Fall begins!

The fall equinox (or spring equinox if you are south of the equator) will occur at 8:21 UTC Wednesday, Sept 22.  That’s 4:21 am in EDT, 3:21 am CDT, 1:21 am PDT.

“Equinox” means equal night, because the Sun is exactly over the equator, the Earth’s terminator runs exactly from pole to pole, with all parts of earth receiving 12 hours of daylight and 12 of dark… but wait!  Look at your newspaper.  The time from sunrise to sunset on Sept 23 is actually LONGER than 12 hours, by about 6-7 minutes.  Why?


On an equinox, sunlight falls directly over the Earth’s equator.  The “terminator” — the line dividing daylight from nighttime — runs vertically from pole to pole.

Answer:  Actually the answer has two causes.  One is the finite size of the sun.  Sunrise is defined as the first part of the Sun peeking over the Eastern horizon, and sunset as the last part of the Sun slipping below the western horizon.  This is twelve hours PLUS the time that the Sun takes to move its width across the sky.  The Sun is a half-degree across and the Earth rotates 15 degrees per hour (360 degrees in 24 hours), so the Earth rotates a half-degree in two minutes.  So two minutes of the difference is just from the finite size of the Sun.   What is the rest?   REFRACTION.

Light refracts when passing through a medium.  If the medium is uniform, light just slows down a little. But if the medium is not uniform in density or thickness, the light bends.  Since the air is more dense near the Earth’s surface, the light moves more slowly there than in higher elevations, causing the wave front to tip forward, following the curvature of the Earth.  So we actually see the sun BEFORE it actually breaks our horizon, and we see it for a few minutes after sunset too..  And that’s the other 5 minutes!  The refraction depends on the air temperature, surface temperature, etc, but in general is just larger than the diameter of the Sun – we see all of the Sun before any of the Sun really is above the horizon!

More info: www.weather.gov/cle/Seasons and www.timeanddate.com/calendar/september-equinox.html

The Super “Blood Moon” Eclipse of 2015

Lunar eclipse over mountains

The dark red appearance of a full lunar eclipse is something special: Don’t miss this month’s eclipse! Photo Credit: Collin Von Son

In late September the Moon will undergo a rare total eclipse visible to most people in the Americas, Europe and Africa.  This Full Moon will also be known by several names, including the “Blood Moon,” the “Harvest Moon,” and the “Supermoon”! Continue reading

Hubble sees the wings of a butterfly: The Twin Jet Nebula

The shimmering colors visible in this NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image show off the remarkable complexity of the Twin Jet Nebula. The new image highlights the nebula’s shells and its knots of expanding gas in striking detail. Two iridescent lobes of material stretch outwards from a central star system. Within these lobes two huge jets of gas are streaming from the star system at speeds in excess of one million kilometers (621,400 miles) per hour.

The Twin Jet Nebula

The shimmering colors visible in this NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image show off the remarkable complexity of the Twin Jet Nebula.
Credits: ESA/Hubble & NASA, Acknowledgement: Judy Schmidt

The cosmic butterfly pictured in this NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image goes by many names. It is called the Twin Jet Nebula as well as answering to the slightly less poetic name of PN M2-9. Continue reading

Exploring the wonders of Sagittarius

The Milky Way

Time exposure photo of the Milky Way

This is a great time of the year to get out under the stars and see the Milky Way. But even if you’re located dozens of miles away from bright city lights, it can be difficult to find the beautiful, hazy band of our galaxy spanning across the nighttime sky.

But you can use the Name A Star Live constellation Sagittarius to find the Milky Way during the summertime.  Just face south and look for the “teapot,” next to the Name A Star Live constellation Scorpius.  Like steam rising from your teapot at home, the countless stars of the Milky Way will appear to rise from the Teapot and over your head. Continue reading

See the best shooting stars of the year!

The best display of shooting stars this year occurs around mid-August.  This display is called the “Perseid meteor shower.”

In this article we’ll discuss what a meteor shower is, the mythology behind the “Perseids,” how to view the meteor shower, and when to view it.

Watching a meteor shower

The best way to view a meteor shower is to lie back and look up — no telescope needed!

Continue reading

Name that mission!

Conestoga Flight mission patch

Conestoga Flight mission patch

We invite you to suggest a name for our next mission where we will fly our customers’ star names into space.  The mission is scheduled for launch on November 5, 2015 and will fly from Spaceport America, New Mexico, where we have flown several times before. The winner of the contest will receive a mission patch that we have flown in space, together with a certificate of authenticity! Continue reading