Tag: sights (page 1 of 3)

In Sights, and In Spirit tions from Marco Island March 24 2017 Lisa Gawlas

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Sheldan Nidle – November-01-2016

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“The Guardians Have Received and Announced The Green Light Has Been Given”!

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Gaia Portal September 17 2015 Galactic Federation of Light

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Our Fatally Fractured Food Chain

Julian Rose, ContributorThe term ‘food chain’ refers to the steps that constitute the movement of food from its starting point in the field to its end point on the fork. This incorporates processing and ultimate consumption.The food chain operates within a dynamic life cycle. One which expresses the inseparable interconnection between soil, plant, animal and man – and ends back in the soil again. So that if any one element of this cycle is poisoned or weakened, the [...]

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Science: Plants Have Senses and Can Hear, Feel and Identify Attackers

Alisa Opar, GuestThe plant world is a violent place. When munching caterpillars or grazing cattle set their sights on a luscious leaf, a plant can’t hightail it out of harm’s way. Instead, flora fight back with noxious chemicals. But what repels one critter may not work on the next hungry mouth, explains Heidi Appel, a senior research scientist in the Bond Life Sciences Center at the University of Missouri. She’s found that some plants can actual [...]

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Mayday! Mayday! Mars One a ‘suicide mission’, warn leading space scientists




By Victoria Weldon

IT'S been described as science fiction made real - but now, just as the final selection process gets under way for the folk with the right stuff to make a manned mission to Mars, scientists have dashed the dreams of planet Earth by warning the journey will probably never happen and will end in disaster if it does.
Privately run space exploration programme Mars One wants to send four people to the red planet for the rest of their (probably not very long) lives and film it for reality TV in order to help finance the endeavour.

Thousands have set their sights on becoming the first settlers to land on the planet - and have now been whittled down to a short list of 100, including a Scottish PhD student - but with questionable technology, a lack of funding and an unrealistic timeframe, experts claim it is a "suicide mission".

Mars One believes it can achieve a manned mission in 2024 - sooner than NASA, the European Space Agency, the Russians or Chinese, and on a fraction of their budgets.

If the project does go ahead, the crew would have to make it through nine months of interplanetary travel without being killed by mishap, radiation - or each other.

And even then, a recent study suggested they will only last 68 days on Mars before dying - due to lack of food and water.

However, Anu Ojha OBE, director of the UK National Space Academy Programme, has warned the applicants not to get their hopes up as the mission is unlikely to ever leave the ground.

Ojha said: "Obviously this is something that has captured the public's imagination, and Mars One obviously has a great PR team, but space engineering obeys the laws of physics not PR."
Mars One is the brainchild of Dutch entrepreneur Bas Lansdorp who was inspired by the images of Mars sent back by the Sojourner rover in 1997, when he was a student.

Lansdorp, who will not make the journey himself, has an impressive team working on the project including former NASA employees Dr Norbert Kraft, who specialises in the physiological and psychological effects of space travel and space architect Kristian von Bengtson.

Physicist Arno Wielders, who previously worked for Dutch Space, is also on board, as well as a number of other advisers from around the world with backgrounds in space engineering, science and technology, marketing, design and television production.

The ultimate aim is to see a large, self-sustaining colony on Mars, but Ojha, who is also a director at the National Space Centre in Leicester, said there are three major stumbling blocks for the mission: technology, funding and human psychology.

"In terms of technology, it's pushing the absolute boundaries and there seems to be a lot of technological naivety on the part of the people running it", he said.

"There are some elements that seem reasonable, but overall it's concerning, and the timescales are also questionable."

While Mars One is planning the one way mission for 2024, NASA, with its long established expertise and technology, is looking to be able to send humans to Mars and bring them back again by the mid 2030s.

This is estimated to cost up to as much as £100 billion (£64.9bn) for the space agency, while Mars One believes it can do it for an optimistic $6 billion (£3.9bn) - and there are even questions over whether or not they will be able to achieve that much funding.
The private enterprise is hoping to raise money through a TV deal and additional funding from the exposure that will bring the project.

