Mars Meets the MiniMoon During the Longest Total Lunar Eclipse of the Century

lunar eclipse
lunar eclipse
A blood red moon captured during the total lunar eclipse of January 31st, 2018. Image credit and copyright: Eliot Herman

The Blood Moon cometh.

One of the top astronomy events of 2018 occurs on the evening of Friday, July 27th, when the Moon enters the shadow of the Earth for a total lunar eclipse. In the vernacular that is the modern internet, this is what’s becoming popularly known as a “Blood Moon,” a time when the Moon reddens due to the refracted sunlight from a thousand sunsets falling upon it. Standing on the surface of the Moon during a total lunar eclipse (which no human has yet to do) you would see a red “ring of fire” ’round the limb of the eclipsed Earth.

This is the second total lunar eclipse for 2018, and the middle of a unique eclipse season bracketed by two partial solar eclipses, one on July 13th, and another crossing the Arctic and Scandinavia on August 11th.

The path of the Moon through the Earth’s shadow Friday, along with visibility prospects worldwide. Credit: NASA/GSFC

The July 27th total lunar eclipse technically begins around 17:15 Universal Time (UT), when the Moon enters the bright penumbral edge of the Earth’s shadow. Expect the see a slight shading on the southwest edge of the Moon’s limb about 30 minutes later. The real action begins around 18:24 UT, when the Moon starts to enter the dark inner umbra and the partial phases of the eclipse begin. Totality runs from 19:30 UT to 21:13 UT, and the cycle reverses through partial and penumbral phases, until the eclipse ends at 23:29 UT.

Centered over the Indian Ocean region, Africa, Europe and western Asia get a good front row seat to the entire total lunar eclipse. Australia and eastern Asia see the eclipse in progress at moonset, and South America sees the eclipse in progress at moonrise just after sunset. Only North America sits this one out.

Now, this total lunar eclipse is special for a few reasons.

First off, we’ll have the planet Mars at opposition less than 15 hours prior to the eclipse. This means the Red Planet will shine at a brilliant magnitude -2.8, just eight degrees from the crimson Moon during the eclipse, a true treat and an easy crop to get both in frame. We fully expect to see some great images of Mars at opposition along with the eclipsed Moon.

Mars versus the eclipsed Moon on Friday. Credit: Stellarium

How close can the two get? Well, stick around until April 27th, 2078 and you can see the Moon occult (pass in front of) Mars during a penumbral lunar eclipse as seen from South America.

And speaking of occultations, the Moon occults some interesting stars during totality Friday, the brightest of which is the +5.9 magnitude double star Omicron Capricorni (SAO 163626) as seen from Madagascar and the southern tip of Africa. Omicron Capricorni has a wide separation of 22″.

The occultation path of Omicron Capricorni during Friday’s eclipse. Credit: Occult 4.2.

The second unique fact surrounding this eclipse is one you’ve most likely already heard: it is indeed the longest one for this century… barely. This occurs because the Moon reaches its descending node along the ecliptic on July 27th at 22:40 UT, just 21 minutes after leaving the umbral shadow of the Earth. This makes for a very central eclipse, nearly piercing the umbral shadow of the Earth right through its center.

Totality on Friday lasts for 1 hour, 42 minutes and 57 seconds. This was last beat on July 16th, 2000 with a duration of 1 hour, 46 minutes and 24 seconds (2001 is technically the first year of the 21st century). The duration for Friday’s eclipse won’t be topped until June 9th 2123 (1 hour 46 minutes six seconds), making it the longest for a 123 year span.

The longest total lunar eclipse over the span of 5,000 years from 2000 BC to 3000 AD was on May 31st, 318 AD at 106.6 minutes in duration.

A Minimoon Eclipse

Finally, a third factor is assisting this eclipse in its longevity is the onset of the MiniMoon: The Moon reaches apogee at July 27th, 5:22 UT, 14 hours and 37 minutes prior to Full and the central time of the eclipse. This is the most distant Full Moon of the year for 2018 (406,222 km at apogee) the 2nd most distant apogee for 2018. Apogee on January 15th, beats it out by only 237 kilometers. This not only gives the Moon a slightly smaller size visually at 29.3′, versus 34.1′ near perigee, less than half of the 76′ arcminute diameter of the Earth’s shadow. This also means that the Moon is moving slightly slower in its orbit, making a more stately pass through the Earth’s shadow.

Going, going… the stages of a lunar eclipse. Credit: Dave Dickinson.

What will the Moon look like during the eclipse? Not all total lunar eclipses are the same, but I’d expect a dark, brick red hue from such a deep eclipse. The color of the Moon during a eclipse is described as its Danjon number, ranging from a bright (4) to dark murky copper color (0) during totality.

Tales of the Saros

This particular eclipse is member 38 of the 71 lunar eclipses in saros series 129, running from June 10th, 1351 all the way out to the final eclipse in the series on July 24th, 2613 AD. If you caught the super-long July 16th, 2000 eclipse (the longest for the 20th century) then you saw the last one in the series, and the next one for the series occurs on August 7th, 2036. Collect all three, and you’ve completed a triple exeligmos series, a fine word in Scrabble to land on a triple word score.

Photographing the Moon

If you can shoot the Moon, you can shoot a total lunar eclipse, though a minimum focal length lens of around 200mm is needed to produce a Moon much larger that a dot. The key moment is the onset of totality, when you need to be ready to rapidly dial the exposure settings down from the 1/100th of a second range down to 1 second or longer. Be careful not to lose sight of the Moon in the viewfinder all together!

Are you watching the eclipse during moonrise or moonset? This is a great time to shoot the eclipsed Moon along with foreground objects… you can also make an interesting observation around this time, and nab the eclipsed Moon and the Sun above the local horizon at the same time in what’s termed a selenelion. This works mainly because the Earth’s shadow is larger than the apparent diameter of the Moon, allowing it to be cast slightly off to true center after sunrise or just before sunset. Gaining a bit of altitude and having a low, flat horizon helps, as the slight curve of the Earth also gives the Sun and Moon a tiny boost. For this eclipse, the U2-U3 umbral contact zone for a selenelion favors eastern Brazil, the UK and Scandinavia at moonrise, and eastern Australia, Japan and northeastern China at moonset.

