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
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and you can download and print a single copy for your personal use.