Celestial events in the skies for the week of Jan. 24-30, 2017, as compiled for The Loafer by Mark D. Marquette..
NASA’s darkest week as three fatal mishaps with America’s space program sent the nation reeling. The Apollo fire on the pad during rehearsal on Jan. 26, 1967; Challenger explodes 70 seconds into launch on Jan. 28, 1986; and Columbia is ripped to shreds during reentry Feb. 1, 2003. The unthinkable that happened during those disasters—and the deaths of a collective brave group of 13 space pioneers—will forever be in the memory of American history. The stars are a beautiful sight this week in the moonless, cool and crisp Winter nights.
Tuesday, Jan. 24
On this 1985 date in space history, Space Shuttle Discovery blasted into space on a quick, three-day voyage by five astronauts on a Top Secret mission of the Department of Defense. Thirty-plus years later we know what the secret was: a sophisticated spy satellite called Magnum ELINT designed for Middle East activities. In 1986, NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft flew past Uranus, taking eight years to reach the seventh planet. Voyager 2 gave mankind it’s only close-up views of Uranus 31 years ago.
Wednesday, Jan. 25
On this 2004 date in space history, Mars Excursion Rover named Opportunity landed on the Red Planet, and its’ still alive and well! Thirteen years later, the golf-cart-sized, six-wheeled rover has traveled 25 miles, the farthest excursion of any man-made rover in the Solar System. Perched at the rim of a 7-mile crater, NASA’s amazing success story was guaranteed to last 90 days, and more than 4,750 days later, the American taxpayers have gotten their money’s worth!
Thursday, Jan. 26
Orion the Hunter is directly south in the Winter sky, beautiful stars surrounding it. Above is the Bull of Taurus and below the celestial dogs, Major and Minor.
Friday, Jan. 27
On this 1967 date in space history, three astronauts were killed during a fire inside their Apollo 1 spacecraft while conducting tests on the launch pad. A spark ignited the pure oxygen atmosphere inside the spacecraft, triggering a fire that killed rookie Roger Chaffee and space veterans Gus Grissom and Ed White, both tapped as future moonwalkers. The tragedy derailed America’s moon program for 18 months. But by July 1969 the Apollo 11 moon landing avenged the deaths of Apollo 1.
Saturday, Jan. 28
New Moon is today. Another space horror on this date in 1986 when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded 70 seconds after launch. Dead were 7 astronauts, including the first true civilian, teacher in space, Christa McAuliffe. The other astronauts who gave their lives on the 25th Shuttle launch were Commander Dick Scobee, pilot Mike Smith and mission specialists Judy Resnick, Ellison Onizuka, Ron McNair and Gregory Jarvis.
Sunday, Jan. 29
Orion the Hunter takes over the sky, moving from southeast to directly south to southwest as the night wears on. Four bright stars are its shoulders, and they are bisected by three stars of the hunter’s belt. Dangling from the belt is the sword, the middle being a gaseous cloud creating stars kj Light Years away.
Monday, Jan. 30
To the north, the “W” of Cassiopeia has flopped over to the west, while the bowl of the Big Dipper is to the east. And, of course, in the middle is the North Star, Polaris at the end of the handle of the Little Dipper.
Photo: Orion belt and sword – MarQ Astro Art