Casual Astronomy, Spaceflight News and Lower California Weather

Mars Lander Briefing Wed 2PM EDT
☝ Bright ISS Flyovers
GLAST Launch June 5 11:45am EDT

By: LowerCal, 6:36 PM GMT on May 04, 2008

What is "casual astronomy"?
(Scroll down for future dates, farther down for past dates.)

Phases of the Lunar Month
May 5 - June 3
A guide to following the phases of the Moon over the next month -
SkyandTelescope.com - Moon - The Moon's Changing Phase.


Phoenix Mars Lander Briefings

Image credit: NASA/JPL
May 26-30, June 4
Every day at 2PM EDT, 11AM PDT on
NASA TV Public Channel.

NASA TV Schedule

Phoenix Mars Lander Images

JFLORIDA has posted a blog entry with a lot of interesting background on the Phoenix Mars Lander and similar past missions.


Bright ISS Flyovers

WU Photo: ISS 4-12-08 by wb6ypf Saturday April 12, 2008
May 20 - June 11
On many of these evenings it will be possible to see a bright pass by the International Space Station (ISS) from North America.

Here are the highest and brightest evening flyovers
of the International Space Station (ISS) for a few areas:
(click on the date to see the exact path and time)

Los Angeles & surrounding areas
May 21
May 23
June 8
June 10

Houston & surrounding areas
May 20
May 22
June 8
June 10

Orlando & surrounding areas
May 21
June 9
June 11

Charleston, SC & surrounding areas
May 21
June 8
June 9
June 11

For additional times, locations and dates check satellite pass predictions at
Heavens-Above or try the simpler tool at
Satellite Flybys by SpaceweatherPhone.com.


Launch of GLAST Mission
June 3
June 5

Mission: Gamma-Ray Large Area Space Telescope (GLAST)
Launch Vehicle: Delta II 7920-Heavy
Launch from Kennedy Space Center, Florida
no earlier than (depends on shuttle launching as scheduled)
June 3
June 5
1545-1740 GMT
11:45am-1:45pm EDT (local time)
8:45-10:45am PDT.







Photo credit: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis

As the launch date grows closer you can find more information and even a live webcast of the launch at United Launch Alliance.


Double Spacecraft Flyovers

WU Photo: Endeavour and the ISS by WeatheringHeights Tuesday March 25, 2008

Between the launch of the shuttle and its docking with the ISS it may be possible to sight both craft in the sky at the same time. Double flyover sightings are also possible between the undocking and landing of the shuttle.

Check satellite pass predictions at
Heavens-Above or try the simpler tool at
Satellite Flybys by SpaceweatherPhone.com.

Mission to ISS
May 31
Mission: ISS Flight 1J and STS-124
Spacecraft & Launch Vehicle: Shuttle Discovery
Launch from Kennedy Space Center, Florida May 31
2102 GMT
5:02pm EDT (local time)
2:02pm PDT.
Docking with ISS June 2
1749 GMT
1:49pm EDT
10:49am PDT.
Undocking from ISS June 11
1133 GMT
7:33am EDT
4:33am PDT.


Photo credit: NASA/Troy Cryder

Landing at Kennedy Space Center, Florida June 15
1502 GMT
11:02am EDT
8:02am PDT.

Launch status updates at
Spaceflight Now | Tracking Station | Worldwide launch schedule.

You can follow the progress of the Space Shuttle mission online at
Spaceflight Now | STS-124 Shuttle Report | Mission Status Center or
NASA - Space Shuttle.
There are links in the "WATCH NASA TV NOW" section of the NASA page where you can watch video (sometimes live).

You can dig for more info at
Spaceflight Now - Index of /shuttle/sts124 and
CBS News Space Place - STS-124 Status Report.

Live coverage of the launch on NASA TV starts about one hour before liftoff at noon, about 5 hours before launch -
NASA TV Schedule.


Outline of Sky Events for the Year
2008
SkyandTelescope.com - Observing Highlights - Sky Highlights of 2008

SkyandTelescope.com - Observing Highlights - Eclipses in 2008

SkyandTelescope.com - Meteors - Meteor Showers in 2008

The question, "How could I make a valuable contribution to the science of astronomy as a simple naked eye observer?" is answered in
SkyandTelescope.com - Stargazing - The Scientific Value of Visual Observing
which may lead you to the following, in order:
SkyandTelescope.com - Meteors - Meteors: A Primer,
SkyandTelescope.com - Meteors - Basics of Meteor Observing and
SkyandTelescope.com - Meteors - Advanced Meteor Observing.


