OSIRIS-REx's First Instrument Arrives for Integration Into the Spacecraft
(JUN 26) TUCSON, Arizona — A journey that will stretch millions of miles and take
years to complete begins with a short trip to a loading dock.
The Jason-3 spacecraft is unloaded from a 747 transport aircraft at Vandenberg Air Force Base,
Calif., on June 18, concluding a journey from the Thales Alenia Space manufacturing facility
in France. The Jason-3 satellite altimetry mission is scheduled to launch this August. Image
courtesy of NASA
Cosmic Ray Observatory to Expand
(JUN 15) Physicists plan a $6.4 million expansion of the $25 million Telescope Array
observatory in Utah so they can zero in on a “hotspot” that seems to be a source of
the most powerful particles in the universe: ultrahigh-energy cosmic rays.
Three Planets, Crescent Moon at Star Party
(JUN 12) SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Jupiter, Venus and a small crescent moon come into alignment this month, but it may be views of Saturn that steal the show at a free public viewing of the stars Friday, June 19, at 8 p.m. at the Westmont Observatory. Jupiter and Venus and the moon form a skewed triangle that will be easily visible after sunset in the western sky. “It will be a real treat for the naked eye, but not one that will fit into the field of view of Westmont’s telescopes,” says Thomas Whittemore, Westmont physics instructor.
The best viewing generally occurs later in the evening. In case of inclement or overcast weather, please call the Telescope Viewing Hotline at (805) 565-6272 and check the Westmont website to see if the viewing has been canceled.
As the night goes on, Whittemore says he will aim the powerful Keck Telescope toward Saturn, which now lies to the west of Scorpius. “If the weather cooperates, we should be able to see the famous Cassini Division between the A and B rings, some banding on Saturn’s surface and several moons,” he says.
A Block IIA Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) lifts off from San Nicolas Island, Calif. on
June 6. The launch was the first live fire of the SM-3 Block IIA, an interceptor
designed to defeat medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles. During the
test, the missile successfully demonstrated flyout through nosecone deployment and
third stage flight. No intercept was planned, and no target missile was launched.
Image courtesy U.S. Missile Defense Agency
Air Force Releases Rocket Propulsion System Prototypes RFP
(JUN 2) LOS ANGELES AIR FORCE BASE, El Segundo, Calif. - Today the Space and
Missile Systems Center released a formal solicitation seeking proposals for
shared public-private investments in rocket propulsion system prototypes.
AFGSC Conducts Minuteman III Missile Test Launch from Vandenberg
(MAY 26) VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- A team of Air Force Global Strike
Command Airmen launched an unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile
equipped with a test reentry vehicle from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, at
3:37 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time May 20.
Minuteman III Launched
A Minuteman III missile arcs across the sky following launch from Vandenberg AFB early on the
morning of May 20. Glenn Beltz recorded this time exposure of the launch from the Winchester
Canyon area of Goleta, Calif. Image copyright 2015, Glenn Beltz. Used with permission.
(MAY 20) The U.S. Air Force and media sources report that a Minuteman III strategic
missile was launched at 03:36 PDT this morning from Vandenberg AFB.
The launch was heard as far away as Pismo Beach. Clouds hampered launch viewing for
many observers, but some were able to see the event. The most distant reported
sighting of the launch was from Visalia, Calif.
Minuteman III Launch Scheduled
(MAY 18) VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. - An operational test launch of an Air
Force Global Strike Command unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic
missile is scheduled for Wednesday, May 20, 2015, between 3:36 a.m. and 9:36
a.m. from north Vandenberg Air Force Base.
The purpose of the ICBM test launch program is to validate and verify the
effectiveness, readiness and accuracy of the weapon system, according to Air
Force Global Strike Command.
Col. Keith Balts, 30th Space Wing commander, is the Launch Decision
"The launch process requires tremendous teamwork and involves months of
preparation," said Balts. "The data gained from these launches allows us to
maintain a high readiness capability and ensures operational effectiveness
of the most powerful weapons in the nation's arsenal."
The launch team, under the direction of the 576th Flight Test Squadron,
includes crew members and maintainers from the 90th Missile Wing, F.E.
Warren AFB, Wyoming.
