Date: December 30, 2009

Title: Skylights 2010


Podcaster: Patrick McQuillan

Organization: Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS)

Description: A quick run down of the astronomy and space program highlights for 2010. Get out your calendar and mark the important dates to remember for next year. Finally a podcast that you can listen to for an entire year! Song at the end of the podcast is “Next Year” by the Foo Fighters

Bio: Patrick McQuillan earned a B.S. degree in Physics from the College of William and Mary. His senior research project involved determining the period of variable stars, most notably Alpha Auriga. This was at a time when collecting data meant going to the roof of the physics building, locating the research star by hand, and tracking the star manually by following a guide star in the finder scope. No GPS-auto-guiding-from-a-climate-controlled-remote-location! In the twenty plus years since then, he has explained astronomy to the general public as a Planetarium Director, the Education Manager for Challenger Center for Space Science Education, a NASA Solar System Ambassador, and currently explains Earth Science as Education and Outreach Specialist for IRIS. You can view current earthquake activity using the Seismic Monitor located on the IRIS website.

Today’s sponsor: This episode of 365 Days of Astronomy is proudly sponsored by: Joseph Brimacombe, a maga-enthusiastic amateur astronomer based at the Coral Towers and Macedon Ranges Observatories in Australia, and the New Mexico Skies observatory in the United States, and is dedicated to: Pamela Gay, Claire Weston and Georgia Bracey who were the icing on the cake of this incredible podcasting experience. Thank you from the bottom of my ancient heart. Please google “Joseph Brimacombe, photostream” for further information.


Patrick: Welcome to the December 30 edition of the 365 Days of Astronomy Podcasts. Hello, I’m Patrick McQuillan, the Education and Outreach Specialist with IRIS, the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology, a NASA Solar System Ambassador and a former Planetarium Director.

We are nearly at the end of our 365 Days of Astronomy. This is Day 364. Wow! Time flies. Since we are near the end of the year of Podcasts, I thought it might be useful to take a look at upcoming astronomy and space highlights for 2010. That way you could use this podcast over and over and over for an entire year. An astronomical podcast calendar if you will.

Let’s start off by looking at space program highlights for 2010. 2010 may, or may not, be the year that marks the end of the Space Shuttle program. As it stands now, the last Space Shuttle flight will occur in September with the launch of Discovery to the International Space Station. There are five remaining Space Shuttle flights scheduled.
Endeavour is targeted to launch February 7 on a construction mission to the International Space Station. STS-130’s mission main mission will be to deliver the Tranquility module (Node 3) and the multi-window Cupola.

Discovery launches March 18 on mission STS-131. Discovery astronauts will deliver a Multi-Purpose Logistics Module filled with science racks that will be transferred to laboratories on the ISS. During three spacewalks they will attach a spare ammonia tank assembly to the outside of the station and return a European experiment from the outside of the Columbus module.

Atlantis is scheduled to launch May 14 on STS-132. Highlights of the mission include delivering the Russian built Mini Research Module which will be attached to the bottom port of the Zarya module. Spare parts galore are heading up on this mission, including: six spare batteries, a boom assembly for the Ku-band antenna, and spares for the Canadian Dextre robotic arm extension. A radiator, an airlock, and robotic arm for the Russian Multi-purpose Lab are also included in the cargo.

Endeavour launches again on July 29 on the STS-134 mission. No, I did not misspeak. STS-134 is launching before STS-133. Flights are numbered in the planning phase long before the actual launch. When mission launch dates change because of a delay, the numbers can get out of order. Given all the organizations and multiple nations involved in the International Space Station, it is easier to keep the same number for a mission regardless of its actual launch date. So STS-134 will be the next to last space shuttle mission and STS-133 will be the final mission.

STS-134’s major task is to deliver the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, Express Logistics Carrier 3 and more space parts.

The final Space Shuttle mission is scheduled for launch on September 16. Discovery (STS-133) will deliver Express Logistics Carrier 4 and a cargo bay full of critical spare components. Many of the spare parts delivered on the last several missions are so large that the space shuttle is the only vehicle capable of carrying them into space.

Other notable NASA launches in 2010 include: the Solar Dynamics Observatory is scheduled to launch on February 3 and will study the Sun in extreme ultraviolet; Aquarius is schedules for launch sometime after mid-May and will provide the first global maps of salt concentrations in the ocean surface which are needed to understand hear transport and storage in the world’s oceans; and Glory will launch on October 1 with a mission to increase our understanding of the Earth’s energy balance by collecting data on the properties of aerosols and black carbon in the Earth’s atmosphere.

