[astronews] IAAS Monthly Astronomy Newsletter

  • From: Burness Ansell <ki0ar@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: Astronomy Newsletter <astronews@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Sat, 30 Jan 2010 13:07:06 -0800 (PST)

IAAS Monthly Astronomy Newsletter
February 2010


The International Association for Astronomical Studies provides this newsletter 
as a service for interested persons worldwide.


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. A PDF formatted downloadable version of the 
newsletter is at http://www.ki0ar.com/current_nl.pdf.

This newsletter is now available as an iTunes podcast. Visit 
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Search for "IAAS" and subscribe to the podcast. You may also go to 
http://www.ki0ar.com/astro.html and click on the Subscribe/RSS link. Update 
your iPod or mp3 player and listen to the newsletter at your leisure. Since 
this is a new feature, comments and constructive criticisms are greatly 


An Open Invitation - For amateur radio operators and scanner enthusiasts, when 
in the Denver metro area, please join the Colorado Astronomy Net on the Rocky 
Mountain Radio League's (http://rmrl.hamradios.com/) 146.94 MHz repeater 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

* Last Quarter Moon occurs on the 5th.
* New Moon occurs on the 13th.
* First Quarter Moon occurs on the 21st.
* Full Moon occurs on the 28th.

* The Moon is at Apogee on the 12th, 252,613 miles from Earth.
* The Moon is at Perigee on the 27th, 222,344 miles from Earth.

Moon/Planet Pairs:
* The Moon passes 8° south of Saturn on the 2nd.
* Mars passes 3° north of the Beehive Cluster (M44) on the 6th/7th.
* The Moon passes 1.1° north of Antares on the 7th.
* Venus passes about 0.5° south of Neptune on the 8th.
* The Moon passes 2° north of Mercury on the 12th.
* The Moon passes 6° north of Neptune on the 16th.
* Venus passes about 0.5° south of Jupiter on the 16th.
* The Moon passes 5° south of Mars on the 25th.

For reference: The Full Moon subtends an angle of 0.5°.

The Planets & Dwarf Planets
Planetary Reports are generated by "TheSky" software. 
(http://www.ki0ar.com/planrpts.html) These reports provide predicted data for 
the planets on 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. These reports have been optimized for the Denver, Colorado 
location, however, the times will be approximate for other locations on Earth.

(All times are local unless otherwise noted.)

* Planetary Highlights for February - As Mars is making its grand entrance this 
month into the evening skies, Jupiter is making its exit. Having reached 
opposition in January, Mars will be the dominant planet for evening viewing. 
Neptune and Uranus also disappear along with Jupiter. Saturn rises later in the 
evening but better viewed after midnight. Venus' view improves in the early 
evening as the month progresses. However, Mercury's view deteriorates in the 
morning sky and disappears from view by mid-month. 

* Mercury - Rises about 5:47 a.m. on the 1st and about 6:17 a.m. by month's 
end. Look for Mercury during the first week of February in the east rising 
about 30 minutes before sunrise. Mercury disappears into the morning twilight 
by mid-month. Mercury moves from the constellation of Sagittarius into Aquarius 
shining at magnitude -0.2.

* Venus - Has returned to the evening sky this month setting soon after sunset. 
Venus sets at 5:40 p.m. on the 1st and about 6:48 p.m. by month's end. Venus 
will appear higher and higher in the west-southwest as the month progresses. 
Venus moves from the constellation of Capricornus into Aquarius shining at 
magnitude -3.9.

* Earth - N/A.

* Mars - Having reached opposition just last month, remains near its best for 
the year. Mars rises at 4:36 p.m. on the 1st and about 2:02 p.m. by month's 
end. Look for Mars in the east well above the horizon after sunset. On the 
evenings of the 6th and 7th, use binoculars to view Mars passing north of the 
Beehive Cluster (M44). Mars is in the constellation of Cancer this month. Mars 
dims from magnitude -1.3 on the 1st to -0.6 on the 28th.

* Jupiter - Is in conjunction with the Sun on the 28th. Jupiter sets at 7:26 
p.m. on the 1st and about 5:42 p.m. by month's end. Catch Jupiter during the 
first week or two of February as Jupiter will quickly disappear into the 
evening twilight as the month progresses. Jupiter is in the constellation of 
Aquarius shining at magnitude -2.0.

* Saturn - Rises at 9:25 p.m. on the 1st and about 7:28 p.m. by month's end. 
Look for Saturn in the late evening in the east. Saturn is in the constellation 
of Virgo shining at magnitude 0.7.

* Uranus - Sets at 8:44 p.m. on the 1st and about 7:01 p.m. by month's end. 
Uranus is chasing close behind Jupiter and Neptune and getting more difficult 
to spot in the evening. Uranus is in the constellation of Pisces shining at 
magnitude 5.9.

