April 15th 2019

On April 15, 2005, NASA launched a spacecraft on a mission to rendezvous with a small communications satellite. The launch went according to plan, but the mission ended abruptly when the spacecraft collided with the satellite. 

The mission was known as DART, which is short for Demonstration for Autonomous Rendezvous Technology. Its objective was to demonstrate that a fully automated and uncrewed spacecraft could rendezvous with another spacecraft in orbit. But the two spacecraft were not supposed to make contact. 

When DART approached its target, it ran out of fuel and inadvertently bumped into it. Investigators determined that DART’s thrusters had been firing excessively because of a problem with its navigation system. It was a soft collision, and neither of the spacecraft were noticeably damaged.  

Source: https://www.space.com/39251-on-this-day-in-space.html

April 12th 2019

Yuri’s Night is an international celebration held every April 12 to commemorate milestones in space exploration. Yuri’s Night is named for the first human to launch into space, Yuri Gagarin, who flew the Vostok 1 spaceship on April 12, 1961. The launch of STS-1, the first Space Shuttle mission, is also honored, as it was launched 20 years to the day of Vostok 1 on April 12, 1981. In 2011, Yuri’s Night was celebrated at over 567 events in 75 countries on 7 continents.

Yuri’s Night is often called the “World Space Party”.

The goal of Yuri’s Night is to increase public interest in space exploration and to inspire a new generation of explorers. Driven by space-inspired artistic expression and culminating in a worldwide network of annual celebrations and educational events, Yuri’s Night creates a global community of young people committed to shaping the future of space exploration while developing responsible leaders and innovators with a global perspective. These global events are a showcase for elements of culture that embrace space including music, dance, fashion, and art.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yuri%27s_Night

April 1st 2019

NASA’s Curiosity rover mission recently determined that background levels of methane in Mars’ atmosphere cycle seasonally, peaking in the northern summer. These finds have intrigued astrobiologists, because methane is a possible biosignature. The vast majority of methane in Earth’s air is pumped out by microbes and other living creatures.

Some answers may soon be on the horizon, because that June 2013 detection has just been firmed up. Europe’s Mars Express orbiter noted the spike as well from that spacecraft’s perch high above the Red Planet, a new study reports.

Source: https://www.space.com/mars-methane-plume-confirmed-location.html


March 18th 2019

On March 18, 1980, a Soviet rocket exploded on the launchpad and killed 48 people. 

The Vostok-2M rocket was about to launch a new spy satellite called Tselina-D. Military technicians were working to fuel the rocket on the launchpad at the Plesetsk Cosmodrome, a top-secret spaceport a few hundred miles north of Moscow. 

It wasn’t until three years after the explosion happened that the Soviets admitted that this secret spaceport existed. They continued to keep the deadly explosion a secret until 1989. State officials blamed the explosion on human error. But a later investigation determined the cause to be a design flaw with the rocket.

Source: https://www.space.com/39251-on-this-day-in-space.html

11th March 2019

Pioneer 5 (1960 Alpha 1) was a spin-stabilized space probe used to investigate interplanetary space between the orbits of earth and Venus. The spacecraft measured magnetic field phenomena, solar flare particles, and ionization in the interplanetary region. The digital data were transmitted at 1, 8, and 64 bps, depending on the distance of the spacecraft from the earth and the size of the receiving antenna. Weight limitations on the solar cells prevented continuous operation of the telemetry transmitters. About four operations of 25-min duration were scheduled per day with occasional increases during times of special interest. A total of 138.9 h of operation was completed, and over 3 million binary bits of data were received. The major portion of the data was received at the Manchester and Hawaii tracking stations because their antennas provided grid reception. Pioneer 5 performed normally until April 30, 1960, after which telemetry transmission became too infrequent for any significant addition to the data. The spacecraft established a communications link with the earth from a record distance of 22.5 million miles on June 26, 1960, which was the last day of transmission.

