Celestial events in the skies for the week of Feb. 28 – Mar. 6, 2017, as compiled for The Loafer by Mark D. Marquette.
Venus dazzles our senses after sunset, but don’t forget fourth planet, red Mars, above and left of the brilliant second planet. And visible rising in the east at 9:30 pm are fifth planet Jupiter and star Spica in Virgo the Virgin. By 11 pm the pair is high in the sky and a brilliant contrast of Jupiter’s yellow and Spica’s white. And the crescent Moon passes in front of the bright, red star Aldebaran Saturday evening in what astronomers call an occultation.
Tuesday, Feb. 28
On this 1966 date in space history, two Gemini rookie astronauts were killed when their plane crashed into the very factory where their spacecraft was being built. Gemini IX prime crew Charlie Bassett and Elliot See crashed their T-38 jet after clipping the McDonnell Aircraft Corp. building while landing during a rainstorm in St. Louis, Mo. They were replaced by Tom Stafford and Gene Cernan, both orbiting the Moon together on Apollo 10, and Cernan the last man to step on it when Apollo 17 departed.
Wednesday, March 1
On this 2002 date in space history, Space Shuttle Columbia was launched for the fourth of five repair missions to the Hubble Space Telescope. Five space walks over five days by four astronauts installed new equipment and solar panels.
Thursday, March 2
On this 1995 date in space history, Space Shuttle Endeavour was launched with Astro 2 in its cargo bay. This purely astronomy mission had an array of three telescope that probed the high-energy ultraviolet spectrum of the 600 object during the 16-day mission—one of the longest in the Shuttle’s 30-year history.
Friday, March 3
On this 1969 date in space history, Apollo 9 was launched aboard the mighty Saturn V rocket from Pad 39A with the mission goal of testing the moon landing spaceship in Earth orbit. James McDivitt and Rusty Schweickart give their Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) nicknamed “Spider” a positive workout while David Scott was in the mothership, “Gumdrop.” In just five more months, man’s greatest adventure to the Moon would be fulfilled by an Apollo 11 LEM called “Eagle.” Scott would be a moonwalker on Apollo 15.
Saturday, March 4
The Moon occults the bright, red star Aldebaran in Taurus the Bull, beginning to pass in front of the star around 10:45 pm and coming out the other side around 11:40 pm. This exciting occultation is best seen with binoculars, and is a beautiful example of celestial motion that mystified ancient stargazers.
Sunday, March 5
Moon is First Quarter today. This 1979 date in space history was a special one for interplanetary travel when Voyager 1 flew by the huge planet Jupiter after a two year journey. Voyager 2 followed a month later, and they both went on to take the first close-up of the planet Saturn in August 1980.
Monday, March 6
In March 1986, everybody had Halley’s Comet fever as the most famous comet was making its annual 76 year visit to the inner Solar System. On this date in 1986, the European spacecraft, Vega 1, flew by the comet, battered by icy debris and rock, and survived to transmit more than 2,000 images of Halley.