Heavenly Happenings

Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

Look for this tonight!

Look for this tonight! Source: fortphoto hide caption

itoggle caption Source: fortphoto

It is shaping up to be a busy week in outer space. "David, every week is a busy week in outer space," you may say — or post below. I know that. This week just seems to be particularly busy. And definitely more exciting than usual.... There are missiles! Broken satellites! Space shuttles! And eclipses!

The Defense Department plans to shoot down a wayward spy satellite, filled with rocket fuel. If they don't, scientists say — and we're going to trust them on this one — it could crash into Earth. The space shuttle Atlantis returned to the Kennedy Space Center this morning, after a 13-day mission to the International Space Station. (German Astronaut Hans Schlegel, who got sick on the flight, feels better, by the way). And, if it isn't too cloudy, you'll be able to see a lunar eclipse tonight.

We're throwing a sky party in Studio 3A, where, admittedly, the view of the cosmos isn't that great. That's OK. It's the company that matters. Ace reporters David Kestenbaum and Nell Greenfieldboyce will to take your questions. Leave 'em here. And if you have any good tips on how to see a lunar eclipse (what to use, where to go, etc.), we're interested in those, too.



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Haven't the Chinese shot satellites out of the sky already? Have other countries? How successful have other countries been?

Sent by Nella | 2:49 PM | 2-20-2008

So a satellite with the aerodynamics of a two door refrigerator is supposed to be comparable to the space shuttle in resistance to destruction to the Space shuttle. Why will a full hydrazine tank not self destruct when heated to 6000 degrees?

Sent by Jean | 2:52 PM | 2-20-2008

In the past, have controlled satellites that have been guided down into the ocean as they reach the end of their usefulness been carrying toxic fuels?

Sent by Kipp Lachance | 2:55 PM | 2-20-2008

Aren't we in a new moon?

Sent by Jean | 2:57 PM | 2-20-2008

Speaking of space junk. Are we treating "space" as we have been exploiting our oceans for centuries? "It's so big. What's a little garbage?"

Sent by Bradley Sager | 2:57 PM | 2-20-2008

It was mentioned on Talk of the Nation what to do about space junk in Earth's orbit. I've heard from a company working on it that incredibly large rolls of Bubble wrap could catch the junk. The space junk's velocity would easily penetrate the first few layers of bubble wrap and then become lodged. Think of the world's largest plastic carpet roll up. Then after a set time, just pick up or send the roll into earth's atmosphere.

Sent by Daron Fredericks | 3:01 PM | 2-20-2008

Got on google...in Mexico, a woman is supposed to tie a key around her belly during a lunar eclipse to prevent her child from having a cleft palate. Lots of folk traditions about pregnant women and lunar eclipses...

Sent by Melanie | 3:12 PM | 2-20-2008

David Kestenbaum stated that there is plenty of room in space for all of the space junk. Do you think that someone, at one time, said the same about our rivers, lakes, oceans, and air as more and more "junk" was being dumped into them??? We will never learn.

Sent by Larry | 3:15 PM | 2-20-2008

I feel bad for the lady who called regarding the "dark moon" effect when neither of your panelists seemed aware of the phenomenon.

As the Moon and the Earth spiral around the sun, the Moon's distance from the Earth at Full Moon varies and the Moon moves above and below the plane of Earth's (solar) orbit. When an eclipse occurs its depth depends on two principal factors, how well aligned the Sun, Earth and Moon are and the distance between the Earth and the Moon. The closer the Moon to the Earth the deeper it will be into Earth's shadow. When the Sun, Earth and Moon are closely aligned and the Moon is close to the Earth the Moon really will disappear "totally" from view.

I hope there is some way you can communicate these facts to the caller so that she doesn't question her memory too much.

Sent by Richard Cole | 3:53 PM | 2-20-2008

I also felt bad for the caller who didn't get an answer about the totally dark moon, and why it is red other times. As Richard Cole states, the eclipse is totally dark when the Moon is closer to the Earth (i.e. think about hiding under more and more of an object's shadow the closer you get to it). The shadow of the Earth is very large on the Moon when they are close together.

Sun - Earth ----- Moon RED shadow
Sun --- Earth --- Moon kinda brown
Sun ----- Earth - Moon BLACK shadow

The Moon is red in other lunar eclipses because the Moon is further away from the Earth. The shadow of the Earth on the Moon is smaller. The reason it is red is because the first sunlight that begins leaking around the edges of the Earth is in the red spectrum, thus the "blood moon" or red shadow instead of a fully dark shadow.

At least this is what I remember from my astronomy class 15 years ago!

Sent by Sarah Imershein | 4:17 PM | 2-20-2008

The Lunar Eclipse Tonight --
Some of your callers may think that if they miss this eclipse, they won't see another for 2 more years. That doesn't have to be so. Please let your listeners know that if their skies are cloudy tonight, they can still see the eclipse. It will be shown live on several websites. You can find the sites at http://spaceweather.com ---

Faithful listener

Sent by Pat Blankenship | 5:20 PM | 2-20-2008

IT is very strange that NASA and the science world is quick to expose the simple things of space
science, yet ignore the the far superior world of mathematics and physics which literally elevate far
deeper data on all areas of the
mass universe that is known. THIS is not what NPR and mass media want to write about, even with validity.

Sent by jerry a. Myers | 1:41 AM | 2-21-2008

I also feel bad for the woman listener who called in about the night with no moonlight.
I am not sure that she was experiencing an eclipse, though I agree with the 2 comments above regarding the distance between the Sun, Earth, and Moon. That is what I learned in junior high science class.
I'm fairly certain that if one is in a New Moon/Dark Moon phase, the night will very dark, and that was what the woman experienced. I live in a city with serious light pollution, so haven't experienced this phenomenon lately, but I vividly remember stumbling on the trails on camping trips on any deep, dark, moonless night.

Sent by Louise Chambers | 5:10 PM | 2-22-2008