Tracking Santa on Christmas Eve

NORAD Santa tracking display
NORAD’s Santa Claus tracking website showing Santa’s position last Christmas Eve. Since Christmas Day begins in the Eastern Hemisphere, Santa starts his deliveries in the Far East, Australia and New Zealand, and then proceeds west across the world, racing against sunrise as the Earth rotates eastward.

Did you know that NORAD (the North American Aerospace Defense Command) tracks the progress of Santa Claus as he makes his deliveries to the homes of all good little girls and boys on Christmas Eve? NORAD keeps the Abominable Snowman, the mean Mr. Grinch, and Jack Frost from spoiling Santa’s big flight, which NORAD designates as “Big Red One.” You can track Santa’s journey around the world on NORAD’s Santa Tracking Website. We invite you to see the following video about the history of NORAD’s role in Christmas and how NORAD helps Santa to this very day!

An airman tracking Big Red One at NORAD
An airman tracking Big Red One at NORAD

You should also check out Google’s online Santa Tracker! In addition to tracking Santa’s progress on Christmas Eve, this site features a nice Advent calendar you and your children can access now, complete with the sort of games Google is famous for. For example, you can learn how people in different countries pronounce Santa’s name and learn how to dance with elves!

Christmas is a time for celebrating friends and family, and remembering those no longer with us. One gentleman we should all remember at Christmastime was Ewald E. (Sig) Seignemartin, who helped start the NORAD tradition of tracking Santa Claus on Christmas Eve. His favorite job on the DEW Line was that once a year he entered a blip on the radar screen, labeled it “Santa Claus,” and had started the NORAD tracking followed by children and adults around the world until Santa visited each home. Read more about Ewald…

Finally, if you find that Santa needs a little help delivering presents to everyone on your list, remember that Name A Star Live is Santa’s official star-naming service! 🙂 You can name a star 24/7 — even on Christmas Day — with Name A Star Live’s Instant Gift Sets: Just download, print and give!

 

Christmas in Space

Name A Star Live makes you part of real space missions by launching your star name into the final frontier. As humans like you move into space they bring along their customs and traditions — including Christmas.

Space station Christmas tree
A Christmas Tree on the International Space Station. Photo Credit: Chris Hadfield/Canadian Space Agency

Christmas Day is a NASA holiday, so the astronauts on the International Space Station get to take the day off. The space station astronauts have sent many holiday greetings to Earth. But the most famous Christmas message sent by astronauts to Earthlings was the Apollo 8 Christmas Eve transmission from astronauts in lunar orbit.

Earthrise photo
The famous ‘Earthrise’ photo from Apollo 8, the first manned mission to the moon. The crew entered lunar orbit on Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, 1968. That evening, the astronauts held a live broadcast, showing pictures of the Earth and moon as seen from their spacecraft.
Image Credit: NASA

Commander Frank Borman, Command Module Pilot Jim Lovell and Lunar Module Pilot William Anders became the first humans to orbit the Moon on Christmas Eve 1968. They were also the first astronauts to spend Christmas in space.

To mark the occasion, they sent Christmas greetings and live images back to their home planet and read from the Book of Genesis. Borman closed the message with the words “good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you — all of you on the good Earth.”

It is estimated that as many as one billion people watched the historic broadcast or listened on the radio.

Apollo 8 launched from Earth on Dec. 21 and entered lunar orbit on Christmas Eve. The Apollo 8 crewmembers ended their history-making journey when they splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on Dec. 27. Eight more Apollo missions would visit the Moon, with six of them landing on its surface.

While astronauts have celebrated Christmas in space in the 1960s, in a sense, Christmas has been in space for over 100,000 years. We’re talking about the spectacular “Christmas Tree cluster”!

Christmas Tree Cluster
The Christmas Tree Cluster Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/P.S. Teixeira (Center for Astrophysics)

The Christmas Tree Cluster (a.k.a. “NGC 2264”) is located in the constellation Monoceros, near the Name A Star Live constellations Orion and Gemini. Newborn stars, hidden behind thick dust, are revealed in this image of a section of the Christmas Tree Cluster from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope. Infant stars appear as pink and red specks toward the center and appear to have formed in regularly spaced intervals along linear structures in a configuration that resembles the spokes of a wheel or the pattern of a snowflake. Hence, astronomers have nicknamed this the “Snowflake Cluster.”

