Astrophoto Bucket List

After the eclipse on August 21st, I took a deep breath.  I spent a year focussed on photographing the eclipse, and with that goal complete, what was next?  I was in the plateau of the Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, a couple dozen miles from Yellowstone, and had three days to enjoy with my fiancee.  As luck would have it, those days were absent of any clouds, giving me two perfect evenings in clear, dark, dry skies to do some of the best astrophotography of my life.  Here’s what I shot. The milky way shot for me is a...

Ceres and Photoshop

NASA has been zeroing in on certain features of dwarf planet Ceres and looked at them in more detail.  Here are the most surprising as well as what we know so far. There are a few other great videos in this playlist, but the first one gives a great summary of what has been seen so far.  The most surprising and interesting feature of Ceres in my opinion has been the Occator crater.  With the enigmatic bright spots that have been observed since the Dawn spacecraft approached Ceres, we are seeing them in finer detail than ever before, and we...

Ceres Up Close

It’s mapping orbit #4 for the Dawn spacecraft as it orbits the dwarf planet Ceres.  Currently mapping at an altitude of only 385 Km, the images are stunning, and give a feeling of actually being on Ceres.  I can imagine the terrain, being in a crater, seeing the dark horizon off in the distance, the rocky-ice world untouched for Billions of years. It really reminds me of the Moon, with the powdery bright dust across the surface and craters dotting the landscape, yet when I see some of the close up craters, it feels very different from our familiar moon. ...

The Mystery Spot of Ceres

Since the arrival of the Dawn spacecraft in March of 2015, we have seen tremendous views of the dwarf planet Ceres.  Lying within the asteroid belt, it is revealed to be a frozen world of ice and rock, with many interesting features.  None of these features had generated more intrigue than the famous bright spot in the bottom of what is now called the Occator crater. The icy spot has had astronomers guessing for months whether it is a cryovolcano, water ice, frozen carbon dioxide, or something even more strange and rare. As the Dawn spacecraft has moved into a...

Space Rocks Hit Ceres With a Splat

It’s hard to do experiments in space.  It costs a boatload of money, takes years of preparation, and even then we can’t get much further than low-Earth orbit. But there is a cheaper alternative to understanding the universe.  We can perform experiments on Earth to simulate what happens far beyond our own planet. That’s just what scientists did at the Vertical Gun Range at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California.  They found that Ceres is likely a mish-mash of celestial bodies from several billion years of bombardment. Until March of this year, when the Dawn spacecraft entered orbit of the...

Planets to See: October 2015

The month of October has some promising sights for Astronomers and the public, though only if you are an early riser.  The intricate pre-dawn dance of the Planets Venus, Mars, and Jupiter continues from it’s initial soiree in September, with a couple of close passes throughout the month that are must-see.  Early on in the month, the waning crescent moon passes the group and gives us a perspective on the plane of the Solar System.  By month’s end, the planets will continue to shift around as they are joined by Mercury, slowly rising above the morning Sun.  Here are a...

What is in Occator Crater?

The short answer is….we don’t know.  It could still be a lot of different things, but take a look for yourself and see if you can figure it out. Here are the possibilities: Ceres is soon to make a descent to its lowest orbit for final mapping, and will be orbiting only 375 Km above the surface.  This will give the highest resolution data yet, and hopefully shed some light on the mystery of Occator crater. What do you think?

The Close-Up View of Ceres’ Mystery Bright Spot

The mysteries of the Occator crater on Ceres have continued to puzzle astronomers and the public, even as we have seen increasing resolution in recent photos.  The latest photos show a resolution of 140 meters per pixel and reveal striking details, though the jury is still out on what exactly the bright material is and where it came from. It seems incredibly likely that the bright spots are ices of some sort, maybe even water ice, since Ceres is a water-rich body, and may have more water than Earth!  One hypothesis is that Ceres has a subsurface layer of water,...

Ceres Full Maps

Since the Dawn spacecraft arrived at Ceres in March of this year, it has slowly been taking high resolution maps of the surface from several different altitudes. After each successive mapping run it moves into a closer orbit of the icy world for a higher resolution glimpse. After two successful mapping runs, we finally have a full high resolution topographic map of Ceres, revealing its cratered surface in unprecedented detail. With a quick look at the map, a couple of things become apparent immediately.  For one, the surface craters are quite deep, and consistent with an icy crust.  The size...

Ceres: Before and After

Remember a few months ago when excitement was high about seeing the surface of the dwarf planet Ceres for the first time with the Dawn spacecraft? Remember when the pictures were simple and blurry and looked more like a conspiracy theorist’s UFO pictures than another celestial body? Remember when I wrote about how cool it will be when we become the first humans in history, and the first form of life to ever see the surface of this object? The lead up to the Ceres encounter is well summed up in the NASA video from right before the encounter. I...