Category Archives: Education

NASA Night Sky Notes for December 2018: Observe Apollo 8’s Lunar Milestones

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 December, 2018.

By David Prosper

December marks the 50th anniversary of NASA’s Apollo 8 mission, when humans first orbited the Moon in a triumph of human engineering. The mission may be most famous for “Earthrise,” the iconic photograph of Earth suspended over the rugged lunar surface. “Earthrise” inspired the imaginations of people around the world and remains one of the most famous photos ever taken. This month also brings a great potential display of the Geminids and a close approach by Comet 46P/Wirtanen.

You can take note of Apollo 8’s mission milestones while observing the Moon this month. Watch the nearly full Moon rise just before sunset on December 21, exactly 50 years after Apollo 8 launched; it will be near the bright orange star Aldebaran in Taurus. The following evenings watch it pass over the top of Orion and on through Gemini; on those days five decades earlier, astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders sped towards the Moon in their fully crewed command module. Notice how the Moon rises later each evening, and how its phase wanes from full on Dec 22 to gibbous through the rest of the week. Can you imagine what phase Earth would appear as if you were standing on the Moon, looking back? The three brave astronauts spent 20 sleepless hours in orbit around the Moon, starting on Dec 24, 1968. During those ten orbits they became the first humans to see with their own eyes both the far side of the Moon and an Earthrise! The crew telecast a holiday message on December 25 to a record number of Earthbound viewers as they orbited over the lifeless lunar terrain; “Good night, good luck, a merry Christmas and God bless all of you – all of you on the good Earth.” 50 years later, spot the Moon on these holiday evenings as it travels through Cancer and Leo. Just two days later the astronauts splashed down into the Pacific Ocean after achieving all the mission’s test objectives, paving the way for another giant leap in space exploration the following year.

The Geminids, an excellent annual meteor shower, peaks the evening of December 13 through the morning of the 14th. They get their chance to truly shine after a waxing crescent Moon sets around 10:30 pm on the 13th. Expert Geminid observers can spot around 100 meteors per hour under ideal conditions. You’ll spot quite a few meteors by avoiding bad weather and light pollution if you can, and of course make sure to bundle up and take frequent warming breaks. The Geminids have an unusual origin compared to most meteor showers, which generally spring from icy comets. The tiny particles Earth passes through these evenings come from a strange “rock comet” named asteroid 3200 Phaethon. This dusty asteroid experiences faint outbursts of fine particles of rock instead of ice.

You can also look for comet 46P/Wirtanen while you’re out meteor watching. Its closest approach to Earth brings it within 7.1 million miles of us on December 16. That’s 30 times the average Earth-Moon distance! While passing near enough to rank as the 10th closest cometary approach in modern times, there is no danger of this object striking our planet. Cometary brightness is hard to predict, and while there is a chance comet 46P/Wirtanen may flare up to naked eye visibility, it will likely remain visible only via binoculars or telescopes. You’ll be able to see for yourself how much 46P/Wirtanen actually brightens. Some of the best nights to hunt for it will be December 15 and 16 as it passes between two prominent star clusters in Taurus: the Pleiades and the V-shaped Hyades. Happy hunting!

Catch up on all of NASA’s past, current, and future missions at nasa.gov.

Caption: Earthrise, 1968. Note the phase of Earth as seen from the Moon. Nearside lunar observers see Earth go through a complete set of phases. However, only orbiting astronauts witness Earthrises; for stationary lunar observers, Earth barely moves at all. Why is that? Credit: Bill Anders/NASA

About The NASA Night Sky Network

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!

Free Astronomy Magazine – November-December 2018 Issue Available For Reading And Download

Greetings, fellow astrophiles!

The most recent issue of Free Astronomy Magazine (November-December 2018) 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.

November-December 2018

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

November-December 2018 – www.astropublishing.com/6FAM2018/

For those who want to jump right to the PDF download (15 MB), Click here: November-December 2018

NASA Night Sky Notes for November 2018: The Dance of the Planets

Poster’s Note 1: After many years of providing wonderful and easily understandable content to astronomers and astronomy clubs around the world, NASA Space Place has handed over the monthly article distribution to the NASA Night Sky Network. Same excellent writing (and familiar writers for the moment), now to be known as “Night Sky Notes.”

Poster’s Note 2: 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 November, 2018.

By Jane Houston Jones and David Prosper

November’s crisp autumn skies bring great views of our planetary neighbors. The Moon pairs up with Saturn and Mars in the evenings, and mornings feature eye-catching arrangements with dazzling Venus. Stargazers wanting a challenge can observe a notable opposition by asteroid 3 Juno on the 17th and watch for a few bright Leonid meteors.

Red Mars gleams high in the southern sky after sunset. Saturn sits westward in the constellation Sagittarius. A young crescent Moon passes near Saturn on the 10th and 11th. On the 15th a first quarter Moon skims by Mars, coming within 1 degree of the planet. The red planet receives a new visitor on November 26th, when NASA’s InSight mission lands and begins its investigation of the planet’s interior. News briefings and commentary will be streamed live at: bit.ly/landsafe

Two bright planets hang low over the western horizon after sunset as November begins: Jupiter and Mercury. They may be hard to see, but binoculars and an unobstructed western horizon will help determined observers spot them right after sunset. Both disappear into the Sun’s glare by mid-month.

Early risers are treated to brilliant Venus sparkling in the eastern sky before dawn, easily outshining everything except the Sun and Moon. On November 6th, find a location with clear view of the eastern horizon to spot Venus next to a thin crescent Moon, making a triangle with the bright star Spica. The following mornings watch Venus move up towards Spica, coming within two degrees of the star by the second full week of November. Venus will be up three hours before sunrise by month’s end – a huge change in just weeks! Telescopic observers are treated to a large, 61” wide, yet razor-thin crescent at November’s beginning, shrinking to 41” across by the end of the month as its crescent waxes.

Observers looking for a challenge can hunt asteroid 3 Juno, so named because it was the third asteroid discovered. Juno travels through the constellation Eridanus and rises in the east after sunset. On November 17th, Juno is at opposition and shines at magnitude 7.4, its brightest showing since 1983! Look for Juno near the 4.7 magnitude double star 32 Eridani in the nights leading up to opposition. It is bright enough to spot through binoculars, but still appears as a star-like point of light. If you aren’t sure if you have identified Juno, try sketching or photographing its star field, then return to the same area over the next several days to spot its movement.

The Leonids are expected to peak on the night of the 17th through the morning of the 18th. This meteor shower has brought “meteor storms” as recently as 2002, but a storm is not expected this year. All but the brightest meteors will be drowned out by a waxing gibbous Moon.

Stay warm and enjoy this month’s dance of the planets!

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

With articles, activities and games NASA Space Place encourages everyone to get excited about science and technology. Visit spaceplace.nasa.gov to explore space and Earth science!

Caption: This finder chart shows the path of the asteroid 3 Juno as it glides past 32 Eridani in November 2018. The asteroid’s position is highlighted for selected dates, including its opposition on the 17th. Image created in Stellarium for NASA Night Sky Network.

About The NASA Night Sky Network

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!