Moon Occults Mars | 18 Feb 2020

I waited for this event for weeks. The Moon was going to pass directly in front of Mars at about 6 am local time. Clouds were a problem in the days leading up. The forecast gave a 50% chance of some clearing.

I normally wake up pretty early. Today was no exception as I noticed the clock said 5:05. I shut my eyes for a few more minutes of sleep. Next time I looked it was 5:55. I looked outside and saw the Moon in a clear sky. I was never going to make it in time to get a picture of Mars just before it disappeared. But, I tried. My first photo was time stamped at 6:03 am. No sign of Mars. It would have been at the 8 o’clock position if I was earlier.

6:03 am

Disappointed, I came back inside. Maybe I could see Mars emerge from behind the Moon in about 90 min. I had some coffee and tried to get over my goof. It soon was time to go out and try again. Trouble is the Sun was up and the sky was too bright to see Mars. It should have been at the 2 o’clock position in this photo.

7:23 am

Fortunately, a fellow Iowan not far from me did manage an excellent photo. Another about 10 min earlier can be found at the Space Weather Gallery site.

Mark A. Brown

February Night Sky Events

This video from the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab points out three interesting things for this month. I’m hoping for clear skies on the 18th in order to see the Moon occult Mars.

Solar Panels | Winter Results

Our solar panels started producing electricity in early October 2019 as described in this earlier post. Since then, the sun lowered in the sky and went through the winter solstice. Weather was less sunny and more cloudy. Production varied considerably. For example, this chart from 8 October shows our metered usage for each 15 min during that day. The red line on the top is the usage of electricity supplied by the utility company. The green line along the bottom is our generation of electricity by the panels. The blue bars are the net metered amount. It is a good thing when the blue bars are below zero. It reduces our billed amount.

Net Metered Electricity | 8 Oct 2019

In contrast, the conditions on 2 January were less favorable. We didn’t make much electricity. That has happened more frequently this winter.

Net Metered Electricity | 2 Jan 2020

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Dragon Test Successful

SpaceX carried out a successful test of the unmanned Crew Dragon capsule on 19 Jan 2020. Crew Dragon is designed to carry astronauts to space instead of relying on Russia. A previous flight of Dragon took it to the International Space Station where it docked for several days before returning to Earth. This test of Dragon was designed to see if it could safely escape from a malfunctioning Falcon9 booster under the most extreme conditions.

About a minute after launch the rocket passed through maximum dynamic pressure where stress forces from the atmosphere were at a maximum. Normally the rocket would continue to burn for a few more minutes raising the altitude and speed of Dragon before a second stage would help it achieve orbit. In this test the rocket shut down prematurely. Dragon sensed the change and fired its escape rockets at once. It proceeded ahead of the coasting Falcon9 booster, barely visible in the video. The booster lost control and started to tumble slowly. The aerodynamic forces broke it apart causing it to explode. The Crew Dragon was safely brought down into the Atlantic by parachutes and was recovered.

A manned flight to the ISS will possibly take place in April 2020.

Video from the SpaceX transmission.


ISS | Mars | Digital Clocks

I awoke at 5:34am and remembered an email from a few days before. It said the space station was to pass over my region starting at 5:38. When I got to the front window, it was high overhead moving toward the eastern horizon.

Looking to the southeast I found Mars in Scorpius. It had moved from its position the morning before. Here depicted by The Planetarium of Dominic Ford. Being only 13˚ F this morning, I opted not to go outside for my own photograph.

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Betelgeuse Dims in Orion

The star Betelgeuse has been in the news since December 2019. It is called a Red Giant due to its color and size. It is the upper left shoulder of Orion seen in this chart from Wikipedia Commons.

Orion_constellation_map.png: Torsten Bronger

It has a slight reddish hue visually and a diameter estimated to be nearly as large as the orbit of Jupiter. Betelgeuse is a variable star meaning its brightness changes over time. The time period is quite long on the order of 2000 days. In December 2019, variable star observers reported it had rapidly reached its lowest level ever observed. Speculation is widespread over whether it will soon become a Supernova. More on that later.

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Annular Eclipse | Sri Lanka | 26Dec2019

A solar eclipse took place on 26 Dec 2019 visible from Saudi Arabia to Guam, crossing India, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia. It took place during the night of Christmas for those of us in the U.S. I stayed up to watch it online a little before 10 pm.

Fred Espenak, NASA’s GSFC

The Astronomical Institute in Sri Lanka webcast the eclipse the entire duration. Their video is here. Annularity begins just before the 2 hour 5 minute mark. I selected the portion of their video showing the beginning to the end of annularity and sped it up by 4x.