Ring of Fire & Mars in the Night Sky
This Pending Cosmic Elegy


"Spirit", The robot Rover, has successfully landed on Mars!
(above) Photo #1
(below) Photo #2 and more to come, as NASA releases the imagrs.
I have colored these black-and-white NASA images myself -- m-c w.



A US space probe has landed on Mars to seek signs that the planet was once capable of supporting life. The six-wheeled rover Spirit parachuted on to the planet's surface at about 0435 GMT on Sunday. The rover sent back a radio signal shortly after touchdown which confirmed that it had survived the plunge through the Martian atmosphere.

The six-minute descent was the final and most daunting leg of the seven-month voyage from Earth. In the past, two out of three attempts to land spacecraft on the Red Planet have failed.

The European Space Agency is still searching for the missing British-built Beagle 2. The probe was supposed to land on Mars on Christmas Day but has not yet sent back a signal to confirm it has arrived safely.

Tense wait

Such are the risks of landing on Mars that Nasa had installed a system on the rover to send back information about the descent.

Mars rover, Nasa
Spirit targeted at Gusev Crater, possible ancient lake feature
Opportunity to land at Meridiani Planum, which contains minerals often associated with water
Spirit and Opportunity weigh about 17 times as much as the 1997 Sojourner rover
The landing sequence took the spacecraft from 19,000 km/h (12,000 mph) to a complete stop in six minutes.  A series of tones picked up by telescopes on Earth signalled that the vehicle's parachute and landing airbags had deployed properly.

Mission controllers at Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, smiled and cheered as the news came in.  After a nervous wait of about 20 minutes they received a radio signal from the rover confirming it was functioning.  Nasa chief Sean O'Keefe congratulated mission officials while scientists jumped up-and-down in jubilation.  "This is a big night for Nasa - we are back!" he said.


Field geologists

Spirit is one of a pair of rovers that will seek evidence for water on Mars. Its twin, Opportunity, will touch down on the other side of Mars in late January.

More Images of the red planet  from the NASA Rover website . . . just click on the image below to visit the NASA website.






The 545m rovers will roam the planet and examine rocks in a three-month mission to map out the history of water on Mars. Mission scientist Dr Steve Squyers, from Cornell University in New York said Spirit and Opportunity will act as robotic field geologists. "They look around with a stereo, colour camera and with an infrared instrument that can classify rock types from a distance," he said.

"They go to the rocks that seem most interesting. When they get to one, they reach out with a robotic arm that has a handful of tools, a microscope, two instruments for identifying what the rock is made of, and a grinder for getting to a fresh, unweathered surface inside the rock."

Spirit will explore the Gusev Crater, just south of the Martian equator, which may once have held a lake.

First image

Nasa officials said on Saturday that the rover was on course to land within a target zone 62 kilometres long by 3 kilometres wide. "The navigation status is truly excellent," said Dr Lou D'Amario, the mission's navigation team chief. The first picture of the landing site could be available within 24 hours of landing. "We could get part of a panorama this evening. There's nothing better," said Matthew Golombek of JPL.

Spirit will spend a week or more scanning its surroundings and carrying out engineering checks. Then it will roll off its lander and start exploring the surface of Mars.



Hubble Mosaic of the Majestic Sombrero Galaxy

The Sombrero Galaxy, an Image Captured by the Hubble Telescope     

October 2, 2003

The Hubble Heritage Team of astronomers, who assemble many of the NASA Hubble Space Telescope's most stunning pictures, is celebrating its five-year anniversary with the release of the picturesque Sombrero galaxy. One of the largest Hubble mosaics ever assembled, this magnificent galaxy has a diameter that is nearly one-fifth the diameter of the full moon. The team used Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys to take six pictures of the galaxy and then stitched them together to create the final composite image. The photo reveals a myriad of stars in a pancake-shaped disk as well as a glowing central bulge of stars.

Since its inception in 1998, the Hubble Heritage Project has released more than 65 images of dazzling celestial objects, including planets, dying stars, regions of star formation, clusters of stars, individual galaxies, and even clusters of galaxies. This has been done on a monthly basis.

The Heritage team of Space Telescope Science Institute astronomers and image processing specialists selects images from the Hubble Space Telescope's public data archive. This database contains approximately 500,000 raw images taken over the past 13 years. Although astronomers use Hubble to photograph numerous celestial objects, those results are usually shared with only the astronomical community. The Heritage team periodically combs the archive looking for interesting, but unreleased, pictures to become Heritage image candidates.

