Congress Downsizes the Solar System

   The US Congress today, in an effort to rectify the current sequestration budget cuts has made a dramatic announcement. In an effort to reduce the NASA budget, a resolution was passed today to downsize the solar system. According to an unnamed congressional staffer, House Republicans felt there has been “too much redundancy in the solar system” and that streamlining the 4.5 billion year old planetary system is long overdue. Such action would give NASA fewer places to go and this would allow the agency to carry out its space exploration goals within the funding profile that the House proposed earlier this summer.

   “Look, we have four terrestrial planets” said Congressman Rip U. Apart (R, OK), “and only one of them really works! So why not get rid of at least two of the others and clean up the neighborhood?” Most subcommittee members felt that while downsizing was definitely in the cards, eliminating both Mercury and Venus, or even Mars, was going too far. “We have too many international commitments to Mars.” said another politician. “So I think we should keep Mars and dump Venus and Mercury. It’s too hot to live on Venus, and liberal Democrats keep using it as an example of what climate change can do. So from a political and practical point of view, Venus has got to go.”

   Definitely at risk is the planet Mercury which lacks support because of its small size and poor visibility from Earth. “Who needs it?” asked Congressman Newt Onian (R, N.C.). “Have you ever seen it? I haven’t. So what good is it? We just don’t need useless planets. And speaking of useless planets, what about the asteroids? If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. So I say we ought to get rid of the little boogers once and for all.”

   However, the downsizing recommendations do not stop with the terrestrial planets. The resolution also calls for a reduction in the number of gas giants which contain most of the planetary mass in the solar system. Most subcommittee members favor retaining Jupiter and Saturn, and eliminating Uranus and Neptune. “Jupiter employs the most molecules, and Saturn has those pretty little rings everyone likes.” said Rep. Con Mann (R, Fla.). “On the other hand, Uranus is a bore and its rings are dirty. And Neptune, for God’s sake, is just too far away.”

   The subcommittee was unanimous in its views towards Pluto which they deemed a moral misfit. “Now here’s a planet we can definitely do without.” continued Fornow. “Several years ago it was farthest from the sun (1979-1999), and now it’s not. It’s just too confusing. And now they tell me it’s really a Dwarf Planet. What the heck is going on here?”

   The resolution must now be presented to the entire House, where it is expected to pass easily since only a minority of Representatives have constituents on the affected planets. NASA Administrators have vowed to resist any further reductions to the solar system, saying that “NASA has expended considerable effort to make solar system exploration cheaper, faster, and better. Much of this work would be wasted if the solar system were downsized.”

   Critics say, however, that reducing the number of planets will not produce the expected savings to taxpayers. Textbooks, they note, would have to be revised to reflect the new arrangement, and facilities would need to be constructed to remove the planets themselves.

   April Fools!!

   
   
   

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for monthly observing information, or here to return to bobs-spaces.

Taurus Takes It On The Chin!


   Friday evening March 31st the 4-day old waxing crescent Moon will be about 4o from the reddish star Aldebaran in the open star cluster The Hyades. This open star cluster has a noticeable v-shape and from mythology the v-shape is the face of Taurus the Bull. Over the course of several hours as the Moon continues moving eastward along its orbit the Moon will pass across the v-shape and will be less than one-half degree from Aldebaran.
   
   
   
click on animated graphic to see it larger
   From my longitude this part of the sky will have set but observers in parts of north Africa, India, and that part of the world may be able to see an occultation of Aldebaran by the Moon. This animated graphic shows the Moon’s motion from 9 pm CDT 31 March to 5 am CDT 1 April (2 UT 1 April to 9 UT 1 April).
   
   
   
   
   

   The point of the v-shape is the bull’s nose while the two stars at the open end, Aldebaran and Epsilon Taurus mark the bull’s eyes. To the right, west, from the Moon is another open star cluster The Pleiades.

   
   
   

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for monthly observing information, or here to return to bobs-spaces.

March Moon at Perigee #2


   The Moon reaches perigee for the second time, (minimum distance from Earth), this month on Thursday March 30th. At that time the Moon will more or less be at a distance of 28.5 Earth diameters (363,853 km or 226,088 miles) from the Earth.
   Does our Moon actually go around the Earth as this graphic shows? 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*
   On the day of the perigee Moon the 3-day old waxing crescent Moon is over the western horizon at sunset local time, above to the left from Mars, and Mars sets a few hours after the Sun sets.

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

   Read this very informative article about the Earth-Moon system and their orbital motions, written by Joe Hanson. “Do We Orbit the Moon?”

   
   
   

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for monthly observing information, or here to go to bobs-spaces.

See A Very Young Moon


   Tuesday evening and Wednesday evening March 28th and 29th there will be opportunities to observe a young and thin waxing crescent Moon. Tuesday as the thin waxing crescent Moon sets it will be approximately 0.94 day young. The following evening, Wednesday, the setting Moon will be approximately 1.94 days young.

   
   
   

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for monthly observing information, or here to return to bobs-spaces.

March Moon at Descending Node

2jan-descending-node
   Saturday March 25th the -day old waning crescent 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.
   
   On the day of the node crossing the thin 26.7-day old waning crescent Moon will be over the southeast horizon at sunrise local time.

