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2020 Visions In The Sky: A Preview Of Astronomical Events –



It won’t be long after the start of a new year when astronomy buffs can enjoy the first of a few special events that will take place in the sky.

In the early morning hours of Saturday, January 4, the Quadrantid meteors may be seen in the northeastern sky. The radiant, or general point of origin from where most of the meteors will fall, is near the handle of the Big Dipper. This annual meteor shower has been known to produce up to 100 meteors per hour, but viewers are more likely to catch 15 to 25 per hour. The Quadrantid peak is limited, only an estimated six hours before and after its maximum.

There are several celestial events that will be viewable from Western New York in 2020. Some may be seen from the naked eye but others, including a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in December, will be better enjoyed with a telescope. CREDIT MICHAEL MROZIAK, WBFO

Two more meteor showers known for their frequency will return in the second half of the year, with the Perseids peaking around August 12 and the Geminids peaking between December 13 and 14.

In March, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn may be seen in the eastern sky, not long before sunrise.

“They’ll all be clustered in the east-southeast,” said Tim Collins, observatory astronomer at the Buffalo Museum of Science, who told WBFO this grouping will begin around St. Patrick’s Day. “It would help to have a clear horizon to see it, but on (March) 18 the waning crescent Moon is going to join the pack and you’ll have four objects just sitting right there for you to stare at.”

A “supermoon,” when the Moon will be at its closest point to the Earth, will occur April 7. While the variation of the Moon’s distance won’t seem as apparent to most viewers, Earth’s natural satellite will be at a perigee distance of 221,772 miles.

Mars will again offer a treat to sky watchers in October, when it reaches opposition to the Sun on the 13th of that month. It will be viewable from dusk to dawn and at a magnitude rivaling Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky, and planet Jupiter.

With larger telescopes, such as the Lundin telescope at the Buffalo Museum of Science’s Kellogg Observatory, one may be able to see some Martian surface features. Collins is hopeful the weather, both on Earth and on Mars, will be cooperative this time.

“The last time this happened, about two years back, we ran into a global dust storm on Mars and it blocked all the surface features,” he said. “Hopefully we don’t have that happen again, and we’ll be able to identify polar ice caps, maybe some of the features like the Valles Marineris as well.”

One of the most special events viewable from Western New York will occur shortly after sundown on December 21. Jupiter and Saturn will slowly appear to close in on each other during evenings throughout the autumn but on the first day of winter, they’ll be at their closest from Earth’s vantage point. They’ll be within one degree.

“For those not familiar with what one degree of separation really means, it’s a fancy way of saying it’s going to fit in the same field of view in a 40-millimeter eyepiece on your telescope,” Collins said. “You can actually look into a telescope and see two planets at the same time.”

Collins added if you can get your hands on a larger telescope, you’ll be able to view not only Jupiter’s Galilean moons but also some of Saturn’s larger moons, and they will appear as though it will be hard to tell which moon belongs to which planet.

There are some other sky events happening in 2020 but to see those, you’ll need to travel. On February 18, Mars will pass behind the Moon but you’ll need to be in the western half of North America, where it will be seen shortly before sunrise.

If you’ve got some vacation time and some money to spend, there’s an annular solar eclipse happening on June 21 that can be viewed in parts of Africa, Arabia, southern Asia and the southwestern Pacific. The moon will pass in front of the sun but will be too far from Earth to cover the sun entirely. What you’ll get is what looks like a brilliant ring.

A second solar eclipse, this one a total eclipse, will occur December 14 but will only be seen in the lower two-thirds of South America and a very limited portion of southwest Africa.

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NASA will launch the CAPSTONE mission on Monday, June 27 –



Rocket Lab's Electron rocket sits atop the launch pad at Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand for a rehearsal before the CAPSTONE launch.