Last year it said it had teamed up with programme makers Endemol, but the Big Brother creators recently pulled out of the deal claiming they were "unable to reach agreement on the details of the contract".

Mars One did not respond to questioning by the Sunday Herald over its funding, but its website showed that as at January this year, it had raised just $759,816 from donations, merchandising, and a crowdfunding campaign.

It is unclear what other funding the project has.

Ojha said: "The business model has so many holes in it, it's shaky to say the least. And when you ask them how much money they have raised, they say it's still ongoing. The time scales and the business model - they're completely unrealistic."

Mars One plans to send several unmanned rockets to Mars ahead of the 2024 mission, with the first of these scheduled to take place in 2018.

These will include missions with robots to find a suitable location for a base and assemble it ahead of the humans' arrival.
The project claims it will use only existing technology for the mission, buying in materials from proven suppliers including Lockheed Martin or SpaceX.

The equipment involved includes several simulation outposts for training, a rocket launcher, a transit vehicle to take the crew to Mars, a Mars landing capsule, two rovers, a Mars suit and a communications system.

However, experts have warned that much of this equipment has not been fully tested. 

Physicist professor Todd Huffman is a big supporter of attempting a manned mission to Mars, but he also has serious concerns about Mars One, claiming it is "scientifically irresponsible".

He said: "The plan stretches the technology in many places.
"The launch vehicle they want to use has not actually ever launched yet, let alone make a trip to Mars.

"The living spaces have not been made nor has it been tested whether they can be robotically assembled and by what kind of robot.

"A suitable site would also need to be found for the living spaces and the details of how water extraction will take place have not been understood.

"If you assign a 90 per cent chance to success to each of those things, all of which are necessary for human survival, you end up with about a 50 per cent chance of failure, ending in the death of the colonists - and that would likely not make good television."
He added: "Unless we [wait for] quite a lot of technology and exploration to happen first, it is basically worse than a one-way ticket for the colonists - it is almost surely a suicide mission if carried out within this next decade."

Although most scientists believe the mission will not go ahead, some have also warned of the psychological impact on the people selected for the mission if it does.

Ojha said: "The thing that's really captured the public's imagination is this idea of it being a one way trip, but this brings another set of problems in terms of human psychology.

"The longest period a human has spent in space is 438 days - they're talking about sending people on a one way trip.
"Lots of the people I've seen interviewed, they're really excited about taking part, but have they really thought about what they're doing and what the implications are?

"I would tell them to go to Antarctica for six months in the middle of winter and that's about 1 per cent of what they'll be experiencing on Mars.

"Human psychology is far more fragile than we think."

However, while many scientists warn of the dangers and do not believe the mission will proceed, they have praised Mars One for sparking the public's interest in planetary science.

Dr John Bridges, of the Space Research Centre in Leicester, said: "It's a very interesting and innovative project, but the time scales are very challenging.

"I believe they're planning for 2024 and it's 2015 now. So for something as major as this, it's a very challenging timescale
"But it's fantastic that people are thinking about this, that industry is getting involved and raising awareness of planetary science."

Ojha added: "Mars One has been great in a way because it's once again drawn people's imagination to the idea of space engineering and exploration. 

"But the reality is that there are serious concerns about the project's space engineering, funding and medical implications."

Lansdorp has previously said that most people are "surprised to hear that the manned missions will be happening in ten years time, with a budget ten times less than Nasa".

He added: "But I think that if you really spend time studying Mars One, you cannot believe there is not a good chance we will make it.
"At the same time, it's a hugely ambitious plan, there's many things that can go wrong with such a big plan.

"But I believe we have a good plan and we can overcome the challenges."

However, he has also conceded that the current plans are an "optimum schedule", adding: "If one rocket doesn't launch, or a lander doesn't work on Mars before a human goes, any major malfunctions will result in a two year delay."

Mars One declined the Sunday Herald's request to interview someone from the project and failed to answer any of our questions.

