Hang Out with Pluto Experts

Want to Find out the Latest about Pluto?

Pluto and Charon just before close flyby of the New Horizons spacecraft. Courtesy NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI.
Pluto and Charon just before close flyby of the New Horizons spacecraft. Courtesy NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI.

There’s a Google Hangout happening on Wednesday, August 26th that will bring you the latest news from Pluto, shared by experts in the field. It’s being hosted by the Kavli Foundation, and will focus on information from New Horizons team members Richard Binzel and Cathy Olkin, as well as insights from planetary scientist Michael Brown of CalTech, and writer Adam Hadhazy.

As the data from the mission streams back to Earth, team members are analyzing and interpreting what the most distant planet has to tell them. In particular, they are intrigued by Pluto’s atmospheric loss, its unusual terrains, and the very different face of Charon that also shows fascinating features. This hangout features what they know so far and what they think is happening in the Pluto system.

Tune in next week at for Pluto Revealed: New Horizons’ Historic Voyage. It begins at 15:30 EDT (19:30 UTC) and runs for 30 minutes.

Send Your Name to Mars

Artist’s concept of Mars InSight as it is deployed on Mars. Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech

There’s a data chip on a spacecraft that’s just waiting for you to add your name to it. The  mission is NASA/JPL’s InSight project, which will  launch in 2016. Mission planners are inviting the public to send their name to Mars via the spacecraft.

If you’re interested, check out the Send Your Name to Mars Web site; if you’ve sent your name to space through this site before, you’ll log in as a frequent flyer. If not, just create a new “passenger” name, and you’re on your way.

The fly-your-name opportunity comes with “frequent flier” points to reflect an individual’s personal participation in NASA’s journey to Mars, which will span multiple missions and multiple decades. The InSight mission offers the second such opportunity for space exploration fans to collect points by flying their names aboard a NASA mission, with more opportunities to follow.

You’re a frequent flyer if you sent your name aboard the first flight of NASA’s Orion spacecraft last December. This is the craft that will ultimately carry astronauts to deep space destinations including Mars and an asteroid. After InSight, the next opportunity to earn frequent flier points will be NASA’s Exploration Mission-1, the first planned test flight bringing together the Space Launch System rocket and Orion capsule in preparation for human missions to Mars and beyond.

InSight will launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California in March 2016 and land on Mars Sept. 28, 2016. This mission is dedicated to studying the deep interior of Mars, to learn more about Mars quakes and seismic waves that help planetary scientists map the inside of a planet.  It also will deploy a self-hammering heat probe that will burrow deeper into the ground than any previous device on the Red Planet. These and other InSight investigations will improve our understanding about the formation and evolution of all rocky planets, including Earth.  To get more information about InSight, check out the mission Web page.


Light Pollution as Seen from Space

Astronaut Images from ISS Illuminate a Problem

The glow from cities extends far beyond the city limits, and includes light pollution as a result of scattered light.

The International Space Station is an invaluable resource for science research in space, but it is also a fantastic way for us to see how our planet looks from space. Thousands of images taking by astronauts are showing us how the night side of our planet is being affected by light pollution.

Researchers are using astronaut images of light-polluted regions taken by astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) to measure the amount of light pollution worldwide.  It includes cities and towns, but also measures scattered light. Until now, such faint glows had not been measured quantitatively. This diffuse glow, which is seen from space, is scattered from streetlights and buildings, and is responsible for the brightening of the night skies in and around cities. Such glows drastically limit the visibility of faint stars and the Milky Way.

Recent studies indicate that European countries and cities with a higher public debt also have higher energy consumption for street lighting per inhabitant, and that the total cost of the energy consumption for street lights is 6,300 million euros/year in the European Union. The findings were presentedat the IAU XXIX General Assembly in Honolulu, Hawaii.

In a remarkable new study, scientists from the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Spain and the Cégep de Sherbrooke in Canada, together with members of the public, have worked on a project called Cities at Night. The aim is to produce a global color map of the Earth [1] at night from pictures taken by astronauts on the International Space Station using a standard digital camera.

Starting in July 2014, this huge project required the cataloging of over 130,000 images — the ISS’s entire high-resolution archive — and geo-referencing them to place them on a map. The images were also calibrated using the stars in the background sky over the ISS, as well as ground-based measurements of the night sky brightness.

Previously, light pollution measurements had to be done in situ and would contribute only a single measurement to the light pollution map. This new method, connecting space-based measurements of light pollution with ground-based night sky brightness measurements, makes it possible, for the first time, to map light pollution reliably over extended areas.

A diffuse light present around cities, in addition to the familiar bright lights from streets and factories, was previously detected by the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program, but its nature remained unknown; the satellite’s low-resolution cameras could not distinguish it from other instrumental factors. However, the high-resolution images captured by the astronauts, in addition to an extensive sky brightness survey conducted around Madrid, have now allowed scientists to observe the direct relationship between the diffuse light observed and light pollution from artificial lights.

