April’s Stars and Planets

The planets Jupiter and Venus dominate the evening skies this month, while Saturn is clearly visible between midnight and dawn.  Moreover, there will be a total lunar eclipse on April 4.

On April 7, Venus will move out of the Name A Star Live constellation Aries and into the Name A Star Constellation Taurus where it will remain for the balance of the month.  Venus is the very bright “evening star” you’ll see in the western sky after sunset.  Venus will move between the easy-to-see Hyades and Pleiades star clusters in Taurus during mid-April, so don’t miss it!

Venus, the Hyades & the Pleiades

Facing west on April 11, 2015 (for observers in the northern hemisphere). The bright planet Venus will appear between the V-shaped Hyades star cluster and the dipper-shaped Pleiades star cluster, both in the constellation Taurus. The bright star Aldebaran is in the upper, left-hand part of the “V” of the Hyades.  Unfortunately for observers in the southern hemisphere, Venus will appear very low on the northwestern horizon.

Jupiter will be in the Name A Star Live constellation Cancer throughout April.  Look for the king of the planets well above the southern horizon after sunset.  (For observers  in the southern hemisphere, Jupiter will appear well above the northern horizon after sunset.)  Be sure to check out Jupiter during the evening of April 26 when it will appear near the Moon.

Lunar eclipse

A lunar eclipse — a “Blood Moon.” As the Earth passes between the Sun and the Moon during a lunar eclipse, sunlight is refracted (bent) by the Earth’s atmosphere. Much of that bent sunlight misses the Moon, and of the light that does strike the Moon, most is from the more reddish part of the spectrum, causing the Moon to appear orange-red. Photo by Anne Dirkse – www.annedirkse.com

Saturn is in the Name A Star Live constellation Scorpius all month.  Look for the famous ringed planet toward the south-southwest shortly before sunrise.  If you’re observing around midnight, look for Saturn toward the southeastern horizon beginning in mid-April.  (For observers in the southern hemisphere, look toward your eastern horizon around midnight, and toward your west-northwestern horizon before sunrise.)

A total lunar eclipse — a “Blood Moon” — will occur on April 4, 2015. Weather permitting, it will be visible from most of North and South America, Asia and parts of Australia.  Lasting less than five minutes, this will be the shortest lunar eclipse of the 21st century!  In the Americas the eclipse will occur before sunrise, and in the Eastern Hemisphere the eclipse will occur after sunset.  Click here for details as to when to view the eclipse from your location on Earth.

Mother’s Day Star Certificate Messages

Star Certificate

Star Certificate

When you name a star for your mother with Name A Star Live, your gift set includes a letter-size Star Certificate that displays the name of your star, the star’s astronomical coordinates, and a message for your mother.

Here are some messages you might consider including on your mother’s Star Certificate:

  • “God could not be everywhere and therefore he made mothers.” — Jewish proverb
  • “Of all the rights of women, the greatest is to be a mother.” — By Lin Yutang
  • “The heart of a mother is a deep   abyss at the bottom of which you will always find forgiveness.” — By   Honore’ de Balzac (1799-1850)
  • “The mother’s heart is the child’s schoolroom.” — By Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887)
  • “Youth fades; love droops, the leaves of friendship fall; A mother’s secret hope outlives them all.” — By Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-1894)
  • As the stars in heaven are countless, So too are the ways you’ve helped me, Encouraged me, and showed me your love. Happy Mother’s Day!
  • Best friends forever mom and me picking flowers and climbing trees.
  • A shoulder to cry on secrets to share warm hearts and hands that really care.
  • Mother and childI wish I could tell you, Mom how much you   mean to me…. But there are no words to say how much I admire you… how   much I appreciate you… how much I thank you for everything you’ve done.
  • In the infinity of time and space,
    Inside this galaxy called The Milky Way,
    There is a star I’ve named for your kindness and grace,
    For you, my dear mother, this Mother’s Day.
  • Mom’s smiles can brighten any moment,
    Mom’s hugs put joy in all our days,
    Mom’s love will stay with us forever and touch our lives in precious ways…
  • My Mother, my friend so dear throughout my life you’re always near.
    A tender smile to guide my way
    You’re the sunshine to light my day.
  • The Sun, the Moon, the Earth, and Mars,
    Galaxies, Comets, Planets, and Pulsars,
    All, my dear mother, will be blessed by the star
    I’ve named after you, the best mother by far.
  • The values you’ve taught, the care you’ve given, and the wonderful love you’ve shown, have enriched my life in more ways than I can count.
  • There are many mothers and many stars,
    But Mom, you’re the best of them all by far!
    Happy Mother’s Day!
  • You Brighten My World With Your Angel eyes.
  • You filled my days with rainbow lights,
    Fairy tales and sweet dream nights,
    A kiss to wipe away my tears,
    Gingerbread to ease my fears.
  • You gave the gift of life to me
    And then in love, you set me free.
    I thank you for your tender care,
    For deep warm hugs and being there.
  • Your love for me means so very much,
    I treasure your warmth and gentle touch,
    Your mother’s kindness and advice tis so true,
    That I’ve named a star in heaven after you!
    Happy Mother’s Day!

