24 January 2006

The New Den

Wolverine's Den mkII is now alive and well. I've included and uploaded all my prior articles and content from this site, and performed the arduous task of recreating all the necessary formatting.

I'll leave this, mkI, up for the time being so folks know where to find me.

Update your bookmarks and blogrolls. :)


22 January 2006



The Den is moving. This is a good thing. I'll be working on finishing up all the loose ends in the next few days. The new location will be:


The site's already up and running (and much more efficiently with the changes made), but it's not quite finished. Almost.

Feel free to take a peek though, and don't forget to update your bookmarks. :-)

More to come.

20 January 2006

Lit Candle

Wow. What an image:

Image Credit: NASA

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FLA. — From between lightning masts surrounding the launch pad, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft roars into the blue sky aboard an Atlas V rocket spewing flames and smoke. Liftoff was on time at 2 p.m. EST from Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. This was the third launch attempt in as many days after scrubs due to weather concerns. The compact, 1,050-pound piano-sized probe will get a boost from a kick-stage solid propellant motor for its journey to Pluto. New Horizons will be the fastest spacecraft ever launched, reaching lunar orbit distance in just nine hours and passing Jupiter 13 months later. The New Horizons science payload, developed under direction of Southwest Research Institute, includes imaging infrared and ultraviolet spectrometers, a multi-color camera, a long-range telescopic camera, two particle spectrometers, a space-dust detector and a radio science experiment. The dust counter was designed and built by students at the University of Colorado, Boulder. The launch at this time allows New Horizons to fly past Jupiter in early 2007 and use the planet’s gravity as a slingshot toward Pluto. The Jupiter flyby trims the trip to Pluto by as many as five years and provides opportunities to test the spacecraft’s instruments and flyby capabilities on the Jupiter system. New Horizons could reach the Pluto system as early as mid-2015, conducting a five-month-long study possible only from the close-up vantage of a spacecraft.

Click here for a large version (498 kb)

Those unable to view yesterday's magnificent launch may do so by clicking here.

View video of the SRB separation here.

More here in NASA's video archive.

Added 19:17 CST: Now we're talkin'. Check out the nicely updated gallery of New Horizons launch imagery courtesy of the Kennedy Space Center. Sweet!

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Fire in the Sky

17mm 1/30" F/5 ISO-100

17mm 1/30" F/5 ISO-100

25mm 1/40" F/5 ISO-100

Canon 20D & 17-40mm L

19 January 2006, Spicewood Texas


19 January 2006


Image credit: NASA/KSC
Success! NASA's New Horizons spacecraft has launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida aboard a fast-moving Atlas V rocket. It's headed for a distant rendezvous with the mysterious planet Pluto almost a decade from now.

The third time was the charm for New Horizons. Two consecutive launch attempts earlier in the week were foiled by high winds at the launch site and a power outage at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., which operates the spacecraft now that the mission is underway.

As the first spacecraft to visit Pluto and its moon Charon, New Horizons looks to unlock one of the solar system's last, great planetary secrets. After launch aboard an Atlas V, the New Horizons spacecraft will cross the entire span of the solar system and conduct flyby studies of Pluto and Charon in 2015. The seven science instruments on the piano-sized probe will shed light on the bodies' surface properties, geology, interior makeup and atmospheres.

The first 13 months of the mission include spacecraft and instrument checkouts, instrument calibrations and trajectory correction maneuvers. There will also be rehearsals for an encounter with Jupiter in spring 2007, in which the giant planet will provide a slingshot-like gravity boost that could save New Horizons up to three years of flight time. This encounter will be followed by an approximately 8-year interplanetary cruise to Pluto.

Keep up with all the latest:

Image credit: NASA/KSC
Click here for hi-res version (1.3 mb)


Stardust Update

JSC2006-E-01008 (17 January 2006) --- Closeup view of a cometary impact (center) into aerogel was inspected by scientists at a laboratory at the Johnson Space Center hours after the Stardust Sample Return Canister was delivered to the Johnson Space Center from the spacecraft's landing site in Utah. Image credit: NASA

Scientists Confirm Comet Samples, Briefing Set Thursday

Scientists have confirmed that samples from a comet and interstellar dust have been returned to Earth by the Stardust spacecraft.

The scientist team opened the Stardust sample return capsule on Tuesday in a special facility at NASA's Johnson Space Center (JSC), Houston.

"The collection of cometary particles has exceeded our expectations," said Dr. Donald Brownlee, Stardust principal investigator from the University of Washington, Seattle. "We were absolutely thrilled to see thousands of impacts on the aerogel."

Inside the capsule, a tennis racket-like sample tray holds the particles captured in a gel as the spacecraft flew within 149 miles of comet Wild 2 in January 2004. An opposite side of the tray holds interstellar dust particles caught streaming through the solar system by Stardust during its seven-year journey. The team is analyzing the particle capture cells and removing individual grains of comet and interstellar dust. They will be sent to select investigators worldwide.

