MAINE SKIES

The space race meets its foreseeable demise

Posted May 26, 2011, at 5:53 p.m.

Fifty years ago, on May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy gave his famous “man on the moon” speech in which he vowed to land a man on the moon and return him safely before the decade was out. The result was an unprecedented push that ended with Neil Armstrong stepping onto the lunar surface on July 21, 1969. The President was responding to a series of Soviet triumphs starting with Sputnik 1, the first orbiting satellite, on October 4, 1957 and with Yuri Gagarin becoming the first human to orbit the Earth on April 12, 1961. As it turned out the lunar landing was the watershed of U.S. efforts in manned spaceflight and, with the grounding of the last Shuttle later this year, will be at an end. There are no realistic plans in the works to get back into space anytime soon.

Focus on the Planets

Mercury passes behind the sun on June 12 and reappears in the evening sky around June 22. Look low in the west-northwest about 30 minutes after sunset near the Twins, Castor and Pollux.

Venus shines brightly in the northeast at dawn. On June 18, Venus is just north of Aldebaran, the “Red Eye of the Bull.”

Mars rises in the east about two hours before dawn and, by mid-month, may be spotted far to the upper-right of Venus where it is some 100 times fainter than its brilliant neighbor.

Jupiter rises about two hours before sunrise as the month opens and is prominent high in the east. Planet watchers are waiting to see if the South Equatorial Belt that vanished in 2010 will return.

Saturn is high in the southwest as darkness falls and sets shortly after midnight. The rings are at 7 degrees, or nearly edge-on, but will open over the course of the summer until the ringed planet disappears into the Sun’s glare in mid-September.

Uranus is high in the predawn southeast horizon among the stars of Pisces where its blue-green disk may be spotted with binoculars.

Neptune is situated in the southern constellation of Aquarius where its blue-gray disk is visible by telescope. Both of the outermost planets may be found with the aid of finder’s charts.

June Events

1: Sunrise, 4:53 a.m.; sunset, 8:14 p.m. New moon, 5:02 p.m.

3: The thin crescent moon is situated just below the twin stars of Castor and Pollux in Gemini.

7: Regulus of Leo is the bright star to the upper right of this moon this evening.

9: Moon in first quarter, 10:09 p.m.

12: The moon is at perigee, or nearest approach to Earth, today.

14: Antares, the brightest star of Scorpio, is to the immediate right of the moon.

15: Full moon, 4:12 p.m. The full moon of June is known as the Strawberry Moon, Rose Moon or Planting Moon. There will be a total lunar eclipse tonight but it is not visible anywhere in North America.

21: Summer solstice, 1:17 p.m. The sun has reached its northernmost point for the year making this the first day of summer. Now the days begin to shorten. The sun enters the astrological sign of Cancer at the solstice.

22: The sun enters Gemini on the ecliptic but has just entered the astrological sign of Cancer due to precession.

23: Moon in last quarter, 7:48 a.m.

25: Jupiter is just to the lower left of the moon before dawn.

27: A favorable year to check the Bootid meteor shower that had as many as 100 meteors per hour in 1998, but no significant activity is predicted for 2011.

28: An ascending vertical line in the east-northeast just before dawn features, from bottom to top, Aldebaran, Mars, the crescent moon and the Pleiades. Venus is far to the lower left.

30: Mercury is low in the west-northwest about 45 minutes after sunset with Castor and Pollux to its right. Sunrise, 4:52 a.m.; sunset, 8:25 p.m.

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