Status Report

The Sky This Week 2003 February 5 – February 11

By SpaceRef Editor
February 5, 2003
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In memory of the crew of STS-107
O Spirit, Whom the Father send
To spread abroad the Firmament;
O wind of heaven, by Thy Might,
Save all who dare the eagle’s flight;
And keep them by Thy watchful care
From every peril in the air.

I’d like to take a moment today to express my heartfelt condolences to the immediate families of the seven Columbia astronauts and to their extended family of NASA workers. In my previous position at the National Air and Space Museum I had the privilege of meeting a number of Shuttle astronauts, and their belief in and dedication to our human space-flight program was nothing short of infectious. Their willingness to risk life and limb in the pursuit of science, and their inspiration to attract young people to the fields of astronomy, physics, engineering, and astronautics continues to be one of the nation’s greatest assets. Let us pause to remember the crew, and remind ourselves of their resolve.

The Moon waxes in the early evening skies this week, climbing through the dim autumnal constellations toward the brighter stars of the Great Winter Circle. During the first few evenings of the week, see if you can spy the earthshine between the cusps of the fattening crescent. Look for Luna near Aldebaran on the evening of the 10th. She’ll lie just north of Saturn on the evening of the 11th. First Quarter occurs on the 9th at 6:11 am Eastern Standard Time.

Saturn is still very well placed for viewing during the early evening hours. He straddles the meridian at around 8:30 pm, leaving a nice ìwindowî for telescopic examination. One of the more subtle features to watch over the coming weeks is the shadow that the ball of the planet casts on the rings. This dark slot will gradually widen as the Sun/Earth/Saturn angle becomes more acute over the next several weeks.

Jupiter takes over where Saturn leaves off. The giant planet is now in the sky all night long, and as Saturn heels to the west Old Jove takes his place high overhead in the south. After viewing the delicate golden glow of Saturn through the telescope, surrounded by his silvery ring, the view of Jupiter is almost a shock to the system. The planet appears much larger, and if conditions are right the tortured cloud belts, spots, and swirls of his atmosphere only hint at the mighty forces at work in the belly of this world. Jupiter’s four bright moons, which are comparable in size to our own Moon, are but mere pinpoints compared to the bulk of Jupiter itself.

Shifting to the morning sky, the early week still affords an opportunity to see Mercury, low in the southeast as twilight brightens the horizon at around 6:45 am. Venus is also visible, a dazzlingly obvious beacon that has attracted quite a bit of attention lately. Ruddy Mars is also there, above and to the right of Venus, but to best glimpse him you should go out at around 6:00 am.

SpaceRef staff editor.