[astronews] IAAS Monthly Astronomy Newsletter

  • From: Burness Ansell <ki0ar@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: Astronomy Newsletter <astronews@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Mon, 31 Jan 2011 17:40:06 -0800 (PST)

IAAS Monthly Astronomy Newsletter
February 2011

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 
http://www.apple.com, download and install iTunes (for either Mac or Windows). 
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

* New Moon occurs on the 2nd.
* First Quarter Moon occurs on the 11th.
* Full Moon occurs on the 18th.
* Last Quarter Moon occurs on the 24th.

* The Moon is at Apogee on the 6th, 252,229 miles from Earth.
* The Moon is at Perigee on the 19th, 222,604 miles from Earth.

Moon/Planet Pairs:
* The Moon passes 4° north of Mercury on the 1st.
* The Moon passes 6° north of Uranus on the 6th.
* The Moon passes 7° north of Jupiter on the 7th.
* The Moon passes 8° south of Saturn on the 21st.
* The Moon passes 0.9° south of asteroid Vesta on the 27th.
* The Moon passes 1.6° north of Venus on the 28th.

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 - Jupiter is prominent in the western sky 
which makes for easy viewing in the early evening. Uranus precedes Jupiter by 
about 10 to 20 minutes all month still making it relatively easy to find. 
Saturn has returned to the evening sky rising about an hour after Jupiter sets 
and Venus is dominant in the morning sky before sunrise. 

* Mercury - Is in superior conjunction on the 25th. Mercury is lost in the 
morning twilight glow of the Sun this month and is not visible. Mercury will 
return to the evening sky in March.

* Venus - Rises at 4:11 a.m. on the 1st and about 4:34 a.m. by month's end. 
Venus shines brightly in the morning sky before sunrise. Venus is in the 
constellation of Sagittarius this month shining at magnitude -4.2.

* Earth - N/A.

* Mars - Is in conjunction with the Sun on the 4th. Mars remains hidden behind 
the Sun until April when it will return to the morning sky.

* Jupiter - Dominates the early evening sky setting at 9:22 p.m. on the 1st and 
about 8:02 p.m. by month's end. Look for Jupiter in the west in the evening. 
Jupiter moves from the constellation of Pisces into Cetus this month shining at 
magnitude -2.1.

* Saturn - Rises at 10:30 a.m. on the 1st and about 8:35 p.m. by month's end. 
Look for Saturn rising about an hour after Jupiter sets. Saturn is in the 
constellation of Virgo shining at magnitude 0.6.

* Uranus - Sets at 9:03 p.m. on the 1st and about 7:22 p.m. by month's end. 
Uranus now precedes Jupiter by 10 minutes at the beginning of the month and 
extends its lead to about 20 minutes by month's end. Uranus is still easy to 
find with Jupiter's help, due to its relative close proximity. Uranus is in the 
constellation of Pisces shining at magnitude 5.9.

* Neptune - Is in conjunction with the Sun on the 17th. Neptune is not visible 
this month. Neptune will return to the morning sky in March but will be lost in 
the twilight glow until April.

Dwarf Planets  
* Ceres - Even though Ceres has returned to the morning sky this month, it is 
lost in the twilight glow and is not visible this month. 

* Pluto - Rises at 4:43 a.m. on the 1st and about 2:56 a.m. by month's end. 
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/.

* The best time to view Comet 103P/Hartley will be on the 1st as it passes 
within 1° east of the open cluster M50 in the constellation of Monoceros. A 
minimum of a 4 inch telescope will be needed, but even an 8 inch telescope 
won't resolve this fuzzy object much better shining only at magnitude 11.

* 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/.

* There is no eclipse activity this month.

Observational Opportunities
* On February 28 and March 1, look for the thin waning crescent Moon and Venus 
close together about an hour before sunrise.

Asteroids (From west to east)
* Hebe is in the constellation of Cetus.
* Thalia is in the constellation of Cancer.
* Iris is in the constellation of Cancer.
* Nysa is at opposition on the 10th in the constellation of Leo.
* Juno is in the constellation of Virgo.
* Massalia is in the constellation of Virgo.
* Vesta is in the constellation of Sagittarius.