Mothers in the Sky

Andromeda and Cassiopeia

Cassiopeia and Andromeda — Two constellations (areas of the night sky) named after mothers from classical mythology. You can name a star in either constellation!

Naming stars for our mothers is popular today.  In fact, many objects in the night sky have been named after mothers for thousands of years.  And now mothers fly among the stars as astronauts!

The Name A Star Live constellations Andromeda and Cassiopeia are named after two beautiful mothers from classical mythology.  Cassiopeia, the Queen of the Ethiopians and the mother of Andromeda, was a prideful woman who boasted that she was more beautiful than the female attendants to Poseidon, the god of the sea.  For this transgression Poseidon punished Cassiopeia by sending a sea monster to attack Cassiopeia’s country and to kill Andromeda.  But Andromeda was saved and would later have seven children of her own.  Now both mothers travel together in the heavens above as the constellations we know them by today.

Many of the planet Jupiter’s 67 moons are named for goddesses, demi-goddesses and other mythological figures who had various entanglements with the Greek God Zeus – known in Roman mythology as Jupiter.  Here is a list of just some of Jupiter’s mistresses (after whom moons of Jupiter are named) and their offspring:
•    Io bore Jupiter a son named Epaphos;
•    Callisto bore Jupiter a son named Arkas;
•    Elara was the mother of Tityus, a giant;
•    Himalia, a nymph, bore three sons named Spartaeus, Cronius, and Cytus;
•    Leda was the mother of Castor and Pollux, after whom the two brightest stars of the constellation Gemini (“the twins”) are named.

Galilean satellites

Jupiter and its four largest moons (clockwise from lower-left): Callisto, Europa, Io and Ganymede

But there were other females in Zeus’ life who were not mistresses.   Jupiter’s wife was Juno.  Given her husband’s not-so-faithful behavior, she quite understandably didn’t trust her hubby: The two just didn’t get along!  So modern astronomers have basically given her a divorce: Rather than orbit Jupiter as many of his paramours do, Juno orbits the Sun as one of the larger asteroids in our solar system.  Finally, one of the planet Jupiter’s closest moons is named Amalthea, a goat who was the nurse to Zeus when he was a child.  When Zeus was grown, he used her hide as his thunder shield and she was placed in the sky as the (now defunct) constellation Capra.

STS-51-A mission patch

NASA mission patch for space shuttle mission STS-51-A on which astronaut Anna Lee Fisher became the first mother to fly in space.

If you’re looking for something a little more down to Earth, the first actual, human mother to fly in space was Anna Lee Fisher.  She is a decorated astronaut who flew on space shuttle mission STS-51-A in 1984. A chemist and physician by training, her honors include: NASA Space Flight Medal; Lloyd’s of London Silver Medal for Meritorious Salvage Operations; Mother of the Year Award, 1984; UCLA Professional Achievement Award; UCLA Medical Professional Achievement Award; and NASA Exceptional Service Medal, 1999. Balancing her professional and personal lives, she took a leave of absence from NASA from 1989 to 1995 to raise her family, and then returned to her post in 1996 as Chief of the Space Station Branch.

