Crash Course 2014 In Review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 25,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 9 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

I have sincerely enjoyed blogging here for the last several years and have thoroughly enjoyed the blog topics from those I follow.  I appreciate the many who follow me as well – blog or no blog.

Thanks for a great 2014!  More to come!


Saturday Reader: Crash’s 2015 Astro-Calendar

astro calendar

Mark your calendar, wake the kids, phone the neighbors!  From eclipses to meteor showers, from planets and stars to galaxies & full moons – it’s all here.

Bundle up and keep your eyes peeled on the evenings of January 3rd and 4th to catch the Quadrantids meteor shower. While the nearly Full Moon will unfortunately outshine many of the Quadrantids this year, there will still be opportunities to see brighter meteors streak across the night sky. Look for meteors appearing to radiate from the constellation Boötes.

On the night of January 23rd, train your telescope on Jupiter from 7pm PST to about half-past 11pm PST to witness a rare triple Galilean moon and shadow transit. The shadows of Galilean moons Callisto, Io and Europa will cross the face of Jupiter, followed by the moons themselves, all in one night!

Get ready for great views of giant Jupiter this month as the gas giant planet will be at opposition on the evening of February 6th – the point in its orbit when it appears opposite the Sun from Earth. The second month of 2015 continues to offer good views of the winter Milky Way, especially during the evening of February 18th, when the New Moon promises dark skies.

Catch an early evening conjunction of the planets Venus and Mars on February 22, when our closest neighboring planets will appear to be just a half-degree apart in the evening sky.

Some of the best galaxies to see are spread across the night skies of March from Ursa Major to Virgo. Take advantage of the New Moon on March 20th and set sail for these island universes with a big telescope! Grab a pair of 50mm or larger binoculars in March for great views of the Pleiades cluster (M45), the Beehive cluster (M44), and the must-see Double Cluster in Perseus. These sparkling sky gems are perfect fare for big astronomy binoculars and telescopes too.

Skygazers get a treat this month in the form of a Total Lunar Eclipse on the evening of April 4th. You won’t want to miss the show as the Full Moon gradually becomes darkened by the Earth’s shadow and turn a reddish orange color. This Total Lunar Eclipse will be visible throughout most of North and South America, eastern Asia and Australia.

Don’t miss the Lyrids meteor shower which peaks during April 22nd and 23rd. Scan the skies near the constellation Lyra after midnight on the 22nd for your best chance to see meteors.

Grab a comfortable blanket or lounge chair and catch the Eta Aquarids meteor shower which peaks on the evening of May 5th and the early morning of May 6th. Meteors will appear to radiate from the constellation Aquarius.

May skies present great viewing opportunities for many globular star clusters, including M3 in the constellation Boötes, the Great Cluster M13 in the keystone asertism of Hercules, M5 in Serpens, M92 in the northern section of Hercules.

The best time of the year to observe Saturn and its spectacular rings is the night of May 22nd, when the gas giant planet reaches opposition. 2015 will be a great year to observe and photograph Saturn because its rings will be at nearly maximum tilt from our vantage point.

Summer stargazing season kicks off in June with great opportunities to see a host of globular and open star clusters, emission nebulas, and more. Grab a pair of big binoculars or a wide-field telescope and scan the summer Milky Way for great views.

Around 10pm in mid-June, two face-on spiral galaxies M51 and M101 will both be well-paced in the night sky for observation and astrophotography. While you can see these galaxies from a dark sky site with a humble 60mm refractor, bigger telescopes will reveal much more detail. Use a 10″ or larger reflector to see the spiral arms of M51.

With constellation Hercules almost directly overhead and Scorpius to the south, there’s plenty to explore in July skies as summer continues.

On the night of July 1st, get outside in the early evening to catch a close conjunction between bright planet Venus and giant Jupiter. The two planets will appear just 24 arcminutes away from one another in a very pretty pairing. July winds down with the Delta Aquarids meteor shower. For the best chance to see meteors, get outside the night of July 28th and look towards the constellation Aquarius.

