News The Sky Questions Photos
DownRoute +
Links Apps
Astro Nav Features Contact
 Sun  Moon Planets  Comets  Meteors Aurora Atmosphere Space Camera
All Aviation Authorities used to require Transport Pilots to have a working knowledge of Celestial Navigation. How much Astronomy do you remember?

[Jul 2015 Quick Map]
Jack Newton Solar Eclipse
Above the UK, over the North Atlantic Ocean, was a Total Solar Eclipse 20 March 2015. Here is an amazingly detailed link from Dr. Glenn Schneider of the Steward Observatory, Arizona. [Schneider]
Noctilucent Cloud Season: SOON

But why not try Aurora? [+]

Aerobility Aurora charter. Wait list 2016. UK 0303- 3031230. [2014] . [2015]

Next:  Spring 2016

NASA Grail uncovers hidden rift valley system on Moon [+]
Why contribute? A selected Question or submitted Photograph each month may receive a FREE and AUTOGRAPHED book "Star Trails" by David Levy. [more] (Sorry. Currently no books are available. Out of stock. Please accept a "thank you" in its place).
Did you see Comet Panstarrs C/2011-L4? It put on a few good weeks in March 2013 if you had a clear western horizon. Next, comet? [More]

Did you see Comet Lovejoy C/2011 W3? Only visible before sunrise near Christmas from the Southern Hemisphere [more] [wiki].Comet ISON may look like this with your naked eye in November and December this year!

Photos and information releases from ESA's Rosetta probe orbiting Comet 67P. Will the crashed Philae Lander come back to life? The comet is warmest 13 Aug 2015 when it is closest  to the Sun. [ESA]  [67P]

Photos and information releases from NASA's Dawn probe orbiting Ceres starting February 2015. [NASA]  [Ceres]

Photos and information releases from NASA's New Horizon probe approaching Pluto. Pluto is visited by the NASA space probe NJew Horizons August 2015. [NASA]   [Pluto]


Where is?
See Down route pages. [more]
NASA's giant Curiosity Rover landed successfully on Mars 6 Aug 2012 in Gale Crater. Its looking for a "life environment" in this carefully chosen location. [NASA] [wiki]
Chosen questions will be answered and get a link. See full terms and conditions.

How did Astro-Nav knowledge by airline Pilots save a lost aircraft in the Pacific Ocean?

It is that knowledge of Astro-Navigation helped the rescue of a lost small Cessna-188 aircraft in the South Pacific Ocean. Some readers may remember the original incident involving Air New Zealand flight NZ103 from 21 Dec 1978 [Wikipedia] or perhaps may have seen a slightly modified TV movie "Mercy Mission: The rescue of flight 771" from 1992 [TV]. The movie used a B767 instead of a DC-10, and called the flight 803 instead of 103, but the story is similar.

Essentially, the story starts off with a small Cessna agricultural crop-dusting aircraft lost over the South Pacific with a malfunctioning navigational ADF. It was being ferried via selected islands from the USA to Australia, many years before operational GPS. While en-route, the pilot didn't make his anticipated landfall and realized that his position was in doubt. Using an HF radio, Auckland Air Traffic Control decided that the only other aircraft nearby was an Air New Zealand DC-10. That crew, with the passenger's approval, decided to search for him. They managed to narrow in on an approximate position with the sun using basic celestial navigation "Astro Nav" principles. They also used VHF radio range knowledge to refine the location further. Ultimately they didn't make a visual observation of the aircraft, but their information and VHF radio communications assisted in the overall rescue effort. It was also later proven that their calculated position estimates were accurate. Eventually the Cessna spotted the lights of a towed sea platform and was then able to establish its precise location. It ended up landing safely on Norfolk Island [map] with minimal fuel after a lone 23 hour and 5 minute flight!

