moon

By Jove, it’s Jupiter!

By Jim Haklar

If you look high in the south at sunset this time of year, you’ll see a bright “star” that’s really not a star at all. You’ll be looking at Jupiter – the largest planet in the solar system.

Jupiter is the 5th planet from the sun and is called a “gas giant” planet because it doesn’t have a solid surface (like the Earth). According to NASA, Jupiter’s atmosphere is made up of mostly hydrogen and helium, similar to the Sun, and if Jupiter were more massive it would have become a star. There is a huge storm in Jupiter’s atmosphere called the Great Red Spot. The Great Red Spot has been around for hundreds of years and is so big that the Earth can fit inside it!

Jupiter has over 50 moons and four of them are bright enough to be seen with binoculars. These four moons were discovered by Galileo in 1610 and are called the Galilean moons. The Galilean moons are named Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. Io, the Galilean moon closest to Jupiter, has volcanos that are active. The surface of Europa is covered in ice and may have an ocean of water underneath. Ganymede is larger than the planet Mercury; it’s the largest moon in the solar system. Callisto’s surface has many craters and is thought to be very old, from the time when the solar system was young.

If you look at Jupiter over several hours you can actually see the moons moving. In a small telescope you can sometimes see the shadow of the moons cross over the planet’s atmosphere. This is called a shadow transit.

Right now Jupiter is easy to see right after sunset. But over the next few months it will start appearing lower at sunset until it passes behind the Sun in August. Then it will once again become visible, but in the morning before sunrise. So try and catch the “King of the Planets” before it’s too late!

About the Author: Jim is an environmental engineer at EPA’s Edison, New Jersey Environmental Center.  In his 30 years with the Agency he has worked in a variety of programs including Superfund, Water Management, Public Affairs, and Toxic Substances.  He has been an amateur astronomer since he was a teenager, and can often be found after work in the back of the Edison facility with one of his telescopes.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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A Heavenly Trio

By Jim Haklar

I took this picture on February 20th from the back of the Edison Environmental Center. The Moon was near Venus (the bright “star” to the Moon’s left) and Mars (just above Venus). Think about the range of distances represented in this picture:

The trees were about 0.04 mile away;

The Moon was about 240,000 miles away;

Venus was 130 million miles away; and

Mars was 205 million miles away.

It’s sobering when you consider the scale of the solar system.

About the Author: Jim is an environmental engineer at EPA’s Edison, New Jersey Environmental Center. In his nearly 30 years with the agency he has worked in a variety of programs including Superfund, Water Management, Public Affairs, and Toxic Substances. He has been an amateur astronomer since he was a teenager, and can often be found after work in the back of the Edison facility with his telescope.

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Eclipse-Mania!

The October 8, 2014 total lunar eclipse.

The October 8, 2014 total lunar eclipse.

By Jim Haklar

I love eclipses. I mean, I really love eclipses! I love eclipses so much that two years ago, I flew to Albuquerque for the weekend to see a solar eclipse. But more about that later…

An eclipse happens when the Earth, Moon and Sun all line up. Technically, this is called syzygy (try to form that word in a game of Scrabble). A lunar eclipse happens when the earth is between the Moon and the Sun. When the Moon is between the Sun and the Earth you get a solar eclipse. Lunar eclipses happen when the Moon is full and solar eclipses occur when the Moon is new. So, why don’t we have an eclipse twice a month? Well, the Moon’s orbit is tilted by a little over five degrees. So most of the time there isn’t perfect alignment and you don’t have syzygy.

From any given location on the Earth, lunar eclipses are more frequently seen than solar eclipses. That’s because the Earth casts a bigger shadow on the Moon than the Moon does on the Earth. The shadows consist of two parts. There is a smaller, darker umbra surrounded by the lighter penumbra. If you are in a location where the Moon’s umbra passes through, you will see a total solar eclipse. Otherwise the solar eclipse will be partial (since you will be in the penumbra). For lunar eclipses, the situation is a little different. The Moon can completely or partially pass through the Earth’s umbra (resulting in a total or partial lunar eclipse) or just pass though the penumbra (called a penumbral eclipse).