Leaders of the science and curation teams will participate in a press conference at 10 a.m. CST Thursday from JSC. The briefing will be broadcast on NASA Television and question-and-answer capability for reporters is available from participating NASA centers. Key scientists also will be available for live interviews via satellite from 4 p.m.-6 p.m. CST Thursday.

Participants in the Thursday news conference will include:

  • Dr. Donald Brownlee, Principal Investigator, University of Washington
  • Dr. Peter Tsou, Deputy Principal Investigator, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
  • Dr. Michael Zolensky, Stardust Curator and Co-investigator, JSC
  • Dr. Carlton Allen, Astromaterials Curator, JSC
Video of the opening of the Stardust science canister and initial assessment of its contents will air on the NASA Television's Video File beginning at 2 p.m. CST today.


18 January 2006

Moon, Earthshine, Venus

Canon 20D & 50mm F/1.4 prime; 4" F/3.2 ISO-100

Venus lurks down between the trees; 2-day-old waxing crescent Moon is illuminated by doubly-reflected sunlight.

Taken 8 June 2005.

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Tomorrow, tomorrow...

Ugh. The New Horizons launch has been delayed an additional day according to this latest bit from NASA:

Next Launch Attempt: Thursday, Jan. 19

Today's planned launch of an Atlas V carrying NASA's New Horizons spacecraft has been delayed for at least one more day. The Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory, which operates the spacecraft and is managing the mission, experienced a power outage early this morning that has not yet been resolved. Launch is now set for Thursday, Jan. 19, during a window extending from 1:08 p.m. - 3:07 p.m. EST.

I swear they're doing all this on purpose just to make me update my countdown clock on the right sidebar. ;-)

Added 19:54 CST:

Eek, the perils of launch delays versus Plutonian arrival time. Emily Lakdawalla has posted a table illustrating how New Horizons' primary target will be reached much later should we get pushed back deeper into the probe's launch window. This is due to Jupiter moving increasingly out of the desired alignment for the gravity-assist maneuver en route. Pretty amazing to consider:

Launch DateArrival Year
Jan. 19 - 282015
Jan. 29 - 312016
Feb. 1 - 22017
Feb. 3 - 82018
Feb. 9 - 112019
Feb. 13 - 142020

Hopefully we'll light the candle sooner rather than later.


17 January 2006

Launch Scrubbed


No-Go for New Horizons

Today's planned launch of an Atlas V carrying NASA's New Horizons spacecraft has been scrubbed due to excessive ground winds at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Launch managers extended the countdown several times, hoping the upper level and ground winds would die down, but the winds surpassed limits during the final minutes prior to liftoff. NASA will try again tomorrow, Jan. 18, during a launch window extending from 1:16 p.m. - 3:15 p.m. EST.

Ah well. Hopefully tomorrow's weather will be more cooperative.


16 January 2006

Ready for Launch!

Image Credit: Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory
/Southwest Research Institute (JHUAPL/SwRI)

New Horizons is in full flight configuration and on schedule for liftoff tomorrow, 17 January 2006, with the opening of primary launch window coming at 13:24:00 EST. See my previous article for more details about this exciting mission.

New Horizons Update
On Tuesday, Jan. 17, at 10:39 a.m., Pad 41 will be cleared of personnel in preparation for cryogenic fueling operations which are scheduled to begin at L-2 hours, or 11:24 a.m.

New Horizons Mission
NASA's New Horizons spacecraft will be the first spacecraft to visit Pluto and its moon Charon. No spacecraft has ever visited the planet, and not even the Hubble Space Telescope can spot details on its rocky, icy surface. Yet with the New Horizons mission, now in development and planning for liftoff January 2006 from Launch Complex 41 at the Kennedy Space Center, NASA looks to unlock one of the solar system's last, great planetary secrets.

After launch aboard an Atlas V, New Horizons would cross the entire span of the solar system -- in record time -- and conduct flyby studies of Pluto and its moon, Charon, in 2015. The seven science instruments on the piano-sized probe would shed light on the bodies' surface properties, geology, interior makeup and atmospheres.

NASA TV coverage of the event begins 11 a.m. EST.


On the pad and ready to go at Kennedy Space Center. Image Credit: NASA/KSC


15 January 2006

Stardust Returns Safely!

Image Credit: NASA

Stardust has successfully landed!

After logging billions of miles, the capsule delivering NASA's first cometary sample return mission has touched down safely. Congratulations to all team members on a job well done in bringing the package home.

Helicopters charged with recovering the sample return capsule are en route this very moment.

More updates to follow.

Update 04:49 CST: Helicopter "Vertigo-1" has located the capsule!

Update 04:54 CST
: Confirmed.

Update 05:02 CST: Mission Completed, as reported by Space.com

Update 05:07 CST: Capsule confirmed intact.

