Celestial events in the skies for the week of Feb. 6 – 12, 2018 as compiled for The Loafer by Mark D. Marquette.
The Moon moves out of the evening skies to the after-midnight scene, and the beautiful stars of winter shine brightly. No other time of the year has so many 1st magnitude or brighter stars. Though nights are cold, they are rewarding if you bundle up, stretch out on a lawn chair and look up for a half-hour or so.
Tuesday, February 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 and planet Jupiter in the middle. It’s easy!
Wednesday, February 7
Space Shuttle Atlantis was launched twice on this date in space history: STS-98 and six astronauts took America’s orbiting lab Destiny to the International Space Station, dropping of one Expedition 16 member and returning another; and in 2008, STS-122 and six astronauts made the 24th construction flight to the ISS, delivering the European Space Agency’s space laboratory called Columbus.
Thursday, February 8
The constellation Orion is magnificent. The two stars in his legs are supergiant stars—larger than the orbit of Mercury if they replaced our Sun. The knee star to the right is Rigel, a blue-white supergiant that is 910 Light Years away. Saiph, the other knee star, is another supergiant, 1,300 Light Years distant.
Friday, February 9
Red Betelgeuse is 310 Light Years away, a bloated, old star that is one of the largest “supergiants”—filling the orbit of Mars if placed in our Solar System. Bellatrix, the other shoulder star, is a blue giant 360 Light Years away.
Saturday, February 10
Gemini the twins are to the left of Orion, with bright star Pollux to the left and Castor above his brother. Pollux is one of the closest stars to Earth, only 36 Light Years away. Castor, 45 Light Years away, is an amazing star with five other stars orbiting it—two easily seen in a telescope.
Sunday, February 11
On this 1997 date in space history Discovery was launched for the 22nd time on STS-82 for the second service mission to the Hubble Space Telescope. And in 2000 STS-99 launched Endeavour on a 10-day Shuttle Radar Topography Mission that gathered 8 terabytes of data to produce high-quality, 3-D images of the Earth’s surface.
Monday, February 12
In 2001, NASA’s Near-Earth Asteroid Rendezvous spacecraft soft landed on the asteroid Eros, a 20-mile long, 10-mile wide body in the asteroid belt. NEAR had orbited Eros for a year, and the unplanned touchdown was a fitting end to the mission. Surprisingly, NEAR survived the soft landing, transmitting data for a month before money ran out and it was shut down on the surface of an alien world that is -280 degrees below zero.