"Some of the photogenic objects that have been scientific targets often lack sufficient exposure across a range of colors," explains Keith Noll, the Heritage lead scientist. "In other archival images the telescope's field of view only covers a small, unrecognizable portion of the object, so we have to fill in the rest."

The Hubble Heritage Project has been granted a small amount of observing time to essentially "fill in the gaps" in these images. The Heritage astronomers also seek visually interesting objects in the universe that have not yet been selected for Hubble scientific observations. For the Sombrero galaxy, the Heritage program devoted a number of orbits to complete a photo mosaic of the object.

Public visitors to the Heritage website ( have also been invited to help select attractive astronomical targets. One overwhelming choice of the voters was the famous Horsehead Nebula in the constellation Orion the hunter.

The Heritage program has been recognized for its contribution to inspiring the public with some of the most photogenic images ever produced in astronomy. Recent achievements for the team include the Astronomical Society of the Pacific 2003 Klumpke-Roberts award for "outstanding contributions to the public understanding and appreciation of astronomy." In 2002, two Heritage images were selected in the Rochester Institute of Technology's "Images From Science" traveling gallery exhibit. Several images have been selected by the US and UK postal systems. In 2000, a first-class US postage stamp showing the Ring Nebula was one of five Hubble images selected to be part of a commemorative series of stamps honoring astronomer Edwin P. Hubble.

Hubble's new Advanced Camera for Surveys, and eventually the planned Wide Field Camera 3, promise to give the Heritage team an opportunity to share with the public even more opulent views of our colorful universe.

Release Date: 12:00AM (EDT) October 2, 2003
Release Number: STScI-2003-28


Ray Villard
Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, MD
(Phone: 410-338-4514; E-mail:


Mars in the Night Sky*
On the night of August 26 thru 27 Mars passed closer to us than it has in nearly 60,000 years.  (Click on photo left for "SKY & TELESCOPE" website.)
Because it is close to Earth in space, Mars looks like a dramatically bright "star" in the sky. Mars is well up in the southeast by about 9 or 10 p.m. during late August but earlier (soon after dusk) in September. It gets a little higher in the sky and shifts toward the south during the night. 
This proximity makes Mars look like a breathtakingly bright "star" in the late-evening sky. You can't miss it! For the remainder of August and all of September, Mars shines many times brighter than any other star in the summer sky. Anyone can see it, no matter how little you know about the stars or how badly light-polluted your sky may be. In late August, look for Mars glaring like a bright orange beacon low in the southeast at nightfall, and higher later in the night. In September it's high up as soon as twilight fades. By midnight Mars is at its highest, shining in the south. Most people will notice the planet's fiery yellow-orange hue, which is due to the rust-like iron compounds in Mars's surface.

The red planet will be precisely 34,646,418 miles (55,758,006 kilometers) from Earth, measured center to center, at 5:51 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time on the 27th. If you missed it Wednesday night, no problem. for all practical purposes, Mars will appear just about as big and bright for several weeks.

*Note:  Seen through a backyard telescope, Mars displays a mottled bright and dark appearance. Also seen is its white south polar cap, consisting of frozen water and carbon dioxide ("dry ice"). This August 2nd image is a composite of about 500 frames of video shot with a Celestron 14-inch telescope and a PlanetCam from Adirondack Video Astronomy. Photo Courtesy Johnny Horne.
More photos to be uploaded from the Hubble website as soon as they are available!  For further info, click on the image above for the astronomy journal, Sky & Telescope website and below for the Hubble Telescope website:

Hubble Telescope. The latest and greatest up-close shots of Mars.


Two New Moons Circling Uranus Are Discovered by Hubble Telescope - September 25, 2003

These images, taken with the NASA Hubble Space Telescope's Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS), show several faint moons circling Uranus, including a newly detected moon and a rediscovered satellite. The planet's ring system can also be seen.

