[astronews] IAAS Monthly Astronomy Newsletter

  • From: Burness Ansell <ki0ar@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: Astronomy Newsletter <astronews@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Mon, 31 Dec 2007 15:35:45 -0800 (PST)

                IAAS Monthly Astronomy Newsletter
                         January 2008


The International Association for Astronomical Studies provides this newsletter 
as a service for
interested persons in the Denver Metro area. The astronomical data presented 
here is not only
useful in Colorado but in other parts of the world as well.


This newsletter is published on the World Wide Web at 
http://bfa3.home.att.net/astro.html - The
Home of KI0AR - and is received nationally and internationally.


An Open Invitation - For amateur radio and scanner enthusiasts, when in the 
Denver metro area,
please join the Colorado Astronomy Net on the Rocky Mountain Radio League 
repeater on a frequency
of 146.94 MHz on Tuesday nights at 7 PM local time.


Special Notice to Denver, CO area residents and visitors to the area: The 
Plains Conservation
Center in Aurora hosts Full Moon Walks every month weather permitting on or 
near the night of the
full Moon. Visit http://www.plainsconservationcenter.org for more information 
and directions.


Excerpts from JPL mission updates are provided as a public service as part of 
the JPL Solar System
Ambassador / NASA Outreach program.


In This Newsletter...

* The Moon
* The Planets
* Astronomical Events
* Planetary/Lunar Exploration Missions
* Web Sites of Interest
* Acknowledgments and References
* Subscription Information


The Moon

* New Moon on the 8th.
* 1st Quarter Moon on the 15th.
* Full Moon on the 22nd.
* Last Quarter Moon on the 30th.

* Apogee on the 3rd, 251,861 mi. from Earth.
* Perigee on the 19th, 227,689 mi. from Earth.
* Apogee on the 30th, 251,365 mi. from Earth.

Moon/Planet Pairs:
* The Moon passes 7 deg. south of Venus on the 5th.
* The Moon passes 0.5 deg. south of Antares on the 5th.
* Venus passes 6 deg. north of Antares on the 6th.
* The Moon passes 0.4 deg. south of Neptune on the 10th.
* The Moon passes 3 deg. north of Uranus on the 12th.
* The Moon passes 1.1 deg. north of Mars on the 19th.
* The Moon passes 0.7 deg. south of Regulus on the 24th.
* The Moon passes 3 deg. south of Saturn on the 25th.

The Planets & Dwarf Planets
Planetary Reports generated by "TheSky" software. 
(http://bfa3.home.att.net/planrpts.html)  These
reports provide predicted data for the planets for the first of each month for 
the current year.
The rise and set times for the Sun and the Moon for each day of the month are 
also included in the
(All times are local unless otherwise noted.)

* Planetary Highlights for January - "This January is a great month for 
stargazing. Mars is near
its best. Jupiter and Venus perform a spectacular morning conjunction. Comet 
8P/Tuttle is on view
early in the month. And the prolific Quadrantid meteor shower occurs with 
little lunar
interference. Throw in the Moon's occultation of the Pleiades star cluster, and 
the only thing
that could improve observing would be warmer temperatures. All in all, it's not 
a bad way to start
off the year." Astronomy Magazine, January 2008, p. 44.

* Mercury - Is at greatest eastern elongation (19 deg. above the western 
horizon) on the 21st and
is stationary on the 28th. Mercury is visible most of the month in the western 
sky before sunset.
Mercury sets about 5:19 pm on the 1st and about 6:12 pm by month's end. Mercury 
moves from the
constellation of Sagittarius, through Capricornus, into Aquarius this month and 
dims from
magnitude -1.0 to 1.4.
* Venus - Rises about 4:21 am on the 1st and about 5:15 am by month's end. 
Venus shines at
magnitude -3.9 and passes from the constellation of Libra into Sagittarius this 
* Earth - Is at perihelion (91.4 million miles from the Sun) on the 2nd.

