The Saturn Opposition

Saturn
NASA image of Saturn

What has Saturn ever done to us?

No, there’s not an insurgency planning to take action against the planet Saturn!  Rather, this month Saturn will be at what astronomers call “opposition,” which is a great time to observe the beautiful ringed planet. On June 15 (June 16 for those of you in Australia, Japan, China, India and other parts of the eastern hemisphere), Saturn will be at opposition, meaning Saturn will be on the opposite side of the sky from the sun: When the sun sets that evening in the west, Saturn will rise in the east. Really, all of June and into July is a great time to see Saturn.

For the best view, wait until at least two hours after sunset to look at Saturn through a telescope.  (Before then, you’ll be looking at Saturn through the thicker layers of Earth’s atmosphere near the eastern horizon.) So get out your telescope and take a look at the beautiful ringed planet this summer!

Viewed from the northern hemisphere…

Saturn
Saturn rising in the east during the evening hours of June. (View from the northern hemisphere of Earth.) To the right is the bright star Antares of the constellation Scorpius. Saturn will be near Antares all summer.

Viewed from the southern hemisphere…

Saturn
Saturn rising in the east during the evening hours of June. (View from the southern hemisphere of Earth.) Above is the bright star Antares of the constellation Scorpius. Saturn will be near Antares all summer.

11 Earth's could fit across JupiterIn addition to Saturn, you can see the giant planet Jupiter in the Name A Star Live constellation Virgo this month. Viewed through a telescope, you may see up to four of Jupiter’s largest moons. And did you know that 11 Earth’s could fit across the width of Jupiter?

Viewed from the northern hemisphere…

Jupiter
Jupiter will be over your southern horizon after sunset, near the bright star Spica and the constellation Corvus.

Viewed from the southern hemisphere…

Jupiter
Jupiter will be over your northern horizon after sunset, near the bright star Spica and the constellation Corvus.

 


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Comet PanSTARRS

Halley's Comet
Halley’s Comet

Step outside in mid-March 2013 and you may just see a comet that has the astronomical community abuzz!  It’s called comet “PanSTARRS,” named after the observatory in Hawaii that discovered the comet in 2011.

Not to worry: The comet won’t hit Earth like that asteroid did in Russia last month!  At its closest approach to Earth on March 5, the comet will be about 100 million miles (161 million kilometers) away.  At its closest approach to the Sun on March 10 it will be just inside the orbit of Pluto.

But that’s close enough to make for a spectacular site — assuming the comet cooperates!  Comets are notoriously unpredictable: As David Levy, the famous comet discoverer, once put it, “Comets are like cats; they have tails, and they do precisely what they want.”  At one extreme, the comet could release a nice display of dust resulting in a bright, beautiful tail visible to the naked eye, or at the other extreme it could break apart and fizzle out.  As of this writing, most predictions are that the comet will be about as bright as the stars in the Big Dipper.

Comet PanSTARRS
NASA image showing positions of comet PanSTARRS in March 2013 relative to the western horizon

The comet will be visible to Northern Hemisphere observers shortly after sunset.  It will appear low on the western horizon.  If I had to bet, I would wager we’ll see the head of the comet with our naked eyes, but will likely need a pair of binoculars to see the comet’s dusty tail.

You may want to start looking for the comet as early as March 10, and check it every evening through late March.  After that, the comet will grow significantly fainter.  During March the comet will appear in the Name A Star Live constellations Aquarius, Pisces and Andromeda.

Be sure to check out this neat NASA video about comet PanSTARRS.  It’s very informative and lasts shortly over 4 minutes.

Finally, an even brighter comet is expected to be seen in November 2013: Comet ISON.  We’ll have more to say about that comet later this year.

Beautiful Space Photos

Here are some beautiful space photos and videos that have been posted on the Internet recently.  The photos are from  NASA’s “Astronomy Picture of the Day.”  Enjoy!

The Tadpole Galaxy
The Tadpole Galaxy

In this stunning vista, based on image data from the Hubble Legacy Archive, distant galaxies form a dramatic backdrop for disrupted spiral galaxy Arp 188, the Tadpole Galaxy. The cosmic tadpole is a mere 420 million light-years distant toward the northern constellation Draco. Its eye-catching tail is about 280 thousand light-years long and features massive, bright blue star clusters. One story goes that a more compact intruder galaxy crossed in front of Arp 188 – from right to left in this view – and was slung around behind the Tadpole by their gravitational attraction. During the close encounter, tidal forces drew out the spiral galaxy’s stars, gas, and dust forming the spectacular tail. The intruder galaxy itself, estimated to lie about 300 thousand light-years behind the Tadpole, can be seen through foreground spiral arms at the upper right. Following its terrestrial namesake, the Tadpole Galaxy will likely lose its tail as it grows older, the tail’s star clusters forming smaller satellites of the large spiral galaxy.