The arrow in the frame at right points to one of two newly discovered moons, among the smallest moons yet found around Uranus. The moon is temporarily designated as S/2003 U 1 until the International Astronomical Union (IAU) formally approves its discovery. S/2003 U 1 is orbiting 60,600 miles (97,700 km) away from the planet. If the satellite is as dark as Uranus's other moons, it is 10 miles (16 km) across, about the size of San Francisco. The Hubble telescope spotted this moon orbiting between the moons Puck, the largest satellite found by Voyager, and Miranda, the innermost of the five largest Uranian satellites. Astronomers previously thought this region was empty space. S/2003 U 1 whirls around the gas giant planet in 22 hours and 9 minutes.

The arrow in the frame at left points to a rediscovered moon orbiting 750 miles (1,200 km) away from the moon Belinda. The moon was detected in Voyager images, but the finding needed confirmation by an Earth-based telescope. Some astronomers think that S/1986 U 10 was once part of Belinda and broke off during a collision with a comet. Once certified by the IAU, these new discoveries will raise the number of Uranus moons to 24. Thirteen of them orbit even closer to Uranus than the five largest satellites, which are hundreds of miles wide. The location of one of those five satellites, Miranda, is shown in the image. The satellite itself cannot be seen because its bright light has been blocked out. hubble2.jpg

Astronomers stretched the limit of the ACS to find the S/2003 U 1 and S/1986 U 10. The moons are 40 million times fainter than Uranus. Even with the high resolution and sensitivity of the ACS, astronomers had to overexpose the images of Uranus to pinpoint the moons.The images were made from a series of exposures taken Aug. 25, 2003. In order to show the faint moons in these images, the light from the much brighter Uranus has been blocked out. A separate but much shorter exposure of Uranus has been inserted into the images for reference. All the moons appear streaked because they were moving in their orbits during the long exposures. The white specks in the background are image artifacts.

Credit: NASA, M. Showalter (Stanford University/NASA Ames Research Center), J. Lissauer (NASA Ames Research Center)


Skywatchers See 'Ring of Fire'

an Annular Eclipse of the Sun




Skywatchers in the North Atlantic region were treated on Saturday, May 31, 2002 to an annular eclipse of the Sun.


Just after dawn, people standing in a broad path from Scotland to Greenland saw the Moon slip inside the Sun's disc to produce a "ring of fire" around the lunar limb. But the low position on the horizon for the event meant many people had their view obstructed by mist and cloud. The BBC's science correspondent, Pallab Ghosh, standing on a beach at  Unst in the Shetland Islands, had his big moment ruined by the British weather. "When the Sun started rising, there was great hope because there was a break in the cloud and looking through eclipse viewers we saw the Moon take a huge chunk out of the Sun. It was spectacular, the light had a rosy glow and we were hoping to see the ring of fire - but just at the crucial moment, the Sun and Moon passed up into the biggest bank of cloud you could imagine."


Dark Shadow


Because the Moon is currently more than 400,000 kilometres from Earth in its orbit, its apparent size in the sky is insufficient to completely cover the Sun's disc - as happens in a total solar eclipse.

The sky does not go completely black; a ring or annulus of sunlight is still visible.

The effect is to throw an "antumbra" or "negative shadow" on the Earth's surface as the Moon moves across the face of the Sun. It is the track of this antumbra that is referred to as the path of annularity. On Saturday, May 31st, this path touched down first on the Grampian Mountains of the Scottish Highlands at about 0345 (0445 BST). It then mvoed in a northwewtern trajectory, which stretched across Loch Ness, the Isle of Lewis (Outer Hebrides), Orkney Islands and Shetland Islands.


Partial Show

he track of the shadow took it through "the Faeroe Island at 0351 GMT, and the the  southeastern coast  of Iceland at 0359 GMT from Iceland , the shadow then raced across the Denmark Strait and bisected Greenland, lifting off into space from the Davis Strait the at 0431 GMT.

From start to finish, the antumbra's sweep across the planet lasted just 47 minutes. Those viewing outside the favoured zone were treated to a partial eclipse, in which the Moon just took a bite out of the side of the Sun's disc.

This was visible across a very much broader region, taking in most of Europe (except Spain and Portugal), the Middle East, as well as central and northern Asia.

There is a total solar eclipse this year on 23 November but it will only be visible from Antarctica. A partial eclipse will be visible though from parts of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.




An annular eclipse is one where the Moon is too small to cover the Sun completely, and leaves a proportion of the Sun showing. Annular eclipses can pass unnoticed because the remaining part of the Sun is so bright the environment is not noticeably dimmed.




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