Celestial events in the skies for the week of Jan. 31-Feb. 6 2017, as compiled for The Loafer by Mark D. Marquette..
This is the peak of the glorious winter constellations, and at 9 pm all the players are in their positions. The crown jewel of the night, Sirius, is high in the southeast showing off its #1 status as the brightest star in the number one dog, Canis Major. Directly overhead is The Pleiades star cluster, and in between are the bright stars of Taurus, Orion and Gemini. And turning heads this week will be the crescent Moon.
Tuesday, Jan. 31
On this 1958 date in space history, America orbited its first spacecraft, Explorer 1. Russia had orbited the first spacecraft in October 1957, Sputnik 1, which had a beeping transmission signal. Explorer 1 had several scientific instruments to record the energized Van Allen belts circling Earth. On this 1961 date, Chimpanzee Ham made the first suborbital flight in a Mercury spacecraft—to be repeated by astronaut Alan Shepard on May 5. And in 1971, Apollo 14 was launched by Saturn V rocket for the Moon with America’s first spaceman, Shepard, as the commander.
Wednesday, Feb. 1
On this 2003 date in space history, Space Shuttle Columbia was destroyed during reentry over Texas, just two minutes from completing a 17-day science mission. Losing their lives were six Americans and Israel’s first astronaut.
Thursday, Feb. 2
This is also the 1966 date in space history when the Soviet Union safely landed the ball-shaped Luna 9 on the Moon. Luna 9 bounced several times, and then activated cameras to show earthlings the first view of an alien landscape.
Friday, Feb. 3
Bays Mt. Astronomy Club meets at 7 pm at the Discovery Theater at the Kingsport city park. Three Space Shuttles were launched on this date: in 1984, Challenger; in 1994 Discovery; and a year later in 1995, Discovery was launched again.
Saturday, Feb. 4
To the north are the “M”-shaped stars of Queen Cassiopeia in the star-rich region of the winter Milky Way. The Big Dipper is beginning to scoop up the eastern horizon, and standing on its end by midnights. And in the south, don’t forget the two hunting dogs of Orion, Canis Major and Canis Minor. The Big Dog has the brightest star, Sirius, while the Little Dog has bright Procyon. With reddish Betelgeuse, they make up the asterism called the “Winter Triangle.”
Sunday, Feb. 5
On this 1971 date in space history, Apollo 14 landed their moonship named Antares on the Moon in a place called Fra Mauro. America’s first spaceman, Alan Shepard, deceased, and rookie Edgar Mitchell, deceased, became the fifth and sixth men to walk on the Moon. Orbiting in the Apollo Command Module named Kitty Hawk was Stuart Roosa, deceased.
Monday, Feb. 6
The amazing array of bright stars form a giant circle in your imagination, called the Winter Hexagon. Start the dot-to-dot with red Aldebaran in the “V-shaped” stars of Taurus the Bull. Go upward to yellowish Capella, left to Pollux and Castor, then down to Procyon. Sirius is at the bottom then up to Rigel. You can imagine a celestial “G” with Betelgeuse in the middle. It’s easy!