The Trapezium
The Trapezium — four bright stars within the Orion Nebula

Near the center of this sharp cosmic portrait, at the heart of the Orion Nebula, are four hot, massive stars known as the Trapezium. Gathered within a region about 1.5 light-years in radius, they dominate the core of the dense Orion Nebula Star Cluster. Ultraviolet ionizing radiation from the Trapezium stars, mostly from the brightest star Theta-1 Orionis C powers the complex star forming region’s entire visible glow. About three million years old, the Orion Nebula Cluster was even more compact in its younger years and a recent dynamical study indicates that runaway stellar collisions at an earlier age may have formed a black hole with more than 100 times the mass of the Sun. The presence of a black hole within the cluster could explain the observed high velocities of the Trapezium stars. The Orion Nebula’s distance of some 1500 light-years would make it the closest known black hole to planet Earth.  Being able to clearly see the Trapezium is a sign of a good telescope!

On October 12, 2012, Felix Baumgartner — an Austrian parachutist — jumped from the edge of space, and thereby set the world records for the highest ever balloon flight, the highest ever parachute jump, and the first person to fly faster than the speed of sound without using powered flight.  His flight occurred over Roswell, New Mexico.  See Red Bull Stratos for more information.

NGC 2623
NGC 2623

NGC 2623 is really two galaxies that are becoming one. Seen to be in the final stages of a titanic galaxy merger, the pair lies some 300 million light-years distant toward the Name A Star Live constellation Cancer. The violent encounter between two galaxies that may have been similar to the Milky Way has produced widespread star formation near a luminous core and along eye-catching tidal tails. Filled with dust, gas, and young blue star clusters, the opposing tidal tails extend well over 50,000 light-years from the merged nucleus. Likely triggered by the merger, accretion by a supermassive black hole drives activity within the nuclear region. The star formation and its active galactic nucleus make NGC 2623 bright across the spectrum. This sharp cosmic snapshot of NGC 2623 (aka Arp 243) is based on Hubble Legacy Archive image data that also reveals even more distant background galaxies scattered through the field of view.

November’s Stars and Planets

The night sky puts on some neat shows this month.  And for those of you in the Land Down Under, you can look forward to an eclipse of the sun!

Shortly before dawn on November 26, Venus and Saturn appear very close together:

Chart showing planets and stars
Saturn and Venus appear to kiss shortly before sunrise on November 26. Go out about 45 minutes before sunrise that morning and face East-Southeast to see these two, bright planets.  If you’re lucky, you might also see the planet Mercury hugging the horizon.  You’ll also see the bright, binary star Spica, located in the Name A Star Live constellation Virgo.

The evening of November 27 also presents a wonderful show:

Star Chart for November 27
Look for the Moon and the planet Jupiter toward the East-Northeast the evening of November 27. Both of these solar system objects will be in the Name A Star Live constellation Taurus. Jupiter will be near the V-shaped group of stars (called “The Hyades”), marked by the star Aldebaran. Look above the Moon for the beautiful group of stars known as “The Pleiades,” which are often confused with The Little Dipper, which is a different group of stars altogether.

Those of you in Australia are in for a real treat this month: An eclipse of the sun!  The sun will be totally eclipsed by the moon along a narrow path across the Northern Territory and Queensland.  But those of you in the rest of Australia will see a partial eclipse (local weather permitting).

Australian map showing eclipse path
Australians will be able to see a solar eclipse the morning of November 14, 2012, weather permitting. A total eclipse of the sun will be visible along the path highlighted in red. A partial eclipse will be visible throughout the remainder of Australia, as well as all of New Zealand.

Never look at the sun directly, even during an eclipse!  For more information about the eclipse, including how to observe it safely, read “Australia counts down to solar eclipse” appearing in Australia’s Cosmos magazine.  Those of you in New Zealand might want to check out the Stardome Observatory’s webpage about the eclipse.  Also, no matter where you live, you can watch the eclipse live, online.

