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Saturday, Apr. 18, 2015

So many questions ...

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Did the shuttle launch? Were you watching? Did it go on schedule? Were there any delays?

My, so many questions.

As of the date this column was written, fueling of the external tank had been approved. The external fuel tank is the giant orangey thing that the orbiter sits on top of. It is the largest piece of the shuttle assembly.

It holds the liquid hydrogen fuel and the liquid oxygen oxidizer that feeds fuel under pressure to the three main shuttle engines that, along with the two solid rocket boosters alongside, propels the orbiter assembly into space.

The approval to fuel the external tank was a good indication the Monday, May 16, 06:56 EDT launch would proceed. It is so hard not knowing.

One event we can, however, be sure of, is the four-planet conjunction currently happening in the early morning sky.

Although I haven't seen them, (as of this writing) because the early mornings have all been clouded-out, there is still hope because the conjunction is visible through the end of the month.

As of today, Jupiter will begin to pull away from the other three, rising higher each morning.

This morning, Thursday, May 19, the basic arrangement of the planets was Jupiter, the highest, Venus to Jupiter's lower left, tiny Mercury directly below Venus and Mars over to the left of Venus.

Binoculars will be very helpful. Be aware though, Venus, Mercury, and Mars are all within the field of view of your binoculars, Jupiter is just a field of view and a stretch to the upper right.

If you can't handle the early morning, how about a nice evening planet? Saturn is just about as high as it will get in the evening sky now. Look in the south almost halfway overhead for the ringed planet.

It is currently in the constellation Virgo, the Maiden and its only rival for brightness in Virgo is the star Spica to its lower left.

Use binoculars to compare the color of the two.

Saturn is a very yellow planet while Spica is a bright blue-white star. That new telescope you got for Christmas will make a very nice view of Saturn. The view of the rings, which are almost all the way open, is always an event to enjoy.

Look directly below this pair of objects for two small box-shaped constellations.

Below Saturn and Spica is Corvus, the Crow with Crater, the Cup to its right. Both had their origin in ancient Greek mythology but are still there for our viewing pleasure.

If you still have that telescope out, look not quite half-way between the top-most star of Corvus and Saturn for a nice little galaxy. M104, the Sombrero Galaxy is an edge-on galaxy with a dark line of gas and dust running around its middle giving the image of its namesake hat.

Sky Watch: Full moon, Tuesday, May 17. Four-planet conjunction in the early mornings about a half-hour before sunrise through the end of the month.

Next Week: More astronomical blathering.


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Vernon Whetstone
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