Incidentally, a selenelion is the second visual proof you see during a lunar eclipse that the Earth is indeed round, the first being the curve of the planet’s shadow seen at all angles as it falls across the Moon.

Another interesting challenge would be to capture a transit of the International Space Station during the eclipse, either during the partial or total phases… to our knowledge, this has never been done during a lunar eclipse. This Friday, South America gets the best shots at a lunar eclipse transit of the ISS:

ISS transit paths (revised) during Friday’s eclipse, including times in UT and Moon phases. The northern and southern limits of the paths mark the point where the Moon is no longer visible. Created by the author using CalSky. (Thanks to PAHLES in comments below for pointing out the errors in the first map!)

Be sure to check CalSky for a transit near you.

Watch Friday’s eclipse live online. Credit: Gianluca Masi/Virtual Telescope Project.

Live on the wrong continent, or simply have cloudy skies? Gianluca Masi and the Virtual Telescope Project 2.0 have you covered, with a live webcast of the eclipse from the heart of Rome, Italy on July 27th starting at 18:30 UT.

Be sure to catch Friday’s total lunar eclipse, either in person or online… we won’t have another one until January 21st, 2019.

Learn about eclipses, occultations, the motion of the Moon and more in our new book: Universe Today’s Guide to the Cosmos: Everything You Need to Know to Become an Amateur Astronomer now available for pre-order.

NASA Live-Broadcasting 2017 Solar Eclipse!

Today, the NASA TV Public Channel is live-streaming their coverage of the totality of the 2017 Solar Eclipse as it covers a path reaching across the continental United States – from Oregon to South Carolina. The event, titled “Solar Eclipse: Through the Eyes of NASA“, begins at 1 p.m. EDT (11 am PDT). Be sure to check it out by following the link below:

https://www.nasa.gov/eclipselive/#NASA+TV+Public+Channel

Also, NASA has promised a plethora of information on this eclipse, which will include “images captured before, during and after the eclipse by 11 spacecraft, at least three NASA aircraft, more than 50 high-altitude balloons, and the astronauts aboard the International Space Station – each offering a unique vantage point for the celestial event.”

If you’re just reading this now, there’s still time! Head on over and see it all unfold!

Further Reading: NASA, NASA -Eclipse 2017

Watch Live 24-Hour Webcast for International Asteroid Day

Every day, Earth is hit by 60 to 300 metric tons of space dust and smaller meteoroids. But sometimes, larger and more dangerous space rocks plummet to Earth, such as on June 30, 1908 when an estimated 40 meter-wide meteoroid exploded over the Tunguska, Siberia region in Russia, devastating 2000 sq. kilometers (770 square miles) of forest. As the 2013 Chelyabinsk meteor event attests, the likelihood of a similar event happening again is not an “if” but a “when.”

To raise public awareness about asteroid impact hazards and to urge political leaders to work together to be prepared, the United Nations proclaimed June 30 as International Asteroid Day.

A first-ever 24-hour Asteroid Day program will be feature nearly 1,000 events around the world. It starts at 9 p.m. EDT on June 29 (1 a.m. June 30 GMT), streaming online at the Asteroid Day webcast.

The events start in Tucson, Arizona with an event hosted by our friend, Meteorite Man and Action Scientist Geoff Notkin speaking with Dante Lauretta and Heather Enos from the OSIRIS-REx mission to asteroid Bennu, Eric Christensen, director, Catalina Sky Survey for Near-Earth Objects and many more.

Other events around the world feature Brian Cox, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Brian May, Peter Gabriel, as well as dozens of expert scientists, technologists and researchers in planetary science, NASA astronauts Rusty Schweickart, Ed Lu and Nicole Stott, ESA astronauts Michel Tognini, Jean-François Clervoy; and Romanian astronaut Dorin Prunariu.

NASA and ESA are both hosting events as well. You can see the entire lineup of events here (Google document) and find additional information at the Asteroid Day Live website.

In addition, the Discovery Channel, has produced two specials about asteroids and Asteroid Day to air June 30 around the world: “How to Survive an Asteroid Impact” and a three-minute Virtual Reality video that re-enacts the Tunguska event, provides viewers with an insight into the risks of asteroids, how scientists are trying to protect our planet, and what viewers should do if an asteroid is about to impact their city.

There is also a seven-part series called “Scientists Rock” that introduces you to the people working to protect us from Asteroids.

According to a press release from Asteroid Day, central to Asteroid Day is the 100x Declaration, calling for the 100-fold increase in the detection and monitoring of asteroids. Signed to date by more than 60,000 people around the world, the Declaration resolves to “solve humanity’s greatest challenges to safeguard our families and quality of life on Earth in the future. The Declaration is available online for the signature of anyone concerned about advancing asteroid research and technology.

NASA Astronaut Peggy Whitson Sets US Space Endurance Record, Speaks to President Trump

NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, currently living and working aboard the International Space Station, broke the record Monday for cumulative time spent in space by a U.S. astronaut – an occasion that was celebrated with a phone call from President Donald Trump, First Daughter Ivanka Trump, and fellow astronaut Kate Rubins. Credits: NASA TV

NASA Astronaut Peggy Whitson set the endurance record for time in space by a U.S, astronaut today, Monday, April 24, during her current stint of living and working aboard the International Space Station (ISS) along with her multinational crew of five astronauts and cosmonauts.

Furthermore Whitson received a long distance phone call of exuberant congratulations from President Donald Trump, First Daughter Ivanka Trump, and fellow astronaut Kate Rubins direct from the Oval Office in the White House to celebrate the momentous occasion.

“This is a very special day in the glorious history of American spaceflight!” said President Trump during the live phone call to the ISS broadcast on NASA TV.

