November: Best Laid Plans

November 2008

Best Laid Plans

By Calvin L. Chrisman

Last month, we talked about the possibility of watching the space shuttle and the Hubble Space Telescope pass over BlackMountain if things went according to plan. Well, they didn’t go according to plan. A box on the Hubble, which had been functioning for eighteen years, quit working as the repair mission was being readied. At this point, NASA is testing an existing replacement for the non-functioning box (have you kept the manual for anything you have had and not used for over eighteen years?). If it works, it will be sent on a re-scheduled repair mission next spring. The shuttle is now scheduled to go to the International Space Station in the middle of this month. If you enjoy satellite watching, the combination of shuttle and ISS will be quite bright. To find out when you can view a pass, go to the Heavens Above website (http://www.heavens-above.com). Just type in your zip code and click on the ISS link.

November will offer an excellent opportunity to see the two brightest planets close to one another in the early evening sky. Jupiter will be moving rapidly westward during the month ending November only two degrees from Venus (now the evening star). On the evenings of November 30 and December 1, respectively, the crescent Moon will be just to the right and then to the left of the two planets. It will be a beautiful sight. If you have a telescope to look at Jupiter and Venus, you will see that Venus appears gibbous (partially round vs. completely round) as it will be 70 percent illuminated. Jupiter’s four Galilean moons will be visible. On the nights of November 11 and 12, a 5.6 magnitude star will appear to be a fifth moon.

This month marks the one-hundredth anniversary of “first light” for the 60 inch telescope on Mount Wilson in California. The Mount Wilson Observatory was the brainchild of George Ellery Hale and later included the 100 inch telescope utilized by Edwin Hubble, for whom the Hubble Space Telescope is named. Large telescopes today are measured in meters instead of inches, but the 60 inch was a ground-breaking instrument in 1908, marking the transition from refractors (with a straight-through light path) to reflecting telescopes. The manufacture and polishing of its mirror took several years. The 60 inch incorporated many telescope design features that are still in use today. It was this telescope that enabled Harlow Shapley to discover the center of the Milky Way Galaxy and to determine that the Sun and its planets were a long way from the center of the action. First we thought the Earth was the center of everything, then the Sun, then the Milky Way. The Universe keeps getting bigger, but the stars are beautiful!

Clear Skies!

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