New Horizons made its historic fly-by of Pluto

Yesterday was a momentous occasion. July 14, 2015, will forever be known as the day New Horizons made its historic fly-by of Pluto. The closest it got to Pluto was 12,500 km from the surface, at 7:49 am EDT. At that time, 1,200+ executives, scientists, and guests counted down as it reached its closest approach. Later that night, the very same people cheered as they heard back from the intrepid explorer, signalling that it is safe and out of harms way. It is now moving away from Pluto at breathtaking speeds, marking humanity’s first encounter with the last unexplored traditional Solar System planet.

The picture below is one of many pictures it brought back for us, which revealed its unique surface features for the first time after many years of secrecy. Check it out:

Today, an image will be released by NASA showing a picture of Pluto up close and personal. I can’t wait!

Congratulations to the many people who worked on New Horizons ! ‪#‎PlutoFlyby‬


Catch The Latest Ardziv

Earlier today, the Armenian Youth Federation’s latest issue of Ardziv was released to the public. It featured articles from various contributors about Armenian Culture, the Armenian Genocide recognition efforts, and other editorials.

For this issue, I contributed an article about the history of Armenia’s involvement in the advancement of Astronomy focusing on two major Astronomers in the Armenian SSR and their observatory. You can find that on Page 15 in the link below.

In addition, I was surprised and humbled to see one of my images used as the cover image for this issue of Ardziv. It is a startrails image I took from my backyard. The image is made up of 516 frames, each frame was exposed for 5″, at f/5, and ISO-1600.

The link to the latest issue of Ardziv is below:

I would like to thank all those who were involved in the production of this issue of Ardziv. Everyone did a great job. I’m happy to see my article published in this issue, and I am grateful that my image was featured as the cover image for this issue. I hope everyone enjoys this magazine.


Keep looking up. You never know what you will find.



Two Bright Planets

I finished work at 6 pm today. At that time, the sky was clear, the sun is already 6-12 degrees below the horizon and Venus and Jupiter were shining brightly. I look at both planets, located in opposite sides of the horizon, and they both appear so bright. I wondered why, and came up with an answer.

Venus is many times closer than Jupiter, but they look similar in brightness. The reason why is because Jupiter is bigger and we can see more of it. Jupiter’s mass and radius is 1.89E27 kg (317.8 Earth Masses), and 69,911 km, whereas Venus is only 4.867E24 (0.815 Earth Masses), and 6,052 km respectively. Clearly, Jupiter is the larger planet, but (at closest point) is 588 million km away. Venus is the smaller planet, but is only (at closest point) 38 million km away. This means that they look similar in brightness when compared to each other.

Here is another example:

The sun is 1.9891 × 1030 kg, and 695,500 km in mass and radius respectively. The Moon is 7.34767309 × 1022 kg large and 1,737.5 km in mass and radius respectively. The sun is (clearly) the larger of the two, but when you put them on top of each other, such as during a Solar Eclipse, they look very similar in size.

For both cases, their actual distances and diameters vary greatly, but their angular diameter is similar. The angular diameter is the diameter of an object from a certain frame of reference. For example, the Moon is 31.075 arcminutes across, and the sun is 32 arcminutes across. Very similar in angular size, but greatly varied across the cosmic distances.

The next time you see Venus and Jupiter in the sky or a solar eclipse, Look at how different they are, but how similar they look. It’s will surprise you.


Keep looking up. You never know what you will find up there.



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End of Inner Planet Missions

Another year, another set of missions to monitor, and launch. However, we will be bidding adieu to two missions currently orbiting the inner planets Venus, and Mercury.


Venus Express needs a gas station

For those who don’t know, the Venus Express is a mission sent by the European Space Agency (ESA). The mission was sent to study the atmosphere, clouds, the plasma environment and the surface of Venus from orbit.

The mission was designed to last for 500 days, but the mission was extended 3 times.It lasted for eight years in orbit, completed all its scientific goals, and performed a dangerous aerobraking maneuver, which gradually brought the orbiter down 130 km above the surface. Unfortunately, On November 28, 2014, things took a turn for the bad as the ESA lost contact with the craft.

They did regain contact with the craft, but are receiving only little bits of information. Sadly, they discovered that it most likely ran out of fuel. On December 16, 2014, the ESA ended the mission leaving the probe to kiss the atmosphere until it burns up. That is expected to happen early January.This spacecraft provided a lot of information from its actions, and discoveries, which will be applied to the next generation of spacecrafts. The same fate is also going to happen to another inner planet mission, but unlike Venus Express, it got more time than expected.


MESSENGER propelled by coolant.

