Sunday, August 22, 2010

Neptune at Opposition

Voyager's 1989 view of the storms and clouds on Neptune.

In 1989 I joined with hundreds of other space enthusiasts and astronomers, both amateur and professional, in one of the lecture halls in the Eyring Science Building at BYU. The occasion was the Voyager 2 flyby of the planet Neptune. As the spacecraft's images came in to JPL a duplicate feed was projected onto the large screen in the auditorium. If I remember right, it was late at night, but at that moment hundreds of cheers, "oooohs!" and "ahhhh!'s" erupted each time an image was refreshed.

The Voyager 2 encounter with Uranus in 1986 and with Neptune in 1989 really started my slide into the obsession with astronomy and space education. I moved from enthusiast into downright education, joining the BYU Astronomical Society and learning how to prepare and present planetarium shows in the Sarah B. Summerhays planetarium. By 1991 I was helping with spaceflight simulator missions and classes at the Christa McAuliffe Space Education Center in Pleasant Grove, Utah.

Sometimes I get so busy with life, though, that the little things can slip by almost unnoticed.

It just so happens that on or about August 20, last Friday, Neptune reached opposition. That means that the Sun, Earth, and Neptune lined up in a straight line. On August 20th, Neptune was in the midnight sky exactly opposite from where the Sun would be at that time. Neptune is also almost at a point in its orbit when it shall reach its first complete orbital revolution since it was discovered way back in 1846. THAT important date should be reserved for a party or something. Because Neptune takes about 164+ years to go once around the Sun, we shall only see this once in our lifetime.

So make your plans now... next year we need to have a Neptune anniversary party.

No comments: