As you see from the post dates, this blog is no longer maintained.


50 Years of Space Exploration

This is a photo / map of 50 years of space exploration. Click here to see it easily on a Flickr page (click on "all sizes" above the picture), and here to see it in more detail at the National Geographic page.


Get closer to the sky...through your computer

Life Hacker blog has been highlighting astronomy software recently.  Have a look at these:

WorldWide Telescope "... it used to be a Windows-only desktop application. Now, provided you're running an operating system that supports Microsoft's Silverlight browser plug-in, you can enjoy the same star-gazing fun from any browser." (link)

"WorldWide Telescope (WWT) enables your computer to function as a virtual telescope, bringing together imagery from the best ground and space-based telescopes in the world. Experience narrated guided tours from astronomers and educators featuring interesting places in the sky." (link)
Watch the TED talk about the WorldWide Telescope:

Stellarium  "Windows/Mac/Linux: Whether you're a die-hard astronomy buff or someone who'd just like an idea of what constellations are where, Stellarium is a fantastic tool for viewing the night sky from the comfort of your home. ...At its most basic, Stellarium will display the night sky as seen from anywhere on earth. Delving into the more advanced features you can do all sorts of really interesting things like see the constellations for a dozen different cultures—the Pegasus from Greek mythology is the Turtle in the Navajo tradition." (link)

photo credit: poulz 
"Stellarium is a free open source planetarium for your computer. It shows a realistic sky in 3D, just like what you see with the naked eye, binoculars or a telescope.
It is being used in planetarium projectors. Just set your coordinates and go." (
Watch this video from YouTube created with Stellarium:

Celestia is a free space simulation that lets you explore our universe in three dimensions. Celestia runs on Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X.   Celestia doesn't confine you to the surface of the Earth. You can travel throughout the solar system, to any of over 100,000 stars, or even beyond the galaxy.

"Looking down at Mars's tiny moon Phobos and the giant Valles Marineris rift valley." photo link

This video shows some of the features of Celestia:

You'll find an extensive list of astronomy software at


Going to the Moon

First, watch this  video timeline by Mashable.  It begins with the launch of the initiative in Congress in 1961, and ends with video of  the USS Hornet recovering the Apollo 11 Module.

The Lift-Off of APOLLO 11

Apollo 11 restored footage: montage

NASA has released a brief montage of restored footage from the Apollo 11 footage. 

"Land on the Moon in Google Earth. With Moon in Google Earth, you can take tours narrated by Apollo astronauts, view 3D models of landed spacecraft, zoom into 360-degree photos, and watch rare TV footage of the Apollo missions." link

Download Google Earth 5.0 here.


Sarychev Peak Eruption, Kuril Islands

download large image (286 KB, JPEG) acquired June 12, 2009
download animation (6 MB, QuickTime)
NASA has published a photo taken by International Space Station astronauts of the Sarychev Peak (Japan) eruption June 12.
"A fortuitous orbit of the International Space Station allowed the astronauts this striking view of Sarychev Volcano (Kuril Islands, northeast of Japan) in an early stage of eruption on June 12, 2009. Sarychev Peak is one of the most active volcanoes in the Kuril Island chain, and it is located on the northwestern end of Matua Island. Prior to June 12, the last explosive eruption occurred in 1989, with eruptions in 1986, 1976, 1954, and 1946 also producing lava flows. Ash from the multi-day eruption has been detected 2,407 kilometers east-southeast and 926 kilometers west-northwest of the volcano, and commercial airline flights are being diverted away from the region to minimize the danger of engine failures from ash intake."

Find out more about the erruption, and the photograph at this link.


Ask an astronaut!

"There's no shower on the ISS. Do you know how astronauts manage to keep themselves clean? There's no up or down in space. How do astronauts adapt to this environment?

Instead of searching the Internet - why not directly ask those who know best? ESA astronaut Frank De Winne is keen to personally answer your questions via ESA’s YouTube channel. " (link)
During his stay on the Station, De Winne's activities will focus on scientific research, technology and education.