For those who don’t know, MESSENGER is a spacecraft sent to Mercury by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). It was launched into space on August 3, 2004. This mission is unique, because it is the second spacecraft to fly-by Mercury, and the first to orbit Mercury! It started collecting data on April 11, 2011, and finished its main goals in March 17, 2012. It completed its mapping of Mercury on March 6, 2013, and also completed its two extended missions.

After 10 years of being in space, travelling over 8 billion miles, taking over 255,858+ images, and completing 3,308 orbits of Mercury, its fuel is finally exhausted and is poised to impact Mercury early this year. Luckily, some engineering ingenuity gave it more time.

All its propellant is used up, and will eventually collide with Mercury, but its helium supply, used to pressurize the propellant, can be used to adjust its trajectory, delaying its fate by over a month. Despite its fate, it revealed to us many topics of interest.

Water ice was found in some of Mercury’s permanently shadowed craters. The atmosphere and weak magnetic field lines are influenced by the Sun. There is a lot more to discover, and that will be the job of future missions.


These missions have worked hard to provide data for us back on Earth, but with the conclusion of these missions means that the inner planets will no longer have any active orbiters present in their vicinity. The inner planets will not be monitored up close anymore. Hopefully, NASA, ESA, or any other space agency will soon launch another mission to Venus or Mercury to collect more data, and make more discoveries on these planets.


Keep Looking Up!







Rosetta Will Make History

On November 12, 2014, the European Space Agency (ESA) will deploy the Phillae lander from the Rosetta probe to land on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. This is a historic moment in space travel, because this represents the first time humans will have direct access to a comet’s material to study, and learn about the origins of our solar system, provided that everyone goes as planned.

For those who don’t know, Rosetta is a probe that was launched by the ESA on 2004. To get to its destination, it had to do many planetary gravity assist maneuvers, or swing-by’s, including a risky Mars swing-by nicknamed the “Billion Euro Gamble.” Along that time, it was mistaken to be an asteroid and observed two asteroids called 2867 Šteins, and 21 Lutetia. It was then put into hibernation for the rest of its journey to the comet.

The comet as seen by Rosetta from August 1-6.

From January 20 until August 6, after waking up from hibernation, Rosetta began a series of orbital corrections to bring itself into orbit around the comet. On August 6, Jean-Jacque Dordain, ESA’s Director General said, “After ten years, five months and four days travelling towards our destination, looping around the Sun five times and clocking up 6.4 billion kilometres, we are delighted to announce finally ‘we are here’[.]”

Rosetta started it’s deceleration maneuvers by moving itself in two triangular paths, each closer, to the comet surface, than the previous one. After descending to 30 km, on September 10, it entered into an orbit around the comet. After reaching orbit, it began mapping the comet’s surface to find possible landing sites for Phillae. It found many landing sites, but the ESA eventually chose landing site J, now known as Aghika, to land Phillae on.

Today, at 9:03 GMT (4:03 am EST) Phillae will separate from Rosetta and seven hours later at 16:02 pm GMT (11:02 am EST), it will land.

To see the mission so far, and what the future of the mission is, you can watch this video.

In the short film, Ambition, the master tells his apprentice a story about the Rosetta Mission: “So many things could have gone wrong. A failure at launch, an error in the calculations, collisions, so many unknowns.” Thankfully, nothing went wrong, and today, Rosetta is at the comet. Hopefully, it will succeed in its next milestone, and Phillae will give us access to the secrets of the early solar system. Godspeed!


UPDATE: It’s confirmed that the Phillae lander successfully landed on 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko.




First Ever Rocket Launch

A while back, I purchased a model rocket kit and its parts. During my time in Sudbury, Ontario, from August 1 to August 23, I built the rocket. It was a tall, slender rocket and it was built with care. I hoped to launch it before I returned to Toronto.

August 21, 2014, despite a forecast of rain and overcast, turned out to be a beautiful day. The clouds were scattered and fluffy, and the sky had a strong blue tint to it that day. It was a good day to launch a rocket into the atmosphere.

Pre-launch preparations

My dad did a lot of work to make this launch a success. He built the launch pad using a dull pink, circular, concrete slab, drilled a hole into it and placed a steel rod through the hole. Its design was to keep the rocket straight. If it wasn’t straight, it would be flying at an angle, and likely hit the ground and cause a fire. That was a bad idea under the scorching heat of summer.