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Moonquakes and blazing heat: What would life really be like on the Moon?


Lunar Base Made with 3D Printing


Excerpt from space.com

The idea of building a lunar outpost has long captured people's imaginations. But what would it really be like to live on the moon?
Space exploration has long focused on the moon, with Earth's satellite the setting for a number of significant missions. A 1959 Soviet spacecraft photographed the moon's far side for the first time, and in 1969, NASA landed people on the lunar surface for the first time. Numerous missions followed, including NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter that beamed home the highest-resolution topographical lunar map to date, covering 98.2 percent of the moon's surface. 

Altogether, data beamed back from numerous missions suggest that no place on the moon would be a pleasant place to live, at least compared with Earth. Lunar days stretch for about 14 Earth days with average temperatures of 253 degrees Fahrenheit (123 degrees Celsius), while lunar nights also last 14 Earth days (due to the moon's rotation) and maintain a frigid cold of minus 387 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 233 degrees Celsius). 

"About the only place we could build a base that wouldn't have to deal with these extremes is, oddly enough, near the lunar poles," said Rick Elphic, project scientist for NASA's LADEE probe, which studied the moon's atmosphere and dust environment before performing a planned crash into the natural satellitein April 2014. These areas likely store vast amounts of water-ice and enjoy low levels of light from the sun for several months at a time.

"Instead of the blazing heat of lunar noon, it is a kind of perpetual balmy sunset, with temperatures around 0 degrees Celsius [32 degrees Fahrenheit] due to the low angle of the sun," Elphic added.

Vacations away from pole outposts would offer up sights unlike anything on Earth. Decorating the moon's vast lava plains are large impact-borne "mountains," the tallest of which is 3.4 miles (5.5 kilometers) high, about the size of Mount Saint Elias on the border of Alaska and Canada. "Skylight" holes puncture some of the plains where lava likely drained into sub-surface caverns — the perfect adventure for lunar spelunkers.

The moon also sports huge craters, such as the 25-mile-wide (40 km) Aristarchus crater. A view from the rim of Aristarchus would "dwarf the Grand Canyon and make Meteor Crater in Arizona look like a hole in a putting green," Elphic told Space.com via email.


Lunar athletes would not need to check the forecast, however. Because of its very tenuous atmosphere, the moon has no weather. "Every day is sunny with no chance of rain!" Elphic added. You would, however, have to look out for so-called space weather, which includes meteor particles that can be as large as golf balls and highly energetic particles from solar flares.

Another potential danger would be moonquakes. Seismometers left on the lunar surface during Apollo show that the moon is still seismically active, and even has rare, hour-long quakes measuring up to 5.5 on the Richter scale. These quakes would be strong enough to cause structural damage to buildings.

"So don't leave Earth for your home on the moon thinking you've left seismic activity behind," Elphic said. "Make sure your lunar house is up to code."

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Jupiter at its biggest, brightest for two weeks

Excerpt from pressofatlanticcity.comBy FRED SCHAAF  ...

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Liftoff! SpaceX Gets $1 Billion From Google and Fidelity

 Excerpt from  nbcnews.com SpaceX, the California-based rocket company that now has its sights set on a globe-spanning satellite constellation, says it has received a $1 billion investment from Google and Fidelity that values the c...

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The Best Bet for Alien Life May Be in Planetary Systems Very Different From Ours




Excerpt from wired.com


In the hunt for extraterrestrial life, scientists started by searching for a world orbiting a star just like the sun. After all, the steady warmth of that glowing yellow ball in the sky makes life on Earth possible.

But as astronomers continue to discover thousands of planets, they’re realizing that if (or when) we find signs of extraterrestrial life, chances are good that those aliens will orbit a star quite different from the sun—one that’s redder, cooler, and at a fraction of the sun’s size and mass. So in the quest for otherworldly life, many astronomers have set their sights on these small stars, known as red dwarfs or M dwarfs.

