Courtesy Mark RyanI remember clearly where I was on this historic day, July 20, in 1969. At around 3 o'clock in the afternoon, I was sunning myself on a public beach on Park Point in Duluth, Minnesota when astronaut Neil Armstrong's voice came over my trusty transistor radio to announce that "The Eagle has landed". Apollo 11's Lunar Module (LEM) had set down and mankind had successfully landed on the Moon!
In this post-space shuttle, unmanned, watered-down era of space exploration, it may not seems like such a big deal now, but back then, during the Apollo Program era, it was a truly monumental and remarkable feat to witness especially when you consider it took less than ten years to accomplish from the time President Kennedy had challenged the nation in 1961.
Later that evening, like most of the world, I watched Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, take those amazing first steps and explorations of another celestial body in our universe. For a couple hours at least, while the two astronauts gathered rock samples and set up experiments, our often contentious species was able to put aside all our terrestrial troubles (and there were many at the time) and focus as a unified human family on a single, amazing achievement. When they had completed their historic exploration, Neil and Buzz re-entered the LEM and lifted off to rejoin fellow astronaut Michael Collins in lunar orbit in the command module Columbia, and returned safely back to Earth.
The Moon continues to dominate our night sky and I'm certain we'll travel there again sometime in the future, but those return visits will never be able to equal the excitement and awe felt when mankind first landed there in the tumultuous midst of the 20th century.
Courtesy Mark RyanThe first of 4 consecutive total lunar eclipses occurs late tonight (and early Tuesday morning) and will be visible to practically all of the United States (local weather permitting). The astronomical event begins around 5:58 UT, and should last about 4 and a half hours from start to finish.
A total lunar eclipse takes place when the moon passes through the Earth's umbra, the innermost darkest shadow created by the Earth as it (from the Moon's perspective) blocks out the Sun. Refraction caused by the Earth's atmosphere allows for some of the Sun's light to bend around the Earth and bathe the Moon in an amber glow, resulting in what is sometimes referred to as a Blood Moon, especially by some fundamental religious groups who see it as an omen of the biblical End Times. There are two other kinds of lunar eclipses. When the Moon passes only through the penumbra, the faint part of the shadow, that's called a penumbral lunar eclipse. When only a portion of the Moon intersects with the darker umbra, that's a partial lunar eclipse.
As I mentioned, tonight's eclipse is the first in a series of four consecutive total lunar eclipses. This is a pretty uncommon occurrence known as a tetrad. Only 62 tetrad events will have occurred from 1 A.D. to the year 2100, and just eight in the 1200 months of the 21st century.
Each year there are at least two lunar eclipses and sometimes as many as five. Eclipses don't happen every month because the plane of the Moon's orbit around Earth is tilted. Usually, consecutive eclipses are a mix of partial, penumbral, and the relatively rarer total lunar eclipses. To have four total lunar eclipses happen in a row, as we will over the next seventeen months or so is even rarer. And luckily, all four of them be will visible to most of us in the United States.
Tonight's celestial event begins at 11:55 PM (Minneapolis time) and reaches maximum eclipse at 2:46 AM, then finishes at 4:32 AM. If you want to confirm the times for your area, use this handy eclipse calculator. The night-owl timing of tonight's eclipse might keep many of you from enjoying it (I'll probably be sleeping), but just know there are three more headed our way: October 8, 2014, April 4, 2015, and September 28, 2015.
Photographer Colin Legg in Perth, Australia shot this very cool real-time video of our Moon passing in front of the planet Saturn. The event, which in astronomical circles is known as an occultation, occurred on Saturday (a day named after the same planet) February 22, 2014.