***** Past Dates *****

Dark/New Moon
May 5
Dark Moon (Astronomical New Moon) exact at:
1218 UTC/GMT,
8:18am EDT and
5:18am PDT.
The dark moon will be followed by progressively higher and fatter evening crescents.

"New Moon"
The term "new moon" has two different meanings.

1) In the context of astronomy like the U.S. Naval Observatory - 2008 Phases of the Moon it is the exact time the Moon passes a line between between the centers of the Earth and Sun. From Earth the opposite side of the Moon is illuminated and we can only "see" the dark side ... except that we really can't see it because it so close to the brilliant light of the Sun. When the alignment is nearly exact we can see the silhouette of the Moon in a solar eclipse.

2) In the context of cultural/religious calendars "new moon" is the first sighting of the very thin crescent moon very low in the western sky after sunset. The first sighting (or theoretically possible first sighting) determines the first day of a new moon/month.




) Thinnest Evening Crescent Moon
May 5
For North America sightings of an extremely thin "new" moon may be possible.

For more info see
Moonsighting.com and
SkyandTelescope.com - Homepage Observing - A Rare Chance To See "Opposing Crescent" Moons.


Meteor Shower

WU Photo: Searching for Shooting Stars by johnlanoue Monday October 8, 2007
Early Morning May 5 or 6
The η (Eta) Aquariids are a variable shower with a rates from 40-85 per hour visible from ideal locations.

Best areas for watching are south of the Equator and this year the Western Pacific. The Northern Hemisphere near the tropics has a chance of seeing a significant portion of these meteors.

Highest numbers will be visible just before the break of dawn while the sky is still at its darkest. Farther south visibility will start earlier before dawn and the numbers will be higher.

In the Western Hemisphere the dawn of May 5 will be closest to the peak of the shower. In the Eastern Hemisphere the dawn of May 6 will be closest to the peak.

Source and more information at
IMO Meteor Shower Calendar 2008 | International Meteor Organization - η-Aquariids.

Also see
Meteor Activity Outlook for April 25-May 1, 2008 | International Meteor Organization,
Astronomy.com - Will meteors from Halley's comet surge?,
SpaceWeather.com - eta Aquarid meteor shower,
SkyandTelescope.com - Observing Highlights - See the Eta Aquarid Meteor Shower and
Meteor Activity Outlook for May 2-8, 2008 | International Meteor Organization.

For Better Viewing
Find a Dark Location
A dark country location without "security" lights is best. If that's not convenient try to find a location where you can't see any lights or lighted surfaces. A nearby park or maybe even your backyard would qualify. On a beach facing the water could be a good alternative.

Where to Look
Meteors can appear in any part of the sky. To see the most meteors face the darkest part of your sky and look at least 45° above the horizon.

Be Comfortable
A reclining chair will keep you from getting a stiff neck and tired feet. A sleeping bag will keep you warm. (Even in the summertime you can get chilly at night if you are just lying still.) Insect repellent will keep you from being distracted by those little pests.

General Meteor Shower Information
An easy to read introduction to meteors with an interesting summary of annual showers is
Astronomy - Meteors and meteor showers - Francis Reddy.

The two primary sources of most of what you'll read about meteor showers are
The American Meteor Society and
The International Meteor Organinzation.


(For earlier dates see previous blog entries.)


⋅ ☽ Thin Evening Crescent Moon (& Mercury)

WU Photo: One day old Moon by LaddObservatory Friday June 15, 2007
May 6
For most areas the first and thinnest crescent moon (the new moon) of this lunar month will appear above the planet Mercury low in the WSW. Mercury appears as a bright copper colored point of light.


Pathway of the Planets
All of the easily visible planets and the Earth's moon orbit in nearly the same plane. Mercury's orbit is tilted 7° from the Earth's, the Moon 5° and the others all less than 3.5°.