As of today, Whitson exceeded 534 cumulative days in space by an American astronaut, breaking the record held by NASA astronaut Jeff Williams.

“Today Commander Whitson you have broken the record for the most total time spent in space by an American astronaut. 534 days and counting,” elaborated President Trump.

“That’s an incredible record to break. And on behalf of the nation and frankly the world I would like to congratulate you. That is really something!”

“You’re an incredible inspiration to us all.”

Trump noted that thousands of school students were listening in to the live broadcast which also served to promote students to study STEM subjects.

“Peggy is a phenomenal role model for young women, and all Americans, who are exploring or participating in STEM education programs and careers,” said President Trump.

“As I have said many times before, only by enlisting the full potential of women in our society will we be truly able to make America great again. When I signed the INSPIRE Women Act in February, I did so to ensure more women have access to STEM education and careers, and to ensure America continues to benefit from the contributions of trailblazers like Peggy.”

How does it feel to break the endurance record? Trump asked Whitson.

“It’s actually a huge honor to break a record like this, but it’s an honor for me basically to be representing all the folks at NASA who make this spaceflight possible and who make me setting this record feasible,” Whitson replied from orbit to Trump.

“And so it’s a very exciting time to be at NASA. We are all very much looking forward, as directed by your new NASA bill — we’re excited about the missions to Mars in the 2030s. And so we actually, physically, have hardware on the ground that’s being built for the SLS rocket that’s going to take us there.”

“It’s a very exciting time, and I’m so proud of the team.”

“We have over 200 investigations ongoing onboard the space station, and I just think that’s a phenomenal part of the day.”

NASA astronaut Jack Fischer is also serving aboard the station on his rookie flight and also took part in the phone call with President Trump.

Whitson is currently serving as Space Station Commander of Expedition 51. She most recently launched to the ISS on Nov 17, 2016 aboard a Russian Soyuz capsule from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, as part of a three person crew.

At the time of her Soyuz launch she had accumulated 377 total days in space.

She holds several other prestigious records as well. Whitson is the first woman to serve twice as space station commander.

Indeed in 2008 Whitson became the first woman ever to command the space station during her prior stay on Expedition 16 a decade ago. Her second stint as station commander began earlier this month on April 9.

Whitson also holds the record for most spacewalks by a female astronaut. Altogether she has accumulated 53 hours and 23 minutes of EVA time over eight spacewalks.

Overall, Expedition 51 involved her third long duration stay aboard the massive orbiting laboratory complex.

Seen here on a spacewalk in March 2017, NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson holds the record for most spacewalks conducted by a female astronaut. Credits: NASA

“This is an inspirational record Peggy is setting today, and she would be the first to tell you this is a record that’s absolutely made to be broken as we advance our knowledge and existence as both Americans and humans,” said NASA acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot, in a statement.

“The cutting-edge research and technology demonstrations on the International Space Station will help us go farther into our solar system and stay there longer, as we explore the mysteries of deep space first-hand. Congratulation to Peggy, and thank you for inspiring not only women, but all Americans to pursue STEM careers and become leaders.”

When she returns to Earth in September she will have accumulated some 666 days in space.

On her 2007 mission aboard the International Space Station, NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, Expedition 16 commander, worked on the Capillary Flow Experiment (CFE), which observes the flow of fluid, in particular capillary phenomena, in microgravity. Credits: NASA

Trump made note of the science and commercial industrial work being carried out aboard the station.

“Many American entrepreneurs are racing into space. I have many friends that are so excited about space. They want to get involved in space from the standpoint of entrepreneurship and business,” said President Trump.

“And I’m sure that every student watching wants to know, what is next for Americans in space.”

Indeed the private SS John Glenn Cygnus cargo freighter just arrived at the ISS on Saturday, April 22, carrying nearly 4 tons or science experiments, hardware, parts and provisions.

Whitson was one of two ISS astronauts involved in capturing Cygnus with the Canadian built robotic arm for attachment to the stations Unity node.

Trump also mentioned his strong support for sending humans on a mission to Mars in the 2030s and for NASA’s development of the SLS heavy lift rocket and Orion deep space capsule.

“I’m very proud that I just signed a bill committing NASA to the aim of sending America astronauts to Mars. So we’ll do that. I think we’ll do it a lot sooner than we’re even thinking.”

“Well, we want to try and do it during my first term or, at worst, during my second term. So we’ll have to speed that up a little bit, okay?”

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Join Fraser and Friends for a COSMOS Marathon on Monday

Viking Lander

Click here on Monday, April 24th at 12:00 pm PST to join the livestream.

Remember COSMOS, with Carl Sagan? Of course you do. If you’re fascinated with space and astronomy like me, then the original COSMOS must have had a pivotal impact on your enthusiasm for all things space. And not just space, but all things science. I don’t think it’s an understatement to say that Carl Sagan completely changed the paradigm for what it means to be a science communicator. He revealed the discoveries made by astronomers, and made them accessible to a general audience – and he took a lot of heat for it.

Carl Sagan
Carl Sagan
Unfortunately, Carl Sagan died of cancer in 1996, years too early. He changed the world, but he never got to stick around and see his impact echoing through the Internet as it has today. When I started Universe Today in 1999, it was because the ideas in Pale Blue Dot resonated so deeply with me. I wanted to dedicate my life to understanding and teaching the world about space. And I’m always sad that I never got a chance to meet with him, and tell him how much of an influence he had on my career. Demon Haunted World taught me to be a skeptic.

I’ve had an idea kicking around for years now. I’ve always wanted to watch the entire COSMOS series with a bunch of my space friends, and do a live commentary. Partly to update the science, partly to reflect on Sagan’s influence, and partly to just hang out with a bunch of friends and be silly. But I could never figure out how I could navigate the copyright issues to be able to broadcast something based on COSMOS. And Ann Druyan would kill me.