Courtesy NASAWant to see what the Earth looks like right now if you were standing on the Moon? Or on the Sun? Or riding one of the many satellites circling our planet? You can do that and other nifty things at this cool webpage set up by Fourmilab Switzerland. The site is run by software developer John Walker, who founded the computer-aided design company, Autodesk, Inc. Besides computers, Walker has an obvious love of astronomy, physics, and adventure. The site's homepage has some interesting information and other links worth digging through, including his and his wife's 40th wedding anniversary trip to the South Pole, and their 2010 trip to witness the Aku-Aku total solar eclipse on Easter Island.
Fourmilab Switzerland homepage
Courtesy NASAForty-four years ago today, I was laying on the beach at Park Point in Duluth, Minnesota when those famous words, "The Eagle has landed" came over my little transistor radio, signaling Apollo astronauts Neil Armstrong's and Buzz Aldrin's successful landing of their spacecraft on the Moon. That evening, I was working my shift at a local restaurant, busing tables. The manager (thankfully) had placed a television in the dining area so patrons (and I) could watch as Armstrong made his monumental first steps on the lunar surface. The rest, of course, is history.
Courtesy Mark RyanThe skies over Minneapolis cleared yesterday just in time to see last night's supermoon. So-called supermoons occur when the Moon is at the closet point (perigee) in its elliptical orbit around Earth during a full moon phase. The Moon at that position can be up to 14% closer and 30% brighter than a full moon at apogee (at its farthest point in Earth orbit). In astronomy circles, supermoons are known as "perigee full moons", and aren't really as rare as recent media reports have been making last night's event out to be. A supermoon occurs about once every 14 full moons in a full moon cycle. The last supermoon was just last month (but this month's was the biggest of the year). The next supermoon will be in August of 2014, and one of the largest supermoons in a long time to come will take place in November of 2016. The shot seen was taken last night from the bridge on the west side of Lake of the Isles. The top of the Uptown Theater's marquee tower can be seen beneath the lunar disk.
Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/GSSR Radar images of asteroid 1998 QE2 reveal that the large space rock that's nearing Earth has its own satellite orbiting around it. The pictures were captured a couple days ago by the Deep Space Network antenna at Goldstone, California. NASA has been tracking the asteroid since its initial discovery in August of 1998, but only recently discovered it had its own bright little moon.
The binary asteroid's primary body is estimated to be about 1.7 miles across while its orbiting satellite is estimated to be about 2000 feet wide. Only about 16 percent of the near-Earth asteroids larger than 200 meters in size are binary or triple systems, making them a fairly rare occurrence. By measuring the tiny moon's orbit, scientists can calculate the mass and density of the larger asteroid body, which can range from being a chunk of solid rock to a pile of rubble held together by gravity.
Thanks to these radar images, NASA scientists led by Marina Brozovic of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, are able to more accurately estimate 1998 QE2's characteristics and behaviors, such as the length its rotational period (about 4 hours), its size, shape, and surface features, as well as provide a more precise calculation of the system's orbit around the Earth.
Data and resolution will improve as the asteroid reaches its closest approach to Earth around 3pm (CDT) this afternoon. No need to worry, though, the binary asteroid will be a safe 3.6 million miles away and won't get any closer in the next two hundred years.
After months of analysis, NASA has posted this ScienceCasts report of a large meteoroid impact on the Moon on March 17, 2013. Lunar impacts aren't uncommon - hundreds occur each year - but this one was the brightest flash recorded in the eight year span of the agency's lunar monitoring program. NASA estimates that a 40 kg space rock slamming into the Mare Imbrium region caused the visible-to-the-naked-eye explosion. The bright flash wasn't produced by combustion - the Moon has no atmosphere - but by the glow of hot vapors and molten lunar rock heated up by the tremendous kinetic force of the impact.
Courtesy Mark RyanOur Moon and the planet Jupiter appear to be in a close dance together in the sky tonight. The two celestial bodies are just a couple Moon-widths from each other. Some viewers in South America could see an occultation with Jupiter disappearing behind the Moon. I ventured out to photograph the waltz despite major sub-zero temperatures here in Minnesota.