Moon Eclipse, Mercury News And The ISS Marathon Continues

Earth casts its shadow over the moon during a total lunar eclipse, seen from a hill in Vallentuna outside of Stockholm, Sweden a few minutes before midnight, Wednesday, June 15, 2011. The total lunar eclipse was visible throughout most parts of Europe on Wednesday evening. (AP Photo/Scanpix, P M Heden)

I sure enjoyed watching the lunar eclipse online yesterday. Hopefully you saw it too, either for real or via the web link. Moon eclipses typically unfold over several hours, with the climax – the moon totally immersed in Earth’s shadow – lasting about an hour. This is so unlike a total solar eclipse, which occurs along a narrow strip of Earth with a climax lasting but several minutes. Lunars are relaxed affairs visible across an entire hemisphere, while solar eclipses usually require travel and careful planning. It’s a yin-yang thing, this eclipse business.

Two newly named craters on Mercury photographed by MESSENGER - Toc ( left) and Fugue (right). Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/ CIW

New results from the Mercury MESSENGER spacecraft were released today. The probe has been studying the planet up close since it entered orbit in March. Scientists are finding all kinds of interesting things like volcanic deposits several kilometers thick in Mercury’s plains, bright halos around rimless pits on some craters’ floors that might be volatile material (liquid or vapor) shot out from the crust and surface rocks that differ from those found on the moon. In particular, substantial amounts of sulfur in have been discovered in their makeup. To learn more about the findings, check out the latest press release.

A large meteorite about the size of the school bus struck the ground and blasted out Meteor Crater 50,000 years ago. Credit: Shane Torgerson

Are you a graduate student or advanced undergrad? Do you think craters are cool? If you answered ‘yes’ to both questions, check out NASA’s Lunar Science Institute’s Meteor Crater field camp, a week of fun in the sun at Meteor Crater, the best preserved and first positively identified impact crater on Earth. The camp runs from September 25 – October 1 this fall and is limited to 16 students.

If chosen, you’ll learn about impact processes and do research at the crater. If you can’t quite meet the above qualifications but are spending time in the West on vacation this summer,  stop by the museum at Meteor Crater and take the tour along the crater’s rim. I guarantee the size of that hole (3/4 miles across, 550 feet deep) will leave a lasting impression.

One of the more delightful details of the tour I made five years ago was the little  storage area built into the crater’s upraised rim. Beer cans and food containers used by Apollo astronauts during their training sessions  in the 1960s still stood in neat rows on shelves. Meteor Crater is located 35 miles east of Flagstaff, Arizona off I-40. Click HERE for hours and more info.

The ISS passes right next to the bright star Vega in Lyra last June. Photo: Bob King

The International Space Station (ISS) marathon continues this week with lots more passes. If you’re up for staying out late and communing vicariously with the astronauts, here’s a list of viewing times for the Duluth, Minn. region. Perhaps some of the marathoners piling into our town for Saturday’s Grandma’s Marathon might be game for this additional challenge.

For times for your town, click HERE and enter your zip code or stop by Heavens Above. The ISS will first appear in the west-northwest sky and move eastward. A typical pass lasts about five minutes. You can’t miss the station – it’s brighter than the brightest stars.

Thurs. night-Friday morning June 16-17

* First pass begins at 10:46 p.m. Next passes are at 12:22 a.m., 1:58 a.m. (bright and high up) and 3:33 a.m. (very low in west)

Fri. night- Sat. morning June 17-18

* First pass at 9:40 p.m. (very high and bright.) Next passes at 11:16 p.m., 12:52 a.m. and 2:28 a.m. (low in west)

Sat. night-Sun. morning June 18-19

* First pass at 10:11 p.m. Next passes are at 11:47 p.m. and 1:22 a.m. (high and bright)

Sun. night-Mon. morning June 19-20

* First pass at 10:41 p.m. followed by passes at 12:17 a.m. and 1:53 a.m. (very low in the northwest).