The Astro Nav part involved both aircraft aiming straight for the Sun and getting an accurate bearing towards it. The DC-10 had a bearing of 270 M and the Cessna 274 M. They also used extended arms and fingers to help estimate the vertical height of the low sun to the horizon. The DC-10 had an angle of 4 and the Cessna had an observed angular height of  8 degrees. Later, the exact time of locally observed sunset was recorded as well from both the Cessna and the destination airfield. From all this information it could be obtained that: With a 4 difference in sun bearing, the Cessna was further South then the DC-10. Additionally the 4 difference of vertical sun angle meant that the Cessna was approximately 4 further West, or about 240Nm. This approximation to the southwest allowed the DC-10 to fly within VHF radio range (r=200Nm) within a matter of minutes. The tropical air prevented a natural contrail on this occasion and an attempt to be seen by making an artificial fuel-dumping trail also proved unsuccessful. Lastly, comparing sunset times confirmed that the Cessna was 5.5 longitude east of Norfolk Island, the destination airport. In the end, all estimates were considered accurate and helpful. More... [More info]

[Questions Archive]

How do I get to?
See Down route pages. [more]
BBC2 Stargazing Live March 18-20 [More]
Our favorite website?
Unfortunately Comet Ison was destroyed passing the sun late Nov 2013 and never became visually "bright". Science summary and updates: [Ison]

Aurora over Greenland.

Aurora over Greenland, far north latitudes.

Interesting things in the News
On 6 Feb 2015 the NASA probe "Dawn" arrived at Ceres, originally the largest asteroid, but now a classified as dwarf planet.  [NASA] [BBC] [wiki]
NASA's New Horizon probe will pass by Pluto 14 July 2015. Updates coming. This will be the first time its ever been visited and the new photos will be amazing.[News] [Mission] [NASA] [BBC] [wiki]
Peviously, the best image of Pluto using the Hubble HST have seen 5 moons, two just recently named. Compare! [BBC] [surface]
In January Asteroid 2004BL86 passed very close to Earth. Radar showed it was 325 meters with a 70m moon.  [BBC]
In Aug 2014 the ESA Rosetta space probe reached Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, and Nov the Philae Lander. [Map] [BBC] [ESA] [wiki] . Closest sun 13 August 2015.
EFT-1, the first-ever deep space Orion capsule test, launched unmanned 5 Dec 2014 using a Delta IV Heavy lanuch from Pad 37B in Florida. (Photo previous morning)  [wiki] [NASA] [BBC]  Next test 2018?

Summer 2015

Spring officially began at the 20 March Equinox, by coincidence the same day as the Total Solar Eclipse over the North Atlantic. The days are now rapidly lengthening until the 21 June Solstice when nights are at their shortest in the Northern Hemisphere.  Day and night will not be equal again until the beginning of Autumn at the 23 September Equinox [Sun]. In the high Arctic the short nights will soon give way to 24 hour sunshine so astronomy is rather limited. However Noctilucent Cloud season should keep everyone busy in any arctic twilight between late May and mid August [Atmosphere]. And of course, even in twilight, on typical Great Circle routes above the Arctic Circle, try to witness some green Aurora [Aurora]. Keep an eye open because you never know what you may see. Regardless, whenever its dark, why not try some basic Astro Navigation [AstroNav]

Did you know that all the Space Shuttles are now on public display, even if only in temporary housings.  Enterprise was damaged during Hurricane Sandy in 2012, but re-opened July 2013 at New York. Atlantis opened in August 2013 for permanent display at the Kennedy Space Center near Orlando and looks great. Discovery is at the Smithsonian off-site location at Washington, DC's airport (now available 2014 by public transport) and the Endeavour is displayed in Los Angeles. See our feature story telling where they all are, and the "other" models, including the original Boeing747 SCA Carrier now at Houston. [Shuttles].
Russian Chelyabinsk Meteor Friday 15 Feb 2013. [More].

