Paul D. Maley

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Paul D. Maley 2017-07-15T20:36:04+00:00

paul d. maley, solar eclipse

In Longyearbyen, Svalbard, January 2014pm_az3

At home with Celestron 11 in Carefree, Arizona January 2016

Paul D. Maley’s Home Page                              


paul d. maley, solar eclipse

Paul’s life-long interest in observing astronomical phenomena has been largely focused on planning and executing expeditions to observe eclipses of the sun as well as minor planet occultations. He was inspired by the late Aline B. Carter, former poet laureate of Texas who taught astronomy at the Witte Museum in San Antonio, Texas in 1960.

His observational interests have expanded to include comets, asteroids, meteor showers, occultations of stars by the moon, eclipses of the moon, and artificial earth satellites. Paul’s Earth exploration travels have taken him to 291 countries and territories so far. He worked in the aerospace industry at the NASA Johnson Space Center from 1969 to 2010. His academic credentials include a B.S. (University of Texas, Pan American Campus), M.S., and M.B.A (University of Houston – Clear Lake).


paul d. maley, solar eclipse

                                         Serving as a spaceflight controller during the SKYLAB reentry mission 1978

paul d. maley, solar eclipse

     In Tiraspol, Transnistria (Transdniester) October 2010







paul d. maley, solar eclipse

Paul is somewhere in this photo surrounded by Albatrosses on                             Midway Island, June 2010

paul d. maley, solar eclipse

                               Gorilla trekking in Uganda, January 2010

paul d. maley, solar eclipse

      With abandoned Iraqi tanks in Kuwait November, 1993

paul d. maley, solar eclipse

                              At Angkor Wat, Cambodia March 2003

Paul developed Ring of Fire Expeditions (ROFE) to serve as a public outreach by the NASA Johnson Space Center Astronomical Society. Through this, valuable international cooperation has been achieved in the planning and execution of many challenging expeditions since 1970 to view either a total or annular eclipse of the sun.  More than 1,000 people have been introduced to solar eclipses through this long time initiative.

paul d. maley, solar eclipse

  Claiming a small piece of Antarctica for Texas 2012

On a trip to Antarctica, Paul planted the Texas flag laying ‘claim’ to that portion of Antarctica for the state of Texas. Since the Palmer Peninsula has been claimed by Argentina, Britain and Chile and none of these claims carries any legitimate legal weight, this claim should be equally valid.

He has conducted many international astronomical outreach efforts in an effort to export interest in occultations of stars by asteroids.  This includes efforts in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, India, South Africa and other countries to expand interest in timing eclipses of stars by minor planets, training local observers in the proper techniques for recording these events.  He has not received any financial support for any of these activities.

In Clanwilliam, South Africa, May 2017 on a NASA funded expedition to image the Trans Neptunian Object 2014 MU69. T.Blank photo.

In Pune, India, December 2016 for an occultation of a star by the asteroid Kalliope.


In Jeddah, Saudi Arabia May 2015 training the university team to record the occultation of Regulus by the asteroid Dagmar.


In Shaqlawa, Kurdistan April 2011 working with local amateur astronomers and the military for the occultation of a star by the asteroid Peraga.

paul d. maley, solar eclipse

Paul and Hasan Al Hariri (Dubai Astronomy Group) meet in Dubai, January 2013 for outreach to prepare for March 3 Watsonia asteroid occultation and to discuss the annular solar eclipse December 2019.

paul d. maley, solar eclipse

         On the highway to Hanoi, Vietnam, March 2003


Successfully observed / videorecorded more than 197 occultations of stars by minor planets through 2016

Lead on the expedition which documented evidence of a new natural satellite in orbit around the asteroid (113) Amalthea. Documented in CBET 4413 on 7/13/17. Also see http://www.skyandtelescope. com/astronomy-news/amateur- observers-discover-asteroid- moon/  

Provided the first reported observation of a possible satellite of an asteroid in 1977. Co-authoring the report with D.W. Dunham in 1978, it set off a concerted effort by amateur astronomers and professionals to monitor asteroid occultations. Though this specific discovery was unconfirmed, it was in 1994 that the Galileo spacecraft beamed back the first image of a natural satellite of the asteroid Ida, thus proving the existence of a hitherto unknown population of solar system objects (see Asteroids, edited by T. Gehrels, p. 443, 1979).

