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The Astronomy Stop

Last Updated:    Sunday, December 10, 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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Most Distant Black Hole Yet Discovered.

A team of astronomers led by Carnegie’s Eduardo Bañados used Carnegie’s Magellan telescopes to discover the most-distant supermassive black hole ever observed. It resides in a luminous quasar and its light reaches us from when the Universe was only 5 percent of its current age — just 690 million years after the Big Bang.

 Quasars are tremendously bright objects comprised of enormous black holes accreting matter at the centers of massive galaxies. This newly discovered black hole has a mass that is 800 million times the mass of our Sun.

 “Gathering all this mass in fewer than 690 million years is an enormous challenge for theories of supermassive black hole growth,” Bañados explained.

 To grow black holes that big so soon after the Big Bang, astronomers have speculated that the very early Universe might have had conditions allowing the creation of very large black holes with masses reaching 100,000 times the mass of the Sun. This is very unlike the black holes that form in the present-day Universe, which rarely exceed a few dozen solar masses.

The Big Bang started the universe as a hot, murky soup of extremely energetic particles that was rapidly expanding. As it expanded, it cooled. About 400,000 years later (very quickly on a cosmic scale), these particles cooled and coalesced into neutral hydrogen gas. The Universe stayed dark, without any luminous sources, until gravity condensed matter into the first stars and galaxies. The energy released by these ancient galaxies caused the neutral hydrogen strewn throughout the Universe to get excited and ionise, or lose an electron, a state that the gas has remained in since that time. Once the universe became reionised, photons could travel freely throughout space, thus the Universe became transparent to light.

Click on image to enlarge to full resolution



Astronomy Image of the Month
: The Cosmic Snake

This NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image reveals the Cosmic Snake, a distant galaxy peppered with clumpy regions of intense star formation that appear warped by the effect of gravitational lensing. This giant arc-like galaxy is actually behind the huge galaxy cluster MACSJ1206.2-0847, but thanks to the cluster’s gravity, we can see it from Earth.

 Light from the distant, high-redshift galaxy arrives at Earth, having been distorted by the gigantic gravitational influence of the intervening cluster. Fascinatingly, instead of making it more difficult to perceive cosmological objects, such strong lensing effects improve the resolution and depth of an image by magnifying the background object. Sometimes gravitational lensing can even produce multiple images of the object as light is bent in different directions around the foreground cluster.

 Using Hubble, astronomers recently looked at several such images of the Cosmic Snake, each with a different level of magnification. Using this technique, the galaxy and its features could be studied on different scales. The highest-resolution images revealed that giant clumps in high-redshift galaxies are made up of a complex substructure of smaller clumps, which contributes to our understanding of star formation in distant galaxies.

Click on image to enlarge to full resolution.


Credit: ESA/NASA

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 12/10/17

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