Skylab 4 Christmas tree
The Skylab 4 crew created this Christmas tree out of cans in December 1973. Skylab 4 was America’s first space station.

Star-forming clouds like this one are dynamic and evolving structures. Since the stars trace the straight line pattern of spokes of a wheel, scientists believe that these are newborn stars, or “protostars.” At a mere 100,000 years old, these infant structures have yet to “crawl” away from their location of birth. Over time, the natural drifting motions of each star will break this order, and the snowflake design will be no more.

Whether celebrated on, or off, the planet, Christmas is a beautiful, joyous time of the year! Name a star for a friend or family member this Christmas and make them part of our real space missions!

Watch a Star Disappear!

You may see a star disappear behind the Moon the night of December 12/13! Over that night the Moon will pass in front of a very bright star in the Name A Star Live constellation Taurus.

The Moon and Aldebaran
The Moon will move in front of the star Aldebaran over the night of December 12-13, 2016.

Those of you in the eastern, central and mountain time zones of North America should see the star, called “Aldebaran,” disappear behind the Moon sometime during the first 1-3 hours after sunset. After sunset, look for the Moon over the eastern horizon. Aldebaran will be just to the left of the Moon. Then, over the course of the next few hours, the Moon will move closer and closer until it covers the star. Unfortunately, this celestial show won’t be visible in the Pacific time zone, or in the southern hemisphere.

Those of you in Europe will need to wake up early in the morning to see Aldebaran disappear. Look for the Moon and Aldebaran over your western horizon. If you’re in London, look especially during the 3-4 am time period. If you’re in Berlin, Paris or Rome, look between 4 and 5 am.

Aldebaran is a red giant star that’s called the fiery eye of Taurus the Bull. The name Aldebaran comes from the Arabic and means “The Follower,” because the star appears to follow the Pleiades star cluster throughout the course of any given night. (BTW, people often confuse the Pleiades with the Little Dipper: The Little Dipper is found over the norther horizon.) Aldebaran is the brightest star in Taurus, and is part of a prominent, V-shaped group of stars called the “Hyades.”

Aldebaran and our Sun
The relative sizes of Aldebaran and our Sun

Aldebaran is about 65 light-years away, meaning that the light you see from Aldebaran this month was generated in 1951. That’s how long it took the light to reach us.


Get our Moon Tweets!

The Twitter Moon
Our Moon Tweets let you know when the Moon is in a Name A Star Live constellation.

Did you know you can use the Moon to identify where your star’s constellation is in the night sky? Follow us on Twitter where we let you know when the Moon appears in a Name A Star constellation (area of the night sky).

Name A Star Live offers some really good tools to learn about the night sky and find your star’s constellation. Visit our website to learn about our Virtual Planetarium software, planisphere constellation finder, and First Light Astronomy Kit!

Follow us on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest!

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.

Continue reading “The Star of Bethlehem”

Beautiful Super Moon Images

Did you see the Super Moon this month? It was the largest full Moon we’ve seen since 1948, and we won’t see another one this large until 2034. But in case you missed the Super Moon, here are some really neat images!

Image Credit: Pinterest.com
Image Credit: Pinterest.com
Super Moon over St. Louis
The Super Moon over St. Louis. Image Credit: Google+
Super Moon and Soyuz
Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, this Soyuz rocket stands on the launch pad at Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on November 14. Beyond it rises a supermoon, but fame for exceptional feats of speed, strength, and agility is not the reason November’s Full Moon was given this popular name. Instead, whenever a Full Moon shines near perigee, the closest point in its elliptical orbit around Earth, it appears larger and brighter than other more distant Full Moons, and so a supermoon is born. In fact, November’s supermoon was the second of three consecutive supermoons in 2016. It was also the closest and most superest Full Moon since 1948. Meanwhile, the mild mannered Soyuz rocket is scheduled to launch its Expedition 50/51 crew to the International Space Station today, November 17. Image Credit: NASA, Bill Ingalls

Finally, here is a video showing many images of the Super Moon from around the world!

 

 


Get our Moon Tweets!

The Twitter Moon
Our Moon Tweets let you know when the Moon is in a Name A Star Live constellation.

Did you know you can use the Moon to identify where your star’s constellation is in the night sky? Follow us on Twitter where we let you know when the Moon appears in a Name A Star constellation (area of the night sky).

Name A Star Live offers some really good tools to learn about the night sky and find your star’s constellation. Visit our website to learn about our Virtual Planetarium software, planisphere constellation finder, and First Light Astronomy Kit!

