Tag Archives: Cassini

“Upstate NY Stargazing In October” Article Posted To newyorkupstate.com And syracuse.com

Greetings, fellow astrophiles!

The latest article in the Upstate NY Stargazing series, “Upstate NY stargazing in October: The Orionids, International Observe the Moon Night,” has just been posted to newyorkupstate.com and syracuse.com.

Direct Links: newyorkupstate.com and syracuse.com

* Included this month are a reminder/announcement about Kopernik AstroFest 2017 (Oct. 13/14), International Observe the Moon Night on October 28th, and the Orionids:

The Orionids are the most prominent meteor shower in October, but ride near the bottom of the top-10 list of active showers for the year. Observers simply interested in seeing any shooting stars do benefit from the Orionids peaking at a time of year when a number of less significant meteor showers are also active, including one of the Geminids and two Taurids showers. This year, the grouping of active showers around the Orionids peak benefit greatly from the absence of the Moon during the 20th-21st peak.

* With Orion out and about at a reasonable hour, the Orion-star-finder has been brought back from the UNY Stargazing archives:

Caption:Orion can guide you around its neighborhood. Red = belt stars to Sirius and Canis Major; Orange = Rigel and belt center to Castor and Pollux in Gemini; Yellow = Bellatrix and Betelgeuse to Canis Major; Green = Belt stars to Aldebaran and Taurus; Blue = Saiph and Orion’s head to Capella in Auriga. Click for a larger view.

* The pre-sunrise mornings continue to provide excellent planetary viewing of Mars and Venus, with several notable arrangements occurring this month:

Caption:The prominent planetary groupings in the morning sky this month. Click for a larger view.

* And, finally, we finish up the circumpolar constellations with Camelopardalis before going briefly into what circumpolar constellations are in the November article:

Caption: Camelopardalis and its more prominent neighbors. (Image made with Stellarium)

NASA News Digest: Space Science For 4 March – 12 March 2015

Greetings fellow astrophiles,

The NASA News service provides up-to-date announcements of NASA policy, news events, and space science. A recent selection of space science articles are provided below, including direct links to the full announcements. Those interested in receiving these news announcements directly from NASA can subscribe to their service by sending an email to:


NASA’s Chandra Observatory Finds Cosmic Showers Halt Galaxy Growth

RELEASE 15-028 (Click here for the full article) – 4 March 2015

2015mar14_15_028Using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, astronomers have found that the growth of galaxies containing supermassive black holes can be slowed down by a phenomenon referred to as cosmic precipitation.

Cosmic precipitation is not a weather event, as we commonly associate the word — rain, sleet, or snow. Rather, it is a mechanism that allows hot gas to produce showers of cool gas clouds that fall into a galaxy. Researchers have analyzed X-rays from more than 200 galaxy clusters, and believe that this gaseous precipitation is key to understanding how giant black holes affect the growth of galaxies.

“We know that precipitation can slow us down on our way to work,” said Mark Voit of Michigan State University (MSU) in East Lansing, lead author of the paper that appears in the latest issue of Nature. “Now we have evidence that it can also slow down star formation in galaxies with huge black holes.”

An interactive image, podcast, and video about these findings are available at: chandra.si.edu

For more Chandra images, multimedia and related materials, visit: www.nasa.gov/chandra

NASA Research Suggests Mars Once Had More Water Than Earth’s Arctic Ocean

RELEASE 15-032 (Click here for the full article) – 5 March 2015

2015mar14_15_032A primitive ocean on Mars held more water than Earth’s Arctic Ocean, according to NASA scientists who, using ground-based observatories, measured water signatures in the Red Planet’s atmosphere.

Scientists have been searching for answers to why this vast water supply left the surface. Details of the observations and computations appear in Thursday’s edition of Science magazine.

“Our study provides a solid estimate of how much water Mars once had, by determining how much water was lost to space,” said Geronimo Villanueva, a scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and lead author of the new paper. “With this work, we can better understand the history of water on Mars.”

Perhaps about 4.3 billion years ago, Mars would have had enough water to cover its entire surface in a liquid layer about 450 feet (137 meters) deep. More likely, the water would have formed an ocean occupying almost half of Mars’ northern hemisphere, in some regions reaching depths greater than a mile (1.6 kilometers).

