The Christmas Tree in Space

Here’s a holiday treat from outer space: The Christmas Tree Cluster!

Imagine the beautiful green, wispy branches of a Christmas tree — adorned with red, blue and white lights — gracefully on display in the heavens above.

The Christmas Tree Cluster
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.”

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.

Like a dusty cosmic finger pointing up to the newborn clusters, Spitzer also illuminates the optically dark and dense Cone Nebula, the tip of which can be seen towards the upper right corner of the image.

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

And here’s some other neat space imagery for you!

ESO Observatory
An outstanding image of the sky over European  Southern Observatory’s Paranal Observatory.  Image Credit: ESO/B. Tafreshi (

The object that is glowing intensely red in the image is the Carina Nebula.  The Carina Nebula lies in the constellation of Carina (The Keel), about 7500 light-years from Earth. This cloud of glowing gas and dust is the brightest nebula in the sky and contains several of the brightest and most massive stars known in the Milky Way, such as Eta Carinae. The Carina Nebula is a perfect test-bed for astronomers to unveil the mysteries of the violent birth and death of massive stars.  Click here for more information about this image.

Finally, here is a beautiful video — set to equally beautiful music — showing the night skies over Cornwall and Scilly, in Great Britain.

Name a star for that special someone this Christmas!
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How We Launch Your Star Name Into Space

New Frontier Flight launch
Launch of The New Frontier Flight, 2:44 am CDT, May 22, 2012 from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Click the image above to view launch video provided by our sister company, Celestis, Inc. Image Credit: NASA

Many of our customers ask us, “What is this launch thing you do?  How do you launch my star name into space?  How does that all work?”

In principle, it’s rather simple.  But in practice, it’s rather complex.

Each Name A Star Live customer gets a letter-size Star Certificate that displays the name of their star, an optional personal message, and the astronomical coordinates of their star.  We store this information in our database.  We then save that database onto a computer chip, which is then placed inside a rocket.

That’s the easy part.  Arranging for, and conducting the launches is the difficult part!

Our parent company, Space Services, Inc., has contracted with various launch service providers to launch our payloads from locations around the world.  Space Services missions have blasted off from the Canary Islands, Florida, New Mexico, California, New Zealand, and even a tiny, remote island in the Pacific Ocean.

We fly as a “secondary payload” on board rockets with commercial or scientific”primary payloads,” such as communications satellites.  As a secondary payload, we have no control over when liftoff will occur.  Indeed, launch delays are common in the aerospace industry, and there are a variety of reasons that cause such delays.  For example, if there is a technical problem with the launch vehicle, or with the primary payload, we must wait until the problem is fixed before liftoff can occur.

Our payload — the computer chip that contains our database of star names, messages and astronomical coordinates — must be placed in the rocket at least weeks, and sometimes months, ahead of time.  For our November 2012 launch, we must provide our payload to the launch services provider in October 2012 — a relatively short time period.  Hence, we have a mid-October deadline for customers to name stars for inclusion on this mission.  But for our New Frontier Flight that flew into Earth orbit May 22, 2012,  we had to deliver our database back in October 2011 — approximately eight months prior to liftoff.

Being a part of a real space mission is very important to many of our customers: After the launch takes place, we provide each of our customers a complimentary Digital Launch Certificate, certifying their participation in the mission.  Usually, customers can travel to the launch site to view the launch in person.  We also are often able to webcast the liftoff live, via our website.

We do our best to keep our customers informed of the latest launch news.  We update our online launch schedule as soon as events warrant.  We encourage all of our customers to follow our launch news on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.  And, of course, we issue our monthly e-newsletters.

Despite the many problems we must overcome to launch your star name into space, we enjoy providing this service: Spaceflight is our passion, and so we very much appreciate your participation.  After all, it is your purchase of Name A Star Live gift sets that help us pay for these missions into the final frontier!

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.

Beautiful Space Photos

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

Milky way
The Milky Way

This beautiful photo of the Milky Way was taken from Concordia Research Station, a remote Antarctic facility run by French and Italian scientists. The scientists at this facility are cut off from civilization during the winter months – no chance of resupply or rescue … much like future space explorers!

Pinwheel Galaxy
The Pinwheel Galaxy: The light from this galaxy takes 21 million years to reach Earth! Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO; IR & UV: NASA/JPL-Caltech; Optical: NASA/STScI

This image of the Pinwheel Galaxy, or also known as M101, combines data in the infrared, visible, ultraviolet and X-rays from four of NASA’s space-based telescopes. This combination of telescope views into one image shows that both young and old stars are evenly distributed along M101’s tightly-wound spiral arms. Such composite images allow astronomers to see how features in one part of the spectrum match up with those seen in other parts. It is like seeing with a regular camera, an ultraviolet camera, night-vision goggles and X-ray vision, all at the same time.

The Pinwheel Galaxy is in the constellation of Ursa Major (which includes the Big Dipper). It is about 70% larger than our own Milky Way Galaxy, with a diameter of about 170,000 light years, and sits at a distance of 21 million light years from Earth. This means that the light we’re seeing in this image left the Pinwheel Galaxy about 21 million years ago – many millions of years before humans ever walked the Earth.

The hottest and most energetic areas in this composite image are shown in purple, where the Chandra X-ray Observatory observed the X-ray emission from exploded stars, million-degree gas, and material colliding around black holes.

The red colors in the image show infrared light, as seen by the Spitzer Space Telescope. These areas show the heat emitted by dusty lanes in the galaxy, where stars are forming.

The yellow component is visible light, observed by the Hubble Space Telescope. Most of this light comes from stars, and they trace the same spiral structure as the dust lanes seen in the infrared.

The blue areas are ultraviolet light, given out by hot, young stars that formed about 1 million years ago, captured by the Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX).

England at Night
England and Wales at Night

Billions of people are seeing London through many different filters and lenses during the 2012 Olympic Games and Paralympic Games. None of those views looks quite like this one from NASA’s Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership satellite.  The image above shows London and the southern half of Great Britain as it appeared on the night of March 27, 2012.

Taikonaut Liu Yang

China’s first female astronaut (called “Taikonaut” in China), Liu Yang, emerges from the re-entry capsule of Shenzhou-9 spacecraft, which landed in China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region Friday, June 29, 2012. Liu and two other crew members returned safely to Earth after a 13-day mission to an orbiting prototype space station, the Tiangong-1.

Saturn with its largest moon, Titan. Shadows from Saturn's thin rings are cast onto the planet below. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute/J. Major

Humanity’s robot orbiting Saturn has recorded yet another amazing view. That robot, of course, is the spacecraft Cassini, while the new amazing view includes a bright moon, thin rings, oddly broken clouds, and warped shadows. Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, appears above as a featureless tan as it is continually shrouded in thick clouds. The rings of Saturn are seen as a thin line because they are so flat and imaged nearly edge on. Details of Saturn’s rings are therefore best visible in the dark ring shadows seen across the giant planet’s cloud tops. Since the ring particles orbit in the same plane as Titan, they appear to skewer the foreground moon. In the upper hemisphere of Saturn, the clouds show many details, including dips in long bright bands indicating disturbances in a high altitude jet stream. Recent precise measurements of how much Titan flexes as it orbits Saturn hint that vast oceans of water might exist deep underground.

Here is a new video of time-lapse imagery of Earth taken from space courtesy of the Image Science & Analysis Laboratory, NASA Johnson Space Center.  This video was set to music by Tomislav Safundžić.