A View From Mars

   I was looking at this picture from the other evening I got to thinking about the Rovers on Mars would see if they looked toward the Earth?

   So as you wonder about that question, here is a look at Mars, by NASA, from last century (I love saying that instead of many years ago!), using data from the first Mars Orbiters. Take a simulated fly over the Martian surface above Mariner Valley and the large Martian volcanoes. Appropriately titled “Mars, the Movie”.

   What would Earth look like from the surface of Mars?
Here is a picture of Earth taken by the Rover Curiosity.

   Here is what it looks like using Starry Night Pro 8+ software to model the view from the latitude and longitude of the Perseverance Rover landing site in Jezero Crater, (18.4446°N 77.4509°E).
(The viewing location is correct however for depicting the Martian surface my software uses a view at the landing site for the Sojourner Rover.)


Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for monthly observing information, or here to return to bobs-spaces.

Take a Deep Dive into Deep Space

   Take a deep dive into deep space at the DESI Legacy Imaging Surveys web site. This is an interactive display using a 10 trillion pixel composite picture of much of the night sky, based on different imaging data sets to create the image. The zoom-in is incredible as the billions of points of light resolve into galaxies, nebulae and other deep sky objects. Some of the datasets even show a spectral display. There are a number of ways to interact with the images including a way to flip back and forth between two images to watch for any objects in motion. Clicking on the screen will bring up options for joining a forum to ask or discuss what you are viewing. There are links to other information about that object or part of the sky.
   The video is a short tour of around Taurus and Orion.

This video doesn’t exist


Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for monthly observing information, or here to return to bobs-spaces.

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Have Some ‘Pie’ – View Some Planets

   Saturday March 14th, 3/14/2020, is perhaps better known as Pi Day given that 3.14, the value for Pi, is also the month and day number. Learn more about Pi and see what NASA has planned for this special day at the NASA Pi Day Challenge web site.
   Saturday the 14th, weather depending, is another day this year when you have a choice of planet viewing – all of the six visible planets in fact. In the early morning skies look east and southeast for a line-up of planets ranging from Mercury, to Saturn, Mars, Jupiter, and the 19-day old waning gibbous Moon. In the evening after sunset Venus shines brightly over the western horizon. Venus is near the outer ringed planet Uranus, but Uranus is not considered a naked-eye visible planet in most skies.
   Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn are all visible, but that’s only five visible planets. So where is the sixth visible planet?


Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for monthly observing information, or here to return to bobs-spaces.

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Holograms in Your Hand – An Unsolicited Review of the Merge Cube

   What to do on a snowed-in morning?? After shoveling the deck, driveway, and sidewalk of course!

   Learn more about the Merge Cube
   The Merge Cube is foam block with what looks like QR Codes on every side. WIth the Merge Cube software or App the device camera will project a 3D image onto the Merge Cube. Rotating the cube shows all sides or views of the object in what looks like a holographic image. So after seeing some posts about the Merge Cube and being the curious type I purchased a 2-pack of the Merge Cube. One for me and one for my granddaughter!

   The software (Apps) is in 2 parts and available for either Android or IOS, and PC or Mac.
   To download from the web site you do not have to commit to the trial. When selected the PC software comes from the Microsoft Store and installed on both my laptop and my desktop PC. The same downloads are available at the Apple Store. The cellphone Apps come from either the Google Play Store or the Apple Store.
Merge Explorer
Merge Object Viewer
Go to this web site for downloads:

The Hubble Space Telescope with the Object Viewer

Merge Cube Experiences (downloads)

   I’m not sure about the pricing for the additional Cube Apps, or objects from the Merge Cube web site. You could subscribe for a cost but there are some free alternatives from making your own to editing other designs to simply downloading.

   So far I have found two websites and a cellphone App for working with 3D images. Both are sources for 3D objects to purchase, download and or create or edit. Both can export objects that work with the Merge Cube.
Sketchfab (online) and PC, Mac, mobile (Android OS and IOS)
Tinkercad (online)

Solar System Viewed with the Explorer

   The Merge Cube is a handheld object so I wondered how it would be used in a group setting – assuming the audience will not be using a 3D viewer – the presenter is the only one ‘equipped’.

   Since the software is installed on my laptop I found out, duh, that it would work using the built-in camera. With that in mind simply hooking up to a projection system allows the audience to see the 3D object. These two screen grab pictures were taken using both programs. The Solar System using the Explorer and HST with Object Viewer. A sort of downside is that your face is part of what is projected as well!!

