Snowed in? You can watch NASA land on Mars today

NASA will attempt to land a rover on Mars today then deploy a helicopter from it to acquire essential information about the surface of the planet. It’s a historic and once-in-a-lifetime event that you can watch live.

“When I was a lad, landing on Mars felt like a sci fi movie but it’s happening on Thursday,” local astronomer Billy Hix reported on his social media page earlier this week. Hix is The Lynchburg Times’ resident “science guy” and also does science outreach programs for Moore County schools and others.

Beginning at 1 p.m. today, folks can watch a historic event as NASA attempts to land the the Perseverance rover on the surface of Mars and then deploy a helicopter from it. It will mark the first time in the space program’s history that anything man-made landed and then flew around any planet.

And it will be no easy feat.

The 10-foot rover will plunge through Mar’s thin atmosphere at around 12,000 mph then attempt to use a parachute to slow the craft down to around 2 mph in order to precisely land in the Jericho Carter, a dried up lake on the surface of Mars. It’s called the Sky Crane Maneuver and NASA officials says that today’s landing is easily the “most dangerous site NASA has ever tried to land a rover.”

“If there’s one thing we know, it’s that landing on Mars is never easy,” said NASA Associate Administrator for Communications Marc Etkind. “But as NASA’s fifth Mars rover, Perseverance, has an extraordinary engineering pedigree and mission team. We are excited to invite the entire world to share this exciting event with us.”

The landing itself will take place around 2:43 p.m. CST today and you can watch live by visiting http://www.nasa.gov beginning at around 1 p.m. You can also find links across all of NASA’s social media channels including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. •

{The Lynchburg Times is the only independently owned and operated newspaper in Lynchburg, Tennessee. We cover Metro Moore County government, Jack Daniel’s Distillery, Nearest Green Distillery, Tims Ford State Park, Motlow State Community College, Moore County High School, Moore County Middle School, Lynchburg Elementary, Raider Sports, plus regional and state news.}

Local STEM educator hosts NASA Observe the Moon Party

Local STEM outreach and science educator, Billy Hix, will host the NASA Observe the Moon Party on September 26. Hix is a former Motlow College professor and familiar face in Moore County Schools. {Photo Provided}

EVENTS | Usually it requires a trip to Huntsville, but this year you can join the fun from anywhere. On Saturday, September 26 from 6:30 to 7:45 p.m., local STEM educator Billy Hix will host the International Observe the Moon Party presented by the NASA Planetary Missions Program and the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville.

It’s an event meant to celebrate our fascination with the moon. Over 50 years ago, the Apollo 11 crew led by Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins used 7.5 million pounds of thrust to propel themselves into space and history. As more than half a million people watched from home including President Kennedy and Queen Elizabeth, Armstrong became the first human to step foot on the moon and American’s have been obsessed ever since.

Hix took early retirement from teaching science at Motlow College to turn his attention towards STEM outreach in Tennessee schools. He zig zags across the state with his portable planetarium to visit nearly 100 schools and over 71,000 students each year. He visits Moore County students several times a year.

The live stream event on Saturday will be live planetarium show with interviews with Planetary Scientists. It’s a fantastic opportunity for both the science-curious and home or virtual school students. On the day of the event, click here to join. For more information, visit the event’s Facebook page. •

{The Lynchburg Times is the only independently owned and operated newspaper in Lynchburg, Tennessee. We cover Metro Moore County government, Jack Daniel’s Distillery, Nearest Green Distillery, Tims Ford State Park, Motlow State Community College, Moore County High School, Moore County Middle School, Lynchburg Elementary, Raider Sports, plus regional and state news.}

Once-in-a-lifetime comet visible in Moore County

Comet NEOWISE is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see a comet with the naked eye. It should be visible in Moore County through July 19. {Photo Provided}

It’s a once in a 6,800 year astronomical opportunity local stargazers won’t want to miss. Keep your eyes peeled now through July 19 for Comet NEOWISE as it makes a rare appearance that can be seen by the naked eye … but the window is closing quickly.

The three-mile wide comet began its trip near Earth on July 14. It is the first “great comet” to pass near Earth since the Hale-Bopp comet in 1997. The comet is named for the NASA mission that discovered it back in March. Its massive dust tail makes it appear as if it’s hurdling towards Earth … but don’t worry, it’s harmless.

According to local astronomer Billy Hix, the comet can be seen about an hour before sunrise or hour after sunset very low in the northern horizon.

“By July 19, it will be about two fist width (approximately 20 degrees) above the northwest horizon right after sunset. The comet is moving away from earth so it will be getting dimmer,” Hix said.

Luckily, rural areas without light pollution – like the rolling hills of Moore County – are the perfect place to view the comet. If you want to try and capture an image, use a tripod and a long exposure.

Newowise’s closest approach to Earth comes on July 22, at a distance of about 64 million miles. To view a NASA video on how to spot the comet, click here. To check out the International Space Station’s view of the one-in-a-lifetime comet, click here. •

{The Lynchburg Times is the only independently owned and operated newspaper in Lynchburg. We cover Metro Moore County government, Jack Daniel’s Distillery, Nearest Green Distillery, Tims Ford State Park, Motlow State Community College, Moore County High School, Moore County Middle School, Lynchburg Elementary, Raider Sports, plus regional and state news.}

Southern Stargazing: Unicorn meteor storm predicted for Thursday

{Graphic courtesy of the American Meteor Society}

For centuries, folks have looked up fascinated with the stars, moon, planets, and other celestial object. Our night’s sky exists as a brilliant, ever-changing painting that leaves most feeling awed and strangely at peace.

Thursday night, those of us in southern, middle Tennessee will get a rare chance to view a “unicorn” meteor storm. That’s right … we said meteor storm, not shower. Predicted by two American Meteor Society scientists, Peter Jenniskens and Esko Lyytinen, the meteor storm’s named Alpha Monocertoid. Its radiant point is in the Monoceros, the Unicorn constellation, near Orion the Hunter.

Similar meteor storms have happened only four other times this century, in 1925, 1935, 1985, and 1995. Meteor showers and storms come from the dust trail of an unknown comet. They only intersect with the Earth’s orbit sometimes.

The celestial event should begin around 10:50 p.m. on Thursday night and last around 30 minutes with peak meteors outburst lasting around 15 minutes. It could be a rare display of up to 400 meteors every seven minutes, which will be moving at about 140,927 miles per hour.

“It’s usually not worth staying up for,” says local astronomy expert Billy Hix. “But this year could be something special.”

To view properly, stargazers will need a dark location away from city lights with a clear view of the eastern sky. The moon’s currently waning, so it’s brightness won’t interfere. Meteors will be visible to the naked eye. You won’t need binoculars or a telescope. Scientists suggest getting into place at least an hour early, to give your eyes time to adjust to the dark.

Hix says cosmic events are equal opportunity fun because anyone can look up … and it’s free.

“Many of these events are rare or once-in-a-lifetime,” he says. “You often know that you are seeing something that you’ll never see again.”

For more information, visit the American Meteor Society’s website by clicking here. •

{The Lynchburg Times is an independently owned and operated newspaper that publishes new stories every morning. Covering Metro Moore County government, Jack Daniel’s Distillery, Nearest Green Distillery, Tims Ford State Park, Motlow State Community College, Moore County High School, Moore County Middle School, Lynchburg Elementary, Raider Sports, plus regional and state news.}