December 13, 2017

Astro Event: A Very Close Dawn Conjunction.

Tomorrow morning has something worth getting up for; one of the closest planetary conjunctions of the year. Specifically, the planets Jupiter and Uranus sit about 26’ arc minutes apart, as seen through binoculars. Both will also fit nicely in a low power telescopic field for the next week or so. Jupiter has been very much in the news as of late, as it first became suddenly “one striped” a few weeks ago and was recently smacked again by an impactor. When we first caught wind of this, our first instinct was hoax, such as the “Mars is the closest this August in 50,000 years!” email that circulates every summer. But it does indeed appear that another impactor has struck the giant world, on the same calendar date and discovered by the same observer! We’ve definitely received a lesson in Jupiters’ role as a cosmic vacuum cleaner as of late, although no true impact scar has yet to reveal itself. It’s also worth noting that the impact longitude will be on the planet’s central meridian at 4:21 EDT tomorrow the 8th as well, another reason to check out Jupiter. The impact video that circulated revealed the hit to be right at the longitude of the missing Southern Equatorial Belt. Uranus will be slightly fainter than a typical Galilean moon and display a grayish green disk. The pair rises around 3AM local and a waning crescent Moon will be nearby. Fun fact: did you know that Galileo missed the opportunity to discover another outer world, Neptune, during a close conjunction? He even drew its position change next to Jupiter in his notebook! Probably the reason that he didn’t make the intuitive leap was because no one at the time supposed that there should be any undiscovered planets!

The Astro-Word for this week is Appulse. This is another term that points back to astronomy’s hoary roots with astrology. We say an object (usually two planets or a planet and the Moon) are at appulse on their closest apparent approach. Of course, this is only line of sight from our vantage point; in reality, objects such as Jupiter and Uranus are millions of miles apart. The term appulse has sort of fallen to the wayside in favor of its synonym, conjunction, but it certainly doesn’t raise the eyebrows like another related mystical sounding term, occultation. I’m just glad that professional astronomers no longer have to subsidize their income by casting horoscopes for kings, as they did in times of yore!

09.10.09: An LCROSS Update.

NASA’s LCROSS spacecraft performed its promised “moon crash” early this AM at 0731 AM EDT… all eyes, electronic and otherwise were on Cabeus crater. Unfortunately, no impact was detected here at Astroguyz HQ in Hudson, Florida, although we did have a rising Sun and a brightening sky to contend with. The 10 AM news conference at the Ames research center revealed that the secondary control module of LCROSS did detect the impact in both UV and IR signatures as well as a visual fix on the crater created by the Centaur booster. The controller itself met its fiery end four minutes later. Ground based observatories from Apache Point, New Mexico to the Keck telescopes in Hawaii to observatories in South Korea as well as Hubble, LRO, and Sweden’s ODIN in orbit all gathered data. Its to be seen if any amateur ‘scopes recorded this event. Kitt Peak did record a sodium flash during the event. Of course, the data itself will need to be compiled and analyzed before any meaningful scientific conclusions can be done…I smell a follow up post! Kudos to all that woke up early to look at our nearest neighbor in space, as well as NASA scientists that are no doubt now getting some much needed sleep!

 

LCROSS Strikes Back!

The Moon won’t know what hit it Friday. On October 9th at 11:30 Universal Time, the LCROSS twin impactors will slam into the Moon’s south pole region. The quarry; permanently shaded water ice. LCROSS consists of a upper stage Centaur rocket weighing in at 5,200 lbs and a controlling “shepherd” spacecraft weighing in at 1,900 lbs. The stage section will separate shortly before impact, enabling the control package to fly through the resulting debris plume, which is expected to be 6 miles high at eject 350 tons of material from the surface. Both will successively slam into the surface at 5,600 mph. Recently, the candidate impact crater was shifted from Cabeus A to Cabeus proper.

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LCROSS target crater announced.

Scientists at NASA have announced the candidate target crater for the LCROSS impactor on October 9th; Cabeus A, a 11km wide polar crater thought to contain the ever- elusive water ice. The Centaur upper stage will slam into the carter floor at 7:30 AM EDT, at which time the Moon will be waning gibbous, and about 70% illuminated, and favoring viewers in the Americas (including Astroguyz HQ!). Contrary to earlier fears, LCROSS has enough fuel to make final maneuvers for impact. Both Keck observatories and LCROSS’s twin, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, as well as a multitude of eager amateur observers will be on hand to witness this rare event!

Possible Impact Tonite!

   A quick shout out; asteroid 2008 TC3 is forecast to burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere early in the AM Tuesday morning over Sudan. The tiny NEO is about 10 meters in diameter, and is scheduled to burn up at about 2:46 UT on October 7th, 2008. It may put on quite a show! We here at Astroguyz composed a quick video in Starry Night and posted it at our companion Youtube site. The view in the video is from the perspective of the asteroid coming in over the night side of the Earth. The asteroid itself will be visible to the Eastern US a few hours prior to impact, but of course, weather prospects don’t look good!