Get outside during the evening of August 6th to see a close conjunction between the planets Mercury and Jupiter, which will appear just 35 arcminutes away from one another.

Use 50mm or larger binoculars and/or a telescope with a low-power eyepiece to explore the summer Milky Way in August for nice views of various star clusters, galaxies, and cloudy nebulas.

Check out the skies after dark on August 12th and in the early morning hours of August 13th to see meteors from the Perseids shower radiating from the constellation Perseus. This year, the thin crescent Moon during the Perseids will allow summer stargazers to see plenty of beautiful meteors streak across the night sky.

The fall stargazing season begins with wonderfully placed spiral galaxies M31 (Andromeda Galaxy), M33 (Triangulum Galaxy), and M74 in Pisces. Use a big telescope to see these glittering island universes.

Three popular globular star clusters line up almost directly north-south in September skies. From a dark sky site, check out views M15 in Pegasus, M2 in Aquarius, and M30 in Capricornus.

The end of September treats us to a Total Lunar Eclipse on the evening of the 28th. Get outside to see the Moon become a deep red color as it becomes darkened by Earth’s shadow. This Total Lunar Eclipse will be visible from most of North and South America, Europe, western Asia and Africa.

Sit back and relax in your favorite backyard chair to watch the Orionid meteor shower, which peaks on the night of October 21st into the morning of October 22nd. The Orionids shower is notoriously irregular, so keep an eye out for meteors on any night from October 20th through the 24th also.

Set your alarm to get up early on October 28th, to catch a glimpse of a rare triple-conjunction between the planets Venus, Mars and Jupiter before sunrise. These three planets will form a 1-degree triangle in the pre-dawn skies of the 28th.

Bundle up for bright winter skies! See our namesake constellation Orion arch its way across the sky in November along with lots of bright star clusters to explore with big astronomy binoculars and telescopes.

Get outside on the evenings of November 17th and 18th to see the Leonids meteor shower as meteors appear to radiate from the constellation Leo.

High in the northern skies of November, between the constellations Perseus and Cassiopeia, use a pair of big binoculars or a wide-field telescope to seek out the sparkling Double Cluster in Perseus – two open star clusters NGC 884 and NGC 889 side by side.

Don’t miss the Geminids meteor shower which peaks during December 13th and 14th. Even though the peak is on the 13th and 14th, this popular shower will likely produce worthwhile meteors from the 6th through the 19th. Look for meteors to emanate from the constellation Gemini and the surrounding area.

The New Moon of December 11th will improve your chances of seeing the Geminids shower, as well provide optimal conditions to go after deep space telescope fare including the open cluster Pleiades (M42), the Andromeda Galaxy (M31), and the many gems within our namesake constellation Orion, including M42 the Orion Nebula and the elusive Horsehead Nebula located near Alnitak – the easternmost star of Orion’s easily recognizable belt.

A ghostly full moon rises over the Anasazi ruins known as Wukoki in Wupatki National Monument, Arizona. Photo appears courtesy of NatGeo and copyright 2008 David Edwards.

A ghostly full moon rises over the Anasazi ruins known as Wukoki in Wupatki National Monument, Arizona.
Photo appears courtesy of NatGeo and copyright 2008 David Edwards.

Full Moons:  Names & Meanings

Unlike hurricanes and winter storms, the names of each full moon are a constant – they never change.  Sure, we sometimes add names but for the most part their nameshave remained unchanged for hundreds of years.

One of the most dramatic sights in the night sky—and inspiration for poets, artists, and lovers for millennia—full moons captivate us like nothing else.

Every month Earth’s moon goes through its phases, waning and waxing in its constant transformation from new moon to full moon and back again. Full moons occur every 29.5 days or so as the moon moves to the side of Earth directly opposite the sun, reflecting the sun’s rays off its full face and appearing as a brilliant, perfectly circular disk.

