ISS Celebrates 15 Years in Space- See if you can locate it while looking for Comet ISON

ZaryaandUnity

The connected Zarya and Unity modules after Unity was released from the Space Shuttle Endeavor’s cargo bay.

Fifteen years ago on  Nov. 20, 1998, the Roscosmos (the former Russian Space Agency) launched a Proton rocket that sent the Zarya module into space.  This was the first section of the International Space Station.  Two weeks later on Dec. 4, the United States launched the Unity module making the 2 modules a real international space station.

The ISS is now the third brightest object in the sky after the sun and moon.  If you know where and when to look you can easily see it without a telescope, and NASA’s Mission Control at the Johnson Space Center in Houston can tell you when and where.  Log onto Nasa.gov to receive e-mail or text alerts a few hours before the ISS will be passing over your area.  If you sign up soon you might even be able to spot it while “comet hunting” during the Thanksgiving holiday.

Remembering JFK

Today we remember President John F Kennedy, on the 50th anniversary of his assassination. He challenged our nation to achieve one of its greatest accomplishments: landing people on the Moon safely. President Kennedy’s vision for innovation, paired with the bravery of the astronauts who made the journey and the ingenuity of the engineers who built the spacecraft, paved the way for decades of space exploration. He continues to inspire us today to strive for excellence, to lead, and to never stop reaching for the stars…

Why Do We See Only One Side of the Moon?

Why Do We See Only One Side of the Moon

Here at the Irene W. Pennington Planetarium we have several shows that include information about the moon.  One of the things I’m asked about is why do we only see the one side.  Some people seem to think that moon doesn’t rotate at all; some people think the “dark side” of the moon is always dark.   So let’s clear some things up about the moon and illuminate why that “man in the moon” always faces us.

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Lunar Eclipse…Sort Of.

Lunar Eclipse

Lunar Eclipse (Photo credit: Peter Neish)

On Friday, 18 October, this month’s full moon occurs and with it, weather permitting, we’ll see a penumbral lunar eclipse – so called because only the full moon passes through the outer bright rim of the Earth’s shadow, or penumbra, as it rises in the east at sunset. Unlike total eclipses, in which Earth’s umbra — the central region of its shadow — darkens the moon entirely, a penumbral lunar eclipse involves only a slight dimming. Still, sky watchers should expect to see a much more subtle sight with a maximum shadowing on the lower half of the full moon occurring at 6.50 pm. CDT. Sky watchers should start observing the moon at sunset. Best place for observing this Friday’s eclipse is in Europe, Africa and the Middle East where it will be visible as a total eclipse. From Baton Rouge however, this penumbral eclipse should last about 45-minutes. The next lunar eclipse to be seen from our area will be Tuesday, 15 April 2014. Mark your calendars!

Curiosity Photographs Mars’ Moons

Phobos has a large crater known as Stickney.

deimossmall

Deimos is slightly smaller than Phobos.

Mars has two moons, Phobos and Deimos. They are very different than our moon in more ways than one. Our Moon orbits Earth at an angle, while Mars’ moons orbit  about the planet’s equator. Our Moon is 3474 km across, making it nearly a quarter of Earth’s size. Phobos is about 25 km across, and Deimos is about 10 km across; comparable in size to down town Baton Rouge. Our Moon takes 27 Earth days to orbit one time, Mars’ moons orbit much faster. Phobos, the larger and closer of the two, orbits quickly, circling Mars once every eight hours. Deimos, the smaller and farther of the two, orbits slower, circling once every 30 hours. From the point of view of a person or robot on the surface of Mars, Phobos eclipses Deimos frequently. This is because the two moons orbit in nearly the same plane.

Last week this was photographed for the first time by Curiosity. The spacecraft took a series of images, a sort of timelapse, that scientists here on Earth made into a short movie. Phobos looks vastly larger than Deimos, this is merely because it is closer.

Earth’s Group Photo

Staff at JPL celebrate Earth’s snapshot.

Last week, people all across the world waved at the skies in a group celebration of Earth’s portrait shot from 898,000,000 miles away. The Cassini spacecraft has been orbiting Saturn for nearly a decade, and in fact most of the dazzling images you’ve seen of Saturn, its rings, and its moons were captured by Cassini. On Friday, July 19, 2013 Cassini’s cameras captured images of Earth, the Moon, and Saturn in the same image frame. This wasn’t the first time Earth’s picture was taken from the outer Solar System, but this time the event was made known to the public in advance of its happening. “Wave at Saturn” images flooded social media sites as waving people took pictures with hula hoops to show their excitement and support.

Artist’s conception of Cassini orbiting Saturn.

Today we saw the first images released of Saturn and Earth. It has taken several days for the images to be ready. Why is this?

Have you ever tried to take a picture in the dark? It’s difficult… You need to keep your camera still, and leave your shutter open for a long time to capture more light. The same idea applies here. Earth was 898 million miles away from Cassini when these pictures were taken, showing up as only a faint blue dot. To add to the challenge, bright and shiny Saturn sits in the foreground of the image. On top of this, Cassini is in motion as it orbits Saturn.  Imagine trying to take a picture of a car with its headlights on and a tiny firefly sitting in a tree behind it, while riding a bicycle past the scene….

Cassini accomplishes this by taking hundreds of images. These images were sent back to humans on Earth for processing. For the past several days, scientists at NASA have been combining these images together with special computer software. To put it simply, the images are layered on top of each other and combined to form a single image.

The finished product of Cassini’s Earth, Moon, and Saturn portrait is not yet complete. The image released today is one of 33 “tiles” of the final mosaic that will show the entire planet Saturn, its rings, and Earth. Creating this picture takes a lot of work. Stay tuned as more of the puzzle is pieced together…

The first image released by NASA of Earth, Moon, and Saturn’s group photo. Earth is marked by an arrow. The moon is barely visible as a faint smudge to the lower right. This image alone was created by combining over 200 individual images captured by Cassini.