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12/29/2016 – Ephemeris – Astronomical milestones of 2016

December 29, 2016 Comments off

Ephemeris for Thursday, December 29th.  The Sun will rise at 8:19.  It’ll be up for 8 hours and 50 minutes, setting at 5:10.  The Moon is new today, and won’t be visible.

Looking back at 2016 the biggest astronomical news was the detection of gravitational waves coming from two separate collisions of black holes far beyond our Milky Way galaxy.  The two detectors in Washington state and in Louisiana recorded these events in September and December 2015, but the first announcement was made in February this year after the signals were cleaned up and studied.  The year saw the end of the European Space Agency’s Rosetta Mission to the comet we’ve come to call 67P after orbiting it for over two years.  The Opportunity and Curiosity rovers continued their exploration of Mars along with a fleet of satellites.  On a sad note, we lost pioneering Mercury astronaut John Glenn at the age of 95.

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

Addendum

Gravitational Waves Detected

The chirp heard ’round the world and indeed the universe. Credit: LIGO/Abbot et al. 2016. Hat tip: Phil Plait, the Bad Astronomer.

Rosetta, Final orbit

Rosetta, Final orbit. Credit & copyright European Space Agency (ESA)

 

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10/17/2016 – Ephemeris – Europe’s ExoMars satellite and lander will reach Mars Tomorrow

October 18, 2016 Comments off

Ephemeris for Tuesday, October 18th.  The Sun will rise at 8:02.  It’ll be up for 10 hours and 49 minutes, setting at 6:52.  The Moon, 2 days past full, will rise at 9:07 this evening.

You’ve probably haven’t heard of the ExoMars mission before or even recently.  That’s the way Mars missions go, due to their long cruise phase.  It was launched by the Europeans and Russians back in March.  ExoMars is an orbiter with an attached lander.  The lander named Schiaparelli after the famed 19th century astronomer, separated from the Trace Gas Orbiter two days ago to land on Mars.  A few hours later the orbiter made a thruster burn to miss Mars and not follow the lander into Mars’ atmosphere.  The lander will hit Mars’ atmosphere at about 10:52 a.m. tomorrow, with landing 5 minutes later.  The Schiaparelli lander will operate on batteries only with a lifetime of a few days.  It will take a few images as it lands, but will not take images from the surface.

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

Addendum

ExoMars

Artist’s visualization of releasing the Schiaparelli lander. Credit ESA.

Planetary Society’s Emily Lakdawalla’s blog post showing the ExoMars Mars arrival timeline:  http://www.planetary.org/blogs/emily-lakdawalla/2016/10140937-exomars-timeline.html

09/29/2016 – Ephemeris – The Rosetta spacecraft starts its fatal dive today

September 29, 2016 Comments off

Ephemeris for Thursday, September 29th.  The Sun will rise at 7:38.  It’ll be up for 11 hours and 47 minutes, setting at 7:26.  The Moon, 1 day before new, will rise at 7:09 tomorrow morning.

Tomorrow morning at 6:40 a.m. give or take 20 minutes the European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft will slowly crash into Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko after orbiting it for a bit over 2 years.  The comet is carrying Rosette out toward Jupiter’s orbit where the spacecraft cannot receive enough sunlight to power it.  Today the controllers will command the spacecraft to perform the collision maneuver to cancel Rosetta’s complete orbital velocity and let it fall straight down to hit the head of the rubber ducky shaped comet.  It’s antenna will be facing Earth and it will be taking pictures all the way down for immediate transmission because Rosetta will turn off its transmitter forever when it impacts the comet.

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

Addendum

Rosetta

An artist’s illustration of the European Space Agency’s comet-chasing Rosetta spacecraft. Credit: ESA – C. Carreau

Rosetta, Final orbit

Rosetta, Final orbit. Credit & copyright European Space Agency (ESA)

07/15/2016 – Ephemeris – The end is near for ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft

August 15, 2016 Comments off

Ephemeris for Monday, August 15th.  The Sun rises at 6:45.  It’ll be up for 14 hours and 1 minute, setting at 8:47.  The Moon, 3 days before full, will set at 4:49 tomorrow morning.

In a month and a half the European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft will end its mission to comet 67/P Churyumov-Gerasimenko or just 67/P for short.  The end will come as the Rosetta spacecraft will make a slow crash onto the comet.  A week ago the spacecraft shut down its link to the Philae lander, which itself didn’t stick its landing and bounced three times and found itself between ice and a hard place with no way for the Sun to reach it to recharge its batteries, and so had an abbreviated science mission before the batteries failed.  The comet was closest to the Sun a year ago, and is heading back out to near the orbit of Jupiter.  Last time it was out this far Rosetta had just been woken up out of a three-year slumber.  This time though it will sleep forever after a job well done.