* Mars - Having reached opposition last month, Mars still remains a prime 
telescopic treat. Mars
is well above the eastern horizon (about 30 deg. or more) as the Sun sets. Mars 
rises at 3:30 pm
on the 1st and about 1:05 pm by month's end. Mars is in the constellation of 
Taurus and shines at
magnitude -1.5.
* Jupiter - Will be difficult to spot early in the month as Jupiter rises just 
20 minutes before
the Sun on the 1st. Wait until mid-month for better viewing. Jupiter rises at 
6:52 am on the 1st
and about 5:18 am by month's end. Jupiter is very low in the southeast in the 
constellation of
Sagittarius shining at magnitude -1.8.

* Saturn - Rises around 9:21 pm on the 1st and about 7:11 pm by month's end. 
Saturn reaches
opposition next month so Saturn is in an excellent position for evening 
viewing. Saturn shines at
magnitude 0.5 in the constellation of Leo.

* Uranus - Sets about 10:42 am on the 1st and about 10:42 pm by month's end. 
Uranus is in the
constellation of Aquarius and shines at a magnitude of 5.9.

* Neptune - Sets at 9:56 pm on the 1st and about 7:58 pm by month's end. 
Neptune is in the
constellation of Capricornus and shines at magnitude 7.9.

Dwarf Planets

* Ceres - Sets about 2:34 am on the 1st and about 12:54 am by month's end. 
Ceres should be easy to
spot with a small telescope this month. Ceres moves from the constellation of 
Cetus into Aries and
shines at magnitude 8.2.

* Pluto - Has returned to the morning sky this month. Pluto rises about 6:10 am 
on the 1st and
about 4:12 am by month's end. Pluto shines at magnitude 14.0 in the 
constellation of Sagittarius.
As always, good luck at spotting this one, a large telescope and very dark 
skies will be needed.

Astronomical Events

Meteor Showers
* The Quadrantids - This meteor shower is generally visible between December 28 
and January 7,
with a very sharp maximum of 45 to 200 meteors per hour occurring during 
January 3 and 4. The
meteors tend to be bluish and possess an average magnitude of about 2.8.

* For more information about Meteor Showers, visit Gary Kronk's Meteor Showers 
Online web page at

* "NEW YEARS COMET: After a 13.6 year absence, Comet 8P/Tuttle is once again 
traveling through the
inner solar system and on Jan. 1st and 2nd it makes its closest approach to 
Earth--only 24 million
miles away. The emerald-colored comet will brighten to a predicted magnitude of 
5.8, visible to
the unaided eye from dark-sky sites and a fine target for backyard telescopes." 
Sky map:

* For information, orbital elements and ephemerides on observable comets visit 
the Observable
Comets page from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

* For more information about Comets, visit Gary Kronk's Cometography.com web 
page at

* No eclipse activity this month. 

* Information on various occultations can be found at
http://lunar-occultations.com/iota/iotandx.htm, the International Occultation 
Timing Association's
(IOTA) web site.

Asteroids (From west to east)
* Vesta is in the constellation of Capricornus.
* Pallas is in the constellation of Aquarius.
* Flora is in the constellation of Taurus.
* Eunomia is at opposition on the 10th in the constellation of Gemini.
* Hebe is in the constellation of Leo.

* Information about the Minor Planets can be found at 
http://www.minorplanetobserver.com the Minor
Planet Observer web site.


Planetary/Lunar Exploration Missions
(Excerpts from recent mission updates)

* Cassini - December 24, 2007 - The Painted Globe
Full-Res: PIA08396 (http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA08396)

"Saturn in the Cassini era has proved to be an unexpectedly colorful place, 
compared to the browns
and golds imaged by the two Voyager spacecraft. 

Saturn is headed toward equinox in 2009, followed by springtime in the northern 
hemisphere. Having
a spacecraft in orbit while such changes occur will be of great benefit in 
scientists' quest to
understand the atmospheres of the giant planets. 

The planet's oblate, or squashed, shape is clearly visible in this view. The 
low-density planet
rotates so fast (in about 10.5 hours) that it flattens out slightly around its 
middle. The bluish
tint of the northern latitudes is presumed to be a seasonal effect, and will 
likely disappear
entirely as the north receives increasingly greater amounts of sunlight."

Cassini Imaging Team's website - http://ciclops.org.

For the latest mission status reports, visit 
http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/home/index.cfm.  The speed
and location of the spacecraft can be viewed on the "Present Position" web page.

