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  Night Sky
 

Enjoy the
starry night skies
Be a considerate neighbor. Reduce nighttime glare.
Shield your outside lights downward.
Let the stars light up the night.

nOVEMber 2014 night sky

—Charlie Christmann

Sliding Springs slides by

All eyes were on Mars on November 19 as comet Sliding Springs swept within 87,000 miles of Mars. When it was first discovered two years ago, early projections showed a high probability of a collision between the comet and Mars. Later observations ruled out a wreck, but showed an unprecedented opportunity to study a comet up close interacting with a planet.

NASA and India have spacecrafts around and on Mars in prime position to make observations. Described as a snowball, Sliding Springs is thought to be pristine, never having visited the inner solar system before this pass. Spacecrafts had to look fast—the comet sped by Mars at around 126,000 miles per hour, giving little study time for the orbiting spacecraft. Our next chance to see Sliding Springs will come in about a million years.

The rover Opportunity made history by taking the first image of a comet from the surface of another world. The image (tinyurl.com/m59wfv8) shows a fuzzy smudge in the center of the photo. NASA orbiters changed their orbits so that they would be on the opposite side of Mars at closest approach to protect their sensitive equipment from comet dust. Analysis from all of NASA’s craft will be forthcoming over the next several months.

Frontier real estate for sale

For only $19.95 dollars, plus “lunar tax,” shipping and handling, you too can own an acre of the moon, so Dennis Hope says. Using what he hopes is a loophole in the United Nations Outer Space Treaty, Hope has sold over 611 million acres of lunar real estate.

The 1967 treaty says no nation can own the moon, or any other land outside of Earth. So, after sending a letter to the U.N. asking them to dispute an individual’s claim to the moon, Hope began his real estate empire. The U.N. never answered Hope’s letter because, as the International Institute of Space Law has stated, the U.N. treaty applied to nations, corporations, and individuals. However, the treaty does not explicitly forbid individual ownership.

Yet, the question remains: as we begin to colonize the moon and Mars, who owns the land? Both nations and corporations are eying the moon and asteroids for their mineral resources. No one seems to know how to stake a claim.

Russia is looking to place a manned outpost on the moon by 2030 and begin explorations to exploit its riches. India, China, the European Union, the U.S., and several private entities all have the capability to reach the moon. As they begin setting up mining operations, will it become the new “wild west?” The visions of claim jumping and all the nefarious activities surrounding that come to mind. It is not clear how to have a faceoff at high noon, on Main Street, in a space suit. At least there will not be too many shootouts—high noon on the moon only happens every 28 days.

To try and fix the Outer Space Treaty private ownership loophole, the U.N. put forth the Moon Agreement of 1979. Only 16 nations signed the treaty; none of them had a space program. As far as the space faring countries are concerned, the treaty is meaningless.

Even if some organization recognized an individual’s right to own extraterrestrial property, it takes a nation to recognize and enforce that right. So far, no nation is looking to provide any protection. Self-enforcing any deed sold by Mr. Hope, as an absentee owner, could be problematic.

So, if you want to own a piece of the moon, pay Mr. Hope $36.50 and enjoy the novelty of the certificate. Just do not plan to homestead there any time soon.

 
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