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It’s Been a Long Time Since I Rock and Rolled

Hey folks!  I’m back!

At least, I’m trying to be back.  COVID has really played havoc with us, hasn’t it?  But I’m still doing my best here at the Abbitt Planetarium. I hope to be able to return to at least monthly updates of this blog.  So bear with me please as I try to keep way too many moving parts moving on very limited time.  Never a dull moment!

James Webb Space Telescope

Anyway, cool space stuff waits for no one.  The main focus these days has been on the James Webb Space Telescope.  JWST is doing great, having arrived safely at the L2 point (a gravitational sweet spot between the Earth and the Sun) about a million miles from Earth and now getting all its parts and pieces deployed and settled in.  The first calibration images have been taken, and over the next couple of months, the focus of the telescope will be refined and all of us will be anxiously awaiting the first proper image from the new scope, expected in July.  Can’t wait!

Perseverance Rover

Meanwhile, however, things are happening elsewhere in the solar system.  On the surface of Mars, the Perseverance rover ran into some trouble after attempting to take a core sample of a rock.  Some pebbles got lodged in some places they really shouldn’t be, rendering the drill the rover uses for sampling useless.  All was not lost however!  The Perseverance team was able to essentially wiggle, jiggle and shake the rocks loose using the drill’s various modes, clearing out all the loose rock and debris and getting the instrument ready to resume operations.  They were even able to use a camera to check the sample tube and make sure it was clear and ready for use.  Amazing work!

While dealing with the pebble problem, the rover remained parked in one spot.  Now that things are all clear, Perseverance will once again get back on the rove, ready to rock and roll again an resume its amazing mission, teaching us so much about the Red Planet.

Animation of the Perseverance Rover driving on the surface of Mars. Courtesy NASA/JPL.

Stargazing

I wish I could tell you to go outside and observe Mars tonight, but sadly, it isn’t visible.  Actually, at the moment, none of the five visible planets are easily visible in the early evening sky.  Jupiter sets quickly, following right behind the Sun.  You’ll have to go out before sunset and watch the southwestern sky carefully to catch a glimmer of it during twilight.  Looks like our focus for this month’s Stargazing event on February 12 will be the Moon.  Don’t forget, stargazing is always free at the VLM on the second Saturday of every month beginning at 5pm.  There’s always four programs in the Abbitt Planetarium to choose from (there is a charge for those programs), including Virginia Skies at 6pm and three different rock and roll laser shows as the night goes on.  Check out our website for more details.  See you there!

And until then, carpe noctem!

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