* New Horizons - December 11, 2007 - New Horizons Team to Talk Jupiter Science 
at AGU Fall Meeting

"The New Horizons spacecraft's spectacular flight past Jupiter earlier this 
year -- which gave it
a gravitational boost on the way to a 2015 encounter with Pluto -- also 
provided an opportunity to
test the instruments on the NASA probe while gathering new scientific data. 
Members of the New
Horizons team will present findings from that encounter during the American 
Geophysical Union
(AGU) Fall Meeting this week in San Francisco. 

A combination of technology, trajectory and good timing allowed New Horizons to 
explore details
that no spacecraft had seen before, such as lightning near Jupiter's poles, the 
life cycle of
fresh ammonia clouds in Jupiter's atmosphere, the structure inside volcanic 
eruptions on Jupiter's
planet-sized moon Io, and the path of charged particles traversing the 
previously unexplored
length of Jupiter's long magnetic tail."

For more information on the New Horizons mission - the first mission to the 
ninth planet - visit
the New Horizons home page: http://pluto.jhuapl.edu/ for more information about 
the mission.

* Dawn - December 18, 2007 - NASA's Dawn Spacecraft Begins Interplanetary 
Cruise Phase

"NASA's Dawn spacecraft has successfully completed the initial checkout phase 
of the mission and
begun its interplanetary cruise phase, which is highlighted by nearly 
continuous thrusting of its
ion propulsion system. Dawn is on a 8-year, 3-billion mile journey to asteroid 
Vesta and dwarf
planet Ceres."

For more information on the Dawn mission, visit the Dawn home page:
http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/dawn/main/index.html for more information 
about the mission.

* Pack Your Backpack
Calling all explorers! Tour JPL with our new Virtual Field Trip site. Stops 
include Mission
Control and the Rover Lab. Your guided tour starts when you select a "face" 
that will be yours
throughout the visit. Cool space images and souvenirs are all included in your 

* Past, Present, Future and Proposed JPL Missions - 

* For special JPL programs and presentations in your area visit the JPL Solar 
System Ambassador
web site at http://www2.jpl.nasa.gov/ambassador/index.html.

Mars Missions

* Mars Global Surveyor 

All of the Mars Global Surveyor images are archived here:

Every six months, a new suite of MGS MOC data are archived with the NASA 
Planetary Data System
(PDS - http://pds.jpl.nasa.gov/).

Information about how to submit requests is online at the Mars Orbiter Camera 
Target Request Site,
at http://www.msss.com/plan/intro "

The newly released MOC images can be seen in the MOC Gallery 
(http://www.msss.com/moc_gallery/), a
web site maintained by Malin Space Science Systems, the company that built and 
operates MOC for
the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and NASA.

Visit the MGS pages at http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/mgs/index.html.  There are over 
200,000 images of
Mars from the MGS, check out the newest images of the surface of Mars at

* Mars Odyssey Orbiter - December 20, 2007 - 
Mars Opposition

Artist's concept of Mars Opposition on December 24, 2007. The distances between 
the sun, the
planets, and the distant nebula are not to scale.

"Like all the planets in our solar system, Earth and Mars orbit the sun. But 
Earth is closer to
the sun, and therefore races along its orbit more quickly. Earth makes two 
trips around the sun in
about the same amount of time that Mars takes to make one trip. So sometimes 
the two planets are
on opposite sides of the sun, very far apart, and other times, Earth catches up 
with its neighbor
and passes relatively close to it."

"A simulated fly-through using the newly assembled imagery is available online 

The fly-through plus tools for wandering across and zooming into the large 
image are at

Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) web site: (http://themis.asu.edu/)

December 24-28, 2007

* Lava Flows (Released 24 December 2007)

* Polar Outliers (Released 25 December 2007)

* Landslides (Released 26 December 2007)

* Dust Devil Tracks (Released 27 December 2007)

* Canyon Ridges (Released 28 December 2007)

All of the THEMIS images are archived here:

The Odyssey data are available through a new online access system established 
by the Planetary
Data System at: http://starbrite.jpl.nasa.gov/pds/";

Visit the Mars Odyssey Mission page at 

* Mars Exploration Rover Mission (Spirit and Opportunity) - 
December 26, 2007

Spirit Status: Spirit Makes It to a North-Facing Slope - sol 1404-1408, 
December 21, 2007

"Spirit has achieved 13 degrees of northerly tilt after backing the rear and 
middle wheels over
the north edge of "Home Plate," where the rover will remain during the coming 
holidays. Power
levels have already increased significantly from 260 watt-hours on sol 1404 
(Dec. 15, 2007) to 291
watt-hours on sol 1408 (Dec. 19, 2007).

