In the Sky This Week – February 16, 2021

This entry is part 183 of 192 in the series In the Sky This Week

Perseverance Mars Rover

NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover lands on Thursday Feb. 18th, and NASA is inviting the public to take part in virtual activities and events as the rover nears entry, descent, and landing. Touchdown on Mars is scheduled for approximately 3:55 p.m. EST Thursday! This will be the second landing on Mars using the sky crane maneuver to lower the heavy rover down to the surface.

An illustration of NASA’s Perseverance rover landing safely on Mars. Hundreds of critical events must execute perfectly and exactly on time for the rover to land safely on Feb. 18th. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The waxing crescent Moon appears high in the west-southwestern sky after sunset on Feb. 16th.

West-southwestern sky after sunset
The Moon appears high in the west-southwestern sky after sunset on Feb. 16th. Credit: Bob Trembley / Stellarium.

The Moon appears near Mars high in the southern sky after sunset on Feb. 18th, then by the star Aldebaran on Feb. 19th and 20th.

Mercury and Saturn appear low above the east-southeastern horizon before dawn this week; by early next week those two planets will be a bit higher above the horizon, and Jupiter will join them.

In a previous post, I wondered if a space telescope observing the Sun would catch a glimpse of these planets… sure did!

The Moon is a waxing crescent – visible to the southwest in the early evening.

The first quarter Moon occurs on Feb. 19th – visible high in the southern sky in early evening.

After Feb. 19th, the Moon will be a waxing gibbous – visible to the southeast in early evening, and up for most of the night.

Moon
The Moon from 2021-02-16 – 2021-02-22 Visualizations by Ernie Wright / NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio.

If you click on the Moon image above, or click this link, you will go to NASA’s Moon Phase and Libration, 2021 page – it will show you what the Moon looks like right now. If you click the image on that page, you will download a high-rez TIFF image annotated with the names of prominent features – helpful for logging your lunar observations!

Moon News – Awwwwwwwwww

The Sun has been spotless for 12 days – that would mean that the “small, as-of-yet unnamed, sunspot rotating into view” from last week faded, and was not named.

The southern coronal hole remains huge, the northern coronal hole is medium-sized with a large tendril stretching down towards the equator; a large coronal hole is rotating into view (left).

The Sun seen in 193 angstroms (extreme ultraviolet) February 15, 2021:

A couple long-lived prominences, with several short-lived prominences popping up all around the limb of the Sun over the last couple days.

The Sun seen in 304 angstroms (extreme ultraviolet) February 15, 2021:

Videos courtesy of NASA/SDO and the AIA, EVE, and HMI science teams.
You can view the Sun in near real-time, in multiple frequencies here: SDO-The Sun Now.
You can create your own time-lapse movies of the Sun here: AIA/HMI Browse Data.
You can browse all the SDO images of the Sun from 2010 to the present here: Browse SDO archive.

Solar Activity on Facebook – Run by Volunteer NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador Pamela Shivak

Sun $ Moon
SOLARACTIVITY PICTURE OF THE DAY for February 16, 2021 is this awesome moon/sun composition by Mehmet Ergün. Details: ” Moon and Sun ☀️ (Composition) The sun is from yesterday 02/14/2021 Equipment: Fornax F52, Lunt LS80, QHY5iii290m, WO FLT 132, Pentax K1″

Solar Corona

Solar wind speed is 360.5 km/sec, with a density of 15.4 protons/cm3 at 1120 UT.

Near real-time animation of the corona and solar wind from the Solar & Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO):

SOHO LASCO C2 Latest Image
Animated LASCO C2 Coronograph showing the solar corona above the Sun’s limb (the white circle). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech-SOHO

Sun News: Animation of Cosmic Rays and the Heliopause

This animation shows how variations in the size of the heliosphere affect how many cosmic rays reach Earth. As the heliosphere expands, it blocks more cosmic rays, and as it contracts, more cosmic rays get through and can affect astronauts and satellites. – NASA

Near-Earth objects (NEOs) discovered this month: 187, this year: 437, all time: 25,254  (+134)
Potentially hazardous asteroids: 2170  (updated  2021-02-16)
Total Minor Planets
discovered (NASA): 1,059,992  (+11,666)
Total Minor Planets discovered (MPC): 1,026,572 (This value has not been updated in months)

Upcoming Earth-asteroid encounters:

Asteroid
Date(UT)
Miss Distance
Velocity (km/s)
Diameter (m)
2021 BS3
2021-Feb-16
17.3 LD
10.4
63
2021 CZ7
2021-Feb-16
3.2 LD
9.2
8
2021 BM
2021-Feb-17
6 LD
2.9
31
2021 CH5
2021-Feb-17
12.2 LD
9
16
2021 CD5
2021-Feb-18
12 LD
14.9
26
2020 CX1
2021-Feb-18
4.9 LD
8.3
56
2021 CM1
2021-Feb-18
18.2 LD
6.4
27
2021 CU8
2021-Feb-18
3.1 LD
12.7
7
2021 CE8
2021-Feb-19
7.5 LD
12.2
9
2021 CP7
2021-Feb-19
6.3 LD
10.4
9
2021 CB8
2021-Feb-19
8.3 LD
11.4
10
2021 CO4
2021-Feb-19
15.8 LD
19.1
59
2021 CW2
2021-Feb-19
12.3 LD
3.8
10
2021 CU3
2021-Feb-20
16.1 LD
25.9
98
2021 CC2
2021-Feb-20
16.5 LD
4.4
94
2021 CR3
2021-Feb-20
19 LD
23
106
2020 BV9
2021-Feb-22
14.7 LD
7.6
25
2020 XU6
2021-Feb-22
10.7 LD
8.4
222
2021 CC5
2021-Feb-22
18.1 LD
10.4
44
2015 EQ
2021-Feb-23
18 LD
10.5
21
2021 CH8
2021-Feb-23
13 LD
9.8
38
2011 DW
2021-Mar-01
13.9 LD
13.6
89
2011 EH17
2021-Mar-02
9.6 LD
16.8
43
2016 DV1
2021-Mar-02
3.9 LD
18.4
39
1999 RM45
2021-Mar-02
7.7 LD
20
468
2020 SP
2021-Mar-03
18.4 LD
3.9
14
2021 CN3
2021-Mar-05
11.2 LD
3.8
18
2021 CF8
2021-Mar-05
11.6 LD
11.9
53
535844
2021-Mar-10
14.2 LD
7.3
162
2021 CF6
2021-Mar-10
4.2 LD
8.4
64
2020 FM
2021-Mar-10
18.2 LD
13.3
57
2011 YW10
2021-Mar-12
19.8 LD
13.2
45
2021 CX8
2021-Mar-15
18.2 LD
6.6
50
231937
2021-Mar-21
5.3 LD
34.4
1024
2021 CX5
2021-Mar-27
7.7 LD
5.6
49
2020 GE
2021-Mar-27
12.7 LD
1.5
8
2019 GM1
2021-Mar-31
15.1 LD
3.9
14
2015 MB54
2021-Apr-06
13.6 LD
3.7
59
2020 GE1
2021-Apr-07
12.2 LD
4.2
14
2014 FO38
2021-Apr-07
16.8 LD
8.3
20
2020 UY1
2021-Apr-15
16 LD
8.7
22

Notes: LD means “Lunar Distance.” 1 LD = 384,401 km, the distance between Earth and the Moon. Red highlighted entries are asteroids that either pass very close, or very large with high relative velocities to the Earth. Table from SpaceWeather.com

Asteroid News: Remember Chelyabinsk! 2013-02-15.

On February 15, 2021, the NASA All Sky Fireball Network reported 6 fireballs!
(6 sporadics)

In this diagram of the inner solar system, all of the fireball orbits intersect at a single point–Earth. The orbits are color-coded by velocity, from slow (red) to fast (blue). Credit: SpaceWeather.com

Fireball News

If you see a bright meteor or a fireball, please REPORT IT to the American Meteor Society and the International Meteor Organization!

Position of the planets and several spacecraft in the inner solar system:

Inner Solar System
Position of the planets and a couple spacecraft in the inner solar system, 2021-02-16. Credit: Bob Trembley / NASA Eyes on the Solar System.

The Parker Solar Probe will fly-by Venus on Feb. 20th:

Parker Solar Probe
Simulation of the NASA’s Parker Solar Probe as it flies-by Venus on 2021-02-20. Credit: Bob Trembley / NASA Eyes on the Solar System.

Orbit of NASA’s Perseverance Mars Rover as it approaches Mars; the rover is getting close enough to Mars the the orbits of other spacecraft around Mars have started to resolve in the NASA Eyes app.

Perseverance Mars Rover
Simulation of the orbit of NASA’s Perseverance Mars Rover on 2021-02-16 as it approaches Mars. Inset: Disk of Mars just visible in the distance as seen from the spacecraft.
Credit: Bob Trembley / NASA Eyes on the Solar System.

Position of the planets in the middle solar system:

Middle Solar System
Position of the planets in the middle solar system, 2021-02-16. Credit: Bob Trembley / NASA Eyes on the Solar System.