COSMIAC’s Third CubeSat Mission
will Study Ionosphere
(MAY 13) The University of New Mexico’s Configurable Space Microsystems Innovations
and Applications Center (COSMIAC) is preparing its third CubeSat, a small,
cube-shaped satellite, for a space launch.
Less than two months after launch from Vandenberg AFB in California, NASA's Soil Moisture
Active Passive (SMAP) spacecraft is returning global soil moisture data. This image was
created from SMAP radar acquired from data March 31 to April 3. Weaker radar signals
(blues) reflect low soil moisture or lack of vegetation, such as in deserts. Strong radar
signals (reds) are seen in forests. SMAP's radar also takes data over the ocean and sea ice.
UA to Join 'A-Team' in Search for Earthlike Planets
(APR 21) TUCSON, Arizona – Are we alone? To get answers to one of humanity's oldest questions,
NASA has selected an interdisciplinary research team led by the University of Arizona for a major
grant in a new program focusing on the search for clues to life on faraway worlds.
ULA Unveils New Rocket
(APR 13) Colorado Springs, Colo., - United Launch Alliance (ULA) unveiled its Next
Generation Launch System (NGLS) today at the 31st Space Symposium.
Subtle Colors of Iapetus
The subtle colors of Saturn’s moon Iapetus are revealed in this composite image
released on April 6. NASA’s Cassini spacecraft observed rhe two-tone moon for about a week
earlier this year in a campaign motivated in part to investigate subtle color differences
within the moon's bright terrain. Images taken using red, green and blue spectral filters
were combined to create this natural-color view. The moon's brightness has been enhanced
in order to make the dark terrain visible. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.,
manages the Cassini mission for NASA. Image and caption courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science
Aerojet Rocketdyne Receives Ion Thruster Contract
(APR 6) SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Aerojet Rocketdyne, a GenCorp (NYSE: GY) company, has been awarded a contract worth approximately $18 million from NASA Glenn Research Center to complete the development of NASA’s Evolutionary Xenon Thruster-Commercial (NEXT-C) Gridded Ion Thruster System. The NEXT-C Gridded Ion Thruster System is designed to power government and commercial spacecraft to deep-space destinations faster, farther and more fuel efficiently than any other propulsion technology currently available.
Under the contract, Aerojet Rocketdyne will complete the development of both the NEXT-C Gridded Ion Thruster System and power processing units (PPUs), and deliver two complete flight systems to NASA. The PPUs convert the electrical power generated by the solar arrays into the power needed for each component of the thruster.
According to NASA, the NEXT System is capable of performing a variety of missions to deep-space destinations such as Mars and the outer planets while reducing cost and trip time. In 2013, NASA completed a record-setting 50,000-hour lifetest of the NEXT-C Gridded Ion Thruster System, establishing the performance and lifetime capabilities required for a wide range of demanding missions. Operating at three times the power level of the current low-power NASA systems, the NEXT-C Gridded Ion Thruster System produces three times the thrust level. This higher-power operating capability enables commercial applications in addition to science missions.
NASA Releases Tool Enabling Citizen Scientists to Examine Asteroid Vesta
(MAR 31) NASA has announced the release of Vesta Trek, a free, web-based application that provides detailed visualizations of Vesta, one of the largest asteroids in our solar system.
NASA's Dawn spacecraft studied Vesta from July 2011 to September 2012. Data gathered from multiple instruments aboard Dawn have been compiled into Vesta Trek's user-friendly set of tools, enabling citizen scientists and students to study the asteroid's features. The application includes:
-- Interactive maps with the ability to overlay a growing range of data sets including topography, mineralogy, abundance of elements and geology, as well as analysis tools for measuring the diameters, heights and depths of surface features and more.
-- 3-D printer-exportable topography so users can print physical models of Vesta's surface.
-- Standard keyboard gaming controls to maneuver a first-person visualization of "flying" across the surface of the asteroid.
To explore Vesta Trek, visit:
NASA Ames Research Center
Malmstrom Tests Second Minuteman III Missile This Week At Vandenberg
An unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launches at 3:53 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time, March 27, 2015, at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. Air Force Global Strike Command demonstrated the capabilities of their ICBM fleet and crew force with two test launches in less than a week. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jim Araos
(MAR 27) VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – A team of Air Force Global Strike Command Airmen launched an unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile equipped with a test reentry vehicle today at 3:53 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.