Added 07:00 CST:

At 5:10 a.m. Eastern time, Stardust's return capsule landed in the Utah Test and Training Range. The NASA TV image above shows an infrared view of a helicopter on the ground at the capsule landing site. The capsule contains cometary and interstellar samples gathered by the mission.

infrared view of helicopter at capsule landing site

Capsule Milestones (all times approximate EST on Jan. 15)

12:57 a.m.: Spacecraft releases capsule checkmark
4:57 a.m.: Capsule enters Earth atmosphere checkmark
5 a.m.: First parachute (drogue) deploys checkmark
5:05 a.m.: Main parachute deploys checkmark
5:10 a.m.: Capsule lands checkmark
5:40 a.m. (approx.): Helicopter and crew land near capsule
7:20 a.m. (approx.): Capsule arrives at temporary cleanroom

Added 09:34 CST:

NASA's Stardust sample return mission returned safely to Earth when the capsule carrying cometary and interstellar particles successfully touched down at 2:10 a.m. Pacific time (3:10 a.m. Mountain time) in the desert salt flats of the U.S. Air Force Utah Test and Training Range.

"Ten years of planning and seven years of flight operations were realized early this morning when we successfully picked up our return capsule off of the desert floor in Utah," said Tom Duxbury, Stardust project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "The Stardust project has delivered to the international science community material that has been unaltered since the formation of our solar system."

Stardust released its sample return capsule at 9:57 p.m. Pacific time (10:57 p.m. Mountain time) last night. The capsule entered the atmosphere four hours later at 1:57 a.m. Pacific time (2:57 a.m. Mountain time). The drogue and main parachutes deployed at 2:00 and 2:05 a.m. Pacific time, respectively (3:00 and 3:05 a.m. Mountain time).

"I have been waiting for this day since the early 1980s when Deputy Principal Investigator Dr. Peter Tsou of JPL and I designed a mission to collect comet dust," said Dr. Don Brownlee, Stardust principal investigator from the University of Washington, Seattle. "To see the capsule safely back on its home planet is a thrilling accomplishment."

The sample return capsule's science canister and its cargo of comet and interstellar dust particles will be stowed inside a special aluminum carrying case to await transfer to the Johnson Space Center, Houston, where it will be opened. NASA's Stardust mission traveled 2.88 billion miles during its seven-year round-trip odyssey. Scientists believe these precious samples will help provide answers to fundamental questions about comets and the origins of the solar system.

Added 20:15 CST

Image credit: NASA/Ames

This image was taken by the DC-8 Stardust Observation Campaign flight. It shows Stardust as it is moving through the atmosphere.

Image credit: NASA
This NASA TV image shows NASA's Stardust sample return capsule being wheeled into a temporary cleanroom at the Michael Army Air Field in Utah. Earlier, the capsule successfully landed at the U.S. Air Force Utah Test and Training Range at 2:10 a.m. Pacific time (3:10 a.m. Mountain time). It contains cometary and interstellar samples gathered by the Stardust spacecraft. The capsule's science canister is safely stowed inside a special aluminum carrying case awaiting transportation to the Johnson Space Center, Houston, where it will be opened.

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14 January 2006

Final Approach

Image Credit: NASA

The latest from JPL:

NASA's Stardust Passes Moon, Just Hours Away From Earth Return

Less than one day of space travel separates Earth and history's first comet sample return mission. Today at 9:30 a.m. Pacific time (10:30 a.m. Mountain time), the Stardust spacecraft will cross the moon's orbit as the craft makes its way toward Earth.

The final 400,000 kilometers (249,000 miles) of the mission to return a capsule containing cometary particles to Earth will take just 16 hours and 27 minutes. It took the Apollo astronauts about three days to make the same journey.

"Our entire flight and recovery team will be watching this final leg of our flight with tremendous expectation as we implement a precise celestial ballet in delivering our capsule to Earth," said Stardust Project Manager Tom Duxbury of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "We feel like parents awaiting the return of a child who left us young and innocent, who now returns holding answers to the most profound questions of our solar system."

Prior to passing the moon's orbit, the spacecraft performed a final maneuver to place it on a precise path to reach its landing target on the Utah Test and Training Range. The burn, which took place yesterday at 8:53 p.m. Pacific time (9:53 p.m. Mountain time), took 58.5 seconds to complete and changed the spacecraft's velocity by 2.9 mph. At the time of the burn the spacecraft was about 706,000 kilometers (439,000 miles) from Earth.

Game on!

Reminder: NASA TV coverage of Stardust's return begins at 4:30 AM EST. Schedule (all times Eastern):

January 15, Sunday
4:30 a.m. - Stardust Capsule Return Commentary Begins (Capsule touchdown approx. 5:12 a.m.) - JPL (Mission Coverage)
7 a.m. - Stardust Capsule Return Videofile Feed - JPL (Mission Coverage)
7:15 a.m. - 9 a.m. - Stardust Capsule Return Commentary (Replay) - JPL (Mission Coverage)
9:00 a.m. - Stardust Post-Recovery News Briefing at Dugway Proving Ground - JPL (Interactive Media Briefing)
11 a.m. - Stardust Post-Recovery News Conference at Dugway Proving Ground (Replay) - JPL (Interactive Media Briefing)
12:50 p.m. - 1 p.m. - Stardust Reaction to Capsule Separation - JPL (Mission Coverage)
3:15 p.m. - 7 p.m. - Live News Interviews on Stardust with Don Yeomans - JPL (One-Way Media Interviews)

Previous articles:

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Canon 20D & 50mm F/1.4 prime; 1/100" F/4 ISO-100

10 June 2005



View along the terminator, 16 April 2005.

