Space Station. The large bright object is always fun to see as it crosses the sky. First visibility was at 6:15 pm in the southwest low in the tree branches at the lower right of the image. It rose higher in the southern sky toward the upper left and passed the Moon in the southeastern sky. There is disappeared as it went into the darkness of the Earth’s shadow.

I used an application on my iPad called NightCap Camera to record a time exposure of nearly 5 minutes. It has a setting designed to capture ISS passes. With the iPad pointed almost due south, it recorded more than the ISS. A passenger plane with its blinking lights moved right-to-left across the field of view starting under the edge of the roofline. A few moments later another plane moved, this time left-to-right, parallel to the first. I kept recording the image. When I examined the image later, I noticed another object had entered the frame from the top before I closed the shutter. It was probably a polar orbiting satellite. I hadn’t noticed it as it was quite dim in the sky.

Sometimes you get surprised with more than expected. I like when serendipity happens.

Click to embiggen

Star Names and Catalogues

I recently read a post by fellow blogger The Belmont Rooster about the scientific naming of plants. In his post, he described with examples how the names are determined according to some rules and criteria. The system brings the many plants of the world into a naming hierarchy with allowances for special cases and situations. If you like plants, check out his blog.

Knowing that I am an amateur astronomer, he asked if the stars also have a naming system. I said they do. It seemed a topic worthy of some discussion. Come along with me. To set the stage, we will start with some music. Thank you, Willie.

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Mars Bound | I Have My Boarding Pass

My bags are packed. I am ready to join 2.4 million other passengers as we begin our journey to Mars in May 2018 aboard the INSIGHT spacecraft. The trip will take about 7 months. It is a one-way journey.

Click to read the fine print. My flight miles award will be enormous.

INSIGHT is the acronym for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport. NASA loves acronyms. Previous Mars missions have studied intensively the surface and atmosphere of the planet. This spacecraft is the first designed to study the interior in hopes of finding clues to the formation of the rocky inner planets. The spacecraft will use seismology, heat flow equipment, and very precise tracking to probe the planet below ground.

The opportunity to sign up for the mission ended on November 1. There were over 2.4 million people who did so. In this link are examples which include children from an elementary school, mission and science managers, as well as famous people like William Shatner.

Clinton Prairie Elementary School | Frankfort, Indiana

Our names will be placed on silicon microchips and attached to the spacecraft. I think it is cool that so many names will be planted on another planet. Perhaps future space travelers will find them. Would you be willing to make the actual trip knowing it was one-way?

Venus-Mars | At Their Closest

Two days earlier I posted some photos of Venus and Mars in the pre-dawn light. The positions of Venus and Mars were getting closer each morning. October 5th was to be the day they would be closest at 1/4˚ apart. For comparison, the Moon’s diameter is only 1/2˚ wide.

Our weather forecast said it would be raining on the morning of the 5th. I assumed that previous post was going to be all I would get to share about their conjunction. Today I looked outside before 6 am and was thrilled to see a clear sky. I got the camera and tripod to capture the unexpected scene.

First is a screen capture from my planetarium software showing the planets on the 3rd and the 5th of October.

Next is my photograph of Venus and Mars at 6 am on the 3rd of October. It is adjusted to be the same scale as the first image.

Finally, my photograph of the two at 6 am on the 5th of October. It is adjusted to be the same scale as the first image. They were about half the width of a full moon apart. Mars was hard to see without the aid of binoculars. By 6:30 am, the sky was too bright to see Mars. Venus remained bright and easily seen. In fact, in clear skies, Venus is not hard to see in the daytime if you know where to look.

Venus-Mars | Orion & Friends | Pleiades

Venus has been gracing the morning pre-dawn sky for several weeks. It raced past Earth in its orbit around the Sun and is receding from us quickly. It will pass behind the Sun early in 2018 before emerging as an evening apparition.

Mars is positioned farther away from us than Venus and nearly along the same line of sight. On 5 October, early morning risers can see the two nearest to each other. Look at about 6 am low in the eastern sky on a clear morning. Binoculars will help spot dim Mars. It appears we will suffer from cloudy skies here in the midwest.

This morning I was up early and looked for Venus. It was hidden by low clouds to the east. I waited and was able to see both Venus and Mars emerge from the clouds. Notice the faint outline of a tree on the right side of the image. All images have been slightly modified to make them more easily viewed. They look best enlarged on a monitor screen. You might not see anything on a phone or tablet.

2017_1003VenMars

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Cassini | Fireball Into Saturn

The astronomy community is active with posts and anticipation of the end of the Cassini Mission to Saturn early in the morning of 15 Sep 2017. This post serves as a brief reminder that you can witness the ending moments live by going online or via the NASA channel on cable. Set your calendar or clock.

Time to show up for the broadcast is 7 am Eastern Time, 6 CT, 5 MT, or 4 PT. I will leave the time calculation to others who live across the oceans.

Online sources include YouTube, NASA-TV, UStream, and Facebook. The table in the link includes links to each of those. You get to choose.

Consult your cable provider to see if they provide the NASA-TV channel.

For a huge number of links to current and past information about the Cassini Mission, please go to the Media Kit provided for reporters by NASA-JPL. It is loaded with terrific sources and deserves to be bookmarked for future reference beyond the end of this mission.