Spirit's ideal northerly tilt at present would be 16 degrees, and the rover's 
handlers plan to
have the rover creep farther down the slope in mid-January to increase the 
northerly tilt. On
Spirit's current track, they expect to see an ultimate northerly tilt of 25 
degrees to 30 degrees.

In the meantime, Spirit will perform studies using instruments on the rover's 
robotic arm,
including the microscopic imager, alpha-particle X-ray spectrometer, and 
Mössbauer spectrometer.
Spirit's handlers still have a huge challenge ahead, but after three weeks of 
working on Mars time
and on weekends, they are, like the rover, enjoying a long-awaited and 
well-deserved sigh of

The science team is nicknaming features in the area after the Tuskegee Airmen, 
the first black
pilots to serve in the U.S. military."

Opportunity Status: Opportunity Maneuvers Around Steeper Slopes in "Victoria 
Crater" - sol
1375-1381, Dec 17, 2007

"Opportunity is now in the process of driving to the third band of 
light-colored rocks that
circumscribe "Victoria Crater" beneath the rim. Scientists had initially 
planned to have the rover
head directly downhill to a rock target nicknamed "Ronov," within the band 
known as "Lyell." They
selected an alternate rock exposure, dubbed "Newell," when engineers determined 
that the original
drive route would tilt the rover 25 degrees, somewhat higher than desired. The 
estimated tilt
along the new route is a much gentler 20 degrees but the drive is somewhat more 
complex and
required two days of planning. 

During the past week, Opportunity completed scientific investigation of the 
second band of rocks,
known as "Smith," with an analysis of elemental chemistry and iron-bearing 
minerals beneath the
surface of a rock exposure labeled "Smith2." To do this, the rover collected 
data with the
alpha-particle X-ray spectrometer Mössbauer spectrometer, respectively. 

If next week's planned drive goes as anticipated and closer inspection of 
Newell deems it to be an
acceptable target, Opportunity is likely to stay at the new location for 
several weeks collecting
data. Scientists plan to have the rover conduct a complete campaign of studies 
with the
alpha-particle X-ray and Mössbauer spectrometers, microscopic imager, rock 
abrasion tool, and
on-board cameras. 

During the planned drive, Opportunity will complete a "Get Quick Fine 
Attitude," a procedure for
determining the rover's position relative to the changing position of the Sun. 
This activity
recalibrates the inertial measurement unit and eliminates tiny errors that 
accumulate over time in
pointing the antenna. 

Opportunity is healthy and all subsystems are operating as expected. The latest 
available power
readings, taken on Martian day, or sol, 1379 (Dec. 10, 2007), show solar energy 
levels at a robust
601 watt-hours, enough to light a 100-watt bulb for 6 hours."

Landing sites link -http://marsoweb.nas.nasa.gov/landingsites/

Visit the Mars Exploration Rover page at  

* Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission - December 11, 2007 - 
Mars Orbiter Examines 'Lace' and 'Lizard Skin' Terrain

Dark fans and bright fans on Mars.
Image credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona 
- Full image and caption

"SAN FRANCISCO - Scrutiny by NASA's newest Mars orbiter is helping scientists 
learn the stories of
some of the weirdest landscapes on Mars, as well as more familiar-looking parts 
of the Red Planet.

One type of landscape near Mars' south pole is called "cryptic terrain" because 
it once defied
explanation, but new observations bolster and refine recent interpretations of 
how springtime
outbursts of carbon-dioxide gas there sculpt intricate patterns and paint 
seasonal splotches. 

"A lot of Mars looks like Utah, but this is an area that looks nothing like 
Planet Earth," said
Candice Hansen of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., deputy 
investigator for the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera 
on NASA's Mars
Reconnaissance Orbiter."

