An EarthKam Mission

iss_flyover-ani   This coming week, the last one in January, is going to help make this month a more memorable month than I had previously thought.
   How so?
   Firstly January marks my 200th monthly column of Scope on the Skies for Science Scope Magazine, the NSTA‘s Professional Journal for Middle School Science Teachers. In that column I wrote about Earth viewing missions.”A New Year, A New Earth View”. take-pics   Secondly, and very coincidentally, earlier this month an opportunity came up to apply to take part in the next scheduled Sally Ride EarthKam Mission. I was accepted and so this week will be for requesting images on the orbits between Sunday and Friday.
   “Doing this alone?” You ask.
   I have teamed up with two Science Teachers at Summit Lakes Middle School here in Lee’s Summit Missouri, and starting Monday morning students will begin making their requests. Also my college Astronomy class students will be requesting images as part of a lab lesson on tools Astronomers and Earth Science (among others) use.
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    Making requests is a simple 10 or so step process beginning with logging in to the web site. However the Teacher first needs to register at the mission website, and then register for the next mission. The teacher will receive a list of codewords a few days ahead of the actual mission dates. Each codeword may only be used once; one codeword = one picture request. I’ve prepared a guidebook of sorts using screen captures that steps through the process or logging in and making a request. A more detailed and useful guidebook is the one prepared by the Sally Ride EarthKam Mission folks. Some time ago I wrote a short blog about the EarthKam mission.
orbits-ani

   Our week looks promising for getting pictures of the southern hemisphere according to the mission orbit plotter. That is weather permitting. By clicking on the desired orbit group the map will then display the paths for that group. Remember that red lines show where it will be daylight and only when pictures could be taken.
zoom-ani

   Using Google Earth means that you are able to zoom in to better place your marker for a picture. There are limits to getting a ‘good’ picture, one taken from as directly overhead as possible. Specifically it is the distance from the ISS orbit path. The further away from the orbit path the lower the ISS will be relative to the horizon.

   I’ll share the pictures sometime next week after we get them.

   
   
   

Caution: Objects viewed with an optical aid are further than they appear.
   Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.

Moon at Descending Node

25jandescending_node   Sunday January 25th at 10:23 UT (0:23 am CST) our Moon will be crossing the plane of the ecliptic moving south. This is known as the descending node, one of two intersections the Moon’s orbital path (dark green line) has with the ecliptic.

   
   
   
   
   
   That evening, Sunday, the waxing crescent Moon will be over the western horizon below the stars of Aries the Ram. The three brightest stars form a small bent line with the brightest star, Hamal, at the top end of the line.

   
   
   

Caution: Objects viewed with an optical aid are further than they appear.
   Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.

Moon Meets Planets

   This evening, Wednesday January 21st the very thin waxing crescent Moon will be ‘binocular’ close to Venus.

   
   
   
   See my post previous post for more about these two evening conjunctions.

   Tomorrow evening, Thursday January 22nd, the Moon will have moved further east and will be close ‘binocular’ close to Mars and Neptune.

   
   
   

Caution: Objects viewed with an optical aid are further than they appear.
   Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.

January Perigee Moon

jan21perigee-moon    Our Moon orbits around the Sun with the Earth and from our perspective on the Earth the Moon appears to circle around the Earth, however in reality the Moon orbits the Sun together with the Earth*.
   The 1.5-day old thin waxing crescent Moon reaches perigee this month on Wednesday January 21 th at 20:10 UT (2 pm CST). At that time the Moon will more or less be at a distance of 28.2 Earth diameters (359,645 km or 223,473 miles) from the Earth. Adding to the evening viewing will be four planets above the western horizon, three of which are naked-eye visible.The Moon will be close enough to both Mercury and Venus that all three will fit within the field of view of 7×50 binoculars. A little higher above the horizon is Mars within 2o from the planet Neptune, both of which will also fit within the field of view of 7×50 binoculars. Neptune at nearly 8th magnitude may be too dim to be visible with binoculars.
waxing-crescent-moom   This could be one of those opportunities to see a very young Moon, not a record youngest but nonetheless, worth trying to see. Because of the low angle of the Sun relative to the Moon the higher portions of crater rims and lunar mountains are in sunlight while their respective lower portions are still in shadow.
   On the side, so to speak, use binoculars or a low-power eyepiece and look at the unlit edge and along the cusps to see some of the higher peaks sparkling in sunset while their lower parts are still in shadow. The peaks look like they are not connected to the Moon as you can see in the lower left of this picture of a 2-3 day old waxing crescent Moon.

   
   
   *Click here to read my 2006 Scope on the Sky column “The Real Shape of the Moon’s Orbit”. (PDF)

   
   
   

Caution: Objects viewed with an optical aid are further than they appear.
   Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.

Sun Not in Aquarius

view-from-earth-not-in-aquarius   According to the pseudoscience of astrology the Sun enters the constellation of Aquarius the Water Bearer Tuesday January 20th at 10 UT (4 am CST. When in fact the actual position of the Sun today is within the boundary of the constellation of Capricornus the Sea Goat, as this graphic shows. Actually the Sun had just entered Capricornus 8 hours earlier.

   Read a little more about how astrology has the Sun incorrectly placed in a previous blog, and in another blog discussing the effects of precession.

   
   
   

Caution: Objects viewed with an optical aid are further than they appear.
   Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.

Sun Enters Capricornus

ww   Monday January 19th at 8 pm CST, (2 UT Tuesday January 20th), the Sun in its apparent eastward motion along the ecliptic, moves out of the constellation Sagittarius the Archer and into the constellation of Capricornus the Sea Goat. This is the true or actual position of the Sun as opposed to the pseudoscience of astrology which usually has the astrological Sun one constellation ahead or east from the Astronomical Sun’s position. Which will be tomorrow when the sun is not in the astrological sign of Aquarius.

   
   
   

Caution: Objects viewed with an optical aid are further than they appear.
   Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.

Comet Lovejoy

   So after waiting for the skies to clear both here in Missouri and during a week in Tucson the sky was finally clear enough last night to see Comet Lovejoy. After my Astronomy class last night a few students stayed late with me outside away from campus lights in front of the ST building. From there they were able to see Jupiter rising in the east, and the stars making up the ‘Winter Hexagon’ asterism as well as the constellations associated with each of the stars. The sky was dark enough so that the Orion Nebula was visible to the naked-eye, however the comet was not visible until I brought out binoculars. Finding it last night and the next few nights should be easy as the comet will be passing a few degrees from the Pleiades.

Update:

   Last night (Friday) was another clear one, this time with temperatures in the 40’sF. I was able to take multiple exposures and managed to get the camera focused even when the lens was out to 250mm. The comet was easy to find as it was nearly straight off from the Pleiades. With binoculars it still looked like a fuzzy blob shape.

   
   
   

Caution: Objects viewed with an optical aid are further than they appear.
   Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.