[astronews] IAAS Monthly Astronomy Newsletter

  • From: Burness Ansell <ki0ar@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: Astronomy Newsletter <astronews@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Sun, 1 Feb 2009 16:51:28 -0800 (PST)

IAAS Monthly Astronomy Newsletter
February 2009


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://www.ki0ar.com/astro.html - The Home of KI0AR - and is received 
nationally and internationally. An MS Word formatted downloadable version of 
the newsletter is at http://www.ki0ar.com/current_nl.doc.


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 (http://rmrl.hamradios.com/ ) repeater on a frequency of 146.94 
MHz on Tuesday nights at 7 P.M. 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 Month At-A-Glance at http://www.ki0ar.com/ataglance.html
A calendar displaying the daily astronomical events.


The Moon

* New Moon on the 24th.
* First Quarter Moon on the 2nd.
* Full Moon on the 9th.
* Last Quarter Moon on the 16th.

* Perigee on the 7th, 224,619 mi. from Earth.
* Apogee on the 19th, 251,736 mi. from Earth.

Moon/Planet Pairs:
* The Moon passes 6° south of Saturn on the 11th.
* Mars passes 0.6° south of Jupiter on the 17th.
* The Moon passes 0.04° north of Antares on the 17th.
* The Moon passes 1.1° north of Mercury on the 22nd.
* The Moon passes 0.7° north of Jupiter on the 22nd.
* The Moon passes 1.7° north of Mars on the 23rd.
* Mercury passes 0.6° south of Jupiter on the 23rd.
* The Moon passes 1.3° south of Venus on the 30th.


The Planets & Dwarf Planets
Planetary Reports generated by "TheSky" software. 
(http://www.ki0ar.com/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 reports.
(All times are local unless otherwise noted.)

* Planetary Highlights for February - This month is dominated by our nearest 
neighbor, Venus. Venus shines at it's brightest this month, more than 20 times 
brighter the the brightest star in the night sky, Sirius. Saturn displays its 
rings almost edge-on in the evening. Mercury, Mars and Jupiter align with the 
thin crescent Moon on the morning of the 22nd.

* Mercury - Is at greatest western elongation (26° above the eastern horizon) 
on the 13th. Mercury is easily visible, low in the east just before sunrise. 
Look for Mercury during the second and third weeks of February. Mercury rises 
at 5:48 a.m. on the 1st and about 5:44 a.m. by month's end. Mercury moves into 
the constellation of Capricornus shining at magnitude -0.1.

* Venus - Is at greatest brilliancy (magnitude -4.8) on the 19th. Venus is in 
the constellation of Pisces this month. Venus sets at 9:11 p.m. on the 1st and 
about 8:47 p.m. by month's end. Venus shines at magnitude -4.8.

* Earth - N/A.

* Mars - Has returned to the morning sky, however, it will still be difficult 
to spot through the early morning twilight. Mars rises at 6:35 a.m. on the 1st 
and about 5:42 a.m. by month's end. Look for Mars during the last two weeks of 
the month low in the east. Mars is in the constellation of Capricornus shining 
at magnitude 1.3.

* Jupiter - Has also returned to the morning sky along with Mercury and Mars. 
Jupiter rises at 6:51 a.m. on the 1st and about 5:21 a.m. by month's end. Look 
for Jupiter after mid-month low in the east along with Mercury and Mars, 
especially on the mornings of the 22nd and 23rd. Jupiter is in the 
constellation of Capricornus shining at magnitude -1.9.

* Saturn - Rises at 8:18 p.m. on the 1st and about 6:18 p.m. by month's end. 
Saturn is visible all evening this month. Saturn is in the constellation of Leo 
shining at magnitude 0.7.

* Uranus - Sets at 8:24 p.m. on the 1st and about 6:41 p.m. by month's end. 
Look for Uranus, low in the west soon after sunset. Uranus is at aphelion 
(1,868 billion miles from the Sun) on the 26th. Uranus is in the constellation 
of Aquarius shining at magnitude 5.9.

* Neptune - Is in conjunction with the Sun on the 12th. Neptune is not visible 
this month.

Dwarf Planets
* Ceres - Is at opposition on the 25th, rising as the Sun sets. Rises at 7:11 
p.m. on the 1st and about 4:46 p.m. by month’s end. Ceres is in the 
constellation of Leo shining at magnitude 7.0.

* Pluto - Rises at 4:20 a.m. on the 1st and about 2:33 a.m. by month's end. 
Pluto is in the constellation of Sagittarius shining at magnitude 14.0.