To view a video of this finding, visit: youtu.be/WH8kHncLZwM

More information about NASA’s Mars programs is online at: www.nasa.gov/mars

NASA Spacecraft Becomes First To Orbit A Dwarf Planet

RELEASE 15-034 (Click here for the full article) – 6 March 2015

2015mar14_15_034NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has become the first mission to achieve orbit around a dwarf planet. The spacecraft was approximately 38,000 miles (61,000 kilometers) from Ceres when it was captured by the dwarf planet’s gravity at about 4:39 a.m. PST (7:39 a.m. EST) Friday.

Mission controllers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California received a signal from the spacecraft at 5:36 a.m. PST (8:36 a.m. EST) that Dawn was healthy and thrusting with its ion engine, the indicator Dawn had entered orbit as planned.

“Since its discovery in 1801, Ceres was known as a planet, then an asteroid and later a dwarf planet,” said Marc Rayman, Dawn chief engineer and mission director at JPL. “Now, after a journey of 3.1 billion miles (4.9 billion kilometers) and 7.5 years, Dawn calls Ceres, home.”

In addition to being the first spacecraft to visit a dwarf planet, Dawn also has the distinction of being the first mission to orbit two extraterrestrial targets. From 2011 to 2012, the spacecraft explored the giant asteroid Vesta, delivering new insights and thousands of images from that distant world. Ceres and Vesta are the two most massive residents of our solar system’s main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

For a complete list of mission participants, visit: dawn.jpl.nasa.gov/mission

For more information about Dawn, visit: www.nasa.gov/dawn

Spacecraft Data Suggest Saturn Moon’s Ocean May Harbor Hydrothermal Activity

RELEASE 15-036 (Click here for the full article) – 11 March 2015

2015mar14_15_036NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has provided scientists the first clear evidence that Saturn’s moon Enceladus exhibits signs of present-day hydrothermal activity which may resemble that seen in the deep oceans on Earth. The implications of such activity on a world other than our planet open up unprecedented scientific possibilities.

“These findings add to the possibility that Enceladus, which contains a subsurface ocean and displays remarkable geologic activity, could contain environments suitable for living organisms,” said John Grunsfeld astronaut and associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “The locations in our solar system where extreme environments occur in which life might exist may bring us closer to answering the question: are we alone in the Universe.”

Hydrothermal activity occurs when seawater infiltrates and reacts with a rocky crust and emerges as a heated, mineral-laden solution, a natural occurrence in Earth’s oceans. According to two science papers, the results are the first clear indications an icy moon may have similar ongoing active processes.

More information about Cassini, visit: www.nasa.gov/cassini and saturn.jpl.nasa.gov

NASA’s Hubble Observations Suggest Underground Ocean On Jupiter’s Largest Moon

RELEASE 15-033 (Click here for the full article) – 12 March 2015

2015mar14_15_033i1NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has the best evidence yet for an underground saltwater ocean on Ganymede, Jupiter’s largest moon. The subterranean ocean is thought to have more water than all the water on Earth’s surface.

Identifying liquid water is crucial in the search for habitable worlds beyond Earth and for the search of life as we know it.

“This discovery marks a significant milestone, highlighting what only Hubble can accomplish,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters, Washington. “In its 25 years in orbit, Hubble has made many scientific discoveries in our own solar system. A deep ocean under the icy crust of Ganymede opens up further exciting possibilities for life beyond Earth.”

Ganymede is the largest moon in our solar system and the only moon with its own magnetic field. The magnetic field causes aurorae, which are ribbons of glowing, hot electrified gas, in regions circling the north and south poles of the moon. Because Ganymede is close to Jupiter, it is also embedded in Jupiter’s magnetic field. When Jupiter’s magnetic field changes, the aurorae on Ganymede also change, “rocking” back and forth.

For images and more information about Hubble, visit: www.nasa.gov/hubble and hubblesite.org/news/2015/09

NASA News Digest: Space Science For 22 July – 31 July 2014

Greetings fellow astrophiles,

The NASA News service provides up-to-date announcements of NASA policy, news events, and space science. A recent selection of space science articles are provided below, including direct links to the full announcements. Those interested in receiving these news announcements directly from NASA can subscribe to their service by sending an email to:


NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory Celebrates 15th Anniversary

RELEASE 14-196 (Click here for the full article) – 22 July 2014

14_196_smallFifteen years ago, NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory was launched into space aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia. Since its deployment on July 23, 1999, Chandra has helped revolutionize our understanding of the universe through its unrivaled X-ray vision.

