Sputnik’s 60th, a harvest Moon and a way to send your name to Mars

WASHINGTON — Wednesday is the 60th anniversary of Sputnik, the first spacecraft to orbit the Earth.

Launched by the USSR, Sputnik spawned the space race (and Space Age), which eventually led to America landing astronauts on the Moon.

Americans could see the moving “star” with their own eyes and listen to the beeps being sent out by the spacecraft.

The first citizen scientist project of the Space Age, Project Moonwatch, was begun to monitor the orbit of Sputnik and other satellites using special telescopes to help refine the Earth’s shape and orbit.

Now, 60 years into the Space Age, you can send your name to Mars on InSight, NASA’s next mission to the Red Planet. You have until Nov. 1 to join me in signing up. I’m a frequent flier, having sent my name along on just about every mission NASA has accepted them.

If our skies remain clear you owe it to yourself to go outside at sunset Oct. 5 and watch the Harvest Moon rise in the southeast. We may be lucky and see the full Moon in a glorious orange-to-yellow color. You may also experience the added bonus of the “Moon illusion,” which makes the Moon appear larger to us when near the horizon.

Full Moon happens at 2:40 p.m. EDT, so we really are seeing the Harvest Moon at almost the exact time it occurs — sunset is at 6:50 p.m.

The Moon will light up the night sky and drown out all but the brightest stars. The light of the Full Harvest Moon will transform the countryside, where there aren’t any bright lights, into a wonderland of light and shadows. I so enjoy the light of the full Moon, because everything — sea, sky and land — takes on an unworldly perspective.

I know we all need a break this week from the horrible events that have occurred. Look to the sky; it is always there, beckoning us to find peace and solitude.

Follow my daily blog and my Twitter to keep up with the latest news in astronomy and space exploration. You can also email me.

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