Viewing Heavenly Bodies | 2017

ūüĒ≠ ¬†Updates an¬†earlier post to¬†include recent changes and information.

As an amateur astronomer, I use desktop planetarium software to plan viewing sessions and keep track of the planets and Moon. There are many products available for all computer platforms and smartphones. A Google search yields links to many sources. I downloaded and use the open source Stellarium on my desktop computer. It¬†can be customized to your location and is free. For Android and Mac phones and tablets, I like¬†SkySafari. It isn’t free.

Online planetarium sites are popular and offer many features. Below are highlights of some I find interesting. Each has multiple features, a unique look and feel, and different levels of detail. They can help satisfy your curiosity about astronomical events.

I limited this post to include only a few select sites and links. Since¬†many are available, it’s easy to be overwhelmed with too much information. I hope these few of top quality will motivate you to investigate the sky and enjoy what it has to offer. I welcome reader questions or reviews about using these tools or others you find helpful.

SaturnRingsTop

NASA

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Juno | Welcome to Jupiter

UPDATE: The Juno spacecraft was successfully captured into a long eccentric orbit. The main engine burned about 35 minutes to slow down as planned when Juno was at its closest to Jupiter depicted in the animation below. The spacecraft performed as expected. All scientists breathed a sigh of relief.


Original Post: The Juno spacecraft launched in August 2011. It coasted away from Earth and returned for a gravity assist flyby in October 2013. That flyby boosted the speed of Juno enabling it to coast away from the Sun and toward Jupiter. It arrives at Jupiter on the 4th of July at 9:30 CDT.

The trajectory brings Juno toward Jupiter over the north pole going 160,000 mph (257,000 km/h) . Its rocket will fire for about 35 min to slow it down in order to be captured in a highly eccentric polar orbit. Previous spacecraft have never visited Jupiter in this kind of orbit or this close. What will Juno encounter?

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Jupiter | Juno Arrives 4 July 2016

The Juno spacecraft launched in August 2011. It coasted away from Earth and returned for a gravity assist flyby in October 2013. That flyby boosted the speed of Juno enabling it to coast away from the Sun and toward Jupiter. It arrives at Jupiter on the 4th of July at 9:30 CDT.

The trajectory brings Juno toward Jupiter over the north pole going 160,000 mph (257,000 km/h) . Its rocket will fire for about 35 min to slow it down in order to be captured in a highly eccentric polar orbit. Previous spacecraft have never visited Jupiter in this kind of orbit or this close. What will Juno encounter?

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Mercury Transit | In Case You Missed It

It was 100% cloudy and rainy all day for me. I had to watch online. Here is the complete 7 hrs condensed into about 17 sec. You might need to go full-screen to see Mercury. It is so tiny.

I am so glad to have the online resources available. Go to this SDO site for other video of the transit. Next Mercury transit is 11 Nov 2019.

Pluto | What Have We Learned?

Top findings by scientists with the New Horizons Pluto Mission were published in March 2016 in the journal Science. A list of the highlights is available in this news release from NASA. I will attempt to summarize each finding and their significance.

Images used in this post are from Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory. Click on any for a much larger and impressively detailed view. Their entire collection of released images is available here for your browsing pleasure. I encourage you to look through the images. Our views of Pluto went from a tiny mottled orb a year ago to ones with great detail and mystery. Each of the 120+ images includes an explanation of the important details.

Now on to the top findings…

1. Geologically active

The ages of solar system bodies can be estimated by counting the number of craters. This method tells us Pluto is about 4 billion years old, a little younger than Earth. The heart-shaped light colored, icy region called Sputnik Planum is devoid of cratering. That indicates it is young no more than 10 million years. Sputnik Planum is smooth and about the size of Texas.

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Dawn | Views From LAMO

The Dawn spacecraft is in low altitude mapping orbit (LAMO) around the dwarf planet Ceres at an altitude of 240 mi (385 km), closer than the Space Station orbits Earth. Amazing detail is being imaged and analyzed. Some of those features are highlighted in this brief Jet Propulsion Lab video. Visit this link for previous posts about Dawn.

 

A recent enhanced image in color of Occator crater. Click to embiggen for greatest detail.

Dawn | Flyover Dwarf Planet Ceres

The spacecraft Dawn is orbiting dwarf planet Ceres in the Low Altitude Mapping Orbit LAMO of about 240 miles (385 km). From August to October 2015, Dawn was in the High Altitude Mapping Orbit HAMO of 900 miles (1450 km). Images from that orbit captured many interesting features of Ceres. The German Aerospace Center DLR compiled many of these images into a simulated flyover of them. Expect another flyover video at a later date using images from the much closer LAMO.


Several previous posts about the Dawn mission are available at this link.

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