This means that when looking at the night sky the planets and Moon travel very close to a fixed line across the background of stars in the heavens (the ecliptic). When more than one of these bodies (planets and the Moon) are in the night sky at the same time it is easy to visualize the line for yourself.
May 7 & 8
Early in the evening the Moon stands between Mercury which is low in the WNW and Mars which is halfway up the western sky. Saturn is higher still along the lineup.


Mars, the Moon & the Twins
May 9
The planet Mars will appear above the Moon and the stars Pollux and Castor of the constellation Gemini (the Twins) will appear to the right of the Moon. In the constellation the stars Castor and Pollux are the heads of the twins of the same name. They stand with arms on each other's shoulders and their feet down toward the western horizon.


Astronomy Day
May 10
"Public Welcome!" events daytime and evening -
Astronomy Day - May 10, 2008 | Universe Today,
Astronomy.com - National Astronomy Day 2008 and
Astronomy Day Events - May 2008 | The Astronomical League.


The Moon & Mars (& the Twins)
May 10
The Moon appears above the planet Mars.

The stars Pollux and Castor of the constellation Gemini (the Twins) will appear to the right of the Mars. The pattern formed by these four objects will be like a hockey stick with the Moon as the puck.


The Lion, the Moon & the Planet
May 12
The Moon, the planet Saturn and the bright star Regulus make a small triangle this night. Saturn is yellowish and even brighter than blueish Regulus.

Regulus is the brightest star in the constellation Leo (the Lion). The body of the lion is north of Regulus with head west, back north and hindquarters east. Regulus is the dot of the backward question mark that outlines the mane and chest of the lion. A triangle of stars form the hindquarters.


Pathway of the Planets
All of the easily visible planets and the Earth's moon orbit in nearly the same plane. Mercury's orbit is tilted 7° from the Earth's, the Moon 5° and the others all less than 3.5°.

This means that when looking at the night sky the planets and Moon travel very close to a fixed line across the background of stars in the heavens (the ecliptic). When more than one of these bodies (planets and the Moon) are in the night sky at the same time it is easy to visualize the line for yourself.
May 14
Early in the evening Mercury stands low in the WNW. Higher along the line and nearly equally spaced are Mars, then Saturn and then the Moon.


Double Spacecraft Flyovers

WU Photo: SPACECRAFT by Westerberg Wednesday June 20, 2007

Between the launch of the Progress ship and its docking with the ISS it may be possible to sight both craft in the sky at the same time.

Check satellite pass predictions at
Heavens-Above or try the simpler tool at
Satellite Flybys by SpaceweatherPhone.com.

Launch of Resupply Mission to ISS
May 14
Mission: Flight 29P to ISS
Spacecraft: Progress M-64
Launch Vehicle: Soyuz-U
Launch from Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan
May 14 2022 GMT
May 15 1:22am AQTT (Aqtobe Time, local time)
May 14 4:22pm EDT
May 14 1:22pm PDT.
Docking with ISS
May 16 5:37pm EDT.

Updates at
Spaceflight Now | Tracking Station | Worldwide launch schedule.

Live coverage of the docking on NASA TV starts May 16 at 5:00pm EDT.


The Moon, the Virgin, the Wheat & the Crow
May 16
The Moon appears near the bright star Spica in the constellation Virgo (the Virgin). Most of the stars forming the constellation's figure are not bright so it is difficult to pick out in light polluted skies. The figure of Virgo is a reclining maiden with a "spike" of wheat (Spica) in her left hand. The figure is north of Spica with head west and feet east. Southwest of Spica is the dim kite-shaped constellation Corvus (the Crow) hungrily eyeing the spike of wheat.

Spica is one of the bluest stars it the sky. My eyes are not especially blue sensitive but Spica appears unquestionably blue to me. It will appear bluer through binoculars and even bluer if you slightly unfocus the binoculars.

It's easy to locate Spica this evening with the Moon right next to it. There is another easy way to locate Spica when the Moon is not in the sky. Locate the Big Dipper in the northern sky. It is currently upside down in the evenings (dumping it's water onto the ground). Extend the curve of the Big Dipper's handle to the until you encounter a bright yellowish-orange star in the east, Arcturus. Proceed straight on a similar distance to bright Spica in the Southeast. Just remember, "Arc to Arcturus and spike to Spica."


