In the Sky This Week – February 23, 2021

This entry is part 184 of 191 in the series In the Sky This Week

Millions of people around the planet have seen NASA’s Perseverance Rover descent and touchdown video – I’ve watched it over and over! I tweeted that this landing made me feel like a kid during the Apollo era again!

Cameras were not part of the rover’s initial design – and were allowed to be added with the ideas that “they won’t do any harm to the rover, and IF they work, great… you get what you get.” Well what NASA got was a video seen across the globe, and a HUGE positive media boost – not to mention the invaluable engineering data these cameras have provided.

Can I just put out there that cameras should be default part of EVERY NASA mission from now on? Look at the Juno mission to Jupiter – the insanely popular citizen-scientist processed images and videos from Juno were obtained from a camera that was not originally part of the mission’s specs, but were added as a public outreach tool.

The Moon appears near the star Pollux in the constellation Gemini, high above the east-southeastern horizon after sunset on Feb. 23rd.

East-southeastern sky after sunset
The Moon appears near the star Pollux high above the east-southeastern horizon after sunset on Feb. 23rd. Credit: Bob Trembley / Stellarium.

Moving eastward each day, the Moon appears near the star Regulus in the constellation Leo, above the east-southeastern horizon after sunset on Feb. 25th and 26th.

East-southeastern sky after sunset
The Moon appears near the star Regulus above the east-southeastern horizon after sunset on Feb. 25th and 26th. Credit: Bob Trembley / Stellarium.

The Moon appears in a temporary asterism with the stars Arcturus and Spica in the east-southeastern sky at midnight on Mar. 1st.

East-southeastern sky at midnight
The Moon appears in east-southeastern sky with the stars Arcturus and Spica at midnight on Mar. 1st. Credit: Bob Trembley / Stellarium.

Mars and Uranus appear in the southwestern sky after sunset – Mars appears a bit closer to the Pleiades star cluster each evening.

Southwestern sky after sunset
Mars and Uranus appear in the southwestern sky after sunset. Credit: Bob Trembley / Stellarium.

Mercury and Saturn continue to appear low above the east-southeastern horizon before dawn this week; Jupiter joins the pair of planets close to sunrise – so it may be a bit difficult to see..

The Moon is a waxing gibbous – visible to the southeast in early evening, and up for most of the night.

The full Moon occurs on Feb. 27th – rising at sunset, visible high in the sky around midnight, and visible all night.

After Feb. 27th, the Moon will be a waning gibbous – rising after sunset, visible high in the sky after midnight, and visible to the southwest after sunrise.

Moon
The Moon from 2021-02-23 – 2021-03-01. 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:

The Sun has two new sunspots: AR2804 and AR2805 are growing rapidly and blowing off B-class solar flares.

Sun
The Sun – 2021-02-23. Credit: SDO/HMI

The southern coronal hole is huge, the northern coronal hole is medium-sized – there are some interesting “tiger stripe” patterns in the corona, and a large coronal hole will soon be rotating out of view (right). You can see a lot of coronal activity associated with the 2 sunspots – the northern one appears to be a bit more active than the one to the south.

The Sun seen in 193 angstroms (extreme ultraviolet) February 22, 2021:

LOTS of prominence activity over that last couple days – keep you eye on the prominence to the lower-right!

The Sun seen in 304 angstroms (extreme ultraviolet) February 22, 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
SOLARACTIVITY PICTURE OF THE DAY for Tuesday, February 23rd, 2021 goes out to 吉田賢一 for this great prominence image 吉田賢一 commented: “The Sun of the day Feb_21_2021JST ZWOASI174MM DaystarQuark Chromosphere TOA130.”

Solar Corona

Solar wind speed is 574.6 km/sec, with a density of 8.0 protons/cm3 at 1225 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

Near-Earth objects (NEOs) discovered this month: 248, this year: 497, all time: 25,313  (+59)
Potentially hazardous asteroids: 2171  (updated  2021-02-23)
Total Minor Planets
discovered (NASA): 1,059,992  (+2,388)
Total Minor Planets discovered (MPC): 1,026,572 (+18,162, updated 2021-02-23)

Upcoming Earth-asteroid encounters::

Asteroid
Date(UT)
Miss Distance
Velocity (km/s)
Diameter (m)
2021 DX1
2021-Feb-23
10.7 LD
6.6
98
2015 EQ
2021-Feb-23
18 LD
10.5
21
2021 CH8
2021-Feb-23
13 LD
9.7
38
2021 DP1
2021-Feb-24
4.7 LD
9.5
25
2021 DE
2021-Feb-27
4.2 LD
26
50
2021 DM
2021-Feb-28
12.8 LD
10.3
21
2011 DW
2021-Mar-01
13.9 LD
13.6
89
2011 EH17
2021-Mar-02
9.6 LD
16.8
43
1999 RM45
2021-Mar-02
7.7 LD
20
468
2016 DV1
2021-Mar-03
2.1 LD
18.3
39
2020 SP
2021-Mar-03
18.4 LD
3.9
14
2021 DE1
2021-Mar-03
4.4 LD
3
11
2021 DW1
2021-Mar-04
1.5 LD
5.4
32
2021 CN3
2021-Mar-05
11.2 LD
3.8
19
2021 CF8
2021-Mar-05
11.5 LD
11.8
53
2021 DL
2021-Mar-08
11.8 LD
5.8
34
535844
2021-Mar-10
14.2 LD
7.3
162
2021 CF6
2021-Mar-10
4.2 LD
8.4
61
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
51
2021 DT
2021-Mar-16
18.3 LD
7.3
33
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
2017 HG4
2021-Apr-16
7.6 LD
4.1
10
2020 HE5
2021-Apr-17
8.5 LD
4.3
10
2019 HQ
2021-Apr-20
14.8 LD
8.8
20
2020 HO5
2021-Apr-22
16.5 LD
3.3
7