For millennia, humans have used the movement of the moon to keep track of the passing year and set schedules for hunting, planting, and harvesting. Ancient cultures the world over have given these full moons names based on the behavior of the plants, animals, or weather during that month.

January: Wolf Moon
Native Americans and medieval Europeans named January’s full moon after the howling of hungry wolves lamenting the midwinter paucity of food. Other names for this month’s full moon include old moon and ice moon.

February: Snow Moon
The typically cold, snowy weather of February in North America earned its full moon the name snow moon. Other common names include storm moon and hunger moon.

March: Worm Moon
Native Americans called this last full moon of winter the worm moon after the worm trails that would appear in the newly thawed ground. Other names include chaste moon, death moon, crust moon (a reference to snow that would become crusty as it thawed during the day and froze at night), and sap moon, after the tapping of the maple trees.

April: Pink Moon
Northern Native Americans call April’s full moon the pink moon after a species of early blooming wildflower. In other cultures, this moon is called the sprouting grass moon, the egg moon, and the fish moon.

May: Flower Moon
May’s abundant blooms give its full moon the name flower moon in many cultures. Other names include the hare moon, the corn planting moon, and the milk moon.

June: Strawberry Moon
In North America, the harvesting of strawberries in June gives that month’s full moon its name. Europeans have dubbed it the rose moon, while other cultures named it the hot moon for the beginning of the summer heat.

July: Buck Moon
Male deer, which shed their antlers every year, begin to regrow them in July, hence the Native American name for July’s full moon. Other names include thunder moon, for the month’s many summer storms, and hay moon, after the July hay harvest.

August: Sturgeon Moon
North American fishing tribes called August’s full moon the sturgeon moon since the species was abundant during this month. It’s also been called the green corn moon, the grain moon, and the red moon for the reddish hue it often takes on in the summer haze.

September: Harvest Moon
The most familiar named moon, September’s harvest moon refers to the time of year after the autumn equinox when crops are gathered. It also refers to the moon’s particularly bright appearance and early rise, which lets farmers continue harvesting into the night. Other names include the corn moon and the barley moon.

October: Hunter’s Moon
The first moon after the harvest moon is the hunter’s moon, so named as the preferred month to hunt summer-fattened deer and fox unable to hide in now bare fields. Like the harvest moon, the hunter’s moon is also particularly bright and long in the sky, giving hunters the opportunity to stalk prey at night. Other names include the travel moon and the dying grass moon.

November: Beaver Moon
There is disagreement over the origin of November’s beaver moon name. Some say it comes from Native Americans setting beaver traps during this month, while others say the name comes from the heavy activity of beavers building their winter dams. Another name is the frost moon.

December: Cold Moon
The coming of winter earned December’s full moon the name cold moon. Other names include the long night moon and the oak moon.

The Blue Moon
Each year, the moon completes its final cycle about 11 days before the Earth finishes its orbit around the sun. These days add up, and every two and a half years or so, there is an extra full moon, called a blue moon. The origin of the term is uncertain, and its precise definition has changed over the years. The term is commonly used today to describe the second full moon of a calendar month, but it was originally the name given to the third full moon of a season containing four full moons.

Many thanks to the Astronomy Departments of Georgia State University, Atlanta, Georgia and Arizona State University, Phoenix, Arizona. Additional thanks to the University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, Scotland and Fernbank Museum of Natural History/Fernbank Science Center, Decatur, Georgia.

Happy viewing and have a great 2015!


Saturday Reader: NASA’s Kepler Spacecraft Finds “A Super Earth”

This artist's concept shows the first planet discovered by NASA's Kepler spacecraft during its K2 mission, a "super Earth" called HIP 116454b. The planet has a diameter of 20,000 miles, weighs 12 times as much as Earth and orbits its star once every 9.1 days. Credit: NASA and David A. Aguilar

This artist’s concept shows the first planet discovered by NASA’s Kepler spacecraft during its K2 mission, a “super Earth” called HIP 116454b. The planet has a diameter of 20,000 miles, weighs 12 times as much as Earth and orbits its star once every 9.1 days.
Credit: NASA and David A. Aguilar

NASA’s prolific Kepler space telescope is discovering alien planets again since being hobbled by a malfunction in May 2013.

