Galileo's Swan Song

September 22, 2003 | The intrepid Galileo spacecraft ended its historic 14-year mission on Sunday, September 21st, when, as directed by NASA flight controllers, the instrument plunged into the Jovian atmosphere at 2:57 EDT. Astronomers decided to "crash" Galileo into Jupiter rather than risk the craft eventually hitting and contaminating one of the Jovian satellites. Experts were particularly concerned about Europa, which Galileo discovered harbors a subsurface liquid-water ocean.

Hundreds of astronomers, engineers, and family members were onhand Sunday at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, to celebrate the success of the Jovian explorer. The Galileo mission was supposed to end six years ago, but it was extended three times because of Galileo's unexpectedly long survival in Jupiter's high-radiation environment and because of the unique and invaluable results it produced. The mission ran so long that when it hit Jupiter, its onboard fuel tanks were practically empty.

For information about the highlights of the mission, visit our online story, "Goodbye, Galileo".

Clear Skies at Astrofest 2003

September 23, 2003 | One thousand amateur astronomers and equipment vendors enjoyed clear skies at this year's Astrofest in Kankakee, Illinois, over the weekend. A little rain early Friday morning gave way to cloudless skies by the afternoon at Camp Shaw-Waw-Nas-See, and temperatures dipping into the upper 40s. Lower humidity on Saturday night made it easier for observers to fight off dew.

During the day, telescopes were pointed toward the Sun, with many observers showing hydrogen-alpha views of prominences. Each night, all over the observing field, telescopes were computer-commanded or hand-driven to point to still-bright Mars and various deep-sky sights. Binocular eyepieces seemed the favorite accessory of the event.

Presentations led off on Friday night with a discussion about fireballs, meteorites, and asteroid impact threats night by Sky & Telescope associate editor Stuart J. Goldman. Saturday afternoon featured a tag-team overview of amateur astronomers, astronomy clubs, and educational outreach by James Sweitzer and Bernhard Beck-Winchatz of DePaul University, Vivian Hoette of the University of Chicago, and amateur Barry Beamon from Rockford, Illinois, as well as other amateurs who told of their experiences working with children. On Saturday night, Michael Bennett, executive director of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, provided a preview of the research and educational potential of the forthcoming Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), a 2.5-meter telescope to be flown within a modified Boeing 747.


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