Other women who have been both mothers and astronauts include Karen L. Nyberg, Dorothy M. Metcalf-Lindenburger, Nicole Passonno Stott and Ellen S. Baker.

Mother and child

We owe so much to our mothers!

There are, of course, so many more mothers to celebrate and remember on Mother’s Day.  We’d be delighted to hear your Mother’s Day story from this or any year.  Your mother may not be an astronaut – and thankfully she was not a companion of Zeus!  But like the ancient Greeks and Romans you can place her among the stars by naming a star for her.  We’ll launch her star name into space on our next mission — you can even buy a mission patch for her!

For more information visit:


See Comet Lovejoy through your telescope!

This is a good time go take a look at a comet that has astronomers abuzz!  It’s called “Comet Lovejoy” and is currently in the Name A Star Live constellation Cassiopeia.  Throughout most of the northern hemisphere of Earth Cassiopeia appears now as a huge “M” shape group of stars in the northwestern part of the night sky shortly after sunset, and then sinks below the horizon as the night progresses.

Comet Lovejoy

Comet Lovejoy! Image credit: NASA/MSFC/B. Cooke, Meteoroid Environment Office

The following star chart shows the approximate position of Comet Lovejoy on various nights in late February 2015  in relation to the “M” shape group of stars that mark Cassiopeia.

Comet Lovejoy in Cassiopeia

The changing position of Comet Lovejoy in Cassiopeia in late February 2015.

So in this star chart the comet moves down the chart from the evening of February 13,  2015 through February 25, 2015.

This is a good time period to view the comet through a telescope as moonlight will not interfere with observing this faint, beautiful, green visitor to our neck of the universe.  However, a waning moon toward the end of February will make it more difficult to observe the comet.  So if you can, take advantage of this opportunity to view Comet Lovejoy!

Here’s wishing you clear skies!

The Star of Bethlehem

The MagiFor centuries astronomers have speculated about the famous Star of Bethlehem, which the three Magi (the three wise men/the three kings) followed to the place of Christ’s birth.  Of course, the star may defy scientific explanation altogether, and be viewed as a miracle.  Nevertheless, various astronomical theories have been proposed, including that the star may have been a comet, or a supernova (an exploding star), or a “planetary conjunction” (a gathering of planets in one part of the sky).  In this column, we’ll examine two of today’s most popular theories, both of which hold that the planet Jupiter played a key role.

First, though, it’s useful to recall what the Bible says about the most famous star in history:

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” Continue reading

A Stormy Meteor Shower This Weekend!


Time-lapse photo of a meteor shower. The shooting stars seem to fly out of a particular area of space.

The best display of shooting stars this year occurs over the next few nights, peaking over the night of Saturday and Sunday, December 13 and 14.  This display is called the “Geminid meteor shower”:

  • Shooting stars are meteors — small pieces of dust in space that quickly burn up in Earth’s atmosphere.  The dust particles for the Geminid meteor shower (or “the Geminids” for short) are leftover bits of an asteroid called3200 Phaethon” that flies very near the Sun every 1.4 years.  As the Earth orbits the Sun, every year at about this time we pass through the dust left behind by this asteroid’s many visits to our neck of the galactic woods.
  • It’s called the “Geminids” because the shooting stars in this meteor shower all appear to fly toward us from the Name A Star Live constellation Gemini.  The two brightest stars of Gemini, Castor and Pollux, are referred to as “the Twins” as they were famous brothers in classical mythology.
Shooting Star
A shooting star (in slow motion!). Image Credit: NASA

So if you’re looking for something romantic to do this coming weekend, consider going outside under the night sky with your significant other, and make some wishes upon every shooting star you see!  No telescope or binoculars needed: Just bring along a lawn chair or long towel on which to lie down.  You might want to bring along some food and drink and, depending on where you live in the world, either some mosquito repellant or warm clothing. Then, just look up.  You should see more shooting stars than you normally would on any night of the year.  Under perfect conditions — a clear sky, far from city lights, and viewing during the two or three hours right before sunrise the morning of December 13 — you might see as many as 80 shooting stars per hour.  But you can still see an above average number of shooting stars no matter what time of the night you look.

