Bang Kachao, an area that escaped development forms a green oasis amid the urban sprawl of
Bankok, Thailand. The Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat-8 recorded this
natural-color view of Bang Kachao during a recent daylight pass over the region. The OLI
instrument was built by Colorado-based Ball Aerospace and Technologies. Landsat-8 was
launched from Vandenberg AFB, Calif. in early 2013. Image courtesy of NASA and USGS
Launch Creates Light Show
(MAR 1) Observers across a wide area of the Southwest were treated to an unusual
light show last Wednesday morning thanks to an Air Force experiment launched from
White Sands, NM.
A Terrier-Black Brant sounding rocket lifted off from White Sands Missile Range at 5:26 a.m.
Mountain Standard Time and released small amounts of samarium vapor in near-Earth space
to create clouds of plasma, or ionized gas. The purpose of the Air Force Research
Laboratory experiment was to study the processes responsible for formation of the Earth’s
According to media reports, the experiment produced a purple steak or pink cloud that
was seen in Arizona and New Mexico.
Jupiter Jumps into View this Month at Westmont
(FEB 17) SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - The gas giant Jupiter will be the star attraction
at this month’s free public viewing on Friday, Feb. 20, beginning at 6:30 p.m. and
lasting several hours at the Westmont Observatory. In case of inclement or overcast
weather, please call the Telescope Viewing Hotline at (805) 565 -6272 and check the
Westmont website to see if the viewing has been canceled.
Rising in Leo, Jupiter will be in good position for viewing in the early evening.
“Since Jupiter has passed through opposition recently — and now rising just before
the sun sets — we may be lucky enough to see a shadow cast onto its surface by one of
its large moons,” says Thomas Whittemore, Westmont physics instructor.
The viewing may also feature the Orion Nebula, M42. “Orion is high in the sky
by 8 p.m.,” Whittemore says. “If the seeing is good this evening, we may be able to
see six of the Trapezium stars in the heart of the nebula with Westmont’s 24-inch
The Milky Way, which contains a number of open clusters, is high in the winter
sky and a popular viewing subject. “One of my favorites, M35 in Gemini, is a chain of
stars with all sorts of subtle color variations,” he says. “This particular object will be
best viewed in Westmont’s 8-inch refractor.”
Mars and Venus are putting on quite a show in the west, although their
alignment will make them unobservable with Westmont’s telescopes. “By Friday
evening, they will be about a degree or so apart in this chance alignment,” he says.
“The proximity of the creamy-colored (and bright) Venus with the fiery-red (and
much dimmer than Venus) Mars yields a wonderful color contrast between the two
objects. The public will be able to see this pairing early in the evening and with their
bare eyes, but by 8 p.m. both objects will have set in the southwest.”
The observatory opens its doors to the public every third Friday of the month in
conjunction with the Santa Barbara Astronomical Unit, whose members bring their
own telescopes to Westmont for the public to gaze through. The Keck Telescope is
housed in the observatory between Russell Carr Field and the track and field/soccer
complex. Free parking is available near the baseball field.
Tea Cup Galaxy
The Teacup Galaxy reveals otherwise hidden detail in this composite image created
from radio observations by the Very Large Array radio observatory near Socorro, N.M.
and optical images. Green colors show the starlight, blue colors show the gas, and
the red/yellow colors show the radio emissions. The bright yellow blobs in the
center of the image show where the radio “jets,” launched by the black hole, are
driving into the gas and accelerating it to 200,000 miles per hour (1,000 kilometers
per second. The giant bubbles also are being inflated by a central black hole. This
demonstrates that the central black hole is having a catastrophic effect on the
galaxy. Credit: C. Harrison, A. Thomson; Bill Saxton, NRAO/AUI/NSF; NASA
Virgin Galactic Opens Launch Vehicle Facility
(FEB 12) LONG BEACH, Calif. – Virgin Galactic, the privately-funded space company owned by Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group and Abu Dhabi’s Aabar Investments PJS, is pleased to announce it has leased a new 150,000 square foot facility that will house design and manufacturing of the company’s small satellite launch vehicle, LauncherOne.
LauncherOne is a new two-stage orbital launch vehicle being designed by Virgin Galactic specifically to launch commercial or governmental satellites that weigh 500 pounds (225 kilograms) or less. Much like SpaceShipTwo, the company’s reusable vehicle for space tourism, LauncherOne is designed to be launched from the WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft, giving customers the ability to avoid crowded and expensive launch ranges while also picking the launch location best suited for their mission. Located at the Long Beach Airport, this new facility will allow easy transportation of rockets and of customers’ satellites using WhiteKnightTwo.
With a launch price aimed to be the lowest in the nation or perhaps the world, LauncherOne has already attracted the interest of numerous small satellite manufacturers and operators. Among them is the recently announced OneWeb project designed to deliver broadband services to areas of the world not currently served by terrestrial networks. This and other ambitious projects are expected keep the Long Beach facility busy for many years to come.
NMSU Astronomers Contribute to Massive Star Database
(FEB 2) LAS CRUCES, N.M. - Scientists in January announced a final data release for
the third phase of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey that includes information to allow
researchers to construct a three-dimensional chemical map of the Milky Way galaxy.
ULA Launches Earth Science Mission
A Delta II rocket carrying NASA's SMAP satellite and several smaller spacecraft climbs
into orbit following liftoff from Vandenberg AFB on Saturday, January 31. The dawn
event was visible to the unaided eye over a wide area. The Webmaster recorded this view
of the launch from Ventura County, some 100 miles east-southeast of the launch site.
Copyright 2015, Brian Webb
(JAN 31) Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. - A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta
II rocket carrying the Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) payload for NASA lifted
off from Space Launch Complex-2 at 6:22 a.m. PST today. This launch marks ULA's second launch of 13 planned for 2015, and the 93rd successful mission since the company was formed.