At first, planet-hunting astronomers didn’t care so much about M dwarfs. After the first planet outside the solar system was discovered in 1995, scientists began hunting for a true Earth twin: a rocky planet like Earth with an orbit like ours around a sun-like star. Indeed, the search for that kind of system drove astronomers through most of the 2000s, says astronomer Phil Muirhead of Boston University.

But then astronomers realized that it might be technically easier to find planets around M dwarfs. Detecting another planet is really hard, and scientists rely on two main methods. In the first, they look for a drop in a star’s brightness when a planet passes in front of it. In the second, astronomers measure the slight wobble of a star, caused by the gentle gravitational tug of an orbiting planet. With both of these techniques, the signal is stronger and easier to detect for a planet orbiting an M dwarf. A planet around an M dwarf also orbits more frequently, increasing the chances that astronomers will spot it.

M dwarfs got a big boost from the Kepler space telescope, which launched in 2008. By staring at small patch of the sky, the telescope searches for suddenly dimming stars when a planet passes in front of them. In doing so, the spacecraft discovered a glut of planets—more than 1,000 at the latest count—it found a lot of planets around M dwarfs. “Kepler changed everything,” Muirhead said. Because M-dwarf systems are easier to find, the bounty of such planets is at least partly due to a selection effect. But, as Muirhead points out, Kepler is also designed to find Earth-sized planets around sun-like stars, and the numbers so far suggest that M-dwarfs may offer the best odds for finding life.

“By sheer luck you would be more likely to find a potentially habitable planet around an M dwarf than a star like the sun,” said astronomer Courtney Dressing of Harvard. She led an analysis to estimate how many Earth-sized planets—which she defined as those with radii ranging from one to one-and-a-half times Earth’s radius—orbit M dwarfs in the habitable zone, the region around the star where liquid water can exist on the planet’s surface. According to her latest calculations, one in four M dwarfs hosts such a planet.

That’s higher than the estimated number of Earth-sized planets around a sun-like star, she says. For example, an analysis by astronomer Erik Petigura of UC Berkeley suggests that fewer than 10 percent of sun-like stars have a planet with a radius between one and two times that of Earth’s.

This illustration shows Kepler-186f, the first rocky planet found in a star's habitable zone. Its star is an M dwarf.
This illustration shows Kepler-186f, the first rocky planet found in a star’s habitable zone. Its star is an M dwarf. NASA Ames/SETI Institute/JPL-Caltech


M dwarfs have another thing going for them. They’re the most common star in the galaxy, comprising an estimated 75 percent of the Milky Way’s hundreds of billions of stars. If Dressing’s estimates are right, then our galaxy could be teeming with 100 billion Earth-sized planets in their stars’ habitable zones.

To be sure, these estimates have lots of limitations. They depend on what you mean by the habitable zone, which isn’t well defined. Generally, the habitable zone is where it’s not too hot or too cold for liquid water to exist. But there are countless considerations, such as how well a planet’s atmosphere can retain water. With a more generous definition that widens the habitable zone, Petigura’s numbers for Earth-sized planets around a sun-like star go up to 22 percent or more. Likewise, Dressing’s numbers could also go up.
Astronomers were initially skeptical of M-dwarf systems because they thought a planet couldn’t be habitable near this kind of star. For one, M dwarfs are more active, especially during within the first billion years of its life. They may bombard a planet with life-killing ultraviolet radiation. They can spew powerful stellar flares that would strip a planet of its atmosphere.

And because a planet will tend to orbit close to an M dwarf, the star’s gravity can alter the planet’s rotation around its axis. When such a planet is tidally locked, as such a scenario is called, part of the planet may see eternal daylight while another part sees eternal night. The bright side would be fried while the dark side would freeze—hardly a hospitable situation for life.

But none of these are settled issues, and some studies suggest they may not be as big of a problem as previously thought, says astronomer Aomawa Shields of UCLA. For example, habitability may depend on specific types and frequency of flares, which aren’t well understood yet. Computer models have also shown that an atmosphere can help distribute heat, preventing the dark side of a planet from freezing over.