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Canon 20D & 17-40mm L; 17mm 1/25" F/5.6 ISO-100

Canon 20D & 17-40mm L; 17mm 1/25" F/7.1 ISO-100

18 July 2005, Spicewood Texas.


13 January 2006


29 May 2005 -- Spicewood, Texas


12 January 2006

Repair Pledge

As I wrote in December, the future continues to brighten for the Hubble Space Telescope. While prudent to remain cautiously optimistic for the time being, it appears efforts to repair the orbital observatory have been gathering momentum.

The Hubble Space Telescope drifts through space in this picture, taken by Space Shuttle Discovery during Hubble’s second servicing mission in 1997. The 10-foot aperture door, open to admit light, closes to block out space debris. The observatory’s solar panels and foil-like thermal blankets are clearly visible. The solar panels provide power, while the thermal blankets protect Hubble from the extreme temperatures of space. (Image & caption courtesy: NASA)

Tuesday, at the at the 207th meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Washington D.C., NASA Administrator Mike Griffin has affirmed his desire to repair Hubble, as reported by SpaceDaily.

Griffin: "NASA will, if at all possible, use one of the remaining flights of the space shuttle for Hubble servicing."

Astronaut Steve Smith works on Hubble during the second servicing mission in 1997 with a ratchet. NASA specially designed the power tool to withstand the harsh environment of space, making it an essential item during three different Hubble missions. Hubble was specifically built to be serviced in orbit with replaceable parts and instruments. Astronauts performed four days of spacewalks during the second servicing mission to replace instruments and repair the telescope.
(Image & caption: NASA)

"It is not our desire to sacrifice present-day scientific efforts for the sake of future benefits to be derived from exploration. We who run NASA today are doing our very best to preserve a robust science program in the face of some daunting fiscal realities that affect all domestic discretionary spending. These realities dictate that we set priorities."

The Hubble Space Telescope rests in the Space Shuttle Discovery’s cargo bay during the third repair mission in December 1999. Hubble must attach to the shuttle for astronauts to perform repairs. Discovery is the shuttle that originally carried Hubble into orbit in 1990. The telescope stretches five stories tall, and the tubular part of its body is 14 feet (4.2 m) across. Its school bus-size bulk completely filled Discovery’s cargo bay during the trip from Earth to space. (Image & caption: NASA)

The imagery and data released by HST this week alone have been phenomenal, serving as a noteworthy reminder of the telescope's scientific value.

Several hurdles still must be overcome before another Shuttle repair mission can be undertaken. Regardless, the situation is looking good. I'll eagerly post further updates as they become available.

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Almost Home!

Stardust, NASA's first cometary sample return mission, is hurtling back toward Earth and will arrive this coming Sunday. As I wrote previously, this mission is particularly exciting.

For a recap, check out this neat little flash animation courtesy of NASA.

Image Credit: NASA

NASA's Stardust mission return capsule will land Sunday, Jan. 15, at approximately 5:12 a.m. Eastern time on the Utah Test and Training Range. Stardust is completing a 2.88 billion mile round-trip odyssey to capture and return cometary and interstellar dust particles to Earth.

The spacecraft performs its last maneuver to put it on the correct path?to enter Earth's atmosphere on Friday, Jan. 13, at 8:53 p.m. Pacific time (9:53 p.m. Mountain time). The speed of the sample return capsule as it enters Earth's atmosphere at 46,440 kilometers per hour (28,860 miles per hour) will be the greatest of any human-made object on record. The previous record was set in May 1969 by the returning Apollo 10 command module.

The capsule will release a parachute at approximately 32 kilometers (105,000 feet) and descend to the salt flats. Weather permitting, it will be recovered by helicopter teams and taken to a cleanroom at the Michael Army Air Field, Dugway Proving Ground, for initial processing.

Stardust's current view of Earth

Stardust launched on Feb. 7, 1999, and encountered comet Wild 2 on Jan. 2, 2004. It flew less than 241 kilometers (150 miles) from the comet's nucleus to capture tiny grains of dust. During the voyage, the spacecraft captured bits of interstellar dust streaming into the solar system from other parts of the galaxy. Scientists believe these precious samples will help provide answers to fundamental questions about comets and the origins of the solar system.

