Mar 17

What’s Up in the Sky

What’s Up in the Sky – March, 2015

Space “Pioneers”?

I find it interesting that I hear many things for the first time in the locker room at the Dow Center after noon ball. A fellow roundballer asked me if I had heard about the 100 finalists that have been chosen for a one-way trip to Mars. I, of course, actually being on Mars at the time, never had, so he told me all about it. Interestingly, the next day I saw a story in a local news media outlet about the young lady from Dorr who is one of the finalists. So I Googled it.

Turns out, this is not a new idea, but it is the first time people have been recruited to go. I remember being at a NASA Educators’ Conference in conjunction with the (failed) Mars Polar Lander mission in 1999. At that conference I attended a talk by Robert Zubrin of the Mars Society who spoke on the prospect of colonizing Mars with current technologies.

A quick search of the topic reveals that a number of big names, such as Zubrin and Buzz Aldrin, and groups like Mars-One and Mars-to-Stay are already greatly involved in a Mars endeavor. However, the “Mars-One” project is not without its critics. For one thing, it plans to raise significant funds via a reality TV show where viewers will be able to follow the “colonists” 24/7. My first reaction is, right . . . and we cancelled the last two Apollo missions due to lack of interest. When viewers lose interest are we going to leave the explorers stranded? Remember “The Truman Show”? Remember the Space Shuttle?

Of course, the concept has its avid supporters who argue that we are natural explorers and it is our destiny to populate the solar system. Only time will tell the who is right on this, but until there is a driving reason to colonize Mars (other than tourism) I think there is a chance it may end up like gyrocopters and Betamax.

If you are satisfied with observing the planets rather than traveling to them, then next month offers several opportunities. The evening sky is still dominated by Venus in the west and Jupiter in the southeast. In fact, Venus can be your guide to other planets as well. On the evening of March 4, observe Venus with a pair of binoculars around 8:30 p.m. Below it you should be able to spot Mars and between them will be Uranus. If you look one day either side of the 4th, you will be able to pick out Uranus by its change in position.

For an easier event to witness, go out one hour after sunset on March 21 and 22. The thin crescent Moon will be right next to Mars on the 21st and Venus on the 22nd. Hopefully by then the weather will allow us to enjoy what’s up in the sky.

This month in history:
March 1 George O. Abell born – 1927
March 4 Jupiter’s ring is discovered – 1979
March 14 Albert Einstein born – 1879; Gene Cernan born – 1934
March 18 Voskhod 2 cosmonaut, Alexei Leonov, makes worlds first spacewalk – 1965
March 22 Comet Hale-Bopp passes closest to Earth – 1997
March 25 Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, discovered by Christiaan Huygens – 1655