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

* Information on various occultations can be found at 
http://lunar-occultations.com/iota/iotandx.htm , the International Occultation 
Timing Association's (IOTA) web site.
Planetary/Lunar Exploration Missions
(Excerpts from recent mission updates)

* Cassini - No new news since December 21, 2010
Cassini Finishes Sleigh Ride by Icy Moons
Image: http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/photos/imagedetails/index.cfm?imageId=4215

"On the heels of a successful close flyby of Saturn's moon Enceladus, NASA's 
Cassini spacecraft is returning images of Enceladus and the nearby moon Dione.

Several pictures show Enceladus backlit, with the dark outline of the moon 
crowned by glowing jets from the south polar region. The images show several 
separate jets, or sets of jets, emanating from the fissures known as "tiger 
stripes." Scientists will use the images to pinpoint the jet source locations 
on the surface and learn more about their shape and variability.

The Enceladus flyby took Cassini within about 48 kilometers (30 miles) of the 
moon's northern hemisphere. Cassini's fields and particles instruments worked 
on searching for particles that may form a tenuous atmosphere around Enceladus. 
They also hope to learn whether those particles may be similar to the faint 
oxygen- and carbon-dioxide atmosphere detected recently around Rhea, another 
Saturnian moon. The scientists were particularly interested in the Enceladus 
environment away from the jets emanating from the south polar region. 
Scientists also hope this flyby will help them understand the rate of 
micrometeoroid bombardment in the Saturn system and get at the age of Saturn's 
main rings."

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 20, 2011
Launch Plus Five Years: A Ways Traveled, a Ways to Go

"It's been five years since New Horizons roared into the Florida skies – 
speeding from Earth faster than any spacecraft before it – and began its 
journey to the unexplored regions of the planetary frontier. Today, with New 
Horizons more than halfway through its voyage to Pluto, mission team members 
look back on the historic launch and a few of the events since.

"Five years in flight already! It's a credit to our spacecraft and operations 
teams that we've traveled so far without any big problems cropping up," says 
New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research 
Institute. "We still have four years to go until encounter operations begin, 
but we're already excited to see the light at the end of the tunnel that comes 
in 2015. Go New Horizons!""

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 October 08, 2010
NASA Mission to Asteroid Gets Help From Hubble

"PASADENA, Calif. – NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has captured images of the 
large asteroid Vesta that will help refine plans for the Dawn spacecraft's 
rendezvous with Vesta in July 2011.

Scientists have constructed a video from the images that will help improve 
pointing instructions for Dawn as it is placed in a polar orbit around Vesta. 
Analyses of Hubble images revealed a pole orientation, or tilt, of 
approximately four degrees more to the asteroid's east than scientists 
previously thought.

This means the change of seasons between the southern and northern hemispheres 
of Vesta may take place about a month later than previously expected while Dawn 
is orbiting the asteroid. The result is a change in the pattern of sunlight 
expected to illuminate the asteroid. Dawn needs solar illumination for imaging 
and some mapping activities."

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

* MESSENGER - No new news since December 07, 2010
One Hundred Days until Mercury Orbit Insertion

"One hundred days from now, MESSENGER will execute a 15-minute maneuver that 
will place the spacecraft into orbit about Mercury, making it the first craft 
ever to do so, and initiating a one-year science campaign to understand the 
innermost planet. It has already been 14 years since this mission was first 
proposed to NASA, more than 10 years since the project officially began, and 
over six years since the spacecraft was launched."

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 December 15, 2010
NASA's Odyssey Spacecraft Sets Exploration Record on Mars

"PASADENA, Calif., -- NASA's Mars Odyssey, which launched in 2001, will break 
the record Wednesday for longest-serving spacecraft at the Red Planet. The 
probe begins its 3,340th day in Martian orbit at 5:55 p.m. PST (8:55 p.m. EST) 
on Wednesday to break the record set by NASA's Mars Global Surveyor, which 
orbited Mars from 1997 to 2006.

