Celestial events in the skies for the week of Aug. 29-Sept. 4, 2017 as compiled for The Loafer by Mark D. Marquette.
The gibbous Moon dominates our evening scenes, with Jupiter and Saturn needing attention before they are gone. There is still plenty of Summer left as it is three weeks until the Autumnal Equinox. The morning sky has brilliant Venus stealing looks two hours before sunrise. And in the evening, planets Jupiter and Saturn are begging for a telescope to look at them.
Tuesday, August 29
The evening sky in the west after sunset features giant planet Jupiter, the brightest “star” in the sky. Any telescope will show the four largest moons of more than 64 that orbit the fifth planet circling the Sun.
Wednesday, August 30
In 1983, Space Shuttle Challenger was launched as the third mission of this 100-ton Orbiter. The five astronauts included Guion A. Bluford, the first African-American (or non-white person) to be rocketed into Earth orbit. The mission was another shake-down mission of Shuttle systems, like the 40-foot remote arm. A year later this date in 1984, Discovery was launched on its maiden mission, making three reusable space ships in America’s fleet. The six astronauts deployed three commercial clients during a near-flawless, six-day mission.
Thursday, August 31
The Summer Triangle is an asterism of three Saturn is directly south in the early evening, between Scorpius and Sagittarius in the feet of Ophiuchus the Serpent bearer. Any telescope will show you the rings around the tiny globe of the planet.
Friday, September 1
On this 1979 date in space history, NASA’s Pioneer 11 gave mankind its first close-up views of Saturn and its amazing ring system. The first photos were crude by today’s standards of the current Saturn images being made by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. But 38 years ago, the images of the grooves in the rings were astounding and a scientific bonanza. Cassini ends an amazing, 10-year orbital mission on Sept. 15th when it will be purposely burned up in Saturn’s gaseous atmosphere.
Saturday, September 2
Directly south is the 13th constellation of the Zodiac, Ophiuchus. A huge star pattern with no bright stars, the man with the strange name of Ophiuchus dips his foot between Scorpius and Sagittarius. He is officially the serpent-bearer, but may have done more than just handle snakes to get immortality in the stars. Ophiuchus (pronounced oh-FEW-cuss) could also be the mythical Greek doctor Aesculapius of the ship Argo, unseen below the horizon.
Sunday, September 3
On this 1976 date in space history, Viking 2 landed on Mars, following its sister spaceship Viking 1 in July. The stationary landers were deployed from the Viking Orbiters, and were equipped with a small chemical laboratory to try and detect life. Gases from the Martian soil were attributed to a chemical reaction and not life, but 41 years later the data is still debated as to whether Viking 2 discovered signs of life.
Monday, September 4
Early morning risers (or insomniacs) can take a peak outside and see star patterns that will take over our evenings this Winter. At 5 am, Orion is well over the eastern horizon with Taurus above it and Gemini below.