More information about the mission is available online at 

* Phoenix Mars Lander Mission - No new news since October 30, 2007 - Phoenix 
Mars Lander Status
Report: Tasks En Route to Mars Include Course Tweak, Gear Checks

"NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander, launched on Aug. 4 and headed to Mars, fired its 
four trajectory
correction thrusters Wednesday for only the second time. The 45.9-second burn 
nudged the
spacecraft just the right amount to put it on a course to arrive at the red 
planet seven months
from today. 

At Mars, Phoenix will face a challenging 7-minute descent through the 
atmosphere to land in the
far north on May 25, 2008. After landing, it will use a robotic digging arm and 
other instruments
during a three-month period to investigate whether icy soil of the Martian 
arctic could have ever
been a favorable environment for microbial life. The solar-powered lander will 
also look for clues
about the history of the water in the ice and will monitor weather as northern 
Mars' summer
progresses toward fall."

Visit the Phoenix Mars Lander Mission pages at

* Mars Missions Status - New Mars missions are being planned to include several 
new rover and
sample collection missions. Check out the Mars Missions web page:
http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/missions/ and the Mars Exploration page: 


Links and Other Space News
(If you have a link you would like to recommend to our readers, please feel 
free to submit it.)

* Skywatch Sightings from NASA - http://spaceflight.nasa.gov/realdata/sightings/
This site gives you the best times to watch the ISS pass over or near your 

* "TheSky" Software - http://www.bisque.com

* Astrogirl Homepage - 

* Astronomical Lexicon - http://bfa3.home.att.net/astrolex.html
Many of the astronomical terms used in this newsletter are defined here.

* Astronomy Picture of the Day - 

* Celestron Telescopes - http://www.celestron.com/c2/index.php - New beta 

* Cloudbait Observatory, Guffey Colorado - http://www.cloudbait.com  - Submit 
your fireball
reports here. Interesting, knowledgeable site.

* The Constellations and Their Stars -
Good site for finding out more about the 88 constellations and their associated 

* Denver Astronomical Society - http://www.denverastrosociety.org

* Distant Suns - http://www.distantsuns.com/
Desktop Astronomy package for PCs.

* Eric's Black Sun Eclipse website - 

* Groovy Adventures - http://www.groovyadventures.com
Unique adventures and vacations including astronomy related vacations.

* JPL Solar System Ambassador Program - 

* JPL Solar System - 

* Meade Advanced Products Users Group - http://www.mapug-astronomy.net/ - 
Mapug-Astronomy Topical
Archive & information resource, containing a massive 335 page archive of 
discussions about Meade
equipment, and much more: observatories, observing lists, permanent piers, 
equatorial wedges,
remote operations, software, eyepieces, etc.

* My Stars Live - http://www.mystarslive.com/
Interactive Star Chart

* NASA Science News - http://science.nasa.gov/ 

* Northern Colorado Astronomical Society - http://ncastro.org/

* Sangre Stargazers - http://sangrestargazers.skymtn.com/ - New astronomy club 
in the Wet Mountain
Valley of Custer County (about 45 miles due west of Pueblo, CO.)

* Sky and Space - http://www.skyandspace.com.au/public/home.ehtml
Astronomy from Down Under - The Southern Hemisphere's first astronomy and space 

* Space.com - http://space.com
Interesting space and astronomy articles.

* Space.com - Sky Watch Calendar - 

* Spaceflight Now - http://spaceflightnow.com/

* Universe Today - http://www.universetoday.com


Acknowledgments and References

Much of the information in this newsletter is from "Astronomy Magazine" 
(Kalmbach Publishing), JPL
mission status reports, the Internet, "Meteor Showers - A Descriptive Catalog" 
by Gary W. Kronk,
Sky & Telescope web pages (S&T), and other astronomical sources that I have 
stashed on my book

The author will accept any suggestions, constructive criticisms, and 
corrections. Please feel free
to send me any new links or articles to share as well. I will try to 
accommodate any reasonable
requests. Please feel free to send questions, comments, criticisms, or 
donations to the email
address listed below. Enjoy!


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Keep looking UP!
73 from KI0AR

Created by Burness F. Ansell, III

COO, Director of Aerospace Technologies, IAAS
JPL Solar System Ambassador, Colorado
Last modified: December 31, 2007

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