The newly discovered world announced by researchers on Thursday (December 18th), is called HIP 116454b – a “super Earth” about 2.5 times larger than our home planet. It lies 180 light-years from Earth, in the constellation Pisces — close enough to be studied by other instruments, scientists said.

“Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, Kepler has been reborn and is continuing to make discoveries,” study lead author Andrew Vanderburg, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA), said in a statement. “Even better, the planet it found is ripe for follow-up studies.”

An artist's illustration depcits NASA's planet-hunting Kepler spacecraft working in a new mission profile called K2. Astronomers have used publicly available data to confirm K2's first exoplanet discovery, proving Kepler can still locate planets. Credit: NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech/T Pyle

An artist’s illustration depcits NASA’s planet-hunting Kepler spacecraft working in a new mission profile called K2. Astronomers have used publicly available data to confirm K2’s first exoplanet discovery, proving Kepler can still locate planets.
Credit: NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech/T Pyle

Kepler launched in March 2009, on a 3.5-year mission to determine how frequently Earth-like planets occur around the Milky Way galaxy. The spacecraft has been incredibly successful to date, finding nearly 1,000 confirmed planets — more than half of all known alien worlds — along with about 3,200 other “candidates,” the vast majority of which should turn out to be the real deal.

The spacecraft finds planets by the “transit method,” watching for the telltale dimming caused when a world cross the face of, or transits, its parent star from Kepler’s perspective. Such work requires incredibly precise pointing — an ability the spacecraft lost in May 2013, when the second of its four orientation-maintaining reaction wheels failed.

But the Kepler team didn’t give up on the spacecraft. They devised a way to increase Kepler’s stability by using the subtle pressure of sunlight, then proposed a new mission called K2, which would continue Kepler’s exoplanet hunt in a limited fashion and also study other cosmic objects and phenomena, such as active galaxies and supernova explosions.

HIP 116454b even earlier. Vanderburg and his colleagues — who developed special software to analyze data gathered by the spacecraft in its compromised state — noticed a single transit of the planet in Kepler observations from a nine-day test run in February.

The astronomers then confirmed the discovery using the HARPS-North spectrograph on the Telescopio Nazionale Galileo in the Canary Islands, off the west coast of Africa.

HIP 116454b is about 20,000 miles (32,000 kilometers) wide and is 12 times more massive than Earth, scientists said. The planet’s density suggests that it is either a water world or a “mini Neptune” with a large, thick atmosphere.

HIP 116454b lies just 8.4 million miles (13.5 million km) from its host star, an “orange dwarf” slightly smaller and cooler than the sun, and completes one orbit every 9.1 days. The close-orbiting planet is too hot to host life as we know it, researchers said.

The planet’s relative proximity to Earth means it will likely attract further attention in the future.

“HIP 116454b will be a top target for telescopes on the ground and in space,” said study co-author John Johnson, of Harvard University and the CfA.

The new study has been accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal.

While HIP 116454b is the first planet spotted by Kepler in its current state, it isn’t the first world to be confirmed in the wake of the May 2013 glitch. Many other discoveries have rolled in since then, as researchers work to validate the trove of planet candidates Kepler detected during its prime mission.


Amazing details of Saturn & its moons captured by NASA

Dark Matter Space


Image of Saturn Taken by Cassini Space Probe(Click Image to Download)

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has been studying Saturn and its moons for a decade now, routinely delivering stunning images of the second largest planet in our solar system. One of its noteworthy achievements is that it is now shedding a lot more light on six moons that were once shrouded in mystery.