Well, my friends at Twitch.tv have decided to grant my wish, and they’re going to be running a COSMOS marathon on Monday, April 24, 2017 at 12:00 pm PST. Not only that, but they’re encouraging other livestreamers to co-stream the show, and do exactly what I’ve always wanted to do – provide a commentary.

Carl Sagan
Carl Sagan. 1934-1996
The challenge is that it’s a marathon, which means they’re going to run all 13 episodes back to back. 13 hours of watching COSMOS with my friends, chatting about the show, answering questions, and having fun. I’m up for it. But then, I’m a glutton for punishment.

So, if you’re interested in the raw Twitch stream and all the other cool events that Twitch has planned over the next week, check out their announcement.

And if you want to join me for some or all of the COSMOS marathon, follow fcain on Twitch. I’ll be starting up my livestream when the main feed goes live. And in theory, I’ll be sticking around until the whole thing ends 13 hours later.

Over the course of the livestream, I’ll be joined by many of my space and astronomy journalist friends. Like Dr. Ian O’Neill, Morgan Rehnberg, Nancy Atkinson, Dr. Brian Koberlein, and Dr. Paul Matt Sutter.

Hang out with us, ask questions, chat about your memories and experiences with Carl Sagan’s COSMOS.

I’ll see you on Monday!

SS John Glenn to Debut as World’s 1st Live 360 Degree Video of Rocket Launch April 18

Fiery blastoff of a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying the EchoStar XIX satellite from Space Launch Complex-41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl., at 2:13 p.m. EST on Dec. 18, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – Imagine watching a real rocket launch in a 360 degree live video broadcast. Well NASA is about to make it happen for the first time in a big way and on a significant mission.

On Tuesday April 18, NASA will broadcast the launch of the ‘S.S. John Glenn’ space station cargo freighter in a feat marking the world’s first live 360-degree stream of a rocket launch – namely the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket.

The ‘S.S. John Glenn’ is named in honor of legendary NASA astronaut John Glenn – the first American to orbit Earth back in February 1962.

The late morning daytime launch offers the perfect opportunity to debut this technology with the rocket magnificently visible atop a climbing plume of smoke and ash – and with a “pads-eye” view!

The ‘S.S. John Glenn’ is actually a Cygnus resupply spacecraft built by NASA commercial cargo provider Orbital ATK for a cargo mission heading to the International Space Station (ISS) – jam packed with nearly 4 tons or research experiments and gear for the stations Expedition 51 crew of astronauts and cosmonauts.

“NASA, in coordination with United Launch Alliance (ULA) and Orbital ATK, will broadcast the world’s first live 360-degree stream of a rocket launch,” the agency announced in a statement.

“The live 360 stream enables viewers to get a pads-eye view.”

The Cygnus spaceship will launch on a ULA Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Liftoff of the S.S. John Glenn on Orbital ATK’s seventh commercial resupply services mission to the ISS – dubbed OA-7 or CRS-7 – is slated for 11:11 a.m. EDT Tuesday, April 18.

The launch window lasts 30 minutes and runs from 11;11-11:41 a.m. EDT.

You can watch the live 360 stream of the Atlas V/OA-7 cargo resupply mission liftoff to the ISS on the NASA Television YouTube channel starting 10 minutes prior to lift off at:

http://youtube.com/nasatelevision

The sunshine state’s weather outlook is currently very promising with a forecast of an 80% chance of favorable ‘GO’ conditions at launch time Tuesday morning.

John Glenn was selected as one of NASA’s original seven Mercury astronauts chosen at the dawn of the space age in 1959. He recently passed away on December 8, 2016 at age 95.

The Orbital ATK Cygnus spacecraft named for Sen. John Glenn, one of NASA’s original seven astronauts, stands inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida behind a sign commemorating Glenn on March 9, 2017. Launch slated for March 21 on a ULA Atlas V. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

The S.S. John Glenn will carrying more than 7,600 pounds of science research, crew supplies and hardware to the orbiting outpost.

How can you watch the streaming 360 video? Read NASA’s description:

“To view in 360, use a mouse or move a personal device to look up and down, back and forth, for a 360-degree view around Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Note: not all browsers support viewing 360 videos. YouTube supports playback of 360-degree videos on computers using Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer and Opera browsers. Viewers may use the YouTube app to view the launch on a smart phone. Those who own virtual reality headsets will be able to look around and experience the view as if they were actually standing on the launch pad.”

“While virtual reality and 360 technology have been increasing in popularity, live 360 technology is a brand new capability that has recently emerged. Recognizing the exciting possibilities opened by applying this new technology to spaceflight, NASA, ULA, and Orbital ATK seized this opportunity to virtually place the public at the base of the rocket during launch. Minimum viewing distance is typically miles away from the launch pad, but the live 360 stream enables viewers to get a pads-eye view.”

A ULA Atlas V rocket carrying the EchoStar 19 high speed internet satellite is poised for blastoff from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Dec. 18, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The naming announcement for the ‘S.S. John Glenn’ was made by spacecraft builder Orbital ATK during a ceremony held inside the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) clean room facility when the cargo freighter was in the final stages of flight processing – and attended by media including Universe Today on March 9.