NASA TV coverage of the landing starts Sunday at 1:30 a.m. Pacific time (2:30 a.m. Mountain time) on the Public (101), Education (102) and Media (103) channels. NASA TV is available on an MPEG-2 digital C-band signal accessed via satellite AMC-6, at 72 degrees west longitude, transponder 17C, 4040 MHz, vertical polarization. In Alaska and Hawaii, it's available on AMC-7 at 137 degrees west longitude, transponder 18C, at 4060 MHz, horizontal polarization. For NASA TV information and schedules on the Web, visit http://www.nasa.gov/ntv .

The last few hours of the Stardust mission will be filled with significant milestones. On Jan. 14 at 11:23 pm EST mission controllers will command the spacecraft to begin the computer-controlled sequence that will release the sample return capsule. On Jan. 15 at 12:56 am EST the Stardust spacecraft will complete the sequence by severing the umbilical cables between spacecraft and capsule. One minute later, springs aboard the spacecraft will literally push the capsule away. Fifteen minutes after release - while the sample return capsule continues its trajectory towards the Utah Test and Training Range, the Stardust spacecraft will perform a maneuver to place it in orbit around the Sun.

At 4:57 am EST, four hours after being released by the Stardust spacecraft, the capsule will enter Earth's atmosphere at an altitude of 125 kilometers (410,000 feet) over Northern Calif. At this point it will be 20 kilometers (12.43 miles) east of the coast and 22 kilometers (13.67 miles) south of the Oregon-California border. The velocity of the sample return capsule as it enters Earth's atmosphere at 46,440 kilometers per hour (28,860 miles per hour) will be the greatest of any human-made object on record. This will surpass the record set in May 1969 during the return of the Apollo 10 command module.

The capsule will release a drogue parachute at an altitude of approximately 32 kilometers (105,000 feet). Once the capsule has descended to an altitude of about 3 kilometers (10,000 feet) at 5:05 a.m. EST, the main parachute will deploy. The capsule is scheduled to land on the salt flats of the Utah Test and Training Range at 5:12 a.m. EST.

If weather conditions allow, the recovery team will be flown by helicopter to recover the capsule and fly it to the U.S. Army Dugway Proving Ground, Utah, for initial processing. If weather does not allow helicopters to fly, special off-road vehicles will be used to transport the recovery team to retrieve the capsule and return it to Dugway. The collector grid with cometary and interstellar samples will be moved to a special laboratory at NASA's Johnson Space Center, Houston, where they will be preserved and studied by scientists.
Those living out west have a chance to view Stardust's re-entry, weather permitting. Here's a map courtesy of Spaceweather.com showing the flightpath. As Dr. Phillips notes:

The best observing sites: near Carlin and Elko, Nevada, where the man-made meteor is expected to shine as much as 60 times brighter than Venus. The fireball should be visible from parts of Oregon, Idaho and Utah as well as California and Nevada.

Sounds like quite a sight!

Stay tuned.

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Moon & Halo

10:40 PM CST
95% waxing gibbous Moon
Orion XT10i & TeleVue 35mm Panoptic
Canon 20D & 17-40mm f/4L @ 40mm, f/7.1, 1/160" ISO-100
Eyepiece projection

The above image was taken just prior to zenith transit. About ten minutes later I was treated to a gorgeous lunar halo, which was a challenge to frame even pulling back to 17mm. Wish I'd had a faster lens at my disposal but I'll be rectifying that shortly. ;-)

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11 January 2006

Hubble's New Views of M42

This week's 207th meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Washington D.C. has served as the backdrop for scientists announcing a veritable deluge of new discoveries, data, and imagery. On the third day of the conference, the Hubble Space Telescope team has now released this mammoth collection, targeting one of the most adored, recognizable targets in the cosmos: M42, the Great Orion Nebula.


Credit: NASA,ESA, M. Robberto (Space Telescope Science Institute/ESA) and the Hubble Space Telescope Orion Treasury Project Team

In one of the most detailed astronomical images ever produced, NASA's Hubble Space Telescope captured an unprecedented look at the Orion Nebula. This turbulent star formation region is one of astronomy's most dramatic and photogenic celestial objects.

"Orion is a bustling cauldron of activity. This new large-scale Hubble image of the region reveals a treasure-house of beauty and astonishing detail for comprehensive scientific study," said Jennifer Wiseman, NASA's Hubble program scientist.

The crisp image is a tapestry of star formation. It varies from jets fired by stars still embedded in their dust and gas cocoons to disks of material encircling young stars that could be the building blocks of future solar systems.

Credit: NASA, ESA, and A. Feild (STScI)

In a mosaic containing a billion pixels, Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys uncovered thousands of stars never seen before in visible light. Some are merely one-hundredth the brightness of previously viewed Orion stars.

Among the stars Hubble spotted for the first time in visible light in Orion were young brown dwarfs and a small population of possible binary brown dwarfs (two brown dwarfs orbiting each other). Brown dwarfs are so-called "failed stars." These cool objects are too small to be ordinary stars, because they cannot sustain nuclear fusion in their cores the way the sun does. Comparing the characteristics of newborn stars and brown dwarfs in their natal environment provides unique information about how they form.

