Look Up At Behemoth Mars

In 2003 Mars was closer to Earth than any time in the past 60,000 years. Tonight Mars is slightly farther away, but won’t be this close again until 2035. Doesn’t have to be tonight, but please look up and ponder Mars.

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Ours is not a symmetrical universe, celestial objects don’t march in perfect circular orbit. Mass, proximity, tilt of axis, speed of rotation and composition dictate elliptical waltzes across the night sky. Every elliptical planetary orbit has a closest point (perihelion) and farthest point (aphelion) from the Sun. On July 27, 2018 “opposition” placed Earth directly between Mars and the Sun, but thanks to elliptical orbit not closest to Earth until tonight. Time between Mars opposition and closest point to Earth varies from 8.5 days (1969) to 10 minutes (2208 and 2232).

So put Mars viewing on your calendar for 2016. You won’t see Mars this size again until 2018, when Mars will put on an even better show. Illustration via nasa.tumblr.com.

Illustration of a telescopic view of Mars at its last opposition in 2016, in contrast to 2018. Mars appears larger through a telescope in 2018. Its larger size in our sky means it’s brighter, very bright indeed, as you’ll see if you look for Mars tonight! Illustration via nasa.tumblr.com.

Mars will still be visible after July and August, 2018, but each month it will shrink in apparent size as Earth rushes ahead of Mars in our smaller, faster orbit around the sun. As telescopes show Mars smaller in apparent sky, our unaided eyes will see Mars fade in brightness. Image via NASA Tumblr.


Ponder 2017, A Year In Space

On the cusp of 2017s last gasp, ponder a year of cosmic discovery. September 2017 marked the end of Cassini’s stoic 20 year, one billion mile journey to unlock mysteries of Saturn and its moons. A quest defined by exquisite images, unprecedented collection of data and a fiery death plunge into the heart of Saturn. We lost Cassini in 2017, but data collected on her death march will keep science busy for years. Great link to NASA Cassini timeline –


In April 2017 Harvard astronomer David Charbonneau published a study detailing LHS 114Ob, a Earth-like planet orbiting a red dwarf star 40 light years away.  “This is the one we’ve been hunting for all these years!” said Charbonneau. A rocky, temperate exoplanet with our best to date potential for finding alien life.


Credit – M. Weiss/CfA

Speaking of exoplanets – In June 2017 NASA announced 10 of the most recent 219 planets catalogued by the Kepler space observatory, were Earth sized and potentially habitable.

Credit – NASA/JPL-Caltech

November 2017, science discovered the first documented interstellar object to enter our solar system. Object A/2017 U1 was noticed moving away from Earth at a staggering 15.8 miles per second. Now dubbed Oumuamuas, learn more at link below this image –


Gravitational waves took October 2017 by storm, awarding the Nobel Prize in Physics to LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory). First theorized by Albert Einstein, conclusive evidence of gravitational waves is possibly the greatest cosmic discovery of 2017. Gravitational waves occur when mass accelerates, such as when two black holes rotate around each other. Moving at the speed of light, they spread outward filling the universe. Einstein didn’t believe they could be measured, LIGO proved him wrong. Astrophysicists won’t forget 2017, the year gravitational waves validated determination to understand disruptions in spacetime.


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Cosmic water rippled across 2017. From Cassini’s suggestion Saturn’s moon Enceladus harbored water, to exhaustive unraveling of ancient flowing liquid erosion on Mars and Moon research indicating a wealth of hidden water.

Saturn's moon Enceladus, photographed here by the Cassini spacecraft, has a subsurface ocean that also contains a chemical energy source that could be used by life-forms.


Saturn’s moon Enceladus, photographed here by the Cassini spacecraft, has a subsurface ocean that also contains a chemical energy source that could be used by life-forms.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute


This image of an inner slope of a crater on southern Mars has several seasonal dark streaks called “recurrent slope lineae,” or RSL.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UA/USGS

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Moon water theory stems from deposits of pyroclastic rock known as volcanic glass. Glass beads form when eruptions of magma crystallize as they cool on the surface trapping water inside. Until recently decades old samples of volcanic moon glass brought back by Apollo 15 & 17  were thought to be regional peculiarities. Closer modern scrutiny confirms wide total distribution of volcanic glass – a 2017 about face regarding hidden lunar moisture.
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 Perhaps the best way to embrace wonders of 2017 is with imagery. Start here – https://www.digitaltrends.com/photography/best-space-photos/ – move on to – https://www.popsci.com/best-images-outer-space#page-2 – spend a few minutes at NASA – https://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/imagegallery/index.html
2017 catapulted cosmic foundations, science embraced unimaginable leaps toward unraveling the paradox of spacetime. Lack of understanding, dismissive frustration born of absent points of reference are no excuse to retreat from cosmic wonder. I won’t call it a resolution for the new year, but do hope more people open their minds to the cosmos. Start 2018 with links to http://earthsky.org/ or https://www.space.com/ in your news feed. Happy New Year.



December 3, 2017 Supermoon

Over thirty years ago astrologer Richard Nolle coined the term Supermoon, he defined it as –

… a new or full moon which occurs with the moon at or near (within 90% of) its closest approach to Earth in a given orbit.

Once each month the Moon is full (opposite Earth from the Sun), once a month new (between Earth and the Sun). The closest point of orbit is called perigee, farthest point, apogee. By definition Supermoon occurs at perigee, this happens 4 – 6 times a year. All perigee moons are Supermoons, not all Supermoons are full moons. On December 3 the first and only full supermoon of 2017 happens worldwide at 15:47 UTC. (Translate to your time zone at – http://earthsky.org/astronomy-essentials/universal-time )

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December’s full moon is known as the long night or wolf moon in native American folklore. Ponder all things moon courtesy Eartsky astronomy essentials at – http://earthsky.org/astronomy-essentials/full-moon-names

Poor weather needn’t squelch inclination to howl at the super wolf moon. Linked below, the Virtual Telescope Project in Rome, access to remote robotic telescopes and live streaming of astronomical events.


spaceweather is the Meat and earthsky is the Gravy

Not a day goes by without a visit to spaceweather.com. I can’t imagine turning out my light without knowing where the Auroral Oval was, how fast the solar wind was blowing, news of active sunspots, or upcoming near earth asteroids. It’s not that I worry about any of it, I just like to know what’s going on. I will admit that news of a major X-Class solar flare directed at Earth would give me pause for thought, I understand the implications. My spaceweather obsession is a daily routine, my family hardly even roll their eyes any more.


Now I’ve found earthsky. This is the gravy, the butter, the cherry on top. Tonight I learned that Jupiter has the largest ocean in our universe, about 40,000 KM. deep, that’s as deep as our Earth is around. I learned about the 1908 Tunguska event, where a fireball was seen in the sky over Siberia, trees were flattened, reindeer killed, and no impact crater was ever found. I learned that Pluto is smaller than the United States,

It may take a little longer to get to bed, but is worth every minute.


Map showing the approximate location of the Tunguska event of 1908.

Bottom line: On June 30, 1908, an object from space apparently exploded in the atmosphere above Siberia. The explosion killed reindeer and flattened trees, in what has become known as the Tunguska event.

Above from earthsky.org