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05/16/2019 – Ephemeris – Looking back at the Ranger program: Getting really close up pictures of the Moon

May 16, 2019 Leave a comment

Ephemeris for Thursday, May 16th. Today the Sun will be up for 14 hours and 51 minutes, setting at 9:05, and it will rise tomorrow at 6:12. The Moon, 2 days before full, will set at 5:51 tomorrow morning.

The reconnaissance missions that had to be accomplished before the United Stated could land on the Moon in 1969 started with the Ranger program. The idea was to send a spacecraft to crash on the Moon taking and transmitting television pictures all the way down. In addition to the camera some Ranger spacecraft had a lunar capsule with a seismometer with a retro rocket to slow that package down and survive the landing. That feature never worked. Nine Rangers were launched. Only the last three were successful in returning images. Each returned thousands of images each returning detail down to 20 inches. One surprise, the rays we see from craters like Copernicus are actually chains of craterlets caused by ejecta from the impact.

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

Addendum

Here’s a time lapse video of Ranger 9 hitting the crater Alphonsus. 17 minutes collapsed into 13 seconds:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hpFifHgZyrg

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.

 

04/12/2019 – Ephemeris – The proposed Deep Space Gateway

April 12, 2019 Comments off

Ephemeris for Friday, April 12th. Today the Sun will be up for 13 hours and 19 minutes, setting at 8:23, and it will rise tomorrow at 7:02. The Moon, at first quarter today, will set at 3:55 tomorrow morning.

With international cooperation NASA is hoping it and its partners, the European Space Agency, The Japanese JAXA, The Canadian Space Agency and the Russian Roscosmos will a build the Deep Space Gateway, a way station between the Earth and Moon to exchange crews and vehicles traveling between the two bodies. This plan is an integral part of the returning to the Moon by around 2028. The gateway will also be a way station for the eventual exploration of Mars. How President Trump’s new demand to have the United States return to the Moon by the last year of his second term, if he has one, will affect current plans and international cooperation remains to be seen.

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

Addendum

Deep Space Gateway

Deep Space Gateway configuration concept. This would orbit the moon is a long elliptical orbit. Click on the image to enlarge. Credit: NASA.

03/15/2019 – Ephemeris – The era of US crewed space launches begins

March 15, 2019 Comments off

Ephemeris for Ides of March, Friday, March 15th. Today the Sun will be up for 11 hours and 53 minutes, setting at 7:48, and it will rise tomorrow at 7:53. The Moon, 1 day past first quarter, will set at 5:07 tomorrow morning.

Two weeks ago, the United States began to get back in the human space launch business with the launch of a test Crew Dragon space capsule on a Falcon 9 rocket, all made by SpaceX. The 6 day mission to dock with the International Space Station and then return to the Earth was an apparent success as everything appeared to go smoothly. After a successful in-flight abort test with the same capsule in a few months, another test with a crew will be flown. Boeing’s Starliner capsule is not far behind with a possible uncrewed launch in April. Both companies have abort tests to get behind them before crews can be launched. SpaceX is expected to launch a crew as early as June.

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

Addendum

NASA

Crew Dragon Demo-1 liftoff

SpaceX Falcon 9 Crew Dragon Demo-1 liftoff. Credit NASA.

Docking

NASA-SpaceX Demo-1 Screen Cap of docking at the ISS. Credit NASA.

Inside the Crew Dragon

Inside the SpaceX Crew Dragon with Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques. Credit NASA/SpaceX.

Splashdown

NASA-SpaceX Demo-1 Crew Dragon Capsule splashdown in the Atlantic. Credit NASA/SpaceX.

01/14/2019 – Ephemeris – New Horizons returned first images of Ultima Thule

January 14, 2019 1 comment

Ephemeris for Monday, January 14th. The Sun will rise at 8:17. It’ll be up for 9 hours and 9 minutes, setting at 5:26. The Moon, at first quarter today, will set at 2:04 tomorrow morning.

On January 1st, just after midnight eastern time the New Horizons spacecraft made its closest pass of the small Kuiper Belt Object 2014 Mu69, nicknamed Ultima Thule. At just about 10:30 that morning the expected phone home came back over 4 billion miles, and 6 hours travel time from a 15 watt transmitter on the spacecraft. New Horizons was in perfect health an its data recorders were full. It will take 20 months at a thousand bits per second to relay all that information back to Earth. Though we’ll get better pictures to come, Ultima Thule is a contact binary of two nearly spherical bodies that collided very gently. It looks like a snowman of reddish-brown snow. It fits the silhouette made by it passing in front of a star back in 2017.

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

Addendum

First closeup of Ultima Thule

Ultima Thule on approach combing a low resolution color image with the high resolution monochromatic image shows the body in almost true color. Credit NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

Occultation

Pre-encounter occultation attempts of Ultima Thule. Continued caption from the Vatican Observatory Foundation Blog: “The colored lines mark the path of a star as seen from different telescopes on each day; the blank spaces on those lines indicate the few seconds when MU69 blocked the light from the star. Credit: NASA / JHUAPL / SwRI / James Tuttle Keane”

Note from the image:  The term “astrometry” (pronounced as-trom-e-try) is the science of measuring the precise positions and motions of celestial bodies.

