Observatory offers an 'exciting' 2015
Published 5:32 pm, Wednesday, January 14, 2015
(The following is an open letter to greater New Milford residents from the volunteers at the McCarthy Observatory on the campus of New Milford High School.)
Friends of the McCarthy Observatory, Happy New Year to all of you astronomy fans.
Your New Year's present is a comet visible now for those with a small telescope. Well into January, it will offer decent binocular views.
Comet Lovejoy C/2014 Q2 will get higher in the sky and brighter for the next three weeks or so, moving from west of Orion to the west of the bright star Aldeberan, and then west of the Pleiades -- "The Seven Sisters."
This is a "long period comet," which will reappear in about 8,000 years, so don't wait around.
Finder charts can easily be found on the Web.
Looking forward, our team's highlights and predictions for 2015 include:
On Feb. 1, the DAWN mission spacecraft is to go into orbit around the famous dwarf planet 1 Ceres, and stay in orbit there for five months.
The objective is to "characterize the object's internal structure, density, shape, size, composition and mass and to return data on surface morphology, cratering, and magnetism," per NASA.
DAWN orbited minor planet 4 Vesta for 11 months in 2011 and 2012 and was very successful in gathering scientific data. Expect amazing images and science this year from DAWN.
The New Horizons mission will be passing Pluto and its moons in July. "Close Encounter" events from NASA start April 12, and the closest approach will be July 14.
The vehicle will have been traveling for eight years on Jan. 19, and is well past Neptune now on its way past Pluto at 31,300 miles per hour.
From Pluto, it will journey on to the Kuiper belt to explore at least one or two Kuiper Belt objects at fairly close range in 2016 and beyond.
The Rosetta mission vehicle will continue to fly with and monitor comet 67/P as long as that is feasible throughout 2015, with dates hard to predict for this first-ever mission to accompany a comet as it approaches the sun: perihelion will be Aug. 13.
Science is continuing, and our knowledge of this ancient object is continuing to grow. You can "listen" to the comet here: http://blogs.esa.int/rosetta/2014/12/19/music-of-the-irregular-spheres.
Planets around other stars will continue to be discovered -- the current count is about 1,823, plus our eight solar system planets.
This year the count could pass the 2,000 exoplanet number, and very likely more "earth-sized or super-earth" planets will be among them.
The only 2015 total lunar eclipse will be Sept 28. Make sure you mark it on the calendar -- don't want to miss the only one of the year.
At your observatory, there will be several enhancements to our technology to make the systems more robust and your experience even better.
We will also complete the "NASA Wall," a display of NASA artifacts that we have been receiving over the years. Much of it was to be in place Jan. 10 for Second Saturday Stars.
Galileo's Garden will continue to be developed in the spring and summer. Three hundred bright, red tulips were planted in late fall to welcome you in springtime.
We will be conducting two adult education classes as usual. The winter class will begin Feb. 25h. Enrollment is through the New Milford adult ed program.
Also, as a fundraiser, we have printed a magnificent 2015 calendar, with celestial images for each month taken on our equipment by volunteers and students.
If you are interested, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a great 2015, and keep looking up.