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'Wave at Saturn' Friday at Elizabeth library


July 17, 2013 | 09:43 AM

NASA's "Wave at Saturn" outreach activity will be Friday, and, as part of the activity, the Elizabeth branch of the Harrison County Public Library will host an event presented by Mark Steven Williams of StarGeezerAstronomy.com at 5 p.m.

NASA's Cassini mission spacecraft at Saturn will take images of the whole Saturn system, including the rings, as it is backlit by the sun. With Saturn covering the glare of the sun, Cassini imaging and science teams will gather unique ring science and catch a glimpse of Earth.

During the time the orbiter will be in Saturn's shadow, Cassini will map the planet and ring system with visual and infrared spectrometers, an ultraviolet imaging spectrograph, and shoot a mosaic of the entire system with standard imaging cameras. While shooting the mosaic, Cassini will be able to take a picture of Earth from a distance of nearly 900 million miles. Earth will appear as just a pixel but it will be in several images.

Opportunities to image Earth from the outer solar system are few and far between and special care must be taken so Cassini's cameras aren't blinded by looking in the direction of the sun, where Earth is. There have been only two images of Earth from the outer solar system in all the time humankind has been venturing into space. The first and most distant was taken by the Voyager 1 spacecraft in 1990 from a distance of four billion miles. In 2006, Cassini imaged Earth from a distance of 926 million miles.

NASA has organized the "Wave at Saturn" event as an opportunity for earthlings to wave at the cosmic photographer in the Saturn system and learn more about Saturn, its rings and moons.

Williams' program Friday will begin with an indoor presentation about Cassini and the "Wave at Saturn" project.

"At 5:25 p.m., we'll move outdoors, wave and say 'cheese'," Williams said.

Cassini's imaging cameras will scan the area near Earth between 5:27 and 5:42 p.m.

Following the photo session, the program will continue with viewing of the sun and sunspots through a special solar projection telescope, a commemoration of the anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, a "Kids Best Planet Costume" contest, crafts, an astronomy quiz, tips on backyard stargazing, astronomy news and a preview of "What's Up" in the July skies.

At 8:45, activities will move outdoors once again with a demonstration on setting up a large telescope which will be followed by viewing of planets Venus and Saturn and the waxing gibbous moon.

The evening will conclude at 10:30 with viewing of a visible pass of the Chinese Tiangong-1 space station.

Prizes in the "Best Planet Costume" and astro quiz will include Quick Study laminated academic "Stargazing" and "Astronomy" guides from BarCharts.com and "Stars and Planets Over Indiana" CDs of digital astronomical images taken by local amateur astronomers.

Free sky maps for July will be available to the first 30 guests.

This free event is a public service of the Harrison County Public Library.

For more information, call the library's Elizabeth branch at 969-2899 or visit online at www.StarGeezerAstronomy.com.

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