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Astro Bob: We can all set our sights on the moon

Even though the Artemis 1 launch was delayed on Monday, you can still voyage to the moon after sunset.

Artemis on launch pad
The Artemis 1 mission will lift off on NASA's Space Launch System rocket, seen here atop the mobile launcher used to move it to the launch pad on Aug. 17 at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. With 8.8 million pounds of thrust it's the most powerful rocket ever made.
Contributed / NASA, Joel Kowsky
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“You don’t want to light the candle until it is ready to go,” Bill Nelson, the NASA administrator, said on NASA TV Monday morning, Aug. 29, after halting the liftoff of Artemis 1 to the moon. The agency called off the launch after they identified a problem with one of the four liquid-fueled engines less than two hours before the rocket was set to take off.

Artemis Orion capsule
The Orion capsule, which will carry astronauts into lunar orbit in 2024, will fly past the moon and return to Earth during Artemis 1.
Contributed / NASA

It's unclear when NASA will schedule the next attempt, but assuming all the issues are resolved that could happen Friday, Sept. 2. The new moonshot, the first in 50 years, will be unmanned and serve as a test run for a crewed mission to lunar orbit in 2024, followed in 2025 by the real thing — astronauts landing on the moon.

Engineers will test all systems including checking the rocket's performance and making sure the heat shield can protect a crew from the 5,000-degree temperatures experienced on reentry.

Artemis — named for the Greek goddess of the moon and Apollo's twin sister — has a broader mission than Apollo. Instead of making a few landings and calling it good, we're returning to the moon to learn to live there and establish a permanent presence. They we'll take the next giant leap: landing on Mars.

Moon 1.5 days old
Layers of air of different temperatures distort the outline of a 2-day crescent moon in September 2020.
Contributed / Bob King

While NASA gets its ducks in a row, you can launch your own more modest lunar mission. No liquid oxygen is required, just a slice of clear sky. On Monday night, Aug. 29, the young crescent returns to the evening sky. From a place with an open view to the west-southwest, look a short distance above the horizon starting about a half-hour after sunset for the 2-day-old moon. It will be much easier to see than the sub-24 moon we talked about just a few days ago.


With both the unaided eye and binoculars you should be able to see the entire lunar outline. Light from Earth, called earthshine, faintly illuminates the part of the moon where it's still night. The crescent itself is lit by the sun.

Moon Aug 29.jpg
Watch for the thin crescent to appear tonight (August 29) starting about a half-hour after sunset low in the west-southwest sky. You should also be able to see the earth-lit portion.
Contributed / Stellarium

Binoculars will reveal that the inner edge of the bright moon adjacent to the night portion looks bumpy or jagged. The sun strikes this part of the moon at a very shallow angle, skimming the tops of high crater walls and leaving the craters themselves in shadow. This creates a harsh black-and-white contrast visible with just a little magnification.

The moon sets soon, so be sure to catch it within an hour of sunset. You can check your sunset time here and plan accordingly. Enjoy your moon mission, and let us know if you were successful by chiming in on my Facebook page .

Read more from Astro Bob
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"Astro" Bob King is a freelance writer and retired photographer for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at nightsky55@gmail.com.
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