May 28, 2011

Watch ISS and Endeavour fly-over Memorial Day morning

endevour-2011-05-25-2_1600_946-710.jpg Observers in the midwest will be treated to a fine morning siting of the International Space Station and Shuttle Endeavour flying “in formation” Monday morning, May 30th. STS-134 is scheduled to undock from ISS on Sunday night. I can’t tell you the exact time of the undock, although I thoroughly scanned the NASA website. It’s a holiday weekend, what can I say. You reading this NASA PAOs?

This will be a rare (and last) opportunity to watch Shuttle Endeavour orbiting in formation with ISS. Alert observers in Louisville, KY will want to be up and watching the skies at 4:45am Monday morning. ISS will climb out of the west at 4:46 am, peak off the northwest horizon about two minutes later and exit to the northeast at 4:50am. I’m not clear at this point which vehicle will be leading the parade. ISS will be the brighter of the two.

I did a cursory check of siting opportunities in other cities. This pass will be visible for viewers in the midwest and east. Other cities in North America will have sighting opportunities on Tuesday morning. Endeavour is tentatively scheduled to de-orbit on Wednesday, June 1 weather permitting. Click the Heavens-Above link on the right side of this page for sighting opportunities anywhere in the world.

This will be your last chance to see Endeavour in orbit. Don’t miss it.

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May 26, 2011

The “morning planets” separate joined by the Moon and a Solar Eclipse

Friday, May 27th The Moon will be at apogee, furthest from Earth. Look for it above the east horizon about 2 hours before sunrise.


Memorial Day weekend. The Moon joins the morning “super group” of planets where it’s nearest Jupiter on Sunday morning, Mars on Monday morning and the Pleiades, Venus and tiny Mercury near the horizon 30 minutes before sunrise. Jupiter has now moved west of the group but Mars, Venus and Mercury remain within a circle of 5 degrees diameter. I have yet to see this grouping owing to weather, work schedule and sleep deprivation. Maybe this weekend!

solar_eclipse.jpg Wednesday, June 1. The Moon will be at conjunction with the Sun, and therefore “new” at 21:03 UT (5:03 pm EDT). As is usually the case with new and full Moons during June there will be an associated eclipse. On Wednesday the start of lunation 1094 will bring a partial eclipse of the Sun. This one will be a sort of “rim shot” which will just graze Earth’s northern edge.

The show will start early the morning of June 2nd in Japan and sweep across extreme northwestern Russia, Alaska, northern and eastern Canada and conclude as the Sun sets late in their evening on June 1st. Imagine the scene in extreme northwestern Russia at midnight local time June 2nd. This far north into the arctic circle the Sun will partially dip to the northern horizon and appear as “a huge boat sailing out over the Barents Sea” with the upper two thirds of it bitten away by the Moon’s shadow.

Remember, at this time of year the Sun never sets above the arctic circle. Joe Rao imagined this scene in the “eclipses” section of Guy Ottewell’s 2011 Astronomical Calendar

Related links about eclipses:

Goddard Spaceflight Center Eclipse page

Fred Espenak’s “Mr Eclipse”

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May 6, 2011

Mars, Jupiter, Venus and Mercury…and Uranus in the morning.

The “Great May Morning Planet Grouping” continues.


This is the view for Sunday morning, May 8th looking east about 30 minutes before sunrise. Planets are, left to right, Mars, Jupiter, Venus and Mercury within 2 degrees of each other. Sunrise is 6:38 am on Sunday morning. Go out a few minutes after 6 am and bring binoculars. For much of the coming week Jupiter, Venus and Mercury will be clustered within less than 6 degrees of each other. This conjunction of planets will become a bit easier to see, rising earlier each morning. That’s Uranus to the west (right) of the pack. You will need a telescope to view Uranus’ faint blue-gray disc.

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The “Mile of Telescopes” in Louisville, Kentucky

Friday is Kentucky, Oaks day, the “Fillies Kentucky Derby”. It is also Derby Eve in Louisville as our two week long celebration of the “Greatest Two Minutes in Sports” comes to a climax.

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This evening join members of the Louisville Astronomical Society along Bardstown road in the Louisville Highlands for the “Mile of Telescopes”. LAS folks will set up telescopes from Eastern Parkway west to share views of the crescent Moon and Saturn. The International Space Station will punctuate the evening with a visible pass from NW to SE at 8:43 pm.  The Moon will be framed by the star Capella above right and Betelgeuse below left.

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May 3, 2011

Endeavour launch no earlier than May 10th

NASA space shuttle and International Space Station managers met Monday and determined that Tuesday, May 10 is the earliest Endeavour could be launched on the STS-134 mission. That date is success oriented based on preliminary schedules to replace a faulty Load Control Assembly (LCA) box in the orbiter’s aft compartment.


Image left: At NASA Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Pad 39A, a technician makes his way across a platform in space shuttle Endeavour’s aft section as work begins to remove and replace the aft load control assembly-2 (ALCA-2). Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

Learn more here

There will be a nice very visible pass of the International Space Station over Louisville, Ky on Wednesday evening, May 4th at 9:30 pm. ISS will rise out of the north-north west, peak about 60 degrees off the northeast horizon and disappear to the southeast.

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Freedom 7’s 50th Anniversary

Thursday, May 5th will mark the 50th anniversary of Freedom 7 the first American manned sub-orbital space flight  with Astronaut Alan Shepard aboard.


Coming only 23 days after Yuri Gagarin’s 88 minute 3 orbital flight, Shepard’s flight was, nevertheless, history making. Gagarin was merely a passenger in his capsule while Shepard had the ability to manuever his Freedom 7 capsule. The Russian mission was conducted in secrecy, Freedom 7’s flight was witnessed as it happened on radio and television. I vividly recall bringing a portable transistor radio to school in order that I would be able to follow the mission.

After the success of Freedom 7 Shepard became Chief of NASA’s Astronaut Office, was grounded for several years with an inner ear problem but he regained flight status in the spring of 1969 following surgery to repair the problem.

 In 1970 Deke Slayton, Chief of Flight Crew Operations for NASA designated Shepard as Commander of the Apollo 14 mission to the Moon. Along with lunar module pilot Edgar Mitchell and command module pilot Stuart Roosa, Shepard made his second and final spaceflight in January, 1971. One of the last things Shepard did while on the lunar surface at Fra Mauro was to tee off two golf balls. The first was a chip shot which landed in a nearby crater. The second traveled “miles and miles” according to Shepard.

Learn more here or watch this video

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