Upoming Celestial Events
Venus spends the rest of 2009 shining in the morning sky, showing a growing gibbous face and passing beyond the Sun on January 11. Coming up - the first transit when it passes across the Sun since 2004, and the last for another century, happening in 2012.Mars has emerged from behind the sun as the Earth continues to pull ahead toward the sort-of-close approach in January of 2010.
Eclipse information (past and future) may be found at Fred Espenak's eclipse site at NASA Goddard. The next eclipse evisible from Alabama will be the partial lunar eclipse in the predawn hours of June 26, 2010. Looking farther ahead, a total eclipse path crosses eastern Tennessee and the northeast corner of Georgia on August 21, 2017. Tuscaloosa will be in the path of totality on August 12, 2045, so book your rooms now!
Mars Odyssey 2001 continues to look for water near the surface of Mars, joined in orbit (on Christmas 2003) by the European Space Agency's Mars Express carrying the (apparently ill-fated) British Beagle-2 lander. For five years now, we have been` receiving a stream of spectacular results from NASA's twin Mars Exploration Rover missions, Spirit and Opportunity, searching for evidence of past water on the floor of the crater Gusev, and the high plains at Meridiani. In late 2006 the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter began its mission of studying the Martian surface at unprecedented resolution (think "Google Mars"). A similarly powerful camera, and other instruments, are now closer at hand in NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, whose early images not only showed the abandoned Apllo descent stages, but in one case the surface churned up by astronauts setitng up equipment. The same booster launched LCROSS, which will impact near the lunar south pole on October 9, part of the search for water frozen in dark crater floors niear the poles./p>
Meanwhile, Cassini finally entered orbit around Saturn in July 2004 after a seven-year trip, and was immediately delivering spectacular information about Saturn, rings, and moons. A mission highlight was the release of the Huygens probe, which sort of plopped onto methane-rich mud on the surface of the giant moon Titan in 2005. Saturn's moons are turning out to be a real zoo, with ice volcanos on Enceladus spewing particles out into space, and the remaining mystery of why Iapetus has black and white hemispheres.
Heading yet deeper into space, the European Space Agency's Rosetta continues toward a rendezvous and sampling of a comet nucleus. NASA just launched the New Horizons probe for a July 2015 flyby of Pluto and its moons. Pluto will probably have recovered from its demotion to a dwarf planet by then and be ready to receive visitors.
Moving inward in the solar system, the MESSENGER probe has just completed two flyby passes of Mercury during a long set of gravitational maneuvers that will eventually drop it into orbit for the first complete mapping of this innermost planet.
And all the action isn't just in exploring the solar system. Hubble, freshly revitalized by the astronauts of STS-125, continues its epic observations of anything we can think of, complemented by the Chandra X-ray observatory in high Earth orbit. 2002 saw the launch of the last of NASA's quartet of "Great Observatories", the infrared-sensitive Spitzer. And on the ground, there are new results pouring in from such places as the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, international Gemini Observatory, and European Very Large Telescope.
More Skywatching Information
A useful listing of upcoming celestial events is sponsored by Sky and Telescope magazine. For predicted visibility of satellites from Tuscaloosa (or anywhere else you care to set), see the Heavens-Above site, which also provides a nice sky map Java applet. The current phase of the Moon is available from the US Naval Observatory, along with positions of the planets. The USNO site also provides data on sun- and moonrise and set times.
email@example.com (Bill Keel)
Last updated: 28 August 2009