June Solstice – 2020

   Northern hemisphere spring comes to an end and its summer begins on Saturday June 20st at 21:45 UT (4:45 pm CDT) when the Sun ‘reaches’ the celestial coordinates of 23.5o north declination and 6 hours right ascension. With respect to the Earth’s surface the Sun is described as over the Tropic of Cancer, 23.5o, north latitude of the Earth’s equator. At this same time according to astrology the Sun is said to be entering the boundaries of the astrological constellation Cancer the Crab. Actually it is not. Interestingly about 7 hours later, June 21st at 9 UT (4 am CDT) the Sun will actually be entering the region of the Gemini Twins as it crosses the boundary between Gemini and Taurus.

   We know that it is the Earth’s orbital motion around the Sun that causes the sun’s apparent eastward motion among the stars in the background. This is how the Sun ‘reaches’ a celestial coordinate, how it ‘crosses’ the boundaries between constellations, or how it is ‘in’ a constellation.

   With respect to the southern hemisphere this is the end of their summer and start of their fall season. So thinking globally my preference has been to use the name of the month to designate the season change. Hence the use of the term June Solstice rather than summer solstice.

   
      
   

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Sun Not Really In Cancer

   According to the pseudoscience of astrology the Sun enters the constellation of Cancer the Crab on Sunday June 21st at 9 UT (4 am CDT). When in fact the actual position of the Sun on this date is still within the boundary of the constellation of Taurus the Bull, but by very little. The Sun is very close to the eastern boundary for Taurus and the western boundary for the Gemini Twins, as this graphic and the banner graphic at the top of the page shows.
   Interestingly the June solstice was yesterday
   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.
   
   
   
   

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I Should’ve Gone to Mars!

   Let’s face it. I am a ‘closet geographer’! Can you say Geomorphology? That is my passion when not looking skyward. I am fascinated by landforms and how they came to looking the way they do now. What were the weathering and erosional process that were involved and how did the patterns of those process do what it did? And that leads into this blog, sort of a repeat of a previous blog about taking a road trip on Mars, and two more recent blogs about this trip. This time a road trip, or actually an air trip to my brother’s home in Sun City Arizona, a northwest suburb of Phoenix.
   So imagine the diverse landforms you could see along the way either from the ground in a car or by plane as I did traveling across the United States from my home in Lee’s Summit, Missouri to my brother’s place near Phoenix Arizona. From the wooded and hilly and green western Missouri southwest across the Great Plains of Kansas and Oklahoma to the Texas Panhandle where the terrain takes on a more brownish and rugged look. From the Panhandle the route takes you across New Mexico through Albuquerque then into eastern Arizona to Flagstaff and then south to Phoenix.

   So imagine using the same latitudes and longitudes on Earth, but this time put them on the surface of Mars. Assuming that something like this will become a reality in the future what types of terrain would you see along the way?
(Mars Geologic Map – source: USGS)

   
   
   

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3 Days – 3 Trails

   This past week I was in the Phoenix Arizona area enjoying some unusually cooler weather and the mountain and desert scenery. My goal was to hike as many days as possible until the weather got too hot – which was by Thursday. Morning temperatures were in the upper 60sF low 70sF but by around 9:00 am the temperature was in the upper 80sF heading for 100oF or higher.
   Nonetheless I got in two warm up morning hikes on Sunrise Mountain and Calderwood Butte. Both were typical of what I call City Mountains. They are largely igneous masses with considerable rocky rubble on most of the trails. Locally the trails are described as ‘ankle busters’ as it is easy to step incorrectly and injure yourself. What is neat about these ‘city mountains’ is that they are very easy to get to – many of which are parts of city park systems. Trails are fairly well marked although I use the AllTrails App to keep me on the right path.
   The 3rd day I spent several hours wandering around the Phoenix Mountain Preserve That morning I pushed it and completed 3 different but connected trails. Trail 1Trail 2Trail 3. This was an incredible area with trails every which way with many taking you away from the city sounds but nearly all required some uphill and downhill navigating. I encountered a few trails that going up or down were very steep but well worth the effort. Lots of interesting rock formations along the way.
   The geology of the area is a fantastic combination of igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary rocks. Much of the level ground is outwash deposits from the surrounding mountains while the mountains are a mixture of igneous and metamorphic rocks. I saw what looked like either marble or chert, schist, and outcrops of slate among the types I recognized. There was a very obvious lean to many rock exposures and according to the geology of the area the rocks have a northeast strike.

