OverSky for December 2003: FIRST FLIGHT
posted by Erich Landstrom, NASA JPL Solar System
From author Douglas Adams: �This is what The
Hitchhiker�s Guide to the Galaxy has to say on the
subject of flying: There is an art, or, rather, a
knack to flying. The knack lies in learning how to
throw yourself at the ground and miss. Pick a nice day
and try it.�
December 17, 1903 wasn�t a nice day. It was a cold,
damp, windy day with temperatures below freezing and
steady winds blowing at 27 miles per hour. But it was
also the day men first flew in a heavier-than-air
machine. At 10:35 AM, the world�s first successful
powered aircraft lifted off the beach at the Outer
Banks of North Carolina. Pilot Orville Wright took it
on a 12-second, 120-foot journey into history. With
December 17, 2003, marks the centennial anniversary of
the world's first powered flight
In the 100 years since brother Wilbur took the
controls of the Wright Flyer, consider how far we have
come. For the fourth and flight of the day, Wilbur
covered 852 feet in 59 seconds. By December 17, 2003,
NASA�s Voyager 1 spacecraft will have flown 8.4
billion miles beyond the Outer Banks into outer space,
in 26 years. Its instruments register that the solar
wind of electrically charged gas blown constantly from
the Sun has died down from about 700,000 miles per
hour to less than 100,000 mph, and still Voyager 1
flies on (http://voyager.jpl.nasa.gov/).
On December 24, 1968, three astronauts had flown
1,267,200,000 feet in 3 days, so far above the dunes
of Kitty Hawk, NC, that they were now flying above the
hills of the Moon. Apollo 8, the first manned mission
to the Moon, entered lunar orbit on Christmas Eve.
That evening, the astronauts; Commander Frank Borman,
Command Module Pilot Jim Lovell, and Lunar Module
Pilot William Anders did a live television broadcast
from lunar orbit in which they showed pictures of the
Earth. On December 24, 2003, ESA's Mars Express probe
is scheduled to arrive at Mars. On Christmas Eve, the
British-made Beagle 2 lander is expected to throw
itself at the ground and land safely using parachutes
and airbags. Like the first flight on Earth 100 years
earlier, the weather on Mars at Isidis Planitia will
be cold. Temperatures on the red planet fall below
�125�C but there is not enough moisture in the
atmosphere to make it damp. The first images of Mars
from the cameras of Beagle 2 and Mars Express are
expected to be available between the end of the year
and the beginning of January 2004
Appropriate to all this flying, the constellation of
Pegasus the Winged Horse is straight overhead at
sunset in December, with Mars just beneath it. The
stars of the �Great Square� that form Pegasus� torso
are all bright, formed by a four star diamond with
magnitudes between 2 and 3: alpha Peg, beta Peg, gamma
Peg and Sirrah. Originally the fourth star was called
delta Peg, but nowadays this star is assigned to the
neighboring constellation Andromeda. She rides on the
wings of an airborne equine, a fable of flight for all
LUNAR ALMANAC DECEMBER 2003 (All times are Eastern
December 1: Moon by Mars
December 7: Moon at apogee (406,275 km); lower high
tides, higher low tides.
December 8: Full Moon (3:37 PM)
December 10: Moon by Saturn
December 15: Moon by Jupiter
December 16: Last Quarter (12:43 PM)
December 22: Moon at perigee (358,348 km); higher high
tides, lower low tides.
December 23: New Moon (4:44 AM)
December 25: Moon by Venus
December 30: First Quarter (5:05 AM)
Tip: The full moon's diameter measures about 1/2 of
one degree in the night sky.
SOLAR ALMANAC DECEMBER 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.)
December 1: Sun Rise: 6:51 AM, Sun Set: 5:26 PM
December 15: Sun Rise: 7:00 AM, Sun Set: 5:29 PM
December 31: Sun Rise: 7:08 AM, Sun Set: 5:37 PM
VENUS (mag. -4.0) passes from Sagittarius to
Capricornus, low in the west at sunset.
MERCURY (mag. 0.5) is lower than Venus and to her
right in Capricornus, easily visible in the west after
sunset during the first 2 weeks of December.
MARS shines beneath the Circlet of Pisces at mag.
-0.5). Its ginger glow is easily visible after sunset
in the south.
SATURN shines (mag. -0.83) between the kneecaps of
Castor and Pollux, the Gemini Twins, visible low in
the west-northwest at dawn.
JUPITER beams brightly (mag. -2.6) at the hind feet of
Leo high in the southeast before dawn.
EARTH sees the shortest day of the year for the
northern hemisphere, as the winter solstice occurs on
December 22nd at 2:04 AM EST.
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
[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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