While my dad built the launch pad, I prepared the engine for launch. It was a cylindrical cardboard box filled with a series of solid chemicals. When ignited, it should burn through the series of chemicals and then the parachute will land the rocket safely on the ground. The first chemical it will burn through is the propellant. For smaller rockets, it is made of black powder, or gunpowder, which had been used in early firearms. After the propellant has been burned, it ignites the delay charge, which delays the ignition of the recovery system. During that time, the rocket will coast all the way to the highest point in its flight, and then begin to fall back to the ground. The delay mechanism will then ignite the ejection charge, which will push the parachute outside of the nosecone, and deploy the parachute. If all goes well, it will launch, deploy the parachute, and land safely on the ground. I quickly attached the metal leads onto the rocket nozzle, keeping it in place with a plastic peg. I then slipped the engine into the rocket, and set the rocket aside.

With the construction work over, we decided to search for a good launch location. Launching just outside our home would run the risk of causing damage to my neighbours’ property. We decided to launch at the bottom of the cliff. There, we can have family members with a bird’s eye view of the launch, and we would be far away from anyone’s property. The launch location we picked was on top of a sand deposit, left behind by ancient glaciers. It’s the same kind of sand that can be found on beaches. Plant life has since taken over, but it’s empty and wet enough that a fire is unlikely. It was the perfect spot.

Launching the Rocket

When we arrived at the launch spot, we unpacked all our equipment, including a shovel, a jug of water, and a fire extinguisher. My dad placed the launch pad, and leveled it accurately. I carefully slipped the rocket into the steel rod, making sure nothing broke.

We then attached the two wires of the ignition system onto the rocket to prepare it for launch. After attaching a (purposefully) loose wire in my circuit, the rocket was finally ready for launch. My aunt and my brother were watching, and recording, from the cliff where I saw the conjunction, and the sunrise. We counted down for 15 seconds, eager to see the results of our hard work. With each second passing, my nerves were growing in anticipation of the imminent rocket launch. In 5…





I turned the circuit on, and stuttered “IGNITION!” At that moment, the rocket ignited. It flew into the late afternoon sky, disappearing in a sea of blue with only a white smoke trail left showing the flight path. After a few second, I saw it in the sky. The nosecone was just ejected and the parachute had deployed. Unfortunately, it didn’t fully deploy. It fell down faster than expected. After a minute of worry, it landed by a bunch of trees. My dad and I quickly ran to the landing site.

Thankfully, we found the rocket undamaged. The parachute had been tangled up in the mix, which is why it didn’t fully deploy. That will be a problem to correct later. We brought the rocket and all of our equipment back to the car. We also dumped the water into the sand.

We returned back home with our video footage, and equipment.

It was a successful experiment; we launched the rocket, and got it back with no damage to the body. Despite the parachute tangling up, the rocket launched and the nosecone ejected without any problems. I hope to be able to launch again with larger engines, and go higher with that rocket, and maybe build bigger and faster rockets in the future. The sky is never the limit in rocketry.

I have posted a video on Youtube. Here it is:




Early Morning Conjunction

On August 18, 2014, I learned that there would a conjunction of two very bright planets, Venus, and Jupiter. Luckily, it was a clear night, and I decided to stay awake until morning to observe that event.

Around 2 am, I looked around the viewing location, but I wasn’t able to find a good place to view the conjunction. Despite that, I decided to try and observe the event.

At 4:40 am, I began to take my telescopic equipment outside and I prepared my telescope to view the conjunction. I quickly aligned to the Moon, and got it ready to observe.

Looking at the Moon, I see it is a waning crescent, past the last quarter. After that, I noticed that the Pleiades were visible, and I aimed my telescope at it. It was great to see it again with and without my telescope. This deep sky object has an interesting mythology associated with them.

In the most famous myth, there were seven daughters of Atlas and the ocean nymph Pleione: Maia, Electra, Alcyone, Taygete, Asterope, Celaeno, and Merope. They were minding their own business, when Orion the hunter saw them and started chasing them. Luckily, Zeus intervened and turned the seven sisters into stars. Unfortunately, Zeus did the same for Orion, allowing Orion to chase the seven sisters until the end of time. That is why the Pleiades are also called the seven sisters.

After observing that deep sky object, I started to look for the spot where the conjunction will rise. Looking at at the horizon, and comparing it to the image on my phone, I realized that the conjunction will not be visible from where I was. I looked at another location, and I saw both planets rising above the horizon, through the trees. I quickly brought my telescope to that location and looked around for the planets. After a lot of fidgeting, trying to find it through the trees, I saw two dots in my telescope. I took a picture of it, but I wasn’t sure if it was the conjunction. Moving the telescope around, I was able to see both dots clear enough to reveal one of the dots moons. This confirmed that I was, in fact, seeing the conjunction of Venus and Jupiter.

Conjunction of Venus and Jupiter

Conjunction of Venus and Jupiter. The planet with the Moons is Jupiter.

