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The Astronomy Stop

Last Updated:    Friday, March 31, 2017 


Welcome to The Astronomy Stop.

 I am a member of the Texas Astronomical Society and have been active in Amateur Astronomy and Astrophotography since 2001.

Enjoy the links on this site and take a look at my images.  They are updated frequently so check back often.


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2017 Total Solar Eclipse Visible Across The United States.

On Aug. 21, 2017, American skywatchers will be treated to a rare and spectacular celestial show — the first total solar eclipse visible from the continental United States in nearly four decades.

 A total solar eclipse last darkened soil on the U.S. mainland on Feb. 26, 1979. But August 2017 will mark the first time in 99 years that such an event is "readily available to people from coast to coast.

 The fact that an eclipse can occur at all is a fluke of celestial mechanics and time. Since the moon formed about 4.5 billion years ago, it has been gradually moving away from Earth (by about 1.6 inches, or 4 centimeters per year). Right now the moon is at the perfect distance to appear in our sky exactly the same size as the sun, and therefore block it out.

 These are a happy accident of nature. The sun's 864,000-mile diameter is fully 400 times greater than that of our puny moon, which measures just about 2,160 miles. But the moon also happens to be about 400 times closer to Earth than the sun (the ratio varies as both orbits are elliptical), and as a result, when the orbital planes intersect and the distances align favorably, the new moon can appear to completely blot out the disk of the sun. On the average a total eclipse occurs somewhere on Earth about every 18 months.

Click on image to enlarge to full resolution


During the brief period of totality, when the sun is completely covered, the beautiful corona — the tenuous outer atmosphere of the sun — is revealed. Totality may last as long as 7 minutes 31 seconds, though most total eclipses are usually much shorter.

The closer you are to the path of totality, the greater the solar obscuration. If, for instance, you are positioned just outside of the path of the total eclipse, you will see the sun wane to a narrow crescent, then thicken up again as the shadow passes by.


Astronomy Image of the Month
: ESO 137-001

Spiral galaxy ESO 137-001 hurtles through massive galaxy cluster Abell 3627 some 220 million light years away.

The distant galaxy is seen in this colorful Hubble/Chandra composite image through a foreground of the Milky Way's stars toward the southern constellation Triangulum Australe. As the spiral speeds along at nearly 7 million kilometers per hour, its gas and dust are stripped away when ram pressure with the cluster's own hot, tenuous intracluster medium overcomes the galaxy's gravity. Evident in Hubble's near visible light data, bright star clusters have formed in the stripped material along the short, trailing blue streaks.

Chandra's X-ray data shows off the enormous extent of the heated, stripped gas as diffuse, darker blue trails stretching over 400,000 light-years toward the bottom right. The significant loss of dust and gas will make new star formation difficult for this galaxy. A yellowish elliptical galaxy, lacking in star forming dust and gas, is just to the right of ESO 137-001 in the frame.

Click on image to enlarge to full resolution.


New Telescope in Chile Now Searching for Alien Planets

A new alien-planet–hunting telescope has just come online in Chile, and it could help scientists peer into the atmospheres of relatively small planets circling nearby stars.

The Next-Generation Transit Survey (NGTS for short) — located at the European Southern Observatory's (ESO) Paranal Observatory — is designed to seek out planets two to eight times the diameter of Earth as they pass in front of their stars. Such a planet will cause the light of the star to dip ever so slightly when passing in front of it, allowing the telescope to detect the planet during its transit.

"We are excited to begin our search for small planets around nearby stars," Peter Wheatley, an NGTS project lead from the University of Warwick, U.K., said in as statement. "The NGTS discoveries, and follow-up observations by telescopes on the ground and in space, will be important steps in our quest to study the atmospheres and composition of small planets such as the Earth."

The instrument is designed to measure the brightness of stars more accurately than any other ground-based wide-field survey, ESO officials said. The NGTS is made up of 12 telescopes that will operate robotically, according to ESO. Astronomers using the survey hope to find small, bright planets in order to learn more about the densities of them.

By taking these measurements, scientists might be able to learn more about what makes up the planets — that is, whether the planets could be rocky, gaseous, watery or composed of other materials, ESO officials added.

"It may also be possible to probe the atmospheres of the exoplanets whilst they are in transit," ESO officials said in the same statement. "During the transit, some of the star's light passes through the planet's atmosphere, if it has one, and leaves a tiny, but detectable, signature. So far, only a few such very delicate observations have been made, but NGTS should provide many more potential targets."

NGTS' work is only the beginning. Scientists will use other telescopes to conduct follow-up studies of planet candidates that the survey finds when looking at the sky.

 A consortium from the United Kingdom, Sweden and Germany built the NGTS. ESO is an astronomy organization supported by 15 different countries. The organization operates three observing sites, including Paranal, around Chile.