Now for my Albuquerque story. Two years ago the Moon’s umbra passed directly in front of the Sun and this was visible in many cities including Albuquerque (I went to Albuquerque because of the clear weather). But since the Moon was at a point in its orbit when it was farther away from the Earth, it didn’t completely block out the Sun. Instead, an annulus or ring of light from the Sun’s disk encircled the Moon. This is called an annular solar eclipse.

On August 21, 2017 there will be the first a total solar eclipse visible from the contiguous United States in over 30 years. Information on the best places to see the eclipse is already on the Web, so start think about taking an eclipse vacation!

About the Author: Jim is an environmental engineer at the EPA’s Edison, New Jersey Environmental Center. In his 28 years with the agency he has worked in a variety of programs including Superfund, Water Management, Public Affairs, and Toxic Substances. He has been an amateur astronomer since he was a teenager, and can often be found after work in the back of the Edison facility with his telescope.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Watching a Rocket Launch

By Jim Haklar

NASA Rocket Launch

NASA Rocket Launch

I have always enjoyed watching NASA’s rocket launches on television, whether they were the Apollo Moon missions or an unmanned probe. In 2008, I was lucky enough to be at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida for the launch of the space shuttle Atlantis. It was an awesome sight that I’ll never forget.

But did you know that you can see rocket launches without going all the way to Florida? NASA has a facility in Virginia, called the Wallops Flight Facility, where rockets are launched. And depending on the weather, the time of the launch, and where you live, you just may be able to see one of these rockets head into space.

I had such an opportunity on September 6, 2013, when NASA launched the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer – LADEE for short. The launch was scheduled for 11:37 p.m. and the sky was clear. From my viewpoint at the EPA’s Edison, New Jersey Environmental Center, I first saw the rocket about a minute after lift-off. While I couldn’t see any details on the rocket, I could easily see the exhaust. In about a minute it was all over and the rocket headed into orbit, ultimately destined for the Moon.

Launches from the Wallops Flight Facility are announced beforehand with detailed information on when and where to look, so if you’re interested pull up a lawn chair and enjoy. It’s fun, and you don’t have to travel all the way to Florida!

About the Author: Jim is an environmental engineer at EPA’s Edison, New Jersey Environmental Center. In his 28 years with the Agency he has worked in a variety of programs including Superfund, Water Management, Public Affairs, and Toxic Substances. He has been an amateur astronomer since he was a teenager, and can often be found after work in the back of the Edison facility waiting for the next rocket launch.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Where Were You That Day?

Haga clic en la imagen para unirse a la conversación en nuestro blog en español... ¡No olvide de suscribirse!

By Lina Younes

There are historic events that become engrained in our collective memories. I’m talking about those events that, even decades later, you remember exactly what you were doing when you first heard the news. Some of these events like the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the Challenger disaster, or September 11 obviously are linked to tragedies. However, there was particular event that captivated the world because of its magnitude and significance. Nearly half a century later, that one occurrence, that one step launched us into a new era of science, technology and exploration. What is the significant event that I’m referring to? The first lunar landing.

With the recent passing of former astronaut, Neil Armstrong, many of us shared our thoughts on the passing of this great American. For those of us who witnessed that moment in history, discussions via social media allowed us to share those recollections of how we experienced the first landing on the moon. Where were we? What were we doing at the time? Did we fully understand the significance of the moment? It was interesting to note that even Neil Armstrong who is described by many as a humble and reluctant hero did not classify that momentous occasion as a feat just for the United States, but as “a giant leap for mankind.”

