Celestial events in the skies for the week of Sept. 12-18, 2017 as compiled for The Loafer by Mark D. Marquette.
The first day of Autumn is next Friday, Sept. 22 at 4:02 pm, and the sky above is reflecting the seasonal change. We are entering the best two weeks to see the Milky Way—right after the Moon’s full phase when it rises about 30 minutes later each day, leaving the early evening dark and starry. These are the last few weeks to catch Jupiter and star Spica in the evening. And you have four or five weeks to catch Saturn between Sagittarius and Scorpius in the south Milky Way.
Tuesday, September 12
On this date in space history 19 persons can say this is the day they rocket into space. Future Moon voyage crewmates Richard Gordon and Pete Conrad on Gemini 11 in 1966; five on Space Shuttle Discovery in 1991; seven aboard Endeavour in 1992; and five aboard Discovery in 1993. THAT will not be duplicated for a long while.
Wednesday, September 13
Above the twilight horizon of evening, yellow Jupiter is above white Spica, saying their goodbyes after giving us quite a beautiful sky show since early Spring. When the leaves are flying in October, they will be too close to the Sun, popping up in the morning sky before Halloween.
Thursday, September 14
On this date in 1966, Gemini XI docked with an Agena rocket, which was ignited and boosted future Apollo 12 moon men Dick Gordon and Pete Conrad to record 850-miles high. Surpassed by only the Apollo voyages to the Moon, this is still the highest orbit attained by a manned vehicle. Conrad, deceased, walked on the Moon with Alan Bean, while Gordon, circled 100 miles above. This flight guaranteed Gordon a pilot ride to the surface on Apollo 17, but he was bumped to Apollo 18 for geologist Harrison Schmitt. Gordon was moved to Apollo 18, but it and moon voyages of Apollo 19-21 were cancelled–and seven others’ hopes of walking on the Moon.
Friday, September 15
A beautiful weekend of stargazing as the Milky Way spans from north to south. The Big Dipper is scrapping the northeast horizon while the south skies feature Sagittarius and Scorpius in the direction of the center of our Galaxy.
Saturday, September 16
On this 1996 date in space history, NASA launched Space Shuttle Atlantis on a mission to the Russian space station MIR, dropping off John Blaha for a four month stay and bringing back Shannon Lucid after a then American record 188 day in space.
Sunday, September 17
Golden Saturn and red Antares make quite a contrast looking directly south. The heart of the Scorpion and our ringed planet in the little-known Zodiac constellation Ophiuchus set below the horizon by midnight.
Monday, September 18
On this 1990 date in space history NASA released a “family portrait” of our Solar System taken from Voyager 1 at four billion miles from the Sun. Taken after years of urging by the “people’s astronomer” Carl Sagan, the photo captured six of the then nine planets (Mercury and Mars were too close to the Sun, and Pluto was too faint.) In the mosaic of 60 images, the Earth, in Sagan’s words, looked like a “pale, blue dot,” a humbling experience for all mankind.