The Moon is an interesting target with or without optical aid. If you still have Sunday’s New York Times check out the Sky Watch chart on p. 21 of the National Section. Joe Rao had a great take on looking at the moon on Thursday morning January 7th, pointing out that our moon at that time is ahead of us on the path the earth follows as we orbit the sun. I wish I could include the write-up here, but the Times is copyrighted. It was a really cool way of visualizing the path our planet takes around the sun.
The Moon flirts with various planets this month. The crescent moon hangs out in Jupiter’s neighborhood on the 16th and 17th. A nearly full moon is seen near Mars, when Mars is at its brightest, from the 29th through the 31st. Perhaps the moon is jealous of the attention Mars gets when it is at its brightest every 26 months. I think is may be true since the moon will take its revenge by blocking out the bright reddish star Antares (literally, “rival of Mars”) on the morning of the 11th before sunrise. However, it will only be seen from Southeastern Canada. We’ll only get to see the moon parked dazzlingly close to Antares.
Mercury, speedy and shy, hides out low in the bright twilight of the pre-sunrise sky during the second half of January and the first half of February. A very thin moon is nearby on the 13th. Both are hard to see.
If you want to look ahead at the rest of 2010, get a copy of Sky and Telescopes’ Skywatch for 2010. They include an evening night sky map for every month and lots of tips on telescopes and observing. It think the S&T web site is still offering free shipping. You can also find it at many large bookstore chains.
The New Horizons probe is now as close to Pluto as to Earth, but it still has five years to travel to get to Pluto.
Observations of the LCROSS crash into a crater near the moon’s South Pole did find some water, perhaps not as much as expected. The plume was not visible in ordinary telescopes, unfortunately. More on this in February’s Sky and Telescope.
Mars Expedition Rover #1 a/k/a Spirit, is still stuck in the soft sand of a filled-in crater. It can still do lots of good science if it says stuck, but, of course, they’d like to move on and keep looking for new stuff. Spirit celebrates six Earth years on Mars in January.
The International Space Station is easy to see without optical aid as a very bright slowly moving star, if you know when to look. Sightings for our area are in the evening from now through January 25. The best days are 8th, 10th and the 24th – check heavens-above.com for updated dates and exact times. Occasionally they tweak the ISS’ altitude upward to keep it well out of the atmosphere and this lengthens the time it takes to go around the Earth and changes the sighting times.
The next Shuttle launches are planned for:
Feb. 7, 2010 20A Endeavour STS-130
Delivering: Tranquility Node 3, Cupola
March 18, 2010 19A Discovery STS-131
Delivering: Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (MPLM), Lightweight Multi-Purpose Experiment Support Structure Carrier (LMC)
May 14, 2010 ULF4 Atlantis STS-132
Delivering: Integrated Cargo Carrier (ICC), Mini Research Module (MRM1)
July 29, 2010 ULF6 Endeavour STS-134
Delivering: EXPRESS Logistics Carrier 3 (ELC3), Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS)
Sept. 16, 2010 ULF5 Discovery STS-133
Delivering: EXPRESS Logistics Carrier 4 (ELC4), Permanent Multi-Purpose Module (PMM)
These are all the remaining shuttle missions planned as the shuttle was to be phased out at the end of 2010.
Will there be one or more additional missions? Stay tuned!