On a damp December morning, just before 9:00 AM, I found myself standing outside the visitor center at the Goddard Space Flight Facility in Greenbelt, Maryland, with about two dozen of my fellow NASA “Socialites.”
This was my first NASA Social — an event where NASA invites active social media users to do things like tour facilities, see a launch, and learn about specific upcoming missions. Despite having watched other people’s experiences with past events, I only had a vague idea of what to expect. Each event is a bit different, depending on the facility and the reason for the Social. The last time I’d seen a NASA facility behind the scenes was in 1993, on a summer camp visit to the Wallop’s Flight Facility when I was 12 years old.
Everyone I talked to was friendly and, as you might imagine, eager for the day ahead. Luckily, it was about to begin; within minutes, we were boarding a bus emblazoned with the NASA “meatball” logo, being whisked to our first destination…
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A silky late-autumn Milky Way stretches across the landscape, over my head, in the Virginia Piedmont. A canopy of fall constellations and asterisms pepper the night sky — Pleiades, Taurus, Cassiopeia, and the Andromeda Galaxy (M31).
Update: Due to a wayward boat under the rocket’s flight path, the launch was scrubbed on October 27. A new launch window opens on Tuesday, October 28, at 6:22 PM EDT (22:22 UTC).
There’s a space-related doubleheader on tap for millions along the East Coast of the U.S. on Monday, October 27, 2014, about a half-hour after sunset!
At 6:45 PM EDT (22:45 UTC), an Orbital Sciences Antares rocket will launch a Cygnus capsule carrying 5000 pounds of cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Because this is a nighttime launch — a first for the Antares out of Wallops — it should be visible to millions along the East Coast. But wait, there’s more: the ISS will make a high and very bright pass over the mid-Atlantic less than five minutes after launch.
For viewers in the central Virginia area, you’ll want to look toward the east and southeast. The rocket should appear as a bright light traveling upward about 1–2 minutes after launch, depending on how far you are from Wallops. If you see the rocket “wink out” early on, don’t turn away just yet! There are two burn stages with a brief (approximately 45 second) coasting period in-between.
Orbital Sciences’ website has all the details on launch viewing, including when and how high up in the sky to look for your location.
Then, keep your eyes peeled for the ISS making its way overhead, moving roughly from the northwest to the southeast. For skywatchers in Virginia, it will be a nearly-overhead pass and very bright. Look for an unblinking, moving “star” cutting through the dusky sky.
And, of course, if you’re clouded-out or live outside of the eastern United States, you can always watch the launch on NASA TV. Coverage begins at 5:45 PM EDT (21:45 UTC).
Had a good time viewing the October 23, 2014, partial solar eclipse from 2,900 feet in Shenandoah National Park.
Mark your calendar now: the next two total lunar eclipses will take place on April 4 and September 28, 2015.
April 4, 2015 Lunar Eclipse
Skywatchers on the West Coast of North America are favored for this event, since the Moon will be higher in the sky for viewers west of the Mississippi. For those of us on the East Coast, the Moon will have already set by the time by the time of maximum eclipse. Totality will only last a very short 4 minutes, 43 seconds during this event.
September 28, 2015 Lunar Eclipse
The September 2015 eclipse will be visible across all of North America — and for those of us along the East Coast, will occur during the late evening hours, which is a treat for those of us who are less “early bird” and more “night owl.” The Moon will spend nearly 72 minutes bathed in totality. Weather permitting, obviously, this is the event to not miss, especially for the eastern half of North America.
More details and exact times for both eclipses are available from NASA’s website at the links above.
What is a Lunar Eclipse and Why Do They Happen?
And, if you’ve ever wondered what a lunar eclipse might look like if you were on the Moon, a Japanese lunar satellite took this video during a penumbral eclipse back in 2009 (via @Summer_Ash). Really, go watch now. That ring of fire you see emerging? That’s the Earth with sunlight shimmering all around the edges. Spectacular.