Hubble Helps Find Smallest Known Galaxy Containing a Supermassive Black Hole


Artist’s View of M60-UCD1 Black Hole, located in the Name A Star Live constellation Virgo
Image Credit: NASA, ESA, STScI-RCC14-41a

Astronomers using data from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and ground observation have found an unlikely object in an improbable place — a monster black hole lurking inside one of the tiniest galaxies ever known.

The black hole is five times the mass of the one at the center of our Milky Way galaxy. It is inside one of the densest galaxies known to date — the M60-UCD1 dwarf galaxy that crams 140 million stars within a diameter of about 300 light-years, which is only 1/500th of our galaxy’s diameter.  M60-UCD1 is located in the Name A Star Live constellation Virgo.

If you lived inside this dwarf galaxy, the night sky would dazzle with at least 1 million stars visible to the naked eye. Our nighttime sky as seen from Earth’s surface shows 4,000 stars.

The finding implies there are many other compact galaxies in the universe that contain supermassive black holes. The observation also suggests dwarf galaxies may actually be the stripped remnants of larger galaxies that were torn apart during collisions with other galaxies rather than small islands of stars born in isolation.

“We don’t know of any other way you could make a black hole so big in an object this small,” said University of Utah astronomer Anil Seth, lead author of an international study of the dwarf galaxy published in Thursday’s issue of the journal Nature.

Seth’s team of astronomers used the Hubble Space Telescope and the Gemini North 8-meter optical and infrared telescope on Hawaii’s Mauna Kea to observe M60-UCD1 and measure the black hole’s mass. The sharp Hubble images provide information about the galaxy’s diameter and stellar density. Gemini measures the stellar motions as affected by the black hole’s pull. These data are used to calculate the mass of the black hole.

Black holes are gravitationally collapsed, ultra-compact objects that have a gravitational pull so strong that even light cannot escape. Supermassive black holes — those with the mass of at least one million stars like our sun — are thought to be at the centers of many galaxies.

The black hole at the center of our Milky Way galaxy has the mass of four million suns. As heavy as that is, it is less than 0.01 percent of the Milky Way’s total mass. By comparison, the supermassive black hole at the center of M60-UCD1, which has the mass of 21 million suns, is a stunning 15 percent of the small galaxy’s total mass.

“That is pretty amazing, given that the Milky Way is 500 times larger and more than 1,000 times heavier than the dwarf galaxy M60-UCD1,” Seth said.
One explanation is that M60-UCD1 was once a large galaxy containing 10 billion stars, but then it passed very close to the center of an even larger galaxy, M60, and in that process all the stars and dark matter in the outer part of the galaxy were torn away and became part of M60.

The team believes that M60-UCD1 may eventually be pulled to fully merge with M60, which has its own monster black hole that weighs a whopping 4.5 billion solar masses, or more than 1,000 times bigger than the black hole in our galaxy. When that happens, the black holes in both galaxies also likely will merge. Both galaxies are 50 million light-years away.

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., in Washington.

For images and more information about Hubble, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/hubble


Small Asteroid to Safely Pass Close to Earth Sunday

Asteroid trajectory

This graphic depicts the passage of asteroid 2014 RC past Earth on September 7, 2014. At time of closest approach, the space rock will be about one-tenth the distance from Earth to the moon. Times indicated on the graphic are Universal Time. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

A small asteroid, designated 2014 RC, will safely pass very close to Earth on Sunday, Sept. 7, 2014. At the time of closest approach, based on current calculations to be about 2:18 p.m. EDT (1:18 p.m. CDT / 18:18 GMT), the asteroid will be roughly over New Zealand. From its reflected brightness, astronomers estimate that the asteroid is about 60 feet (20 meters) in size.