"We needed a site where there were many clear nights and the air was clear and dry so that we could make very accurate measurements as often as possible — Paranal was the best choice by far," Don Pollacco of the University of Warwick and an NGTS project lead, said in a statement.


International Space Station
High Definition Earth Viewing


The High Definition Earth Viewing (HDEV) experiment places four commercially available HD cameras on the exterior of the space station and uses them to stream live video of Earth for viewing online.  The cameras are enclosed in a temperature specific housing and are exposed to the harsh radiation of space.  Analysis of the effect of space on the video quality, over the time HDEV is operational, may help engineers decide which cameras are the best types to use on future missions. High school students helped design some of the cameras' components, through the High Schools United with NASA to Create Hardware (HUNCH) program, and student teams operate the experiment.

Black Image = ISS is on the night side of the Earth. Gray Image = Switching between cameras, or communications with the ISS is not available.

Broadcast live streaming video on Ustream



The Hubble Deep Field: The most important image ever taken. 

It is the farthest we have ever seen into space using the most advanced telescope we have.



Weather / Sky Conditions:

The Clear Sky Clocks below are the astronomers forecast. They show at a glance when, in the next 48 hours, we might expect clear and dark skies for one specific observing site. The site is specifically intended for amateur astronomers. The forecast data comes from a numerical weather model run by The Canadian Meteorological Center.

Clear Sky Clocks

ASTROTX Observatory

Atoka, OK



Billions and Billions:

Cerro Paranal is an astronomers paradise with its stunningly dark, steady and transparent sky. Located in the barren Atacama Desert of Chile it is home to some of the world’s leading telescopes.

Operated by the European Southern Observatory (ESO) the Very Large Telescope (VLT) is located on the Paranal mountain, composed of four 8 m telescopes which can combine their light to make a giant telescope by interferometry.

This film is made with footage from the November 2011 TWAN imaging expedition to Paranal assigned by the European Southern Observatory (ESO).  Photographed 14 nights in a row from usually 05:30 pm to 08:00 a.m.

All video rights reserved by Christoph Malin and Babak Tafreshi

Journey to the edge of the Universe:

If nothing is faster than the speed of light (186,000 miles per second) then we are crawling when trying to even break free of our own galaxy.  This video puts the distance of the universe into perspective. 

**Click on Arrows icon in lower right of the frame to view the video in full screen mode. **

JWST: Hubble's Successor

The James Webb Space Telescope (sometimes called JWST) is a large, infrared-optimized space telescope, scheduled for launch in 2014. Webb will find the first galaxies that formed in the early Universe, connecting the Big Bang to our own Milky Way Galaxy. Webb will peer through dusty clouds to see stars forming planetary systems, connecting the Milky Way to our own Solar System. Webb's instruments will be designed to work primarily in the infrared range of the electromagnetic spectrum, with some capability in the visible range.

Webb will have a large mirror, 6.5 meters (21.3 feet) in diameter and a sunshield the size of a tennis court. Both the mirror and sunshade won't fit onto the rocket fully open, so both will fold up and open once Webb is in outer space. Webb will reside in an orbit about 1.5 million km (1 million miles) from the Earth.

**Click on Arrows icon in lower right of the frame to view the video in full screen mode. **

Credit:  NASA

Lunar Phases:

 A lunar phase or phase of the moon refers to the appearance of the illuminated portion of the Moon as seen by an observer. The lunar phases vary cyclically as the Moon orbits the Earth, according to the changing relative positions of the Earth, Moon and Sun.  Click on each button to view the various phases or click on the 'Run Animation' button to view the entire lunar cycle.


Apollo Landing Sites

NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, or LRO, has returned its first imagery of the Apollo moon landing sites. The pictures show the Apollo missions' lunar module descent stages sitting on the moon's surface, as long shadows from a low sun angle make the modules' locations evident.

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera, or LROC, was able to image all six Apollo sites.

The satellite reached lunar orbit June 23, 2009 and captured the Apollo sites between July 11 and 15. Though it had been expected that LRO would be able to resolve the remnants of the Apollo mission, these first images came before the spacecraft reached its final mapping orbit.

As of 09/06/11, NASA has now released improved images for Apollo's 12, 14, and 17. These images have been added below.

All images credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center/Arizona State University

Click each thumbnail image to enlarge

Lunar map of Apollo landing sites

Apollo 11


Left Image width: 282 meters
Image width: 50 meters

Apollo 12


Image width: 200 meters (about 656ft.)

Apollo 14


Image width: 538 meters (about 1,765 ft.)

Apollo 15

Image width: 384 meters (about 1,260 ft.)

Apollo 16

Image width: 256 meters (about 840 ft.)

Apollo 17

Image width: 359 meters (about 1,178 ft.)

LRO Revisits Apollo Landing Sites



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This site was last updated 03/31/17

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