This LADEE is a champ: See NASA’s latest rocket mission soar into space from the greater Washington metropolitan area Friday night at 11:27 p.m. The flight will be launched — relatively close by — from Wallops Island on Virginia’s Eastern Shore.
If skies are clear, the launch window will be 11:27 p.m. to 11:31 p.m., NASA says. For Washington area residents, look to the south-southeast by that time, since rockets move at blistering speeds.
NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment – or LADEE – is a robotic mission that will orbit Earth for three weeks. It then speeds off to the moon for a 100-day trip to measure lunar dust and the moon’s atmosphere. It will be launched aboard a five-stage Minotaur V rocket.
The NASA Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island is south of Salisbury, Md., and west of the southern part of Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. Residents of other eastern cities — such as Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York — should be able to spot the rocket just after launch.
Road trip! For those who want a closer look, NASA, local officials and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have established prime viewing areas in Chincoteague at Robert Reed Park on Main Street or on Beach Road. There, large televisions will show the launch, and NASA officials will be on hand to answer questions.
At sunset, find Venus and Saturn hanging out in the west-southwestern sky. Of the two, Venus is the sharp, bright dot at negative fourth magnitude and is easy to spot in clear, dark skies. Over the next three weeks, see Saturn (0 magnitude) appear to get closer, low above the western horizon. Saturn and Venus dance a minuet Sept. 20, when they’re four degrees apart.
The young, crescent moon snuggles with Venus on Sept. 8 and moves on to nuzzle Saturn the next night.
The jovial and jolly Jupiter rises in the east about 2 a.m. now, and then at 12:30 a.m. late in September. At negative second magnitude (bright), this large, gaseous planet makes a nice viewing target, because it’s high in the eastern sky before dawn.
Our reddish neighbor, Mars, ascends in the east at about 3:30 a.m. This first-magnitude planet serves as a guidepost for Comet Ison — a comet that astronomers hope will be the brightest in decades. Right now, the comet remains far beyond naked-eye visibility, NASA says, but by late September, the huge, dirty snowball will speed toward the sun. It flies within 6.5 million miles of Mars on Oct. 1, passing through a so-called cosmic “frost line” where — thanks to the sun’s heat — vapors start to release.
Summer turns to fall at the autumnal equinox Sept. 22, at 4:44 p.m. Eastern time, according to the U.S. Naval Observatory.
Down to Earth events:
●Sept. 5: “Black Holes: Into the Abyss,” a lecture by astronomer Cole Miller, sky-watching afterward. 9 p.m. www.astro.
●Sept. 7: Enjoy the late summer constellations at “Exploring the Sky,” with the National Park Service and the National Capital Astronomers. At Rock Creek Park, near the Nature Center in the field south of Military and Glover roads NW. 8 p.m. capitalastronomers.org.
●Sept. 10: “Blocking the Sun: Will Solar Geoengineering Research Increase or Decrease the Risk of Climate Change?” Ecologist Chris Field moderates a panel on climate change at the Carnegie Institution, auditorium, 1530 P St. NW (corner of 16th and P streets). 6:45 p.m. www.carnegiescience.edu.
●Sept. 14: “A Century of Women in Aerospace,” at the National Air and Space Museum on the Mall, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Meet NASA astronaut Kay Hire at the Moving Beyond Earth gallery 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. Details: www.tiny.cc/gmvl2w.
●Sept. 14: Understand a world that’s out of this world, “Living and Working in Space,” at National Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, 10 a.m.–3 p.m. Parking $15. Details: www.tiny.cc/3xvl2w.
●Sept. 14: Star-gaze in dark skies with the Northern Virginia Astronomy Club and Sean O’Brien of the National Air and Space Museum, as they guide you through the heavens. At Sky Meadows State Park near Paris, Va. Parking $5. Arrive before dark. 7-10 p.m. Park phone: 540-592-3556. www.airandspace.si.
●Sept. 20: “Satellites, Orbits and Tracking Stations,” a lecture by engineer Robert Morales. Gaze the heavens afterward. 9 p.m. www.astro.umd.edu/openhouse.
●Sept. 29: “Rhythms of the Universe: An Evening with Mickey Hart and George Smoot,” a multisensory screening at the Lockheed Martin Imax Theater, National Air and Space Museum on the Mall. Grateful Dead drummer Hart and Nobel Laureate Smoot hold a special screening of the film “Rhythms of the Universe.” 8 p.m. www.airandspace.
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