Asteroid 2014 RC was initially discovered on the night of August 31 by the Catalina Sky Survey near Tucson, Arizona, and independently detected the next night by the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope, located on the summit of Haleakala on Maui, Hawaii. Both reported their observations to the Minor Planet Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Additional follow-up observations by the Catalina Sky Survey and the University of Hawaii 88-inch (2.2-meter) telescope on Mauna Kea confirmed the orbit of 2014 RC.

At the time of closest approach, 2014 RC will be approximately one-tenth the distance from the center of Earth to the moon, or about 25,000 miles (40,000 kilometers). The asteroid’s apparent magnitude — a measure of how bright an object in the night sky appears to be — at that time will be about 11.5, rendering it unobservable to the unaided eye. However, amateur astronomers with small telescopes might glimpse the fast-moving appearance of this near-Earth asteroid.

The asteroid will pass below Earth and the geosynchronous ring of communications and weather satellites orbiting about 22,000 miles (36,000 kilometers) above our planet’s surface. While this celestial object does not appear to pose any threat to Earth or satellites, its close approach creates a unique opportunity for researchers to observe and learn more about asteroids.

While 2014 RC will not impact Earth, its orbit will bring it back to our planet’s neighborhood in the future. The asteroid’s future motion will be closely monitored, but no future threatening Earth encounters have been identified.

For a heliocentric view of the orbit of asteroid 2014 RC with respect to Earth and other planets, visit: http://ssd.jpl.nasa.gov/sbdb.cgi?sstr=2014+RC&orb=1

New Hubble image of a beautiful, spiral galaxy!

PGC 54493

This new NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image shows a beautiful spiral galaxy known as PGC 54493, located in the constellation of Serpens (The Serpent). This galaxy is part of a galaxy cluster that has been studied by astronomers exploring an intriguing phenomenon known as weak gravitational lensing.

This effect, caused by the uneven distribution of matter (including dark matter) throughout the universe, has been explored via surveys such as the Hubble Medium Deep Survey. Dark matter is one of the great mysteries in cosmology. It behaves very differently from ordinary matter as it does not emit or absorb light or other forms of electromagnetic energy — hence the term “dark.”

Even though we cannot observe dark matter directly, we know it exists. One prominent piece of evidence for the existence of this mysterious matter is known as the “galaxy rotation problem.” Galaxies rotate at such speeds and in such a way that ordinary matter alone — the stuff we see — would not be able to hold them together. The amount of mass that is “missing” visibly is dark matter, which is thought to make up some 27 percent of the total contents of the Universe, with dark energy and normal matter making up the rest. PGC 55493 has been studied in connection with an effect known as cosmic shearing. This is a weak gravitational lensing effect that creates tiny distortions in images of distant galaxies.

Credit: European Space Agency, ESA/Hubble & NASA, Acknowledgement: Judy Schmidt

A Beautiful Cluster of Stars!

IC 4499

This new NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image shows the globular cluster IC 4499.

Globular clusters are big balls of old stars that orbit around their host galaxy. It has long been believed that all the stars within a globular cluster form at the about same time, a property which can be used to determine the cluster’s age. For more massive globulars however, detailed observations have shown that this is not entirely true — there is evidence that they instead consist of multiple populations of stars born at different times. One of the driving forces behind this behavior is thought to be gravity: more massive globulars manage to grab more gas and dust, which can then be transformed into new stars.

IC 4499 is a somewhat special case. Its mass lies somewhere between low-mass globulars, which show a single generation build-up, and the more complex and massive globulars which can contain more than one generation of stars. By studying objects like IC 4499 astronomers can therefore explore how mass affects a cluster’s contents. Astronomers found no sign of multiple generations of stars in IC 4499 — supporting the idea that less massive clusters in general only consist of a single stellar generation.

Hubble observations of IC 4499 have also helped to pinpoint the cluster’s age: observations of this cluster from the 1990s suggested a puzzlingly young age when compared to other globular clusters within the Milky Way. However, since those first estimates new Hubble data been obtained, and it has been found to be much more likely that IC 4499 is actually roughly the same age as other Milky Way clusters at approximately 12 billion years old.

Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA