Tierra Del Sol

Home Sweet Observatory Row


The SDAA maintains a 10 Acre compound east of San Diego for outreach and research purposes. This picture was taken by a club member as he flew over the compound. The buildings in the top left of the image are observatories. To the right are three roads which provide access to private pads (overnight sites) where members setup telescopes. At bottom left you will see two long concrete rows which are known as the public pads.

The site is open to the public once a month, and I highly recommend visiting if you can and take a look at the sky with this 22″ club scope.

Amazing views, lovely quiet back country, and welcoming astronomers to help you see the stars, the moon, and 9 planets.

New Horizons Spots Nix and Hydra

With each passing day New Horizons closes in Pluto and sends back more detailed information about the planets moons. The latest imagery is a time lapse stack of images showing the faint glow of light from the moons Hydra and Nix.

The moons Nix and Hydra are visible in a series of images taken at distances ranging from about 125 million to 115 million miles (201 million to 186 million kilometers). The long-exposure images offer New Horizons’ best view yet of these two small moons circling Pluto, which Tombaugh discovered at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, on Feb. 18, 1930.

Hydra - Nix - Time Lapse Movie

“Professor Tombaugh’s discovery of Pluto was far ahead its time, heralding the discovery of the Kuiper Belt and a new class of planet,” says Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator from Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colorado. “The New Horizons team salutes his historic accomplishment.”

Assembled into a seven-frame movie, the new images provide the spacecraft’s first extended look at Hydra (identified by a yellow diamond) and its first-ever view of Nix (orange diamond). The right-hand image set has been specially processed to make the small moons easier to see.

“It’s thrilling to watch the details of the Pluto system emerge as we close the distance to the spacecraft’s July 14 encounter,” says New Horizons science team member John Spencer, also from Southwest Research Institute. “This first good view of Nix and Hydra marks another major milestone, and a perfect way to celebrate the anniversary of Pluto’s discovery.”

Read the complete article at the: New Horizons Website

The Most Astounding Fact

Neil DeGrasse Tyson born October 5, 1958) is an American astrophysicist, cosmologist, author, and science communicator. Since 1996, he has been the Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium at the Rose Center for Earth and Space.

Best viewed Full Screen

“To Build A Home”
Cinematic Orchestra

There is a house built out of stone
Wooden floors, walls and window sills
Tables and chairs worn by all of the dust
This is a place where I don’t feel alone
This is a place where I feel at home.

And I built a home
for you
for me

Until it disappeared
from me
from you

And now, it’s time to leave and turn to dust……..

Out in the garden where we planted the seeds
There is a tree as old as me
Branches were sewn by the color of green
Ground had arose and passed its knees

By the cracks of the skin I climbed to the top
I climbed the tree to see the world
When the gusts came around to blow me down
Held on as tightly as you held onto me
Held on as tightly as you held onto me……

And I built a home
for you
for me

Until it disappeared
from me
from you

And now, it’s time to leave and turn to dust……..

Comet Lovejoy

Last week I headed out for a 6 day run at the observatory to shoot comet Lovejoy ( C/2014 Q2 ) . The observatory is located about 80 miles east of San Diego at 3800 feet in high desert terrain. Typically the wind blows quite a bit and to put together a few good nights of data, you need to be out there a week or so. This time was no exception, as we experienced 30 knot winds the first two nights of my stay.

On the third night the winds calmed, the sky settled, and I was able to gather about 8 hours of shooting which resulted in this movie of the comet which last about 30 seconds.


C/2014 Q2 (Lovejoy) is a long-period comet discovered on 17 August 2014 by Terry Lovejoy using a 0.2-meter (8 in) Schmidt–Cassegrain telescope. It was discovered at apparent magnitude 15 in the southern constellation of Puppis. It is the fifth comet discovered by Terry Lovejoy. What I love about this is that Terry used a small telescope to make his discovery, and he has made several others. Just goes to show that the amateur community still has the right stuff to make discoveries.

This comet has an orbit that takes it around the sun over a 8,000 year period. That’s crazy but true. We are very fortunate to be alive at just the right point in history to see the comet, capture pictures of it, make a short movie of its motion, and then wish it well until it returns 8000 years from now. I wonder if anyone will be here to see it when it returns.

You can still see the comet visually without aid, but a set of binoculars really work well to see the core.

Checkout this chart from Sky & Telescope

Now get out there and look up!

A Low Cost Space Lane to Mars

Down the road a bit, we Earthlings will become Marslings. Before the first colony is  established on Mars quite a bit of work will be done to prepare the way for the first settlers . Currently there are thousands of really bright people working on the challenges of reaching Mars. A recent article on ArXiv (at the Cornell University Library) proposes a new way to get there and the best part is that it allows us to launch a mission at anytime and cuts 25% of fuel requirement to do so.

Researchers Edward Belbruno and co-author Francesco Topputo have published a paper detailing this new path to Mars, and the physics behind it. The paper Earth–Mars Transfers with Ballistic Capture , provides a detailed proposal that offers a number of advantages for Mars missions.

Quoting the authors,

This includes substantially lower Dv at higher altitudes, flexibility of launch period from the Earth, gentler capture process, first transferring to locations far from Mars offering interesting new approaches to Mars itself, being ballistically captured into capture ellipses for a predetermined number of cycles about Mars, and the ability to transfer to lower altitudes with relatively little penalty. The initial capture locations along Mars orbit may be of interest for operational purposes.


It is interesting to note that this method has the advantage of allowing a mission to launch at anytime without the usual requirement of waiting for the planet to be in the right position in its orbit using the Hohmann transfer method. This sets up the ballistic capture transfer method as the go to approach for Mars supply missions as they could be launched monthly, creating a supply chain to Mars.

For manned missions this method does require 4-8 months of added time to a typical mission, and this extended mission requirement comes with a host of concerns such as the radiation exposure, added on-board supplies for the travelers, and of course the stress of spending long periods of time in the tight confines of the spacecraft.

While it may not be the best option for manned flight, the ballistic capture transfer method could work well for supplying the Marslings.  The establishment of supply lines to support a colony is nothing new. What is new is the challenge of doing it in space. We know how wagon trains supplied the early settlers of America, the next step is just a planet away.

Ad Astra!

ArXiv: Earth–Mars Transfers with Ballistic Capture

Scientific American: A New Way to Reach Mars

Geminid Meteor Shower

It’s the most wonderful time of the year — for spotting a Geminid meteor! The 2014 Geminid meteor shower is forecast to be a lively meteor shower with great views in the skies over Earth. The week of Dec. 8 is a good window for Geminid-watching, but the night of Dec. 13-14 is the anticipated peak. Best viewing will be in dark sky locations, away from city lights.

Geminids are pieces of debris from an object called 3200 Phaethon. Long thought to be an asteroid, Phaethon is now classified as an extinct comet. Basically it is the rocky skeleton of a comet that lost its ice after too many close encounters with the sun. Earth runs into a stream of debris from 3200 Phaethon every year in mid-December, causing meteors to fly from the constellation Gemini. When the Geminids first appeared in the early 19th century, shortly before the U.S. Civil War, the shower was weak and attracted little attention. There was no hint that it would ever become a major display.

On Dec. 13, Cooke and a team of astronomers from Marshall Space Flight Center will host an overnight NASA web chat from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. CST, answering questions about the Geminid meteor shower. The Geminids are expected to peak just before dawn on Dec. 14, with a predicted peak rate of 100 to 120 meteors per hour.

To join the webchat on Dec. 13, log into the chat page at: http://www.nasa.gov/connect/chat/geminids_2014.html

A few minutes before the chat, a chat window will be active at the bottom of the page.

In addition, a Ustream feed from a telescope at Marshall will be available: http://www.ustream.tv/channel/nasa-msfc

New Horizons at Pluto’s Doorstep

The Kuiper Belt object, Pluto since its discovery in 1930 has revealed little about its characteristics. The NASA/JPL probe New Horizons is now one month away from the start of mission observations of the dwarf planet.

New Horizons has been travelling to Pluto for nearly 9 years. After  a journey of more than 8 years the spacecraft was wakened from hibernation for the last time on December 6th, and is now in the process of preparing all of its sensors for active science operations.

The hope of the mission team is that all of the sensors will work flawlessly over the next 12 months as the spacecraft approaches Pluto, and its 5 moons. Scheduled to flyby Pluto within 7700 miles in July, the craft is currently 130 million miles from its encounter.

The team of scientist and Post Doc researchers hope to answer many questions about Pluto such as:

  • Is it a planet?
  • Are there more than 5 moons?
  • Does it have active surface features?
  • What does it look like?
  • What type of atmosphere does it have?
  • Does it have seasons?

There is concern that as the craft approaches the tiny planet and its moons that obstacles might lay ahead  that could destroy the craft. The team will be performing sensor studies of the path ahead to identify potential obstacles such as dust, tiny debris the size of pebbles, or other potential hazards. If anything is found the craft has enough fuel onboard to adjust the trajectory and avoid hazards.

At the completion of the flyby, the craft will continue to fly on into the Kuiper belt. The Hubble Telescope helped identify several potential targets for New Horizons over the summer. The mission team has yet to pick the follow on target, preferring to stay focused on the mission at hand. Congress would need to allocate funding for the follow on mission.

To learn more about the mission and its current location in space goto:

New Horizons Mission Page





Asteroid Types

  • Asteroids; traditionally, most have been bodies in the inner Solar System.[6]
    • Main-belt asteroids, those following roughly circular orbits between Mars and Jupiter. These are the original and best-known group of asteroids or minor planets.
    • Near-Earth asteroids, those whose orbits take them inside the orbit of Mars. Further subclassification of these, based on orbital distance, is used:[12]
      • Aten asteroids, those that have semi-major axes of less than one Earth orbit and aphelion (furthest distance from the Sun) greater than 0.983 AU.
      • Amor asteroids are those near-Earth asteroids that approach the orbit of the Earth from beyond, but do not cross it. Amor asteroids are further subdivided into four subgroups, depending on where their semimajor axis falls between Earth’s orbit and the asteroid belt;
      • Apollo asteroids are those asteroids with a semimajor axis greater than Earth’s, while having a perihelion distance of 1.017 AU or less. Like Aten asteroids, Apollo asteroids are Earth-crossers.
      • Apohele asteroids orbit inside of Earth’s perihelion distance and thus are contained entirely within the orbit of Earth.
    • Earth trojans, asteroids sharing Earth’s orbit and gravitationally locked to it. As of 2011, the only one known is 2010 TK7.[13]
    • Mars trojans, asteroids sharing Mars’s orbit and gravitationally locked to it. As of 2007, eight such asteroids are known.[14]
    • Jupiter trojans, asteroids sharing Jupiter’s orbit and gravitationally locked to it. Numerically they are estimated to equal the main-belt asteroids.
  • Distant minor planets; an umbrella term for minor planets in the outer Solar System.
    • Centaurs, bodies in the outer Solar System between Jupiter and Neptune. They have unstable orbits due to the gravitational influence of the giant planets, and therefore must have come from elsewhere, probably outside Neptune.[15]
    • Neptune trojans, bodies sharing Neptune’s orbit and gravitationally locked to it. Although only a handful are known, there is evidence that Neptune trojans are more numerous than either the asteroids in the asteroid belt or the Jupiter trojans.[16]
    • Trans-Neptunian objects, bodies at or beyond the orbit of Neptune, the outermost planet.