   Got a Webcam? I still have a couple of these and with a USB connection to my laptop or desktop PC the camera could be used to move around the cube rather then moving the cube in front of the camera. Not quite the same experience but it works!

   This could also work if the presenter is wearing a VR type viewer, either goggles or the cellphone holder type, if it is connected directly to a projection system or to a projection system via a connected PC. With a cellphone this may be using something like Chromecast. Again the audience would see what the presenter sees, but by way of the video projection.

Further Questions??
   Will the Merge Cube work if members of the audience all have 3D viewers but only the presenter is holding the cube?
Could they aim their respective cellphone toward the object and see it as 3D?
Is there a limiting distance between the camera and the merge cube?


Merge Cube with an Ipad tablet

   First thing I noticed is that I needed 3 hands! You have to hold the cube in one hand and then manipulate the image on the screen with the other hand. Trying to hold the cube in the camera field of view while then using your fingers on the other hand to zoom in or out, select labels,etc. at least for me was a challenge. The picture shows a kiddo using a tablet which makes more sense than using a cellphone because the tablet is stationary while a cellphone may not be. I use a mini-tripod for holding my cellphone freeing up my hands for ‘cubeing’.

Individual Users

   If a classroom already has 3D viewers like the Google Cardboard, or other makes, and assuming the kids have a cellphone with the App installed and each one has a Merge Cube then this could make for interesting learning experiences.

   Activity plans are available for download and reading but the few I looked at seemed rather light and were things I would think any Teacher using the Merge Cube would have already thought of doing or asking.

   To me the Merge Cube would be fun and engaging but I think the hologram technology is not quite ready for really good use in the classroom. What I am waiting for is a way to have a group experience where everyone wears a 3D Viewer and sees and hears an avatar, a graphic character or figure, representing each of the participants in the group. Imagine the field trip or classroom extension possibilities as you walk or swim along with your students or the audience.


Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for monthly observing information, or here to return to bobs-spaces.

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ISS This Morning

   This morning at approximately 5:42 am CST the International Space Station had a brief 3-minute flyover of my part of the world. It first appeared high over the northwest horizon and quickly passed the bowl of the Big Dipper coming close to Merak, the bottom front star making up the Big Dipper’s bowl. Look closely at the next to last line from the right. That is the stars of Coma Berenices (Berenice’s Hair), a small constellation named after Queen Berenice, one of the wives of Ptolemy III, of ancient Egypt.
   Less than a minute later, if that much, the ISS was setting in the southeast as it passed by Jupiter.
   Each picture is a stacked composite of several pictures. Camera was set to ISO 1600; F5.6; 3.2 seconds; 18mm.


Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for monthly observing information, or here to return to bobs-spaces.

NSTA @ Nashville

   I’m in Nashville Tennessee for the next several days at the NSTA national conference. Planets and stars will still be in the skies but not as easy to see from downtown Nashville as it is where I live. On the morning of April 1st the waning waning crescent Moon will be within a few degrees from Dwarf Planet Pluto. Too dim to be seen without a large telescope it is, nonetheless, a neat idea that when you look toward the Moon you are also looking in the direction of Pluto. It’s out there!
   And here is a sequence of graphics showing the pre-sunrise morning sky at 5:30 am EDT for each day during the conference, and one night view on April 1st showing Jupiter. Both Pluto and the Moon are located just above and to the left from the handle of the teapot asterism for Sagittarius the Archer.


Caution: Objects viewed with an optical aid are further than they appear.
Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.

Venus-Jupiter Conjunction – Behind the Scenes

June 30

June 30

   Have you been following the motions of the Venus and Jupiter in the evening over the western horizon. The two planets, one an inner planet (Venus) and the other an outer planet (Jupiter), have moved noticeably closer to each other with the closest on Wednesday July 1st at 2 UT. For my time zone, CDT, this was at 10 pm CDT on Tuesday June 30th. At that time they were separated by about 0.5o, about the diameter of the full Moon, or your finger held out at arm’s length. As the days passed the two planets moved apart.

rotating-earth_at-night   So what is happening?
Several things, all involving the motions of Venus, Jupiter, the Earth and the Sun’s apparent motion, and of course the Earth’s rotation. The latter, Earth’s rotation, is the cause of the apparent east to west motion that all celestial objects follow across your skies. Other than being aware of the setting times this sky motion is not a major part of the conjunction between Venus and Jupiter.

