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Mars Close Approach

Thursday, August 21, 2003

Earth and Mars are rapidly converging. On August 27, 2003 -- the date of closest approach -- the two worlds will be 56 million km apart. That's a long way by Earth standards, but only a short distance on the scale of the solar system. NASA, the European Space Agency and Japan are all sending spacecraft to Mars this year. It's a good time to go.

More: Spaceweather - Mars 2003 - Night of the Red Planet

More: NASA - Approaching Mars - Earth and Mars are converging for a close encounter in August.

Meteor Shower Promises to Put On a Show

Friday, November 15, 2002

The Leonid meteor shower happens every year in mid-November. That's when our planet has a close encounter with Comet Tempel-Tuttle's orbit -- a region of space littered with streams of comet dust. Usually we pass through the rarefied gaps between streams and sky watchers see no more than 10 or 15 Leonids per hour. But sometimes (like last year) Earth plows through a debris stream more or less head-on and a full-fledged meteor storm erupts. Such meteor storms rarely happen in consecutive years, but 2001 and 2002 are exceptions. Experts have just released their predictions: Depending on where you live (Europe and the Americas are favored) Leonid meteor rates in 2002 should equal or exceed 2001 levels.

More: Science@NASA - The Truth about the 2002 Leonid Meteor Storm

Link: Science@NASA - Science@NASA - Leonid Observing Tips

Link: Science@NASA - Science@NASA - Leonid Meteor Storm Forecast

Skywatchers: See Two Asteroids with Binoculars!

Tuesday, October 22, 2002

The number of known asteroids has skyrocketed in recent years, but very few of these tiny bodies ever come within easy reach of the simplest optical aid. This year we have a somewhat unusual situation, for skywatchers can track down two of them, Ceres and Melpomene, as soon as the sprawling constellation Cetus, the Whale, climbs sufficiently high in the east...

More: Sky & Telescope - Ceres and Melpomene in Binoculars

Orionid Meteor Showers

Monday, October 21, 2002

Meteor showers occur when the Earth passes through the orbit of a comet, allowing tiny particles of comet debris to burn up in the planet's atmosphere. During the next two weeks, we will experience the Orionid Meteor shower with peak activity October 21-22. The Orionid Meteors are named after the constellation Orion which marks the celestial location of the meteors. Brew some coffee and plan to stay up late for a great show!

More: Science@NASA - Meteor Storm Forecase

International Space Station (ISS) Spotting

Wednesday, August 28, 2002

Sky watchers on Earth could have a chance at a real show: a bright star materializing like a supernova in the predawn sky. That's what the ISS looks like (from the ground) when it's hit by rays from the morning Sun. It happens often enough, but most people have never seen it because they don't know when to look. The first week of Sept. is a good time to try. That's when the ISS will fly over several major US cities before dawn, and if you're outside at the right moment you can spot a "space station supernova." You'll have to wake up early, around 5 o'clock in the morning...

More: Science@NASA - Space Station Supernova (including a listing of local times in September when the ISS will materialize over some US cities)

Solar Eclipse

Monday, June 10, 2002

solar eclipse

Solar Eclipse

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Several USGS folks joined the huge crowd that turned out for the Coconino Astromical Society's (CAS) Monday evening star party to view the partial solar eclipse on McMillan Mesa near the USGS Flagstaff Field Center. The eclipse started around 5:20 pm local time, peaked at approximately 6:25 pm, and ended around 7:20 pm. CAS chose the mesa as one of the clearer views to the horizon to watch the eclipse as the sun set. (Photos courtesy Deborah Lee Soltesz)

Link: Coconino Astronomical Society -

Link: Science@NASA - Eclipse Gallery

Continue reading "Solar Eclipse"

Amazing Planetary Gathering

Tuesday, April 23, 2002

A grand and beautiful lineup of all the bright naked-eye planets - Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn - is continuing in the western sky at dusk. Throughout April and May these five worlds will form and reform new patterns as they move against the background stars. All five of these planets (plus the Moon) will be clustered within 33° of sky on the evening of May 14th.

More: Sky & Telescope - A Rare Dance of the Planets

More: - Rare Planet Alignment in April and May

Link: Sky & Telescope - interactive sky chart