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Top 6 tips for using ordinary binoculars for stargazing




Excerpt from earthsky.org


Admit it.  You’ve probably got a pair of binoculars lying around your house somewhere. They may be perfect – that’s right, perfect – for beginning stargazing. Follow the links below to learn more about the best deal around for people who want to get acquainted with the night sky: a pair of ordinary binoculars.
1. Binoculars are a better place to start than telescopes
2. Start with a small, easy-to-use size
3. First, view the moon with binoculars.
4. Move on to viewing planets with binoculars.
5. Use your binoculars to explore inside our Milky Way.
6. Use your binoculars to peer beyond the Milky Way.

1. Binoculars are a better place to start than telescopes. The fact is that most people who think they want to buy a telescope would be better off using binoculars for a year or so instead.  That’s because first-time telescope users often find themselves completely confused – and ultimately put off – by the dual tasks of learning the use a complicated piece of equipment (the ‘scope) while at the same time learning to navigate an unknown realm (the night sky).
Beginning stargazers often find that an ordinary pair of binoculars – available from any discount store – can give them the experience they’re looking for.  After all, in astronomy, magnification and light-gathering power let you see more of what’s up there.  Even a moderate form of power, like those provided by a pair of 7×50 binoculars, reveals 7 times as much information as the unaided eye can see.

You also need to know where to look. Many people start with a planisphere as they begin their journey making friends with the stars. You can purchase a planisphere at the EarthSky store. Also consider our Astronomy Kit, which has a booklet on what you can see with your binoculars.

2. Start with a small, easy-to-use size.  Don’t buy a huge pair of binoculars to start with! Unless you mount them on a tripod, they’ll shake and make your view of the heavens shakey, too. The video above – from ExpertVillage – does a good job summing up what you want. And in case you don’t want to watch the video, the answer is that 7X50 binoculars are optimum for budding astronomers.  You can see a lot, and you can hold them steadily enough that jitters don’t spoil your view of the sky.  Plus they’re very useful for daylight pursuits, like birdwatching. If 7X50s are too big for you – or if you want binoculars for a child – try 7X35s.

February 24, 2014 moon with earthshine by Greg Diesel Landscape Photography.
February 24, 2014 moon with earthshine by Greg Diesel Landscape Photography.

3. First, view the moon with binoculars. When you start to stargaze, you’ll want to watch the phase of the moon carefully. If you want to see deep-sky objects inside our Milky Way galaxy – or outside the galaxy – you’ll want to avoid the moon. But the moon itself is a perfect target for beginning astronomers, armed with binoculars. Hint: the best time to observe the moon is in twilight. Then the glare of the moon is not so great, and you’ll see more detail.

You’ll want to start your moon-gazing when the moon is just past new – and visible as a waxing crescent in the western sky after sunset. At such times, you’ll have a beautiful view of earthshine on the moon.  This eerie glow on the moon’s darkened portion is really light reflected from Earth onto the moon’s surface.  Be sure to turn your binoculars on the moon at these times to enhance the view. 
Each month, as the moon goes through its regular phases, you can see the line of sunrise and sunset on the moon progress across the moon’s face. That’s just the line between light and dark on the moon. This line between the day and night sides of the moon is called the terminator line.  The best place to look at the moon from Earth – using your binoculars – is along the terminator line. The sun angle is very low in this twilight zone, just as the sun is low in our sky around earthly twilight.  So, along the terminator on the moon, lunar features cast long shadows in sharp relief.

You can also look in on the gray blotches on the moon called maria, named when early astronomers thought these lunar features were seas.  The maria are not seas, of course, and instead they’re now thought to have formed 3.5 billion years ago when asteroid-sized rocks hit the moon so hard that lava percolated up through cracks in the lunar crust and flooded the impact basins. These lava plains cooled and eventually formed the gray seas we see today.

