This Week in Space: January 4-10

This year, I thought I’d add a new feature to the blog, inspired by the Year in Space desk calendar that Chad got for me from The Planetary Society. I’ll be posting it once a week — hence the name, This Week in Space. And since the Cline Observatory at GTCC is open to the public FOR FREE every Friday night (weather permitting), I’ll try to post a little info here about what they’ll be showing folks through the telescope that week, too.

Bear in mind that these are just some of the things listed in the calendar. No way could I list all of them!

We’ve got a couple of astronomy birthdays this week. On January 8, 1942, Stephen Hawking was born. I’m pretty sure you’ve heard of him. But did you know that he shared a birthday with Johann Fabricius, who was born January 8, 1587, and was possibly the first person to observe sunspots? (Pro tip: NEVER look directly at the sun, and certainly never through a telescope. There’s a reason Fabricius and his father switched to using a camera obscura.)

Lots of launches this week. Venera 5 on January 5, 1969. The Lunar Prospector on January 6, 1998. Surveyor 7 on January 7, 1968. Luna 21/Lunokhod 2 was launched on January 8, 1973. The Space Shuttle Columbia was launched January 9, 1990. And on January 10, 1969, Venera 6 was launched.

On January 9, 1839, Thomas Henderson published the distance to Alpha Centauri. I still have to read up on that one. No matter how many times it’s explained to me, I never understand how astronomers can calculate distance in space like that. But, then, math never was my strong suit.

And, of course, on January 5, 2005, UB313, also known as Eris, was discovered, sparking the debate that got Pluto demoted to dwarf planet status. If you’ve never read Mike Brown’s How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming, it’s a pretty good book. It’s not way science heavy, so it’s easily accessible for a layperson, but it really explains the science behind the debate and the logic behind Pluto’s re-classification.

The featured sight at the Cline Observatory this week was supposed to be the Eskimo Nebula. However, according to their Twitter feed (and it’s always good to check that before heading over), it doesn’t look like the weather is going to cooperate for viewing tonight. Considering the unbroken blanket of clouds that’s covered the sky at my house all day, I kind of had a feeling. But, who knows? Keep watching their Twitter feed. Sometimes the cloud cover breaks and they can get some viewing in.

But if not, tomorrow night is the new moon, so even without a telescope you should be able to see lots of stars since the moon’s light won’t be drowning them out. So go outside and look up. The sights up there are amazing.

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