The test reentry vehicle impacted in a pre-established test area in the Pacific Ocean near the island of Guam approximately 40 minutes after launch.
All test launches verify the accuracy and reliability of the ICBM weapon system, providing valuable data to ensure a safe, secure and effective nuclear deterrent. The launch team, under the direction of the 576th Flight Test Squadron, Vandenberg AFB, included Airmen from the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom AFB, Montana and was the second test launch of a Minuteman III this week. The 576th Flight Test Squadron and 90th Missile Wing, F.E. Warren AFB, Wyoming, completed the first unarmed Minuteman III launch of the week from Vandenberg AFB March 23.
“An operational test launch requires hard work, months of preparation, and outstanding teamwork between personnel on both bases,” said Lt. Col. Daniel Hays, the 341st Missile Wing Task Force Commander. “These launches are a visible reminder to both our adversaries and our allies of the readiness and capability of the Minuteman III weapon system, and without the dedication of the men and women from both the 576th and the 341st, this test could not have happened.”
“The two launches from the past week were a full team effort between the 576th, and the 90th and 341st Missile Wings,” said Col. Kelvin Townsend, 576th Flight Test Squadron commander. “Launching multiple missiles in close proximity to each other adds an extra amount of realism to the operational test mission we fulfill here. These test launches occur due to the training and strict attention to detail our people have; resulting in a reliable test.”
Malmstrom and Warren AFBs are two of three missile bases with crew members standing alert 24-7 year round, overseeing the nation’s 450 ICBM alert forces.
The ICBM community, including the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, and U.S. Strategic Command will use the data collected from this mission for continuing force development evaluation.
The ICBM test launch program demonstrates the operational credibility of the Minuteman III and ensures the United States’ ability to maintain a strong, credible nuclear deterrent as a key element of U.S. national security and the security of U.S. allies and partners.
Air Force Global Strike Command
F. E. Warren Conducts Minuteman III Missile Test Launch from Vandenberg
(MAR 23) VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – A team of Air Force Global Strike Command Airmen launched an unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile equipped with a test reentry vehicle today at 3:36 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.
Every test launch verifies the accuracy and reliability of the ICBM weapon system, providing valuable data to ensure a safe, secure and effective nuclear deterrent. The launch team, under the direction of the 576th Flight Test Squadron, Vandenberg AFB, included Airmen from the 90th Missile Wing at F. E. Warren AFB, Wyoming.
"A lot of work and preparation goes in to an operational test launch from the teams on both bases," said Lt. Col Tytonia Moore, 90th MW, Task Force commander. "With these launches, we not only verify our processes and the ICBM weapon system, we provide a visual to the world that the Minuteman III is capable of striking pretty much anywhere with extreme precision."
"The role we play here is vital to the testing and evaluation of the Minuteman III program," said Col. Kelvin Townsend, 576th Flight Test Squadron commander. "We ensure the facilities and framework are in place to conduct operational test launches in a safe and secure manner with multiple team players contributing to the reliability of the test."
F. E. Warren AFB is one of three missile bases with crew members standing alert 24-7 year round, overseeing the nation's 450 ICBM alert forces.
The ICBM community, including the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, and U.S. Strategic Command will use the data collected from this mission for continuing force development evaluation.
The ICBM test launch program demonstrates the operational credibility of the Minuteman III and ensures the United States' ability to maintain a strong, credible nuclear deterrent as a key element of U.S. national security and the security of U.S. allies and partners.
Air Force Global Strike Command
Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Extends to New Realms
(MAR 19) Astronomers have expanded the search for extraterrestrial intelligence
into a new realm with detectors tuned to infrared light.
The booster for NASA’s Space Launch System rocket fires for a two minute test on March 11
at the Orbital ATK test facility in Promontory, Utah. The booster was the largest, most
powerful rocket booster ever built and produced about 3.6 million pounds of thrust. The
test was one of two that will qualify the booster for use with NASA's Space Launch System
(SLS). The SLS will send the Orion spacecraft to deep space destinations, including an
asteroid and Mars. Image: NASA
Astronomy in the Fast Lane: New System Watches for Things that Go Bump in the Night
(MAR 12) Imagine taking the world's most powerful radio telescope, used by scientists
around the globe, and piping a nearly continuous data stream into your research laboratory.