The white highlands, nestled between the maria, are older terrain pockmarked by thousands of craters that formed over the eons. Some of the larger craters are visible in binoculars. One of them, Tycho, at the six o’clock position on the moon, emanates long swatches of white rays for hundreds of miles over the adjacent highlands. This is material kicked out during the Tycho impact 2.5 million years ago.

View Larger. Photo of Jupiter's moons by Carl Galloway. Thank you Carl! The four major moons of Jupiter - Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto - are easily seen through a low-powered telescope. Click here for a chart of Jupiter's moons
Photo of Jupiter’s moons by Earthsky Facebook friend Carl Galloway. Thank you Carl! The four major moons of Jupiter are called Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto. This is a telescopic view, but you can glimpse one, two or more moons through your binoculars, too.


4. Move on to viewing planets with binoculars. Here’s the deal about planets.  They move around, apart from the fixed stars.  They are wanderers, right?

You can use our EarthSky Tonight page to locate planets visible around now.  Notice if any planets are mentioned in the calendar on the Tonight page, and if so click on that day’s link.  On our Tonight page, we feature planets on days when they’re easily identifiable for some reason – for example, when a planet is near the moon.  So our Tonight page calendar can help you come to know the planets, and, as you’re learning to identify them, keep your binoculars very handy. Binoculars will enhance your view of a planet near the moon, for example, or two planets near each other in the twilight sky. They add a lot to the fun!

Below, you’ll find some more simple ideas on how to view planets with your binoculars.

Mercury and Venus. These are both inner planets.  They orbit the sun closer than Earth’s orbit.  And for that reason, both Mercury and Venus show phases as seen from Earth at certain times in their orbit – a few days before or after the planet passes between the sun and Earth.  At such times,  turn your binoculars on Mercury or Venus. Good optical quality helps here, but you should be able to see them in a crescent phase. Tip: Venus is so bright that its glare will overwhelm the view. Try looking in twilight instead of true darkness.

Mars. Mars – the Red Planet – really does look red, and using binoculars will intensify the color of this object (or of any colored star). Mars also moves rapidly in front of the stars, and it’s fun to aim your binoculars in its direction when it’s passing near another bright star or planet.

Jupiter. Now on to the real action!  Jupiter is a great binocular target, even for beginners.   If you are sure to hold your binoculars steadily as you peer at this bright planet,  you should see four bright points of light near it.  These are the Galilean Satellites – four moons gleaned through one of the first telescopes ever made, by the Italian astronomer Galileo. Note how their relative positions change from night to night as each moon moves around Jupiter in its own orbit.

Saturn.Although a small telescope is needed to see Saturn’s rings, you can use your binoculars to see Saturn’s beautiful golden color.  Experienced observers sometimes glimpse Saturn’s largest moon Titan with binoculars.  Also, good-quality high-powered binoculars – mounted on a tripod – will show you that Saturn is not round.  The rings give it an elliptical shape.

Uranus and Neptune. Some planets are squarely binocular and telescope targets. If you’re armed with a finder chart, two of them, Uranus and Neptune, are easy to spot in binoculars. Uranus might even look greenish, thanks to methane in the planet’s atmosphere. Once a year, Uranus is barely bright enough to glimpse with the unaided eye . . . use binoculars to find it first. Distant Neptune will always look like a star, even though it has an atmosphere practically identical to Uranus.

There are still other denizens of the solar system you can capture through binocs. Look for the occasional comet, which appears as a fuzzy blob of light. Then there are the asteroids – fully 12 of them can be followed with binoculars when they are at their brightest. Because an asteroid looks star-like, the secret to confirming its presence is to sketch a star field through which it’s passing. Do this over subsequent nights; the star that changes position relative to the others is our solar system interloper.

Milky Way Galaxy arching over a Joshua tree

Pleiades star cluster, also known as the Seven Sisters
Pleiades star cluster, also known as the Seven Sisters





5. Use your binoculars to explore inside our Milky Way.  Binoculars can introduce you to many members of our home galaxy. A good place to start is with star clusters that are close to Earth. They cover a larger area of the sky than other, more distant clusters usually glimpsed through a telescope.

