Tag Archives: Moon

Tonight’s SuperMoon

23 Jun Tim Martindale

It has been an appalling Summer for skywatching this year. Unannounced rain and general overcast cloud cover has restricted us from viewing the heavens above this season. There is some hope for any keen amateur astronomers though and it comes in the form of our familiar friend the Moon.

Many of you would have gazed up at the shimmering disc in the sky, probably on many occasions too, but today is a special day for the Moon, the celestial body will come to its closets point on its orbit around us. Granted, this event is pretty common but nonetheless incredibly spectacular for anyone watching. There will be other SuperMoons in the future of course, in fact there is one due in July. However our cosmic neighbour wont be passing as close as it is time around.

The scientific name for this event is ‘Perigee Moon’ it marks the coincidence where a new or full Moon is at it’s closets proximity to the Earth. The Lunar surface will appear 30% brighter to us and 14% larger in the night sky. According to experts the best time to view this phenomenon is both at moonrise and moonset when it appears at its very massive.

The next SuperMoon of this magnitude wont be occurring until August 2014. So, weather permitting, keep an eye on the night sky this evening, you may just be surprised to see an old friend looking a little different.

GRAIL Mission: Endangered by Weather

8 Sep nasa-grail-delta-2-rocket-ready

NASA has today had to place its new mission to the Moon on hold after high winds placed the rocket vehicle in danger.

The Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission was set to depart at 12.37 GMT from NASA’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Base in Florida earlier today. Unfortunately, in a bold move by the space agency, the rocket’s launch was provisionally postponed at fear for the two probes inside.

GRAIL is a lunar bound mission being sent in order for scientists to map out the Moons gravitational surface in unprecedented detail. Two probes will be ejected from inside the Delta 2 rocket after exit from the Earth’s atmosphere and then team up together orbiting the rocky body as a synchronised couple. Both Probes, worth $258m each, will work collectively in an effort to cross section the moon from crust to core to help understand how all rocky planets and other celestial bodies are formed. A similar mission Gravity Recovery and Climate Change (GRACE) has already mapped Earths bumpy gravity field in attempts to understand why it forms in the way it does.

Man has always had a fascination with its earthly neighbour, unsurprisingly. The rocky form takes up the most space in our sky after the sun, its same face has stared down at us for millennia and its behaviour has always wanted to be tamed.

Michael Florent van Langren made the first map of the surface in 1645, thirty five years after the first telescopic observation was made by legendary astronomer Galileo Galilei. Over three hundred years later the first man-made object reached our orbiting partner, the Soviet Luna 2 module crashed into the surface in 1959.

Then came a defining moment in history when NASA led a team of astronauts to the exterior of the Moon to collect sample rocks and to mark it as the first celestial body, other than the Earth, to be graced by humans, in the entire Universe.

Another manned operation to the surface will be in a number of years but for now NASA has GRAIL.

Weather reports forecast that on September 9th 2011 the rocket holding the two probes will have a 40% chance of departure when its launch opportunity opens at 12.33 GMT. A second chance for takeoff will come at 13.12 GMT on the same day, if neither of these time zones present a successful mission outlook then the launch will be placed on hold once more.

NASA have until October 19th 2011 in this preliminary launch window until this mission will be placed on the literal back burner of a stand by launch pad.