Category Archives: Whats Up

All the Whats Up in the Nights Sky events

Shadowed Moon and Mountain

On July 16 the Moon celebrated the 50th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 11 with a lunar eclipse visible from much of planet Earth. In this view part of the lunar disk is immersed in Earth’s dark, reddened umbral shadow. Near the maximum eclipse phase, it just touches down along a mountain ridge. The rugged Tyrolean nightscape was recorded after moonrise south of Innsbruck, Austria with a dramatically lit communication tower along the ridgeline. Of course eclipses rarely travel alone. This partial lunar eclipse was at the Full Moon following July 2nd’s New Moon and total eclipse of the Sun. via NASA

Apollo 11: Descent to the Moon

It had never been done before. But with the words “You’re Go for landing”, 50 years ago this Saturday, Apollo 11 astronauts Aldrin and Armstrong were cleared to make the first try. The next few minutes would contain more than a bit of drama, as an unexpected boulder field and an unacceptably sloping crater loomed below. With fuel dwindling, Armstrong coolly rocketed the lander above the lunar surface as he looked for a clear and flat place to land. With only seconds of fuel remaining, and with the help of Aldrin and mission control calling out data, Armstrong finally found a safe spot — and put the Eagle down. Many people on Earth listening to the live audio felt great relief on hearing “The Eagle has landed”, and great pride knowing that for the first time ever, human beings were on the Moon. Combined in the featured descent video are two audio feeds, a video feed similar to what the astronauts saw, captions of the dialog, and data including the tilt of the Eagle lander. The video concludes with the panorama of the lunar landscape visible outside the Eagle. A few hours later, hundreds of millions of people across planet Earth, drawn together as a single species, watched fellow humans walk on the Moon. via NASA

Apollo 11 Launches Humans to the Moon

Everybody saw the Moon. Nobody had ever been there. Humans across planet Earth watched in awe 50 years ago today as a powerful Saturn V rocket attempted to launch humans — to the Moon. Some in space flight guessed that the machinery was so complex, that so many things had to go right for it to work, that Apollo 11 would end up being another useful dress rehearsal for a later successful Moon-landing mission. But to the Moon they went. The featured video starts by showing astronauts Aldrin, Armstrong, and Collins making their way to the waiting rocket. As the large and mighty Saturn V launched, crowds watched from Cape Canaveral in Florida, USA and on television around the world. The events that unfolded over the next few days, including a dramatic moon walk 50 years ago this Saturday, will forever be remembered as a milestone in human history and an unrivaled demonstration of human ingenuity. This week, many places around the world are planning celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the first humans landing on the Moon. via NASA

The Space Station Crosses a Spotless Sun

That’s no sunspot. It’s the International Space Station (ISS) caught passing in front of the Sun. Sunspots, individually, have a dark central umbra, a lighter surrounding penumbra, and no solar panels. By contrast, the ISS is a complex and multi-spired mechanism, one of the largest and most sophisticated machines ever created by humanity. Also, sunspots occur on the Sun, whereas the ISS orbits the Earth. Transiting the Sun is not very unusual for the ISS, which orbits the Earth about every 90 minutes, but getting one’s timing and equipment just right for a great image is rare. Strangely, besides that fake spot, in this recent two-image composite, the Sun lacked any real sunspots. The featured picture combines two images — one capturing the space station transiting the Sun — and another taken consecutively capturing details of the Sun’s surface. Sunspots have been rare on the Sun since the dawn of the current Solar Minimum, a period of low solar activity. For reasons not yet fully understood, the number of sunspots occurring during both the previous and current solar minima have been unusually low. via NASA

The Eagle Rises

Get out your red/blue glasses and check out this stereo view from lunar orbit. The 3D anaglyph was created from two photographs (AS11-44-6633, AS11-44-6634) taken by astronaut Michael Collins during the 1969 Apollo 11 mission. It features the lunar module ascent stage, dubbed The Eagle, rising to meet the command module in lunar orbit on July 21. Aboard the ascent stage are Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, the first to walk on the Moon. The smooth, dark area on the lunar surface is Mare Smythii located just below the equator on the extreme eastern edge of the Moon’s near side. Poised beyond the lunar horizon is our fair planet Earth. via NASA