"The wealth of information in this Hubble survey, including seeing stars of all sizes in one dense place, provides an extraordinary opportunity to study star formation," said observation leader Massimo Robberto of the Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore. "Our goal is to calculate the masses and ages for these young stars, so that we can map their history and get a general scenario of the star formation in that region. We can then sort the stars by mass and age and look for trends."

Credit: NASA, ESA, and A. Feild (STScI)

"In this bowl of stars we see the entire formation history of Orion printed into the features of the nebula: arcs, blobs, pillars, and rings of dust that resemble cigar smoke," Robberto said. "Each one tells a story of stellar winds from young stars that impact the environment and the material ejected from other stars. This appears to be a typical star-forming environment. Our sun may have been born 4.5 billion years ago in a cloud like this one."

This extensive study took 105 Hubble orbits to complete. All imaging instruments aboard the telescope were used simultaneously to study Orion. The Advanced Camera mosaic covers approximately the apparent angular size of the full moon.

Credit: NASA,ESA, M. Robberto (Space Telescope Science Institute/ESA) and the Hubble Space Telescope Orion Treasury Project Team

Included in this web-based release courtesy of HubbleSite is a video section containing over seven minutes of pertinent details. Be sure to check it out.

For more on the Orion Nebula, visit:

Waxing Poetic

Image Details:

2:51 AM CST
91% waxing gibbous Moon
Orion XT10i & TeleVue 35mm Panoptic
Canon 20D & 17-40mm f/4L @ 40mm, f/5.6, 1/125" ISO-100
Eyepiece projection
Larger resolution (180kb)

Can't help but wonder what I could muster with a rig actually designed for astrophotography. Anyone want to donate an apochromatic refractor? :-)

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10 January 2006


Discovered on a distant corner of the hard drive, taken mid 2005.

Canon 20D & 17-40mm L; 17mm 1/15" F/4 ISO-100



Canon 20D & 17-40mm L; 24mm 1/100" F/7.1 ISO-100


Galactic Polliwogs

Yum. Check out Hubble's latest .

Image Credit: NASA, ESA, A. Straughn, S. Cohen and R. Windhorst (Arizona State University), and the HUDF team (STScI)

An analysis of the Hubble Space Telescope's deepest view of the universe offers compelling evidence that monster black holes in the centers of galaxies were not born big but grew over time through repeated galactic mergers.

"By studying distant galaxies in the Hubble Ultra Deep Field (HUDF), we have the first statistical evidence that supermassive black-hole growth is linked to the process of galaxy assembly," said astronomer Rogier Windhorst, of Arizona State University in Tempe, Ariz., and a member of the two teams that conducted the analysis. "Black holes grow by drawing in stars, gas, and dust. These morsels come more plentifully within their reach when galaxies merge."

The two teams will present their results in a press conference on Jan. 10 at the 207th meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Washington, D.C.

The HUDF studies also confirm the predictions of recent computer simulations by Lars Hernquist, Philip Hopkins, Tiziana di Matteo, and Volker Springel of the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass., that newly merging galaxies are enshrouded in so much dust that astronomers cannot see the black-hole feeding frenzy. The computer simulations, as supported by Hubble, suggest that it takes hundreds of millions to a billion years before enough dust clears so that astronomers can see the black holes feasting on stars and gas from the merger. The telltale sign that black holes are dining is seeing light from galaxies that varies with time.

The two HUDF teams believe they are seeing two distinct phases in galaxy evolution: the first phase —- the tadpole stage —- representing the early-merging systems where central black holes are still enshrouded in dust, and the much later "variable-object phase," in which the merged system has cleared out enough gas for the inner accretion disk around the black hole to become visible.

"The fact that these phases were almost entirely separate was a surprise, because it is commonly believed that galaxy mergers and central black-hole activity are closely related. Our nearby universe has mature galaxies, but in order to understand how they formed and evolved, we must study them over time," Windhorst explained. "The HUDF provides an actual look back in time to see snapshots of early galaxies so that we can study them when they were young."

A link between the growth of galaxies through mergers and the feeding of the central black holes has long been suspected. The evidence, however, has been inconclusive for many years. "The HUDF has provided very high-quality information. It is the first data we could use to test this theory, since it allowed us to study about 5,000 distant galaxies over a period of four months," said Seth Cohen of Arizona State University and leader of one of the teams.

The HUDF observations have now shed light on how the growth of monster black holes kept pace with that of galaxies. A team of astronomers, led by Amber Straughn of Arizona State University, searched the HUDF for "tadpole galaxies," so-called because they have bright knots and tails caused by mergers. These features are produced when the galaxies lose their gravitational grip on their stars, spewing some of those stars into space. The team found about 165 tadpole galaxies, representing about 6 percent of the 2,700 galaxies in the tadpole galaxy study.

