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Archive for July, 2011

The Moon and “Old Glory”, July 21, 2011, 6:23 AM

After a thirty-year odyssey marked with both triumphs and tragedies, the Space Shuttle program has ended with the successful landing of the final mission of Atlantis To be quite frank, I’m relieved. Ever since we lost not one but two gallant Space shuttle crews, I’ve felt on edge every time I knew another mission was aloft. Hats off to the fine men and women from the USA and many other countries who worked together on this mission and all the Space Shuttle missions of these three decades.

The Dawn spacecraft is now orbiting Vesta! Though you won’t be able to see the spacecraft from your backyard, it isn’t hard to spot Vesta right now, especially with the help of this guide from Sky & Telescope. And a fourth moon has been found orbiting Pluto!

Forty-two years ago today the Apollo 11 astronauts were on their way back home from their triumphant lunar landing on July 20, 1969. And thirty-five years ago today the Viking 1 probe was beginning its epic mission as the first successful lander on Mars, after landing on July 20, 1976

To celebrate the 35th anniversary of Viking 2 (and its twin Viking 2 which landed on September 3, 1976), here are two of my first modest photos of Mars, which is steadily becoming more prominent in the predawn sky.

5:19 AM CDT 7-21-11 (10:19 UTC), 8″ reflector, 25mm eyepiece, on the same scale as my typical photos of the whole Moon, just to let you know how small it still looks right now. It’s currently about two hundred million miles from Earth, but will be a bit over 62,600,000 miles away when it reaches opposition on March 3, 2012.

Mars, 5:23 AM CDT 7-20-11 (10:23 UTC), 8″ reflector, 17mm eyepiece, 2x Barlow (thus yielding about 191x magnification) At least you can see that it’s round! I’m hoping that maybe when it gets closer and brighter that its reddish hue will show up in my photos.

This year’s season of predawn Jupiter observation is up and running:


This interesting formation of Jupiter and the Galilean Moons occurred at 5:01 AM CDT 6-28-11 (10:01 UTC). L to R: Callisto, Io, Ganymede, Jupiter, Europa.

31 minutes later at 5:32 AM 6-28-11, the brightening sky enabled me to capture a hint of Jupiter’s two major dark cloud bands, and a couple of the Galileans may still be glimpsed as well. This and above with 8″ reflector and 17mm eyepiece.

5:28 AM CDT 7-20-11 (10:28 UTC), 8″ reflector, 25mm eyepiece. L to R: Callisto (faint, far left), Jupiter, Io, Ganymede, Europa.

The following two photos were both taken with 8″ reflector, 25mm eyepiece, and 2x Barlow (about 130x magnification), and illustrate just what difference a few minutes can make in the revolution of the Galilean Moons:

5:35 AM 7-21-11 (10:35 UTC). L to R: Callisto, Io, Jupiter, Ganymede. At this time Europa was just completing a transit of Jupiter, and doesn’t show up in my photo.

Only four minutes later at 5:39 AM CDT, Europa has emerged just enough to appear as a dot still almost “attached” to Jupiter’s left side (South is at top).

Finally, a few recent Moon photos to round things up. Photos of the entire Moon are with the 8″ reflector and 25mm eyepiece. Closeups are with the 2x Barlow added:


Closeup of waning crescent Moon at 5:12 AM CDT 6-28-11 (10:12 UTC).

5:14 AM CDT 6-28-11 (10:14 UTC)


9:27 PM 7-3-11 (2:27 UTC 7-4-11)


5:42 AM CDT 7-20-11 (10:42 UTC).

5:52 AM CDT 7-21-11 (10:52 UTC).

5:58 AM CDT 7-22-11 (10:58 UTC).

6:00 AM CDT 7-22-11 (11:00 UTC). Plato is toward the top, Copernicus on lower left.

6:03 AM CDT 7-22-11 (11:03 UTC). I’m pleased with how well Clavius’ five inner craters show up here.

All with my usual LG VX8360 cell phone camera. All photos clickable, large ones will get larger yet.

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