   Starting with the Sun we can see over time that the Sun appears to move eastward at a rate of nearly 1o each day, which is the result of the Earth’s orbital motion, aka revolution, of nearly 1o each day. Keep this daily rate in mind because the other planets each move eastward at their own respective daily rate based on distance from the Sun. Venus as an inner planet takes 224.7 days to orbit the Sun so 360o / 224.7 = 1.6o; Earth takes 365.25 days to orbit the Sun so 360o / 365.2 = 0.98o; Jupiter takes 4331 days to orbit the Sun so 360o / 4331 = 0.083o.
Planetary Fact Sheet from NASA.

   What the preceding paragraph boils down to is that Venus and the Sun will catch up with slower moving Jupiter and pass by Jupiter. Venus as a Sun orbiter will move out away from the Sun toward the East and at some point will curve around and head back toward the Sun. Jupiter as an outer planet only moves eastward (excluding when it or any outer planet is in retrograde motion). So the Sun will catch up with Jupiter coming between the Earth and Jupiter, officially on August 26th when Jupiter is at solar conjunction. Venus will also catch with Jupiter but due to Venus being an inner planet it will pass Jupiter twice – east bound and then west bound which is currently the direction Venus is moving. Venus will pass between the Earth and the Sun around the middle of August putting Venus at inferior conjunction.

   This animated graphic shows the sky at the same time and illustrates how the sky shifts toward the west due to Earth revolution as well as the changing positions of Venus and Jupiter. Were you to measure how much the sky shifts daily, by carefully observing the altitude of Regulus, for example, above the horizon and measuring this altitude each evening at the same time from the same location, you would see that Regulus has shifted westward about 1o daily. You may also noticed that Regulus was at its previous days position 4 minutes earlier. So the net effect is that as each day passes the two planets are lower and lower above the horizon, and setting closer and closer to the time of sunset.

   See some pictures of the two planets taken nearly daily since June 19th.


Caution: Objects viewed with an optical aid are further than they appear.
Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.

Comet ISON Simulator

Click on graphic to see it full size.

Click on graphic to see it full size.

   Here is a really neat interactive online Comet ISON simulator showing the path of Comet ISON from a space view of the inner solar system, and an Earth view – a Planetarium-like view of the horizon and starry sky where the comet is located. The simulator has a timeline along the bottom that highlights various points along the comet’s path including when it is predicted to become naked-eye visible.

Click on picture by Damian Peach to see it full size.

   The comet has brightened considerably as it approaches perihelion in less than two weeks. Here is a beautiful picture of the comet from yesterday by Damian Peach.

   Thanks to Universe Today and editor Fraiser Cain for the heads up on this Comet ISON addition to the online Solar System Scope simulator.

Caution: Objects viewed with an optical aid are further than they appear.
   Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.

Tracking Satellites: An App

   As a followup to my posting from yesterday I thought it would be worthwhile to do sort of a review of the things I use for planning photo opportunities for the ISS and Iridium Satellites. You have seen some of what is possible with them so the review will be more of a description and how I use it. So watch for these reviews over the next week or so.

ISS Detector Pro

ISS Detector Pro

   My posting yesterday included the App ISS Detector Pro, one of the programs I use for setting up a photo opportunity for the International Space Station, or Iridium Satellites specifically. This particular App is available for Android phones and Android devices such as what I use, a Kindle Fire HD. With that in mind I can only describe how it works on my ‘handheld’ device. (By handheld I mean web enabled and capable of running Apps or software – like cell phones, tablets, or other small screen device held in the hand as opposed to the typical laptop or notebook type of computer.)

bottom bar   An additional couple of features are located at the bottom of the locator display screens. Tap or click on the left button to go online with your default web browser to a web site describing the particular Iridium satellite or the ISS. The button on the right side brings up a map showing the current location for the satellite or the ISS and a plot of the orbital path relative to the Earth’s surface as the banner picture on the top of the page shows.
Top Bar   At the top of the locator display are some other things you could do with the information shown on the display. The 3 dots icon takes you where you could share by e-mail, or by social media sites, for example. You could add the event to your Google Calendar; the 3 vertical dots take to a configuration page where you have control over a variety of things.

   The slideshow below cycles through 3 screen shots from the ISS Detector Pro App: The Home page showing any sighting opportunities for the ISS and Iridium satellites; a locator for the Iridium flare; and a locator and path for the ISS.

   Click here to read about and see additional pictures of the ISS and Iridium flares.

                              Move the cursor over any picture to bring up the controls.

   Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.

Preview August Issue of Qué tal

voki   As the subject line states, the August preview issue of Qué tal in the Current Skies is now online and available at this temporary web address: http://currentsky.com/2013/aug13/index.html
   It will be at its regular web address in a few days.

   Thank you for your support and encouragement.
   Clear Skies…
   Bob Riddle

   Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information.