Follow us on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest!

How We Launch Your Star Name Into Space

Name A Star Live launch
Name A Star Live launch on an UP Aerospace SpaceLoft XL rocket from Spaceport America, New Mexico

Name A Star Live launches your star’s name into space, and provides you a launch certificate after each launch occurs.  We’re operated by Space Services, Inc. – a real aerospace company that has been launching payloads into space since 1982. No other Name A Star company has such a record of space launch success.

We’re often asked by our customers how, exactly, we launch the star names.

First, we launch more than just your star’s name: We launch all of the unique information from your Star Certificate, including the star’s name, what the star is named in honor of, the star’s registration date, the message you write for your gift recipient, the star’s astronomical coordinates and your order number.  We save all of this information in our database of stars — our star register, or “archive of star names”: Your star will be assigned the name you give it, and will never be assigned any other name in our star register.

Star Certificate
A Name A Star Live star certificate

Second, for each mission we save our star database onto a data storage device.  We then ship this device to the facility where the rocket is assembled.  Technicians integrate the device into the rocket as a “secondary payload” — we ‘piggyback’ on rockets that carry scientific or communications “primary payloads” into space.  The technicians must integrate the device into the rocket weeks, or even months before liftoff.  So there necessarily is a delay between the time you name your star and the time it is launched.

Chip
Name A Star Live flies its customers’ star names into space using a data storage device, much like NASA did using this chip when it included people’s names on the Mars Curiosity rover.

Scheduling a rocket launch is not like booking a flight on an airplane.  While airline flights may be delayed a few minutes or hours due to weather or other flight delays, normally your airplane flight will take off from your airport at least on the same day your flight is scheduled for departure.  In contrast, rocket launches often are delayed for days, weeks, months or even years due to a variety of technical or other reasons inherent in spaceflight.  You can find information about our upcoming missions by visiting our online launch schedule.

Third, depending on the mission, your star name will:

  • Fly on a brief trip to space and return to Earth,
  • Orbit the Earth (as an “orbital archive”),
  • Fly to the Moon, or
  • Fly into deep space.

In most cases you can attend each launch in person!  Our parent company, Space Services, Inc., has had payloads launched from locations around the world, including: Cape Canaveral, Florida; Spaceport America, New Mexico; New Zealand; and the Marshall Islands.  But if you can’t join us for the launch, you can usually view the launch live via webcast.

No matter the mission, after each liftoff you will receive a letter-size, Digital Launch Certificate confirming that your star name flew in space.  This is provided to you via the Internet: You can even order a Printed or Framed Launch Certificate.  This certificate displays your star’s name and astronomical coordinates, as well as information about the launch.

Launch Certificate
A Name A Star Live launch certificate

Launching your star’s name and other details into space is part of what sets Name A Star Live apart from other star-naming companies: Through our launches, we make the symbolic gesture of naming a star a real and exciting experience!

Use the Moon to find Mars!

The Moon is a very useful ‘landmark’ in the sky to find planets, prominent stars and other interesting things in the heavens above. You can use the Moon in early November to find the planet Mars.

Mars and the Moon on the evening of November 5, 2016 as viewed from the northern hemisphere of Earth
Mars and the Moon on the evening of November 5, 2016 as viewed from the northern hemisphere of Earth

On November 5 look for Mars, which will appear reddish in color, just to the east of the crescent Moon. Both of these celestial objects are in the Name A Star Live constellation Sagittarius this evening. You should also see Venus and Saturn very low on the southwestern horizon.

Mars and the Moon on the evening of November 6, 2016 as viewed from the northern hemisphere
Mars and the Moon on the evening of November 6, 2016 as viewed from the northern hemisphere

The next night, November 6, the Moon moves into Capricorn to a position above Mars, which remains in Sagittarius.

Venus, Mars and the Moon as viewed from Sydney, Australia, Nov. 6, 2016
Venus, Mars and the Moon as viewed over the western horizon from Sydney, Australia, Nov. 6, 2016

If you’re in the southern hemisphere of Earth, look for the Moon and Mars over your western horizon the evening of November 6. The Moon and Mars will both be in the Name A Star Live constellation Sagittarius as viewed from the southern hemisphere.


Get our Moon Tweets!

The Twitter Moon
Our Moon Tweets let you know when the Moon is in a Name A Star Live constellation.

