NASA Space Place – Venus And Jupiter Prepare For Their Close-Up This August

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. NASA Space Place has been providing general audience articles for quite some time that are freely available for download and republishing. Your tax dollars help promote science! The following article was provided for reprinting in July, 2016.

By Dr. Ethan Siegel

2013february2_spaceplaceAs Earth speeds along in its annual journey around the Sun, it consistently overtakes the slower-orbiting outer planets, while the inner worlds catch up to and pass Earth periodically. Sometime after an outer world—particularly a slow-moving gas giant—gets passed by Earth, it appears to migrate closer and closer to the Sun, eventually appearing to slip behind it from our perspective. If you’ve been watching Jupiter this year, it’s been doing exactly that, moving consistently from east to west and closer to the Sun ever since May 9th.

On the other hand, the inner worlds pass by Earth. They speed away from us, then slip behind the Sun from west to east, re-emerging in Earth’s evening skies to the east of the Sun. Of all the planets visible from Earth, the two brightest are Venus and Jupiter, which experience a conjunction from our perspective only about once per year. Normally, Venus and Jupiter will appear separated by approximately 0.5º to 3º at closest approach. This is due to the fact that the Solar System’s planets don’t all orbit in the same perfect, two-dimensional plane.

But this summer, as Venus emerges from behind the Sun and begins catching up to Earth, Jupiter falls back toward the Sun, from Earth’s perspective, at the same time. On August 27th, all three planets—Earth, Venus and Jupiter—will make nearly a perfectly straight line.

As a result, Venus and Jupiter, at 9:48 PM Universal time, will appear separated by only 4 arc-minutes, the closest conjunction of naked eye planets since the Venus/Saturn conjunction in 2006. Seen right next to one another, it’s startling how much brighter Venus appears than Jupiter; at magnitude -3.80, Venus appears some eight times brighter than Jupiter, which is at magnitude -1.53.

Look to the western skies immediately after sunset on August 27th, and the two brightest planets of all—brighter than all the stars—will make a dazzling duo in the twilight sky. As soon as the sun is below the horizon, the pair will be about two fists (at arm’s length) to the left of the sun’s disappearance and about one fist above a flat horizon. You may need binoculars to find them initially and to separate them. Through a telescope, a large, gibbous Venus will appear no more distant from Jupiter than Callisto, its farthest Galilean satellite.

As a bonus, Mercury is nearby as well. At just 5º below and left of the Venus/Jupiter pair, Mercury achieved a distant conjunction with Venus less than 24 hours prior. In 2065, Venus will actually occult Jupiter, passing in front of the planet’s disk. Until then, the only comparably close conjunctions between these two worlds occur in 2039 and 2056, meaning this one is worth some special effort—including traveling to get clear skies and a good horizon—to see!

This article was provided by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

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Caption: E. Siegel, created with Stellarium, of a small section of the western skies as they will appear this August 27th just after sunset from the United States, with Venus and Jupiter separated by less than 6 arc-minutes as shown. Inset shows Venus and Jupiter as they’ll appear through a very good amateur telescope, in the same field of view.

About NASA Space Place

With articles, activities, crafts, games, and lesson plans, NASA Space Place encourages everyone to get excited about science and technology. Visit spaceplace.nasa.gov (facebook|twitter) to explore space and Earth science!

Free Astronomy Magazine – July-August 2016 Issue Available For Reading And Download

Greetings, fellow astrophiles!

2016july8_freeastroThe most recent issue of Free Astronomy Magazine (July-August, 2016) is available for your reading and downloading pleasure at www.astropublishing.com (click the link to go directly to the issue).

Free Astronomy Magazine was featured as the first of a series of articles on great free online content for amateur astronomers (see A Universe Of Free Resources Part 1) and we’ll be keeping track of future publications under the Online Resources category on the CNYO website.

You can find previous Free Astronomy Magazine issues by checking out our Free Astronomy Magazine Category (or look under the Education link in our menu).

For those wanting a quick look at what the issue has to offer, the Table of Contents is reproduced below.

