This is the first in a series of Western Slope Skies episodes about Women in Astronomy. We hope that, in some manner, these inspire our young female listeners to become involved in astronomy.
On June 16, 1963, the Russians launched Vostok 6. The lone astronaut on board was Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space. She was in space for 48 orbits over three days. In her single mission, she logged more time in space than all the American astronauts who had been in space to that date combined.
This week, just after sunset, we can see an amazing grouping of planets in the western sky. From May 24 until May 29, Venus, Jupiter, and Mercury will fit within a 5 degree circle – less than half the width of your fist held at arm’s length! On May 26 these planets will be within 2 and one half degrees of each other – only half the apparent distance between the pointer stars of the Big Dipper!
“Hey, can you see the flag in that thing?!” It’s a question that makes us wince when observing the moon at astronomy outreaches. The answer is…Maybe if you were aboard NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter… but, all six of the flags are now faded to white, and the first one blew over when the Apollo 11 lunar module blasted off departing the moon.
From our backyards, the moon, our closest celestial neighbor, is easily observed by the unaided eye as it moves through its changing phases. During the next two weeks, the moon will move from new to nearly full.