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NASA NIGHT SKY NOTES FOR NOVEMBER 2020

NASA NIGHT SKY NOTES FOR NOVEMBER 2020
sabato 17 ottobre 2020 - 16:02:03 Admin in:NASA
NASANIGHTSKY.png

NASA NIGHT SKY NOTES FOR NOVEMBER 2020

NASANIGHTSKY

This Article is distributed by NASA Night Sky Network.  The Night Sky Network program supports astronomy clubs across the USA dedicated to astronomy outreach.  Visit nightsky.jpl.nasa.org  to find local clubs, event and more!

The International Space Station: 20 Continuously Crewed Years of Operation

David Prosper

Did you know that humans have been living in the International Space Station, uninterrupted, for twenty years? Ever since the first crew members docked with the International Space Station (ISS) in November 2000, more than 240 people have visited this outpost, representing 19 countries working together. They have been busy building, upgrading, and maintaining the space station - while simultaneously engaging in cutting-edge scientific research.

The first modules that would later make up the ISS were launched into orbit in 1998: the Russian Zarya launched via a Proton-K rocket, and the US-built Unity module launched about a week and a half later by the Space Shuttle Endeavour. Subsequent missions added vital elements and modules to the Space Station before it was ready to be inhabited. And at last, on November 2, 2000, Expedition-1 brought the first three permanent crew members to the station in a Russian Soyuz capsule: NASA astronaut William M. Shepherd and Russian cosmonauts Sergei Krikalev and Yuri Gidzenk. Since then, an entire generation has been born into a world where humans continually live and work in space! The pressurized space inside this modern engineering marvel is roughly equal to the volume of a Boeing 747, and is sometimes briefly shared by up to 13 individuals, though the average number of crew members is 6. The unique microgravity environment of the ISS means that long-term studies can be performed on the space station that can’t be performed anywhere on Earth in many fields including space medicine, fluid dynamics, biology, meteorology and environmental monitoring, particle physics, and astrophysics. Of course, one of the biggest and longest experiments on board is research into the effects of microgravity on the human body itself, absolutely vital knowledge for future crewed exploration into deep space.

Stargazers have also enjoyed the presence of the ISS as it graces our skies with bright passes overhead. This space station is the largest object humans have yet put into orbit at 357 feet long, almost the length of an American football field (if end zones are included). The large solar arrays – 240 feet wide - reflect quite a bit of sunlight, at times making the ISS brighter than Venus to observers on the ground! Its morning and evening passes can be a treat for stargazers and can even be observed from brightly-lit cities. People all over the world can spot the ISS, and with an orbit only 90 minutes long, sometimes you can spot the station multiple times a night. You can find the next ISS pass near you and receive alerts at sites like NASA’s Spot the Station website (spotthestation.nasa.gov) and stargazing and satellite tracking apps.

Hundreds of astronauts from all over the world have crewed the International Space Station over the last two decades, and their work has inspired countless people to look up and ponder humanity's presence and future in space. You can find out more about the International Space Station and how living and working on board this amazing outpost has helped prepare us to return to the Moon - and beyond! - at nasa.gov.

Nov2020AWEB

The ISS photobombs the Sun in this amazing image taken during the eclipse of August 21, 2017 from Banner, Wyoming. Photo credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky   More info: bit.ly/eclipseiss

 Nov2020WEB

A complete view of the ISS as of October 4, 2018, taken from the Soyuz capsule of the departing crew of Expedition 56 from their Soyuz capsule. This structure was built by materials launched into orbit by 37 United States Space Shuttle missions and 5 Russian Proton and Soyuz rockets, and assembled and maintained by 230 spacewalks, with more to come! Credit: NASA/Roscosmos  

 More info: bit.ly/issbasics

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NASA NIGHT SKY NOTES FOR OCTOBER 2020

NASA NIGHT SKY NOTES FOR OCTOBER 2020
giovedì 24 settembre 2020 - 14:52:08 Admin in:NASA
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NASA NIGHT SKY NOTES FOR OCTOBER 2020

NASANIGHTSKY

This Article is distributed by NASA Night Sky Network.  The Night Sky Network program supports astronomy clubs across the USA dedicated to astronomy outreach.  Visit nightsky.jpl.nasa.org  to find local clubs, event and more!

Observe the Skies Near Mars

David Prosper

October is a banner month for Mars observers! October 6 marks the day Mars and Earth are at closest approach, a once-every-26-months event. A week later, on October 13, Mars is at opposition and up all night. Mars is very bright this month, and astronomers are eager to image and directly observe details on its disc; however, don’t forget to look at the space around the planet, too! By doing so, you can observe the remarkable retrograde motion of Mars and find a few nearby objects that you may otherwise overlook.

Since ancient times, Mars stood out to observers for its dramatic behavior. Usually a noticeable but not overly bright object, its wandering path along the stars showed it to be a planet instead of a fixed star. Every couple of years, this red planet would considerably flare up in brightness, for brief times becoming the brightest planet in the sky before dimming back down. At these times, Mars would also appear to slow down its eastward motion, stop, then reverse and head westward against the stars for a few weeks, before again stopping and resuming its normal eastward movement. This change in the planet’s movement is called “apparent retrograde motion.” While all of the planets will appear to undergo retrograde motion when observed from Earth, Mars’s retrograde appearances may be most dramatic. Mars retrograde motion in 2020 begins on September 10, and ends on November 16. You can observe its motion with your eyes, and it makes for a fun observing project! You can sketch the background stars and plot Mars as you observe it night after night, or set up a photographic series to track this motion. Does the planet move at the same rate night after night, or is it variable? As you observe its motion, note how Mars’s brightness changes over time. When does Mars appear at its most brilliant?