Beginning each autumn and into the spring, look for a tiny dipper-like cluster of stars called the Pleiades.  The cluster – sometimes also called the Seven Sisters – is noticeable for being small yet distinctively dipper-like. While most people say they see only six stars here with the unaided eye, binoculars reveal many more stars, plus a dainty chain of stars extending off to one side. The Pleiades star cluster is looks big and distinctive because it’s relatively close – about 400 light years from Earth. This dipper-shaped cluster is a true cluster of stars in space.  Its members were born around the same time and are still bound by gravity.  These stars are very young, on the order of 20 million years old, in contrast to the roughly five billion years for our sun.

Stars in a cluster all formed from the same gas cloud. You can also see what the Pleiades might have like in a primordial state, by shifting your gaze to the prominent constellation Orion the Hunter. Look for Orion’s sword stars, just below his prominent belt stars. If the night is crisp and clear, and you’re away from urban streetlight glare, unaided eyes will show that the sword isn’t entirely composed of stars. Binoculars show a steady patch of glowing gas where, right at this moment, a star cluster is being born. It’s called the Orion Nebula. A summertime counterpart is the Lagoon Nebula, in Sagittarius the Archer.

With star factories like the Orion Nebula, we aren’t really seeing the young stars themselves. They are buried deep within the nebula, bathing the gas cloud with ultraviolet radiation and making it glow. In a few tens of thousands of years, stellar winds from these young, energetic stars will blow away their gaseous cocoons to reveal a newly minted star cluster.

Scan along the Milky Way to see still more sights that hint at our home galaxy’s complexity. First, there’s the Milky Way glow itself; just a casual glance through binoculars will reveal that it is still more stars we can’t resolve with our eyes . . . hundreds of thousands of them. Periodically, while scanning, you might sweep past what appears to be blob-like, black voids in the stellar sheen. These are dark, non-glowing pockets of gas and dust that we see silhouetted against the stellar backdrop. This is the stuff of future star and solar systems, just waiting around to coalesce into new suns.

Andromeda Galaxy from Chris Levitan Photography.
Andromeda Galaxy from Chris Levitan Photography.

Many people use the M- or W-shaped constellation Cassiopeia to find the Andromeda Galaxy.  See how the star Schedar points to the galaxy?  Click here to expand image.
Many people use the M- or W-shaped constellation Cassiopeia to find the Andromeda Galaxy. See how the star Schedar points to the galaxy?


6. Use your binoculars to view beyond the Milky Way.  Let’s leap out of our galaxy for the final stop in our binocular tour. Throughout fall and winter, she reigns high in the sky during northern hemisphere autumns and winters: Andromeda the Maiden. Centered in the star pattern is an oval patch of light, readily visible to the unaided eye away from urban lights. Binoculars will show it even better.

It’s a whole other galaxy like our own, shining across the vastness of intergalactic space. Light from the Andromeda Galaxy has traveled so far that it’s taken more than 2 million years to reach us.
Two smaller companions visible through binoculars on a dark, transparent night are the Andromeda Galaxy’s version of our Milky Way’s Magellanic Clouds. These small, orbiting, irregularly-shaped galaxies that will eventually be torn apart by their parent galaxy’s gravity.

Such sights, from lunar wastelands to the glow of a nearby island universe, are all within reach of a pair of handheld optics, really small telescopes in their own right: your binoculars.

John Shibley wrote the original draft of this article, years ago, and we’ve been expanding it and updating it ever since. Thanks, John!
Bottom line: For beginning stargazers, there’s no better tool than an ordinary pair of binoculars. This post tells you why, explains what size to get, and gives you a rundown on some of the coolest binoculars sights out there: the moon, the planets, inside the Milky Way, and beyond. Have fun!

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Mars Capsule Test Heralds New Space Age With Musk Alongside NASA




Excerpt from
bloomberg.com

The U.S. is preparing to launch the first craft developed to fly humans to Mars, presaging a second space age -- this one fueled by billionaires like Elon Musk rather than a Cold War contest with the Soviet Union. 