It felt great to be able to see a unique event such as this meeting of two planets. I took many pictures of that event using my point and shoot camera. If anyone wants to see a conjunction as well, it’s not too late. There will be two more conjunctions, and both conjunctions will feature three celestial objects.

On August 23, 5:30 am, it will be the best time to see the conjunction of Venus, Jupiter, and the Moon. Here is an image of what it should like provided you have a clear view of the horizon. VJM conjunction Aug 23 2014

One week later, on August 31, at 9:20 pm, Saturn, Mars and the Moon will also meet up really close to each other. Here is an image of what it should like provided you have a clear view of the horizon. SMM Conjunction Aug 31, 2014

It is definitely worth viewing, especially if you can view the sun at the horizon. After I finished imaging the conjunction, I decided to pack up my scope and bring it inside. Once that was done, I decided to stay up and watch the sunrise.

With a foldable chair in hand, I went to a small cliff near my house, where there was a clearer view of the conjunction, and the night sky. It was beautiful. The factories beyond the cliff were covered in fog, and the rest of the cliff had a stream of fog surrounding it. It felt surreal. I spent an hour there watching the fog come and go, watching the planets hide behind a brightening sky, and watching the sun rise. It was worth staying up to see. After watching the sun rise, I went back home and soon after went to 2

photo 4photo 5It was a wonderful night. I was able to see the late night Moon, a mythical set of stars, and the close encounter of two notable and bright planets. As a bonus, I saw the sun rise above the horizon, and bring an end to the night. I encourage anyone that wants to try and observe these night sky objects and events to do so. If you have any questions for me, please let me know in the contact form at:

Good Luck and Happy Observing!

The Orange Moon

During the night of August 7-8, I saw the moon in a way that is rarely seen. The moon was a bright orange-red colour in the night sky. At the same time, there were very little stars visible in the night sky, for some reason. It was quite perplexing why, but I decided to not worry about it and to focus on the Moon that night.

The Red Moon

The Red Moon


Many months ago, I was working on RASC’s (Royal Astronomical Society of Canada’s) Explore the Universe certificate program. My progress with the certificate stagnated for a while, and after realizing that I didn’t document when and with what I saw each celestial object with, I learned that I cannot use my current observations towards my certificate. Therefore, I had to start over again. It was heartbreaking to start again after working hard to find and observe those objects.

Despite that setback, I found a great opportunity to view this strange, yet beautiful moon. I quickly aligned my telescope to the Moon and I began looking at the features of the Moon. Last time I explored the Moon’s surface features, the moon was a waning crescent, which made it difficult to find all the surface features (mares, and craters) necessary. Here is a link to the previous blog post chronicling that night. During this night, the Moon was coming very close to its full phase, which meant that more surface features were visible and it would be easier to find them.

Since I had done this before, it was easy to find the mariae I found during my previous search, such as Oceanus Procellarum, Mare Insularum, and Mare Imbrium. I also found Crater Copernicus and the Crater Plato. After finding those mariae and craters, I went on to find other features that were in the dark side the last time I observed the Moon in its waning crescent phase. Here is an interactive map of the Moon to follow.

On the Moon, beside Mare Serenitatis is Mare Tranquilitatis, where Apollo 11 first touched down on the Moon. I then found Mare Crisium, which is located North-East of Mare Tranquilitatis. It quite perplexing how all the Mariae’s regolith contrasts with the regolith surrounding the mare. From my research, I learned that the formation of the Mariae started 3.9 Gyrs (Billion years) ago. At that time, the Moon’s crust had solidified and was being bombarded by many asteroids. Then there was a large volcanic event which flooded the plains with magma. It’s unclear why the mariae are concentrated in the near side but one theory suggests that the near side’s crust is thinner than the far sides, which made it easier for volcanoes to erupt at the near side. Another theory suggests that since the Earth and the Moon were closer to each other (10x closer) when they were formed, the hot Earth heated the near side, which delayed its cooling process. Whatever the reason, I’m glad humanity has the opportunity to see the mariae.

After finding many mariae, still not finding enough of the mariae on the list, I went back to Mare Imbrium to look for other mariae. I soon realized that north of the Plato crater there was Mare Frigoris, also known as the Sea of Cold. Looking at my list, I found the required number of mariae on the list for the certificate. I then moved onto finding the required numbers of craters.

It was considerably harder to find the craters on the Moon as most craters, unlike mariae, are not as recognizable, however, I was up to the task. After finding Crater Copernicus and Crater Plato, I found Crater Kepler, which was not on the list. I then found Crater Tycho, which looks similar to Crate Copernicus. In my previous attempt at looking at the Moon, Crater Tycho was hidden in the dark side of the terminator, which divided the Moon between the illuminated and the unilluminated side.

