Venus-Mars | At Their Closest

Two days earlier I posted some photos of Venus and Mars in the pre-dawn light. The positions of Venus and Mars were getting closer each morning. October 5th was to be the day they would be closest at 1/4˚ apart. For comparison, the Moon’s diameter is only 1/2˚ wide.

Our weather forecast said it would be raining on the morning of the 5th. I assumed that previous post was going to be all I would get to share about their conjunction. Today I looked outside before 6 am and was thrilled to see a clear sky. I got the camera and tripod to capture the unexpected scene.

First is a screen capture from my planetarium software showing the planets on the 3rd and the 5th of October.

Next is my photograph of Venus and Mars at 6 am on the 3rd of October. It is adjusted to be the same scale as the first image.

Finally, my photograph of the two at 6 am on the 5th of October. It is adjusted to be the same scale as the first image. They were about half the width of a full moon apart. Mars was hard to see without the aid of binoculars. By 6:30 am, the sky was too bright to see Mars. Venus remained bright and easily seen. In fact, in clear skies, Venus is not hard to see in the daytime if you know where to look.

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Venus-Mars | Orion & Friends | Pleiades

Venus has been gracing the morning pre-dawn sky for several weeks. It raced past Earth in its orbit around the Sun and is receding from us quickly. It will pass behind the Sun early in 2018 before emerging as an evening apparition.

Mars is positioned farther away from us than Venus and nearly along the same line of sight. On 5 October, early morning risers can see the two nearest to each other. Look at about 6 am low in the eastern sky on a clear morning. Binoculars will help spot dim Mars. It appears we will suffer from cloudy skies here in the midwest.

This morning I was up early and looked for Venus. It was hidden by low clouds to the east. I waited and was able to see both Venus and Mars emerge from the clouds. Notice the faint outline of a tree on the right side of the image. All images have been slightly modified to make them more easily viewed. They look best enlarged on a monitor screen. You might not see anything on a phone or tablet.

2017_1003VenMars

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Cassini | Fireball Into Saturn

The astronomy community is active with posts and anticipation of the end of the Cassini Mission to Saturn early in the morning of 15 Sep 2017. This post serves as a brief reminder that you can witness the ending moments live by going online or via the NASA channel on cable. Set your calendar or clock.

Time to show up for the broadcast is 7 am Eastern Time, 6 CT, 5 MT, or 4 PT. I will leave the time calculation to others who live across the oceans.

Online sources include YouTube, NASA-TV, UStream, and Facebook. The table in the link includes links to each of those. You get to choose.

Consult your cable provider to see if they provide the NASA-TV channel.

For a huge number of links to current and past information about the Cassini Mission, please go to the Media Kit provided for reporters by NASA-JPL. It is loaded with terrific sources and deserves to be bookmarked for future reference beyond the end of this mission.

Cassini-Huygens | An Amazing Journey

The Cassini-Huygens mission has delivered an enormous amount of new scientific findings about Saturn, its rings, and the surrounding many moons. Design work on the mission started in the 1980s as a joint effort by NASA, the European Space Agency ESA, and the Italian space agency Agenzia Spaziale Italiana ASI. Launch was on 15 October 1997. It reached Saturn orbit 1 July 2004 after flybys of Venus, Earth, and Jupiter to adjust the orbit speed and direction via gravity assist. My previous posts about many of the findings by Cassini and Huygens are listed here.

On 15 September 2017, the Cassini spacecraft ends the mission by plunging into the atmosphere of Saturn. It will not be left in orbit for fear of collision with a Saturnian moon and possible contamination of the moon. Future missions to the Saturn system need to be free of any potential contaminants from Earth.

Some scientists and mission specialists have worked on Cassini for their entire careers. This video highlights a few of them and how they feel about the legacy of the mission. I congratulate them all for a job well done. I will be watching NASA-TV at 6 am CDT September 15 to see the final moments of the plunge into Saturn. I hope you will be watching, too.

Solar Eclipse | Viewed From Moon

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter LRO circles the Moon in a polar orbit. The LRO instruments return data on the lunar surface. Temperature maps, a mapping grid, high-resolution images cover the entire surface. The polar regions of the Moon are of particular interest. Water may exist in the permanently shadowed craters at the pole. These water resources may assist future returns to the Moon by humans and even exploration farther into the solar system. Previous posts about LRO are found here.

NASA | Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter

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Dark Energy Survey | Year 1 Results

Dark Matter and Dark Energy have again been in the news. They can be confusing concepts as I pointed out in a previous post. The recent news is important, especially to cosmologists and astrophysicists, because it provides very strong evidence that previous studies and theory are in close agreement with this new evidence. It adds confidence in our understanding of the structure and behavior of the universe since the Big Bang.

The Dark Energy Survey team of over 400 scientists from 25 institutions in 7 countries reported results from the first year of a five year study of 26 million galaxies which cover 1/30th of the sky. Their map shows the distribution of the dark matter. Red shows regions of more dark matter while blue indicates less than average.

Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory | Click to embiggen

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Pluto | Virtual Flyovers | New Horizons Future

The New Horizons spacecraft was launched in January 2006. It coasted by Pluto 14 July 2015 giving us our first close views of the dwarf planet and its moons. The largest moon is named Charon. Previous posts highlighting events of the mission are found here.

NASA released two virtual flyovers of Pluto and Charon on 14 July 2017. They were made using data and elevation models from the mission. Digital mapping and rendering were performed by Paul Schenk and John Blackwell of the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston. From the press release of the Pluto flyover:

“This dramatic Pluto flyover begins over the highlands to the southwest of the great expanse of nitrogen ice plain informally named Sputnik Planitia. The viewer first passes over the western margin of Sputnik, where it borders the dark, cratered terrain of Cthulhu Macula, with the blocky mountain ranges located within the plains seen on the right. The tour moves north past the rugged and fractured highlands of Voyager Terra and then turns southward over Pioneer Terra — which exhibits deep and wide pits — before concluding over the bladed terrain of Tartarus Dorsa in the far east of the encounter hemisphere.”

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