Published: July 16, 2016 By

At night Wright’s Mesa’s sky turns into a wonderland, an open eye to the Universe. And there is so much out there to see and think about.

Last week Jupiter, the current evening “star”, has been dancing with the Moon. First on one side then in embrace, then the other; just like Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire in those old time musicals. Around Basin Fair time there will be about 3-4 days when Jupiter descends into the pastel-colored desert dusk. It is a wonderful sight and I can just imagine an Ancient Pueblo hunter looking out from Deer Mesa at this same spectacular sight.

Jupiter has been in the news lately. In the past week NASA scientists and engineers pulled off another amazing spaceflight feat: after traveling for 5 years the spacecraft, intended to explore Jupiter’s internal structure and evolution, got through some of the most damaging radiation in our Solar System, and was inserted into a very small window for an optimum orbit. To do this, after that long journey, engineers reversed the orientation to protect the instruments and then did a retro rocket burn to slow it down into that tiny slot. And they did it! Instruments are being checked but so far everything went according to plan. After exploring the planet it is designed to plunge into the interior in a last kamikaze data grab. Jupiter also served and serves as a Giant Big Brother protecting Mother Earth because it sweeps many objects that could threaten Earth into its gravitational field so they don’t hit us. So when you look at that bright, gas giant planet, while not a star but almost indistinguishable from a brown dwarf star, think of our new eyes on it (literally, images from it will be available on NASA’s website), of all we have learned so far about this Protector, and the many mysteries it still will reveal.

Now turnaround, even at dusk, and that “cloud” you see with the dark band in its middle is the Milky Way; a view of part of the disk of stars that, with the galactic center (home of a Black Hole), comprise our nearest stellar neighbors; many galaxies are much larger than ours.  The dark band is made of what astronomers call “dust lanes”; galactic dust that obscures the starlight behind it. Now look to the south of the Milky Way (and notice Scorpio over Lone Cone, Cancer and Leo rising) and you can see a fuzzy “blob” with the naked eye. That’s the globular cluster, Omega Centauri, the largest in our galaxy, the home of billions of stars. It is thought to be the remnant of a collision with a small galaxy billions of years ago.