When Worlds Collide?

So what's up with asteroid 596 Scheila? All of a sudden it is exhibiting comet-like behavior. The best theory right now is that it collided with a smaller asteroid and what we are seeing is the dust and debris field that has been stirred up.

These images were taken with a remote controlled telescope over the Internet. Check out Slooh.com for more details on their telescopes. These were taken through Dome 1, Canary Island Telescope, which uses an APO.


Private Companies in Space Transportation

There is a new space race taking place. Rather than between the Americans and Russians in a race toward the moon, this race is among American private industry to be able to provide safe and reliable transportation into space.

When Obama cancelled the Constellation program, I was disappointed, not realizing how close we seem to be to what he was advocating - pursuing capitalism and American ingenuity in the development of a new day in the space program.

So who is doing what and what kind of progress are they making? Here are just a few...

Blue Origin is based in Washington State and is run by Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com. This company is developing a VTOL - Vertical Take Off and Landing vehicle. The craft, "New Shepherd," will be launched vertically to begin its mission. It will then return to earth and briefly before landing fire its engines so that it will land vertically. The craft is being developed to transport astronauts to space station and paying passengers to orbit.It will be controlled entirely by onboard computers without ground control.

Blue Origin had a successful, unmanned test flight took place on November 13, 2006.

The New Shephard

Boeing CST-100 will be similar to the NASA Orion capsule that is being developed, but is a very different capsule. Still, it is often called Orion-Lite. It could carry a crew of up to seven people, stay in orbit for up to seven months and would be a reusable craft. It will be launched by NASA's Atlas V or Delta IV, or private industry's Falcon. The continued development is very dependent on the Federal Budget 2011. If things go well, Boeing anticipates the craft could be operational by 2015. The name CST refers to Crew Space Transport - and 100 refers to 100 km, the official boundary of space.

CST 100

Bigelow Aerospace Commercial Space Stations are
being designed by hotel magnate Robert Bigelow, who initially planned to build orbital hotels. The first module of the space station will be sent into orbit in 2014. Bigelow recently announced that several nations have signed onto the project - United Kingdom, Netherlands, Australia, Singapore, Japan, and Sweden.
Bigelow Space Station

-Orbital Sciences Corp. in Dulles, Virginia has built over 569 launch vehicles and delivered almost 200 satellites. a. Building Taurus rocket and Cygnus spacecraft. First test flight scheduled for 2011 from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Holds $1.9 billion contract with NASA for cargo runs to space station.

-Sierra Nevada Corp., is developing the Dream Chaser, a mini shuttle that would be capable of carrying crew of seven. To be launched aboard United Launch Alliance's Atlas V rocket. First flight with crew planned by 2014. Unlike the retiring Space Shuttle, it will be able to able to land at most airports in the world.

Dream Chaser

-Space Exploration Technologies Corp. in Hawthorne, Calif. Run by PayPal co-founder Elon Musk. Building Falcon rocket and Dragon spacecraft. The Dragon spacecraft would provide for a crew of up to seven, or a cargo only format. The company has said on several occasions that it is on target for being used in 2013 to 201.


Comet Hartley 2

This is an image I took of Comet Hartley on November 3rd, about the same time that NASA's unmanned mission to the comet was passing by and taking the shot below.

Comet Hartley 2 can be seen in glorious detail in this image from NASA's EPOXI mission. It was taken as the spacecraft flew by around 6:59 a.m. PDT (9:59 a.m. EDT), from a distance of about 700 kilometers (435 miles). The comet's nucleus, or main body, is approximately 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) long and .4 kilometers (.25 miles) at the "neck," or most narrow portion. Jets can be seen streaming out of the nucleus.


NASA's Goals and Visions

Right now it is hard for many of us to get a handle on where NASA is headed. George W. Bush set out a new course with the 2004 Vision for Space Exploration. The Constellation Project was going to return us to the Moon and eventually onto Mars. We were going to build the Orion space craft, which looked a lot like "Apollo on Steroids," but which was a high-tech vision based on what we had learned from the Shuttle and Apollo. The Ares series of rockets were promising us great things.

Constellation was over budget and behind schedule, and there was great debate about its goals. Obama cancelled that program and set up a new agenda.

The House and Senate have now passed the new NASA Authorization.
So where are we now?

1. The Space Shuttle, long planned to have ended in 2010, will have one additional flight in 2011. The Space Shuttle doesn't take us anywhere besides our own back yard. It can only achieve "low earth orbit." We desperately need a vehicle that can take us to low earth orbit, the moon and beyond.

2. The International Space Stationed was never meant to be eternal - under Bush it was due to be retired in 2015. It has now been extended to "2010 and possibly beyond."

3. The Orion is currently being developed and is making great progress. It is on schedule for its first human mission in 2016. It has been reduced from a 6 person craft to 4.

