Comet Lovejoy Peaks

Comet Lovejoy in Taurus (Jan 10, 2015)Comet Lovejoy (C/2014 Q2) is expected to reach peak brightness of about 4th magnitude during this week of January 12, 2015. The comet is speeding past the Pleiades and the Hyades, two bright naked-eye star clusters in Taurus. The image at top by Alan Dyer shows the little comet framed with these two naked-eye star clusters on the night of January 10, 2015. The comet passes about 7º west of the Pleiades– about one field of view of an average pair of binoculars– on Jan. 18-19.

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Video: The Wanderers

Wanderers – a short film by Erik Wernquist from Erik Wernquist on Vimeo.

Now here is a splendid work of imagination and video craft. Called “Wanderers”, this short video, created by Erik Wernquist, is a vision of humanity’s expansion into the Solar System. It’s based on hard science, the ideas and concepts of what the future of manned exploration of the solar system might look like. The locations depicted in the film are digital recreations of actual places in the Solar System and built from images and map data where available.

The video is overlayed with voice of Carl Sagan reading from his work the Pale Blue Dot.  But there’s no apparent story here. The video primarily shows us a glimpse of the fantastic and beautiful nature of some worlds in our solar system and how they might appear to us if we were there. Many images remind me of the excellent and inspirational vistas created in the mid 20th century by the artist Chesley Bonestell.

Rosetta, Philae, and Comet 67/P

Rosetta and Philae

Rosetta and Philae

On November 12, 2014, in one of the great feats in the history of space exploration, the European Space Agency (ESA) landed a tiny robotic spacecraft on the surface of a comet.  This achievement ranks with grand achievements of the manned Apollo Moon landings and the Mars Viking lander missions in 1976, as well as the more recent Mars Curiosity lander in 2012. And it once again demonstrates that while manned spaceflight might generate more public interest and secure more funding, robotic space exploration is more audacious and difficult, and has the potential to yield far more discoveries and knowledge of lasting value.

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Partial Solar Eclipse on October 23, 2014

Partial solar eclipse in New Zealand in 2008. (Credit: Greg Hewill)

Partial solar eclipse in New Zealand in 2008. (Credit: Greg Hewgill)

Just two weeks after a total lunar eclipse, some lucky observers in North America will get to see a partial solar eclipse on October 23, 2014. The eclipse is visible from most of North America and Mexico. No observers will see the Sun totally eclipsed, but from western North America, about 40% to 80% of the Sun will be covered by the Moon. This is a great “dry run” for the total solar eclipse of August 21, 2017.

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The Solar Eclipse of August 21, 2017

The first solar eclipse since 1979 visible from the lower 48 states of the U.S. will be visible from Oregon to South Carolina on August 21, 2017. The umbra– the region of totality– makes the west coast of North America at about 17:16 UT just south of Portland and heads out over the Atlantic about 90 minutes later at 18:48 UT over Charleston, South Carolina. The greatest duration of the eclipse will occur near Hopkinsville, Kentucky, just northwest of Nashville, Tennessee where the Sun will be eclipsed by the Moon for 2 minutes and 40.2 seconds.  However, this region is not, statistically, the place with the best chance for clear skies.  Eastern Oregon or western Idaho are likely better bets for weather.  The video above shows the path of the eclipse over the U.S.  Start planning your trip… this will be one of the most observed astronomical events in history!