The next Meteor Shower is the Lyrids on 22 April  [Meteors]. Followed by the Eta Aquarids on May 6th. Then summer finished with the Perseids 13th August. These meteors are from the dust of several past comet passes involving a process being studied this Summer by a space probe visiting a comet. Comet 67P/ Churyumov-Gerasimenko has the European ESA Rosetta probe in orbit around it since August 2014 [BBC] [ESA] [wiki]. It is getting the best and closest images ever of a comet which you must look at. The details are amazing! The Philae Lander part of the probe bounced and gently crashed after trying to make a landing 12th November 2014, [wiki]. It is hoped that it is undamaged and will come back to life this summer when enough light gets on its solar panels.

But remember that there could randomly be a great meteor at any time! For example, the Russian Chelyabinsk Meteor struck unexpectedly 15 Feb 2013 and made the world news [More]. And NASA investigated its own smaller domestic American meteor [NASA] 22 April 2012. It was heard from below when it blew-up and pieces were found in central California. The world's first official Asteroid Day will be this 30th June 2015 [.org]  [wiki]  [AstronomyMag]  in reflection of the 107th anniversary of the Tunguska Event in Russia 30 June 1908  [Tunguska] .

Mars [Planets] is very low on the western horizon and rapidly vanishing into the evening twilight to disappear by May. It will reappear in the morning sky in August and slowly start to get higher in the morning sky throughout Autumn. Mars made the news October 2013 when Comet Ison passed closest to it, both visually and physically. The HiRISE probe [NASA] managed to photograph it from Mars but unfortunately was disappointing due to the Comets poor brightness at that time. Amazingly, another Comet passed extraordinarily close to Mars 19th October 2014 and many observations were made as Comet Siding Spring passed by [Hubble] [JPL]. NASA's Curiosity Rover [NASA] is also still exploring the surface of Mars.

Meanwhile, Saturn is near opposition and well placed for evening observation throughout Spring and Summer after sunset. Please remember to either look for the rings yourself, or inspire somebody else to see them for the first time! They are an easy target for a small telescope. Saturn will slowly lower in the sky and vanish into evening twilight by November where it remains out of sight until next year.

Jupiter is prominently visible high  in the Evening Sky after sunset, but is steadily lowering each week. Jupiter eventually catches up with Venus in the evening sky by July 2015, where they both coincidently descend into the twilight together by August. Jupiter will become easily visible again low in the Morning Sky by October. Of interest, Jupiter made the news in September 2012 when yet another asteroid impacted its atmosphere [NASA]. Think about that and the 1994 Shoemaker-Levy-9 impact [wiki] this 30th June on Asteroid Day! Jupiter's four largest moons are always an easy target in a small telescope.  

Venus [Planets] is the dominant evening "star" until August when it vanishes completely into evening twilight with dimmer Jupiter. By September Venus will be easily visible in the Morning sky, and then will slowly rise to be dominantly visible there for the rest of the year. Venus will be an incredibly thin crescent and appear like a mini-moon in a small telescope from  June to October. Make sure you take a peek either side of August's Inferior Conjunction, especially late July and early September. Occasionally, while airborne, it may be fascinating to watch Venus refract as it sets and passes through the atmospheric layers. It can pulse red (or other colors) because it is bright enough to show many different wavelengths as it twinkles. With dimmer objects, these partial wavelengths simply are not bright enough to see.

Mercury is often too close to the sun to be seen and then pops up very quickly for just a few weeks. The geometry of its orbit means that it may sometimes be easily visible in one hemisphere, but not possible at all to see in the other. As pilots, we are very fortunate to have a variety of viewing latitudes. Mercury will be in the Evening Sky in early/mid May 2015. It will be in the Morning Sky from mid June to mid July 2015. Mercury will again be visible in the Evening Sky between mid August and mid September.