"Congratulations to the NASA Launch Services Program team, JPL and all of our
mission partners on today's successful launch of the SMAP satellite," said Jim
Sponnick, ULA vice president, Atlas and Delta Programs. "It is our honor to launch
this important Earth science mission to help scientists observe and predict natural
hazards, and improve our understanding of Earth's water, energy and carbon cycles."
The SMAP mission was launched aboard a Delta II 7320 configuration vehicle
featuring a ULA first stage booster powered by an Aerojet Rocketdyne RS-27A main
engine and three Alliant Techsystems (ATK) strap-on solid rocket motors. An Aerojet
Rockedyne AJ10-118K engine powered the second stage. The payload was encased by a
10-foot-diameter composite payload fairing.
The SMAP mission is NASA's first Earth-observing satellite mission designed to
collect global observations of surface soil moisture and its freeze/thaw state,
data that have broad applications for science and society.
United Launch Alliance
Delta II Launch Scheduled
(JAN 22) VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. - Team Vandenberg is scheduled to launch
a NASA satellite on a United Launch Alliance rocket from Space Launch
Complex-2 here Thursday, Jan. 29, at 6:20 a.m. PDT.
The Delta II rocket will carry NASA's Soil Moisture Active Passive; the
first Earth-observing satellite.
Col. Shane Clark, 30th Space Wing vice commander, will be the Launch
"We are excited to take on our first launch of 2015," said Clark. "Every
launch takes dedication and teamwork. I am extremely proud of the team and
our strong partnership with NASA. Everyone involved has been working
tirelessly to ensure this is a safe and successful launch."
SMAP is designed to collect global observations of surface soil moisture and
its freeze/thaw state. High resolution space-based measurements of soil
moisture and whether the soil is frozen or thawed will give scientists a new
capability to observe and predict natural hazards of extreme weather,
climate change, floods and droughts, and will help reduce uncertainties in
the understanding of Earth's water and carbon cycles.
The drill on NASA's Curiosity Mars Rover rests in position for a drill test in
this image taken on January 13. The test was used to assess whether a rock
target called "Mojave" was appropriate for full-depth drilling to collect a
sample. A key appeal of this target is an abundance of crystal-shaped features.
The Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. manages the Curiosity mission
for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. JPL also designed and built the Curiosity
rover. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Three Nearly Earth-Size Planets Found Orbiting Nearby Star
(JAN 16) TUCSON, Ariz. - NASA's Kepler Space Telescope, despite being hobbled by the loss of critical
guidance systems, has discovered a star with three planets only slightly larger than Earth.
Observatory to Zoom in on Comet Lovejoy
(JAN 8) SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - The Comet Lovejoy will tantalize stargazers at this month's free public viewing of the stars with Westmont's powerful Keck Telescope on Friday, Jan. 16, beginning at 6:30 p.m. and lasting several hours at the Westmont Observatory. In case of inclement or overcast weather, please call the Telescope Viewing Hotline at (805) 565-6272 and check the Westmont website to see if the viewing has been canceled.
The Comet Lovejoy, C/2014 Q2, is making its closest approach to earth, 44 million miles away. "I've been watching it from our back yard for the last week and it's a bright one," says Thomas Whittemore, Westmont physics instructor. "It's almost a naked-eye object at this point, and at the public viewing, there will be no moon to interfere with the comet's brightness. I have yet to see a tail on Lovejoy, but maybe we will get lucky with Westmont's 8-inch refractor telescope."
Whittemore says he will use the Keck Telescope, a 24-inch reflector, to zoom in on the Orion Nebula. "This 1,400 light-year-distant stellar nursery is always a wintertime treat," he says.
Weather permitting, the viewing may also include the Crab Nebula in Taurus. "Viewed across the world in 1054, there are many records of this supernova explosion," Whittemore says. "Today we see the remnants of the exploded star as Messier 1, the Crab Nebula. To me, even through a moderate-sized telescope, the nebula's structure looks like a splash of milk."
The observatory opens its doors to the public every third Friday of the month in conjunction with the Santa Barbara Astronomical Unit, whose members bring their own telescopes to Westmont for the public to gaze through. The Keck Telescope is housed in the observatory between Russell Carr Field and the track and field/soccer complex. Free parking is available near the baseball field.
The 4-mile (6.5 kilometer) El Progreso pier in Mexico's Yucatan and considerable
offshore detail are visible in this recently released view from Landsat-8's
Operational Land Imager. Built over a wide and shallow continental shelf, the
pier's length is necessary to allow docking by larger ships. Landsat-8 was launched
in 2013 from Vandenberg AFB. Image credit: NASA/U.S. Geological Survey
Mercury Visible at Dusk
(JAN 4) Sky watchers have a good opportunity to see the elusive
planet Mercury at dusk this month. Since Mercury's orbit is so close
to the Sun, the planet never strays far from the Sun's glare as seen
from Earth, making Mercury difficult to find and identify.
However, this month, Mercury climbs out of the Sun's glare and is easy
to spot and identify thanks to a bright celestial landmark. From
January 2 to 16, Mercury lies within 5 degrees of the much brighter
To find Mercury, look low in the west-southwest 30 to 50 minutes after
sunset. Locate silvery-white Venus. Then look below and to the right of
Venus for Mercury, which resembles a much fainter, star-like object.
The pairing of the two planets is most impressive on the evening of
January 10 when Venus and Mercury are separated by slightly more than
1/2 of a degree.
Although Mercury and Venus appear to be close to one another this
month, their apparent proximity is an illusion. The two planets are
lined up in such a way that they happen occupy the same part of the
sky as seen from Earth. In reality, the planets are separated by many
millions of miles.