Ponder The Known Universe

In 2009 the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) debuted The Known Universe for an exhibit at Rubin Museum of Art in New York City. AMNH and Hayden Planetarium astrophysicists resourced Digital Universe Atlas to produce five and a half minutes capable of unfurling the sternest brow. Our world would be a better place if everyone stopped talking long enough to ponder a space video before bed.


Help Find Planet 9

In January 2016 Caltech astronomers publicly theorized existence of a behemoth ninth planet orbiting the Sun.  Observations of orbital anomalies in the Kuiper Belt (a massive ring of cosmic debris extending beyond Neptune – home to once a planet Pluto and estimated 100,000 neighbors measuring over 100 Km ) hypothesized a yet to be discovered gargantuan mass was responsible for peculiar behavior of Kuiper Belt residents. In theory a planetary mass ten times greater than Earth, completes an elongated orbit a thousand times farther from the Sun once every 15-20 thousand years – astronomers dubbed it Planet 9.

This diagram show the orbits of several Kuiper Belt objects that were used to infer the existence of Planet 9. Image via ASU.

Contrary to conspiracy, alien, biblical and doomsday jibber-jabber, no proof of Planet 9 exists – science has a theory based on seven years of  sky maps courtesy the WISE space telescope (see link below). Launched in 2009, WISE was designed to detect low level infrared light, light emissions consistent with planets. WISE buckled down – over 750 million curious infrared light sources later, science needs our help.


If Planet 9 is out there, chances are WISE has digital proof somewhere within those 750 million and counting infrared hits. Missing are enough eyes to systematically scan images for indications an object moves “apart” from surrounding cosmic pixels. Enter Zooniverse Backyard Worlds –

“We need your help searching for new objects at the edges of our solar system. In this project, we’ll ask you to help us distinguish real celestial objects from image artifacts in data from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission. The real objects are brown dwarfs and low-mass stars, the Sun’s nearest neighbors. You may find an object closer than Proxima Centauri (the closest star to the Sun) or even discover the Sun’s hypothesized ninth planet, which models suggest might appear in these images.

What are the Sun’s nearest neighbors? You may have heard of Proxima Centauri, the star nearest the sun. But most of the Sun’s nearest neighbors are not stars, but brown dwarfs, balls of gas too big to be called planets but too small to be called stars. We’ve learned by extrapolating from recent discoveries that there is likely a hidden population of brown dwarfs floating by the solar system. This population contains the coldest known brown dwarfs, known as “Y dwarfs,” which are very similar to planets that just don’t orbit other stars. Together, we will try to find these rogue worlds to better understand how both stars and planets form.”

Backyard Worlds needs fresh eyes and plenty of them. Science doesn’t care who you are, what you do or if Kuiper Belt sounds like a foreign language – science needs help. Participants whose efforts lead to discovery will be given full credit. What are you waiting for? Join the search for Planet 9.

A previously cataloged brown dwarf named WISE 0855-0714 shows up as a moving orange dot (upper left) in this loop of WISE images spanning 5 years. By viewing movies like this, anyone can help discover more brown dwarfs or even a 9th planet. Image via ASU/ NASA/WISE.



Allow Me To Introduce The Moon

The cosmos doesn’t have to by a mystery, the first step begins with our Moon. Once you know the Moon, cosmic threads unravel with confidence. Allow me to introduce the Moon –

Moon phase composite via Fred Espenak. Read more about this image.

Moon phase composite via Fred Espenak. Read more about this image.

1. When you see the moon, think of the whereabouts of the sun

2. The moon rises in the east and sets in the west, each and every day

3. The moon takes about a month (one month) to orbit the Earth

4. The moon’s orbital motion is toward the east


Landing On Pluto

Last week NASA released a video compilation of New Horizons 2015 landing on Pluto.

What would it be like to actually land on Pluto? This movie was made from more than 100 images taken by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft over six weeks of approach and close flyby in the summer of 2015. The video offers a trip down onto the surface of Pluto — starting with a distant view of Pluto and its largest moon, Charon — and leading up to an eventual ride in for a “landing” on the shoreline of Pluto’s informally named Sputnik Planitia.
To create a movie that makes viewers feel as if they’re diving into Pluto, mission scientists had to interpolate some of the panchromatic (black and white) frames based on what they know Pluto looks like to make it as smooth and seamless as possible. Low-resolution color from the Ralph color camera aboard New Horizons was then draped over the frames to give the best available, actual color simulation of what it would look like to descend from high altitude to Pluto’s surface.
After a 9.5-year voyage covering more than three billion miles, New Horizons flew through the Pluto system on July 14, 2015, coming within 7,800 miles (12,500 kilometers) of Pluto. Carrying powerful telescopic cameras that could spot features smaller than a football field, New Horizons sent back hundreds of images of Pluto and its moons that show how dynamic and fascinating their surfaces are. Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI
The original black-and-white “landing” movie can be viewed at:

Google Lunar XPRIZE

September 13, 2017 marks ten years since Google announced the Lunar XPRIZE at a technology conference sponsored by Wired magazine. Up for grabs – a $30 million US prize pool, $20 million top prize going to the first privately funded team of innovators successfully landing a robotic craft on the Moon, moving it at least 500 meters across the lunar surface and transmitting two “Mooncasts” in high definition video, no less than 8 minutes each – one on arrival, the other at completion of mobility requirements. Subsidiary, bonus and incentive prizes are detailed below. Link to full contest rules –


Registration closed December 31, 2010. If no registered team managed to secure launch arrangements by December 31, 2015, the contest would end. On October 9, 2015 team SpaceIL verified a launch contract with SpaceX. Conditions met, the contest continued. Teams had until December 31, 2016 to secure launch contracts, all Moon missions must be completed by December 31, 2017. Five verified teams remain – http://lunar.xprize.org/teams


Link below for other privately funded space endeavors –


Venus Bubbles

This is pretty cool – do a little space homework, find out when the Moon or planets appear in the direction of setting Sun. Take a piece of picture frame size glass outside at sunset. Find an appropriate place to fasten it between yourself and the setting sun. Sprinkle glass with drops of water. Focus your camera lens on the drops of water…….

Photographer John Bell of Haversham, Bucks, UK followed the recipe and obtained the picture above on Jan. 17, 2017.

“I had been looking at macro photos of flowers through droplets and thought I’d try the same with the evening sky,” explains Bell. “I taped a photoframe glass to a tree branch in my garden and framed the droplets using my Canon 5D MK2 with a sigma 106mm macro lens. The view was of Venus by a neighbour’s tree.”

Water droplets act as inverting lenses, so in the original photo the sunset was upside down. “Easily fixed,” says Bell, who restored order by rotating the image 180 degrees. “Focusing was a bit difficult,” he adds. “After all, water droplets are not perfect lenses.” The result, however, was perfectly beautiful. More exposures are available here.