I then found Crater Aristarchus, which was also not on the list. After finding that crater, I was able to find three more craters to complete the requirements of my list. They are Craters Ptolemaeus, Aristoteles, and Posidonius. After finding Crater Posidonius, I finished most of the lunar requirements of my list. It felt great to finally start that certificate again.

Since the night sky was so hazy for some reason, I wasn’t see anything else, and as a result, I decided to pack up my equipment and bring it back to my house. It was a successful night of observing. I saw a beautiful red Moon, and identified many of its features. One thing that made today unique was the hazy red moon. After some research, I realized that the moon was red because of the smoke from the Northwest Territories Wildfires moving down towards Ontario. It was intriguing how events far away can effect us back home.

Happy Observing!

Magnetic Fields: From the Sun

It’s not just the planets that have magnetic fields. The Sun also has a very large and dynamic magnetic field.

The sun’s magnetic field is formed much like on Earth and Jupiter. There are convection cells that bring heat from the sun’s heat sources to the surface. These convection cells, and the sun’s rotation period of 25.4 Earth days produce the sun’s magnetic fields. However, there are many notable differences.

These granules on the sun are convection cells.

The sun is over 12,000 times larger than the Earth, which means that its magnetic fields are larger as well. It’s so large, it extends past the orbit of Pluto. However, it isn’t a solid object, like Earth. The sun’s material is mostly plasma, which works like a gas; like Jupiter. This means that the sun experiences differential rotation, where the equator rotates faster than the poles. On the sun, its Equator rotates every 25.4 days, but its poles rotate every 29 days. This video will demonstrate what that does to the sun.
When the sun rotates, the equator stretchs the magnetic field lines towards the sun’s direction of rotation, and it will keep stretching it until they snap like rubber bands. When they snap, they release the energy in the magnetic field and the magnetic field lines pop out of the sun. These magnetic field lines cause the charged particles from the surface to become trapped along the magnetic field lines. Those trapped particles are called prominences. In addition, Sunspots are formed where the magnetic field lines poke out and in, when the charged particles are lifted from its surface. That is why sunspots are common during periods of high solar activity, like the Solar Maximum.

Eventually, the magnetic field lines will reconnect with each other, and release a lot of energy, leading to large solar flares, and coronal mass ejections. At the same time, the polarity of the magnetic fields will reverse. When the flip is complete, the sun’s magnetic field will drop to zero, reappear in its reversed polarity, and start the process again. This process occurs every 11 years and after each cycle, the poles reverse.

Today, there is evidence that the Sun’s magnetic field is in the process of flipping after a chaotic solar maximum. Once the flip is complete, the process starts again.

Here is a video that talks about the sun and its solar cycle by NASA:



Thank you for reading! For my next topic, I want to hear from you. What do you want me to write about next time? You can respond by going to the contact form at:  Thank You.


Coursera Lecture 6.6





The Tetrad of Lunar Eclipses

Taking a break from magnetic fields, I wanted to talk about a very rare event that started taking place on Tuesday, April 15, 2014. The first of four lunar eclipses took place that night. This is a rare event as this tetrad of eclipses will occur six months apart from each other; the first one on April 15, 2014, the next on October 8, 2014, the third on April 4, 2015, and the last one on September 28, 2015. All of the eclipses will be visible from North America.

All these eclipses will be total eclipses. That is when the entire moon is completely engulfed in the Earth’s shadow. This is the most spectacular eclipse as the whole moon turns a bright red, reminiscent of a sunset. This is also called the blood moon. The next kind of eclipse is a partial eclipse. This is when the Moon crosses into the Earth’s umbra, but is not completely consumed by it. The last and least noticeable is a prenumbral eclipse. The Moon enters the Earth’s prenumbra, but doesn’t cross into the umbra. This is a very subtle eclipse. The most one will notice is a drop in brightness. Luckily for us, all the eclipses during this tetrad of eclipses will make the moon glow red. But why red?

That is because, when the sun obstructs the Earth, most of the light is being blocked, but the light hitting the atmosphere is bending towards the Moon. While that occurs, the atmosphere is also scattering the shorter wavelengths of the spectrum into the atmosphere, leaving behind the red wavelength, which is the longest and the least likely to scatter. This is why the moon looks red during a lunar eclipse, and this is why sunsets are red.

Unlike a solar eclipse, this eclipse is safe to view without any eye protection, and it is visible across a whole continent, whereas solar eclipses are visible in a thin, 250 km region during its path. That will be another post…

Thank You for reading.