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:

New Minor Planet Center Circular: https://minorplanetcenter.net/iau/ECS/MPCArchive/2021/MPC_20210127.pdf – a boatload of astronauts got named asteroids!

On February 15, 2021, the NASA All Sky Fireball Network reported 7 fireballs!
(7 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

Fireball over Alberta – February 22nd, 2021 around 6:23am MST (13:23 UT) (Source)

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

I used NASA’s Orrery to create the solar system images for this week’s post: https://eyes.nasa.gov/apps/orrery/. This app runs in the browser, and does not require the installation of an app. If you can see it, you can click on it; you can click and drag to scroll-around with the mouse (or use A, D, Q & E), and zoom with the mouse wheel (or use S and W).

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 Orrery.

The Parker Solar Probe flew-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 Orrery.

And Mars’ population of robots increases by 5 this week: NASA’s Perseverance rover and Ingenuity helicopter, the United Arab Emirates orbiter named Al-Amal, and China’s orbiter-rover combo called Tianwen-1… it’s been a busy week at Mars, but that’s what happens during launch windows…

Aside: When I’ve been playing Kerbal Space Program, there have been a couple time when I’ve had multiple missions all arriving at Duna (Mars) at the same time; juggling a polar orbiter, space station core in equatorial orbit, and lander – all at the same time is “exciting!”

Mars 2020
Mars 2020 on the surface, 2021-02-23. Credit: Bob Trembley / NASA Eyes Orrery.

Position of the planets in the middle solar system:

Middle Solar System
Position of the planets and many transneptunian objects in the middle solar system, 2021-02-23. Credit: Bob Trembley / NASA Eyes Orrery.

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, 2021-02-23. Credit: Bob Trembley / NASA Eyes Orrery.

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

Extreme Outer Solar System
Position of the planets and many transneptunian objects in the extreme outer solar system, 2021-02-23. Credit: Bob Trembley / NASA Eyes Orrery.

And finally, the position of the Sun in the Milky Way galaxy – if you zoom WAY out:

Milky Way
You are here in the Milky Way Galaxy, 2021-02-23. Credit: Bob Trembley / NASA Eyes Orrery.

Mars Perseverance Rover:

In the “This is WAY too much fun” department – there was a secret message, written in binary, hidden in Perseverance’s parachute!

“Dare Mighty Things,” and the latitude and longitude of JPL.

Kerbal Space Program ran a #PerseveranceLanding Challenge, asking players to recreate NASA’s rover mission:

International Space Station:

HiRISE – on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter:

S.S. 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 4352  (+11)
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 113  (+6)
TESS Project Candidates Integrated into Archive (2021-02-20 13:00:01) 2 2510 (+20)
Current date TESS Project Candidates at ExoFOP 2510  (+20)
TESS Candidates Yet To Be Confirmed 1404  (+9)

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

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 – Supernova 1987A

SUPERNOVA 1987A
Supernova 1987A within the Large Magellanic Cloud. CREDITS: NASA, ESA, R. Kirshner (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation), and M. Mutchler and R. Avila (STScI)

Distant stars serve as a backdrop for Supernova 1987A, located in the center of the image. The bright ring around the central region of the exploded star is composed of material ejected by the star about 20,000 years before its demise. Gaseous clouds surround the supernova. The clouds’ red color represents the glow of hydrogen gas, which is fueling a firestorm of star birth.

Supernova 1987A was discovered in 1987, and Hubble began observing the exploded star in the early 1990s. This latest view was taken by Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 in January 2017. The colors of the foreground and background stars were added from observations taken by Hubble’s Wide Field Planetary Camera 2.

Supernova 1987A resides 163,000 light-years away. NASA.

You can download a 3667 X 4024 (34.2 MB) TIFF version of this image HERE. (That image is now the background image across my 3 monitors!)

What I’m Playing now: Dyson Sphere Program

Available in early-access on Steam, Dyson Sphere Program is a science fiction themed factory simulation game where the ultimate goal is to harvest resources from planets across multiple star systems and build a Dyson Sphere megastructure. The learning curve is pretty steep, but if you like engineering and problem-solving games, this is worth a look – it’s been selling like gangbusters since release on Jan. 21st. The fact that there’s a game out there with this subject pretty much guaranteed I had to get it.

Dyson Sphere Program
Screenshot from Dyson Sphere Program video on Steam. A Dyson Swarm is in equatorial orbit, and the sphere lattice is being built. Credit: Youthcat Studio.

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:

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