Returning America to Space

NASA announcements, two days in a row, indicate America may be back on track in the human exploration of space. Both are good news for ATK, which builds its solid-fuel rocket motors in Utah. But don’t run to the dollar store for party hats and confetti just yet.Tuesday’s announcement was that NASA will work with ATK to study a proposed new rocket called Liberty that would service the … Continue reading»

The Shape of Things to Come?

For the first time in more than 50 years, NASA lacks a program to launch explorers into space. And, more to the point just now, to get them back. [Thursday’s static test firing of ATK’s next generation booster at Promontory, Box Elder County. Photo by Joe Bauman]Astronauts Ron Garan and Mike Fossum are temporarily stuck on the International Space Station because a Russian Progress supply rocket — similar … Continue reading»

Meet Comet Discoverer Gordon Garradd

For us comet lovers, one of Gordon Garradd’s discoveries is the coolest such object up there, just now. Comet Garradd (formal designation C/2009 P1) has been plowing along toward the sun, growing more impressive by the night. This comet seems to like globular clusters, those big round collections of ancient stars. It cruised close to globular cluster M15 from the morning of Aug. 2 through the morning of … Continue reading»

A Fabulous Space Telescope — If It Flies

What weighs more than seven tons, sports a chief component made of toxic metal mined in Utah, folds up like a gigantic complicated parasol, and promises to peer back 10 or 12 billion years to photograph the first galaxies? The James Webb Space Telescope. [NASA illustration of the James Webb Space Telescope in position about 1 million miles from Earth. The sunshield, shown in blue, is nearly the … Continue reading»

A Comet Movie

In August 2009, the Australian astronomer Gordon J. Garradd was working on a sky survey at the Siding Spring Observatory near Coonabarabran, New South Wales, when he discovered a comet. Comet discoveries aren’t unusual for Siding Spring; the observatory found no fewer than a dozen that year, two of them by Garradd. [One of the black-and-white images of Comet Garradd that I took Saturday morning]The Starry Night Pro … Continue reading»

A WISE Investment in Astronomy

Last week, astronomers at the Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics, Potsdam, Germany, announced they had discovered two brown dwarf stars 15 light-years and 18 light-years from Earth, among the closest such objects known.According to the institute, “Ralf-Dieter Scholz and his AIP colleagues used the recently-published data of the NASA satellite WISE (Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer) for their discovery.” The brown dwarfs, often called failed stars, were detected because they … Continue reading»

Stellar Times at Bryce

Imagine you’re at 8,700 feet elevation. It’s the new moon, meaning no blazing orb to wash out delicate astronomical features. A small storm has swept through a few days ago, clearing the air of dust. That’s Rainbow Point, Bryce National Park, on Friday night-Monday morning. It was the best astronomical viewing I’ve ever experienced. The overlook, on the park’s Kane County side, hosted a dozen or two telescope … Continue reading»

Dark Nights, Cosmology and Bryce Canyon

RUBY’S INN, Garfield County – As scores attending a national astronomy convention waited for the next talk, a man in the audience mentioned to his next-chair neighbor that among his telescopes is a “ten-inch Dob.” That was a nice coincidence, as the next talk was by an almost 96-year-old Dob – none other than John Dobson himself. [John Dobson addresses the convention via videotaped comments. Photo by Cory … Continue reading»

Great News for Spaceflight and Utah?

Fabulous news may be coming soon for the U.S. space program and Utah’s aerospace industry, assuming a report on an Internet site specializing in spaceflight coverage is correct. Nightly News is loath to pick up information from other news sites, but this seems so important and the sources quoted are so far beyond my reach, that no alternative is available. On June 16 the site NASASpaceFlight.com reported that … Continue reading»

Supernova!

Thirty-one million years ago, in a star-forming region of an outer arm in what we know as the Whirlpool Galaxy, a supergiant yellow star exploded. Around May 30, light from the explosion reached our neck of the Milky Way Galaxy. A French amateur astronomer, Amde Riou, detected the supernova on May 31. Before the cataclysm, the vast star, estimated at 18 to 24 times the mass of our … Continue reading»