Chandra, one of NASA’s current “Great Observatories,” along with the Hubble Space Telescope and Spitzer Space Telescope, is specially designed to detect X-ray emission from hot and energetic regions of the universe.

With its superb sensitivity and resolution, Chandra has observed objects ranging from the closest planets and comets to the most distant known quasars. It has imaged the remains of exploded stars, or supernova remnants, observed the region around the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way, and discovered black holes across the universe. Chandra also has made a major advance in the study of dark matter by tracing the separation of dark matter from normal matter in collisions between galaxy clusters. It also is contributing to research on the nature of dark energy.

Additional details, images and an animation are available at: www.ciclops.org/view_event/202
More information about Cassini is available at: www.nasa.gov/cassini and saturn.jpl.nasa.gov

Hubble Finds Three Surprisingly Dry Exoplanets

RELEASE 14-197 (Click here for the full article) – 24 July 2014

14_197_smallAstronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have gone looking for water vapor in the atmospheres of three planets orbiting stars similar to the sun — and have come up nearly dry.
The three planets, known as HD 189733b, HD 209458b, and WASP-12b, are between 60 and 900 light-years away from Earth and were thought to be ideal candidates for detecting water vapor in their atmospheres because of their high temperatures where water turns into a measurable vapor.

These so-called “hot Jupiters” are so close to their star they have temperatures between 1,500 and 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit, however, the planets were found to have only one-tenth to one one-thousandth the amount of water predicted by standard planet-formation theories.

For images and more information about Hubble, visit: www.nasa.gov/hubble and hubblesite.org/news/2014/36

Cassini Spacecraft Reveals 101 Geysers and more on Icy Saturn Moon

RELEASE 14-203 (Click here for the full article) – 28 July 2014

14_203_smallScientists using mission data from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft have identified 101 distinct geysers erupting on Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus. Their analysis suggests it is possible for liquid water to reach from the moon’s underground sea all the way to its surface.

These findings, and clues to what powers the geyser eruptions, are presented in two articles published in the current online edition of the Astronomical Journal.

Over a period of almost seven years, Cassini’s cameras surveyed the south polar terrain of the small moon, a unique geological basin renowned for its four prominent “tiger stripe” fractures and the geysers of tiny icy particles and water vapor first sighted there nearly 10 years ago. The result of the survey is a map of 101 geysers, each erupting from one of the tiger stripe fractures, and the discovery that individual geysers are coincident with small hot spots. These relationships pointed the way to the geysers’ origin.

Additional details, images and an animation are available at: www.ciclops.org/view_event/202

More information about Cassini is available at: www.nasa.gov/cassini and saturn.jpl.nasa.gov

Hubble Shows Farthest Lensing Galaxy Yields Clues to Early Universe

RELEASE 14-205 (Click here for the full article) – 31 July 2014

14_205_smallAstronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have unexpectedly discovered the most distant galaxy that acts as a cosmic magnifying glass. Seen here as it looked 9.6 billion years ago, this monster elliptical galaxy breaks the previous record-holder by 200 million years.

These “lensing” galaxies are so massive that their gravity bends, magnifies, and distorts light from objects behind it, a phenomenon called gravitational lensing. Finding one in such a small area of the sky is so rare that you would normally have to survey a region hundreds of times larger to find just one.

For images and more information about Hubble, visit: www.nasa.gov/hubble and hubblesite.org/news/2014/33

NASA’s Fermi Space Telescope Reveals New Source of Gamma Rays

RELEASE 14-209 (Click here for the full article) – 31 July 2014

14_209_smallObservations by NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope of several stellar eruptions, called novae, firmly establish these relatively common outbursts almost always produce gamma rays, the most energetic form of light.

“There’s a saying that one is a fluke, two is a coincidence, and three is a class, and we’re now at four novae and counting with Fermi,” said Teddy Cheung, an astrophysicist at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, and the lead author of a paper reporting the findings in the Aug. 1 edition of the journal Science.