Record and upload your questions to ESA’s YouTube channel as a 'Video Response' to
De Winne's video message
ESA’s YouTube channel is accessible on

text from ESA News; video at YouTube


How much do you know about the moon?

Take this quiz to see if you know a few basic Moon facts: 
How old is the Moon? 
How was it formed? 
How long will the Applo 11 astronaut's footprints last?  
What is the shape of the Moon?  
How far away from the Earth was the Moon when it was formed?  

Take the QUEST Quiz from KQED (Northern California Public Media)   

How do you know your facts about the Moon?  Where did you learn them?  How many answers did you get right?  Do you think the answers given in the video are correct?

(You can watch this video at YouTube. YouTube videos are blocked at school.)


Jupiter, its moons and the Sun

NASA's STEREO (Behind) COR1 spacecraft (STEREO is a pair of spacecraft launched in 2006 in opposite directions. They have different angles on the Sun, providing solar astrophysicists a 3D view of our nearest star.) have taken 30 hours of images on March 15-16 (2009) which have been compressed into an 11 second animation by NASA. It shows Jupiter, with its four big moons , as it drifts behind the Sun from the spacecraft’s viewpoint. Read more at the NASA STEREO web page.

Thanks to Phil Plait at Discover for pointing us to this video.


Near Earth Objects - DD45's Near Miss

I listened to  an interview with Professor Alan Fitzsimmons, Queens University Belfast  on the  the March 8 (2009)  Naked Scientist podcast from Cambridge.

Chris Smith  and Alan discuss DD45, "a small asteroid. It's about between 20-40m across. It was discovered only just over a week ago, on Friday 27th February. It passed our planet by at a distance of only 72,000km on Tuesday.
Chris - That's extremely close. That's, let's put that in perspective. Satellites orbit the Earth about 25,000 miles out. That's only twice as far away as a geostationary satellite.
Alan - That's right. Occasionally we do spot these small asteroids coming past us. Objects of that size hit the earth probably about once every 2-300 years. We're not quite sure how often they hit us at the moment but they hit us on time scales of centuries.
Chris - Had this thing not been seventy thousand kilometres away and it had actually landed on the Earth what sort of damage would it have done? How would it compare with, say, the object that wiped out the dinosaurs?
Alan - Well, it's much smaller than that. The object that wiped out the dinosaurs was about ten kilometres across and had global consequences. Those objects only hit us about once ever hundred million years. An object that can cause climate change can be as small as one kilometre across, however. Even they only hit us once every million years or so. Something this size may have been similar to the object that entered our atmosphere over Tunguska in Siberia in 1908. It may have exploded low down in the atmosphere if it had entered our atmosphere and perhaps about a few kilometres up. It would have wiped out several square thousand kilometres of ground."
You can download the MP3 of the interview here or listen to it on the podcast web page.  The interview was part of the 8th Mar 2009 - Your Questions and Swallowing Swords podcast.  I encourage you to subscribe to this podcast - it is always interesting!


Streaming Video from Space

"Image above: Flight Engineer Yury Lonchakov (left) and Commander Mike Fincke conduct a spacewalk. Credit: NASA TV"

This Press announcement from NASA caught our attention yesterday:
HOUSTON -- Internet visitors can now see the Earth as never before -- live from the International Space Station via streaming video, seven days a week.

The streaming video views of Earth and the exterior structure of the station are from cameras mounted outside the laboratory complex, orbiting Earth at 17,500 miles an hour at an altitude of 220 miles. The video is transmitted to the ground -- and Web viewers -- primarily while the astronauts aboard the complex are asleep, usually from about 1 p.m. to 1 a.m. CST. When live feeds are not available, a map showing the current location and path of the station will be streamed from NASA's Mission Control in Houston.