Good luck at spotting these two, a large telescope and dark skies will be 


Astronomical Events

Meteor Showers
* There are a few minor meteor showers this month but none that produce rates 
much higher than 2-5 per hour.

* For more information about Meteor Showers, visit Gary Kronk's Meteor Showers 
Online web page at http://meteorshowersonline.com/.

* Comet Lulin may possibly brighten to 6th magnitude this month. Comet Lulin 
begins its path through the night sky in the constellation of Libra, passes 
through Virgo, passing near Spica on the 15th. It passes near Saturn on the 
23rd in Leo and near Regulus on the 27th. This comet should be easily spotted 
with a good pair of binoculars or a small telescope even from urban skies.

* For information, orbital elements and ephemerides on observable comets visit 
the Observable Comets page from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics 
(http://cfa-www.harvard.edu/iau/Ephemerides/Comets/index.html ).

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

* A penumbral lunar eclipse occurs on the 9th.

* 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 Cetus.
* Pallas is in the constellation of Lepus.
* Euterpe is at opposition on the 3rd in the constellation of Cancer.
* Amphitrite is in the constellation of Virgo.
* Irene is in the constellation of Virgo.

* 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 - January 29, 2009
Cassini Finds Hydrocarbon Rains May Fill Titan Lakes

"Recent images of Titan from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft affirm the presence of 
lakes of liquid hydrocarbons by capturing changes in the lakes brought on by 
For several years, Cassini scientists have suspected that dark areas near the 
north and south poles of Saturn’s largest satellite might be liquid-filled 
lakes. An analysis published today in the journal Geophysical Research Letters 
of recent pictures of Titan's south polar region reveals new lake features not 
seen in images of the same region taken a year earlier. The presence of 
extensive cloud systems covering the area in the intervening year suggests that 
the new lakes could be the result of a large rainstorm and that some lakes may 
thus owe their presence, size and distribution across Titan’s surface to the 
moon’s weather and changing seasons.

The high-resolution cameras of Cassini’s Imaging Science Subsystem (ISS) have 
now surveyed nearly all of Titan’s surface at a global scale. An updated Titan 
map, being released today by the Cassini Imaging Team, includes the first 
near-infrared images of the leading hemisphere portion of Titan’s northern 
"lake district” captured on Aug. 15-16, 2008. (The leading hemisphere of a moon 
is that which always points in the direction of motion as the moon orbits the 
planet.) These ISS images complement existing high-resolution data from 
Cassini’s Visible and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIMS) and RADAR 

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 - January 19, 2009
Launch Plus Three Years: Looking Back, Looking Ahead

On the anniversary of New Horizons’ launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force 
Station, Fla., on January 19, 2006, mission team members reflect on liftoff, a 
busy first three years of flight and the ongoing voyage to Pluto and beyond.

Countdown to Liftoff

"To Ralph McNutt, of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), launch 
wasn’t just a beginning – it was the culmination of a hard-fought, nearly 
two-decade-long battle in the scientific community to secure a mission to the 
ninth planet.

"When the announcer hit 'zero' and the Atlas V rocket began plowing its way 
through the wispy skin of this pale blue dot we call home, it was a special 
moment," says McNutt, principal investigator of the New Horizons Pluto 
Energetic Particle Spectrometer Science Investigation, or PEPSSI. "We really 
were on the way, and no one could stop us from taking that path to new lands."

Science team co-investigator Richard Binzel of the Massachusetts Institute of 
Technology remembers the run-up to launch, a four-year concert of spacecraft 
design, build and testing, and mission planning that had to reach its crescendo 
by January 2006, in time to meet a month-long launch period and take advantage 
of an opportunity to use Jupiter's gravity as a slingshot toward deeper space. 
"The transition from launch to flight is truly phenomenal," Binzel says. 
“Before launch, the clock looms so large.  Everything has to be ready at the 
launch window, or else!  In cruise phase the pace of hard work continues, but 
now the responsibility feels different. We know New Horizons will reach Pluto!"

New Horizons gallery http://pluto.jhuapl.edu/gallery/sciencePhotos/.

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/.

* Dawn - No new news since November 20, 2008
Dawn Glides Into New Year

"NASA's Dawn spacecraft shut down its ion propulsion system today as scheduled. 
The spacecraft is now gliding toward a Mars flyby in February of next year. 

"Dawn has completed the thrusting it needs to use Mars for a gravity assist to 
help get us to Vesta," said Marc Rayman, Dawn's chief engineer, of NASA's Jet 
Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "Dawn will now coast in its orbit 
around the sun for the next half a year before we again fire up the ion 
propulsion system to continue our journey to the asteroid belt." 

