Celestial events in the skies for the week of March 28 – April 3, 2017 as compiled for The Loafer by Mark D. Marquette.
Astronomical hi-jinx on April Fool’s Day are no stranger to the nerdy science think-tanks in government and at universities. Some of the pranks over the years include: the revelation that the two moons of Mars are actually Martian satellites; Sea Monkeys discovered in Jupiter’s atmosphere; NASA accepting applications for a new research center on the Moon; the Space Shuttle accidentally landing in San Diego; and new research like the discovery of “bigon” particles—just to keep the astronomical brethren on their toes. Watch out for Twitters of alien invasions and Facebook posts of messages from Little Green Men. And as always, trust none of what you see or hear without giving it a serious once over!
Tuesday, March 28
New Moon today. The night sky is changing rapidly, and you can watch eight 1st magnitude stars set below the western horizon before 11 pm. They are: Castor and Pollux in Gemini; below is Procyon in the Little Dog and the brightest star in the sky, Sirius in Canis Major; Rigel and Betelgeuse in Orion; Aldebaran in Taurus; and high above, Capella in Auriga the Charioteer.
Wednesday, March 29
On this 1974 date in space history, NASA’s Mariner 10 made the first close flyby of inner planet Mercury. Revealed was one of the most heavily cratered surfaces in the Solar System, the small, 1,365 mile diameter planet looking much like our 1,250 mile wide Moon. And after a perfect orbital mission by NASA’s Messenger from April 2011-April 2015, we know the iron-heavy first planet has water ice buried at its poles far away from an 800 degree hot, sulfur laden equator.
Thursday, March 30
The thin, crescent Moon hangs like a fingernail above the western horizon. You’ll really feel Daylight Saving Time this week when it takes from 8 pm sunset to almost 8:30 pm for the stars to come out. After your day of maybe church, recreation and friends, recharge your mind under the canopy of Spring stars that are astounding to gaze upon.
Friday, March 31
On this date in space history, the mission of interplanetary spacecraft Pioneer 10 was officially ended by NASA. The first unmanned robot to visit Jupiter, it is the “grandfather” of today’s high-tech spacecraft New Horizons, heading to a flyby of Pluto in July 2015.
Saturday, April 1
The Marquette Meteor Shower will begin shortly after dark and rain hundreds of meteors an hour—NOT!
Sunday, April 2
On this 1845 date in space history, the first photograph of the Sun was taken by two French physicists. Today, several websites provide a live, 24/7 look at our most important star. And amateur astronomer John W ONeal II (correct spelling) posts daily his images of our favorite star on his Facebook wall.
Monday, April 3
On this 1966 date in space history, the Soviet Union’s Luna 10 became the first spacecraft to orbit the Moon. Today NASA has the Lunar Recognizance Orbiter (LRO) since June 2009 making close-up images of the surface, and two spacecraft called Artemis P1 & P2 are in large orbits to study the solar wind striking our nearest neighbor in space.