This week, I begin my 35th year of writing this column. To celebrate, I will take you back from this week's sights through some anniversaries of earlier, especially memorable ones.
This week: The moon rises later each evening. Tonight, a little before 9 p.m., it rises far below the semi-bright Saturn and not far to the upper right of the star Spica. Every night at that time, the fading yet still bright light of fire-colored Mars hangs at its highest in the south.
The weekend of Feb. 20-21: Space shuttle Endeavour undocked from the international space station, or ISS. I woke up at 5 a.m. and drove the short journey to my favorite dawn observing site, the Cumberland Pond.
I saw the two spacecraft. Even low in the north over the pond, the ISS looked fairly bright, with the dimmer space shuttle creeping only about two thumb-widths at arm's length ahead of it. Central New Jersey observer Joe Stieber saw the spacecraft, too, and calculated that the small apparent gap between them as we saw them flying over Maine was actually 37 miles. I admired them together in my binoculars. Human beings were riding those points of light - one of the very last shuttle missions.
The next dawn, I only had to stand - for 10 straight minutes - on a patch of ice in my front yard to see that the ISS-shuttle gap had grown to almost half a sky They were, however, passing higher - the space shuttle just above the North Star - and the ISS was especially bright. One of my Rowan University students beheld them, and so did Joe Stieber - this time calculating that the gap as they passed in turn over Connecticut was 430 miles. The shuttle landed at Cape Canaveral that night.
Winter 25 years ago, in 1985: The first naked-eye sighting of Halley's Comet since 1910 was made, initiating what proved to be one of the dimmest but still exciting returns of the comet.
Leap Day 30 years ago, in 1980: It was the evening of Leap Day and Jupiter and Mars did something they only come even close to doing once every 143 years: They reached their brightest right next to each other. As a bonus, they were also next to the full moon, whose impressiveness they outdueled. It was also the coldest night I have ever experienced, 23 degrees below zero Fahrenheit.
Thirty-one years ago last Friday, in 1979: The day I saw my second, staggering total eclipse of the sun in Lundar, a town in Manitoba, Canada. The next total eclipse visible from North America would occur in 1991.
Two older 2010 anniversaries: The 100th of the wondrous 1910 return of Halley's Comet and the 200th of the creation of my beloved Cumberland Pond.
Fred Schaaf is a local author and astronomer. He can be reached at: