Category Archives: Nasa Space Place

NASA Space Place – Observe The Moon

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 October, 2018.

By Jane Houston Jones and Jessica Stoller-Conrad

2013february2_spaceplaceThis year’s International Observe the Moon Night is on Oct. 20. Look for astronomy clubs and science centers in your area inviting you to view the Moon at their star parties that evening!

On Oct. 20, the 11-day-old waxing gibbous Moon will rise in the late afternoon and set before dawn. Sunlight will reveal most of the lunar surface and the Moon will be visible all night long. You can observe the Moon’s features whether you’re observing with the unaided eye, through binoculars or through a telescope.

Here are a few of the Moon’s features you might spot on the evening of October 20:

Sinus Iridum — Latin for “Bay of Rainbows” — is the little half circle visible on the western side of the Moon near the lunar terminator—the line between light and dark. Another feature, the Jura Mountains, ring the Moon’s western edge. You can see them catch the morning Sun.

Just south of the Sinus Iridum you can see a large, flat plain called the Mare Imbrium. This feature is called a mare — Latin for “sea” — because early astronomers mistook it for a sea on Moon’s surface. Because the Moon will be approaching full, the large craters Copernicus and Tycho will also take center stage.

Copernicus is 58 miles (93 kilometers) across. Although its impact crater rays—seen as lines leading out from the crater—will be much more visible at Full Moon, you will still be able to see them on October 20. Tycho, on the other hand, lies in a field of craters near the southern edge of the visible surface of the Moon. At 53 miles (85 kilometers) across, it’s a little smaller than Copernicus. However, its massive ray system spans more than 932 miles (1500 kilometers)!

And if you’re very observant on the 20th, you’ll be able to check off all six of the Apollo lunar landing site locations, too!

In addition to the Moon, we’ll be able to observe two meteor showers this month: the Orionids and the Southern Taurids. Although both will have low rates of meteors, they’ll be visible in the same part of the sky.

The Orionids peak on Oct. 21, but they are active from Oct. 16 to Oct. 30. Start looking at about 10 p.m. and you can continue to look until 5 a.m. With the bright moonlight you may see only five to 10 swift and faint Orionids per hour.

If you see a slow, bright meteor, that’s from the Taurid meteor shower. The Taurids radiate from the nearby constellation Taurus, the Bull. Taurids are active from Sept. 10 through Nov. 20, so you may see both a slow Taurid and a fast Orionid piercing your sky this month. You’ll be lucky to see five Taurids per hour on the peak night of Oct. 10.

You can also still catch the great lineup of bright planets in October, with Jupiter, Saturn and Mars lining up with the Moon again this month. And early birds can even catch Venus just before dawn!

You can find out more about International Observe the Moon Night at moon.nasa.gov/observe.

Caption: This image shows some of the features you might see if you closely observe the Moon. The stars represent the six Apollo landing sites on the Moon. Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University (modified by NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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!

NASA Space Place – A Trip Through the Milky Way

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 September, 2018.

By Jane Houston Jones and Jessica Stoller-Conrad

2013february2_spaceplaceFeeling like you missed out on planning a last vacation of summer? Don’t worry—you can still take a late summertime road trip along the Milky Way!

The waning days of summer are upon us, and that means the Sun is setting earlier now. These earlier sunsets reveal a starry sky bisected by the Milky Way. Want to see this view of our home galaxy? Head out to your favorite dark sky getaway or to the darkest city park or urban open space you can find.

While you’re out there waiting for a peek at the Milky Way, you’ll also have a great view of the planets in our solar system. Keep an eye out right after sunset and you can catch a look at Venus. If you have binoculars or a telescope, you’ll see Venus’s phase change dramatically during September—from nearly half phase to a larger, thinner crescent.

Jupiter, Saturn and reddish Mars are next in the sky, as they continue their brilliant appearances this month. To see them, look southwest after sunset. If you’re in a dark sky and you look above and below Saturn, you can’t miss the summer Milky Way spanning the sky from southwest to northeast.

