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!