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Archive for May, 2019

05/13/2019 – Ephemeris – The Moon Rockets

May 13, 2019 Comments off

Ephemeris for Monday, May 13th. Today the Sun will be up for 14 hours and 44 minutes, setting at 9:01, and it will rise tomorrow at 6:15. The Moon, 2 days past first quarter, will set at 4:26 tomorrow morning.

In the race to the Moon in the 1960s we never really knew what the Soviet Union was doing, or of how far they progressed. We knew that we seemed to be behind because we would get glimpses of their progress when they pulled off some first, some long duration record, or the first woman in space. We never heard of their failures until after the Soviet Union fell in 1991. Their answer to the Saturn V rocket was the N-1, the first test of which was several months before Apollo 11 was launched. In all four N-1 launch attempts were made, none successful. However their counterpart to the Apollo Command and Service Modules still lives after 5 decades, it’s call the Soyuz, used to carry cosmonauts and astronauts to the International Space Station.

The times given are for the Traverse City/Interlochen area of Michigan. They may be different for your location.

Addendum

Comparison between The United States Saturn V and the Soviet N-1. Credit: Griffith Observer, the magazine of Griffith Observatory.

N-1

Base of the N-1 and its 36 rocket engines. The N-1 is assembled horizontally while the Saturn V was assembled vertically.

 

05/10/2019 – Ephemeris – The Astronomy Day event in the Grand Traverse Region

May 10, 2019 Comments off

Ephemeris for Friday, May 10th. Today the Sun will be up for 14 hours and 37 minutes, setting at 8:58, and it will rise tomorrow at 6:19. The Moon, 1 day before first quarter, will set at 2:41 tomorrow morning.

The Grand Traverse Astronomical Society will host a public viewing night for International Astronomy Day tomorrow night, that’s Saturday the 11th, starting at 9 p.m. It will be at Northwestern Michigan College’s Joseph Rogers Observatory. If its clear the first quarter Moon will be featured along with other wonders of the spring sky. The observatory is located south of Traverse City, on Birmley Road between Garfield and Keystone roads. For the society members these, normally monthly star parties at the observatory are part of their outreach. They include sidewalk astronomy outings like Friday Night Live, and International Observe the Moon Night, to the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and other locations.

The times given are for the Traverse City/Interlochen area of Michigan. They may be different for your location.

05/09/2019 – Ephemeris – The USA: Step by step to the Moon

May 9, 2019 Comments off

Ephemeris for Thursday, May 9th. Today the Sun will be up for 14 hours and 35 minutes, setting at 8:57, and it will rise tomorrow at 6:20. The Moon, 2 days before first quarter, will set at 1:54 tomorrow morning.

The Apollo 11 manned landing on the Moon 50 years ago was the culmination of a series of incremental steps. The Mercury program was in progress when President Kennedy announce the goal to land on the Moon. Following that was Gemini a two man capsule to test long duration flight, rendezvous and docking of two spacecraft, and EVA’s or spacewalks. There was the Ranger program attempted to photograph the Moon close up by sending probes to crash into the Moon. The Lunar Orbiter program to map the entire Moon, the Surveyor program to soft land on the Moon and test its surface. All this leading up to the three man Apollo program to test out the strategy and equipment and to land humans on the Moon.

The times given are for the Traverse City/Interlochen area of Michigan. They may be different for your location.

Addendum

Project Mercury

Project Mercury astronauts and a model of the Mercury-Atlas rocket and capsule. Left to right: Grissom, Shepard, Carpenter, Schirra, Slayton, Glenn and Cooper, in 1962. Click on the image to enlarge. Credit NASA.

Project Gemini

Project Gemini: Left Ed White during the US first space walk during Gemini 4 in June of 1965. Right The rendezvous of Gemini 6 & 7 in December of 1965. Click on the image to enlarge. Credit NASA.

Ranger Program

Left: The Ranger spacecraft. Right: The floor of the crater Alphonsus from Ranger 9. Only the last 3 spacecraft were successful. They transmitted images all the way down as they crashed into the Moon. Click on the image to enlarge. Credit NASA.

