May: Hubble Repairs at Last

May 2009

Hubble Repairs at Last

By Calvin L. Chrisman

8x10.aiLast fall, NASA delayed the fourth and final servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope. The delay was caused by a malfunctioning data storage device on the HST. A replacement for this device has been prepared and the mission is ready to launch. It is currently scheduled for May 11th and will stay in space until May 22nd. It will be made by astronauts flying the space shuttle Atlantis. This mission was long planned, but was canceled after the tragic loss of the shuttle Columbia and its crew in 2003. After much public outcry, the mission was reinstated in 2006 and will be flown with shuttle Endeavour ready as back-up should problems develop. (The astronauts cannot use the International Space Station as a refuge because of their different orbits).

People all over the world have been thrilled by the magnificent images of our solar system, the Milky Way and the universe sent back by the Hubble Space Telescope since its launch in 1990. This mission will substantially enhance the instruments on the Hubble and extend its life; insuring a continued flow of beautiful images and cutting-edge science for another five years or so. While Atlantis is docked with the Hubble Space Telescope, it will significantly enhance its visibility, allowing naked-eye observation of the mission as it passes over the Earth. 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 HST link. Watch the news or check the NASA website, Spaceflight Now (http://www.spaceflightnow.com) to make sure the mission has gone off on schedule. It’s an amazing experience to sit in your backyard and watch other humans working in space 350 miles overhead.

If you enjoy planet watching May and early June will offer an opportunity to see all of the naked-eye planets in the sky at once. If you add a small telescope, you will be able to add both Neptune and Uranus to the list and an eight to ten inch telescope will add the former planet, Pluto to the mix. Here are some times to look for interesting alignments: On the early morning of Sunday, May 17th, the last-quarter Moon will be slightly to the left of bright Jupiter. If you observe with a telescope on this date, between 4:00 and 5:15 am Eastern Daylight Time, the shadows of Jupiter’s moons, Io and Callisto will be visible on Jupiter’s surface. Just before dawn on Thursday, May 21st, the waning crescent Moon will form a triangle in the East with brilliant Venus and the fainter Mars. Also requiring a telescope, in the East to Southeast during the early morning, Jupiter will pass quite close to Neptune. Finally, requiring no telescope or early morning wake-up, in the early evening of the 27th, the waxing crescent Moon will form a beautiful crescent with Castor and Pollux, the twins in Gemini.

Clear Skies!

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