One of the season’s most distinctive flowers, bleeding hearts bloom in my wife’s flower garden this week. Photo: Bob King
One of the joys of my life are wildflowers. I’ve been identifying them, getting to know their habits, smells and time of first appearance since I was in high school. You can divide the spring, summmer and fall into "mini seasons" by flower types beginning with April’s hepaticas and ending with tansies and lion’s teeth. Whenever I see daisies glowing brightly in twilight, I know we’re approaching the beginning of summer’s heat.
This map shows the sky as you look moonward around 10:30 p.m. tonight. Created with Stellarium
Tonight the full moon becomes a flower of sorts, a blossom of brilliance along the southeastern horizon after sunset. May’s full moon is called the flower moon in recognition of the all-out flowering frenzy the month brings. For most locations in the western hemisphere, the moon will rise shortly after sunset in the constellation Scorpius the Scorpion. As a bonus, once it’s up high enough to clear the trees and buildings in your neighborhood, look just below it and to the right for the star Antares, the heart of the scorpion. The two will be separated by a little more than a degree or two full moon diameters. With binoculars, you’ll be able to better see the three stars that precede the moon known as the scorpion’s head.
SOFIA with its door open and telescope pointing to the sky during a test run. Credit: NASA
NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), a 100-inch telescope mounted in the rear fuselage of a modified 747SP aircraft, successfully completed its "First Light" mission yesterday. Scientists are still studying the images gathered by the telescope and will provide pictures in a few days. SOFIA flys 39,000 to 45,000 feet high above 99% of the water vapor in the atmosphere. Water vapor absorbs infrared (heat) light, preventing observatories on the ground from studying the universe in that spectral range. SOFIA solves the problem by literally flying above it all.
The difference between seeing the sky in ordinary or visual light and infrared (right) is dramatically illustrated in these two pictures of the constellation Orion. Infrared light reveals dust clouds and sites of star formation brilliantly. SOFIA can observe in visual light but is optimized for infrared. Credit: Akira Fujii (left); Infrared Astronomical Satellite (right)
The crew boarded the plane Tuesday night and spent almost 8 hours in the air gathering data. According to NASA, SOFIA will be used to "observe occultations of stars by solar system objects to help determine the objects’ sizes, compositions and atmospheric structures." It will also study how stars and planets are formed, how organic materials necessary for life form and evolve, and the nature of the black hole at the center of our Milky Way.
Grab a bag of peanuts and come along for the ride. You’ll find more information about SOFIA HERE or check out the informative video below.