* Neptune - Is in conjunction with the Sun on the 14th. Neptune is not visible 
this month.

Dwarf Planets  
* Ceres - Rises at 3:23 a.m. on the 1st and about 2:13 a.m. by month's end. 
Like Pluto, Ceres is best viewed about an hour or so before sunrise. Ceres is 
in the constellation of Ophiuchus this month shining at magnitude 8.9. 

* Pluto - Rises at 4:32 a.m. on the 1st and about 2:44 a.m. by month's end. 
Pluto is best viewed an hour or so before sunrise. Pluto is in the 
constellation of Sagittarius shining at magnitude 14.1.

As always, good luck at spotting these two, a large telescope and dark skies 
will be needed.


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 81P/Wild is at perihelion on the 22nd, 148.5 million miles from the 
Sun. Comet 81P/Wild shines its brightest at this time around 9th magnitude. The 
best time to view this comet will be around the weekend of the 13th when the 
Moon will not interfere. Comet 81P/Wild is traveling through the constellation 
of Virgo this month.

* Comet C/2007 Q3 (Siding Spring) is also visible in the northeast about 15° 
above the horizon by 10 p.m. Look for this comet around the 17th, plus or minus 
a couple of evenings, shining at 9th magnitude. Look for a tail and possibly an 

* 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 http://cometography.com/.

* 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)
* Juno is in the constellation of Pisces.
* Vesta is at opposition on the 18th in the constellation of Leo.
* Pallas is in the constellation of Serpens.

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

Observational Opportunities
* On the night of February 16/17, Vesta passes through the western part of Leo. 
Vesta passes between 2nd-magnitude Algieba and its 5th-magnitude neighbor, 40 


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

* Cassini - January 25, 2010
Groovy Hills Rising from Titan Surface

"Hills with a wrinkly radial pattern stand out in a new radar image captured by 
NASA's Cassini spacecraft on Dec. 28, 2009.

The grooved mounds in the picture, which are located in a northern hemisphere 
region known as Belet, are about 80 kilometers (50 miles) wide and about 60 
meters (200 feet) high.

The shapes of these landscape features have not been seen on Titan before, 
though they bear similarity to spidery features known as coronae on Venus. A 
corona is a circular to elliptical feature thought to result from the flow of 
heat in a planet's interior."

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, 2010
Four Years and Counting

"NASA's New Horizons mission team marks four years of flight today - and their 
Pluto-bound spacecraft is sleeping right through the celebration. 

Operators at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, 
Md., commanded New Horizons into hibernation on Friday after 10 days of 
maintenance, during which they downloaded Student Dust Counter data from the 
solid-state recorder, uploaded software updates to the Solar Wind Around Pluto 
(SWAP) instrument, made minor adjustments to the spacecraft's fault-protection 
system and collected navigation-tracking data."

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 13, 2009
Dawn Enters Asteroid Belt -- For Good

"ASTEROID BELT -- NASA's Dawn spacecraft re-entered our solar system's asteroid 
belt today, Nov. 13, and this time it will stay there.

Dawn first entered the belt (whose lower boundary may be defined as the 
greatest distance Mars gets from the sun (249,230,000 kilometers, or 
154,864,000 miles) in June 2008. It remained within the belt for 40 days before 
its carefully planned orbital path brought it below the asteroid belt's lower 

This time around, Dawn's flight path will remain above this hypothetical lower 
boundary for the rest of the mission and for the foreseeable future - Dawn will 
become the first human-made object to take up permanent residence in the 
asteroid belt."

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

* MESSENGER - No new news since December 15, 2009
MESSENGER Team Releases First Global Map of Mercury

"NASA's MESSENGER mission team and cartographic experts from the U. S. 
Geological Survey have created a critical tool for planning the first orbital 
observations of the planet Mercury -- a global mosaic of the planet that will 
help scientists pinpoint craters, faults, and other features for observation. 
The map was created from images taken during the MESSENGER spacecraft's three 
flybys of the planet and those of Mariner 10 in the 1970s. A presentation on 
the new global mosaic is being given today at the Fall Meeting of the American 
Geophysical Union in San Francisco."

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 - January 11, 2010
NASA to Check for Unlikely Winter Survival of Mars Lander

"PASADENA, Calif. -- Beginning Jan. 18, NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter will listen 
for possible, though improbable, radio transmissions from the Phoenix Mars 
Lander, which completed five months of studying an arctic Martian site in 
November 2008. 