Utah Booster Test
(MAR 4) The largest, most powerful booster ever built for NASA's new rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), will fire up for a ground test at 11:30 a.m. EDT (9:30 a.m. MDT) Wednesday, March 11, at Orbital ATK Propulsion Systems’ test facilities in Promontory, Utah.
The two-minute static test is a significant milestone for the SLS as part of NASA’s journey to Mars, and follows years of development. It is one of two ground tests to qualify the booster for flight. A second test is planned for early 2016. Once qualification is complete, the hardware will be ready to help send the rocket, along with NASA’s Orion spacecraft, on its first flight test.
A public viewing area is available along State Road 83 North approximately 20 miles west of Corinne, Utah. The gate to the public viewing area opens at 7 a.m. MDT Wednesday. Overflow parking is available, if needed.
For NASA TV streaming video, downlink and schedule information, visit:
Bang Kachao, an area that escaped development forms a green oasis amid the urban sprawl of
Bankok, Thailand. The Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat-8 recorded this
natural-color view of Bang Kachao during a recent daylight pass over the region. The OLI
instrument was built by Colorado-based Ball Aerospace and Technologies. Landsat-8 was
launched from Vandenberg AFB, Calif. in early 2013. Image courtesy of NASA and USGS
Launch Creates Light Show
(MAR 1) Observers across a wide area of the Southwest were treated to an unusual
light show last Wednesday morning thanks to an Air Force experiment launched from
White Sands, NM.
A Terrier-Black Brant sounding rocket lifted off from White Sands Missile Range at 5:26 a.m.
Mountain Standard Time and released small amounts of samarium vapor in near-Earth space
to create clouds of plasma, or ionized gas. The purpose of the Air Force Research
Laboratory experiment was to study the processes responsible for formation of the Earth’s
According to media reports, the experiment produced a purple steak or pink cloud that
was seen in Arizona and New Mexico.
Jupiter Jumps into View this Month at Westmont
(FEB 17) SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - The gas giant Jupiter will be the star attraction
at this month’s free public viewing on Friday, Feb. 20, beginning at 6:30 p.m. and
lasting several hours at the Westmont Observatory. In case of inclement or overcast
weather, please call the Telescope Viewing Hotline at (805) 565 -6272 and check the
Westmont website to see if the viewing has been canceled.
Rising in Leo, Jupiter will be in good position for viewing in the early evening.
“Since Jupiter has passed through opposition recently — and now rising just before
the sun sets — we may be lucky enough to see a shadow cast onto its surface by one of
its large moons,” says Thomas Whittemore, Westmont physics instructor.
The viewing may also feature the Orion Nebula, M42. “Orion is high in the sky
by 8 p.m.,” Whittemore says. “If the seeing is good this evening, we may be able to
see six of the Trapezium stars in the heart of the nebula with Westmont’s 24-inch
The Milky Way, which contains a number of open clusters, is high in the winter
sky and a popular viewing subject. “One of my favorites, M35 in Gemini, is a chain of
stars with all sorts of subtle color variations,” he says. “This particular object will be
best viewed in Westmont’s 8-inch refractor.”
Mars and Venus are putting on quite a show in the west, although their
alignment will make them unobservable with Westmont’s telescopes. “By Friday
evening, they will be about a degree or so apart in this chance alignment,” he says.
“The proximity of the creamy-colored (and bright) Venus with the fiery-red (and
much dimmer than Venus) Mars yields a wonderful color contrast between the two
objects. The public will be able to see this pairing early in the evening and with their
bare eyes, but by 8 p.m. both objects will have set in the southwest.”
The observatory opens its doors to the public every third Friday of the month in
conjunction with the Santa Barbara Astronomical Unit, whose members bring their
own telescopes to Westmont for the public to gaze through. The Keck Telescope is
housed in the observatory between Russell Carr Field and the track and field/soccer
complex. Free parking is available near the baseball field.