“It is my humble duty and our great honor to name this spacecraft the S.S. John Glenn,” said Frank DeMauro, vice president and general manager of Orbital ATK’s Advanced Programs division, during the clean room ceremony inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility (PHFS) high bay at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

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Learn more about the SS John Glenn/ULA Atlas V launch to ISS, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events at Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL:

Apr 17-19: “SS John Glenn/ULA Atlas V launch to ISS, SpaceX SES-10, EchoStar 23, CRS-10 launch to ISS, ULA Atlas SBIRS GEO 3 launch, GOES-R weather satellite launch, OSIRIS-Rex, SpaceX and Orbital ATK missions to the ISS, Juno at Jupiter, ULA Delta 4 Heavy spy satellite, SLS, Orion, Commercial crew, Curiosity explores Mars, Pluto and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings

In this Oct. 23, 2016 image, the International Space Station’s Canadarm2 robotic arm captures Orbital ATK’s Cygnus cargo spacecraft on its sixth mission to the station. The company’s seventh cargo resupply mission is targeted for launch April 18 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Credits: NASA

Flawless SpaceX Falcon 9 Takes Rousing Night Flight Delivery of EchoStar TV Sat to Orbit

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket streaks to orbit in this long exposure photo taken in front of NASA’s countdown clock under moonlit skies at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on March 16 at 2:00 a.m. EDT. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – Under stellar moonlit Florida skies, a private SpaceX Falcon 9 took flight overnight and flawlessly delivered the commercial EchoStar 23 television satellite to geosynchronous orbit after high winds delayed the rockets roar to orbit by two days from Tuesday. Breaking News: Check back for updates

The post midnight spectacle thrilled spectators who braved the wee hours this morning and were richly rewarded with a rousing rush as the 229 foot tall Falcon 9 rocket thundered to life at 2:00 a.m. EDT Thursday, March 16 from historic Launch Complex 39A on NASA’s Kennedy Space Center and sped to orbit.

Rising on the power of 1.7 million pounds of liftoff thrust generated by nine Marlin 1D first stage engines, the two stage Falcon 9 rocket successfully delivered the commercial EchoStar 23 telecommunications satellite to a Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO) for EchoStar Corporation.

The satellite was deployed approximately 34 minutes after launch.

Thus began March Launch Madness !!

If all goes well, March features a triple header of launches with launch competitor and arch rival United Launch Alliance (ULA) planning a duo of nighttime blastoffs from their Delta and Atlas rocket families. The exact dates are in flux due to the earlier postponement of the SpaceX Falcon 9. They have been rescheduled for March 18 and 24 respectively.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 launches the EchoStar 23 telecomsat from historic Launch Complex 39A with countdown clock in foreground at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center as display shows liftoff progress to geosynchronous orbit after post midnight blastoff on March 16 at 2:oo a.m. EDT. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

EchoStar 23 will be stationed over Brazil for direct to home television broadcasts and high speed voice, video and data communications to millions of customers for EchoStar.

It was designed and built by Space Systems Loral (SSL).

“EchoStar XXIII is a highly flexible, Ku-band broadcast satellite services (BSS) satellite with four main reflectors and multiple sub-reflectors supporting multiple mission profiles,” according to a description from EchoStar Corporation.

EchoStar XXIII will initially be deployed in geosynchronous orbit at 45° West. The Satellite End of Life (EOL) Power is 20 kilowatts (kW).

Blastoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 with EchoStar 23 TV satellite from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on March 16 at 2:00 a.m. EDT. Photo from camera inside the pad perimeter. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

The entire launch sequence was broadcast live on a SpaceX hosted webcast that began about 20 minutes before the revised liftoff time of 2:00 a.m. from the prelaunch countdown, blastoff and continued through the dramatic separation of the EchoStar 23 private payload from the second stage.

The EchoStar 23 launch counts as only the second Falcon 9 ever to blast off from pad 39A.

Liftoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 with EchoStar 23 TV satellite from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on March 16 at 2:00 a.m. EDT. Credit: Julian Leek

SpaceX’s billionaire CEO Elon Musk leased historic pad 39A from NASA back in April 2014 for launches of the firms Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy carrying both robotic vehicles as well as humans on missions to low Earth orbit, the Moon and ultimately the Red Planet.

Composite panoramic view of seaside Launch Complex 39A with SpaceX hangar and Falcon 9 rocket raised vertical to deliver the EchoStar 23 telecom satellite to geostationary orbit overnight March 16, 2017. Pad 39B at center. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

The inaugural Falcon 9 blastoff successfully took place last month on Feb. 19, as I reported here.

However unlike most recent SpaceX missions, the legless Falcon 9 first stage will not be recovered via a pinpoint propulsive landing either on land or on a barge at sea.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying EchoStar 23 telecomsat raised erect atop Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center as seen from inside the pad on March 13, 2017 ahead of liftoff slated for 16 Mar 2017 at 1:35 a.m. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

Because of the satellite delivery to GTO, there are insufficient fuel reserves to carry out the booster landing.

“SpaceX will not attempt to land Falcon 9’s first stage after launch due to mission requirements,” officials said.

Therefore the first stage is not outfitted with either landing legs or grid fins to maneuver it back to a touchdown.

SpaceX announced that this was the last launch of an expendable Falcon 9.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

SpaceX Falcon 9 Comes Roaring Back to Life with Dramatically Successful Iridium Fleet Launch and Ocean Ship Landing

Picture perfect blastoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 on Jan. 14, 2017, Return to Flight launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California carrying fleet of ten advanced Iridium NEXT comsats to low Earth orbit. Credit: SpaceX

With Billions and Billions of dollars at stake and their reputation riding on the line, SpaceX came roaring back to life by dramatically executing a picture perfect Falcon 9 rocket launch this morning (Jan. 14) that successfully delivered a fleet of ten advanced Iridium NEXT mobile voice and data relay satellites to orbit while simultaneously recovering the first stage on a ship at sea off the west coast of California.

BREAKING NEWS – check back for updates.

The primary goal of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 launch from Space Launch Complex 4E on Vandenberg Air Force Base in California was to deploy the payload of the first ten Iridium Next communication satellites to low Earth orbit on the Iridium-1 mission.

“Thanks @elonmusk – a perfect flight! Loved watching sats deploy with you in the control room,” tweeted Matt Desch, Iridium Communications CEO, soon after receiving full confirmation that all 10 Iridium NEXT satellites were successfully deployed from their second stage satellite dispensers.

“More to go, but now to celebrate!!”

The inaugural ten will serve as the vanguard of a fleet that will eventually comprise 81 satellites.

SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage successfully soft lands on drone ship stationed in the Pacific Ocean off California coast after launching on Jan. 14, 2017, from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California carrying fleet of ten advanced Iridium NEXT comsats to low Earth orbit. Credit: SpaceX

Today’s successful blastoff took place barely four and a half months after another Falcon 9 and its $200 million Israeli commercial payload were suddenly destroyed during a prelaunch fueling test on the Florida Space Coast on Sept. 1, 2016.

Another launch failure would have dealt a devastating blow to confidence in SpaceX’s hard won reputation.

The Sept. 1, 2016 calamity was the second Falcon 9 failure within 15 months time. Both occurred inside the second stage and called into question the rockets reliability.

The 229-foot (70-meter) Falcon 9 rocket was rolled out from its processing hangar to the launch pad and raised vertically yesterday.

Picture perfect blastoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 on Jan. 14, 2017, Return to Flight launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California carrying fleet of ten advanced Iridium NEXT comsats to low Earth orbit. Credit: SpaceX

Today’s entire land, landing and satellite deployment event was shown live on a SpaceX hosted webcast. It offered extremely sharp views of Saturdays on time liftoff at 9:54:34 a.m. PST or 12:54:34 p.m. EST, and unbelievably clear images of the first stage descending back to Earth towards a tiny drone ship.

“Overall a wonderfully nominal mission,” gushed the SpaceX commentator during the webcast.

Since the Iridium 1 mission only had an instantaneous launch opportunity precisely at 9:54:34 a.m. PST or 12:54:34 p.m. EST, there was no margin for any technical or weather delays. And none happened. Although an errant boat had to be quickly escorted out of the exclusion zone less than 20 minutes before blastoff.

Confirmation of a successful deployment of all 10 Iridium NEXT satellites came at about T plus 1 hour and 17 minutes after liftoff from Vandenberg.

“So, so excited – finally breathing again!” tweeted Desch.

“Thanks for all the great vibes – I felt it! All 10 sats deployed; good orbit; good telemetry! WOW.”

The mobile relay satellites were delivered into a circular orbit at an altitude of 625 kilometers (388 miles) above Earth.

They were released one at a time from a pair of specially designed satellite dispensers at approximately 100 second intervals.

“It was a clean sweep, 10 for 10,” said SpaceX commentator John Insprucker during the live webcast.

“All the bridge wires show open, and that is a conclusion of the primary mission today, a great one for the first stage, second stage, and the customer’s satellites deployed into a good orbit.”

The Iridium NEXT satellites were built by Thales Alenia and Orbital ATK.

In the final moments before the propulsive landing, you could read the lettering on the “Just Read the Instructions” drone ship as the engine was firing to slow the descent and the landing legs deployed.

Really there was no cutout or loss of signal the whole way down. So the world could watch every key moment as it happened in real time.

The first stage softly landed approx. 8 minutes and 18 seconds after the California liftoff.

“First stage has landed on Just Read the Instructions,” SpaceX tweeted post landing.

This was the first launch by SpaceX since last August from the Florida Space Coast, and it came off without a hitch.

Iridium 1 is the first of seven planned Falcon 9 launches to establish the Iridium NEXT constellation which will eventually consist of 81 advanced satellites.

At least 70 will be launched by SpaceX.

The inaugural launch of the advanced Iridium NEXT satellites will start the process of replacing an aging Iridium fleet in orbit for nearly two decades.

SpaceX Falcon 9 poised for Jan. 14, 2017, Return to Flight launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California carrying ten Iridium NEXT comsats to orbit. Credit: SpaceX

This Falcon 9 was been outfitted with four landing lags and grid fins for a controlled landing on the tiny barge prepositioned in the Pacific Ocean several hundred miles off the west coast of California.

SpaceX Falcon 9 booster from Thaicom-8 launch on May 27, 2016 arrives at mouth of Port Canaveral, FL on June 2, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Watch this space for continuing updates on SpaceX.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

IridiumNEXT satellites being fueled, pressurized & stacked on dispenser tiers at Vandenberg AFB for Falcon 9 launch. Credit: Iridium
Mission patch for Iridium-1 mission showing launch of the first 10 Iridium NEXT voice and data relay satellites on SpaceX Falcon 9 from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, for Iridium Communications, and planned landing of the first stage on a droneship in the Pacific Ocean. Credit: SpaceX/Iridium

Journey to Bennu – Today Sept. 8: Watch the Trailer, Watch the Earth Departure Launch Live

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid sampling spacecraft is poised for liftoff on a 7 year Journey to astreroid  Bennu and Back atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on Sept. 8, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid sampling spacecraft is poised for liftoff on a 7 year Journey to asteroid Bennu and Back atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on Sept. 8, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – Today is ‘Earth Departure Day’ for OSIRIS-REx, NASA’s first mission to snatch “pristine materials” from the surface of a near Earth asteroid named Bennu and deliver them back to Earth in seven years on a mission to unlock mysteries on the formation of our Solar System and ourselves 4.5 Billion years ago.

The 4.5 Billion mile roundtrip ‘Journey to Bennu and Back’ begins today. All systems are GO for a spectacular dinner-time blastoff of NASAs OSIRIS-REx spacecraft from the Florida Space Coast.

Earth departure for NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security – Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket is slated for shortly before sunset this evening, Thursday, September 8 at 7:05 p.m. EDT.

Excited spectators are filling local area hotels for this once in a lifetime mission to ‘Bennu and Back.’

Bennu is a small, carbon-rich asteroid – meaning it contains significant amounts of organic molecules, the stuff of which life is made.

Bennu is only about a third of mile in diameter, measuring 500 meters or 1,614 feet across and it crosses Earth’s orbit around the sun every six years.

You can watch the sure to be a spectacular launch live in person here in sunny Florida or live via a choice of webcasts.

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx launch coverage will be broadcast on NASA TV beginning at 4:30 p.m. EDT Sept. 8, as well as on a ULA webcast.

You can watch the launch live at NASA TV at – http://www.nasa.gov/nasatv

You can watch the launch live at ULA at – www.ulalaunch.com

Today’s weather forecast remains very promising and is currently 80% GO for favorable conditions. The only concern is for cumulus clouds.

