OverSky for September 2003: GOODBLYE GALILEO
- OverSky for September 2003: GOODBYE GALILEO.
posted by Erich Landstrom, NASA JPL Solar System
On the last night of summer, the constellation of Lyra
the Harp stands straight overhead at sunset. Lyra is
part of the "Summer Triangle" asterism, formed by
three stars in three separate constellations. The
brightest star is Vega in Lyra, shining at the zenith,
lighting the world under it. Next is the star Deneb,
which is located in the constellation Cygnus the Swan.
Finally, the star Altair soars above the Earth in the
constellation Aquilla the Eagle. These three stars
appear as a right triangle with Vega at the 90 degree
intersection and Deneb and Altair along the
According to Greek myth, both the swan and the eagle
were sacred to the Roman god Jupiter, and Lyra once
belonged to the musician Orpheus, a singer so great he
could charm the birds out of the trees. On the day of
his wedding, his bride Eurydice was bitten by a snake
and died. Orpheus descended into the underworld, and
sang so persuasively of his love, that Pluto agreed to
let her follow Orpheus back to earth with one
condition. Orpheus was warned he must not to look
backwards at Eurydice even once during their ascent.
But just as their journey was almost over, as Orpheus
stepped into the sunlight, he was so eager to see his
wife that he turned to look at her. At once she
slipped back into the grave forever. Orpheus died by
being torn limb from limb by a group of women angry
with him for rejecting their advances. Orpheus� lyre
was placed in the sky by Jupiter, where it became the
Like a modern-day Orpheus, NASA�s Galileo spacecraft
comes to its finale on September 21st. It too will be
torn limb from limb, as it enters the underworld of
the planet Jupiter. Galileo was launched on October
18, 1989, and arrived at Jupiter in December 1995.
En-route it visited Venus; asteroids Ida, Dactyl, and
Gaspra; and the Earth and Moon. Although Galileo�s
damaged main antenna meant it could never sing as
sweetly as Orpheus, it did return impressive
information. Galileo's primary mission was to study
Jupiter's atmosphere, magnetosphere, and the four
largest moons for two years (1995-1997) from the
orbiting spacecraft and an atmospheric probe. In an
extended mission, for two more years (1997-1999)
Galileo studied in further detail and closer range
Jupiter's icy moon Europa and its fiery moon Io.
Galileo continued its studies under yet another
extension, called the Galileo Millennium Mission,
which saw joint observations of Jupiter with the
Cassini spacecraft as it flew by on its way to Saturn.
The Galileo spacecraft made a final visit to Jupiter�s
moon Amalthea in November 2002. The rendezvous set it
on a course to impact with Jupiter itself on September
21, 2003. It will be destroyed to prevent possible
contamination while still controllable, lest it drift
into an unwanted impact with the moon Europa, where
Galileo discovered evidence of a subsurface (there�s
that theme again!) ocean that is a possible habitat
for extraterrestrial life. Follow the descent at
Speaking of modern myths, in a clever
interdisciplinary approach, the wizardry of Harry
Potter has been blended with the �wow� of the Galileo
mission by Dr. Tony Phillips from NASA's Marshall
Space Flight Center. His Science@NASA website story
�Harry Potter and the Moons of Jupiter,� cites serious
astronomy references Hermione makes in �Harry Potter
and the Order of the Phoenix.�
I�ll bet she knows where the constellation of Phoenix
is in the southern hemisphere, too.
LUNAR ALMANAC SEPTEMBER 2003 (All times are Eastern
September 3: First Quarter (8:34 AM)
September 8 & 90: Moon by Mars (dusk)
September 10: Full Harvest Moon (12:36 PM)
September 16: Moon at apogee (404,714 km); lower high
tides, higher low tides.
September 18: Last Quarter (3:03 PM)
September 20: Moon by Saturn (dawn)
September 24: Moon between Jupiter and Mercury (dawn)
September 25: New Moon (11:09 PM)
September 28: Moon at perigee (362,834 km); higher
high tides, lower low tides.
Tip: The full moon's diameter measures about 1/2 of
one degree in the night sky.
SOLAR ALMANAC SEPTEMBER 2003 (All times are Eastern at
the 80 deg. N. longitude of West Palm Beach. Add 20
minutes to each time for each 5� west.)
Sep. 1: Sun Rise: 6:59 AM EST, Sun Set: 7:40 PM
Sep. 14: Sun Rise: 7:05 AM EDT, Sun Set: 7:26 PM
Sep. 28: Sun Rise: 7:12 AM EDT, Sun Set: 7:08 PM
EARTH: the autumn equinox begins at 6:47 AM EST on
September 23rd. Going to try balancing an egg?
MARS is magnificent even as it drops a magnitude (mag.
-2.5), its ginger glow easily visible after sunset in
the southeast. Mars continues to move retrograde
through Aquarius until the 29th.
SATURN shines (mag. +0.1) between the kneecaps of
Castor and Pollux, the Gemini Twins, visible high in
southeast at dawn.
JUPITER (mag. -1.7) and MERCURY are low in the east
about an hour before sunrise in the constellation Leo,
and sets about 3 � hours after the Sun.
VENUS in Virgo is too close to the Sun to be seen
Join the "science giant" Erich Landstrom on SCIFI
OVERDRIVE radio program for science fiction, and
science fact stranger sounding than fiction. It�s like
Paul Harvey, with pointy ears. Listen to a broadcast
Monday mornings on the Business Talk radio network and
at www.scifioverdrive.com over the Internet!
Erich Landstrom, NASA JPL Solar System Educator
Solar System Educators Program http://www.ssep.org
[Hands-on teacher training workshops sharing NASA's
missions of research, discovery and exploration!]
Science fiction & science fact stranger than fiction.
Listen Monday mornings on http://www.SCIFIOVERDRIVE.com
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