Mercury hugs the eastern horizon during morning twilight during March. A telescope will enable you to follow its complete range of phases as it moves rapidly around its orbit relative to Earth.
Venus shines brightly as the morning "star," low in the east-southeast predawn sky.
Mars emits its reddish glow low in the east-southeast evening sky. It continues to brighten as the faster Earth closes in on it. On March 18, the waning gibbous moon and the bright variable star Spica form a triangle with the Red Planet.
Photo courtesy SpaceX Corporation
SpaceX Corporation’s experimental Grasshopper rocket is reusable and can land on Earth with the accuracy of a helicopter. The production of a reusable rocket would reduce tremendously the cost of access to space.
Photo courtesy JPL, NASA
The Soviet Union surprised the world when it launched Sputnik in 1957. It orbited the Earth about every 96 minutes, transmitting radio signals that were picked up by ham radio operators around the globe.
The private, robotic Cygnus Spacecraft, built by Orbital Sciences Corporation, is shown approaching the International Space Station several months ago. Since NASA retired the space shuttle fleet in 2011, the agency is now depending on private companies like Orbital Sciences and SpaceX to keep the ISS stocked with supplies.
Photo courtesy Sally Ride EarthKAM on the ISS
Research in biology, astronomy, physics, meteorology and microgravity is carried out on the International Space Station. Thankfully, the ISS has been funded through 2020.
Courtesy SpaceX Corp.
SpaceX Corp. is the first private company to build and launch its own rockets and space capsules to the ISS and return them to Earth. This photo shows its Falcon 9 rocket during a recent launch from Vandenburg AF Base in California.
Bright Jupiter is conspicuous in the southern sky during evening twilight, setting in the west during the early morning hours. The mighty planet is becoming smaller and dimmer as Earth, in its faster orbit, pulls farther ahead of it.
Saturn appears in the southern predawn sky. A moderate size amateur telescope will allow you to glimpse the subtle zones and belts that encircle Saturn's globe. Of course, the incredible ring system is, by far, this planet's most amazing feature. Once you see it through a telescope, you'll never forget it.
The sun crosses the celestial equator at 12:57 p.m. EDT on March 20, marking the Spring Equinox. This is the beginning of spring in the Northern Hemisphere and autumn in the Southern Hemisphere. On the days of the equinoxes, the hours of daylight and darkness are nearly equal.
THANK HEAVEN FOR NASA
"It is difficult to say what is impossible, for the dream of yesterday is the hope of today and reality of tomorrow." - Robert Goddard, the father of modern rocketry
In 1957, the Soviet Union amazed the world when it launched the first artificial Earth satellite into orbit. Sputnik was a 23-inch diameter polished metal ball with four external radio antennae. Although it was dim, people all over the world could see it pass overhead from dark sites when sunlight was reflected off its polished surface during morning and evening twilight. The radio signals it broadcast were picked up by ham radio operators worldwide. Weighing just more than 184 pounds, Sputnik had an orbital speed of about 18,000 mph, completely encircling the Earth every 96 minutes.
Suddenly, Soviet technology appeared to be superior to that of the United States. This caused great concern in America, resulting in rapid changes in the educational system, with a greater emphasis on science and technology. Federal money poured into science education, especially the fields of mathematics and engineering. With the creation of NASA in 1958, America's space program really took off. Responding to a challenge from President Kennedy, the United States put the first man on the moon in 1969 during the Apollo program.
During the following few years, the United States was the leader in issuing engineering degrees, with 80,000 awarded per year in the mid 1980s. However, this number has drastically declined and the U.S. has once again fallen behind a number of countries in the percentage of students being given STEM degrees. This acronym "STEM" stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, and was first used by the National Science Foundation in the 1990s. These four subjects should ideally be integrated together when taught, in order to prepare students for real world situations. Hopefully, the new Common Core State Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards will help students think critically, basing their reasoning on evidence, instead of the failed method of learning that relied on rote memorization.
During the last 56 years, NASA has successfully landed 12 astronauts on the moon, placed four rovers and four landers on Mars, sent a spacecraft beyond the edge of our solar system into interstellar space, developed more than 1,800 technologies that have benefited humankind, orbited many spacecraft and satellites to study our Earth and the sun, built and maintained the majority of the International Space Station, launched and repaired the Hubble Space Telescope, and accomplished many other incredible feats.
What does the future hold for NASA? Cancellation of the Space Shuttle program in 2011 meant that NASA no longer had the capability of sending people into space and this country is now paying nearly $70 million a seat for transportation to the International Space Station aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft. Two private U.S. space companies, in addition to robotic spacecraft from Russia, Japan, and Europe are currently taking cargo shipments to the ISS and the two U.S. companies should be able to also transport people within the next few years. NASA is currently concentrating on building a Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle for deep space exploration and is designing a heavy-lift rocket to launch it.
NASA's current goals are to first land astronauts on an asteroid where they could explore the possible mining of metals, hydrogen and oxygen. Eight astronauts, four men and four women, in the new class of recruits are already in training for this mission. The second logical step would be a human mission to Mars. After that, the entire cosmos awaits.
This monthly guide to the stars is from the Marshall Martz Memorial Astronomical Association and The Post-Journal. For further information, contact the M.M.M.A.A. at www.martzobservatory.org