Odyssey's longevity enables continued science, including the monitoring of 
seasonal changes on Mars from year to year and the most detailed maps ever made 
of most of the planet. In 2002, the spacecraft detected hydrogen just below the 
surface throughout Mars' high-latitude regions. The deduction that the hydrogen 
is in frozen water prompted NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander mission, which confirmed 
the theory in 2008. Odyssey also carried the first experiment sent to Mars 
specifically to prepare for human missions, and found radiation levels around 
the planet from solar flares and cosmic rays are two to three times higher than 
around Earth."

Global Martian Map: http://www.mars.asu.edu/maps/?layer=thm_dayir_100m_v11.

"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 25, 2011

SPIRIT UPDATE: Spirit Remains Silent at Troy - sols 2505-2511, January 19-25, 

"No communication has been received from Spirit since Sol 2210 (March 22, 2010).

The project continues to listen with the Deep Space Network (DSN) and the Mars 
orbiters for autonomous recovery communication from a low-power fault case. 
Different frequency reference offsets will be used by the DSN in case Spirit's 
receiver's frequency response has drifted.

The project also continues the "Sweep & Beep" paging strategy to stimulate the 
rover in the case of a mission-clock fault. The time window for the Sweep & 
Beep commanding is being expanded to cover more possible timing cases. The JPL 
Radio Science team is also expanding the time window over which it listens to 
cover the possibility that Spirit's clock may have drifted more than estimated, 
and the rover locks up at a different time on the signal to the Mar 
Reconnaissance Orbiter (which shares the same X-band frequency channel). The 
period of maximum solar insolation (energy production) for Spirit occurs around 
mid-March 2011.

Total odometry is unchanged at 7,730.50 meters (4.80 miles)."

OPPORTUNITY UPDATE: Rover Explores Santa Maria Crater - sols 2485-2489, January 
20-24, 2011:

"Opportunity is in position for solar conjunction at the southeast rim of the 
80-meter (262-foot) diameter Santa Maria crater.

The southeast region of the rim shows evidence for hydrated sulfate minerals. 
Opportunity is positioned near a bright surface target called "Luis de Torres," 
and has begun the planned in-situ (contact) surface since campaign that will 
continue through solar conjunction.

On Sol 2485 (Jan. 20, 2011), a microscopic imager (MI) mosaic of Luis de Torres 
was collected. The target was brushed by the rock abrasion tool (RAT) on a 
previous sol. On Sol 2486 (Jan. 21, 2011), the alpha particle X-ray 
spectrometer (APXS) was placed on the same target for a post-brushed 
integration. On the next sol, the Mössbauer (MB) spectrometer was then 
positioned on the target for a multi-week integration that will last through 
the solar conjunction period.

As of Sol 2489 (Jan. 24, 2011), solar array energy production was 554 
watt-hours with an elevated atmospheric opacity (Tau) of 0.854 and a solar 
array dust factor of 0.616.

Total odometry is 26,658.64 meters (26.66 kilometers, or 16.56 miles)."

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

Visit the Mars Exploration Rover page at

* Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission - January 04, 2011
Rover Will Spend 7th Birthday at Stadium-Size Crater

"The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars 
Reconnaissance Orbiter captured a Dec. 31, 2010, view of the Mars Exploration 
Rover Opportunity on the southwestern rim of a football-field-size crater 
called "Santa Maria."

Opportunity arrived at the western edge of Santa Maria crater in mid-December 
and will spend about two months investigating rocks there. That investigation 
will take Opportunity into the beginning of its eighth year on Mars. 
Opportunity landed in the Meridiani Planum region of Mars on Jan. 25, 2004, 
Universal Time (Jan. 24, Pacific Time) for a mission originally planned to last 
for three months.

The new image is online at 
http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/mer/multimedia/gallery/pia13754-anno.html and 
http://hirise.lpl.arizona.edu/releases/oppy-santa-maria.php ."


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.)

* Astronomy A-Go-Go - http://astronomy.libsyn.com/
In the car, at work or under the night time sky astronomy goes where you go!

* "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 ;

* Black Hole Encyclopedia - http://blackholes.stardate.org/ Excellent site from 
StarDate - University of Texas McDonald Observatory 

* 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 ;

* Green Laser - http://www.greenlaser.com
If you're looking for a reasonably priced laser pointer that is great for 
astronomy work, visit this site.

* 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 31, 2011


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