You can also use the summer constellations to help you trace a path across the Milky Way. For example, there’s Sagittarius, where stars and some brighter clumps appear as steam from a teapot. Then there is Aquila, where the Eagle’s bright Star Altair combined with Cygnus’s Deneb and Lyra’s Vega mark what’s called the “summer triangle.” The familiar W-shaped constellation Cassiopeia completes the constellation trail through the summer Milky Way. Binoculars will reveal double stars, clusters and nebulae all along the Milky Way.

Between Sept. 12 and 20, watch the Moon pass from near Venus, above Jupiter, to the left of Saturn and finally above Mars!

This month, both Neptune and brighter Uranus can also be spotted with some help from a telescope. To see them, look in the southeastern sky at 1 a.m. or later. If you stay awake, you can also find Mercury just above Earth’s eastern horizon shortly before sunrise. Use the Moon as a guide on Sept. 7 and 8.

Although there are no major meteor showers in September, cometary dust appears in another late summer sight, the morning zodiacal light. Zodiacal light looks like a cone of soft light in the night sky. It is produced when sunlight is scattered by dust in our solar system. Try looking for it in the east right before sunrise on the moonless mornings of Sept. 8 through Sept 23.

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

Caption: This illustration shows how the summer constellations trace a path across the Milky Way. To get the best views, head out to the darkest sky you can find. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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!

NASA Space Place – A Close-Up View Of Mars

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, 2018.

By Jane Houston Jones and Jessica Stoller-Conrad

2013february2_spaceplaceIn July 2018, skywatchers can get an up close view of Mars—even without a telescope! In fact, on July 31, Mars will be closer to Earth than it has been in 15 years.

Why is that?

Like all the planets in our solar system, Earth and Mars orbit the Sun. Earth is closer to the Sun, and therefore it races along its orbit more quickly. Earth makes two trips around the Sun in about the same amount of time that Mars takes to make one trip.

Sometimes the two planets are on opposite sides of the Sun and are very far apart. Other times, Earth catches up with its neighbor and passes relatively close to it. This is called Mars’s closest approach to Earth, and it’s happening this year on July 31. The Moon will be near Mars on that night, too!

Keep in mind that even during its closest approach, Mars is still more than 35 million miles away from Earth. That’s really far. So, Mars won’t appear as big as the Moon in the sky, but it will appear bigger than it usually does.

July and August will be a great time to check out Mars. Through a telescope, you should normally be able to make out some of the light and dark features of the Red Planet—and sometimes even polar ice. However, a huge Martian dust storm is obscuring these features right now, so less planetary detail is visible.

There is another important Mars date in July: Mars opposition. Mars opposition is when Mars, Earth and the Sun all line up, with Earth directly in the middle. This event is happening on July 27 this year.

Although you may see news focusing on one of these two dates, Mars will be visible for many months. For about three weeks before and three weeks after opposition and closest approach, the planet will appear the same size to a skywatcher.

From July 7 through September 7 Mars will be the third brightest object in the sky (after the Moon and Venus), shining even brighter than Jupiter. The best time to view Mars during this time is several hours after sunset, when Mars will appear higher in the sky.

Mars will still be visible after July and August, but each month it will shrink in size as it travels farther from Earth in its orbit around the Sun.

In other sky news, there will be a partial solar eclipse on July 13, but it will only be visible from Northern Antarctica and southern Australia. On July 27 (beginning at 20:21 UTC), a total lunar eclipse will be visible in Australia, Asia, Africa, Europe and South America. For those viewers, Mars will be right next to the eclipsing Moon!

If you’re wanting to look ahead to next month, prepare for August’s summer Perseid meteor shower. It’s not too early to plan a dark sky getaway for the most popular meteor shower of the year!

You can catch up on NASA’s missions to Mars and all of NASA’s missions at www.nasa.gov

Caption:In 2018, Mars will appear brightest from July 27 to July 30. Its closest approach to Earth is July 31. That is the point in Mars’ orbit when it comes closest to Earth. Mars will be at a distance of 35.8 million miles (57.6 million kilometers). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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!