   The video below shows some of the geology I encountered on these hikes.

   
   
   

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June Qué tal in the Current Skies Now Available

   This month, June, planet viewing is best in the early morning hours before sunrise. With the exception of Mercury all of the visible planets are in the morning skies. Mercury moves out east from the Sun this month reaching its greatest eastern elongation and then rather quickly moves westward back to the Sun and inferior conjunction on July 1st.
   This month there will be a pair of eclipses staring with a Penumbral Lunar Eclipse on the 5th. As penumbral eclipses go this one will be barely visible as it occurs over parts of southern Europe, Africa, south Asia, and Australia. On the 21st the new Moon will pass across the Sun setting up an annular solar eclipse that will occur over parts of north Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia.
   And on the 20th the Sun crosses the ecliptic moving north starting Northern Hemisphere summer and southern Hemisphere Winter.
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Have Some ‘Pie’ – View Some Planets

   Saturday March 14th, 3/14/2020, is perhaps better known as Pi Day given that 3.14, the value for Pi, is also the month and day number. Learn more about Pi and see what NASA has planned for this special day at the NASA Pi Day Challenge web site.
   Saturday the 14th, weather depending, is another day this year when you have a choice of planet viewing – all of the six visible planets in fact. In the early morning skies look east and southeast for a line-up of planets ranging from Mercury, to Saturn, Mars, Jupiter, and the 19-day old waning gibbous Moon. In the evening after sunset Venus shines brightly over the western horizon. Venus is near the outer ringed planet Uranus, but Uranus is not considered a naked-eye visible planet in most skies.
   Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn are all visible, but that’s only five visible planets. So where is the sixth visible planet?

   
   
   

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Mercury at Inferior Conjunction – Transits the Sun

   Are you ready for the Solar Transit Monday morning November 11th? This celestial event will be visible across the entire continental U.S.A., and your longitude/location will determine when and how much of the transit you will be able to see. Weather cooperating of course!

   
   
   

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Perseids Meteor Shower – 2019

   While August signals the end of summer vacation for students and teachers, for sky-watchers the month signals the beginning of the Perseid meteor shower. This annual event occurs when the Earth passes through the path of debris left behind by the Comet P/SwiftTuttle. The Perseids, like all meteor showers, are named for the region of the sky that the meteors seem to radiate from. The Perseids radiant is within the constellation Perseus.
   The meteor shower lasts slightly longer than a month, beginning around July 17 and ending around August 24. The best times for viewing, when the maximum number of meteors could be seen (under ideal conditions), is the peak night, on August 13th. The best time for viewing the meteors is after midnight and in the couple of hours before the Sun rises. At this time, our position on the Earth will face directly into the “cloud” of debris.
   This year the peak night is 3 days before full Moon which is good news because the waxing gibbous Moon will set at around 4-5 am local time as the area around the Pleiades and the radiant rise in the east. This leaves maybe 2 hours of viewing before the sky brightens too much.

  Where should you look to find Perseus and the meteors? For those viewing from mid-northern latitudes (40-50 degrees Perseus rises around midnight over the northeast horizon. By early morning, the Perseids radiant is very high, nearly overhead toward the northeast horizon.

One Perseid Down- Many More to Go?
Perseids: The Peak Night

Here is a wonderful short video about a falling star by Sascha Geddert.


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Moon on the Move – Actually It Doesn’t Stop!

   Over the next couple of evenings the waxing gibbous Moon will pass by two outer planets, Jupiter and Dwarf Planet Ceres. On the 8th the 8-day old waxing gibbous Moon will be about 2o from the Dwarf Planet Ceres, and on the 9th the 9-day old Moon will be about 2o from Jupiter.


   
   
   

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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


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