Saturday, September 29, 2007


On Saturday, August 4, 2007 from Cape Canaveral, Florida, a Boeing Delta II rocket launched the Phoenix mission toward the planet Mars. The Phoenix mission is the first chosen for NASA's Scout program, an initiative for smaller, lower-cost, competed spacecraft. The Phoenix mission is named for the resilient mythological bird that was reborn from the ashes of its former life. This is partly because pieces of the mission were created for previous missions. The lander itself was intended for use by 2001's Mars Surveyor lander prior to its cancellation. It also carries a complex suite of instruments that are improved variations of those that flew on the lost Mars Polar Lander.

In the continuing pursuit of water on Mars, the poles are a good place to probe, as water ice is found there. Phoenix will land on the icy northern pole of Mars between 65 and 75 degrees-north latitude. During the course of the 150 sol (Martian day) mission, Phoenix will deploy its robotic arm and dig trenches up to half a meter (1.6 feet) into the layers of water ice. These layers, thought to be affected by seasonal climate changes, could contain organic compounds that are necessary for life.

To analyze soil samples collected by the robotic arm, Phoenix will carry an "oven" and a "portable laboratory." Selected samples will be heated to release volatiles that can be examined for their chemical composition and other characteristics.

Imaging technology inherited from both the Pathfinder and Mars Exploration Rover missions will also be implemented in Phoenix's stereo camera, located on its 2-meter (6.6-foot) mast. The camera's two "eyes" will reveal a high-resolution perspective of the landing site's geology, and will also provide range maps that will enable the team to choose ideal digging locations. Multi-spectral capability will enable the identification of local minerals.

To update our understanding of martian atmospheric processes, Phoenix will also scan the martian atmosphere up to 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) in altitude, obtaining data about the formation, duration and movement of clouds, fog, and dust plumes. It will also carry temperature and pressure sensors.

For more information on the Phoenix mission, visit:



Here are some observing highlights for the week. These events are given from the perspective of observers in the northern hemisphere. No offence to southern-hemisphere folks, it's just because of where I live.

Oct 1, 1:00 to 4:00 AM EDT - The orange-colored planet Mars is less than 7' (7 arcminutes) from 1 Geminorum. (yellow star, spectral type G7III) sometimes called Propus ("forward foot," of Castor, that is) , though that name is mostly used with Eta Geminorum. (1 Geminorum specifics: RA 06hrs 04 07.2min, Dec +23 degrees 15 48, distance 2,800 ly, visual brightness 0.82 magnitude. Mars is shining brighter at -0.1 magnitude).

Oct 3, 6:06 am EDT - Last-quarter Moon

Oct 3 and 4, Early Morning - Mars is less than 1 degree south of the open star cluster M35 (Messier catalog number 35) in Gemini (M35 specifics: RA 06hrs 08.9min, Dec +24 degrees 20 min, distance 2,800 ly, visual brightness 5.3 magnitude).

Oct 5, Before Dawn - Moon is roughly 1 degree north of M44, the Beehive Cluster, also called Praesepe (Latin for "manger"). in the constellation Cancer (M44 specifics: RA 08hrs 40.1min; Dec +19 degrees 59 minutes, distance 577 ly, Visual Brightness 3.7 magnitude.

Oct 7, Early Dawn - A thin crescent Moon is joined by the planets Venus and Saturn and the star Regulus. Western Europe and Morocco will see the Moon occult Regulus. The rest of Europe and Middle East will see it after sunrise, if possible.

Terminology Notes:

arcminute, minute of arc (MOA) - equal to one sixtieth (1/60) of one degree. The symbol is the prime or apostrophe ('), sometimes abbreviated as arcmin or amin.

Degree - one three hundred sixtieth (1/360) of a circle



- Astronomy and Science Events -

October 3, 1264 – A comet said to predict death of Pope Urban IV was last seen

October 2, 1608 – The prototype of the modern reflecting telescope was completed by Jan Lippershey

October 4, 1675 - Christian Huygens patented pocket watch

October 1, 1847 - Maria Mitchell discovered a non-naked-eye comet

October 1, 1888 - National Geographic magazine was first published

October 4, 1957 - U.S.S.R. launched Sputnik I, the first artificial Earth satellite

October 1, 1958 – Management of the Vanguard Project was transferred from the Naval Research Laboratory to NASA

October 1, 1990 - Meteor exploded above the Pacific Ocean

October 1, 1962 - US National Radio Astronomy Observatory got a 300' (91m) radio telescope

- Events Noted For Fun -

October 1, 1746 - Bonnie Prince Charlie fled to France (see below)

October 3, 1916 - James Alfred Wight Herriot, veterinarian/novelist

October 1, 1935 – Actress and singer Julie Andrews was born in England

October 1, 1939 - Churchill called the Soviets a "riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma"

October 1, 1942 - Little Golden Books (children books) begins publishing

October 3, 1955 – the children’s television program "Captain Kangaroo" premiered on CBS-TV

October 1, 1971 - Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida opens

October 1, 1982 - EPCOT Center opens in Orlando, Florida



Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie), the Young Pretender, led the Jacobite uprising, but was defeated by the Duke of Cumberland on Scotland’s Culloden Moor in 1746. Aided by a Jacobite heroine named Flora MacDonald, who disguised him as her serving maid, Charles escaped from Uist to the island of Skye. He was later taken by a French vessel to Morlaix on the coast of Bretagne. Unlike the hope expressed in the song, and despite various political and religious maneuvers that took place over the following forty years, Charles did not return to take up the fight again. He died in Rome in 1788.

The words of the song were written in 1884 by business man, philanthropist, and song writer Sir Harold Boulton, Bart. (baronet) who lived from 1859 to 1935. The first half of the tune (the chorus) is said to be an old sea shanty (in this case, a Gaelic rowing song called "Cuachag nan Craobh," or "The Cuckoo in the Grove"); the second half of the tune (the verse portion) is traditionally attributed to Miss Annie MacLeod (Lady Wilson). The song was not considered a traditional Scottish favorite until recent times. It is sometimes sung as a lullaby in a slow rocking time, or danced as a waltz.

The Skye Boat Song


Speed bonnie boat, like a bird on the wing,
Onward, the sailors cry
Carry the lad that's born to be king
Over the sea to Skye

Loud the winds howl, loud the waves roar,
Thunder clouds rend the air;
Baffled our foe's stand on the shore
Follow they will not dare


Though the waves leap, soft shall ye sleep
Ocean's a royal bed
Rocked in the deep, Flora will keep
Watch by your weary head


Many's the lad fought on that day
Well the claymore could wield
When the night came, silently lay
Dead on Culloden's field


Burned are our homes, exile and death
Scatter the loyal men
Yet, e'er the sword cool in the sheath,
Charlie will come again.



To review the history, the text, or to listen to the melody, check out this page from the Scottish Folk Music section of “Contemplations from the Marianas Trench - Music and Deep Thoughts” -

To see a GIF image file of the score of the song, or to download an ABC file of the score, visit this page of “The Session” -


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