The solar-powered lander operated two months longer than its three-month prime 
mission during summer on northern Mars before the seasonal ebb of sunshine 
ended its work. Since then, Phoenix's landing site has gone through autumn, 
winter and part of spring. The lander's hardware was not designed to survive 
the temperature extremes and ice-coating load of an arctic Martian winter. 

In the extremely unlikely case that Phoenix survived the winter, it is expected 
to follow instructions programmed on its computer. If systems still operate, 
once its solar panels generate enough electricity to establish a positive 
energy balance, the lander would periodically try to communicate with any 
available Mars relay orbiters in an attempt to reestablish contact with Earth. 
During each communications attempt, the lander would alternately use each of 
its two radios and each of its two antennas. 

Odyssey will pass over the Phoenix landing site approximately 10 times each day 
during three consecutive days of listening this month and two longer listening 
campaigns in February and March."

"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) - January 20, 2010

SPIRIT UPDATE: Little Progress in Backward Driving - sols 2144-2150, January 
13-19, 2010:

"Spirit is still embedded in the area called "Troy" on the west side of Home 

The project has begun backward driving with Spirit as the next technique to try 
for extrication. On Sol 2145 (Jan. 14, 2010), the first backward drive was 
performed. Up until this point, all extrication attempts had been with forward 
driving. Backward driving includes the additional technique of steering the 
wheels side-to-side before performing each drive step. The hypothesis on the 
wheel steering is two-fold. It clears out material in front of the wheel and 
allows material to slough off the face of the wheel trench providing traction 
under the wheel, and the flat surface of the wheel side (hub) "kicks" against 
the loose material like a swimmer's frog kick or breast stroke to provide 
motive force.

This backward driving technique has shown promise on sols 2145 (Jan. 14, 2010), 
2147 (Jan. 16, 2010) and 2050 (Jan. 19, 2010) with the rover moving 3 to 4 
centimeters (1.2 to 1.6 inches) per drive and the rover climbing in elevation, 
even with only four functioning drive wheels.

During the last drive, the left-middle wheel experienced a motor stall. The 
nature of the stall is not known: whether it is an external obstruction (e.g., 
a rock) or an internal actuator problem. A set of diagnostics have been 
sequenced on the rover before the next drive is attempted. As of Sol 2150 (Jan. 
19, 2010), the rover solar array energy production was to 211 watt-hours with 
an atmospheric opacity (tau) of 0.400 and a dust factor of 0.542. Total 
odometry is 7,730.24 meters (4.80 miles)."

OPPORTUNITY UPDATE: Driving to 'Concepcion' Crater - sols 2125-2130, January 
15-20, 2010:

"Opportunity has been driving south toward a relatively young impact crater, 
called "Concepcion." The crater is estimated to be about 1,000 years old, the 
youngest crater to be explored on Mars.

The rover drove on Sols 2125 (Jan. 15, 2010), 2128 (Jan. 18, 2010) and 2130 
(Jan. 20, 2010), totaling more than 170 meters (558 feet). The rover is now 
only about 100 meters (328 feet) away from the crater. The plan ahead is to 
conduct a circumnavigation imaging campaign of the 10-meter (33-foot) diameter 

The right-front wheel currents have been well-behaved. No improvement has been 
observed yet in the miniature thermal emission spectrometer (Mini-TES) 
elevation mirror, which continues to be opened regularly to allow cleaning by 
the wind.

As of Sol 2130 (Jan. 20, 2010), the solar array energy production was 304 
watt-hours, with an atmospheric opacity (tau) of 0.488 and a dust factor of 
0.505. Total odometry is 19,216.21 meters (11.94 miles)."

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

Visit the Mars Exploration Rover page at

* Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission - January 20, 2010
Public Invited To Pick Pixels on Mars

"PASADENA, Calif. -- The most powerful camera aboard a NASA spacecraft orbiting 
Mars will soon be taking photo suggestions from the public.

Since arriving at Mars in 2006, the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment, 
or HiRISE, camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has recorded nearly 
13,000 observations of the Red Planet's terrain. Each image covers dozens of 
square miles and reveals details as small as a desk. Now, anyone can nominate 
sites for pictures…

To make camera suggestions, visit http://uahirise.org/suggest/ ."


All of the HiRISE images are archived here:

More information about the MRO mission is available online 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 - 
http://www.astro.wisc.edu/~dolan/constellations/constellations.html ;
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 -
http://www.ericsblacksuneclipse.com ;

* 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 

* Skymaps.com - http://www.skymaps.com/

* 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 

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

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

* Space.com - Sky Watch Calendar -
http://www.space.com/spacewatch/sky_calendar.html ;

* 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, "Meteor Showers - A 
Descriptive Catalog" by Gary W. Kronk 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: January 25, 2010


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