As I’ve stated in previous blog entries, space exploration has opened a new world of science and technology that has benefitted us here on Earth, yet we take for granted. Did you know that NASA satellites opened a new world of communications that facilitated innovations in the mobile technologies of today? How about innovations in Earth sciences to analyze the quality of our air and other natural resources? Did you know that materials developed by NASA scientists have contributed to green technologies like solar panels? Did you know that technology developed as a result of the space program has also contributed to the development of better prothstetics and robotics used in medicine for the benefit of all mankind? These are just some of the positive outcomes of the space program that are only made possible by investing in science and technology. These successes are only possible if more students study science, technology, engineering and math. I’m sure there is another Neil Armstrong or Sally Ride within our midst who will open the door to new worlds. The stars are the limit!

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Spying on the Lunar Landscape

By Jim Haklar

Here’s an image of the moon’s crater, Tycho, that I took in March of this year (Tycho is the bright crater in the center of the picture).  Tycho is about 50 miles in diameter and it is very young – only around 108 million years old!  There are other craters on the moon that are almost 4 billion years old, so Tycho is a mere baby compared to those senior citizens of the lunar landscape.  Tycho was formed as a result of another celestial body hitting the moon at that spot, and with binoculars you can see “rays” of bright material that has been thrown far away from the impact site.

Tycho has a role in the science fiction movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, since it is the location where modern humans find an alien machine (or “monolith”) buried in the crater.

I’ve always been interested in the night sky, and I can remember receiving my first (toy) telescope when I was about six years old.  While my interest in astronomy increased in high school, I only started getting seriously into astrophotography – a hobby that combines astronomy and photography – about 10 years ago.  Since then I’ve taken pictures of the sun, moon, planets and “deep sky” objects, all of which I would like to share with you.  The hobby has come a very long way since I started looking through a telescope many years ago!

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Jet by the Light of the Moon

A plane taking off from Newark Airport.

By Jim Haklar

I have to start off by saying that this is a real, not composite, image. The plane actually flew in front of the moon. It was taken almost three years ago on a sticky summer night at the Edison Environmental Center, EPA’s laboratory facilities in Edison, New Jersey. I didn’t intend to catch a plane flying in front of the moon, but as I was focusing my telescope one plane flew by and I missed the shot. Since the Environmental Center is near the flight path of Newark Liberty Airport, one of the busiest airports in the United States, all I had to do was wait a few minutes for another plane to go by. The only problem I had was fighting off the mosquitoes!

I’ve always been interested in the night sky and I received my first (toy) telescope when I was about six years old. My interest in astronomy increased in high school, but I only started getting seriously into astrophotography – a hobby that combines astronomy and photography – about 10 years ago. Since then I’ve taken pictures of the sun, moon, planets and “deep sky” objects. The hobby has come a very long way since I started looking through a telescope many years ago!

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Spying on the Lunar Landscape

By Jim Haklar

Here’s an image of the moon’s crater, Tycho, that I took in March of this year (Tycho is the bright crater in the center of the picture). Tycho is about 50 miles in diameter and it is very young – only around 108 million years old! There are other craters on the moon that are almost 4 billion years old, so Tycho is a mere baby compared to those senior citizens of the lunar landscape. Tycho was formed as a result of another celestial body hitting the moon at that spot, and with binoculars you can see “rays” of bright material that has been thrown far away from the impact site.

Tycho has a role in the science fiction movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, since it is the location where modern humans find an alien machine (or “monolith”) buried in the crater.

I’ve always been interested in the night sky, and I can remember receiving my first (toy) telescope when I was about six years old. While my interest in astronomy increased in high school, I only started getting seriously into astrophotography – a hobby that combines astronomy and photography – about 10 years ago. Since then I’ve taken pictures of the sun, moon, planets and “deep sky” objects, all of which I would like to share with you. The hobby has come a very long way since I started looking through a telescope many years ago!

About the author: Jim is an environmental engineer in EPA’s Edison Environmental Center, currently working in the PCB program. Since 1985 he has worked in a number of different programs including water permits and compliance, Superfund, and public affairs.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.