Tea Cup Galaxy
The Teacup Galaxy reveals otherwise hidden detail in this composite image created
from radio observations by the Very Large Array radio observatory near Socorro, N.M.
and optical images. Green colors show the starlight, blue colors show the gas, and
the red/yellow colors show the radio emissions. The bright yellow blobs in the
center of the image show where the radio “jets,” launched by the black hole, are
driving into the gas and accelerating it to 200,000 miles per hour (1,000 kilometers
per second. The giant bubbles also are being inflated by a central black hole. This
demonstrates that the central black hole is having a catastrophic effect on the
galaxy. Credit: C. Harrison, A. Thomson; Bill Saxton, NRAO/AUI/NSF; NASA
Virgin Galactic Opens Launch Vehicle Facility
(FEB 12) LONG BEACH, Calif. – Virgin Galactic, the privately-funded space company owned by Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group and Abu Dhabi’s Aabar Investments PJS, is pleased to announce it has leased a new 150,000 square foot facility that will house design and manufacturing of the company’s small satellite launch vehicle, LauncherOne.
LauncherOne is a new two-stage orbital launch vehicle being designed by Virgin Galactic specifically to launch commercial or governmental satellites that weigh 500 pounds (225 kilograms) or less. Much like SpaceShipTwo, the company’s reusable vehicle for space tourism, LauncherOne is designed to be launched from the WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft, giving customers the ability to avoid crowded and expensive launch ranges while also picking the launch location best suited for their mission. Located at the Long Beach Airport, this new facility will allow easy transportation of rockets and of customers’ satellites using WhiteKnightTwo.
With a launch price aimed to be the lowest in the nation or perhaps the world, LauncherOne has already attracted the interest of numerous small satellite manufacturers and operators. Among them is the recently announced OneWeb project designed to deliver broadband services to areas of the world not currently served by terrestrial networks. This and other ambitious projects are expected keep the Long Beach facility busy for many years to come.
NMSU Astronomers Contribute to Massive Star Database
(FEB 2) LAS CRUCES, N.M. - Scientists in January announced a final data release for
the third phase of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey that includes information to allow
researchers to construct a three-dimensional chemical map of the Milky Way galaxy.
ULA Launches Earth Science Mission
A Delta II rocket carrying NASA's SMAP satellite and several smaller spacecraft climbs
into orbit following liftoff from Vandenberg AFB on Saturday, January 31. The dawn
event was visible to the unaided eye over a wide area. The Webmaster recorded this view
of the launch from Ventura County, some 100 miles east-southeast of the launch site.
Copyright 2015, Brian Webb
(JAN 31) Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. - A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta
II rocket carrying the Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) payload for NASA lifted
off from Space Launch Complex-2 at 6:22 a.m. PST today. This launch marks ULA's second launch of 13 planned for 2015, and the 93rd successful mission since the company was formed.
"Congratulations to the NASA Launch Services Program team, JPL and all of our
mission partners on today's successful launch of the SMAP satellite," said Jim
Sponnick, ULA vice president, Atlas and Delta Programs. "It is our honor to launch
this important Earth science mission to help scientists observe and predict natural
hazards, and improve our understanding of Earth's water, energy and carbon cycles."
The SMAP mission was launched aboard a Delta II 7320 configuration vehicle
featuring a ULA first stage booster powered by an Aerojet Rocketdyne RS-27A main
engine and three Alliant Techsystems (ATK) strap-on solid rocket motors. An Aerojet
Rockedyne AJ10-118K engine powered the second stage. The payload was encased by a
10-foot-diameter composite payload fairing.
The SMAP mission is NASA's first Earth-observing satellite mission designed to
collect global observations of surface soil moisture and its freeze/thaw state,
data that have broad applications for science and society.
United Launch Alliance
Delta II Launch Scheduled
(JAN 22) VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. - Team Vandenberg is scheduled to launch
a NASA satellite on a United Launch Alliance rocket from Space Launch
Complex-2 here Thursday, Jan. 29, at 6:20 a.m. PDT.
The Delta II rocket will carry NASA's Soil Moisture Active Passive; the
first Earth-observing satellite.
Col. Shane Clark, 30th Space Wing vice commander, will be the Launch
"We are excited to take on our first launch of 2015," said Clark. "Every
launch takes dedication and teamwork. I am extremely proud of the team and
our strong partnership with NASA. Everyone involved has been working
tirelessly to ensure this is a safe and successful launch."