The streaming video will include audio of communications between Mission Control and the astronauts, when available. When the space shuttle is docked to the station, the stream will include video and audio of those activities.
Check this web page to see where the space station is in real time (watch this page for a bit, and see how quickly the Station orbits the Earth!) , and this page to help you pinpoint the exact minute when the International Space Station will be visible from your city.

Click on the image to go to the tracker page

There are more videos on NASA's YouTube Channel.

Background information: "The International Space Station, a unique partnership between the space agencies of the United States, Russia, Japan, Canada and Europe. Construction began in 1998 and will be completed in 2010. Eighteen crews have lived aboard the orbiting complex since 2000, including the current crew of three. Station residents have conducted important scientific experiments and gathered data to help assist future missions to the moon and Mars." (link)


NASA and Google Launch Virtual Exploration of Mars

screen shot of Google Earth - Mars

First, he serious science:
"MOFFETT FIELD, Calif. -- NASA and Google announced Monday the release of a new Mars mode in Google Earth that brings to everyone's desktop a high-resolution, three-dimensional view of the Red Planet.

Besides providing a rich, immersive 3D view of Mars that will aid public understanding of Mars science, the new mode, Google Mars 3D, also gives researchers a platform for sharing data similar to what Google Earth provides for Earth scientists.

The mode enables users to fly virtually through enormous canyons and scale huge mountains on Mars that are much larger than any found on Earth. Users also can explore the Red Planet through the eyes of the Mars rovers and other Mars missions, providing a unique perspective of the entire planet.

Users can see some of the latest satellite imagery from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and other probes orbiting the Red Planet. Viewers can learn about new discoveries and explore indexes of available Mars imagery. The new Mars mode also allows users to add their own 3D content to the Mars map to share with the world.

Today's announcement is the latest benefit from a Space Act Agreement NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., signed with Google in November 2006. Under its terms, NASA and Google agreed to collaborate to make NASA's data sets available to the world." - NASA Press Release 02 Feb 2009

Now, another slant from Google Operating Systems blog:
"Open the latest version of Google Earth, switch to "Mars" and search for "Meliza". Click on the small robotic icon and you'll be able to chat with Meliza, a friendly relative of Eliza, one of the first chat bots. A message informs Earthlings that "Meliza is using an account on a different planet. There may be translation errors." The chat bot has some predefined text related to Mars and it can't answer to many questions, but it's always ready to rephrase your messages.

Here's Meliza's first message: "Greetings, Earthling! What do you think of Google Mars? Have you checked out Valles Marineris? It's like the Grand Canyon, but bigger. Mars is so much better than Earth!"

Image from Google Operating Systems blog.


Did you see the moon?

You know how sometimes the moon seems huge, and other times it's just a point of light high in the sky? Last night, Jan. 10th, was a perigee Moon - the biggest full Moon of 2009. Did you see it?

This is a slide show of the 101 photos posted on Flickr that have been tagged with "perigee" and "full" and "Moon", licensed under the Creative Commons.

Dr. Tony Phillips at NASA explains why the moon seems to change size:
"Johannes Kepler explained the phenomenon 400 years ago. The Moon's orbit around Earth is not a circle; it is an ellipse, with one side 50,000 km closer to Earth than the other. Astronomers call the point of closest approach "perigee," and that is where the Moon will be this weekend.

"Perigee full Moons come along once or twice a year. 2008 ended with one and now 2009 is beginning with another.
"(A)magic moment happens when the perigee Moon is near the horizon. That is when illusion mixes with reality to produce a truly stunning view. For reasons not fully understood by astronomers or psychologists, low-hanging Moons look unnaturally large when they beam through trees, buildings and other foreground objects." (link)


Life on Mars?

"Penelope Boston studies caves and karst formations, and the special biology that lives in them -- both here on Earth and possibly on other planets...So the Mars Rovers didn't scoop up any alien lifeforms. Dr. Boston thinks there's a good chance -- a 25 to 50 percent chance, in fact -- that life might exist on Mars, deep inside the planet's caves. She details how we should look and why." Read more about Dr. Boston at this link.