4. The Moon? No concrete plans for more human excursions exist. At least not right now. And not with the US. China plans a human mission to the Moon in 2025 with a moonbase ten years after that. They will probably accomplish this. India and Japan both plan to have their own human expeditions in 2020, but neither currently have the capacity to launch astronauts into space as China does. They depend on the US and Russia to get their astronauts there. The European Space Agency plans a human mission to the moon in 2024, but like India and Japan, their astronauts go to the Space Station via NASA or Russian crafts. My guess would be the next humans on the moon will be either Chinese or a multi-national cooperative project.

5. Obama's vision in April 2010 added a human expedition to an asteroid by 2025. That project survives the current NASA authorization.

6. Mars is still set for the mid-2030s.

The most exciting work being done right now is with the Orion capsule and the excursion vehicle. The Orion capsule will be an emergency escape vehicle for the space station, but "Orion based" vehicles will be developed for other missions beyond Earth orbit. The Space Exploration Vehicle (SEV) is a fantastic excursion vehicle that is being designed so that, with appropriate modifications, can be used on the Moon, asteroids and Mars.


Comet Hartley 2

Here is tonight's image of Comet Hartley 2. The tail seems to be developing.


Comet 103P/Hartley

Caught this image of Comet Hartley 2 - it is beginning to develop a hazy tail.

Hartley 2, or as it is officially known, 103P/Hartley is an interesting comet - Why is it interesting?

1. In October it may be visible with a pair of binoculars and maybe even with the naked eye - and that's always fun.
2. In October it will come fairly close to the earth.
3. In November 4, 2010, the Deep Impact spacecraft will flyby the comet, coming as close as 700 kilometers.

I'll be following it off and on for the next several weeks.

Comet Hartley ephmeris can be found here.


Hidden pearls of the sky - the Maffei galaxy group

I have recently become aware of a group of galaxies that are very close to us, but that are virtually hidden from view. So hidden are they that most were only discovered in my own lifetime.

This group, the Maffei group, is a community of galaxies that lie directly behind the plane of our galaxy and are thus hidden by all of the intervening gas, dust and stars.

Two of these galaxies are named Maffei I and Maffei II and were named for the astronomer who discovered them, Paolo Maffei, in 1968. He suggested that the dim objects were galaxies.

These two objects had, in fact,, been previously catalogued as emission nebulae. Stewart Sharpless listed them as objects 191 and 197 in his Catalogue of H II Regions published in 1959.

Between 1971 and 1973, two groups lead by Hyron Spinrad confirmed that Maffei I and II were galaxies.

A third major galaxy was discovered in 194, using the Dwingeloo 25m radio telescope in the Netherlands and so was named Dwingeloo 1. A small companion galaxy - Dwingeloo 2 - was discovered shortly afterwards.

One galaxy in this group, IC 342, could have been among the most famous galaxies in the sky had it not been in the plane of the Milky Way. Without all of the dust and stars of our own galaxy, it could be viewed as a naked-eye object.

Dwingeloo 1, above, is barely visible.

Maffei II appears as a fuzzy dot.

Maffei I


Forever Over The Horizon

Sometimes, the Earth gets in my way.

There are constellations, nebulae, clusters and galaxies that are forever below my horizon. For most of my lifetime, in order to see these objects, I would have had to travel to someplace below the equator.

With the ever growing number of remote controlled telescopes on the Internet, all I have to do now is log onto the Internet, input a few coordinates, and sit back and watch my screen.

This image shows galaxies in the constellaton Grus. This constellaton was originally considered part of Piscis Austrinus (the "Southern Fish"). Petrus Plancius redefined several southern constellations in the late 16th Century.

Grus, a strange sounding name in English, is Latin for the crane. For a brief time in the 17th Century, it went by the name of another bird, Phoenicopterus - or flamingo. Knowing this, Grus has a pleasant sound to it.

In this image, I've labeled three of the four prominent galaxies in this cluster - NGC 7582, NGC 7590 and NGC 7599. Just outside the field of view, to the SW, is NGC 7552.

There are about a dozen other galaxies I can see in this image, which have not identified. Better images will show about 300 galaxies.

These galaxies are not simply in the same line of sight, but they are rather close together, forming a cluster of galaxies known as Abell 5187. Often called the Grus Quartet, these galaxies were discovered in 1827 by the Scottish astronomer, James Dunlap.
Some of interesting objects of Grus are objects I'll never be able to see -- Extrasolar planets. The first was discovered in 2001.
1. HD 213240b - Orbits star HD 213240 - Discovered in 2001. Superjovian, 4.5 times the mass of Jupiter. Orbits its star in 951 days.
2. HD 216435b - Orbit star Tau Gruis - Discovered in 2002. Gas Giant, 1.5 times the mass of Jupiter. Orbits the star in 1,443 days.
3. HD 208487b - Orbits star HD 208487. Discovered in 2004. Gass giant, slighly smaller tha Jupiter. Orbits its star in 123 days.
4. HD 215497b - Orbits star HD 215497. Discovered in 2009. Super Earth, witha mass .07 times that of earth. Orbits its star in 3.93 days!
5. HD 215497c - Also orbits sta HD 215497 and also discovred in 200. It is a gas giant with a mass of about 1/3 the size of Jupiter. Orbits its star in 567 days.