· Mercury after Sunset
First Half of May
The planet Mercury appears above the WSW horizon after sunset -
SkyandTelescope.com - Observing Highlights - Catch Mercury at Its Best.

Also see Astronomy.com - Spot elusive Mercury.


Full Moon

WU Photo: Dumont Moon by wb6ypf Saturday March 3, 2007
May 18 or 19
May 19 or 20
Full Moon exact at:
May 20 0211 UTC/GMT,
May 19 10:11pm EDT,
May 19 7:11pm PDT.
The full moon will be rising in the east very close to the time of sunset. At that time the Moon will seem huge (the Moon illusion) and unusually colored. The yellow/orange/red appearance of the moon at the horizon is due to the same reason the sky appears blue!

Because this is the one of the two times during the month (new and full moon) when the Sun, Earth and Moon are nearly aligned tidal behavior will be strongest -- higher highs, lower lows and faster flows.


The Moon, the Scorpion & the Rival of Mars
May 20
After dark the Moon rises in the SE-ESE closely following the bright reddish-orange star Antares in the constellation Scorpius (the Scorpion).

In the Northern Hemisphere only the head and heart of the scorpion will be above the horizon at first. By the time 2-3 hours pass the curve of the scorpion's tail and the two close bright stars of the "stinger" at the end will be visible.

Antares' name derives from the Greek Αντάρης, meaning "(holds) against Ares (Mars)", due to the similarity of its reddish hue to the appearance of the planet Mars. Antares is one of the four brightest stars along the pathway of the planets and Mars (Ares) passes close by Antares approximately every two years.


Mars Buzzes the Beehive

Image credit: Tom Bash and John Fox/Adam Block/NOAO/AURA/NSF
May 22
The Beehive is a cluster of stars along the pathway of the planets. The individual stars of this cluster are not immediately visible to the naked eye. However against dark skies this collection of stars looks like a gray smudge about 3 times the diameter of the full moon. A nearby Moon (May 10) is not a good way to find the Beehive because its light washes out the many fainter stars in the cluster.

This evening the planet Mars will brush the Beehive. (Previous evenings Mars is lower right and subsequent evening Mars is upper left of the cluster.) Through small binoculars maybe a dozen stars may be seen. The brightest stars form a pattern like a Christmas tree. Through larger binoculars or small telescopes the view is similar to the image - dozens of stars either golden or pale blue and most of them grouped in two's and three's.

Additional info at SkyandTelescope.com - Observing Highlights - Mars Meets the Beehive.


◦○ Jupiter & the Moon
Morning May 24
All month Jupiter is the very bright point of light high in the south before sunrise. On this morning the Moon stands below it.


7 Minutes of Terror

May 25
NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander arrives at Mars.

Nice summary of the mission at
Astronomy.com - Phoenix mission ready to land on Mars

... Phoenix will enter the top of the martian atmosphere at almost 13,000 mph. In 7 minutes, the spacecraft must complete a challenging sequence of events to slow to about 5 mph before its three legs reach the ground. Confirmation of the landing could come as early as 7:53 P.M. EDT. ...
NASA TV coverage on May 25 starts at 3:00pm EDT.

Mission briefings are scheduled on May 22, 24, 25 & 26 -
NASA TV Schedule.

Phoenix Mars Lander Images




In the past day people have visited from the places shown.
Visitor Map
Create your own visitor map!

Updated: 7:23 PM GMT on June 02, 2008

Permalink

About LowerCal

Astronomy with a minimum of terminology and technology.

Personal Weather Stations

APRSWXNET Woodland Hills CA US
Calabasas, CA
Elevation: 984 ft
Temperature: 51.0 °F
Dew Point: 34.0 °F
Humidity: 53%
Wind: Calm
Wind Gust: 2.0 mph
Updated: 5:33 AM PST on December 01, 2013
At Gonzales Drive
Woodland Hills, CA
Elevation: 984 ft
Temperature: 50.2 °F
Dew Point: 33.3 °F
Humidity: 52%
Wind: Calm
Wind Gust: 0.0 mph
Updated: 3:26 AM PDT on April 10, 2014

About Personal Weather Stations