The constantly creeping movement of the planets [Planets] and their exceptional brightness can sometimes catch people off guard. For example, although Venus is brighter, as recently as Autumn 2011 when Jupiter was at opposition, a Lifeboat and an RAF Helicopter were sent out to investigate an emergency flare [BBC], that ended up being simply Jupiter flickering in the sky. The illusion is quite real. A warning to pilots that some bright planets can be confused with approaching landing lights when you are unsuspecting! [BBC-more] Venus is also a joy to watch rising or setting because of its brightness. Venus can shine clear though considerable atmospheric haze to appear below the level horizon when viewed from an aircraft, but it can also occasionally start to pulse oddly when it passes though the local level layer of the tropopause. Take the time to watch it rise through "level" from altitude when airborne because it can, at times, flicker very intensely, particularly a deep blood red! It may also misleadingly seem like aircraft lights or a pulsing red flare. The rising/setting of Venus may last over 10 minutes!

Watching the International Space Station ISS pass overhead in twilight is always an inspiration and we recommend ways to see it on our Space page [Space], including an online map. There are currently 6 astronauts orbiting on the ISS. There was temporarily 9 between Nov 6th and 11th 2013 due to a Russian Winter Olympics publicity re-scheduling [BBC] [NASAspaceflight]. Currently there are two astronauts participating in "The One Year Crew" [NASA], American Scott Kelly and Russian Mikhail Kornienko who will spend one year in orbit on the ISS. Their third companion will return in September with two visitors, Danish Astronaut Andreas Mogensen [Wiki] and British Opera Singer Sarah Brightman [Wiki].

ISS: The One Year Crew, now! 

NASA had three companies working on NASA had three companies working on Manned Low Earth orbit capability [BBC]. SpaceX, Sierra Nevada Corporation, and Boeing began to develop new space vehicles for America [Space]. In 2014 Sierra Nevada lost the NASA contract to continue, but remains privately active with a possible launch in 2016 [SNC]. Both SpaceX and Boeing are proceeding very vigorously to achieve independence from the current Russian requirement to low earth orbit.

Private company SpaceX [official] is fully operational with its unmanned Dragon [wiki] capsule delivering supplies to the ISS. It may achieve its manned rating by 2016 [BBC]. Likewise, Orbital Sciences (the L-1011 guys) have also successfully delivered supplies unmanned to the ISS using their Cygnus [COTS] capsule from Wallops Island, near Washington DC, and the Antares (Taurus-II) rocket [BBC].

The Chinese also launch manned Shenzhou-10 [wiki] in June 2013 to dock with their Tiangong-1 [wiki] [BBC] test Space Laboratory. This 5th manned mission included their second female astronaut, or "Taikonaut" [more]. The next manned launch of Shenzhou-11 will occur after the launch of the new Tiangong-2 Space Station, expected in 2016.

Little information exists on the USAF DARPA X-37B [wiki] [MSNBC] [BBC] space plane which, although unmanned, looks pretty cool and is operational. It has secretly landed at Vandenberg AFB in the past. Recent developments have the X-37 using an old space shuttle hanger at the Kennedy Space Center [NASA]. Interestingly, Europe is experimenting with a mini-version of the same technology, The mini IXV "Space Wedge" [wik]  [BBC] launched February 2015 using a Vega rocket in Guiana.

Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo [Space] is inching closer to sub-orbital space but there have been many challenges. After FAA "approval" for powered flight in 2012 [FAA] and a successful powered flight 29 April 2013 [SS2], real passenger flights looked inevitable by 2015 [BBC]. Unfortunately, Virgin Galactic's Space Ship 2 was lost in a crash  31st October 2014 which killed co-pilot Michael Alsbury and injured Captain Peter Siebold. Although they were testing a new rocket fuel it would appear that an early release of the tail's re-entry system caused the breakup. The NTSB says that their final report may take up to a year to complete but that the program has not been grounded and work continues on a second Space Ship 2 is more then half completed. [wiki]   [BBC]. A third SS2 will commence construction this year. Progress also continues on their unmanned LauncherOne with a possible test date of 2016. [VG]

Virgin Galactic successfully did a powered flight for the first time on 29 April 2013. SpaceShipTwo SS2 reached 56,200 feet over Mojave, California and mach 1.22. Photo Marsscientific .com /Clay Center Obs. Links: [BBC] [VirginGalactic] [Wikipedia] [SS2] [YouTube]

 XCOR's Lynx manned space plane is also making progress for flights soon. We can all agree that "soon" never seems to come, but these ventures are truly coming and will revolutionize the industry overnight when they eventually become operational.