Finding your star in the night sky

Stars are located within constellations, which are just areas of the night sky. Scorpius, Aries and Taurus are examples of constellations. Your Name A Star Live Star Certificate displays the name of your constellation. You can use our online World Constellation Guide to determine if you can see your constellation during the evening hours (between sunset and midnight). Of course, you’ll need a telescope to see your star. But you can see your constellation without the use of a telescope. You can also find your constellation by using our Virtual Planetarium™ astronomy software. A planisphere is another useful device.

Beautiful Space Photos

Here are some beautiful space photos and videos that have been posted on the Internet recently.  The photos are from  NASA’s “Astronomy Picture of the Day.”  Enjoy!

 

IC1396
IC 1396: Emission Nebula in Cepheus Image Credit: Digitized Sky Survey, ESA/ESO/NASA FITS Liberator, Color Composite: Davide De Martin (Skyfactory)

Stunning emission nebula IC 1396 mixes glowing cosmic gas and dark dust clouds in the high and far off constellation of Cepheus. Energized by the bright, bluish central star seen here, this star forming region is 3,000 light-years from planet Earth.

 

View of Lunar Surface from Apollo 11
Apollo 11 Landing Site Panorama
Credit: Neil Armstrong, Apollo 11, NASA – Panorama by Syd Buxton

Assembled from high-resolution scans of the original film frames, this panorama sweeps across the magnificent desolation of the Apollo 11 landing site on the Moon’s Sea of Tranquility. Taken by Neil Armstrong looking out his window of the Eagle Lunar Module, the frame at the far left (AS11-37-5449) is the first picture taken by a person on another world.

 

M72
M72: A Globular Cluster of Stars
Image Credit: NASA, ESA, Hubble, HPOW

Globular clusters of stars, such as M72, once ruled the Milky Way. Back in the old days, back when our Galaxy first formed, perhaps thousands of globular clusters roamed our Galaxy. Today, there are less than 200 left. Many globular clusters were destroyed over the eons by repeated fateful encounters with each other or the Galactic center. Surviving relics are older than any Earth fossil, older than any other structures in our Galaxy, and limit the universe itself in raw age. There are few, if any, young globular clusters in our Milky Way Galaxy because conditions are not ripe for more to form. Pictured above by the Hubble Space Telescope are about 100,000 of M72’s stars. M72, which spans about 50 light years and lies about 50,000 light years away, can be seen with a small telescope toward the Name A Star Live constellation Aquarius (the Water Bearer).

 

This is the ultimate cute, space video — “A Toy Train in Space” — a story of a father who sends his son’s toy train to the edge of space.

 

This is an absolutely beautiful video called “Purely Pacific Northwest” that features views of the Northern Lights and the Milky Way. View this one after a hard day’s work!

A Stellar Show for Early Birds!

If you’re an early riser, you’re in astronomical luck in September!  While Mars and Saturn are fading rapidly in the western sky during the early evening hours, Venus and Jupiter dominate the early morning eastern sky.

Jupiter in the east
This image shows the night sky in mid-September, facing east, shortly before sunrise.  Look for Jupiter near the V-shaped group of stars known as “The Hyades,” which are a part of the Name A Star Live constellation Taurus (the bull). The beautiful Pleiades are also part of Taurus, and are often confused with the Little Dipper.  While you’re at it, look for the prominent Name A Star Live constellation Orion (the hunter).  The three stars of Orion’s belt are easy to spot.  The bright planet Venus will be well below Jupiter, near the eastern horizon.
But fear not, fellow night owls, for you too can feast your eyes on some celestial treats!  The planets Neptune and Uranus will be visible through binoculars and small telescopes during the evening hours this month. In fact, now is a particularly good time to observe these two (not so bright) planets.  Uranus reaches what’s called “opposition” on September 29: That’s when the Earth is between Uranus and the Sun.  In other words, Uranus is on the opposite side of Earth than the Sun on September 29.  Neptune was at opposition last month, but is still a nice site to see through a telescope or binoculars.  While you can see both Neptune and Uranus through a telescope, Uranus — strictly speaking — is just barely visible to the naked eye — but just barely!  In order to see it, you’d need to go far from city lights and view it on a clear, moonless night.  (And you better have good eyesight to boot!)  We recommend sticking with your telescope or binocs!
Uranus and Neptune
This image shows the locations of Uranus and Neptune in mid-September.  Look for Uranus in the Name A Star Live constellation Pisces, and look for Neptune in the Name A Star Live constellation Aquarius this month.