July-August 2016

The web browser-readable version of the issue can be found here:

July/August 2016 – www.astropublishing.com/FAM-4-2016/files/assets/basic-html/index.html

For those who want to jump right to the PDF download (30 MB), Click here: July-August 2016

2016july8_freeastro_toc

NASA News Digest: Space Science For 24 May – 28 June 2016

Greetings fellow astrophiles,

The NASA News Service provides up-to-date announcements of NASA policy, news events, and space science. A recent selection of space science articles are provided below, including direct links to the full announcements. Those interested in receiving these announcements from NASA can subscribe to their service by sending an email to: hqnews-request@newsletters.nasa.gov?subject=subscribe

NASA Telescopes Find Clues For How Giant Black Holes Formed So Quickly

RELEASE 16-054 (Click here for the full article) – 24 May 2016

black_seed_images_1920x1200.jpgUsing data from NASA’s Great Observatories, astronomers have found the best evidence yet for cosmic seeds in the early universe that should grow into supermassive black holes.

Researchers combined data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, Hubble Space Telescope, and Spitzer Space Telescope to identify these possible black hole seeds. They discuss their findings in a paper that will appear in an upcoming issue of the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

“Our discovery, if confirmed, explains how these monster black holes were born,” said Fabio Pacucci of Scuola Normale Superiore (SNS) in Pisa, Italy, who led the study. “We found evidence that supermassive black hole seeds can form directly from the collapse of a giant gas cloud, skipping any intermediate steps.”

For more on NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, visit: www.nasa.gov/chandra

For more on NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, visit: www.nasa.gov/hubble

For more on NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, visit: www.nasa.gov/spitzer

NASA Satellite Finds Unreported Sources Of Toxic Air Pollution

RELEASE 16-055 (Click here for the full article) – 1 June 2016

16-055-masterUsing a new satellite-based method, scientists at NASA, Environment and Climate Change Canada, and two universities have located 39 unreported and major human-made sources of toxic sulfur dioxide emissions.

A known health hazard and contributor to acid rain, sulfur dioxide (SO2) is one of six air pollutants regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Current, sulfur dioxide monitoring activities include the use of emission inventories that are derived from ground-based measurements and factors, such as fuel usage. The inventories are used to evaluate regulatory policies for air quality improvements and to anticipate future emission scenarios that may occur with economic and population growth.

For more information about, and access to, NASA’s air quality data, visit: so2.gsfc.nasa.gov

NASA uses the vantage point of space to increase our understanding of our home planet, improve lives, and safeguard our future. NASA develops new ways to observe and study Earth’s interconnected natural systems with long-term data records. The agency freely shares this unique knowledge and works with institutions around the world to gain new insights into how our planet is changing.

For more information about NASA Earth science research, visit: www.nasa.gov/earth

NASA’s Juno Spacecraft To Risk Jupiter’s Fireworks For Science

RELEASE 16-063 (Click here for the full article) – 16 June 2016

On July 4, NASA will fly a solar-powered spacecraft the size of a basketball court within 2,900 miles (4,667 kilometers) of the cloud tops of our solar system’s largest planet.

As of Thursday, Juno is 18 days and 8.6 million miles (13.8 million kilometers) from Jupiter. On the evening of July 4, Juno will fire its main engine for 35 minutes, placing it into a polar orbit around the gas giant. During the flybys, Juno will probe beneath the obscuring cloud cover of Jupiter and study its auroras to learn more about the planet’s origins, structure, atmosphere and magnetosphere.

“At this time last year our New Horizons spacecraft was closing in for humanity’s first close views of Pluto,” said Diane Brown, Juno program executive at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Now, Juno is poised to go closer to Jupiter than any spacecraft ever before to unlock the mysteries of what lies within.”

More information on the Juno mission is available at: www.nasa.gov/juno

The public can follow the mission on Facebook and Twitter at: www.facebook.com/NASAJuno and www.twitter.com/NASAJuno

NASA’s Space Launch System Booster Passes Major Milestone On Journey To Mars

RELEASE 16-069 (Click here for the full article) – 28 June 2016

Booster Test for Space Launch System RocketA booster for the most powerful rocket in the world, NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS), successfully fired up Tuesday for its second qualification ground test at Orbital ATK’s test facilities in Promontory, Utah. This was the last full-scale test for the booster before SLS’s first uncrewed test flight with NASA’s Orion spacecraft in late 2018, a key milestone on the agency’s Journey to Mars.

“This final qualification test of the booster system shows real progress in the development of the Space Launch System,” said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Seeing this test today, and experiencing the sound and feel of approximately 3.6 million pounds of thrust, helps us appreciate the progress we’re making to advance human exploration and open new frontiers for science and technology missions in deep space.”

For more information about NASA’s Journey to Mars, visit: www.nasa.gov/journeytomars

For more information on SLS, visit: www.nasa.gov/sls