The giant StratoLaunch system is also being constructed and may launch as early as 2016.The future looks exciting!  [Space]

Hopefully some of our readers witnessed the historical Transit of Venus on 5/6 June 2012 and still request you please write in. One day I want to get an email from someone who saw it from an airplane! As no one reading this will be alive for the next one in 2117, I will eventually write a feature on it. This is the same event that Capt James Cook witnessed in 1769 in Tahiti. His mission was to observe the Transit to help work out the true size of the solar system and also to test a new navigational technique involving the moon. That was only 5 transits ago! This recent one was used to help refine techniques to spectrally analyze atmospheres of new planets on distant solar systems that are yet to be discovered! Further reading: [wiki] [youtube] [hinode] [NASA] [J-Cook] [exo] [atm] [+].

Better summer weather Down Route [Canada/USA]  [Rest-of-world]in many regions means its  time to go exploring. For more about things to do and Observatories, Museums or Planetariums, please see our list of activities and consider contributing one yourself.

Although the Zodiacal Light [Atmosphere] is best visible during the late dusk of Spring time in the Northern Hemisphere, if you miss it then you can wait until the morning dawn of Autumn. Note that from the tropics, any time of year is good to see it at dusk or dawn.

Noctilucent Clouds [Atmosphere], [more] season is starting soon in very late May 2015. The Northern Hemisphere season is late May until late August. The 2013 season started  [NLC-2013start] slightly earlier then expected. Updates will eventually get edited into this website, but will get edited here [SpaceClouds] first .

Of interest, they did eventually find that large piece of the Russian Chelyabinsk Meteor  [More] that fell into the lake causing that small circular hole in the ice. It was 570kg and 1.5m across.

Please keep an eye out because you may be surprised to witness something unknown at any time. Perhaps, "Meteor Train" smoke trails? [Meteors] Much lower, but rarer, high Arctic Nacreous Clouds season [Atmosphere] is during Winter in the northern hemisphere. Have you seen one? Maybe next year. Some were seen in Scotland [link] in December 2012. There were also some nice ones seen from Norway this December 2014 [link], so do look forward to Winters return.

Happy Discoveries!

Content added regularly.

News: SOFIA may get cut: [FlightGlobal]  [saved?]
RED star?      Venus setting?
Today's Moon.  [more]
Welcome to
This is a non-profit grass-roots site for aircraft Navigators and down route Pilots. It is intended to be an Info-QRH to preserve your interest in Astronomy and consequently, help to maintain basic Celestial Navigational situational awareness though greater understanding and knowledge. Please submit your Photos and Questions, or Ideas and Info to inspire your fellow colleagues and assist with our constant expansion. Return here when you need us. [Contact]
Input welcome: (assessing)
[Link] NASA's Daily Picture
Submitted photographs will be credited and get a link. See full terms and conditions.

Comet Ison
Brian Whittaker, UK

NLC (iPad)
Capt. Doug Brown / BA, UK

Iain Banks, UK

Meteor Train
Noctilucent Meteor Train. [more] [BW]

Nick Morrish / BA, UK

Atlas V AEHF-2
C Barnett, USA

Pingualuk Crater
D Kelly, UK

Noctilucent Clouds
Capt. M Stewart, UK

[Photo Gallery Link]
Newsletter update: Further Reading
Locations of visitors to this page
How do I see? [MORE]
Enterprise New York 28 Apr 2012 [JFK]
What is happening to?
See Space pages. [more]
SLS - Next for NASA
What's next in Space?
Asteroid Vesta
 Did you know that the NASA probe "Dawn" took photos of Vesta in 2011 before going to Ceres this Spring, 2015. It is now in orbit around Ceres and taking photographs.  [more]


[Top]      Copyright may be a factor unless otherwise indicated. (c) 2010-2015