Science Doesn’t Sleep (7.3.08)

Lotus heart
Creative Commons License photo credit: tanakawho

So here’s what went down after you logged off.

A short circuit may take down the Phoenix Mars Lander – NASA scientists are treating the next soil test as possibly the last.

Brain food. And, heart food.

Would you like to know what your Congressional leader thinks about science? Scientists and Engineers for America has your back.

Endangered species: you may be even more endangered than we thought.

Double threat: the location of stone age cave drawings appear to have been chosen for musical reasons.

Curiously, no cherry trees were found on the property. National Geographic has photos of George Washington’s childhood home – identified from an excavation of the foundation.

After the fireworks die down tomorrow night, keep looking. Mars, Saturn and the bright star Regalus will be lined up all in a row.

Go stargazing! June edition

Say Aaaaaah
Creative Commons License photo credit: exfordy

Mars and Saturn are high in the west at dusk this month.  Look west at dusk to find stars in the shape of a backwards question mark.  These form the mane of Leo, the lion.  The ‘point’ under the question mark is Regulus, a star of similar brightness. Saturn is to Regulus’ upper left.  Mars is to the lower right of Saturn, easily outshining the very dim stars around it.  Saturn is the brighter of the two; Mars continues to fade each day as Earth pulls away from it. 

This month, you can watch Mars dramatically close in on Saturn.  Mars begins the month about 20 degrees to the lower right of Saturn. (Your fist, held at arm’s length, blocks about 10 degrees.) By month’s end, Mars will be next to Regulus, less than 5 degrees from Saturn.

The Moon is near Mars on June 7, and near Regulus and Saturn on June 8. 

Jupiter is in the predawn sky this month, in the southeast at dawn. It outshines everything else there unless the Moon is present.  It is now also a late evening object, rising by 11 p.m. on June 1 and just after dusk on June 30.  Next month, it will be up all night long. 

Venus is lost in the Sun’s glare, and will remain out of sight through the end of the summer.  On June 8, Venus is directly behind the Sun, an alignment called ‘superior conjunction’


Rho Oph Cloud Star Forming Region
Creative Commons License photo credit: Image Editor

The brightest star in the sky tonight is Arcturus, which you can find by extending the arc of the Big Dipper’s handle (‘arc to Arcturus’).  Arcturus, the fourth brightest star we see at night, is the brightest star left since the top three are not visible in Houston in June. 

The Big Dipper happens to be near its highest point above the North Star at dusk this month.  In the east, look for the enormous Summer Triangle, consisting of the stars Deneb, Vega, and Altair.  This triangle is up all night long in June and July, hence its name. 

Creative Commons License photo credit: uhuru1701

Scorpius, the Scorpion, is in the southeast at dusk.  Sagittarius, the Archer, known for its ‘teapot’ asterism, rises just after dusk on June 1, but is up by nightfall on June 30.


Moon Phases in June 2008:

New    June 3, 2:23 pm
1st Quarter  June 10, 10:02 am
Full   June 18, 12:30 pm
Last Quarter  June 26, 7:10 pm


At 6:59 pm on Friday, June 20, the Sun is overhead on the Tropic of Cancer, the most northerly latitude at which the Sun can be overhead.  This is the moment of the summer solstice, the official start of summer.  For anyone in the Northern Hemisphere, June 20 has more daylight than any other day this year.  In the Southern Hemisphere, June 20 marks the winter solstice and is the shortest day of the year. 

However, the earliest sunrise occurs ten days before the solstice, on June 10, while the latest sunset is on the evening of June 30.  Since most of us sleep through sunrise and witness sunset, the days will seem to lengthen until the end of month although they begin getting (slightly) shorter after June 20.

For the best viewing conditions, get as far away from the city as you can – and visit us again to let us know what you see.

On Sunday, May 25, the Phoenix Mars Lander arrived safely on Mars.  Larger than the Mars rovers (which are still actively doing science on the Red Planet), Phoenix itself is not a rover; it will remain in the polar region where it landed.  Its mission is twofold: to study the history of water on Mars, and to determine if there is a habitable zone where the polar ice meets the soil.   You can follow the mission at its main website.