SMAP is designed to collect global observations of surface soil moisture and
its freeze/thaw state. High resolution space-based measurements of soil
moisture and whether the soil is frozen or thawed will give scientists a new
capability to observe and predict natural hazards of extreme weather,
climate change, floods and droughts, and will help reduce uncertainties in
the understanding of Earth's water and carbon cycles.
The drill on NASA's Curiosity Mars Rover rests in position for a drill test in
this image taken on January 13. The test was used to assess whether a rock
target called "Mojave" was appropriate for full-depth drilling to collect a
sample. A key appeal of this target is an abundance of crystal-shaped features.
The Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. manages the Curiosity mission
for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. JPL also designed and built the Curiosity
rover. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Three Nearly Earth-Size Planets Found Orbiting Nearby Star
(JAN 16) TUCSON, Ariz. - NASA's Kepler Space Telescope, despite being hobbled by the loss of critical
guidance systems, has discovered a star with three planets only slightly larger than Earth.
Observatory to Zoom in on Comet Lovejoy
(JAN 8) SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - The Comet Lovejoy will tantalize stargazers at this month's free public viewing of the stars with Westmont's powerful Keck Telescope on Friday, Jan. 16, beginning at 6:30 p.m. and lasting several hours at the Westmont Observatory. In case of inclement or overcast weather, please call the Telescope Viewing Hotline at (805) 565-6272 and check the Westmont website to see if the viewing has been canceled.
The Comet Lovejoy, C/2014 Q2, is making its closest approach to earth, 44 million miles away. "I've been watching it from our back yard for the last week and it's a bright one," says Thomas Whittemore, Westmont physics instructor. "It's almost a naked-eye object at this point, and at the public viewing, there will be no moon to interfere with the comet's brightness. I have yet to see a tail on Lovejoy, but maybe we will get lucky with Westmont's 8-inch refractor telescope."
Whittemore says he will use the Keck Telescope, a 24-inch reflector, to zoom in on the Orion Nebula. "This 1,400 light-year-distant stellar nursery is always a wintertime treat," he says.
Weather permitting, the viewing may also include the Crab Nebula in Taurus. "Viewed across the world in 1054, there are many records of this supernova explosion," Whittemore says. "Today we see the remnants of the exploded star as Messier 1, the Crab Nebula. To me, even through a moderate-sized telescope, the nebula's structure looks like a splash of milk."
The observatory opens its doors to the public every third Friday of the month in conjunction with the Santa Barbara Astronomical Unit, whose members bring their own telescopes to Westmont for the public to gaze through. The Keck Telescope is housed in the observatory between Russell Carr Field and the track and field/soccer complex. Free parking is available near the baseball field.
The 4-mile (6.5 kilometer) El Progreso pier in Mexico's Yucatan and considerable
offshore detail are visible in this recently released view from Landsat-8's
Operational Land Imager. Built over a wide and shallow continental shelf, the
pier's length is necessary to allow docking by larger ships. Landsat-8 was launched
in 2013 from Vandenberg AFB. Image credit: NASA/U.S. Geological Survey
Mercury Visible at Dusk
(JAN 4) Sky watchers have a good opportunity to see the elusive
planet Mercury at dusk this month. Since Mercury's orbit is so close
to the Sun, the planet never strays far from the Sun's glare as seen
from Earth, making Mercury difficult to find and identify.
However, this month, Mercury climbs out of the Sun's glare and is easy
to spot and identify thanks to a bright celestial landmark. From
January 2 to 16, Mercury lies within 5 degrees of the much brighter
To find Mercury, look low in the west-southwest 30 to 50 minutes after
sunset. Locate silvery-white Venus. Then look below and to the right of
Venus for Mercury, which resembles a much fainter, star-like object.
The pairing of the two planets is most impressive on the evening of
January 10 when Venus and Mercury are separated by slightly more than
1/2 of a degree.
Although Mercury and Venus appear to be close to one another this
month, their apparent proximity is an illusion. The two planets are
lined up in such a way that they happen occupy the same part of the
sky as seen from Earth. In reality, the planets are separated by many
millions of miles.