Lunar Orbiter program

In the most unheralded of the lunar programs the 5 successful Lunar Orbiter satellites photographed 99% of the Moon. from 1966 to 1967. The Moon was photographed on film in strips, developed and the images scanned and transmitted back to Earth. Right: The oblique view of the crater Copernicus was dubbed at the time “The Picture of the Century”. Click on the image to enlarge. Credit NASA.

Surveyor program

Surveyor 3, visited by astronaut Pete Conrad during the Apollo 12 mission. Click on the image to enlarge. Credit: NASA / Alan Bean.

 

05/08/2019 – Ephemeris – Let’s look at the bright planets for this week

May 8, 2019 Comments off

Ephemeris for Wednesday, May 8th. Today the Sun will be up for 14 hours and 32 minutes, setting at 8:55, and it will rise tomorrow at 6:22. The Moon, 3 days before first quarter, will set at 12:59 tomorrow morning.

Let’s look at the planets for this week. Mars will be in the western sky this evening, between Gemini and Taurus the bull. It will set at 12:07 a.m. In the morning sky we have Jupiter, in Ophiuchus, which will actually rise at 11:40 tonight in the east-southeast. Saturn will be next to rise at 1:32 a.m., also in the east-southeast. It’s in Sagittarius. Both planets are easily visible in the morning twilight. Venus will rise 53 minutes before the Sun in the east. It will remain in our morning sky, though too close to the rising Sun to be easily glimpsed. In August it will pass behind the Sun to enter the evening sky. It will be in position later this year to be our bright evening Christmas Star.

The times given are for the Traverse City/Interlochen area of Michigan. They may be different for your location.

Addendum

Mars and the Moon

Mars and the Moon (at 3 times its actual size) tonight at 10 p.m. May 8, 2019. Click on the image to enlarge. Created using Stellarium.

Binocular Moon

The Moon as it might appear in binoculars or a small telescope tonight at 10 p.m. May 8, 2019. Created using Stellarium.

Morning Planets

Morning planets and Moon at 5:30 a.m. May 9, 2019. Click on the image to enlarge. Created using Stellarium.

Telescopic planets

Jupiter and Saturn with the same magnification at 5:30 a.m. tomorrow morning May 9, 2019. Created using Cartes du Ciel (Sky Charts).

Planets and the Moon on a single night

Planets and the Moon at sunset and sunrise of a single night starting with sunset on the right on May 8, 2019. The night ends on the left with sunrise on the 9th. Click on the image to enlarge. Created using my LookingUp program.

05/07/2019 – Ephemeris – We’re starting to look at the race to the Moon that culminated 50 years ago

May 7, 2019 Comments off

Ephemeris for Tuesday, May 7th. Today the Sun will be up for 14 hours and 30 minutes, setting at 8:54, and it will rise tomorrow at 6:23. The Moon, 3 days past new, will set at 11:58 this evening.

As we look at the Moon near the planet Mars tonight, we recall that fifty years ago today the United States was one week from launching Apollo 10, the penultimate lunar mission to test out the Lunar Module shortened to LM pronounced “Lem” in the vicinity of the Moon. President Kennedy announced the goal in 1961 to send a man to the Moon and return him safely by the end of the decade. This required a lot of learning steps and in the end a huge rocket, the Saturn V. That rocket’s chief designer was Wernher von Braun an ex-Nazi officer who designed the German V-2 during World War II. His counterpart on the Soviet side was Sergei Korolev, though we didn’t know his name until after he died in 1966.  His death hampered the development of the Soviet’s N-1 moon rocket.

The times given are for the Traverse City/Interlochen area of Michigan. They may be different for your location.

Addendum

Wernher von Braun

Wernher von Braun around 1960. Image is in the public domain.

Sergei Korolev

Sergei Korolev, undated image published after his death. Image is in the public domain.

A fascinating look of the Soviet side of the moon race can be found here: https://www.nasa.gov/connect/ebooks/rockets_people_vol4_detail.html.  The ebook Rockets and People Volume IV, The Moon Race by Korolev’s deputy Boris Chertok.  It’s available in epub, mobi and pdf formats.  Volume 3 covers from 1961 to 1967.  There are links to all the other volumes from that page.