Discovered that inactive earth satellites (space debris) could have an impact on professional astronomical discoveries. Paul determined that the cause of the infamous Aries (Perseus) flasher, an object that caused a stir in the astronomical world in 1985 was caused by sunlight glinting off a piece of Russian space debris (see Astrophysical Journal, vol. 317, 1987, L39-44). Sometime later, Greek astronomers published a paper and photograph proporting to show a bright meteor impact on the non-sunlit portion of the Earth-facing Moon. Paul determined that this flash was caused by an inactive American satellite passing directly in the field of view at the time (see Icarus, vol. 90, April 2, 1991, pp. 376-377). These two events alerted the community to consider the importance of the ever increasing population of earth orbiting man-made objects.

– Originator and curator of Space Debris web page which continues to serve as a worldwide source of information describing accounts of recovered satellite reentry pieces that have survived encounters with the Earth’s atmosphere.

– Served as Vice President of the International Occultation Timing Association (IOTA) from 1983- 2013.

– Annual contributor to the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada Handbook section on Observing Artificial Satellites

– Originated the idea of training the Space Shuttle Challenger crew to observe Halley’s Comet from space in 1985. He also conducted the training.

Originated the idea that when the Italian-designed Tether Satellite System was going to be deployed from the Space Shuttle in 1996 that if the very thin tether were to break, the only place to document this would be from Australia in the first days after deployment. NASA agreed to send Paul to Australia. Sure enough the tether did break and Paul obtained the first video documentation of its shape and orientation.

– Elected as a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1975 (nominated by Brian G. Marsden)

– Organized and led 45 worldwide solar eclipse expeditions as a public outreach for the NASA Johnson Space Center Astronomical Society


paul d. maley, solar eclipse

Using low light level image intensified video to record Perseus flasher candidates 1985

Conducted the first joint Pro-Am expedition to China in 1987 to observe an annular solar eclipse from the edges of the path of annularity.

– Took the first photo of a group of 7 geostationary communication satellites in one frame. See Aviation Week & Space Technology, March 3, 1986, p 73.

– Took the first photo of reentry of space shuttle orbiter. See Aviation Week & Space Technology, February 27, 1984, p 40.

paul d. maley, solar eclipse

Paul’s Shuttle reentry photo in AVIATION WEEK & SPACE TECHNOLOGY 1984


– Took the first photo of an occultation of a star by an asteroid. See Sky & Telescope, March 1980, p 261.

– Took the only photo ever taken of a complete grazing occultation process of a star by the moon. See Sky & Telescope, April 1982, p 426.

– Took the first photo of reentry of space shuttle external tank. See Aviation Week & Space Technology, April 26, 1984, p 21.

– Principal organizer of most productive expedition to map the shape of an asteroid. See Astronomy, February 1984, p 51.

– Created an initiative adopted by the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space to promote observation of the Space Shuttle and Mir station by planetariums around the world during the 1992 International Space Year. Paul computed visibility predictions of these bright space objects which were faxed by the UN to planetariums in 34 countries.

– Principal organizer of the most successful lunar grazing occultation expedition (see SKY AND TELESCOPE April,1973, p.257).

– Conducted the first use of image intensifier technology and video and recorded an outburst of the Draconid meteor shower in 1972 (see IAUC 2452).

– Developed historical markers for three important solar eclipse observing locations one of which was instrumental in preserving the house where Asaph Hall lived when he discovered the moons of Mars (see above links).

paul d. maley, solar eclipse

Paul and Lynn in Ulaan Bator, Mongolia February 1997 for the total solar eclipse

A great portion of Paul’s life has been in earth satellite observation. This includes having documented the reentry of Cosmos 166 in 1967, several re-entries of the Space Shuttle’s External Tank, about 12 re-entries of the Space Shuttle itself en-route to landing in Florida, and continual observation projects involving space debris.

paul d. maley, solar eclipse

A section of the STS-77 execute package showing Paul’s video of payload deployment was uplinked to the Shuttle crew, 1996.

