A Tail of Two Comets

   April 1990 Comet Austin (1989c1) now getting brighter approaching naked-eye visibility.
   April 2020 Comet ATLAS (2019c1) predicted to brighten to naked eye visibility has now apparently broken apart.

   30 years ago, April 1990, I wrote the first of what was to become a continuing column about Earth and Space called Scope on the Skies for Science Scope Magazine. This is the Professional Journal for Middle School Science Teachers and is published by the National Science Teaching Association (NSTA)

   That April 1990 column, Comet Watch – “Comet Austin”, was about a potential naked-eye visible comet discovered by New Zealand Astronomer Rod Austin during December 1989. The comet was appropriately named Comet Austin 1989c1. The comet increased in brightness over the months following its discovery reaching around 4th magnitude and naked-eye visibility the following May of 1990.

   This month as Comet ATLAS (2019c1) was showing signs of becoming a bright comet it broke apart. This was reported a few days ago and the break-up has since been tentatively confirmed.


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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EarthKam Week

   This past week I had the privilege of working with two dynamic teachers and their Science classes in participating in the Sally Ride EarthKam Mission. As with previous missions the students work with a Google Earth type of map that shows the different orbital tracks the ISS will follow during the week. I remind them that is is sort of a ‘Forest Gump’ activity because like with the box of chocolates, you never know exactly what your picture will look like. How? Because of the weather or how accurately the location is selected. As a result of 176 requests 77 did not get taken and only 42 of the remainder of requests showed land features. The rest were clouded over.

   Below are the pictures as a slide show. Hover the cursor over a picture to see any information from the requester. SL is Summit Lakes Middle School and WVE is Westview Elementary School. This may be followed by requester name and possibly name of picture request location.

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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.

InSight Into the Red Planet

Click on image to download a bookmark.

Click on image to download a bookmark.

   InSight or Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport, is the next NASA planned mission to Mars. Set for launch in March 2016 the lander will have a flight time of approximately 6 months with a scheduled landing during September of 2016. In order to learn more about how terrestrial planets form this mission will be studying the Martian interior rather than the surface as all previous lander and rover missions have done.
   As a lander the power will be generated with solar panels and in order to maximize the efficiency of the solar panels a location near the equator needed to be chosen. This led to helping decide the final landing area within the Elysium Planitia, a large relatively flat plain like feature that lies on the equator. However a decision on the specific landing spot has not been made yet.
Click on image to go to mission multimedia web page

Click on image to go to mission multimedia web page.

   On board will be two types of instruments that will be used for a variety of tests including the use of a seismometer, and a heat flow probe. Cameras will record daily events and operations. Precise measurements of the distance to the sun will be made that will enable scientists to determine how the planet wobbles as it is tugged on by the Sun’s gravity. The wobble of a planet is determined by how unevenly mass is distributed throughout the planet’s interior. Areas with a greater concentration of mass in one part of the interior will cause that part of the planet to have a greater attraction with the Sun than an area with a less dense lower concentration of mass. So as the planet rotates and revolves with respect to the Sun the gravitational attraction between the two varies slightly causing the wobble. Among other things this results in a better understanding of how the process of differentiating occurred within the planet and how that mass is distributed within the interior.

   Click here to go to the InSight mission web site for more information.

   Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.

Martian Flight-Seeing

   The ESA, European Space Agency, recently released a short 5 minute video of a fly over of the Hebes Chasma, a canyon lying along the Martian equator near the Mariner Valley. This canyon is around 8000 m deep and is thought to have had water flowing through it in the past.
dexter   The video offers a fascinating look at the Martian surface features however there is no narration nor music. So… I added a favorite Mars themed song by Jazz artist Dexter Wansel to the video. The song, “Life on Mars” is on one of the albums in my record collection. The song was part of the audience walk-in music I used to play years ago when I worked in a Planetarium in Peoria Illinois. The walk-in music preceded the showing of a Planetarium show about Mars that was narrated by Carl Sagan. While the show was a good one it had what I thought was the most annoying musical soundtrack I had ever had to listen to.
   Watch the ESA produced video below. Also watch one of the early Mars fly over videos produced by NASA. This one takes you around the Mariner Valley system. That video was produced in the late 1980s and the difference in video technology and imaging capabilities is very obvious. And the soundtrack is rather familiar!

Click here to go to the ESA web site.
Click here to view the original video at the ESA web site.
Click here to go to the NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter web site.

   The banner graphic at the top of the page is from a colored topographic map of Mars. Click here to download the map.

Click here to read my review about ‘The Martian’, a fictional account of a survivor on Mars.

   Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information.

Name a Mascot-Mail a Pringle

   Two contests for students are online and available for participation however both are somewhat restrictive based on geography – one’s location.
   esa mascotThe European Space Agency, ESA, is hosting a Name the Mascot contest to select a name for
their mascot, however the competition is only open for students ages 4-12 years who reside in one of ESA’s 20 Member States or Cooperating States. Note that although the United States (NASA) works cooperatively with the ESA the United States is not part of the ESA so this contest is not available for students in the United States.
   Click here to go to the ESA – Space for Kids web site to learn more about this contest.
   Click here to go to the ESA/Hubble web site for a treasure trove of resources from the Hubble Space Telescope.

A Pringle

A Pringle

   ;A contest available within the United States for students, the Pringles Challenge, is based on designing a small package that will carry a single Pringle potato chip through the U.S. Mail system in such a manner that the Pringle will arrive at its destination intact or undamaged.
   Click here to learn more about the Pringles Challenge contest.

    Please note that posting the above information is not to be taken as a personal endorsement of the Pringle’s Potato Chip.
   Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information.