Love, Heroism & Shooting Stars

Perseus and Andromeda

A Roman wall painting representing Perseus and Andromeda. Perseus is shown advancing to rescue Andromeda, who is fastened to a sea-cliff by one hand; the body of the sea-monster which Perseus has just killed is at lower left.

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.

Meteor Showers 101

  • Shooting stars are meteors — small pieces of dust in space that quickly burn up in Earth’s atmosphere.  The dust particles for the Perseid meteor shower (or “the Perseids” for short) are leftover bits of a comet calledSwift-Tuttle” that flies near Earth every 133 years.  As the Earth orbits the Sun, every year at about this time we pass through the dust left behind by Comet Swift-Tuttle’s many visits to our neck of the galactic woods.
  • It’s called the “Perseids” because the shooting stars in this meteor shower all appear to fly toward us from the constellation Perseus, which is near the Name A Star Live constellations Andromeda and Cassiopeia (more info below).

Perseus — the Hero and Lover of Andromeda

The mythical love story of Perseus and Andromeda has been around since at least the time Comet Swift-Tuttle started visiting Earth about two millennia ago.  Perseus was a famous hero in classical mythology who rescued the beautiful princess Andromeda.  Andromeda’s mother, Cassiopeia (queen of Ethiopia), made the fateful mistake of boasting that her daughter was more beautiful than the daughters of Neptune, the god of the sea.  As punishment, Neptune commanded the sea monster Cetus to attack Ethiopia.  To appease Neptune and Cetus, the Ethiopians chained Andromeda to a rock near the seashore so as to make her a sacrifice to Cetus.  The young, dashing Perseus, however, came to the rescue at the last minute, slaying Cetus and freeing Andromeda from her chains.  Perseus and Andromeda then fell in love and were married!

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Summer Stars

The Milky Way

The Milky Way, Credit: Carter Roberts

Summer Stars
by Carl Sandburg

Bend low again, night of summer stars.
So near you are, sky of summer stars,
So near, a long-arm man can pick off stars,
Pick off what he wants in the sky bowl,
So near you are, summer stars,
So near, strumming, strumming,
So lazy and hum-strumming.

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!

If you’re interested in the mission-naming contest, it might help you to consider the names of our previous spaceflights. We called our first mission “The Founders Flight.” Our December 1999 mission was called “The Millennial Flight.” And our last mission — “The Conestoga Flight” — was named in honor Conestoga 1, the world’s first privately funded mission to space. Conestoga 1 was launched September 9, 1982 by Space Services Inc. of America, from which Celestis traces its corporate history.

Consider the venue — Spaceport America. It’s a new launch facility that will serve as the headquarters of Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic space tourism company. It’s also located near the White Sands Missile Range, where so much space history has been made.
Be creative! If you have a suggestion, please contact us! The contest deadline is July 31, 2015.

Beautiful space imagery

Here are some beautiful space photos and videos that have been posted on the Internet recently. Enjoy!

Smiling galaxy cluster

A cluster of galaxies appear to smile at us!  Image Credit: NASA/ESA

In the center of this image, taken with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, is the galaxy cluster SDSS J1038+4849 — and it seems to be smiling.  The cluster is located about 4.5 billion light-years from Earth in the Name A Star Live constellation Ursa Major.

You can make out its two orange eyes and white button nose. In the case of this “happy face”, the two eyes are very bright galaxies and the misleading smile lines are actually arcs caused by an effect known as strong gravitational lensing.

Galaxy clusters are the most massive structures in the Universe and exert such a powerful gravitational pull that they warp the spacetime around them and act as cosmic lenses which can magnify, distort and bend the light behind them. This phenomenon, crucial to many of Hubble’s discoveries, can be explained by Einstein’s theory of general relativity.

In this special case of gravitational lensing, a ring — known as an Einstein Ring — is produced from this bending of light, a consequence of the exact and symmetrical alignment of the source, lens and observer and resulting in the ring-like structure we see here.

Hubble has provided astronomers with the tools to probe these massive galaxies and model their lensing effects, allowing us to peer further into the early Universe than ever before. This object was studied by Hubble’s Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2) and Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) as part of a survey of strong lenses.

A version of this image was entered into the Hubble’s Hidden Treasures image processing competition by contestant Judy Schmidt.
Image Credit: NASA/ESA

Venus transit across the Sun

This image shows a timelapse of the planet Venus’s path across the sun in 2012.
Credits: NASA/Goddard/SDO

A group of scientists used the Venus transit – a very rare event where a planet passes between Earth and the sun, appearing to us as a dark dot steadily making its way across the sun’s bright face – to make measurements of how the Venusian atmosphere absorbs different kinds of light. This, in turn, gives scientists clues to exactly what elements are layered above Venus’s surface. Gathering such information not only teaches us more about this planet so close to our own, but it also paves the way for techniques to better understand planets outside our solar system.

