A few odds and ends, all space and astronomy related I believe:
- There was another really beautiful conjunction on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday this last week, particularly Friday. The thin crescent moon was very close to an extremely bright Venus, with a very visible (and red) Mars also right there. I wasn’t going off about it, or posting pictures, because it’s been cloudy here. The Long-Suffering Wife saw it briefly while we were driving Friday night and was duly impressed. If you missed it yourself you can find lots of pictures online. If your skies are clearing, even with the moon having moved up higher in the sky, Venus and Mars will look lovely together in the west just after sunset.
- There was the first of three EVAs (space walks) by two US astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) yesterday, with the next one to come in the wee hours of of Wednesday morning (07:10 EST, 04:10 PST) and Sunday morning. They’ll all be shown on NASA-TV, which you can watch online if you don’t have it on your cable or satellite system. It’s interesting work – they’re getting ready to do a major reconfiguration of the ISS layout, modifying the two docking ports that were used by the Space Shuttles and getting them ready to be used by SpaceX, Boeing, Sierra Nevada, ESA, or whoever else gets a crewed vehicle ready.
- People watching Mars for the last few years have been seeing some huge clouds rising up into the Martian atmosphere, but only every now and then. There’s no good explanation for it at the moment, since these plumes are going up over a hundred miles, far higher than any storm clouds or even volcanic eruptions should be able to send material. At first they were seen by amateur astronomers back in 2012, but now they’ve been seen with the Hubble Space Telescope as well. They have not been seen by any of the spacecraft orbiting the planet – the spacecraft are looking down at Mars, while the clouds only can be seen clearly as they rotate past the limb of the planet and can be seen from our viewpoint, silhouetted against space. (Remember the plumes on Io that were discovered this way by the Pioneer spacecraft?)
- There’s a solar eclipse coming up on March 20th. It will only be a total eclipse for those in a narrow path in the North Atlantic Ocean between Iceland and Scandinavia, but it will be partial over most of Europe. How much the sun will be covered will depend on your location. For example, in Glasgow it will be 94%, Paris will see 82%, Rome will see 62%, and Cairo will see only 14% coverage.
- Since solar eclipses and lunar eclipses are linked by celestial mechanics, there’s a total lunar eclipse on April 4th. It will be visible from the US west coast and the east coast of Asia, but it will be the shortest lunar eclipse of the century, barely five minutes long in the totality phase. (My photos from the last couple of lunar eclipses can be found here and here.)
So get out there (or on NASA-TV) and watch the skies!