Category Archives: Astronomy News

Hubble reboots Messier Catalogue

Back in the 1940s, Miss Williamson of the Montreal Centre of the RASC, got many enthusiastic star gazers interested in amateur astronomy by challenging them to find all the objects in the Messier Catalogue.  The idea caught on, and is now every astronomer’s first major challenge. In Miss Williamson’s day, there were no GoTo telescopes; the object was to learn your way around the night sky by finding the 110 Messier objects by “Star Hopping“. This is still the way to earn your Messier certificate. I’m more than halfway through, having mostly the Virgo cluster to explore.  More about the Messier Club.

And if they ever publish this Hubble version as a book, I WANTS IT!!!       CPL

Hubble reboots Messier Catalog

NASA used images from the Hubble Space Telescope to create their own version of the Messier catalog.
For this stunning image of the spiral galaxy M106, multiple exposures from Hubble were combined with ground-based images from the amateur astronomer Robert Gendler. The galaxy was initially discovered in 1781 by Pierre Mechain, Charles Messier’s observing assistant.
Today, NASA published the Hubble Space Telescope’s version of the Messier catalogue, a list of 110 deep-sky objects (including nebulae, star clusters, and galaxies) that French astronomer Charles Messier began almost 250 years ago.

This new reboot of the Messier collection features beautiful Hubble images of 63 deep-sky objects from the original catalog. While astronomy enthusiasts may see some images they have seen before (such as the Pillars of Creation in the Eagle Nebula), the catalog also includes several unpublished images that NASA processed specifically for this project.


Space Weather News for Oct. 20, 2017

METEORS FROM HALLEY’S COMET: Earth is entering a stream of debris from Halley’s Comet, source of the annual Orionid meteor shower. Last night, NASA’s network of all-sky meteor cameras detected 23 Orionid fireballs over the USA–a result of comet dust hitting the atmosphere at speeds exceeding 65 km/s (145,000 mph). Forecasters expect the shower to peak on Oct. 21-22 with as many as 25 meteors per hour. Visit for observing tips and sky maps.

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Above: An Orionid fireball streaks over the Allegheny Observatory in Pittsburgh on Oct. 20, 2017. Photo credit: NASA’s All-Sky Fireball Network. More images may be found in the Realtime Meteor Photo Gallery.

LIGO Detects a Neutron Star Merger

New LIGO discovery is an astronomer’s dream come true.

On August 17, astronomers detected gravitational waves and a gamma-ray burst from two colliding neutron stars. National Science Foundation/LIGO/Sonoma State University/A. Simonnet

On August 17, Mother Nature delivered a gift to astronomers as precious as anything they could have imagined: gravitational waves from two neutron stars spiraling inward and merging, followed moments later by a burst of gamma rays from the same patch of sky. This cosmic double whammy was officially announced today after nearly two months of rumors. It proves a long-standing theory for an enigmatic class of cosmic cataclysms while heralding a revolutionary new era of multi-messenger astronomy.

The sequence of events started at 8:41 a.m. Eastern time when a train of gravitational waves started rolling through the Virgo detector near Pisa, Italy. The same waves rumbled through the LIGO detector in Livingston, Louisiana, just 22 milliseconds later, then the twin LIGO detector in Hanford, Washington, 3 milliseconds after that.

The LIGO and Virgo instruments detected a crescendo of waves for a whopping 100 seconds — much longer than previous detections. The duration, amplitude, and frequency of the waves had all the characteristics that theorists have expected for a binary system consisting of two neutron stars on a death spiral ending with coalescence. The two neutron stars had masses of about 1.5 and 1.1 solar masses, respectively. About 1 to 2 percent of that mass was likely ejected into space during the merger, which presumably resulted in a black hole of nearly 3 solar masses, although the LIGO data does not prove that a black hole formed. If a black hole indeed formed, it’s the lightest black hole yet known.


Space Weather News for Oct. 10, 2017

ASTEROID TO BUZZ EARTH THIS WEEK: Four years ago, a house-sized asteroid tore through the atmosphere over Chelyabinsk, Russia, and exploded.  Shock waves shattered windows and knocked down onlookers as fragments of the disintegrating space rock peppered the Ural countryside. This week an asteroid about the same size is approaching Earth. It will not hit our planet, but it’s coming very close. On Oct. 12, 2017, the speeding space rock, named “2012 TC4,” will skim just above the zone of Earth’s geosynchronous communications satellites and briefly become a target for amateur telescopes. Learn more about the flyby on today’s edition of

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Above: An artist’s concept of asteroid 2012 TC4 flying past Earth on Oct. 12, 2017.

Gravitational Waves in the news

Gravitational wave researchers win Nobel Prize
Three American physicists have won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics for their contribution to detecting gravitational waves.
Rainer Weiss (left) from MIT, Barry Barish from Caltech, and Kip Thorn from Caltech all shared the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics.

Yesterday, over a hundred years after Albert Einstein first predicted the existence of gravitational waves, three American physicists won the 2017 Nobel Prize for Physics for their “decisive contribution to the LIGO detector and the observation of gravitational waves.”