"To our surprise, however, these tadpole objects did not show any fluctuation in brightness," Straughn said. "The flickering light — when it is present — comes from the material swirling around an accretion disk surrounding a black hole. The material is heated and begins to glow. As it spirals down toward the black hole, it can rapidly change in brightness. This study of tadpole galaxies suggests that black holes in newly merging galaxies are enshrouded in dust, and therefore, we cannot see them accreting material."

Cohen's team studied the brightness of about 4,600 HUDF objects over several weeks to many months. The Hubble team found that about 45 (non-tadpole) objects, representing 1 percent of the faint galaxies in the study, fluctuated significantly in brightness over time. This result indicates that the galaxies probably contain supermassive black holes that are feeding on stars or gas.

"A black hole's typical mealtime lasts at least a few dozen million years," Windhorst said. "This is equivalent to black holes spending no more than 15 minutes per day eating all their food —- a veritable fast food diet."

The HUDF analysis also reinforces previous Hubble telescope studies of monster black holes in the centers of nearby, massive galaxies. Those studies showed a close relationship between the mass of a galaxy's "central bulge" of stars and that of the central black hole. Galaxies today have central black holes with masses ranging from a few million to a few billion solar masses.

What phenomenal work! Peering back billions of years into the past has a certain magic to it. Truly compelling.

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09 January 2006

Pathetic Paranormal Pandering

While reading on the Skeptics Society message board today, I happened across one of the most disgusting things I've seen in recent memory.

9/11 Victims Speak Out in New Book

"Above Us Only Sky: A View of 9/11 from the Spirit World,” is the first to channel the accounts of 9/11 from its victims.

Los Angeles, CA (PRWEB) January 6, 2006 -- Author and spiritual medium Sarah Price has released “Above Us Only Sky: A View of 9/11 from the Spirit World,” her new book comprising channeled messages from victims of 9/11 and “spirit witnesses.” The book is the first to bring the words of the victims to the public post-9/11.

The book was written after “vivid dreams and a need to be of help to 9/11 victims became overwhelming and unavoidable,” Price says. Soon, she was inundated by messages that needed to be passed on, and the book was born.

The 9/11 victim chapters are divided into seven sections: Flt. 11, Flt. 93, Flt. 77, Flight 175, The Pentagon, The Rescue Workers, and The World Trade Center Towers. The last section comprises the accounts of victims who had to leap from the towers. For this reason, only first names are used.

Among the spirit witnesses are Anne Frank, Christopher Reeve, President John F. Kennedy, John Lennon and NBC journalist David Bloom, who bring their own insights on the events of 9/11 and advice on life in general."

Unbelievable. As if we didn't already have enough to contend with on the subject. The cottage industry of September 11th conspiracy garbage and related marketing ploys persist to this day, senselessly trampling upon thousands of innocent casualties. Not only the victims' lost lives are tastelessly being dragged through the mud along with their surviving relatives and loved ones, but also the cumulative sum of law enforcement, firefighters and emergency responders, vast scores of civil servants from municipal, state, and federal levels who suffered losses of their friends and peers. Incredible numbers of dedicated professionals labored tirelessly around the clock for months, performing grisly search and recovery tasks I couldn't imagine in my worst nightmares.

Now, along comes Sarah Price, some ethically devoid, two-bit "medium" who claims "psychic" abilities, purportedly channeling spirits of the deceased from the great beyond. These assertions constitute nothing new. Any number of misguided paranormal believers delude themselves into thinking they can accomplish these or similar varieties of magical acts, despite there not being an iota of empirical evidence demonstrating the validity of such extraordinary claims. Some may innocently think they possess supernatural abilities, others solely attempt to bilk funds from the uninformed masses; those who unfortunately fail to recognize the nonsense for what it is.

Does Price offer her "services" free of charge? Nope. She charges $75 a pop for "mediumistic readings." According to her website, she also has a similar book planned in the near future:

My next book is channeled messages from servicemen and women who have passed away in the war in Iraq. I am working directly with the families on this project, so if you have lost a family member in the war and would like to participate, please e-mail me. 50% of the proceeds will go to American Gold Star Mothers, to help with sending supplies to service members who are still in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I have a better idea -- since I doubt Price's book sales will total $500,000...

The James Randi Educational Foundation offers a $1,000,000 prize to anyone who can demonstrate these alleged abilities under double-blind test conditions designed to root out chicanery. Despite a number of applicants, the purse remains unclaimed. As it's ripe for the taking, Sarah Price should apply for the JREF Million Dollar Challenge. If her abilities are indeed genuine, she could easily secure the cash and donate half of the proceeds to these and similar charitable organizations. I won't hold my breath.

Michael Shermer's words echoed in my head as I waded through all this tripe -- as he wrote in Deconstructing the Dead (Scientific American, August 2001):

Sooner or later we all will face this inevitability [death], starting, in the normal course of events, with the loss of our parents, then siblings and friends, and eventually ourselves. It is a grim outcome under the best of circumstances, made all the worse when death comes early or accidentally to those whose "time was not up." As those who traffic in the business of loss, death, and grief know all too well, we are often at our most vulnerable at such times. Giving deep thought to this reality can cause the most controlled and rational among us to succumb to our emotions.