Dawn's ion engines may get a short workout next January to provide any final 
orbital adjustments prior to its encounter with the Red Planet. Ions are also 
scheduled to fly out of the propulsion system during some systems testing in 
spring. But mostly, Dawn's three ion engines will remain silent until June, 
when they will again speed Dawn toward its first appointment, with asteroid 

For more information on the Dawn mission, visit the Dawn home page: 

* MESSENGER - No new news since December 23, 2008
MESSENGER Approaches Three Billion Miles, Enters Fourth Solar Conjunction

"On December 26, the MESSENGER spacecraft will have traveled three billion 
miles since its launch, marking somewhat more than 60 percent of the probe's 
journey toward its destination to be inserted into orbit about Mercury.

"That MESSENGER's odometer reading has reached another major milestone reminds 
us of the long and complex route that our spacecraft must follow," offers 
Principal Investigator Sean Solomon, of the Carnegie Institution of Washington. 
"The year now ending has seen the first two spacecraft flybys of the innermost 
planet in more than three decades, encounters that have yielded a rich lode of 
new observations. The journey is far from over, but MESSENGER has a skilled 
team to guide it the rest of the way."

Mercury orbits deep within the Sun's gravity well. So, even though the planet 
can be as close as 82 million kilometers (51 million miles) from Earth, getting 
the probe into orbit around Mercury depends on an innovative trajectory using 
the gravity of Earth, Venus, and Mercury itself to slow and shape the probe's 
descent into the inner solar system. On its 4.9 billion-mile journey to 
becoming the first spacecraft to orbit the planet Mercury, MESSENGER has flown 
by Earth once, Venus twice, and Mercury twice. Still to come is one more flyby 
of Mercury in late September 2009.

Today the spacecraft entered its fourth superior solar conjunction of the 
mission, placing it on the opposite side of the Sun from Earth. (To see where 
MESSENGER is now, visit http://messenger.jhuapl.edu/whereis/index.php.) The 
Sun-Earth-probe angle will be between 2° and 3° until January 6, 2009, so 
during the next two weeks there will be no communication with the spacecraft."

For more information on the MESSENGER mission, visit the MESSENGER home page: 

* 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 visit.
+ http://virtualfieldtrip.jpl.nasa.gov/ 
* 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 Odyssey Orbiter - No new news since November 17, 2008
Gamma-Ray Evidence Suggests Ancient Mars Had Oceans

"An international team of scientists who analyzed data from the Gamma Ray 
Spectrometer onboard NASA's Mars Odyssey reports new evidence for the 
controversial idea that oceans once covered about a third of ancient Mars.

"We compared Gamma Ray Spectrometer data on potassium, thorium and iron above 
and below a shoreline believed to mark an ancient ocean that covered a third of 
Mars' surface, and an inner shoreline believed to mark a younger, smaller 
ocean," said University of Arizona planetary geologist James M. Dohm, who led 
the international investigation.

"Our investigation posed the question, Might we see a greater concentration of 
these elements within the ancient shorelines because water and rock containing 
the elements moved from the highlands to the lowlands, where they eventually 
ponded as large water bodies?" Dohm said."

"A simulated fly-through using the newly assembled imagery is available online 
at http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/mars/missions/odyssey/20060313.html.

The fly-through plus tools for wandering across and zooming into the large 
image are at http://themis.asu.edu/.";

Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) web site: 

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) -

Mars Rover Team Diagnosing Unexpected Behavior
UPDATED on Jan. 29: Spirit Working Well While Diagnostics Continue

"Diagnostic activities performed by Spirit on Thursday, Jan. 29 narrowed the 
range of factors that may have contributed to its unexpected behavior earlier 
in the week. No clear explanation has been established yet. Spirit is healthy 
and responding to commands. It recorded and returned images of nearby 
scientific targets. The rover team plans further diagnostics on Friday of 
Spirit's inertial measurement unit -- a combined gyroscope-and-accelerometer 
device that measures rover movements and attitude. Spirit may resume driving 
over the weekend.

PASADENA, Calif. - The team operating NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit 
plans diagnostic tests this week after Spirit did not report some of its 
weekend activities, including a request to determine its orientation after an 
incomplete drive.

