Friday’s SpaceX Dragon Launch CRS-17 to Light Up the U.S. East Coast

CRS-16

Update: The CRS-17 launch has slipped to Friday, May 3rd, to give NASA time to evaluate electrical issues aboard the International Space Station. Follow us (@Astroguyz) on Twitter for further updates on the visibility prospects of the mission leading up to launch.

Ever seen a rocket launch before? Catching one is easier than you might think. You just need to be looking in the right direction at the right time, and have clear skies. If you happen to be watching from the U.S./Canada eastern seaboard before dawn this Friday (May 3rd), you just might catch the spectacular dawn launch of a SpaceX Falcon-9 rocket with Dragon on the CRS-17 (also known as SpX-17) mission headed to the International Space Station.

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Messier 84 – the NGC Elliptical Galaxy

Welcome back to Messier Monday! Today, we continue in our tribute to our dear friend, Tammy Plotner, by looking at the elliptical (lenticular) galaxy known as Messier 84!

During the 18th century, famed French astronomer Charles Messier noticed the presence of several “nebulous objects”  while surveying the night sky. Originally mistaking these objects for comets, he began to catalog them so that others would not make the same mistake. Today, the resulting list (known as the Messier Catalog) includes over 100 objects and is one of the most influential catalogs of Deep Space Objects.

One of these objects is known as Messier 84, an elliptical (or lenticular) galaxy located about 54.9 million light years from Earth. This galaxy is situated in the inner core of the heavily populated Virgo Cluster and has two jets of matter shooting out of its center. It also has a rapidly rotating disk of gas and stars that are indicative of a supermassive black hole of 1.5 billion Solar masses at its center.

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InSight Just Detected its First “Marsquake”

In November of 2018, the NASA Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) lander set down on Mars. Shortly thereafter, it began preparing for its science operations, which would consist of studying Mars’ seismology and its heat flow for the sake of learning how this planet – and all the other terrestrial planets in the Solar System (like Earth) – formed and evolved over time.

With science operations well-underway, InSight has been “listening” to Mars to see what it can learn about its interior structure and composition. A few weeks ago, mission controllers discovered that the lander’s Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) instrument detected its strongest seismic signal (aka. a “marsquake”) to date. This faint quake could reveal much about the Red Planet and how it came to be.

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As Expected, the Newly Upgraded LIGO is Finding a Black Hole Merger Every Week

In February 2016, LIGO detected gravity waves for the first time. As this artist's illustration depicts, the gravitational waves were created by merging black holes. The third detection just announced was also created when two black holes merged. Credit: LIGO/A. Simonnet.

In February of 2016, scientists at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) announced the first-ever detection of gravitational waves (GWs). Since then, multiple events have been detected, providing insight into a cosmic phenomena that was predicted over a century ago by Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity.

A little over a year ago, LIGO was taken offline so that upgrades could be made to its instruments, which would allow for detections to take place “weekly or even more often.” After completing the upgrades on April 1st, the observatory went back online and performed as expected, detecting two probable gravitational wave events in the space of two weeks.

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Astronomers Think a Meteor Came from Outside the Solar System

When ‘Oumuamua was first detected on October 19th, 2017, astronomers were understandably confused about the nature of this strange object. Initially thought to be an interstellar comet, it was then designated as an interstellar asteroid. But when it picked up velocity as it departed our Solar System (a very comet-like thing to do), scientists could only scratch their heads and wonder.

After much consideration, Shmuel Bialy and Professor Abraham Loeb of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) proposed that ‘Oumuamua could in fact be an artificial object (possibly an alien probe). In a more recent study, Amir Siraj and Prof. Loeb identified another (and much smaller) potential interstellar object, which they claim could be regularly colliding with Earth.

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You Could Travel Through a Wormhole, but it’s Slower Than Going Through Space

Artist illustration of a spacecraft passing through a wormhole to a distant galaxy. Image credit: NASA.

Special Relativity. It’s been the bane of space explorers, futurists and science fiction authors since Albert Einstein first proposed it in 1905. For those of us who dream of humans one-day becoming an interstellar species, this scientific fact is like a wet blanket. Luckily, there are a few theoretical concepts that have been proposed that indicate that Faster-Than-Light (FTL) travel might still be possible someday.

A popular example is the idea of a wormhole: a speculative structure that links two distant points in space time that would enable interstellar space travel. Recently, a team of Ivy League scientists conducted a study that indicated how “traversable wormholes” could actually be a reality. The bad news is that their results indicate that these wormholes aren’t exactly shortcuts, and could be the cosmic equivalent of “taking the long way”!

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The World’s Biggest Aircraft – the Rocket-Launching Stratolaunch – Completes its First Test Flight

In 2011, Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen and Scaled Composites founder Burt Rutan announced the creation of Stratolaunch Systems. With the goal of reducing the associated costs of space launches, the company set out to create the world’s largest air-launch-to-orbit system. After many years, these efforts bore fruit with the unveiling of the massive Scaled Composites Model 351 Stratolaunch air carrier in the Summer of 2017.

Similar in principle to Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, this behemoth is designed to deploy rockets from high altitudes so they can send payloads to Low-Earth Orbit (LEO). After multiple tests involving engine preburns and taxiing on the runway, the aircraft made its inaugural flight last weekend (Saturday, April 13th) and flew for two and half hours before safely landing again in the Mojave Desert.

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Astro-Challenge: Spotting Slender Moons

Jimena Moon

Up for a challenge? Some of the toughest targets for a backyard observer involve little or no equipment at all. Northern hemisphere Spring brings with it one of our favorite astronomical pursuits: the first sighting of the extremely thin, waxing crescent Moon. This unique feat of visual athletics may be fairly straight forward, requiring nothing more than a working pair of Mk-1 eyeballs… but it’s tougher than you think. The angle of the evening ecliptic in the Spring is still fairly high for mid-northern latitudes, taking the Moon up and out of the weeds when it reaches waxing crescent phase.

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