May 2006 Sky from the Keeble Observatory
Will the last scientist to leave NASA please turn out the lights?
Perhaps that’s too dire a prediction, but it is becoming apparent
that the agency’s mandate to complete the International Space
Station and retire the shuttle fleet by 2010 is going to curtail
or cancel the science program. With the follow-on Crew Exploration
Vehicle not scheduled for flight until 2014 at the earliest, we
face a double edged threat: Human access to space will be limited
to launches from Russia and from China’s fledgling manned
program. Funds are being diverted from ongoing and planned science
missions to finish the space station, keep the remaining shuttles
flying, and design and build the next crewed vehicle.
NASA administrator Dr. Michael Griffin has testified before the
Senate’s Commerce Subcommittee on Science and Space that he
believes that human spaceflight is a higher priority than science.
While the Bush administration has asked for $16.8 billion for NASA
in its 2007 budget, in order to fund the remaining flights to build
the space station Dr. Griffin is proposing to divert $3 billion
from space science over the next five years. This still leaves the
need for another $15 billion to build the CEV and send crews back
to the Moon by 2020.
Gus Grissom, one of the original Mercury astronauts, once observed
that without launching men into space, the American public was unlikely
to pay for pure science. But, if they were paying for manned spaceflight,
there would be sufficient funding to do science. Now it appears
that we are headed to a period when we are unable to do either.
Lunar phases for May: First Quarter on the 5th, at 1:13 am; Full
Moon at 2:51 am, on the 13th; Last Quarter on the 20th, at 5:20
am; New Moon on the 27th, at 1:26 am.
Evening planet watchers will be able to observe Jupiter all night
this month. It’s just past opposition, so it rises a little
after sunset, and sets just after sunrise. Watch for it in the constellation
Libra. Mars and Saturn are high to the west and southwest at sunset.
Since Mars is closer to Earth, it will appear to move more rapidly
through the background stars. It begins the month below Castor and
Pollux, in Gemini, and gets close to Saturn in Cancer by month’s
end. Binoculars will allow you to see the familiar rings of Saturn,
as well as the even more distant Beehive Cluster in the same field
Predawn viewing will find Venus bright at about 20 degrees above
the southeast horizon, with Mercury low to the east at the beginning
of the month. Mercury moves quickly into the Sun’s glare,
and will return to the evening skies by the beginning of June.
At midmonth, our overhead view two hours after sunset finds us
looking out of the plane of the Milky Way, towards the “North
Galactic Pole.” There’s nothing special about that point
on the sky, nor are there any bright stars to mark the spot. (Even
though Polaris marks the approximate North Celestial Pole, there’s
nothing special about that direction in space, either. Earth’s
axis precesses through a wide circle on the sky every 26000 years,
so having a Pole Star is a relatively rare occurrence.)
High to the north, look for the familiar “Big Dipper”
of Ursa Major. The two stars at the end of the bowl point towards
Polaris. Follow the curve of the “handle” toward the
east southeast to find the bright star Arcturus, in the constellation
Bootes, about 60 degrees off the horizon. Continue the curve further
to the south to find Spica, the bright star in Virgo, about 40 degrees
from the horizon. Don’t confuse it with the much brighter
Jupiter, below and to the left in Libra. Turning to the southwest
and looking a bit higher you’ll find the constellation Leo
with its brightest star, Regulus, at about 50 degrees elevation.
To the west lie Castor and Pollux, in Gemini. Low to the northwest
is Capella, in Auriga.
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and you can download and print a single copy for your personal use.