Did you know you can use the Moon to identify where your star’s constellation is in the night sky? Follow us on Twitter where we let you know when the Moon appears in a Name A Star constellation (area of the night sky).

Name A Star Live offers some really good tools to learn about the night sky and find your star’s constellation. Visit our website to learn about our Virtual Planetarium software, planisphere constellation finder, and First Light Astronomy Kit!

Follow us on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest!

See a Star Explosion!

Nova
GK Persei, a nova in the constellation Perseus. Image Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/RIKEN/D.Takei et al; Optical: NASA/STScI; Radio: NRAO/VLA

A star in the Name A Star Live constellation Sagittarius has exploded, and you can see it now! But you better hurry as Sagittarius will soon not be visible to observers in the northern hemisphere of Earth.

The star, which has not been ‘named’ by Name A Star Live, is actually a binary star where one of the stars has stolen hydrogen from its companion. The hydrogen built up on the surface of the stellar thief and, under pressure, ignited like a hydrogen bomb. The exploded hydrogen is given off as a shell of gas that surrounds the star. (See photo above.) The star remains intact, and will likely repeat the process of sucking hydrogen from its companion until another explosion (nova) occurs in the future. When you see the nova you will see the exploded shell — although what you will see through your binoculars or telescope won’t look like the spectacular NASA photo above!

How to See the Nova

Nova in Sagittarius
Look for the nova, marked by the red dot, near the “Teapot” of Sagittarius, which will be low on the southwestern horizon shortly after sunset. You’ll need a pair of binoculars or a telescope to see it.

You should be able to see the nova with a 50mm pair of binoculars or just about any telescope. Just look for Sagittarius toward the southwest about 1 1/2 hours after sunset. You’ll notice the bright planet Mars. Just below and to the right of Mars you’ll see a group of relatively bright stars called the “Teapot.” The nova will be just to the right of the Teapot.

The nova as viewed from Sydney, Australia
The “Teapot” as viewed from Sydney, Australia, facing west after sunset.

Those of you in the southern hemisphere can also get a good look at the nova. Sagittarius will be somewhat higher in your sky after sunset compared to observers in the northern hemisphere.

Finally, don’t confuse a nova with a “supernova.” Classical novas can be considered to be “miniature” versions of supernova explosions. Supernovas signal the destruction of an entire star and can be so bright that they outshine the whole galaxy where they are found.

For more information about novas, see chandra.si.edu/photo/2015/gkper/


Get our Moon Tweets!

The Twitter Moon
Our Moon Tweets let you know when the Moon is in a Name A Star Live constellation.

Did you know you can use the Moon to identify where your star’s constellation is in the night sky? Follow us on Twitter where we let you know when the Moon appears in a Name A Star constellation (area of the night sky).

Name A Star Live offers some really good tools to learn about the night sky and find your star’s constellation. Visit our website to learn about our Virtual Planetarium software, planisphere constellation finder, and First Light Astronomy Kit!

Follow us on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest!

 

See Uranus Near the Moon

Uranus near the Moon
Uranus near the Moon the night of Oct. 15, 2016

On October 15 the planet Uranus will reach its maximum brightness for 2016. But even if you can’t observe the 7th planet from the Sun that night, you can get a good look all month. So pull out your telescope or binoculars and take a peek! Uranus will be relatively easy to spot October 15 as it will appear next to the Moon as a fairly dim ‘star.’ If you can’t view Uranus on the 15th you can use our Virtual Planetarium astronomy software to find it on other nights this year. This gas giant is in the Name A Star Live constellation Pisces.

Through a telescope Uranus will appear as either a grey circle or a faint blue-green dot, depending on whether you have a small or large telescope, respectively. The planet is so far away that the light you’ll see through your telescope or binoculars will take four hours to reach you. That translates into a distance between Earth and Uranus of 2.7 billion miles, or 4.4 billion kilometers.

Uranus, Earth and the Sun at opposition
Uranus, Earth and the Sun at opposition

On October 15 the planet will be at “opposition,” meaning that, as the sun sets in the west that evening, the planet will rise in the east — on the opposite side of the sky as the Sun. That’s because at that time Earth will be directly between Uranus and the Sun.

Uranus has 27 known moons, including its famous five large moons, which were discovered before the space age. The remaining 22 were discovered by Voyager 2 and the Hubble Space Telescope. While most of the satellites orbiting other planets take their names from Greek mythology, Uranus’ moons are unique in being named for Shakespearean characters, along with a couple of the moons being named for characters from the works of Alexander Pope.