There are 3 opportunities in a row to launch OSIRIS-Rex.

In case of a delay 24 or 48 hour delay, the forecast drops only slightly to 70% GO.

Artist’s conception of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx sample return spacecraft collecting regolith samples at asteroid Bennu. Credits: NASA/Lockheed Martin
Artist’s conception of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx sample return spacecraft collecting regolith samples at asteroid Bennu. Credits: NASA/Lockheed Martin

The United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket and OSIRIS-REx spacecraft were rolled out some 1800 feet from the Vertical Integration Facility (VIF) – where the rocket is assembled- to launch pad 41 starting at about 9 a.m. yesterday morning September 7, 2018.

Watch this OSIRIS-Rex trailer from NASA Goddard illustrating the probes Earth departure launch phase:

NASAs OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is on a mission to explore asteroid Bennu and return a sample to Earth. The OSIRIS-REx launch window opens on September 8, 2016, when the spacecraft begins its two-year journey to Bennu aboard an Atlas V rocket at Cape Canaveral, Florida. After arriving at Bennu in 2018, OSIRIS-REx will spend over a year exploring the asteroid before approaching its surface to grab a sample. This pristine material, formed at the dawn of the solar system, will be returned to Earth in 2023, providing clues to Bennus origins and our own. Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/David Ladd

OSIRIS-REx will gather rocks and soil and bring at least a 60-gram (2.1-ounce) sample back to Earth in 2023. It has the capacity to scoop up to about 2 kg or more.

The mission will help scientists investigate how planets formed and how life began. It will also improve our understanding of asteroids that could impact Earth by measuring the Yarkovsky effect.
Bennu is an unchanged remnant from the collapse of the solar nebula and birth of our solar system some 4.5 billion years ago.

View of science instrument suite and TAGSAM robotic sample return arm on NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid sampling spacecraft inside the Payloads Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center.  Probe is slated for Sep. 8, 2016 launch to asteroid Bennu from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
View of science instrument suite and TAGSAM robotic sample return arm on NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid sampling spacecraft inside the Payloads Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Probe is slated for Sep. 8, 2016 launch to asteroid Bennu from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

It was chosen as the target because it is little altered over time and thus ‘pristine’ in nature.

Bennu is a near-Earth asteroid and was selected for the sample return mission because it could hold clues to the origin of the solar system and host organic molecules that may have seeded life on Earth.

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid sampling spacecraft is housed inside the payload fairing atop the  United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on Sept. 8, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid sampling spacecraft is housed inside the payload fairing atop the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on Sept. 8, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The 189 foot tall ULA Atlas V rocket is launching in the rare 411 configuration for only the 3rd time on this mission – which is the 65th for the Atlas V.

The Atlas 411 vehicle includes a 4-meter diameter payload fairing and one solid rocket booster that augments the first stage. The Atlas booster for this mission is powered by the RD AMROSS RD-180 engine and the Centaur upper stage was powered by the Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10C-1 engine.

The RD-180 burns RP-1 (Rocket Propellant-1 or highly purified kerosene) and liquid oxygen and delivers 860,200 lb of thrust at sea level.

The strap on solids deliver approximately 500,000 pounds of thrust.

The solids will be jettisoned about 2 minutes after liftoff.

OSIRIS-REx will return the largest sample from space since the American and Soviet Union’s moon landing missions of the 1970s.

OSIRIS-REx is the third mission in NASA’s New Frontiers Program, following New Horizons to Pluto and Juno to Jupiter, which also launched on Atlas V rockets.

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, is responsible for overall mission management.

OSIRIS-REx complements NASA’s Asteroid Initiative – including the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) which is a robotic spacecraft mission aimed at capturing a surface boulder from a different near-Earth asteroid and moving it into a stable lunar orbit for eventual up close sample collection by astronauts launched in NASA’s new Orion spacecraft. Orion will launch atop NASA’s new SLS heavy lift booster concurrently under development.

Watch for Ken’s continuing OSIRIS-REx mission and launch reporting from on site at the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Ait Force Station, FL.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer
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Learn more about OSIRIS-REx, InSight Mars lander, SpaceX missions, Juno at Jupiter, SpaceX CRS-9 rocket launch, ISS, ULA Atlas and Delta rockets, Orbital ATK Cygnus, Boeing, Space Taxis, Mars rovers, Orion, SLS, Antares, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events:

Sep 8-9: “OSIRIS-REx lainch, SpaceX missions/launches to ISS on CRS-9, Juno at Jupiter, ULA Delta 4 Heavy spy satellite, SLS, Orion, Commercial crew, Curiosity explores Mars, Pluto and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid sampling spacecraft is rolled out to pad 40 for launch atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on Sept. 8, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid sampling spacecraft is rolled out to pad 40 for launch atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on Sept. 8, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid sampling spacecraft atop a ULA Atlas V rocket prior to planned launch on Sept. 8, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL.  Credit: Julian Leek
NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid sampling spacecraft atop a ULA Atlas V rocket prior to planned launch on Sept. 8, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL. Credit: Julian Leek

Give Mom the Aurora Tonight / Mercury Transit Update

Skywatchers across the northern tier of states, the Midwest and southern Canada were treated to a spectacular display of the aurora borealis last night. More may be on tap for tonight. Credit: Bob King
Skywatchers across the northern tier of states, the Midwest and southern Canada were treated to a spectacular display of the aurora borealis last night. More may be on tap for tonight — in honor of Mother’s Day of course! Credit: Bob King

Simple choices can sometimes lead to dramatic turns of events in our lives. Before turning in for the night last night, I opened the front door for one last look at the night sky. A brighter-than-normal auroral arc arched over the northern horizon. Although no geomagnetic activity had been forecast, there was something about that arc that hinted of possibility.