When NASA’s Voyager spacecraft flew by moons like Mimas, Enceladus, Tethys, Dione, Rhea, and Iapetus back in the 1980s, it sent back landmark images that were nevertheless fuzzy, incomplete, and hard to make out. Now, Cassini has plugged the holes – with bursts of color, no less – and delivered stunning new images of these icy satellites.

Here is a before/after shot of Mimas showcasing the differences between Voyager’s image (left) and Cassini’s (right).


“The most obvious [discoveries] are differences in color and brightness between the two…

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On the Thirteenth Day of December . . .

Kindness Blog ♥️

Two Birds Sitting on a Wire Photo Credit: Pinterest

If you have been following this blog over the past six weeks or so, you have read several posts about my friend Dina’s twenty year old son, Tyler, who died on Halloween in a house fire.  Since that tragic day, I have been absolutely amazed by the graciousness, kindness, and compassion that have been displayed by my beautiful friend and her family and friends.  Today, my friend’s mother shared another touching story of kindness on Facebook, and with her permission, I am honored to share it here:

“Nicole had three of Tyler’s best friends at her Christmas concert Thursday night. Tyler would be so proud of his friends for being there for his little Coco, and so are we! You hear all about what’s wrong with the young people today, but you never hear about all the amazing ways they look out for their friends. There would have…

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SEE IT: House topples into Pacific Ocean along Washington coastline

WASHINGTON (WITI) — The Washington coastline has been dealing with rough seas, high winds and days of rain — which is creating a scary situation for some homeowners.

Houses along the coastline are at risk of losing their homes — families are scrambling to save whatever they can before the Pacific Ocean completely swallows up their property.

Here is a video of one house crumbling into the sea. Unfortunately, more severe weather is on the way for the Washington coast.

[ooyala code=”1oYXI4cjqsQMuD-lxRbl1jfHJkkXoBCS” player_id=”c8cff4cec9d94ae0896f6443af7ee837″]

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Saturday Reader: The Geminid Meteor Shower Weekend


Get your cameras ready: the Geminid meteor shower of 2014 will peak overnight on Dec. 13 and 14, but the shower as a whole is active between Dec. 4 and Dec. 17.

NASA is predicting between 100 and 120 meteors per hour for observer’s with optimum observing conditions (dark, clear skies away from city lights). Several webcasts by NASA, Slooh and others are available to watch the meteors. The best time to begin looking for Geminid meteors will be about 9 p.m. or 10 p.m. your local time, since the last quarter moon will rise around midnight.

The Geminids are a meteor shower that happens every December. NASA says astronomers consider it one of the “best and most reliable” showers of the year, but the shower actually did not start occurring until very recently (in astronomical and human terms).

First reports of the shower emerged in the mid-1800s, but at the time there were only 10-20 meteors per hour. These days, it’s more like 120 meteors at the peak.

Astronomers are puzzled about the number of meteors observed. While scientists have known for a generation about the source of the shower – an asteroid named 3200 Phaethon – the volume of the shower’s meteors is strange given the observed amount of debris.

Clouded origins

The Geminids appear to come from the constellation Gemini, but in reality it is fragments of 3200 Phaethon that cause the sky fireworks. The asteroid has a debris trail in orbit around the sun. Once a year, Earth runs into this dusty path, which intersects our planet’s path through space.

The Infrared Astronomical Satellite first spotted the asteroid in 1983. Phaethon was named after the driver and sun-god of Helios’ chariot because it gets so close to the sun — within about 13 million miles (21 million kilometers), or only 14 percent of the distance between Earth and the sun. Harvard College Observatory’s Fred Whipple was the first to observe that Phaethon produces the Geminids.

Some astronomers think a chunk of dust was carved off of the asteroid a few centuries ago, NASA’s Bill Cooke, from the agency’s Meteoroid Environment Office, said in a 2012 interview. It’s probable that a crash with another space rock produced the dust, which stayed in space for several human lifetimes without going near Earth.