He was the youngest person ever to have an independent observing site under the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory’s Moonwatch Program in 1960 (in San Antonio, Texas).  Paul has presented papers at the International Astronautical Federation congresses on his observations of Iridium spacecraft, Ariane IV rocket bodies, and other visual satellite photometry applications. In June 2000, he was invited to present a paper before the 18th Inter-agency Debris Committee describing his studies of Russian Proton 4th stage ullage motors which are one source of space debris in geostationary transfer orbits.

paul d. maley, solar eclipse

Site surveying near Lusaka, Zambia November, 2000

Paul has utilized Global Postioning System receivers to initially survey a volcanic area in conjunction with the Institute of Geology and Geochemistry in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky in the Russian far east in 1991. Then through agreement with Trimble Navigation he began to use Trimble GPS receivers to establish eclipse sites in the Amazon, Africa, Australia and Asia as well as for sites of 19th century eclipses in the USA.

paul d. maley, solar eclipse

At Star City, Russia November, 2001 for Shuttle mission support

Other noteworthy activities have included observation of a 1 meter size ullage motor (NORAD catalog #20698) at an altitude of only 92 miles with the unaided eye; the Russian Mir space station from the middle of Seoul, Korea; the Mir from a cruise ship docked in Port Said, Egypt; the Mir from a moving train between Bulgaria and Romania; Iridium satellites in broad daylight from Scotland and Australia; night time Iridium flares from Iran, Crete, Turkey, France and Russia and many other places; observed 3 total lunar eclipses in one calendar year (1982); photo of two Russian space stations in one frame as published in NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE; consultant to the Pakistan Upper Atmosphere and Space Administration (1988); interviewed on television stations in Gabon, Zambia, Curacao, Rodriguez Island, Japan, China and elsewhere in connection with safe eclipse observation procedures prior to solar eclipses; invited speaker on United Nations Day at the University of Miami (1993); sighted noctilucent clouds in Finland.

paul d. maley, solar eclipse

          At the airport in Lesotho December, 2002

Paul has also led expeditions to Venezuela, Mexico and Sudan to attempt to improve the lunar polar diameter; undertaken expeditions on his own to India, Greece, Moldova, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Iraq, Abu Dhabi, Japan, South Africa, Turkey, Macedonia, Cuba, Indonesia, Taiwan, Guyana, Australia, Kuwait, Tanzania, and France to observe occultations of stars by asteroids; observed four consecutive orbits of the Space Shuttle from the tip of South America in one night; instructed Shuttle crew members of the ill-fated Challenger on how to observe Halley’s Comet in 1985;

paul d. maley, solar eclipse

Paul and Teacher-in-Space backup Barbara Morgan presenting a mission description on NASA TV, just prior to the Challenger explosion.

sighted a simultaneous aurora and naked eye comet from a commercial flight over the Pacific Ocean in 1997; payload integration engineer for the Midcourse Space Experiment satellite MSX, whose Delta rocket tank reentered and pieces of which were recovered in central Texas; organized and led expeditions to observe grazing occultations of stars by the moon and solar eclipses where Shuttle astronauts have also been observers; published popular articles on how to successfully observe occultations, earth satellites and eclipses in journals in the USA, China, France and Italy; presented lectures on astronomical topics in Singapore, Spain, Poland, Denmark, India, Japan, Peru, Mexico, Belgium, Jordan, South Africa, Australia, France, England, Canada, Guatemala, El Salvador, Japan, and India. One of his most prized possessions is a letter from the late astronomer Carl Sagan requesting a copy of one of Paul’s technical papers.