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

Addendum

Rosetta

An artist’s illustration of the European Space Agency’s comet-chasing Rosetta spacecraft. Credit: ESA – C. Carreau

Philae's resting place.

An image of the Philae lander superimposed on its panorama photographs where it was wedged between ice and a hard place in the shadows November 2014. Credit: ESA/Rosetta.

Comet 67P dust jets

Comet 67P and jets of dust, carried by sublimating ices. Credit: ESA/Rosetta

06/06/2016 – Ephemeris – Venus passes behind the Sun today

June 6, 2016 Comments off

Ephemeris for Monday, June 6th.  Today the Sun will be up for 15 hours and 27 minutes, setting at 9:25, and it will rise tomorrow at 5:57.  The Moon, 2 days past new, will set at 10:52 this evening.

Today the planet Venus will be in superior conjunction with the Sun, and indeed will pass directly behind the Sun.  That event will be completely unobservable due to the Sun’s brilliance.  Fours years ago we observed the transit of Venus across the Sun.  June 6, 2012.  It got me thinking.  Transits of Venus occur in pairs 8 years apart followed by a very long interval of over 100 years.  It turns out the Venus orbits the Sun 13 times in approximately the same time that the earth orbits the Sun 8 times.  In 4 years Venus goes around the Sun 6 ½ times and put’s Venus behind the Sun 4 years after 2012.  Today to be precise.  In another 4 years we’ll have Venus between the Earth and the Sun again, except Venus will be a bit too far north to transit the Sun.

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

Addendum

Venus approaches the Sun

SOlar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) stationed at the Earth-Sun Lagrangian point 1 (L1) a million miles sunward of the Earth. Sent back this animated GIF of Venus approaching the Sun in the last few days. In the LASCO C2 coronagraph the large disk at the center blocks the brightest part of the Sun’s image. The white circle represents the Sun’s disk size. Credit ESA/NASA.

10/16/2015 – Ephemeris – The topic this Saturday will be comets (Updated)

October 16, 2015 Comments off

Ephemeris for Friday, October 16th.  The Sun will rise at 7:59.  It’ll be up for 10 hours and 57 minutes, setting at 6:56.   The Moon, half way from new to first quarter, will set at 9:20 this evening.

Tomorrow I have a treat for youngsters of all ages.  From 10 a.m. to noon ( Update:  noon to 2 p.m.)  I’ll be talking about and helping to make comets at the Betsie Valley District Library in Thompsonville.  First we’ll explore comets as seen in our skies then travel along with the Rosetta space mission to get up close to Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko to see what it’s made of and what happens when it comes close to the Sun.  Then we’ll make our own comet nucleus using many of the ingredients that are found in actual comets, though we’ll leave out all the poisonous ones, and we’ll see if it survives this close to the Sun.  If you want to help make a comet, bring your winter gloves.  I do have extras, but yours will probably work better.

Times for astronomical events are for the Traverse City/Interlochen area of Michigan. They may be different for your location.

06/16/2015 – Ephemeris – Philae phones home

June 16, 2015 Comments off

Ephemeris for Tuesday, June 16th.  Today the Sun will be up for 15 hours and 33 minutes, setting at 9:30.  The Moon is new today, and won’t be visible.

Tomorrow the Sun will rise at 5:56.  |  As Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (Comet 67P for short, or the Rubber Duckie Comet) nears the orbit of Mars a couple of months from perihelion, its closest to the Sun, the Rosetta spacecraft, which has been orbiting it received  welcome news from its lander Philae which fell silent 5 months ago.  The lander woke up and has enough power to take measurements and transmit data to the Rosetta spacecraft.  This is something the folks at the European Space Agency had hoped for.  The comet has moved in its orbit around the Sun, so  the Sun’s light now can fall on Philae’s solar panels long enough during the comet’s daily rotation to recharge its batteries.  They are hoping that Philae can resume its surface mission.  This is just amazing!

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

Addendum

Comet 67P dust jets

Comet 67P and jets of dust, carried by sublimating ices. Credit: ESA/Rosetta

Comet 67P dust jets

Comet 67P and jets of dust, carried by sublimating ices from another angle. Credit: ESA/Rosetta

Still another angle on Comet 67P

Comet 67P and jets of dust, carried by sublimating ices from yet another angle. Credit: ESA/Rosetta

Philae's resting place.

An image of the Philae lander superimposed on its panorama photographs where it was wedged between ice and a hard place in the shadows last November. Credit: ESA/Rosetta.