On Sunday, during the 1,800th Martian day, or sol, of what was initially 
planned as a 90-sol mission on Mars, information radioed from Spirit indicated 
the rover had received its driving commands for the day but had not moved. That 
can happen for many reasons, including the rover properly sensing that it is 
not ready to drive. However, other behavior on Sol 1800 was even more unusual: 
Spirit apparently did not record the day's main activities into the 
non-volatile memory, the part of its memory that persists even when power is 

On Monday, Spirit's controllers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in 
Pasadena, Calif., chose to command the rover on Tuesday, Sol 1802, to find the 
sun with its camera in order to precisely determine its orientation. Not 
knowing its orientation could have been one possible explanation for Spirit not 
doing its weekend drive. Early Tuesday, Spirit reported that it had followed 
the commands, and in fact had located the sun, but not in its expected 

"We don't have a good explanation yet for the way Spirit has been acting for 
the past few days," said JPL's Sharon Laubach, chief of the team that writes 
and checks commands for the rovers. "Our next steps will be diagnostic 

Among other possible causes, the team is considering a hypothesis of transitory 
effects from cosmic rays hitting electronics. On Tuesday, Spirit apparently 
used its non-volatile memory properly. 

Despite the rover's unexplained behavior, Mars Exploration Rovers Project 
Manager John Callas of JPL said Wednesday, "Right now, Spirit is under normal 
sequence control, reporting good health and responsive to commands from the 

JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, manages 
the Mars Exploration Rover project for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, 
Washington. Spirit and its twin, Opportunity, landed on Mars in January 2004 
and have operated 20 times longer than their original prime missions."

Landing sites link - http://marsoweb.nas.nasa.gov/landingsites/ 
Visit the Mars Exploration Rover page at

* Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission - No new news since December 18, 2008
Scientists Find 'Missing' Mineral and Clues to Mars Mysteries

"PASADENA, Calif. -- Researchers using a powerful instrument aboard NASA's Mars 
Reconnaissance Orbiter have found a long-sought-after mineral on the Martian 
surface and, with it, unexpected clues to the Red Planet's watery past. 

Surveying intact bedrock layers with the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging 
Spectrometer for Mars, or CRISM, scientists found carbonate minerals, 
indicating that Mars had neutral to alkaline water when the minerals formed at 
these locations more than 3.6 billion years ago. Carbonates, which on Earth 
include limestone and chalk, dissolve quickly in acid. Therefore, their 
survival until today on Mars challenges suggestions that an exclusively acidic 
environment later dominated the planet. Instead, it indicates that different 
types of watery environments existed. The greater the variety of wet 
environments, the greater the chances one or more of them may have supported 

"We're excited to have finally found carbonate minerals because they provide 
more detail about conditions during specific periods of Mars' history," said 
Scott Murchie, principal investigator for the instrument at the Johns Hopkins 
University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md. 

The findings will appear in the Dec. 19 issue of Science magazine and were 
announced Thursday at a briefing at the American Geophysical Union's Fall 
Meeting in San Francisco."


All of the HiRISE images are archived here:

More information about the MRO mission is available online at 

* Phoenix Mars Lander Mission - January 2, 2009
A Change of Seasons

"Summer turned to autumn for the Phoenix Mars Lander on December 26, 2008. This 
image, taken on December 21 by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, shows the 
lander during the last waning days of northern hemisphere summer. This is the 
first image targeted to the lander since it ceased activity."

Full image and caption 

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.)

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

* A Short Guide to Celestial Navigation - http://www.celnav.de/ 

* Astrogirl Homepage - http://www.astrogirl.org 

* Astronomical Lexicon - http://www.ki0ar.com/astrolex.html 
Many of the astronomical terms used in this newsletter are defined here.

* Astronomy Picture of the Day - http://antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/astropix.html 

* 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.

* The International Dark-Sky Association - http://www.darksky.org
To preserve and protect the nighttime environment and our heritage of dark 

* JPL Solar System Ambassador Program -

* JPL Solar System - http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/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, 

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

* Skywatch Sightings from NASA - 
This site gives you the best times to watch the ISS pass over or near your 

* Southern Colorado Astronomical Society - http://www.scasastronomy.info/

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

* Space.com - Sky Watch Calendar -

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

* "SpaceRef.com" - http://www.spaceref.com/ - SpaceRef's 21 news and reference 
web sites are designed to allow both the novice and specialist alike to explore 
outer space and Earth observation.
This site includes links to planetary updates such as Mercury Today, Venus 
Today, Earth Today, Moon Today, Mars Today, Jupiter Today, Saturn Today, Pluto 
Today, etc.

* Stellarium - http://www.stellarium.org
Free, downloadable planetarium/astronomy software.

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

* Wikisky - http://www.wikisky.org
WIKISKY is a non-commercial project. The main purpose of WIKISKY is to 
consolidate astronomical, astrophysical and other information about different 
space objects and astrophysical facts.


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 shelves.

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: February 01, 2009

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