MAINE SKIES

Communicating with Voyager 1, farthest man-made object from Earth, takes over 33 hours

Posted Feb. 26, 2014, at 2:21 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 26, 2014, at 9:03 p.m.

Voyager 1 was launched on Sept. 5, 1977, and, in the more than 36 years that have passed, has achieved a number of remarkable landmarks. In 1979, it visited Jupiter and sent back pictures of both the planet and its major moons. In 1980, it passed by Saturn and gave us close-ups of its magnificent ring system.

On Aug. 25, 2012, NASA reported that Voyager 1 had left the solar system and is now the farthest man-made object from Earth at more than 125 A.U. An A.U. is the distance from the Earth to the Sun or roughly 93 million miles.

A round-trip communication between NASA and Voyager 1 now takes more than 33 hours but scientists expect to retain contact through 2020. The spacecraft has two gold disks on board that show human figures, samples of language and music, and our location in the solar system.

Voyage 1 may be remembered best for its iconic “Pale Blue Dot” photo of Earth it sent back on Feb. 14, 1990.

Focus on the Planets

Mercury is low in the east a half hour or so before dawn far to the lower left of Venus. Hard to spot even with binoculars up to mid-month, it will be impossible the last two weeks of March.

Venus shines brightly well up in the east-southeast an hour before dawn and is easy to spot. Remember the close pairing of Venus and the crescent moon on the morning of March 27.

Mars rises in the southwest around 9:30 p.m. as March opens and at twilight at its close. Mars doubles in brightness during March and viewers with telescopes should have no trouble checking out its north polar cap.

Jupiter is brilliant and nearly overhead as darkness falls and sets around 4 a.m. Jupiter shines many times brighter than the stars of Gemini among which it is situated and its belts, zones, and occasionally the Great Red Spot are visible through a powerful telescope. The four major moons of Jupiter also continue to put on a show.

Saturn rises in the south before midnight but the best time for viewing is a couple of hours before dawn. The major moon Titan is visible and the rings are tilted at 23 degrees making them well-situated for telescopic viewing.

Uranus is in Pisces and may be seen low in the west in early twilight but soon disappears from view.

Neptune is lost to view in March.

March Events

1 Sunrise, 6:14 a.m.; sunset, 5:22 p.m. New moon, 3:02 a.m.

7 Aldebaran, the “Red Eye of the Bull,” lies close beneath the moon at nightfall.

8 Moon in first quarter, 8:26 a.m.

9 The second Sunday in March means we set our clocks ahead one hour at 2 a.m. as the switch is made from Standard Time to Daylight Saving Time. Jupiter is to the upper left of the moon at nightfall.

11 The moon is at apogee, or farthest distance from Earth, today.

12 The sun enters Pisces on the ecliptic.

14 Look to the southeast about a half hour before sunrise to spot Mercury hovering just above the horizon with Venus to its upper right.

15 This is the Ides of March. A bad day for Julius Caesar!

16 Full moon, 1:10 p.m. The full moon of March is the Lenten Moon and is also known as the Worm, Crow, and Sap Moon. The full moon of March is commonly considered the last full moon of winter.

17 Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

19 Mars is to the upper right and Spica to the lower right of the moon looking to the southwest an hour before sunrise.

20 Spring or vernal equinox, 12:57 p.m. The sun crosses the equator into the northern hemisphere entering the astrological sign of Aries as it does so but astronomically is still in Pisces.

21 Saturn is to the immediate right of the moon in the south about an hour before sunrise.

22 Antares, the orange-colored star of Scorpius is to the lower right of the moon in the pre-dawn sky.

24 Moon in last quarter, 9:47 p.m.

27 The moon is at perigee or nearest approach to the Earth today. If you look to the east an hour before sunrise you will see the crescent moon and Venus close together.

30 New moon , 2:47p.m. Look for Mars, Spica, and Saturn to form a loose triangle in the southeast around 11 p.m.

31 Sunrise, 6:19 a.m.; sunset, 7:01 p.m.

Send astronomical queries to Clair Wood at cgmewood@aol.com.

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