I stayed up late last night. Late enough for the crickets, katydids, owls and coyotes to be my companions. The bigger, hairier creatures had mostly gone to bed. Engines had stopped. No dogs barked. The last quarter moon rose around midnight and brightened the sky but not enough to wipe out the Milky Way.
This week, the moon continues to wane, but to the gang at mission control at India’s Space Research Organization (ISRO) it looms large! The Chandrayaan-2 mission, which launched on July 22 and entered lunar orbit on Aug. 19, returned its first photo of the moon on Aug. 21. It was taken over the lunar farside and features the prominent crater Apollo, 334 miles (537 km) across.
On Sept. 7, the orbiter will dispatch the Vikram lander to the surface near the moon’s south pole. If successful, India will become the fourth country after Russia, the U.S. and China to successfully soft-land a craft on the moon. Once on the surface, a tiny rover named Pragyan will roll down a ramp, sniff around, take pictures and make measurements. The surface mission will last just one lunar day, equal to about 14 Earth days. The sun rises on Day 1, slowly tracks across the sky and sets on Day 14. That’s one l-o-n-g day.
The pole is terribly out of the way but of great interest to future astronauts and could serve as a future moon base because the permanently shadowed floors of craters there harbor reserves of water ice. Untouched by sunlight for billions of years we may find extremely primitive materials there from the dawn of the solar system’s formation more than 4 billion years ago. You can read more the mission here.
If you’re up til bar closing this evening cast a glance at the moon, low in the northeastern sky around 1 a.m. It shines from inside the Hyades Star Cluster not far from Aldebaran, the brightest star in Taurus. You’ll see Aldebaran with the naked eye but need binoculars to see how the Hyades snuggle the moon. Just one outstretched fist above the Hyades say hello to the Pleiades cluster, better known as the Seven Sisters.
Want to send your name and your kids’ names to Mars? More than 8.5 million people including me have signed up. I’ll go to Mars any way I can — if I can’t send myself, my name will do. Mars Rover 2020 will soon be taking off for the Red Planet (in 328 days), so head over to the Send Your Name to Mars site and get your boarding pass. Deadline for submission is Sept. 30 at 11:59 ET.