Starry Night: Early July 2012 — The Orion Capsule

Posted Wednesday, July 4, 2012 in Features

Starry Night: Early July 2012 — The Orion Capsule

An aborted launch of the Orion capsule.  Credit: NASA

by Tristan Radtke

The Orion capsule, once a cornerstone of the since-cancelled Constellation program and designed to be launched aboard the Ares I rocket, was unveiled by NASA on Monday, July 2, at Cape Canaveral. Although the concept has changed a bit for NASA and future manned missions to space, the Orion capsule will serve as the American version of the current Russian Soyuz capsule in the near term. In the long term, the Orion capsule has lofty goals: The capsule is being designed with future manned missions to the moon, an asteroid and Mars in mind.

According to this July 2 article at, NASA intends for this capsule to be test-launched as soon as 2014 aboard a Delta IV from Kennedy Space Center, and they hope for a manned mission as soon as 2021. The Orion capsule is being designed with the Space Launch System rocket in mind as a main launch package — the SLS was designed out of the Space Shuttle’s booster package as a low-cost solution to manned space travel with a price tag far below the Ares series of rockets.

So, while NASA and the American space program are taking a hiatus from manned space travel, with the appearance of the new Orion capsule it would appear that NASA’s mission is far from over.

The stars

Down by the southern horizon, look for Sagittarius, the Archer, which is marked by a teapot shape. Nearby, see if you can spot Scorpius, the Scorpion, with its orangey-red heart Antares. As befits its name, Sagittarius is located on the opposite side of the sky from the constellation Aries, the Ram. Both Sagittarius and Scorpius (and Aries for that matter) are zodiacal constellations, which means they lie on the ecliptic plane, the same path that the sun and moon and planets follow. Because Sagittarius and Scorpius are late fall/winter zodiac signs, the sun is in them at the lowest place in the sky where the sun ever appears, hence, they lie close to the horizon. Both are easily spotted in the summer sky, however, with their distinctive shapes.

The planets

• Mercury: On July 1, Mercury set just behind the sunset at around 10 p.m. By July 15, it will still set behind a much earlier sunset, at around 8:45 p.m.

• Venus: On July 1, Venus rose at about 3:20 a.m. By mid-July, Venus and Jupiter are bright morning stars, rising closely to one another, with Venus rising at about 2:45 a.m.

• Mars: On July 1, Mars  set at just about midnight. On July 15, Mars will not have moved far, setting around 11:30 p.m.

• Jupiter: To begin July, Jupiter is rising around 3 a.m., along with Venus. They will remain the morning stars this month, with Jupiter rising around 2:15 a.m. on July 15.

• Saturn: On July 1, Saturn set at 1:15 a.m. On July 15, Saturn will set around midnight.

• Uranus: On July 1, Uranus rose about midnight. On July 15, Uranus will rise around 11:15 p.m.

• Neptune: Neptune rose at 11 p.m. on July 1. On July 15, Neptune will rise at 10 p.m.

• Pluto: On July 1, Pluto rose at 8 p.m. On July 15, Pluto will rise at 7 p.m. 

The moon

The moon reaches its full phase today, July 3, waning to third quarter on July 10. The moon will reach its new phase by July 18, and will wax into the month of August, reaching first quarter on July 26 and nearly full on July 31.

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