A small satellite is preparing to pave the way for something much greater: a fully grown lunar space station. NASA’s CAPSTONE satellite is scheduled to launch on Monday and then travel to a unique lunar orbit on the Pathfinder mission Artemis programwhich seeks to return humans to the moon later this decade.

capstone He rides aboard Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket, which will take off from the private company’s Launch Complex 1 in Mahia, New Zealand. Rocket Lab made headlines in May using a helicopter to catch a falling booster missile. CAPSTONE is scheduled to launch at 6 AM ET on June 27 with live coverage starting an hour earlier. You can watch the event in the agency website or ApplicationOr, you can watch it on the live stream below.

NASA Live: The official broadcast of NASA TV

About a week after the CAPSTONE mission, the probe’s flight will be available through NASA Eyes on the solar system Interactive 3D visualization of data in real time.

The Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE) mission will send a microwave-sized satellite into near corona orbit (NRHO) around the moon. The satellite will be the first to sail its way around this unique lunar orbit, testing it for the planned date Moon Gatea small space station intended to allow a permanent human presence on the moon.

NRHO is special in that it is where the gravitational force of the Moon and Earth interact. This orbit would theoretically keep the spacecraft in a “beautiful gravitational spot” in a near-stable orbit around the Moon, according to to NASA. Therefore NRHO is ideal because it will require less fuel than conventional orbits and will allow the proposed lunar space station to maintain a stable line of communication with Earth. But before NASA builds its gateway into this highly elliptical orbit, the space agency will use CAPSTONE — which is owned and operated by Colorado-based Advanced Space — to test its orbital models.

Artist’s concept of CAPSTONE.
GIF: NASA/Daniel Rutter

Six days after launch from Earth, the upper stage of the Electron rocket will launch the CAPSTONE satellite on its journey to the Moon. The 55-pound (25-kilogram) cube vehicle will perform the rest of the four-month solo journey. Once on the moon, CAPSTONE will test the orbital dynamics of its orbit for about six months. The satellite will also be used to test spacecraft-to-spacecraft navigation technology and unidirectional range capabilities that could eventually reduce the need for future spacecraft to communicate with mission controllers on Earth and wait for signals from other spacecraft to relay.

NASA is systematically putting together the pieces for the agency’s planned return to the Moon. The The fourth and final rehearsal for the space agency’s Space Launch System (SLS) went wellpaving the way for a possible launch in late August.

more: This small satellite linked to the moon can make a path to the lunar space station

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Astronaut view of New Zealand's North Island –



Today’s Image of the Day from NASA Earth Observatory features the North Island of New Zealand. The photo was captured as the International Space Station (ISS) approached the southernmost extent of its prograde 51.6 degree orbit. 

From this vantage point – and with the perfect weather conditions – astronauts can get a clear view of the North Island of New Zealand, according  to ESA.

“Looking towards the northwest, the astronaut photographer captured the mottled-green island that separates the Tasman Sea from the South Pacific Ocean. On the other side of Cook Strait, South Island peeks out from beneath the cloud cover,” reports ESA.

“Seven bays surround the North Island and define its distinctive shape. The inland landscape includes grasslands (lighter green areas), forests (darker green areas), volcanic plateaus, and mountain ranges formed from sedimentary rocks.”

Lake Taupō, located in the center of the North Island, is a crater lake inside a caldera formed by a supervolcanic eruption. The lake borders the active volcano Mount Ruapehu, which has the highest peak in New Zealand. 

“The volcanic nature of the island arises from its location on the tectonic plate boundary between the Indo-Australian and Pacific Plates,” says ESA. “This plate boundary is part of the vast Pacific Ring of Fire, and leads to significant geothermal activity and earthquakes in the region. Additional volcanoes, including Egmont Volcano (Mount Taranaki), also dot the North Island landscape.”

Image Credit: NASA Earth Observatory

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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Artemis 1 moon mission could launch as soon as late August –



NASA officials have declared the Artemis 1 moon rocket’s most recent “wet dress rehearsal” a success and are hopeful the mission can get off the ground as soon as late August.

The Artemis 1 stack — a Space Launch System (SLS) rocket topped by an Orion capsule — is scheduled to roll back to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida on July 1, where the massive vehicle will undergo repairs and preparations for its coming launch. 