The New Horizons spacecraft went into solar conjunction from January 4th to the 9th.  Meaning it was too close to the direction of the Sun to send of receive data due to the Sun’s radio interference.  On the night of the 9th I noticed that on the DNS-Now website that the big antenna at Canberra Australia was in contact with it.  So more data is flowing down!

12/31/2018 – Ephemeris – New Year 2019 – A new solar system body is being explored right now!

December 31, 2018 Comments off

Ephemeris for New Years Eve, Monday, December 31st. The Sun will rise at 8:20. It’ll be up for 8 hours and 51 minutes, setting at 5:11. The Moon, 2 days past last quarter, will rise at 3:54 tomorrow morning.

Later tonight the New Horizons spacecraft, which flew by Pluto and its retinue of moons, will fly by Kuiper Belt Object (KBO) 2014 MU69, nicknamed Ultima Thule. It’s probably an odd looking contact binary body with lobes 12 ½ and 11 miles (20 & 18 km) in diameter. That’s the guess as of a week ago. It will pass this body by 1,366 miles (2200 km), traveling at over 32 thousand miles an hour (52,000 kph). The spacecraft will pass closest approach at 33 minutes after the ball drops in Times Square. Nearly 4 hours later it will phone home. We won’t receive that message here on Earth until 10:28 a.m. due to the over 6 hours of time it takes the radio signal to reach Earth. We should get the first images by tomorrow night.  The New Horizons spacecraft was built and is flown by Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (JHAPL) is collaboration with NASA and the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI).

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

Addendum

Path of New Horizons

The Trajectory and position of New Horizons as it approached 2014 MU69 two months ago showing some of the KBOs recently discovered near its path. Credit JHAPL.

Ultima Thule silhouette

Silhouette of KBO 2014 MU69 (Ultima Thule) created by occultation timings on July 17, 2017 from southern Argentina.  Credit NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Alex Parker.

Links to information can be found here:  http://pluto.jhuapl.edu/News-Center/Where-to-Watch.php.

A cool app to follow New Horizons in real-time or to preview its passage of Ultima Thule is NASA’s Eyes:  https://eyes.nasa.gov/.

NASA's Eyes

NASA’s Eyes screen Captured as a real-time simulation as I write this post. At this time two instruments are active, LORRI the long-range imager and ALICE the Ultraviolet imaging spectrometer. Click on the image to enlarge. Credit NASA/JPL

 

12/28/2018 – Ephemeris – Preview of space and astronomical events for 2019

December 28, 2018 Comments off

Ephemeris for Friday, December 28th. The Sun will rise at 8:19. It’ll be up for 8 hours and 49 minutes, setting at 5:09. The Moon, 1 day before last quarter, will rise at 12:30 tomorrow morning.

Lets look at some astronomical and space events for 2019. Right off the bat on January 1st the New Horizons space craft will encounter the Kuiper Belt Object 2014 MU69 nick named Ultima Thule. I’ll have more on that Monday. January 20th overnight will see a total lunar eclipse lasting from 10:34 p.m. to 1:51 a.m. November 11th will see the planet Mercury cross the face of the Sun, a transit of Mercury from a couple of minutes after sunrise until 1:04 p.m. Among the space launches next year are several SpaceX Falcon Heavy launches, and the first launch of a uncrewed Dragon 2 capsule to fly up to the International Space Station. Boeing’s first Starliner uncrewed capsule test will occur in 2020.

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

Addenda

New Horizons encounter of 2014 MU69 (Ultima Thule)

Due to the fact that NASA is affected by the partial shutdown we will probably not get much immediate information from them.  However the New Horizons spacecraft is being run by Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (JHAPL) and not NASA and it is a critical mission, it will not be affected.  All news will flow from JHAPL, rather than NASA.  NASA-TV appears to be operating, but on autopilot.

From JHAPL, Where to watch, timeline and links:  http://pluto.jhuapl.edu/News-Center/Where-to-Watch.php.

The Planetary Society has lots of information and links to follow the encounter:  http://www.planetary.org/blogs/emily-lakdawalla/2018/new-horizons-approaching-mu69-ultima-thule.html.

There is also a Planetary Society page of the time line of events for the spacecraft and the reception of data on the Earth :  http://www.planetary.org/blogs/emily-lakdawalla/2018/what-to-expect-new-horizons-mu69-ultima-thule.html.

I’ll have much more Monday, less than 24 hours before the fly by.

Lunar Eclipse January 20-21, 2019

Total Lunar Eclipse

The Moon’s passage through the Earth’s shadow January 20-21, 2019. P1 and P4 events are invisible. Credit Fred Espenak, NASA/GSFC.

Eclipse times

UT times are for January 21st. EST times are te nearest minute.

Transit of Mercury November 11, 2019

Transit of Mercury

Mercury will travel from lower left to upper right across the face of the Sun. Credit Occult4.

The transit will run from about 7:34 a.m. EST
(2:34 UT) to 1:04 p.m. (8:04 UT).