NASA Night Sky Notes: Mars The Wanderer

Poster’s Note: One of the many under-appreciated aspects of NASA is the extent to which it publishes quality science content for children and Ph.D.’s alike. Your tax dollars help promote science! The following article was provided for reprinting by the Night Sky Network in April, 2019.

By David Prosper

April’s skies find Mars traveling between star clusters after sunset, and a great gathering of planets just before sunrise.

Mars shows stargazers exactly what the term “planet” originally meant with its rapid movement across the evening sky this month. The ancient Greeks used the term planete, meaning wanderer, to label the bright star-like objects that travelled between the constellations of the zodiac year after year.

You can watch Mars as it wanders through the sky throughout April, visible in the west for several hours after sunset. Mars travels past two of the most famous star clusters in our night sky: the Pleiades and Hyades. Look for the red planet next to the tiny but bright Pleiades on April 1st. By the second week in April, it has moved eastward in Taurus towards the larger V-shaped Hyades. Red Mars appears to the right of the slightly brighter red-orange star Aldebaran on April 11th. We see only the brightest stars in these clusters with our unaided eyes; how many additional stars can you observe through binoculars?

Open clusters are made up of young stars born from the same “star nursery” of gas and dust. These two open clusters are roughly similar in size. The Pleiades appears much smaller as they are 444 light years away, roughly 3 times the distance of the Hyades, at 151 light years distant. Aldebaran is in the same line of sight as the Hyades, but is actually not a member of the cluster; it actually shines just 65 light years away! By comparison, Mars is practically next door to us, this month just a mere 18 light minutes from Earth – that’s about almost 200 million miles. Think of the difference between how long it takes the light to travel from these bodies: 18 minutes vs. 65 years!

The rest of the bright planets rise before dawn, in a loose lineup starting from just above the eastern horizon to high above the south: Mercury, Venus, Saturn, and Jupiter. Watch this month as the apparent gap widens considerably between the gas giants and terrestrial planets. Mercury hugs the horizon all month, with Venus racing down morning after morning to join its dimmer inner solar system companion right before sunrise. In contrast, the giants Jupiter and Saturn move away from the horizon and rise earlier all month long, with Jupiter rising before midnight by the end of April.

The Lyrids meteor shower peaks on April 22nd, but sadly all but the brightest meteors will be washed out by the light of a bright gibbous Moon.

You can catch up on all of NASA’s current and future missions at nasa.gov

Caption: The path of Mars between the Pleiades and Hyades in April.
Image created with assistance from Stellarium.

The Night Sky Network program supports astronomy clubs across the USA dedicated to astronomy outreach. Visit nightsky.jpl.nasa.gov to find local clubs, events, and more!

Up, Up, And Away: Using Drones For Earth Sciences And Geospatial Research And Teaching – 16 April 2019

Research & Technology Forum
Tuesday, April 16, 2019, 10:00-11:30 AM
REGISTER NOW! ATTEND IN PERSON | JOIN VIA WEBINAR

Unoccupied aerial vehicles (UAVs), a.k.a. drones, are emerging technologies that are transforming numerous industries. In the environmental field, UAVs are changing the ways we monitor and collect data on land and over water, revolutionizing the quality and frequency of remote data collection that has previously been conducted via planes or satellites.

In this Research and Technology Forum, you will hear from two Syracuse University faculty members who are applying UAVs in their own research, and developing educational programs to share this new technology with undergraduate and graduate students. First, we’ll introduce you to different types of UAV technologies, how these technologies are being used by earth and environmental scientists, and provide several local examples from thermal and multispectral monitoring around Syracuse that show how UAV data is improving our understanding at the intersection of hydrology and water quality.

To round out the forum, we’ll also discuss a new course, developed by Drs. Christa Kelleher and Jane Read, aimed at educating the next generation of environmental and earth scientists capable of using these tools when they leave Syracuse.

Presenters

Professor Christa Kelleher, Assistant Professor, Earth Sciences and Civil Engineering, Syracuse University

Dr. Kelleher’s research interests are at the interfaces between climate, hydrology, humans, and ecology, particularly using observations and mathematical models to investigate the organization of hydrology and water quality across spatio-temporal scales. Currently, she’s pursuing projects to examine the hydrologic role of vacant lots in urban areas, exploring the hydrologic controls on contaminants of emerging concern across Central New York, and the use of unmanned aerial vehicles to understand patterns of hydrology and water quality in Syracuse and beyond. Christa teaches courses in water science, hydrology, earth systems modeling, and applications of UAVs to environmental and earth sciences.

Professor Jane Read, Associate Professor, Geography, Syracuse University

Dr. Read specializes in geographic information systems, remote sensing, land use and land cover, and human-environment interactions. Much of her research has focused in the neotropics, including Costa Rica, Brazil, and Guyana, although she has also studied historical land changes in the Adirondacks of New York State, USA and more recently working with colleagues on a digital atlas project – Onondaga Lake: Finding a Restorative Center in Digital Space. She was the Director of Undergraduate Studies for Geography from 2014-2018 and is interested in ways to incorporate active learning into the classroom. She teaches courses in global environmental change, tropical environments, spatial thinking and geospatial technologies (GIS, remote sensing, UAVs), and spatial storytelling.

About TACNY

Founded in 1903 as the Technology Club of Syracuse, the nonprofit Technology Alliance of Central New York’s mission is to facilitate community awareness, appreciation, and education of technology; and to collaborate with like-minded organizations across Central New York. For more information, visit tacny.org

SU Engineering and Computer Science Open House – 13 April 2019

Greetings, fellow astrophiles!

The announcement below has arrived through the TACNY email list:

Syracuse University is hosting our annual Engineering & Computer Science Open House on Saturday, April 13!  This is an excellent opportunity for high school students are interested in these fields.

The day will include a discussion of Engineering & Computer Science majors, application process, student success programs, co-curricular activities, study abroad, and internship and career opportunities. Prospective students will also meet with current students and faculty in our labs to learn about their projects and research. We’ll have a fun lunch on the Quad as well as residence hall tours and campus tours.

The complete schedule and RSVP link are available on our ECS Open House website. Please scroll down to the schedule for prospective students (10:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.) and use the registration link for prospective students.

If this date doesn’t work for you, please consider visiting on a different date. We offer Engineering and Computer Science info sessions and lab tours on almost every weekday. Please register online for a campus visit.

About TACNY

Founded in 1903 as the Technology Club of Syracuse, the nonprofit Technology Alliance of Central New York’s mission is to facilitate community awareness, appreciation, and education of technology; and to collaborate with like-minded organizations across Central New York. For more information, visit tacny.org