A 40 Year Magnificent Voyage Continues

Voyager 1 launched 40 years ago today, September 5th 1977, from Cape Canaveral Florida.  I was only 9 years old when its sister spacecraft, Voyager 2, flew by Neptune and it’s largest moon Triton in 1989.  My parents called me downstairs to watch the evening news when it happened and I saw for the first time images from this far distant world called Neptune.

That was a defining moment for me.  The Voyager mission, with each of its long lived spacecraft, has brought all of us along on its Grand Tour of the outer solar system.  And while I only caught the end of the planetary mission, it inspired me to want to learn more about space and the planets, and it has been a thrill to watch as the Voyager spacecraft have ventured out into interstellar space.  It is a truly remarkable feat of engineering that these spacecraft have not only survived this long, but that they are still functioning and returning scientific data back to us here on earth.

Voyager for the first time, gave us close up views of all four giant planets in our solar system.  Saturn’s rings were revealed to us in greater detail than we had ever had before.  Uranus and Neptune, which we were only specs of light in our telescopes before, were revealed to us for the first time.  The moons of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune proved to be more complex and wonderful than we ever expected.  These moons, tiny worlds in their own right, continue to surprise us even today with their diversity and complexity.

Studying the worlds of this solar system has been an important part of my life ever since that moment when I was 9, watching the evening news and the first images of Neptune in my living room.  And the beauty is that we have only begun.  Neptune and Uranus call to us, awaiting a full scale “flag-ship” mission like Cassini or Galileo to explore them in detail.  And that doesn’t even scratch the surface of the number of worlds out there waiting in the Kuiper Belt, such as Pluto and Eris and countless others that I can’t wait to meet.

For more information, and continued coverage by NASA, check out their twitter feed @NASAVoyager.  Also there is a new documentary (I have not seen it yet, but I’ve heard it’s amazing) on PBS about Voyager, called The Farthest, which you should check out.

Space Out,

Eclipse 2017 Photos

Greetings Stellar fans.  As promised, below are are a few eclipse photos that I was able to take during Monday’s total eclipse of the sun.  I was in Idaho Falls, ID at the Museum of Idaho for the event and met several people from all over the world there including Canada and Australia and others.  (Incidentally, the museum has an excellent Space exhibit right now if you are in the area!)

I’ve included one before and one after totality, as well as one during totality.  The shot taken during totality had some issues, due to the shot being overexposed.  However, the result is still rather interesting as you’ll see below.  But not to worry, a coworker of mine took some truly excellent photos during totality from another location in Wyoming and has given me permission to post a link to his photos.

This was my first attempt to photograph an eclipse.  Indeed it was also the first total solar eclipse that I’ve personally witnessed.  I’ve never witnessed anything quite like it, it really took my breath away.  The sky went dark, the planet Venus came into view, the corona burst into view, and the temperature noticeably dropped; it was truly spectacular.  I’m already planning to see the next one in 2024, I’m hooked!

The shots below were taken using a Celestron NexStar 8SE telescope, with an EclipSmart solar filter, and a Canon XSi DSLR camera attached with a T-adaptor (image to the right).

The first shot below is just after the partial eclipse began.  Notice the disc of the moon beginning to cover the disc of the sun.  Several small sunspots are also visible in the view.

The partial eclipse begins. A few sunspots are visible in the center.


Below is the only shot that I got during totality.  I was so enamored with the spectacle in the sky that I goofed up the exposure, and over-exposed the shot considerably.  However, it still came out very interesting.  Notice that the craters of the moon are visible.  What you are seeing below is actually Earth-shine (Sun light reflected off of the Earth and onto the dark side of the Moon and then back to us again).  This happy-accident resulted in an interesting view of the eclipse that I haven’t seen elsewhere.  Even thought I didn’t get a good shot of the corona, I’m still pretty happy with this shot.

Shot taken during totality. The overexposure unfortunately washed out the corona, however it fortuitously gives a nice view of Earth-shine bringing the craters of the moon into view. ©Josh Elliott 2017

For some really amazing shots of the eclipse during totality, check out these shots taken by a coworker of mine.  There you can see several good prominences around the edge of the disc.

