Astro Bob blog: Four-million-mile coin tossIf you're watching the Super Bowl today, keep your eye out for a special, well-traveled coin plus I've got news on Mars, the shuttle launch and a big, new sunspot group.
By: Bob King, Duluth News Tribune
Four-million-mile coin toss
Mars sits right above the bright star cluster called the Beehive in Cancer the Crab. While the cluster looks like a puff of cloud with the naked eye, you can resolve it into a rich group of individual stars in binoculars. This map shows the view around 9 o'clock. Created with Stellarium
Sometimes the cruddiest nights make for the steadiest air and the best views of the planets. Last night clouds were all over the place but Mars popped out often enough between the cracks to entice me to bring out the telescope. I figured it was worth at least two minutes to check out, right? Those minutes turned into an enjoyable hour and a half. Air turbulence was almost nil and the planet was sharp and looked like a real world. All kinds of cool stuff was going on up there -- numerous dark markings, the north polar cap, a bit of cloud swathing the far south, plus it was fun to watch the planet rotate during the interval.
Mars rotates once every 24 hours and 37 minutes. Depending on what time you look, you'll see a different hemisphere of the planet. If you're a telescopic observer and want to know what you're seeing on Mars, Sky and Telescope magazine online has the perfect interactive Mars map. Read their short article and then click on the Mars Profiler link at the end. Type in the time you want to see the planet and you'll get an annotated map displaying its most prominent features.
Planning on watching the Super Bowl today? Pay attention to the opening-toss coin at the start of the game. The coin (at right) is a special medallion that was flown aboard the space shuttle Atlantis last November. It traveled over four million miles while making 171 orbits around the Earth.
The shuttle Endeavor is scheduled to lift off at 3:14 a.m. CST tomorrow morning. There are only five missions left before NASA ends the shuttle program, and this is the last mission to launch at night. We'll look at the goodies Endeavor will be hauling to the International Space Station in tomorrow's blog.
This photo was taken by the SOHO spacecraft at 8:24 this morning (Sunday) and shows the new, large spot group (1045) and a second group along the sun's edge. Credit: NASA/ESA
A huge new sunspot group in the sun's northern hemisphere has come out of nowhere in the last 24 hours. I looked at it this morning and its many spots are strung out like a line of kids leaving a daycare. I'm crossing my fingers for some big flares and maybe even aurora. We'll keep you in the loop if these possibilities happen.
“The Sun, with all the planets revolving around it, and depending on it, can still ripen a bunch of grapes as though it had nothing else in the Universe to do.” Galileo