A nova is a sudden, short-lived brightening of an otherwise inconspicuous star caused by a thermonuclear explosion on the surface of a white dwarf, a compact star not much larger than Earth. Each nova explosion releases up to 100,000 times the annual energy output of our sun. Prior to Fermi, no one suspected these outbursts were capable of producing high-energy gamma rays, emission with energy levels millions of times greater than visible light and usually associated with far more powerful cosmic blasts.

For more information about Fermi, visit: www.nasa.gov/fermi

NASA News Digest: Space Science For 23 June – 10 July 2014

Greetings fellow astrophiles,

The NASA News service provides up-to-date announcements of NASA policy, news events, and space science. A recent selection of space science articles are provided below, including direct links to the full announcements. Those interested in receiving these news announcements directly from NASA can subscribe to their service by sending an email to:


NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover Marks First Martian Year with Mission Successes

RELEASE 14-177 (Click here for the full article) – 23 June 2014

2014july10_14_177_0_smallNASA’s Mars Curiosity rover will complete a Martian year — 687 Earth days — on June 24, having accomplished the mission’s main goal of determining whether Mars once offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life.

One of Curiosity’s first major findings after landing on the Red Planet in August 2012 was an ancient riverbed at its landing site. Nearby, at an area known as Yellowknife Bay, the mission met its main goal of determining whether the Martian Gale Crater ever was habitable for simple life forms. The answer, a historic “yes,” came from two mudstone slabs that the rover sampled with its drill. Analysis of these samples revealed the site was once a lakebed with mild water, the essential elemental ingredients for life, and a type of chemical energy source used by some microbes on Earth. If Mars had living organisms, this would have been a good home for them. 

For more information about Curiosity, visit:
www.nasa.gov/msl and mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/

You can follow the mission on Facebook at:
www.facebook.com/marscuriosity and on Twitter at: www.twitter.com/marscuriosity.

Ocean on Saturn Moon Could be as Salty as the Dead Sea

RELEASE 14-185 (Click here for the full article) – 2 July 2014

2014july10_dead_sea_titan_oceanandice_main_0_smallScientists analyzing data from NASA’s Cassini mission have firm evidence the ocean inside Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, might be as salty as the Earth’s Dead Sea.

The new results come from a study of gravity and topography data collected during Cassini’s repeated flybys of Titan during the past 10 years. Using the Cassini data, researchers presented a model structure for Titan, resulting in an improved understanding of the structure of the moon’s outer ice shell. The findings are published in this week’s edition of the journal Icarus.

For more information about Cassini, visit www.nasa.gov/cassini and saturn.jpl.nasa.gov.

Testing Completed on NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope Backplane

RELEASE 14-178 (Click here for the full article) – 8 July 2014

2014july10_14_178_smallNASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has reached another development milestone with the completion of static load testing of its primary mirror backplane support structure (PMBSS) moving the telescope one step closer to its 2018 launch.

The PMBSS is the stable platform that holds the telescope’s science instruments and the 18 beryllium mirror-segments that form the 21-foot-diameter primary mirror nearly motionless while the telescope peers into deep space. The primary mirror is the largest mirror in the telescope — the one starlight will hit first.

For more information about NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, visit: www.nasa.gov/webb

Hubble Spots Spiral Bridge of Young Stars Linking Two Ancient Galaxies

RELEASE 14-188 (Click here for the full article) – 10 July 2014

2014july10_14_188_0_smallNASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has photographed an unusual structure 100,000 light years long, which resembles a corkscrew-shaped string of pearls and winds around the cores of two colliding galaxies.

The unique structure of the star spiral may yield new insights into the formation of stellar superclusters that result from merging galaxies and gas dynamics in this rarely seen process.

“We were surprised to find this stunning morphology. We’ve long known that the ‘beads on a string’ phenomenon is seen in the arms of spiral galaxies and in tidal bridges between interacting galaxies. However, this particular supercluster arrangement has never been seen before in giant merging elliptical galaxies,” said Grant Tremblay of the European Southern Observatory in Garching, Germany.

For images and more information about Hubble, visit: www.nasa.gov/hubble and hubblesite.org/news/2014/26.