Relative sizes of Earth and Uranus
Relative sizes of Earth and Uranus

The planet was discovered in 1781 by the British astronomer William Herschel, who initially thought the planet was a comet. Once he realized what he had actually discovered, Herschel wanted to name the planet “Georgium Sidus” (George’s Star), after King George III. But astronomers decided instead to name the planet after the Greek god Uranus, the husband of Gaia — Mother Earth.

Uranus cartoon
Image Credit: NASA

Get our Moon Tweets!

The Twitter Moon
Our Moon Tweets let you know when the Moon is in a Name A Star Live constellation.

Did you know you can use the Moon to identify where your star’s constellation is in the night sky? Follow us on Twitter where we let you know when the Moon appears in a Name A Star constellation (area of the night sky).

Name A Star Live offers some really good tools to learn about the night sky and find your star’s constellation. Visit our website to learn about our Virtual Planetarium software, planisphere constellation finder, and First Light Astronomy Kit!

Follow us on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest!

Spooky Sights and Sounds from Outer Space!

October’s the month for Halloween, and Name A Star Live can help you get in the mood for trick-or-treating! Here are some spooky sights and sounds from outer space.

First, let’s set the scene with some scary space sounds! Before scrolling down this webpage any further, turn up your speakers or headphones, and start this video of some eerie sounds from Saturn:

Let’s start with a witch who resides just outside the Name A Star Live constellation Orion:

The Witch Head Nebula
The Witch Head Nebula. Image Credit: NASA/STScI Digitized Sky Survey/Noel Carboni

As frightening as this witch may be, no need to fear: She’s about 800 light-years away, and so won’t be casting any spells on us for a long time to come! She’s actually a giant collection of dust particles that is reflecting light off of a star named “Rigel” in Orion.

The Ghost Nebula
The Ghost Nebula. Image Credit: Adam Block/Mount Lemmon SkyCenter/University of Arizona

I ain’t afraid of no ghosts — especially when they’re 1,200 light-years away! This phantom of the night haunts the constellation Cepheus, which borders the Name A Star Live constellations Cassiopeia and Cygnus.

The Ghost of the Sisters
The Ghost of the Seven Sisters. Image Credit: NASA/ESA and The Hubble Heritage Team STScI/AURA), George Herbig and Theodore Simon (University of Hawaii)

This ghost is located a little closer to Earth, at 380 light-years away in the Name A Star Live constellation Taurus. It’s part of the Pleiades star cluster (a.k.a. “The Seven Sisters”), which many people confuse with the Little Dipper. Let’s hope this ghost doesn’t get any closer to Earth!

Ghost Head Nebula
The Ghost Head Nebula. Image Credit: NASA, ESA, Mohammad Heydari-Malayeri (Observatoire de Paris) et al.

The Ghost Head Nebula, or NGC 2080, is a star-forming region in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of our own Milky Way Galaxy visible from the southern hemisphere of Earth. The nebula spans about 50 light-years across.

Black Widow Nebula
The Black Widow Nebula. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Wisc.

What’s Halloween without spiders? The Black Widow Nebula hangs in her web in the southern hemisphere constellation Circinus. But arachnophobes have no fear! This spider from the depths of space is actually a stellar nursery. In this Spitzer Space Telescope image, the two opposing bubbles are being formed in opposite directions by the powerful outflows from massive groups of forming stars. The baby stars can be seen as specks of yellow where the two bubbles overlap.  So upon seeing the Black Widow nebula, instead of screaming shouts of terror, we should say, “Aw, how cute!”

Mimas and the Death Star
The Death Star from “Star Wars,” and Mimas, moon of Saturn. Image Credits: Pinterest.com and NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Much closer to home than any of the nebulae presented above, Mimas — a moon of Saturn — appears ready to blast Earth out of existence! We better keep a close eye on this scary menace!

Jack-O'-Lantern Sun
The jack-o’-lantern Sun. Image Credit: NASA/SDO

Finally, we wish you a Happy Halloween with this solar image showing active regions on the Sun that combined to look something like a jack-o-lantern’s face on October 8, 2014.  This image blends together two sets of extreme ultraviolet wavelengths to create a particularly Halloween-like appearance.

We hope you’ve enjoyed these spooky sights and sounds!