NASA has tons of great Mars-related resources! Want to know more about apparent retrograde motion? NASA has an explainer at: bit.ly/marsretromotion. Find great observing tips in JPl’s “What’s Up?” videos: bit.ly/jplwhatsup. Check out detailed views with NASA’s HiRISE satellite, returning stunning closeups of the Martian surface since 2006: hirise.lpl.arizona.edu. NASA’s Curiosity Rover will be joined in a few months by the Perseverance Rover, launched in late July to take advantage of the close approach of Mars and Earth, a launch window that opens two years: nasa.gov/perseverance.  Calculate the ideal launch window yourself with this handy guide: bit.ly/marslaunchwindow. The Night Sky Network‘s Exploring Our Solar System handout invites you to chart the positions of the planets in the Solar System, and NSN coordinator Jerelyn Ramirez recently contributed an update featuring Mars opposition! You can download both versions at bit.ly/exploresolarsystem. Young astronomers can find many Mars resources and activities on NASA’s Space Place: bit.ly/spaceplacemars. Here’s to clear skies and good seeing for Mars’s best appearance until 2033!

Oct2020a             Oct2020

 

(left) If you are paying this much attention to Mars, you’re likely curious about the skies surrounding it! Find Mars in the constellation Pisces, with constellations Aries, Triangulum, and Cetus nearby.  Aries may be the only one of these dimmer patterns readily visible from light-polluted areas. The Pleiades rises shortly after Mars. Dim Uranus is found close by, in Aries. If you are observing Mars up close, use the same eyepiece to check out Uranus’s tiny blue-green disc. If you are uncertain whether you spotted Uranus, you didn’t see it! Unlike stars, Uranus doesn’t resolve to a point at high magnifications.

 

(right) The path of Mars during the last five months of 2020. Notice the retrograde motion from September 10 to November 16, with prime Mars observing time found in between. October 6 is the day of closest approach of Earth and Mars, “just” 38.6 million miles apart. Images created with help from Stellarium: stellarium.org

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NASA NIGHT SKY NOTES FOR SEPTEMBER 2020

NASA NIGHT SKY NOTES FOR SEPTEMBER 2020
mercoledì 19 agosto 2020 - 19:01:19 Admin in:Astronomy News
NASANIGHTSKY.png

NASA NIGHT SKY NOTES FOR SEPTEMBER 2020

NASANIGHTSKY

This Article is distributed by NASA Night Sky Network.  The Night Sky Network program supports astronomy clubs across the USA dedicated to astronomy outreach.  Visit nightsky.jpl.nasa.org  to find local clubs, event and more!

Summer Triangle Corner; Altair

David Prosper

Altair is the final stop on our trip around the Summer Triangle! The last star in the asterism to rise for Northern Hemisphere observers before summer begins, brilliant Altair is high overhead at sunset at the end of the season in September. Altair might be the most unusual of the three stars of the Triangle, due to its great speed: this star spins so rapidly that it appears “squished.”

A very bright star, Altair has its own notable place in the mythologies of cultures around the world. As discussed in our previous edition, Altair represents the cowherd Niulang in the ancient Chinese tale of the “Cowherd and the Weaver Girl.” Altair is the brightest star in the constellation of Aquila the Eagle; while described as part of an eagle by ancient peoples around the Mediterranean, it was also seen as part of an eagle by the Koori people in Australia! They saw the star itself as representing a wedge-tailed eagle, and two nearby stars as his wives, a pair of black swans. More recently one of the first home computers was named after the star: the Altair 8800.

Altair’s rapid spinning was first detected in the 1960s. The close observations that followed tested the limits of technology available to astronomers, eventually resulting in direct images of the star’s shape and surface by using a technique called interferometry, which combines the light from two or more instruments to produce a single image. Predictions about how the surface of a rapidly spinning massive star would appear held true to the observations; models predicted a squashed, almost “pumpkin-like” shape instead of a round sphere, along with a dimming effect along the widened equator, and the observations confirmed this! This equatorial dimming is due to a phenomenon called gravity darkening. Altair is wider at the equator than it is at the poles due to centrifugal force, resulting in the star’s mass bulging outwards at the equator. This results in the denser poles of the star being hotter and brighter, and the less dense equator being cooler and therefore dimmer. This doesn’t mean that the equator of Altair or other rapidly spinning stars are actually dark, but rather that the equator is dark in comparison to the poles; this is similar in a sense to sunspots. If you were to observe a sunspot on its own, it would appear blindingly bright, but it is cooler than the surrounding plasma in the Sun and so appears dark in contrast.

As summer winds down, you can still take a Trip Around the Summer Triangle with this activity from the Night Sky Network. Mark some of the sights in and around the Summer Triangle at: bit.ly/TriangleTrip. You can discover more about NASA’s observations of Altair and other fast and furious stars at nasa.gov.

Sept2020

The image on the right was created using optical interferometry: the light from four telescopes was combined to produce this image of Altair’s surface. Image credit: Ming Zhao. More info: bit.ly/altairvsmodel

Sept2020A

Altair is up high in the early evening in September. Note Altair’s two bright “companions” on either side of the star. Can you imagine them as a formation of an eagle and two swans, like the Koori?

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