paul d. maley, solar eclipse

With JSCAS eclipse team At Kwikila, Papua New Guinea November, 1984

Funding has been provided to Paul for just a few projects from the Federation of American Scientists, National Geographic Society and NASA, but the majority of his expeditions have been conducted on his own. One of his more exotic assignments was to await the launch of a rocket with an expendable tether system while staying at a Club Med hotel in Manzanillo, Mexico. Another was the 1995 Shuttle mission of the Italian Tethered Satellite System where he obtained low light video of the free flying tether (from Cairns, Australia) which was unexpectedly severed from the Shuttle soon after its deployment.


paul d. maley, solar eclipse

                                                          Paul with jaguar in the Amazon, 1991

Paul’s unique videos of satellites and meteors have been used to demonstrate educational aspects of observation and have been shown on the Discovery Channel, Chinese television, The Learning Channel, ABC and CBS News, in England, Belgium and Germany, as well as having been appended to post-Shuttle mission flight footage by NASA.

On March 26, 2016 the Japanese Hitomi (ASTRO-H) X-ray satellite suffered a failure. Paul was the first to get detailed video documenting two large pieces rotating ‘out of control’ which signaled the complete failure of the $270 Million mission. In the photo below note the series of equally spaced flashes in the upper left quadrant.


             A piece of the Hitomi spacecraft passes through Orion on March 29, 2016 after experiencing a catastrophic event. P. Maley photo.

He has had a long interest in meteor shower observation, having witnessed a dramatic return of the 1966 Leonid Meteor Storm during undergraduate school years, and then a brief outburst from the Draconid Shower in 1972 when he first used an electronic image intensifier and video. He was also a real-time eyewitness to the explosion of Apollo 13 while it was on its way to the moon and created the ephemeris so that it could be tracked that night from the NASA Johnson Space Center.  He has participated in projects ranging from space art to research on the Marfa lights.

paul d. maley, solar eclipse

Checking out accidentally discovered penguins following a car breakdown north of Punta Arenas, Chile 1990

On the personal side, Paul enjoys climbing and photographing active volcanoes (so far Hawaii, Aeolian Islands, Costa Rica, Russia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand, Mexico, USA, Guatemala, Sicily, Peru, Japan) and has raised basset hounds and participated in automobile rallies. While many of Paul’s endeavors have born fruit, he continues a so-far frustrating and unproductive comet hunting project begun in 1973 and enhanced with the purchase of 25 x 150 Fujinon binoculars in Japan in 1980. It is one life-long goal to discover a comet.

In the meantime, he has been a continual contributer to STARSCAN, the publication of the NASA Johnson Space Center Astronomical Society. He has jogged in Kuwait, Chile, Oman, Barbados, Sri Lanka, Japan,  Macao and dozens of other countries (see separate RUNNING PAGE) and has completed half marathons on all seven continents.

paul d. maley, solar eclipse

 1961 photo at the Aline Carter observatory in San Antonio, Texas

paul d. maley, solar eclipse

                 NASA Johnson Space Center Flight Director Office team photo 1989


In Tbilisi, Georgia in 2011

During his many travels he has narrowly missed a bomb attack at the Intercontinental Hotel in Paris, being shot at in the Sudan after a total lunar eclipse expedition, traveled to Afghanistan, Iraq, and Kashmir without security and a few other places as in the image below from Yemen taken in 1994.

paul d. maley, solar eclipse

                                                                                                                                                                     In Yemen 1994[box style=”1 or 2″] Ring of Fire Expeditions (ROFE) is the longest consecutive astronomical tour organization in the United States. ROFE specializes in astro-tourism since 1970 with expeditions organized and led by Paul D. Maley of the NASA Johnson Space Center Astronomical Society and arranged by Future Travel in Houston, Texas USA. These include tours to observe such events as Halley’s Comet, the Leonid meteor shower, transit of Venus, spacecraft reentries, solar eclipses, grazing occultations, and occultations of stars by minor planets.
We are a public outreach effort of the NASA Johnson Space Center Astronomical Society led by amateur astronomers and welcome all persons who are interested in astronomy and the natural sciences. You do not need to have a science background or any prior experience to join us! Contact us to set up your perfect astronomical tour and/or cruise today![/box]