Using the ISS astronaut images, as well as data from the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program and the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership Satellite, the researchers also discovered that European countries and cities that have a higher public debt also have a higher energy consumption of street lighting per inhabitant. The total cost of the energy consumption for streetlights is estimated by the study to be 6300 million euros/year in the European Union. The different ways of calculating streetlight energy costs across Europe previously made such an estimate impossible.

This citizen science project is vital for researchers from many scientific fields. Studying lighting technology from orbit is currently of even greater importance now than before due to massive transitions to LED technology. The ISS is the only place from which it is possible to estimate the prevalence of the different types of lighting technologies used in cities around the world and to measure the impact of light pollution on the environment and human health.

The Perseids are Coming!

Summer’s Great Meteor Shower


A Perseid meteor flares along the path of the Milky Way in this image by Brocken Inaglory, CCA-SA.
A Perseid meteor flares along the path of the Milky Way in this image by Brocken Inaglory, CCA-SA.

Skygazers are gearing up for the annual return of the Perseid meteor shower. It’s already happening, but the best times to view the most number of meteors are from late in the evening August 12th into the early morning hours of August 13th. This is when Earth will be in the thick of a stream of debris flung off by the comet Swift-Tuttle as it rounds the Sun in its orbit. The wee hours of the morning mark the time when Earth “rotates” into the oncoming trail that creates the meteor shower.

The stream of material from Comet Encke, which forms the basis of the Taurids meteors showers. Courtesy NASA/Spitzer Space Telescope

These are tiny chunks of debris, most the size of a speck of dust or a grain of sand. But, when they encounter Earth’s atmosphere, they heat up due to friction with the gas molecules. That heats up the debris, and eventually it gets so hot it vaporizes. That’s what we see as a meteor flaring across the sky. If, for some reason, a chunk of debris makes it to Earth’s surface, that piece of space rock is known as a meteorite.

How to Observe the Perseids

perseidmap_stripWatching for meteor showers is one of the easiest observing projects you can do. You simply go outside and look up, preferably toward the constellation Perseus. It happens that the stream we are passing through is roughly aligned with the constellation, so that’s why we see the meteors appear to radiate from that region of the sky. You’ll see meteors all over the sky, and if conditions are good, you could see up to dozens per hour. This year, the viewing is good because the Moon won’t be washing out the sky. The best time to see the most meteors will be after midnight, although you’re likely to see a few in the hour or two before.

The best thing to do is set up a lawn chair outdoors in a safe spot away from bright lights. Make sure you’re dressed warmly, even if though it’s summertime for most observers. Late evenings and early morning hours can get chilly.

See how many meteors you can count in an hour. Note their colors as they flare across the sky. And, if you’re an amateur radio fan, you can “listen” to meteor showers, too. Check out this page at Spaceweather.com for more information.

Happy Perseid-gazing!

Welcome back to AstroCast.TV

If you’re a long-time reader and viewer of AstroCast.TV, you’ve noticed we’ve been on hiatus since early in the year. This break has given us a chance to redevelop the web site and refine our focus on bringing you interesting news in space and astronomy.

We’re starting up again with the blog, where we’ll share the latest news in Big Astronomy and space exploration. This fall we will bring back our popular stargazing show Our Night Sky, followed by the re-introduction of The Astronomer’s Universe (you can see back episodes here)

We look forward to exploring the universe with you and invite you to share with your friends and family the wonders of the cosmos that we’ll be exploring!


The cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be. Our feeblest contemplations of the Cosmos stir usthere is a tingling in the spine, a catch in the voice, a faint sensation, as if a distant memory, or falling from a height. We know we are approaching the greatest of mysteries.

— Carl Sagan, first paragraph of Cosmos

Our Night Sky – January 2015

Our Night Sky – January 2015 from Midnight Rider Productions on Vimeo. Best seen full screen.

This month we have some great solar system objects to look for.Mercury and Venusy appear in the southwestern sky for an hour or more after sunset through much of this month, along with the red planet Mars. Jupiter rises around 8:30 or so, and is high in the sky by late evening. If you try to find it, be sure to search out its moons with your binoculars or telescope.
Saturn is an early morning object throughout January. On the 16th, just before dawn, it appears very close to the crescent Moon.


NASA’s Orion Has a Successful Test Flight Making Way For Humans Return To Spaceflight from the U.S.


A Delta IV Heavy rocket lifts off from Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station carrying NASA’s Orion spacecraft on an unpiloted flight test to Earth orbit. Liftoff was at 7:05 a.m. EST. During the two-orbit, four-and-a-half hour mission, engineers will evaluate the systems critical to crew safety, the launch abort system, the heat shield and the parachute system.

Our Night Sky for December 2014

This month we’ll look at what’s up in the evening skies. That includes several planets, the Geminid meteor shower, and an exploration of a famous star-birth region among the stars.


Our Night Sky for December 2014 from Midnight Rider Productions on Vimeo.

Rosetta Arrives at Comet Preparing To Deploy Lander


 After a 10 year journey Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko and the Rosetta Spacecraft dance together before Rosetta releases Philae for the first soft landing on a comet. According to ESA the Rosetta spacecraft will deploy the Philae lander on 12 November at 08:35 UTC. A confermation of landing is expected at 16:00 UTC.

Read more at: http://sci.esa.int/rosetta/



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