The next Martian rover, dubbed “Curiosity,” is scheduled to land this coming Sunday evening
NASA’s newest and most ambitious unmanned Martian rover mission to date is scheduled to land on the Red Planet on Sunday (5 August, 2012, North American Time). At the time of this writing, all is proceeding as expected. The size of an SUV, this rover dwarfs all previous missions, including the wildly successful Spirit (now deceased) and Opportunity (still operating) rovers. While there are many experiments and instruments on this rover, a prime mission will be to look for geologic and chemical evidence for the possibility of conditions suitable for life on ancient Mars. (It is unlikely that Curiosity will discover any current life on the planet.)
This mission uses a unique sky crane system designed lower the rover on a cable from a entry platform hovering about 100 feet off the ground. Landing on another planet poses any number of problems, not the least of which being that the distance of the planet means that there can be no direct communication with Earth during the critical landing period.
The one-ton rover is scheduled to touch down on Mars at 10:31 p.m. PDT Aug. 5 (1:31 a.m. EDT Aug. 6). Confirmation of the landing should come about 14 minutes later, due to the 14-minute delay in transmitting data, at the speed of light, to Earth. Live streaming of the event is planned for NASA TV, which can be accessed via http://www.nasa.gov/ntv and http://www.Ustream.tv/nasa, as well as additional feeds at http://www.ustream.tv/nasajpl and http://www.ustream.tv/nasajpl2. Please see this page for details: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/mars/main/index.html
The Perseid Meteor Shower Peaks on Sunday, August 12
The next significant meteor shower is the Perseids, which is predicted to peak on August 12, shortly after sunrise on the East Coast, but an hour or so before sunrise on the West Coast. Whether you are on one side of the continent or the other, the best time to observe will be in the few hours before sunrise. The fly in the ointment is a Waning Crescent Moon not far from Perseus in the sky. The Moon will be just a couple of days past Third Quarter, so although its like will be significant, there still will be a chance to see some of the meteors. Before dawn, Perseus, from whence the meteors appear to radiate, is high in the northeastern sky.
The Moon may distract from the Perseids this year, but the Orionids (Oct. 20-21), the Leonids (Nov. 16-17) and the Geminids (Dec.13-14) will occur at better times relative the to phase of the Moon. For more information, please check out the EarthSky Meteor Shower Guide for 2012.
A “Blue Moon” and more
The Full Moon of August 31st will be the second full moon in a calendar month, making it by popular definition, a “blue moon.” Supposedly, this signifies a rare event, but in fact this occurs every year and a half or so. It does not refer to the the Moon being the color of blue, although unusual atmospheric conditions can cause this. Aside from this designation, there is nothing of any particular astronomical significance.
And contrary to the lyrics of “I Just Called to Say, ‘I Love You’” by Stevie Wonder:
No summer’s high
No warm July
No harvest moon to light one tender August night
this will not be the “Harvest Moon.” By definition, the Harvest Moon is the full moon that occurs nearest the September Equinox, which occurs on September 22 this year. The nearest full moon to this date is the one on September 29-30, making it the “Harvest Moon.”
And looking farther ahead, the full moon that occurs on October 29 is the “Hunter’s Moon.”
Auroras and other events
Auroras (the “Northern Lights”) are greatly affected by activity on the Sun and cannot be accurately predicted more than a few days in advance. As we move toward a predicted maximum of solar activity, perhaps in 2013, they may become more frequent and possibly spectacular, occasionally dipping down from Northern Canada and Alaska into the mid-Continent and possibly even as far South as the southern States (in recent months, displays have been seen as far South as the northern tier of States as well as Arkansas, California, Colorado, Iowa and elsewhere.
Need even more info? Here are some links for you.
North American Skies Twitter page:
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Satellites, ISS passage predictions and more
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Good luck and clear skies
Remember, “It’s all over your head!”
Larry Sessions, Denver
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(Jeff is an author and PhD astronomer in Boulder, Colorado)
In the Southern Hemisphere? check out Ian Maclean’s
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And for great music to observe or work by, try King FM (Seattle), KDFC (San Francisco) or KVOD (Denver):