Finding your star in the night sky

Stars are located within constellations, which are just areas of the night sky. Scorpius, Aries and Taurus are examples of constellations. Your Name A Star Live Star Certificate displays the name of your constellation. You can use our online World Constellation Guide to determine if you can see your constellation during the evening hours (between sunset and midnight). Of course, you’ll need a telescope to see your star.  But you can see your constellation without the use of a telescope. You can also find your constellation by using our Virtual Planetarium™ astronomy software. A planisphere is another useful device.

Follow Mars Curiosity with Virtual Planetarium

While the Olympics are dominating the news right now, NASA will be making some exciting news of its own this weekend: NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover is scheduled to land on the Red Planet at 1:31 am EDT (5:31 am GMT) Monday, August 6.  Our Virtual Planetarium™ astronomy software can keep you up-to-date with the rover and its discoveries on the Red Planet!

The dramatic landing of Curiosity rivals anything the Olympics offers!  In a period of time described as “7 minutes of terror,” the spacecraft must slow down from 13,000 mph (21,000 km/h) as it enters the Martian atmosphere to 0 mph, soft-landing in a particular crater, next to a large Martian mountain.  During those 7 minutes the spacecraft will go through a very complex set of maneuvers, which are illustrated in this NASA video.  Moreover, the spacecraft will do this all by itself: Because it takes 14 minutes for radio signals to travel from Mars to Earth, ground controllers cannot possibly control the spacecraft effectively through those crucial 7 minutes.  Instead, the spacecraft will use an onboard computer and radar to guide Curiosity to a precision landing.

Virtual Planetarium
You can follow the rover as it traverses Mars with our Virtual Planetarium software. This is a screenshot from the software's Solar System Update module showing an artist's rendition of the rover on the Martian surface.

Name A Star Live can keep you up-to-date with our Virtual Planetarium software!

A $39.95 value, Virtual Planetarium is seven great programs in one: interactive sky maps; a huge library of stunning astronomy imagery; information and images of the solar system and latest space events; and space weather reports about sun spots, auroras and more.

How to Update Virtual Planetarium

The software’s Solar System Update module already features information about Curiosity (see screenshot above).  Once Curiosity starts sending images back to Earth, Virtual Planetarium will display the more interesting Martian imagery and portal you to the latest online news from NASA.  All you’ll need to do is click on the “UPDATE DATA” button to keep up with all the new discoveries!  Here are even more detailed instructions:

  1. Open up “Space Update” ( or “Virtual Planetarium”) program. (It must be installed on your hard drive, not just on the DVD).
  2. Select “Solar system”
  3. In the upper right corner, select “Update Data”
  4. If it says “Outdated files detected” you can choose to “delete” or “keep” .  (Say “delete” to get rid of the old MSL caption – it will save it in a folder)
  5. It will then say “comparing old and new data”.  If you have a recent addition, it will find 16 new files (if you have an old edition, it may find more!)
  6. Select “Install new”. It shouldn’t take long to download.
  7. Close solar system part of the app.  (You can go to astronomy, for example).  Then when you return to solar system, the new images will be available.
  8. The new images can be seen by choosing solar system ->  Mars -> Missions -> Mars Science Laboratory

Virtual Planetarium sale!

In celebration of Curiosity‘s bold mission to Mars, we are offering a limited-time sale on Virtual Planetarium.  Click here where you can buy the software for only $29.95 from now through August 10!  You can order Virtual Planetarium delivered to you via a DVD, or for download off of our website.

How to Register Virtual Planetarium

Note that there are two ways to register your copy of Virtual Planetarium:

  1. If you install the software using the DVD, you’ll find the serial number written on the DVD.  The serial number starts with the letters “VP”.
  2. If you install the software via download from our website, then the registration key and serial number are made available to you at the moment you download. You can also retrieve these numbers by visiting our homepage (NameAStarLive.com) and logging in to the “My Account” section of our website.

 

Beautiful Space Photos

Here are some beautiful space photos that have been posted on the Internet in recent weeks.  Enjoy!

Helix Nebula
The Helix Nebula from the VISTA Telescope. Credit: ESO/VISTA/J. Emerson; Acknowledgment: Cambridge Astronomical Survey Unit

Will our Sun look like this one day? The Helix Nebula, located in the Name A Star Live constellation Aquarius, is one of brightest and closest examples of a planetary nebula, a gas cloud created at the end of the life of a Sun-like star. The outer gasses of the star expelled into space appear from our vantage point as if we are looking down a helix. The remnant central stellar core, destined to become a white dwarf star, glows in light so energetic it causes the previously expelled gas to fluoresce. The Helix Nebula, given a technical designation of NGC 7293, lies about 700 light-years away and spans about 2.5 light-years. The above picture was taken in three colors on infrared light by the 4.1-meter Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA) at the European Southern Observatory’s Paranal Observatory in Chile.