An unmanned version of the Orion spaceship built by Lockheed Martin Corp. (LMT) is scheduled for liftoff tomorrow to an altitude of 3,600 miles (5,800 kilometers), the farthest from Earth by a vehicle designed for people since the Apollo program was scrapped in 1972. 

Entrepreneurs such as Musk and longtime contractors like Lockheed are helping shape the technology needed to find other homes for humanity in the solar system with an eye to one day commercializing their work. 

“These are really exciting times for space exploration and for our nation as we begin to return to the ability to fly humans to space,” said Jim Crocker, vice president and general manager of civil space at Lockheed Martin Space Systems. “What Orion is about is going further into space than humans have ever gone before.”
Photographer: Brent Lewis/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Launched from Kennedy Space Center in Florida atop a Delta IV rocket, the Orion capsule will test the riskiest systems needed to carry astronauts far beyond the moon, although its first flight will cover only about 2 percent of the 238,900-mile distance to the lunar surface.

Speed Limit

After orbiting earth twice, Orion will accelerate to 20,000 miles per hour during descent, mimicking the speeds of a craft returning from a mission to deep space. The capsule is supposed to make a parachute-cushioned splashdown in the Pacific Ocean off Mexico’s Baja peninsula. 

To explore the universe, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration must first redevelop capabilities abandoned more than 40 years ago when the U.S. shifted focus from Apollo’s lunar forays to rocketing crews a few hundred miles to low Earth orbit.
NASA has used Russian craft to reach the International Space Station since the space shuttle program ended in 2011. 

In a strategic shift, the Obama administration canceled plans to return to the moon, turning some flights to commercial companies while setting its sights -- and limited funds -- on pioneering deep space. The Orion capsule was originally commissioned in 2006 for the defunct Constellation program.

Musk, Bezos

Those moves paved the way for technology chieftains including Musk and Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN) founder Jeff Bezos to pursue their own space ambitions. 

Musk founded Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX in 2002 with the goal of enabling people to live on other planets, a massive endeavor that would require innovations such as reusable rocket stages to lower costs. 

Mars is also in focus for NASA as the space agency maps plans to “pioneer the space frontier,” according to a May 29 white paper.

$22 Billion

NASA proposes an initial $22 billion effort that includes two other Orion missions over the next eight years and building a powerful new rocket. The Delta IV being used tomorrow is manufactured by United Launch Alliance, a Lockheed-Boeing Co. (BA) venture.

A new Space Launch System rocket being developed by the partnership is slated to hoist the next Orion craft beyond the moon in fiscal 2018, Lockheed’s Crocker said in a phone interview. The first manned Orion mission is slated for early in the next decade.
NASA’s plans are “sketchy” beyond that, aside from broad goals to capture asteroid samples in the 2020s and reach Mars a decade later, said Marco Caceres, director of space studies with Fairfax, Virginia-based consultant Teal Group. 

Average Distance

While Mars’s distance from Earth varies because of the two planets’ orbits, the average is about 140 million miles, almost 600 times longer than a trip to the moon. It’s so far that radio communications take as long as 20 minutes to travel each way, according to Bill Hill, NASA’s deputy associate administrator for exploration systems development. 


Entrepreneurs such as Musk will have opportunities to get involved as NASA refines capsule and rocket designs. NASA plans to develop two larger rockets beyond the initial launch vehicle, which will be capable of hauling a 70-metric ton payload. 

“We’re not taking any options off the table,” Hill said. “We want to be sufficiently flexible so that if we find a new path, we can introduce it and not change course.” 

Expense, shifting political priorities and the lack of a clear NASA road map could still derail the latest effort as they did the Apollo program in the early 1970s, said Micah Walter-Range, director of research analysis with the Space Foundation, a non-profit organization based in Colorado Springs, Colorado. 

“All of the challenges that exist are surmountable,” Walter-Range said by phone. “It’s just a question of having the money to do it.”

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