It was 11:30 at the time, and it would have been easy to go to bed, but I figured one quick drive north for a better look couldn’t hurt. Ten minutes later the sky exploded. The arc subdivided into individual pillars of light that stretched by degrees until they reached the zenith and beyond. Rhythmic ripples of light – much like the regular beat of waves on a beach — pulsed upward through the display. You can’t see a chill going up your spine, but if you could, this is what it would look like.

A coronal aurora twists overhead in this photo taken early on May 8 from near Duluth, Minn. Credit: Bob King
A coronal aurora twists overhead in this photo taken around 12:15 a.m. on May 8 from near Duluth, Minn. What this photo and the others don’t show is how fast parts of the display flashed and flickered. Shapes would form, disappear and reform in seconds. Credit: Bob King

Auroras can be caused by huge eruptions of subatomic particles from the Sun’s corona called CMEs or coronal mass ejections, but they can also be sparked by holes in the solar magnetic canopy. Coronal holes show up as blank regions in photos of the Sun taken in far ultraviolet and X-ray light. Bright magnetic loops restrain the constant leakage of electrons and protons from the Sun called the solar wind. But holes allow these particles to fly away into space at high speed. Last night’s aurora traces its origin back to one of these holes.

Visualization of the solar wind encountering Earth's magnetic "defenses" known as the magnetosphere. Clouds of southward-pointing plasma are able to peel back layers of the Sun-facing bubble and stack them into layers on the planet's nightside (center, right). The layers can be squeezed tightly enough to reconnect and deliver solar electrons (yellow sparkles) directly into the upper atmosphere to create the aurora. Credit: JPL
Both a bar magnet (left) and Earth are surrounded by magnetic fields with north and south poles. Earth’s field is shaped by charged particles – electrons and protons – flowing from the sun called the solar wind. Credit: Andy Washnik (left) and NASA

The subatomic particles in the gusty wind come bundled with their own magnetic field with a plus or positive pole and a minus or negative pole. Recall that an ordinary bar magnet also  has a “+” and “-” pole, and that like poles repel and opposite poles attract. Earth likewise has magnetic poles which anchor a large bubble of magnetism around the planet called the magnetosphere.

Visualization of the solar wind encountering Earth's magnetic "defenses" known as the magnetosphere. Clouds of southward-pointing plasma are able to peel back layers of the Sun-facing bubble and stack them into layers on the planet's nightside (center, right). The layers can be squeezed tightly enough to reconnect and deliver solar electrons (yellow sparkles) directly into the upper atmosphere to create the aurora. Credit: JPL
Visualization of the solar wind encountering Earth’s magnetic “defenses” known as the magnetosphere. Clouds of southward-pointing plasma are able to peel back layers of the Sun-facing bubble and stack them into layers on the planet’s nightside (center, right). The layers can be squeezed tightly enough to reconnect and deliver solar electrons (yellow sparkles) directly into the upper atmosphere to create the aurora. Credit: JPL

Field lines in the magnetosphere — those invisible lines of magnetic force around every magnet — point toward the north pole. When the field lines in the solar wind also point north, there’s little interaction between the two, almost like two magnets repelling one another. But if the cloud’s lines of magnetic force point south, they can link directly into Earth’s magnetic field like two magnets snapping together. Particles, primarily electrons, stream willy-nilly at high speed down Earth’s magnetic field lines like a zillion firefighters zipping down fire poles.  They crash directly into molecules and atoms of oxygen and nitrogen around 60-100 miles overhead, which absorb the energy and then release it moments later in bursts of green and red light.

View of the eastern sky during the peak of this morning's aurora. Credit: Bob King
View of the eastern sky during the peak of this morning’s aurora. Credit: Bob King

So do great forces act on the tiniest of things to produce a vibrant display of northern lights. Last night’s show began at nightfall and lasted into dawn. Good news! The latest forecast calls for another round of aurora tonight from about 7 p.m. to 1 a.m. CDT (0-6 hours UT). Only minor G1 storming (K index =5) is expected, but that was last night’s expectation, too. Like the weather, the aurora can be tricky to pin down. Instead of a G1, we got a G3 or strong storm. No one’s complaining.

So if you’re looking for that perfect last minute Mother’s Day gift, take your mom to a place with a good view of the northern sky and start looking at the end of dusk for activity. Displays often begin with a low, “quiet” arc and amp up from there.

The camera recorded pale purple and red but the primary color visible to the eye was green. Credit: Bob Kin
The camera recorded pale purple, red and green, but the primary color visible to the eye was green. Cameras capture far more color than what the naked eye sees because even faint colors increase in intensity during a time exposure. Details: ISO 800, f/2.8, 13 seconds. Credit: Bob King

Aurora or not, tomorrow features a big event many of us have anticipated for years — the transit of Mercury. You’ll find everything you’ll need to know in this earlier story, but to recap, Mercury will cross directly in front of the Sun during the late morning-early evening for European observers and from around sunrise (or before) through late morning-early afternoon for skywatchers in the Americas. Because the planet is tiny and the Sun deadly bright, you’ll need a small telescope capped with a safe solar filter to watch the event. Remember, never look directly at the Sun at any time.

Nov. 15, 1999 transit of Mercury photographed in UV light by the TRACE satellite. Credit: NASA
Nov. 15, 1999 transit of Mercury photographed in UV light by the TRACE satellite. Credit: NASA

If you’re greeted with cloudy skies or live where the transit can’t be seen, be sure to check out astronomer Gianluca Masi’s live stream of the event. He’ll hook you up starting at 11:00 UT (6 a.m. CDT) tomorrow.

The table below includes the times across the major time zones in the continental U.S. for Monday May 9:

Time Zone Eastern (EDT) Central (CDT) Mountain (MDT) Pacific (PDT)
Transit start 7:12 a.m. 6:12 a.m. 5:12 a.m. Not visible
Mid-transit 10:57 a.m. 9:57 a.m. 8:57 a.m. 7:57 a.m.
Transit end 2:42 p.m. 1:42 p.m. 12:42 p.m. 11:42 a.m.