Along the Ecliptic

   Every once in a while the planets arrange themselves along the horizon and when that happens visualizing the ecliptic is somewhat obvious. For the next week or so all of the naked-eye visible planets except Mars, plus Neptune and Dwarf Planet Ceres, will be above the horizon at sunset local time. If you wait about an hour the Moon and the planet Uranus will rise above the eastern horizon as Mercury and Venus have set in the west.
   The ecliptic is actually the Earth’s orbit and it is used as a reference ‘line’, properly known as the plane of the ecliptic, for all of the Sun orbiting objects. Since few if any Sun orbiting objects have orbits that are on the same plane as the Earth but rather these objects are tilted or inclined either above or below the plane of the ecliptic. This is know as inclination. (Table Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orbital_inclination)

   
   
   

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July Moon at 2nd Ascending Node

   Tuesday July 30th the 27.5-day old thin waning crescent Moon will be crossing the plane of the ecliptic moving north relative to the ecliptic. This is known as the ascending node, one of two intersections the Moon’s orbital path has with the ecliptic. The ecliptic is actually the Earth’s orbit and the Moon’s orbit is inclined about 6o from the ecliptic. So there are two node intersections, the ascending and descending nodes.

   On the day of the node crossing the very thin waning crescent Moon rises about an hour before the Sun rises and is located nearly directly west from the ‘Twin’ stars, Pollux and Castor.

   Does our Moon actually go around the Earth as many graphics show? 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?”

   
   
   

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.


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Sun Not in Leo


   According to the pseudoscience of astrology, Tuesday July 23rd the sun will be entering the constellation of Leo the Lion. In fact the Sun is still within the boundaries of the constellation Cancer the Crab, having just entered that region two days ago.
   The difference between the two locations of the Sun, the correct astronomical vs. the incorrect astrological, is due to the effects of precession, or more specifically, the precession of the Earth’s axis. The Earth wobbles on its axis like a spinning top does as the top slows down. So, in approximately 26,000 years the Earth will have spun, or wobbled one time. This is a repetitive cycle and over the course of one precession cycle the poles of the Earth trace out a circle against the background stars over their respective pole. any star on or nearest to this precession circle is the pole star. Currently the north pole of the Earth points toward Polaris and within this century, due to precession, will point the closest it will be, and then over time the Earth’s north pole will shift away.
   Another effect of precession has been to cause the celestial grid system to shift moving the original signs of the zodiac by at least one constellation to the west. In other words the Sun is more to the east which in effect means that whatever your zodiacal sign may be according to astrology, you are really the constellation to the west, or before it according to Astronomy.
   Click here to read a little more about precession from a previous blog.
   The Science of Astronomy has its roots in astrology with the origins of astrology beginning several millennia ago possibly by the Babylonians. Regardless of its origins the basis for at least Sun astrology, the popularized version printed in newspapers, is the position of the Sun relative to stars in the background. However we now know that due to the effects of precession the Sun’s position is no longer as it was during the beginnings of astrology.
    The slideshow below shows the sun’s position within Cancer on July 22nd 2016 AD, and then shifts to show the sun in Leo 4,000 years ago on 22 July 2016 BC. Precession has shifted the sun’s position one constellation to the west.

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The Time of Apollo – 50th Anniversary

earth from moon   July 20th 1969 was the day the United States landed the Apollo 11 Lunar Lander the Eagle on the Sea of Tranquility. This was the first time someone from Earth walked on the Moon, with several successful missions to follow. Much of the Apollo missions were about beating the former Soviet Union, or probably more appropriate, being the first in some space exploration endeavor. This was the ‘Space Race’ and at least for landing people on the Moon, the United States won. Since then the focus of crewed (aka manned) space exploration has been confined to low, near Earth orbit – primarily with the Space Shuttle and International Space Station missions.
   I can very well remember sitting in the squadron barracks day-room in July of 1969 with other GIs watching the first men to step out of their lander and walk on the Moon. In the years that followed, I left the Air Force, completed undergraduate and graduate schools, and began my teaching career. Along the way I closely followed every NASA mission, crewed or robotic, and incorporated my excitement and passion of space exploration with my teaching. Now with the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission it sort of brought home how much time has passed since the days of seemingly endless, almost routine, launches from the Florida coast.
   I don’t think my mother, who used to live in Lake Mary Florida (about 40 miles west from the Kennedy Space Center), ever caught on to the timing for my family vacations to visit with her! We would be there around the time of a rocket launch, or in the case of the Shuttle, launches and landings. From her house we could watch the lift-off on TV and then step outside to see the vehicle climbing into the atmosphere. Or there were times when we would be ‘boomed’ out of bed, and the the windows would rattle as the shuttle passed over head leaving behind it’s signature double sonic boom.

   Somewhat sadly I am part of the only generation to have witnessed earthlings walking on another world. So Far! That may change with the NASA Artemis program plans to land a crew on the Moon by 2024.

   The evening skies on July 20th 1969 and July 20th 2019.

   The four videos below will perhaps highlight and celebrate some of how I and probably many others feel about space exploration. The first video, Overview, is interviews with 5 Astronauts as they describe how viewing the Earth from space has changed them. The second video, The Time of Apollo, is from the 16mm film days, and is a somber look at the Apollo missions. It is narrated by Burgess Meredith (the Penguin in the TV Batman series!). The third video is a look at the Artemis program. The fourth video, Gagarin, is a video I produced with an original musical score by Daniel Eichenbaum. It is a look at our planet from orbit with quotes from Cosmonauts and Astronauts.

Additionally here is a link to my cloud drive where I have a collection of NASA Moon mission videos (mp4 format).

OVERVIEW from Planetary Collective on Vimeo.

The Time of Apollo

Artemis Program to the Moon

Gagarin


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.


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April Moon at Apogee

   Our Moon reaches apogee, (greatest distance from Earth), on Monday April 1st. At that time the Moon will more or less be at a distance of 31.79 Earth diameters 252,520 miles (406,391 km) from the Earth.

   Does our Moon actually go around the Earth? 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 apogee the 26-day old very thin waning crescent Moon will be over the southeastern horizon 30-60 minutes before sunrise local time.

*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 return to bobs-spaces.


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Thin Moon Conjunction with Mercury

   Wednesday morning December 5th the very thin 28-day old waning crescent Moon will be within 4-5o from the innermost planet Mercury. Venus shines very brightly above or west from the Moon. About an hour after the Moon and Mercury have risen the outer planet Jupiter will rise above the eastern horizon.

   
   
   

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.


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Venus in Conjunction with Spica

   Saturday evening September 1st look westward for the inner planet Venus to be within about 1.5o from the blue-white star Spica in the constellation Virgo the Harvest Maiden.

   The pair should prove to be an interesting sight with binoculars or a wide-field telescope eyepiece. Venus shines with an apparent magnitude of -4.4, while Spica has an apparent magnitude of about 1.0.

   
   
   
   
   
   

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.


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