05/06/2019 – Ephemeris – The Eta Aquariid meteor shower

May 6, 2019 Comments off

Ephemeris for Monday, May 6th. Today the Sun will be up for 14 hours and 27 minutes, setting at 8:53, and it will rise tomorrow at 6:24. The Moon, 2 days past new, will set at 10:52 this evening.

The Earth is now passing through a stream of bits of rock that were shed from Halley’s Comet on its many previous passes of the inner solar system. The Earth gets to pass through this stream twice, Once in late October as the stream passes the Earth’s orbit heading in, and in early May as the stream is departing. The peak of this meteor shower, the Eta Aquariids, lasts several days. But since the meteoroids are coming from nearer the direction of the Sun, there is only a short period when these meteors are visible. Actually only an hour between 3:30 a.m. and 4:30 a.m. or a little bit later in the Grand Traverse region as twilight begins to interfere with the display. The radiant, from where the meteors will seem to come will stay low in the east-southeast, but they will be seen all over the sky.  The farther south one is on the earth the longer each morning the meteors will be visible.  We’re at a disadvantage being 45º north latitude.

The times given are for the Traverse City/Interlochen area of Michigan. They may be different for your location.

Addendum

Eta Aquarid Radiant

The sky at 4 a.m. tomorrow looking eastward at the Eta Aquariid radiant. Click on the image to enlarge. Created using Stellarium.

 

05/06/2019 – Ephemeris Extra – The Eta Aquariids – Halley’s Comet never really left

May 5, 2019 Comments off

In 1986 Halley’s Comet swam through our skies for the 28th time since the Chinese first recorded it in 240 BCE. It was not especially impressive, considering the week when my family met a group of Leelanau School students in the Florida Keys the week in April 1986 to view and photograph the comet at it’s closest to the Earth of 44 million miles. It turned out that that week the comet lost its tail, probably due to a coronal mass ejection from the Sun. Halley’s Comet was much more impressive a month later. I’ve seen more impressive comets before and since.

Comet Halley's path thru the inner solar sstem

Comet Halley’s path through the inner solar system in 1985-86. Created using my LookingUp program.

Halley’s Comet has been swinging around the Sun countless times before the Chinese first recorded it. The illustration above shows the last time the comet entered the inner solar system in 1986. The comet’s path is from upper right to lower left. When the comet passes within about 3 astronomical units of the Sun, that is 3 times the Earth’s distance from the Sun, the ices in the comet begin to sublimate, escaping from the comet’s nucleus which liberates dust and larger solid material. The gasses and dust form the comet’s ion and dust tails. The larger material, gravel sized bits, end up in and around the comet’s orbit, and over time are spread out around and near the comet’s orbit. Halley’s orbit crosses the Earth’s orbit twice, inbound and outbound. In both cases these crossings are close enough to the plane of the Earth’s orbit to produce meteor showers.

On the inboard leg of the orbit it produces the Orionid meteor shower that peaks on October 22nd. A meteor shower is generally named for the point in the sky they seem to come from, be it a constellation or star. The point, called the radiant, moves during the days or weeks the shower is visible. The Orionids are named for the constellation Orion. The radiant is near his upraised arm.

The center of the outbound meteoroid stream crosses the Earth’s orbit where the Earth is on May 6th. Though they have a broad peak of about 5 days. This meteor shower is visible from April 19th to May28th. During that period the radiant points drifts quite a bit to the east. There are several meteor shower radiants in Aquarius, so they are named for the nearest star at peak.

Motion of Eta Aquariid Radiant

Motion of the Eta Aquariid radiant from April 20 to May 25. The triangle with the star near the center near May 05 is the asterism the Water Jar, a part of Aquarius. Eta Aquarii is the triangle star to the left. Source: PDF version of the International Meteor Organization 2019 Meteor Shower Calendar: https://www.imo.net/resources/calendar/

Though the Moon is new for this shower, the meteoroids are coming from near the direction of the Sun, so there is only an hour where the Eta Aquariids are best seen. For Northern Michigan the radiant rises at 3:30 a.m. on May 6th. Astronomical twilight begins at 4:30 a.m. when the sky begins to brighten. This meteor shower is best seen from the southern hemisphere.