By Vernon Whetstone
I delayed starting this until I knew space shuttle Atlantis had launched this morning (Friday). It did, and it was almost on time. Only three minutes late.
This was the last launch of the last flying shuttle. After the STS-135 mission the space shuttle program will end.
All future resupply missions to the International Space Station will depend on the Russian space agency and any private space companies that can manage to get a flyable vehicle into space.
At the present that possibility is many, many years down the road.
After watching the launch I found a gadget that shows in almost real time, the location of the shuttle. It uses the Google Earth program and shows exactly where the shuttle is at any given moment.
Needless to say, I then spent many hours watching Atlantis orbit Earth.
Once, during the first orbit after launch, I saw the shuttle was going to pass just north of my location in southwest Nebraska.
As it got closer the little kid in me who likes to watch airplanes fly over, grabbed my binoculars and headed outside.
True, it was broad daylight, true it was not exactly overhead, but there was the possibility–until reality set in. I discovered the sky was clouded out to the north. Alas.
At present, we are about a third of the way through our summer. In the north, the Big and Little Dippers started summer with Little Dipper handle pointing down and the Big Dipper handle pointing up.
By September the Big Dipper will be parallel with the northern horizon and the Little Dipper directly over it.
Come December, when winter starts, they will be back with their tails pointing in opposite directions again. This time the Big Dipper down and the Little Dipper up.
Now, I was going to discuss a great summer constellation, Sagittarius, The Archer who is coming into his best position for summer viewing. That is when I discovered the almost full moon will be directly in front of it this week.
Wait until Saturday after 10 p.m. MDT when the moon will be rising later and be mostly out of the way.
Sagittarius is located just left of Scorpius just above the southern horizon.
When I was growing up I learned Sagittarius as an archer. The three stars on his right were the bow, the stars behind were his head and body and the three stars on the left were his arm holding an arrow ready to shoot into Antares, the heart of the Scorpion.
These days many astronomers depict him as a teapot. I consider that a step down, but I am willing to go with the flow because, really, the teapot is easier to find.
Go back to the bow, that is the right side of the teapot with the top stars forming a spout. The three stars on the left form the looped handle and the triangle on top is the lid.
The great span of the Milky Way is the steam coming out of the pot’s spout reaching completely across the sky from south to north. Once you know what to look for, you will have no difficulty finding it.
Sky Watch: Full moon, July 15. The planet Neptune celebrates its first birthday since being discovered. A year on Neptune lasts 165 earth-years. It was discovered this month 165 years ago. You might just be able to find Neptune using binoculars. Wait until July 21, and find the leftmost star in Capricornus which is just left of Sagittarius. Neptune will be just a little more than one binocular field of view to the left of that star.