The reason John Edward, James Van Praagh, and the other so-called mediums are unethical and dangerous is that they are not helping anyone in what they are doing. They are simply preying on the emotions of grieving people. As all loss, death, and grief counselors know, the best way to deal with death is to face it head on. Death is a part of life, and pretending that the dead are gathering in a television studio in New York to talk twaddle with a former ballroom-dance instructor is an insult to the intelligence and humanity of the living.

We have the real, depictive records of what took place on September 11th. Truly compelling and horrifying stories of survivors. Recordings and transcripts from the police and firefighter communications, cell phone conversations from passengers on the hijacked flights -- some knew death was imminent, others did not. Some willingly sacrificed their lives in attempt to save others'. These events serve as painful reminders of humanity's nature, the best and the worst of which our species is capable. Absolutely no justification exists for defiling this somber reality with fairy-tale irrationality.

This vile shyster, whether intentionally or not, has managed to insult innumerable victims, loved ones, cherished memories. Her completely deplorable actions merely rub salt into the unhealed wounds of an entire nation while attempting to profit at the expense of the innocent dead, wholly undeserving of being swept into this transparent sham.



Rays & Cloudscape

This evening's sky offered a lovely scene.

Canon 20D & 17-40 f/4 L at f/5; exposures between 1/640" and 1/1000", ISO 100


Hubble: Triple Play

This just in from the folks at HST:

Image Credit: NASA, ESA, N. Evans (Harvard-Smithsonian CfA), and H. Bond (STScI)

We tend to think of the North Star, Polaris, as a steady, solitary point of light that guided sailors in ages past. But there is more to the North Star than meets the eye. The North Star is actually a triple star system. And while one companion can be seen easily through small telescopes, the other hugs Polaris so tightly that it has never been seen – until now.

By stretching the capabilities of NASA's Hubble Space Telescope to the limit, astronomers have photographed the close companion of Polaris for the first time. They presented their findings today in a press conference at the 207th meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Washington, D.C.

"The star we observed is so close to Polaris that we needed every available bit of Hubble's resolution to see it," said Smithsonian astronomer Nancy Evans (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics). The companion proved to be less than two-tenths of an arcsecond from Polaris — an incredibly tiny angle equivalent to the apparent diameter of a quarter located 19 miles away. At the system's distance of 430 light-years, that translates into a separation of about 2 billion miles.

"The brightness difference between the two stars made it even more difficult to resolve them," stated Howard Bond of the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI). Polaris is a supergiant more than two thousand times brighter than the Sun, while its companion is a main-sequence star. "With Hubble, we've pulled the North Star's companion out of the shadows and into the spotlight."

By watching the motion of the companion star, Evans and her colleagues expect to learn not only the stars' orbits but also their masses. Measuring the mass of a star is one of the most difficult tasks facing stellar astronomers.

Astronomers want to determine the mass of Polaris accurately, because it is the nearest Cepheid variable star. Cepheids' brightness variations are used to measure the distances of galaxies and the expansion rate of the universe, so it is essential to understand their physics and evolution. Knowing their mass is the most important ingredient in this understanding.

"Studying binary stars is the best available way to measure the masses of stars," said science team member Gail Schaefer of STScI.

"We only have the binary stars that nature provided us," added Bond. "With the best instruments like Hubble, we can push farther into space and study more of them up close."

The researchers plan to continue observing the Polaris system for several years. In that time, the movement of the small companion in its 30-year orbit around the primary should be detectable.

"Our ultimate goal is the get an accurate mass for Polaris," said Evans. "To do that, the next milestone is to measure the motion of the companion in its orbit."

Cool news!

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Sol's Departure

Lovely sunset this evening gracing the Hill Country.

Canon 20D & 17-40mm L; 40mm 1/500" F/4.5 ISO-100

Pulling back out to 25mm (full image) yields a partial sundog or some sort of neat atmospheric refraction at right.

40mm, 1/400"

08 January 2006

January Moon #2

Similarly poor observing contitions tonight to the last, unfortunately. The only difference this evening was a relative lack of wind.

Below are a pair of additional images taken under less-than-desirable circumstances. Just for experimentation's sake, tonight (using the same equipment as in the last lunar entry) I shot with the 50mm prime wide open at f/1.4. Not a tremendous difference considering the overall system focal length & f-ratio. To truly accomplish the caliber of images I'm after, I'll have to buckle down at some point and add an apochromatic refractor to the stable of gear.



Anyone unfamiliar with lunar surface features might enjoy a visit to the Lunar Republic Society's Full Moon Atlas. Fun, interactive resource.

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Canon 20D w/17-40 f/4 L

All articles and imagery ©2006 Wolverine's Den unless otherwise stated.