   
   
   

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for monthly observing information, or here to go to bobs-spaces.

Venus at Inferior Conjunction

   Saturday March 25th the inner planet Venus reaches its orbital position known as inferior conjunction.
   This is one of four points along an inner planet orbit. At inferior conjunction Venus is between the Earth and the Sun – sort of like our new Moon phase – but not necessarily directly in line. If that were so, inferior conjunction at the same time as Venus in direct line with the Earth and Sun (a node crossing at inferior conjunction) it would be a somewhat rare transit of the Sun by Venus. These happen as a pair of transits about one time each century with the last pair of Venus transits in June 2004 and June 2012. Here are some pictures of the June 2012 Venus Transit. Here is a link to the Vimeo web site to watch a video of the 2012 Venus Transit.
   By the way the next pair of Venus Transits are December 2117, and December 2125.

    At this inferior conjunction Venus is north of the ecliptic heading south toward its descending node and ecliptic crossing next month.

   
   
   
   

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for monthly observing information, or here to return to bobs-spaces.

Sun Not in Aries But it is The March 2017 Equinox

   Monday March 20th is an equinox day. This means that for those in the northern hemisphere winter is ending and spring has ‘sprung’ (starts). For our counterparts south of the equator summer is ending and fall is beginning. From a geographical perspective we would describe the Sun as being over the Earth’s equator, and as this graphic shows there would be an equal amount of daylight and night on our planet as a result.
    At mid-day on the equator the sun is directly overhead and from that latitude you have no shadow, just a ‘blob-like’ shadow at your feet as this picture of my feet taken at mid-day in Quito Ecuador shows.

    Regardless of your hemispheric preference get outside and cast a shadow!

  Northern hemisphere spring officially (well at least astronomically) begins at 10:29 UT on the 20th (05:29 am CDT) when the Sun reaches the celestial coordinates of 0 hours and 0 degrees as it moves northward along the ecliptic crossing the celestial equator. At this location the Sun is within the constellation of Pisces the Fishes and not just entering Aries the Ram as the pseudoscience of astrology would have you believe.

    To learn more about the celestial coordinates click here to read a previous post about seasons and the equinox.

   Click here to see the online world sunlight map used to make the day/night graphic at the top of the page.

sun-earth   Click here to go to the NASA Sun-Earth Days web site.

   Here is a short series of hourly pictures taken during the day on the September equinox on the equator in Quito Ecuador at Collegio Menor San Francisco de Quito, a private school that I visited and did the SunShIP project with (Sun Shadow Investigation Project).

   
   
   


Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for monthly observing information, or here to return to bobs-spaces.

Duck! Said Scorpius to Sagittarius

   Over the next several mornings, before the Sun rises, the Moon, as it wanes from gibbous to last quarter phase, glides past the stars of Scorpius the Scorpion and Sagittarius the Archer and the ringed planet Saturn.
   Apparently Archery is so loud that Sagittarius didn’t hear the warning and gets a face full of the Moon on the 21st.
   In the background is the Milky Way, but for the most part it will be difficult to see due to the bright reflected light from the Moon.
   Off to the west is Jupiter and Spica. Jupiter has been in retrograde motion since last month and is gradually moving west away from Spica.
   
   
   
   
   
   
   In the background is the Milky Way, but for the most part it will be difficult to see due to the bright reflected light from the Moon.

   
   
   

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for monthly observing information, or here to return to bobs-spaces.

March Moon at Apogee

 Our Moon reaches apogee, (greatest distance from Earth), on Saturday March 18th. At that time the Moon will more or less be at a distance of 31.72 Earth diameters (404,640 km or 251,432 miles) from the Earth.
   Does our Moon actually go around the Earth as this graphic shows? 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*

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

Read this very informative article about the Earth-Moon system and their orbital motions, written by Joe Hanson. “Do We Orbit the Moon?”

   On the morning of the apogee Moon the 20-day old waning gibbous Moon rises a couple of hours before the Sun and is visible over the southern horizon.

   
   
   

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for monthly observing information, or here to go to bobs-spaces.

Saturn at Western Quadrature

saturn-west-quadrature   Friday March 17th, the position of the planet Saturn with respect to the Earth and the Sun places this ringed planet at what is called western quadrature. Saturn is at a 90 degree angle from us as this graphic shows. Think third quarter Moon as that is a fair comparison of the relative positions. At this position Saturn leads the Sun across the sky from east to west as the Earth is rotating, meaning that Saturn rises before the Sun and also sets before the Sun.

   Saturn currently is within the constellation of Sagittarius the Archer as this graphic shows. From the northern hemisphere, looking toward the southern horizon, you can find Saturn to the east, left, from the reddish star Antares. Saturn shines with an apparent magnitude of around 0.5 compared with the 1st magnitude Antares.

Learn a little (or a lot) about Saturn by visiting the Cassini at Saturn mission web site.
Click here to go to the Cassini Mission web site.

   This is a short 5 minute video I made as part of a live musical performance called “Orbit”. This is a piece from the much longer tour of the solar system performance and video and shows Saturn and some of its moons as viewed from the Cassini spacecraft that month.

Error
This video doesn’t exist

   
   
   


Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for monthly observing information, or here to return to bobs-spaces.