Artemis 1, the first launch for the SLS, will send an uncrewed Orion on a roughly month-long mission around the moon. The mission has experienced several delays, and most recently the rocket’s certification to fly has been held up by incomplete fueling tests — a key part of the wet dress rehearsal, a three-day series of trials designed to gauge a new vehicle’s readiness for flight. 

Related: NASA’s Artemis 1 moon mission explained in photos 

The Artemis 1 stack first rolled from the VAB to KSC’s Pad 39B in mid-March, to prep for a wet dress rehearsal that began on April 1. But three separate attempts to fill the SLS with cryogenic propellants during that effort failed, sending the stack back to the VAB for repairs on April 25. The most recent wet dress try, which wrapped up on Monday (June 20), didn’t go perfectly, but NASA has deemed it good enough to proceed with preparations for launch.

Operators were able to fully fuel SLS for the first time, bringing the launch simulation much further along than any of the attempts in April. A leak from the core stage’s engine cooling system “umbilical” line was detected during Monday’s fueling test, but mission managers determined that the deviation didn’t pose a safety risk and continued with the simulation’s terminal count. That ended up being the right decision, Artemis 1 team members said.  

Mission operators were able to run a “mask” for the leak in the ground launch sequencer software, which permitted computers in mission control to acknowledge the malfunction without flagging it as a reason to halt the countdown, according to Phil Weber, senior technical integration manager at KSC. Weber joined other agency officials on a press call Friday (June 24) to discuss the plans for Artemis 1 now that the wet dress is in the rear view mirror.

The software mask allowed the count to continue through to the handoff from the mission control computers to the automated launch sequencer (ALS) aboard the SLS at T-33 seconds, which ultimately terminated the count at T-29 seconds. 

“[ALS] was really the prize for us for the day,” Weber said during Friday’s call. “We expected … it was going to break us out [of the countdown] because the ALS looks for that same measurement, and we don’t have the capability to mask it onboard.” 

It was unclear immediately following the recent wet dress if another one would be required, but mission team members later put that question to rest.

“At this point, we’ve determined that we have successfully completed the evaluations and required work we intended to complete for the dress rehearsal,” Tom Whitmeyer, deputy associate administrator for Common Exploration Systems at NASA headquarters, said on Friday’s call. He added that NASA teams now have the “go ahead to proceed” with preparations for Artemis 1’s launch.

Before it can be rolled back to the VAB, however, the stack will undergo further maintenance at Pad 39B, including repairs to the quick-disconnect component on the aft SLS umbilical, which was responsible for Monday’s hydrogen leak. 

There’s also one more test technicians need to perform at the pad. Hot-firing the hydraulic power units (HBUs), part of the SLS’ solid rocket boosters, was originally part of the wet dress countdown but was omitted when the countdown was aborted. Those tests will be completed by Saturday (June 25), according to Lanham. Following the hot-fire tests, operators will then spend the weekend offloading the HBUs’ hydrazine fuel.

Once back in the VAB, NASA officials estimate it’ll take six to eight weeks of work to get Artemis 1 ready to roll back to Pad 39B for an actual liftoff. Cliff Lanham, senior vehicle operations manager at KSC, outlined some of the planned maintenance on Friday’s call. 

Related: NASA’s Artemis program of lunar exploration

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Among other tasks, technicians will perform standard vehicle inspections, hydrogen leak repairs, “late-stow” for the payloads flying on Orion, and software loads to the SLS core stage and upper stage. They will also install flight batteries.

“Ultimately, we want to get to our flight termination system testing,” Lanham said. “Once that’s complete, we’ll be able to perform our final inspections in all the volumes of the vehicle and do our closeouts.”

After that work is complete, the Artemis 1 stack will roll out from the VAB once again, making the eight to 11-hour crawl back to Pad 39B on July 1. Whitmeyer said on Friday that the late-August launch window for Artemis 1, which opens on Aug. 23 and lasts for one week, is “still on the table.”

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