However, Jupiter’s gravity slowly perturbed the path of dust until Earth began to run into it. Further influences from the gas giant have pushed the debris closer to our planet, producing a better “peak” of meteors than a century ago.

There are a couple of competing theories. One hypothesizes that Phaethon broke away from the asteroid Pallas, which produced the Geminids, but Cooke noted the dust particles don’t cleanly match the hypothesis.

Another idea supposes that as Phaethon gets close to the sun, the heat blasts particles off the asteroid. NASA’s twin STEREO spacecraft looked at the asteroid between 2009 and 2012, and results published in 2013 indicated that they saw a tail emerging from the comet. Researchers believe that when Phaethon approaches within 0.14 astronomical units, its temperature gets above 1,300 degrees F (700 C), hot enough to cause the dust stream.


Sister meteor shower?

When the Geminids are active, their peak can stretch for almost as long as Earth’s 24-hour day. Also, they are visible earlier in the evening than other meteor showers, generally around 9 p.m. or 10 p.m. local time, NASA said. This makes the shower more accessible to children.

As the meteor shower goes on until dawn, the agency urges patience for those watching. The best chances of success is to get away from streetlights, to spend at least 30 minutes outside before seeking meteors, and to face south (the approximate direction of the radiant, or point of origin) while looking at as much of the sky as possible. Sleeping bags or blankets may be of help in colder climates.

Cooke added that the bright meteors make some people think a rock will land nearby, but the shower won’t produce meteorites (meteors that make it all the way to the ground.)

“That’s an illusion. It’s very rare, exceedingly rare, for a meteorite to land near an individual, and the Geminids won’t produce meteorites. They will not make it to the ground. People don’t have to worry about getting hit by falling Geminids.”

The amount of dust is good enough to sustain the shower for quite some time, Cooke said, with the biggest threat being the orbit of the dust. If Jupiter’s gravity pushes the dust path too far out of Earth’s way, the meteors will disappear. That said, this isn’t expected to happen for quite some time.

Coincidentally, in 2012 NASA noted that there could be another meteor shower around the same time in December from Comet Wirtanen, which was first spotted in 1948 and comes by the sun about every 5.4 years. This means it has zoomed relatively nearby Earth over and over again for a long time, but it wasn’t until that year that the path of the debris was expected to reach Earth.

At its peak, the Piscids — as this shower may be called if it happens every year — was expected to send as many as 30 meteors an hour skimming through Earth’s atmosphere. The particles were expected to be slower-moving than the Geminids, and also to have a very narrow peak — making them easy to distinguish from the more famous annual shower.

Even if you can’t see the meteor display from your part of the world, you can watch them online. The online Slooh Community Observatory will host a live webcast of the Geminid meteor display on Saturday night beginning at 8 p.m. EST (0100 Dec. 14 GMT).You can also watch the Slooh webcast directly: NASA meteor expert Bill Cooke will also host a live Geminids webchat on Saturday night from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. EST (0400 to 0800 GMT), as well as a live webcast. (

Happy viewing!


The Fastest Stars in the Universe May Approach Light Speed

Dark Matter Space


Our sun orbits the Milky Way’s center at an impressive 450,000 mph. Recently, scientists have discovered stars hurtling out of our galaxy at a couple million miles per hour. Could there be stars moving even faster somewhere out there?

After doing some calculations, Harvard University astrophysicists Avi Loeb and James Guillochon realized that yes, stars could go faster. Much faster. According to their analysis, which they describe in two papers recently posted online, stars can approach light speed. The results are theoretical, so no one will know definitively if this happens until astronomers detect such stellar speedsters—which, Loeb says, will be possible using next-generation telescopes.

But it’s not just speed these astronomers are after. If these superfast stars are found, they could help astronomers understand the evolution of the universe. In particular, they give scientists another tool to measure how fast the cosmos is expanding. Moreover, Loeb says, if the conditions are right…

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