April 2005 Sky from the Keeble Observatory
Will the last scientist at NASA please turn out the lights? The President’s proposed
budget for FY 2006 actually increases the overall NASA budget by 2.5%, but a closer
reading does not bode well for the future of science at the agency. (For the record,
I have no association with NASA!)
President Bush has directed the space agency to complete the Space Station and retire
the Shuttle fleet by the end of the decade. Development of a new crewed vehicle
to return to the Moon and eventually send humans to Mars is part of his vision beyond
the Shuttle. But, how is this to be paid for? Serious spending on this initiative
will come after the end of Mr. Bush’s second term, assuming that future administrations
choose to fund it. The current budget proposal diverts science funding to human
spaceflight, cutting some programs, delaying others, and reducing NASA’s science
work force by some 15% according to some estimates. (Some have expressed the opinion
that this is a “poison pill” to force a future President and Congress to kill human
space exploration entirely.) Projected savings, across all science centers (including
NASA Langley in Virginia!) will leave nearly 2700 people unemployed, saving $270
million out of a total budget of $16.456 billion.
Current missions which are slated for termination include both Voyager probes, currently
the most distant human artifacts as they leave the solar system. A total of seven
missions are unfunded past October. Overall science funding in the proposed budget
is down. Hubble Space Telescope operations are reduced, with no money for a servicing
mission which could extend into the next decade the life of this orbiting telescope,
which is arguably the premier observatory for deep space research. Rather, money
is provided to develop a robot craft which would de-orbit and destroy the Hubble,
dropping its debris field into the ocean. Political pressure may bring Congress
to fund a servicing mission, but that would likely come at the cost of even more
drastic cuts in science funding.
Lunar phases for April: Last Quarter on the 1st, at 7:50 pm, EST; New Moon at 4:32
pm, on the 8th, EDT (note switch to Daylight Saving Time on Sunday the 3rd!); First
Quarter on the 16th, at 10:37 am; Full Moon on the 24th, at 6:06 am.
There will be a penumbral lunar eclipse before sunrise on the 24th, as the Moon
passes through the outer part of Earth’s shadow. It will not enter the darker umbra,
so it’s not likely that anyone will notice any darkening before the full moon sets.
Jupiter will rise as the Sun sets early this month, later by the end. It reaches
opposition on the 3rd, which places it 180 degrees from the Sun. Saturn is already
high to the east at sunset, lingering near Castor and Pollux in Gemini. Venus will
return to evening twilight to the west by month’s end.
Mars lies to the southeast at dawn, while Mercury reappears to the east before sunrise.
Mercury will rise about an hour before the Sun by the end of the month.
At mid-month, an overhead view about 2 hours shows a mostly empty patch of sky!
The faint constellation Lynx is in that direction, but has no prominent bright stars
to draw your eye. However, turning to the southeast, we see the familiar sickle
shape of Leo’s head, leading your attention to the bright star Regulus, at the heart
of the Lion about 60 degrees above the horizon. Above the southern horizon, just
a bit higher than Leo lies the constellation Cancer – where binoculars will show
the “Beehive Cluster” as a bright swarm of stars. Continuing from Regulus through
the Beehive will bring you to Gemini. The Moon will pass through Gemini on the 15th,
joining Saturn in proximity to Castor and Pollux.
Gemini lies above Orion, which is settling towards the west as we bid winter adieu.
For your own monthly star chart, you can direct your web browser to
http://www.skymaps.com. You will find extensive descriptions of what's worth
looking for, and you can download and print a single copy for your personal use.