Position of the planets, dwarf planets and some transneptunian objects in the outer solar system:

Outer Solar System
Position of the planets and many transneptunian objects in the outer solar system, 2021-02-16. Credit: Bob Trembley / NASA Eyes on the Solar System.

Mars Perseverance Rover: #CountdownToMars

Reminder: Check out NASA’s M2020 EDL simulation!! https://eyes.nasa.gov/apps/mars2020/

International Space Station:

HiRISE – on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter:

Spacecraft named after Katherine Johnson: #Cygnus

Hubble Space Telescope:

Climate:

See a list of current NASA missions here: https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/missions/?type=current

Exoplanet
ex·o·plan·et /ˈeksōˌplanət/, noun: a planet orbiting a star other than the Sun.

All Exoplanets 4341
Confirmed Planets with Kepler Light Curves for Stellar Host 2414
Confirmed Planets Discovered by Kepler 2394
Kepler Project Candidates Yet To Be Confirmed 2366
Confirmed Planets with K2 Light Curves for Stellar Host 450
Confirmed Planets Discovered by K2 425
K2 Candidates Yet To Be Confirmed 889
Confirmed Planets Discovered by TESS 107
TESS Project Candidates Integrated into Archive (2021-02-08 13:00:02) 2 2490  (+3)
Current date TESS Project Candidates at ExoFOP 2490  (+3)
TESS Candidates Yet To Be Confirmed 13959  (-4)

Data from the NASA Exoplanet Archive
* Confirmed Planets Discovered by TESS refers to the number planets that have been published in the refereed astronomical literature.
* TESS Project Candidates refers to the total number of transit-like events that appear to be astrophysical in origin, including false positives as identified by the TESS Project.
* TESS Project Candidates Yet To Be Confirmed refers to the number of TESS Project Candidates that have not yet been dispositioned as a Confirmed Planet or False Positive.

Exoplanet News

TOI 451
This illustration sketches out the main features of TOI 451, a triple-planet system located 400 light-years away in the constellation Eridanus. Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

SpaceWeather.com Realtime Aurora Gallery: https://spaceweathergallery.com/aurora_gallery.html

Visit an International Dark Sky Park: https://www.darksky.org/our-work/conservation/idsp/parks/

For Students:

Hubble: Beautiful Universe

M1-63
M1-63. Image credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, L. Stanghellini

This image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope features an impressive portrait of M1-63, a beautifully captured example of a bipolar planetary nebula located in the constellation of Scutum (the Shield). A nebula like this one is formed when the star at its center sheds huge quantities of material from its outer layers, leaving behind a spectacular cloud of gas and dust.

It is believed that a binary system of stars at the center of the bipolar nebula is capable of creating hourglass or butterfly-like shapes like the one in this image. This is because the material from the shedding star is funneled toward its poles, with the help of the companion, creating the distinctive double-lobed structure seen in nebulae such as M1-63. – NASA.

SpaceEngine Work in Progress – 3D Rings using Raymarching:

What I was listening to while writing this post:

Cover Image: Artist’s illustration of Mars Perseverance descent to Mars, the spacecraft containing NASA’s Perseverance rover slows down using the drag generated by its motion in the Martian atmosphere. Hundreds of critical events must execute perfectly and exactly on time for the rover to land on Mars safely on Feb. 18, 2021. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Stay safe, be well, and look up!


Software Apps used for this post:

NASA Eyes on the Solar System: an immersive 3D solar system and space mission simulator – free for the PC /MAC. I maintain the unofficial NASA Eyes Facebook page.
Universe Sandbox: a space simulator that merges real-time gravity, climate, collision, and material interactions to reveal the beauty of our universe and the fragility of our planet. Includes VR support.
SpaceEngine: a free 3D Universe Simulator for Windows. Steam version with VR support available.
Stellarium: a free open source planetarium app for PC/MAC/Linux. It’s a great tool for planning observing sessions. A web-based version of Stellarium is also available.


Section header image credits:
The Sky – Stellarium / Bob Trembley
Observing Target – Turn Left at Orion / M. Skirvin
The Moon – NASA/JPL-Caltech
The Sun – NASA/JPL-Caltech
Asteroids – NASA/JPL-Caltech
Fireballs – Credited to YouTube
Comets – Comet P/Halley, March 8, 1986, W. Liller
The Solar System – NASA Eyes on the Solar System / Bob Trembley
Spacecraft News – NASA Eyes on the Solar System / Bob Trembley
Exoplanets – Space Engine / Bob Trembley
Light Pollution – NASA’s Black Marble
Aurora – Bob Trembley
The Universe – Universe Today