MUSCATINE, Iowa — I would like to thank Kathy Logel for her kind words about my column. It is gratifying to learn that I have helped someone learn a little more about the night sky and the universe in general.
Expanding our horizons
Remember the spacecraft that launched in 2006? It was called “New Horizons” and is supposed to go to Pluto. This journey will take nine years and it’s scheduled to arrive July 14, 2015.
This is still in our solar system, so think how long it would take to get to our nearest star system. Maybe I’m a pessimist but I just don’t think we will ever be able to get to the stars. There are too many variables.
Mickey joins Pluto
NASA took some pictures of Mercury from the spacecraft Messenger, and as you might guess, one picture showed a grouping of three craters that looked exactly like Mickey Mouse. I wonder what the nuts out there will do with this one?
The solar system so far
Venus will be 137 million miles from us on Saturday, Dec. 15, with Jupiter at 381 million miles. Jupiter is beautiful in December as it is at opposition. Opposition means it is directly across from the sun and us. This is a great time to observe it.
Saturn is 972 million miles away. Poor old Pluto is 3 billion,
96 million long, long miles out in space.
A lot to see this month
The moon is closest to us on Wednesday, Dec. 12, at 221,876 miles. On Tuesday, Dec. 25, it will be 252,337 miles away.
On Thursday, Dec. 13, the Geminid meteor shower will occur. This shower is one of the best of the year; try not to miss it. With the moon out of the way we should be seeing 80-120 meteors per hour. Dress warm and look to the east starting after 11 p.m.
Curious about mars
The fantastic landing of NASA’s Curiosity on the planet Mars sent shock waves around the world.
Can you imagine reaching Mars and then releasing the Curiosity craft and bringing it to zero miles per hour from 13,200 mph? Well, NASA did it and had no major problems.
They used another craft to hover 60 feet above Mars and then used a sky crane and cables to lower Curiosity to the surface. Wow!
The sky crane then flew away and crashed on Mars. This part took seven minutes and the engineers said it was “seven minutes of terror.” I believe them.
Curiosity will be on Mars for at least two years. I’ll have more to come on that later.
Want to see an asteroid?
Here’s your chance to spot an asteroid passing Earth. The asteroid Toutatis will pass by on Dec. 12-15. It is small by other asteroid standards but sill could cause major, major damage if it were on course to hit us.
It is 2.8 x 1.5 x 1.2 miles in diameter and comes around every four years. It was first discovered in 1934 and then lost until 1989. At first thought to be on a collision course with Earth, scientists later determined that it
wasn’t. It will be in the constellation Cetus. Good luck!
Ask Santa for a telescope
I hope some of you get a new telescope for Christmas and see for yourself how rewarding it can be to observe the sky. If you get one and need help using it, drop me a line and I will be glad to help.
Keep looking up!
Gene Evans is an amateur astronomer from Muscatine. Contact him at