28Oct2015

A ‘Triple Treat’ In The Morning Sky

Observing

An artist’s impression of the Venus, Mars and Jupiter conjunction visible on the morning of October 28

What’s in the night sky this week? Glad you asked! There’s plenty, and a big surprise I’ll tell you about shortly! But first, armed with your binoculars, find a nice dark place away from the glare of the street lights.

Getting Well Prepared

Now, go and pick a comfy spot either on a rug or a deck chair that you can lay back in. Wait about 5-10 minutes and allow your eyes to adapt to the darkness. See that band of stars stretching across the sky from one side to the other? That’s the Milky Way, full of more stars than you can count.

There’s also a nice bright Moon in the sky all night to ogle. It’s a great target for the novice telescope owner as well because it’s just so easy to find.

Speaking Of The Moon…

Did you know that Neil Armstrong wasn’t NASA’s choice for ‘first man’? Try this at your next trivia night. History records it was Gus Grissom, one of the original Mercury-7 astronauts, officially chosen by NASA to be the first man to set foot on the Moon?

In May of 1965 the Apollo program was well under-way and Gus, along with Ed White and Roger Chaffee, were told they were selected for the first mission. The astronauts never made it off the ground.  On Friday, January 27, 1967, a fire caused by an arc of electricity in the pure oxygen atmosphere of the sealed capsule of Apollo 1 during training, destroyed the capsule and incinerated all three astronauts.

Skywatching

Still outside? OK, search along the Milky Way with your binoculars and watch for ‘fuzzy’ patches. Stop and have a look, you might have found a rich star cluster or a gassy nebula. This is called a sky scan and I do it all the time.

A Nice Sky Show

While you’re at it look for remnants of the recent Orionids meteor shower. It finishes this week but you may still spot a few. Hey, there’s money in space rocks by the way – big money! It seems like science fiction to think one day we’ll be exploiting these space rocks for their wealth. Mining asteroids is it for real? You bet and it’s closer than you think.

The expected bounty mining asteroids includes metals like nickel and iron, and even resources like water, oxygen, and various metals that could be used to power future spacecraft on long voyages out of our solar system.

One day someone will be able to fetch a 500 ton, 20 metre wide asteroid and bring it into orbit around the moon. Estimates are that one large asteroid could reap more than US$1 billion worth of just platinum alone! If that’s true, the return on investment could be amazing.

There’s Money In Space Rocks

A mining company, Planetary Resources, has in fact estimated one asteroid named Amun contains another US$8 trillion in iron and nickel, and a mere US$6 trillion worth of cobalt. Whew! It’s been calculated the value of Amun could be anything up to a cool US$20 trillion! Not a bad payday for just drilling rocks.

What was the surprise I promised you? Well, get set for a rare event because your view of the pre dawn sky on October 28 should be spectacular. It’s called a ‘conjunction’ of planets and it doesn’t happen all that often!

What Can I See?

What you will be able to see are the three well known planets Venus, Mars and giant Jupiter all the same part of the eastern morning sky together, in a nice tight little triangle. They’re best observed an hour or so before sunrise, until the sky starts to brighten. Just look eastward.

Very close conjunctions are just a grand naked eye spectacle and great to try and photograph. Bracket your shots though and use a tripod. It can be very exciting to see more than one planet in the same field of view of your telescope. Written by: Dave Reneke

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