Saturn
Ringside with Titan and Dione. Credit : Cassini Imaging Team, SSI, JPL, ESA, NASA

Orbiting in the plane of Saturn’s rings, Saturnian moons have a perpetual ringside view of the gorgeous gas giant planet. Of course, while passing near the ring plane the Cassini spacecraft also shares their stunning perspective. The rings themselves can be seen slicing across the middle of this Cassini snapshot. The scene features Titan, largest, and Dione, third largest moon of Saturn. Remarkably thin, the bright rings still cast arcing shadows across the planet’s cloud tops at the bottom of the frame. Pale Dione is about 1,100 kilometers across and orbits over 300,000 kilometers from the visible outer edge of the A ring. Dione is seen through Titan’s atmospheric haze. At 5,150 kilometers across, Titan is about 2.3 million kilometers from Cassini, while Dione is 3.2 million kilometers away.

The Large Magellanic Cloud
Infrared Portrait of the Large Magellanic Cloud. Credit: ESA / NASA / JPL-Caltech / STScI

Cosmic dust clouds ripple across this infrared portrait of our Milky Way’s satellite galaxy, the Large Magellanic Cloud, which is visible in the southern hemisphere constellations Dorado and Mensa. In fact, the remarkable composite image from the Herschel Space Observatory and the Spitzer Space Telescope show that dust clouds fill this neighboring dwarf galaxy, much like dust along the plane of the Milky Way itself. The dust temperatures tend to trace star forming activity. Spitzer data in blue hues indicate warm dust heated by young stars. Herschel‘s instruments contributed the image data shown in red and green, revealing dust emission from cooler and intermediate regions where star formation is just beginning or has stopped. Dominated by dust emission, the Large Magellanic Cloud’s infrared appearance is different from views in optical images. But this galaxy’s well-known Tarantula Nebula still stands out, easily seen here as the brightest region to the left of center. A mere 160,000 light-years distant, the Large Cloud of Magellan is about 30,000 light-years across.

Grand Spiral Galaxy NGC 1232. Image Credit: FORS, 8.2-meter VLT Antu, ESO

Galaxies are fascinating not only for what is visible, but for what is invisible. Grand Spiral Galaxy NGC 1232, captured in detail by one of the new Very Large Telescopes, is a good example. The visible is dominated by millions of bright stars and dark dust, caught up in a gravitational swirl of spiral arms revolving about the center. Open clusters containing bright blue stars can be seen sprinkled along these spiral arms, while dark lanes of dense interstellar dust can be seen sprinkled between them. Less visible, but detectable, are billions of dim normal stars and vast tracts of interstellar gas, together wielding such high mass that they dominate the dynamics of the inner galaxy. Invisible are even greater amounts of matter in a form we don’t yet know – pervasive dark matter needed to explain the motions of the visible in the outer galaxy.  The Grand Spiral Galaxy is located in the constellation Eridanus, right below the Name A Star Live constellation Taurus.

The Northern Lights as viewed from an Arctic research station.

In late January 2012 a strong solar storm hit Earth’s atmosphere. Charged particles from the sun interacted with the Earth’s magnetic field to create spectacular night shows of green light — the “Northern Lights,” or “Aurora Borealis.”  See a beautiful video of the Northern Lights shot in late January from Norway!

Meteor Showers, an Eclipse & the Planets

Two meteor showers grace the night skies in December.  The Geminid meteor shower is the most famous meteor shower of all, and is visible from most locations on Earth every December. However, this year’s Geminid shower, which peaks on the night of December 14, occurs at a time of the month when moonlight will drown out most of the meteors we would otherwise see.  But for those of you in the northern hemisphere, check out December’s other meteor shower — the Ursids.

Shooting Stars
Time lapse photo showing shooting stars from the Geminid meteor shower. Credit: NASA/JPL

Continue reading “Meteor Showers, an Eclipse & the Planets”

Our Astronomy & Space Software

At Name a Star Live we like to make your star naming experience as interactive and educational as possible. This is why we partnered with Rice University to bring you Virtual Planetarium: Five Astronomy Programs in One. This software brings you the latest in space updates and imagery. You can choose to simply run the software from the disc or install it to download updates with the click of a button. This software comes with our Deluxe, Framed and Ultimate Gift Sets or is available for purchase on its own through our Facebook store.
Continue reading “Our Astronomy & Space Software”