4000 Exoplanets

Over 4000 planets are now known to exist outside our Solar System. Known as exoplanets, this milestone was passed last month, as recorded by NASA’s Exoplanet Archive. The featured video highlights these exoplanets in sound and light, starting chronologically from the first confirmed detection in 1992. The entire night sky is first shown compressed with the central band of our Milky Way Galaxy making a giant U. Exoplanets detected by slight jiggles in their parents-star’s colors (radial velocity) appear in pink, while those detected by slight dips in their parent star’s brightness (transit) are shown in purple. Further, those exoplanets imaged directly appear in orange, while those detected by gravitationally magnifying the light of a background star (microlensing) are shown in green. The faster a planet orbits its parent star, the higher the accompanying tone played. The retired Kepler satellite has discovered about half of these first 4000 exoplanets in just one region of the sky, while the new TESS mission is on track to find even more, all over the sky, orbiting the brightest nearby stars. Finding exoplanets not only helps humanity to better understand the potential prevalence of life elsewhere in the universe, but also how our Earth and Solar System were formed. via NASA

Birds During a Total Solar Eclipse

What do birds do during a total solar eclipse? Darkness descends more quickly in a total eclipse than during sunset, but returns just as quickly — and perhaps unexpectedly to the avians — just a few minutes later. Stories about the unusual behavior of birds during eclipses have been told for centuries, but bird reactions were recorded and studied systematically by citizen scientists participating in an eBird project during the total solar eclipse that crossed the USA in 2017 August. Although some unusual behaviors were observed, many observers noted birds acting like it was dusk and either landing or flying low to the ground. Radar confirmed a significant decrease in high-flying birds and insects during and just after totality. Conversely, several sightings of normally nocturnal birds were reported. Pictured, a flock of birds in La Serena, Chile flew through the air together during the total solar eclipse that crossed South America last week. The photographer captured the scene in frames from an eclipse video. The next total solar eclipse in 2020 December will also cross South America, while in 2024 April a total solar eclipse will cross North America from Mexico through New England, USA. via NASA

The Galactic Center in Radio from MeerKAT

What’s happening at the center of our galaxy? It’s hard to tell with optical telescopes since visible light is blocked by intervening interstellar dust. In other bands of light, though, such as radio, the galactic center can be imaged and shows itself to be quite an interesting and active place. The featured picture shows the inaugural image of the MeerKAT array of 64 radio dishes just completed in South Africa. Spanning four times the angular size of the Moon (2 degrees), the image is impressively vast, deep, and detailed. Many known sources are shown in clear detail, including many with a prefix of Sgr, since the Galactic Center is in the direction of the constellation Sagittarius. In our Galaxy’s Center lies Sgr A, found here just to the right of the image center, which houses the Milky Way’s central supermassive black hole. Other sources in the image are not as well understood, including the Arc, just to the left of Sgr A, and numerous filamentary threads. Goals for MeerKAT include searching for radio emission from neutral hydrogen emitted in a much younger universe and brief but distant radio flashes. via NASA

Crescent Saturn

Saturn never shows a crescent phase — from Earth. But when viewed from beyond, the majestic giant planet can show an unfamiliar diminutive sliver. This image of crescent Saturn in natural color was taken by the robotic Cassini spacecraft in 2007. The featured image captures Saturn’s majestic rings from the side of the ring plane opposite the Sun — the unilluminated side — another vista not visible from Earth. Pictured are many of Saturn’s photogenic wonders, including the subtle colors of cloud bands, the complex shadows of the rings on the planet, and the shadow of the planet on the rings. A careful eye will find the moons Mimas (2 o’clock) and Janus (4 o’clock), but the real challenge is to find Pandora (8 o’clock). Saturn is now nearly opposite from the Sun in the Earth’s sky and so can be seen in the evening starting just after sunset for the rest of the night. via NASA

8 Minute and 30 Second Eclipse

The total phase of the July 2nd solar eclipse lasted about 4 minutes and 30 seconds at the point of maximum eclipse. On the surface of planet Earth, that was about 600 nautical miles north of Easter Island in the Southern Pacific Ocean. But from 37,000 feet above, on a charter flight intercepting the Moon’s shadow, the Moon could be seen to completely block the Sun for about 8 minutes and 30 seconds. With a tailwind at the mid-eclipse intercept point, the plane was traveling around 488 nautical miles per hour chasing along the Moon’s shadow track. From above the clouds this wide-field image of the totally eclipsed Sun and shimmering solar corona over the wing records the spectacular view from a window seat on the sunward side of the aircraft. via NASA