To learn more about gravitational lensing, visit: go.nasa.gov/1pUWl6f

NASA Spacecraft Observes Further Evidence of Dry Ice Gullies on Mars

RELEASE 14-191 (Click here for the full article) – 10 July 2014

2014july10_14_191_0_smallRepeated high-resolution observations made by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) indicate the gullies on Mars’ surface are primarily formed by the seasonal freezing of carbon dioxide, not liquid water.

The first reports of formative gullies on Mars in 2000 generated excitement and headlines because they suggested the presence of liquid water on the Red Planet, the eroding action of which forms gullies here on Earth. Mars has water vapor and plenty of frozen water, but the presence of liquid water on the neighboring planet, a necessity for all known life, has not been confirmed. This latest report about gullies has been posted online by the journal Icarus.

For more information about HiRISE, visit: hirise.lpl.arizona.edu

Additional information about MRO is online at: www.nasa.gov/mro

For recent findings suggesting the presence of liquid water on Mars, visit: go.nasa.gov/1q1VRLS

Upcoming Events: Baltimore Woods This Friday, Star Search! @ Green Lakes, NMT @ MVAS, And A Photo-Op From Saturn!

Greetings fellow astrophiles!

Several events are occurring in the next few days and next few weeks for those hoping for a respite from recent CNY weather. In rapid succession:

1. Bob Piekiel At Baltimore Woods This Friday (July 12)

The weather-alternate is Saturday, July 13th. Several CNYO Observing Logs have been produced from these sessions this year already (1, 2, 3, 4) and we hope for clear skies this weekend to take in some prime Summer views of Saturn, the center of the Milky Way, and the many clusters and nebulae therein. Details about this event (directions, fees, etc.) are available @ THIS Link.

2. “Star Search!” At Green Lakes State Park on Friday, July 26

The weather-alternate is Saturday, July 27th. This is a free observing session at one of the gems of our local state park system (although you won’t be able to appreciate much of it unless you get there early) hosted by CNY’s own Bob Piekiel. The poster for this event, start-end times, and directions are available @ THIS Link.

NOTE: While the temperature might beckon shorts and T-shirts, I bring you this word of caution from Dr. John McMahon: Green Lakes is one of the areas identified in Onondaga County where Black-legged Ticks (Ixodes scapularis) — aka deer ticks –have been identified as being abundant.

He (and I) refer you to the following NY Department Of Health sites for more info.

health.ny.gov/diseases/communicable/lyme/ & health.ny.gov/publications/2813/

In short: Bug spray ( I will have a DEET-free bottle on hand) and long sleeved everything is the order of the night (including tucking pants into socks. Remember, it’ll be dark. No one will see you).

3. Ryan Goodson & New Moon Telescopes Present: The Evolution of the Alt-Azumith Telescope At MVAS, Wednesday Sept. 11

Mark your calendars! Ryan is presently scheduled to give a one hour lecture for the Mohawk Valley Astronomical Society on Wednesday, September 11 at 7:30 p.m. We do not know know if this will be open to the public or just to MVAS members, so you should consider joining and supporting this very active and very knowledgeable organization to our east. I consider their monthly newsletter – Telescopic Topics – to be one of the very best amateur astronomy club newsletters out there. This month’s edition includes Ryan’s article “Going Big” – posted on the CNYO site this past June 27th.

We will provide more details on the CNYO site as the date approaches.

4. Wave At Saturn Day – Friday, July 19 − 5:27 To 5:42 p.m. EDT

The Cassini Space Probe is set to image Saturn as Saturn occults (that is, passes in front of in a “greater than” eclipsed manner (although I’ve seen it described as “eclipsing”). This is not a transit, as the Sun will not be directly visible behind Saturn, and a transit requires that the “passing” object be smaller than the object being passed) the Sun (from the vantage point of the probe, that is) on July 19th. This is guaranteed to be a spectacular image of Saturn by all metrics (anyone who’s seen the image serving as this post’s banner knows what a remarkable combination Saturn and sunlight are).

It just so happens that this will occur (1) while the Earth will be in the field of view of the probe’s imagers and (2) while the North American continent is being illuminated by sunlight. The images below (from NASA/JPL-Caltech) summarize the situation on the 19th.


If we don’t host an official event (it is cutting it close to quittin’ time, after all), consider getting outside for a few minutes of Saturnian exposure and give your tax dollars a big wave.