Transits of Venus are so rare that they only happen twice in a lifetime. About every 115 years, Venus will appear to cross over the face of our home star twice, with eight years passing between the pair of transits. This stunning phenomenon is not only incredible to watch, but it provides a unique opportunity for scientific observations of one of our nearest neighboring planets.

NASA’S Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, and the joint Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency and NASA’s Hinode mission took pictures of the entire event in several wavelengths of light. A team of scientists led by Fabio Reale of the University of Palermo used these pictures to watch the backlit planet as it crossed in front of the sun. By observing the planet’s atmosphere in different wavelengths of light during its journey, they learned more about what kinds of atoms and molecules are actually in its atmosphere.

Just as on Earth, each of the layers of Venus’ atmosphere absorb light differently from one another. Some layers may completely absorb a certain wavelength of light, while that same wavelength can pass right through another layer. As Venus passes across the face of the sun — which emits light in almost every wavelength of the electromagnetic spectrum — scientists get a rare chance to see how all different types of light filter through Venus’s atmosphere.

Studying the Venus transit can also help improve studies of planets around other stars.  Such exoplanets are often discovered by transits just like this, as we can detect the very small amount of light the planets block as they pass across their home star. The more we can observe transiting planets close to home the more it will teach us about how to study distant exoplanets that we can’t currently see in as much detail. When instrument technology advances, we may be able to gather better information about the atmospheres of such exoplanets as well.

NGC 1333

Image credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO/S.Wolk et al; Optical: DSS & NOAO/AURA/NSF; Infrared: NASA/JPL-Caltech

While fireworks only last a short time here on Earth, a bundle of cosmic sparklers in a nearby cluster of stars will be going off for a very long time. NGC 1333 is a star cluster populated with many young stars that are less than 2 million years old, a blink of an eye in astronomical terms for stars like the Sun expected to burn for billions of years.

This new composite image combines X-rays from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory (pink) with infrared data from the Spitzer Space Telescope (red) as well as optical data from the Digitized Sky Survey and the National Optical Astronomical Observatories’ Mayall 4-meter telescope on Kitt Peak (red, green, blue). The Chandra data reveal 95 young stars glowing in X-ray light, 41 of which had not been identified previously using infrared observations with Spitzer because they lacked infrared emission from a surrounding disk.

To make a detailed study of the X-ray properties of young stars, a team of astronomers, led by Elaine Winston from the University of Exeter, analyzed both the Chandra X-ray data of NGC 1333, located about 780 light years from Earth, and of the Serpens cloud, a similar cluster of young stars about 1100 light years away. They then compared the two datasets with observations of the young stars in the Orion Nebula Cluster, perhaps the most-studied young star cluster in the Galaxy.

The researchers found that the X-ray brightness of the stars in NGC 1333 and the Serpens cloud depends on the total brightness of the stars across the electromagnetic spectrum, as found in previous studies of other clusters. They also found that the X-ray brightness mainly depends on the size of the star. In other words, the bigger the stellar sparkler, the brighter it will glow in X-rays.

These results were published in the July 2010 issue of the Astronomical Journal and are available online. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the Chandra program for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, controls Chandra’s science and flight operations.

JPL manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Spacecraft operations are based at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, Littleton, Colorado.

Read more from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory.


Earth aurora


What bizarre alien planet is this ? It’s planet Earth of course, seen through the shimmering glow of aurorae from the International Space Station. About 400 kilometers (250 miles) above, the orbiting station is itself within the upper realm of the auroral displays, also watched from the planet’s surface on June 23rd. Aurorae have the signature colors of excited molecules and atoms at the low densities found at extreme altitudes. The eerie greenish glow of molecular oxygen dominates this view. But higher, just above the space station’s horizon, is a rarer red band of aurora from atomic oxygen. The ongoing geomagnetic storm began after a coronal mass ejection’s recent impact on Earth’s magnetosphere.


NASA New Horizons and Pluto in Sagittarius

Pluto will be in the Name A Star Live constellation Sagittarius when NASA’s New Horizons probe flies past Pluto on July 14, 2015. If you’ve named a star in Sagittarius, take out your Name A Star Live Star Chart and compare the position of your star to Pluto in the diagrams below!

Pluto in Sagittarius, Northern Hemisphere

Pluto in Sagittarius as viewed from the northern hemisphere of Earth, July 2015

If you’re in the northern hemisphere, Sagittarius will be rising over your southeastern horizon as the sun sets in July 2015.

Pluto in Sagittarius, southern hemisphere

Pluto in Sagittarius as viewed from the southern hemisphere of Earth, July 2015

If you’re in the southern hemisphere, Sagittarius will be rising over your eastern horizon as the sun sets in July 2015.


To view Pluto, you will need a telescope with at least an 8-inch (20-centimeter) diameter mirror.  But perhaps the best bet is to find a local astronomy club or planetarium that is showing the dwarf planet the evening of July 14.  New Horizons will make its closest approach to Pluto at 7:50 AM EDT, 11:50 GMT, 12:50 CET, 21:50 AEST when it will be 7,750 miles (12,500 kilometers) from the surface of the dwarf planet.

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 –

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