Source: https://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/nmc/spacecraft/display.action?id=1960-001A

February 18th 2019

Mariner 6 was launched on February 24th 1969 and Mariner 7 on March 27 1969. Mariner 6 and 7 were the second pair of Mars missions in NASA’s Mariner series of solar system exploration in the 1960s and early 1970s. As with the other Mariners, each launched on an Atlas rocket with either an Agena or Centaur upper-stage booster, and weighed less than half a ton (without onboard rocket propellant).

In 1969, Mariner 6 and Mariner 7 completed the first dual mission to Mars, flying by over the equator and south polar regions and analyzing the Martian atmosphere and surface with remote sensors, as well as recording and relaying hundreds of pictures. By chance, both flew over cratered regions and missed both the giant northern volcanoes and the equatorial grand canyon that was discovered later. Their approach pictures did, however, show that the dark features on the surface long seen from Earth were not canals, as once interpreted in the 1800s.

Source: https://mars.nasa.gov/programmissions/missions/past/mariner67/

January 28th 2019

The Beehive open star cluster (M44, NGC 2632, also known as Praesepe) will be well placed for observation. It will reach its highest point in the sky at around midnight local time.

At a declination of +19°40′, it is easiest to see from the northern hemisphere; it can be seen at latitudes between 89°N and 50°S.

From Cork, it will be visible in the evening sky, becoming accessible at around 18:39 (GMT) as the dusk sky fades, 16° above your eastern horizon. It will then reach its highest point in the sky at 00:34, 57° above your southern horizon. It will continue to be observable until around 06:28, when it sinks to 16° above your western horizon.

At magnitude 3.1, M44 is tricky to make out with the naked eye except from a dark site, but is visible through a pair of binoculars or small telescope.

Source: https://in-the-sky.org/news.php?id=20190131_16_100&town=2965140

January 21st 2019

Monday 21st January from about 4 to 6 am

See a total eclipse of the Moon early  morning Monday 21st January from about 4 to 6 am. The Moon will turn red (“Blood Moon”), but no-one knows in advance just what shade of red, as it depends on the amount of dust, dirt and aerosols in our upper atmosphere, through which sunlight passes to reach the Moon.  Eclipse will begin 2:34 am, with totality lasting from 4:40 to 5:11. Here’s hoping for a clear night!

 

21st January 2019

A total lunar eclipse will take place on 21 January 2019 UTC (Coordinated Universal Time). For observers in the Americas, the eclipse will take place between the evening of Sunday, January 20 and the early morning hours of Monday, January 21. For observers in Europe and Africa, the eclipse will occur during the morning of January 21. The eclipse will occur during a supermoon. It will also be the last total lunar eclipse until May 2021.

The eclipse will be visible in its entirety from North and South America, as well as portions of western Europe and northwest Africa. From locations in North America, the eclipse will begin during the evening hours of January 20. Observers at locations in Europe and much of Africa will be able to view part of the eclipse before the Moon sets in the early morning (pre-dawn) hours of January 21.

Contact points relative to Earth’s umbral and penumbral shadows, here with the Moon near its descending node

The timing of total lunar eclipses are determined by its contacts:

P1 (First contact): Beginning of the penumbral eclipse. Earth’s penumbra touches the Moon’s outer limb.
U1 (Second contact): Beginning of the partial eclipse. Earth’s umbra touches the Moon’s outer limb.
U2 (Third contact): Beginning of the total eclipse. The Moon’s surface is entirely within Earth’s umbra.
Greatest eclipse: The peak stage of the total eclipse. The Moon is at its closest to the center of Earth’s umbra.
U3 (Fourth contact): End of the total eclipse. The Moon’s outer limb exits Earth’s umbra.
U4 (Fifth contact): End of the partial eclipse. Earth’s umbra leaves the Moon’s surface.
P4 (Sixth contact): End of the penumbral eclipse. Earth’s penumbra no longer makes contact with the Moon.

The penumbral phases of the eclipse changes the appearance of the Moon only slightly and is generally not noticeable.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/January_2019_lunar_eclipse