After totality, I took plenty of shots of the outgoing partial eclipse.  One such shot is below:

Outgoing partial Eclipse. ©Josh Elliott 2017

I hope everyone had an amazing Eclipse experience.  I certainly did.  I’m already gearing up for the next one in 2024!



Total Eclipse of the Sun 21 August 2017

Like many, tomorrow morning on Monday 21 August 2017, I will be outside watching the so called Great American Eclipse. This total solar eclipse will cross the entire continental united states from Oregon to South Carolina.

The internet is abuzz about this event, as well it should be!  But some of the information you find online may be incorrect or at the very least misleading. NASA has a page here debunking many of these misconceptions.  Below are some general viewing tips which hopefully will help everyone to have a good safe time viewing the eclipse.

Safety tip #1: Do NOT look directly at the with the naked eye or through a telescope or binoculars, unless you have the proper viewing equipment which I will describe below. Permanent damage to the eye can occur if you view the sun (at any time) with the naked eye. The only exception to this is for the brief few minutes of totality when the sun is 100% covered by the Moon. Then and only then can one look with the naked eye. And you can only do that if you physically are present somewhere along the path of totality. An interactive eclipse map from NASA will show you where that is. https://eclipse2017.nasa.gov/

First, let’s get the basics down. A total eclipse of the Sun is an event in which the Moon passes between the Sun and the Earth, totally blocking the bright photosphere of the Sun. The photosphere generates the intense bright light that we see in the sky. When the Moon completely blocks the Sun in this way, the outer atmosphere of the sun called the Corona becomes visible. While total eclipses are not particularly rare, they are very rare to see from any particular location on Earth due to the narrow path of the shadow of the moon as it passes in front of the Sun. That’s what makes this event so special for us the US, because we haven’t had a total eclipse like this in a very long time.

In order to see the total eclipse, you must physically be somewhere along the so called “path of totality”. Click the link above to see NASA’s interactive map showing this path as well as eclipse times. But even if you can’t make the drive to the path of totality, you can still enjoy a very good partial solar eclipse just about anywhere in North America, with the proper equipment.

Safety tip #2: Get the right equipment for a safe eclipse viewing experience. Got a cardboard box? Then you have the right equipment. I’ll explain below.

Perhaps the easiest way to view the partial eclipse leading up to totality is to grab a cardboard box, a piece of aluminum foil and some tape and make an eclipse viewer. NASA has a great video (see embedded video below for instructions) explaining how to do this. It’s extremely easy and will allow you to safely view the eclipse from anywhere.

Safety tip #3: If you can get your hands on a pair of eclipse glasses, you can view the whole by looking directly at the sun while wearing them. There have been reports of counterfeit glasses out there which may not be safe, so look for the ISO-compliant labeling as described here (https://eclipse.aas.org/eye-safety/iso-certification). Only ISO certified glasses are safe to use. There are many events at museums and similar venues throughout the country that have them for sale or for free. Don’t just buy them from some dude in a van, make sure you get them from a reputable source. In the absence of eclipse glasses, just use the pinhole box method listed above, you will still have a great experience.

Safety tip #4: Don’t use a telescope or binoculars unless you already know what you are doing. If you are a pro and you have the proper safety filters, etc. then you can ignore this warning. But for the general audience, if you were to look through a telescope at the sun without proper filtration, you could permanently damage your eyes. If you really want to see through a telescope, look in your area for an observatory or astronomy club that might be having an event where you can safely view the eclipse through a telescope. Safety first!

Good luck and have fun!


Spectacular Views Saturn’s Rings and Moons

Quick Saturn update.  I plan to post several articles about Cassini’s Grand Finale over the next few months.  For now just a small post to wet your appetite 🙂

Over the past few months, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has been in what are called the “proximal” orbits.  Cassini is now diving between Saturn and it’s rings, and this has allowed for some truly spectacular views of the rings and its moons.

Enjoy the images below.  Watch this space for updates as we lead up to September when Cassini will burn up in Saturn’s atmosphere.

Below is a close up image of the rings.  You can actually see straw-like clumps in the rings.

Credit: NASA/Cassini














Below is an image of three of Saturn’s moons up very close.  These moons are especially interesting because they have a noticeable accretion ring around their midsection.

Credit: NASA Cassini