There are four eclipses occurring in 2010: an annular solar eclipse on January 15; a partial lunar eclipse on June 26; a total solar eclipse on July 11 and a total solar eclipse on December 21.

The January 15 annular eclipse will be visible on a 300-kilometer path the traverses central Africa, the Indian Ocean and eastern Asia. A partial eclipse will be seen from a wider path which includes eastern Europe, most of Africa and Indonesia. An annular eclipse occurs when the moon covers all but a bright ring around the edge of the sun. The moon is not able to cover the entire disk of the sun since the moon is near its closest distance from the Earth at the time of the eclipse.

The partial lunar eclipse on June 26 will be visible from most of the Americas, the Pacific and eastern Asia. New England and eastern Canada will miss the entire eclipse since the event begins after moonset from those areas. Observers in western Canada and the United States will have the best views, although moonset occurs just after mid-eclipse. To see the entire event you must observe from the Pacific or eastern Australia.

The total solar eclipse on June 26 is visible over the South Pacific. Only a small portion of the path of totality is over land in southern Chile and Argentina.

The best eclipse of 2010 for observers in the United States is also the final eclipse of the year. The entire total lunar eclipse occurring on December 21 is visible from North America and western South America. The total phase lasts for about one hour and thirteen minutes.

The annual meteor showers for 2010 include: the Quadrantids which peak on January 3 and 4; the Lyrids which peak on April 21 and 22; the Eta Aquarids which peak on May 5 and 6; the Delta Aquarids which peak on July 28 and 29; the Perseids which peak on August 12 and 13; the Orionids which peak on October 21 and 22; the Leonids which peak on November 17 and 18 and the Geminids which peak on December 13 and 14.
Although each of these meteor showers is best on the peak nights, you may be able to increased numbers of meteors for several days before and after the peak.

The Moon is full on January 30, February 28, March 30, April 28, May 27, June 26, July 26, August 24, September 23, October 23, November 21 and December 21. New Moon occurs on January 15, February 14, March 15, April 14, May 14, June 12, July 11, August 10, September 8, October 7, November 6, and December 5.

There will be numerous times to view the planets throughout 2010. One of the best times to view a planet is when that planet is at opposition. A planet at opposition is located on the opposite side of the sky from the Sun. At this time a planet rises at sunset and sets at sunrise. It is thus visible the entire night. Mars is at opposition on January 29. Saturn is at opposition on March 22. Neptune is at opposition on August 20. Jupiter is at opposition on September 21. Uranus is at opposition on September 22. And for those still following the icy world previously known as a planet, Pluto is at opposition on June 25.

There are two planets that can never be at opposition (when viewed from the surface of the Earth). Since Mercury and Venus orbit closer to the sun then the Earth does, they will never be located very far from the sun in our sky.

Venus is visible in the evening sky from March through October when it moves into the morning sky for the rest of the year. Mercury is visible in the morning sky in late January/early February, late May/early June, the middle of September and the end of December. Mercury is visible in the evening sky in early April, late July/early August and late November/early December.

The Vernal Equinox (the beginning of Spring) occurs in the northern hemisphere on March 20 at 17:32 Universal Time. The Summer Solstice occurs in the northern hemisphere on June 21 at 11:28 Universal Time. The Autumnal Equinox occurs in the northern hemisphere on September 23 at 3:09 Universal time. And the Winter Solstice occurs in the northern hemisphere on December 21 at 23:38 Universal Time.

So mark your calendar or listen to this Podcast each month and you will be sure not to miss a single one of the 2010 skylights.

Also returning in 2010 is the increasingly misnamed 365 Days of Astronomy Podcasts which have been extended through all of 2010. Which really makes it like 730 Days of Astronomy Podcasts. Well what ever it is called we hope you will enjoy it throughout next year. No telling what surprises lie in store.

And we will be back in 2010 too. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

End of podcast:

365 Days of Astronomy
The 365 Days of Astronomy Podcast is produced by the New Media Working Group of the International Year of Astronomy 2009. Audio post-production by Preston Gibson. Bandwidth donated by and wizzard media. Web design by Clockwork Active Media Systems. You may reproduce and distribute this audio for non-commercial purposes. Please consider supporting the podcast with a few dollars (or Euros!). Visit us on the web at or email us at Until tomorrow…goodbye.