Half of this year’s prize went to Rainer Weiss from MIT for his work conceptualizing and constructing the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO), while the other half of the prize was split between Kip Thorne and Barry Barish from Caltech, both co-founders of the LIGO/VIRGO Collaboration.


Scientists catch another gravitational wave, and they know where it came from

Last year, physicists made history by observing the first-ever gravitational wave. Their discovery confirmed Albert Einstein’s century-old theory of gravity and capped decades of effort to build an instrument sensitive enough to catch these ripples in spacetime.

Since then, researchers working at the government-funded Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) — twin detectors in Louisiana and Washington State — have caught several more gravitational waves.


Harvest Moon today, and aurora on Mars

HARVEST MOON: Of all the full Moons of 2017, tonight’s is closest to the autumnal equinox. That makes it a “Harvest Moon.” Before the days of electric lights, farmers relied on moonlight to harvest ripening autumn crops after sunset. Electricity has made the Moon obsolete as a source of practical illumination, but not as an object of beauty. Step outside tonight and enjoy the Harvest Moonlight. Browse: photo gallery.

MAJOR SPACE WEATHER EVENT ON MARS: More than 150 years after it happened, scientists are still taking about the Carrington Event—a solar storm in Sept. 1859 that sparked Northern Lights as far south as Cuba and sprayed the entire surface of Earth with high energy radiation.

On our planet, such global events are rare. On Mars, they happen surprisingly often—in fact, there was one just a few weeks ago.

The storm began on Sept. 10, 2017–a day the sun was supposed to be quiet: The solar cycle is currently at low ebb, near Solar Minimum, and strong flares are rare. Nevertheless, sunspot AR2673 erupted, producing a powerful X8-class solar flare that accelerated a potent spray of charged particles into space.

In a matter of hours, a “ground level event” (GLE) was underway on Mars. GLEs occur when energetic particles normally held at bay by a planet’s atmosphere or magnetic field penetrate all the way to the ground. Mars rover Curiosity detected the radiation spike as it crawled just south of the Martian equator.

“Radiation levels suddenly doubled and they remained high for nearly two days,” says Don Hassler of the Southwest Research Institute, principal investigator for Curiosity’s Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD). “This is the largest event we have seen since Curiosity landed in 2012.”

Earth was in the line of fire, too, but our planet’s magnetic field and thick atmosphere mitigated the effect of the storm. The terrestrial GLE on Sept. 10th was restricted to polar regions and amounted to a meager 6% increase–a tiny fraction of what happened on Mars.

Read more about aurora on Mars here.

Asteroids keep falling on my head…

Asteroids keep falling on my head… but that doesn’t mean my eyes will soon be turnin’ red…I’m never gonna stop them by complainin’…

We will eventually have our latest MonSFFA project, the stop-motion animation: Theories of Dinosaur Extinction available on line, but while we wait for Cathy & Keith to get their act together, here are solutions for preventing human extinction.

Amazing Auroras

Apparently, the auroras were amazing–and I forgot to look! arrhhh!!!  –Cathy
Space Weather News for Sept. 28, 2017 STRONG GEOMAGNETIC STORM: Knowing that a solar wind stream was heading for Earth, forecasters predicted a geomagnetic storm last night. However, they didn’t predict it would be so strong, a G3-class event. During the peak of this surprising space storm, Northern Lights spilled over the Canadian border into more than half a dozen US states. Visit for pictures of the display and updates as the solar wind continues to blow.

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Above: Auroras over Fairbanks, Alaska, on Sept. 28, 2017. “Indescribable!” says photographer Sacha Layos. “Truly one of the best shows I’ve ever seen.” Browse the Realtime Aurora Photo Gallery for more sightings.

Elon Musk’s Mars colonization update

On Friday, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk will be giving a “major” update on his plans to colonize Mars during a presentation at the International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide, Australia. His talk is meant to add to the one he gave at last year’s IAC conference in Mexico, when he revealed the full architecture of his plans to send thousands of peoples to the Martian surface. This time around, it seems his speech may revolve around making the concept more feasible — mainly by scaling things down.

Musk has only dropped a few hints about what he’ll talk about this week, but we can probably expect the announcement of a smaller launch vehicle, as well as ideas for how to pay for the high costs of developing such a rocket. He’s also said there will be a few surprises regarding how the vehicle will be used.

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“Gecko Gripper” Tech to Clean Up Space Junk

Researchers are figuring out how to use a nature-inspired “gecko gripper” technology to solve the mounting problem of space debris.

Gecko grip

Researchers use a “gecko gripper” to move and manipulate large objects on a short zero-g flight.  NASA / JPL / Aaron Parness

Watch your backyard closely on a warm Florida morning, and you can see geckos climbing the fence to greet the Sun, looking for an insect snack before the mid-day heat sets in. The same gripping technique that geckos use to scale smooth surfaces such as fences could soon be grappling with space junk in orbit.

Hao Jiang (Stanford University) and colleagues recently proposed using “gecko grippers” to grab space debris in an effort to clean up near-Earth space. The concept was published in the June 28th Science Robotics.

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