[astronews] IAAS monthly Astronomy Newsletter

  • From: Burness Ansell <ki0ar@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: Astronomy Newsletter <astronews@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Thu, 30 Dec 2010 15:04:47 -0800 (PST)

IAAS Monthly Astronomy Newsletter
January 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 4th.
* First Quarter Moon occurs on the 12th.
* Full Moon occurs on the 19th.
* Last Quarter Moon occurs on the 26th.

* The Moon is at Apogee on the 10th, 251,641 miles from Earth.
* The Moon is at Perigee on the 21st, 225,428 miles from Earth.

Moon/Planet Pairs:
* Jupiter passes 0.6° south of Uranus on the 2nd.
* The Moon passes 4° north of Mercury on the 2nd.
* The Moon passes 5° north of Neptune on the 7th.
* The Moon passes 7° north of Uranus on the 10th.
* The Moon passes 7° north of Jupiter on the 10th.
* Venus passes 8° north of Antares on the 15th.
* The Moon passes 8° south of Saturn on the 25th.
* The Moon passes 3° south of Venus on the 29th.

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 January - Jupiter continues to provide excellent 
views in the early evening. Uranus continues to be Jupiter's companion as it 
has for the past several months. Mercury is in view for a couple of weeks in 
the morning sky early in the month. Saturn and Venus are prominent in the early 
morning sky before sunrise. The Quadrantids meteor shower peaks the first week 
of January and should be a good show without a Moon to interfere. A partial 
solar eclipse occurs over parts of Europe, Asia and Africa on the 4th.

* Mercury - Is at greatest western elongation (23° above the eastern horizon) 
on the 9th. Look for Mercury low in the east just before sunrise during the 
first couple of weeks of January. Mercury rises at 5:42 a.m. on the 1st and 
about 6:24 a.m. by month's end. Mercury moves from the constellation of 
Ophiuchus into Sagittarius this month shining at magnitude 0.1.

* Venus - Is at greatest western elongation (47° above the eastern horizon) on 
the 8th. Venus rises at 3:36 a.m. on the 1st and about 4:11 a.m. by month's 
end. Venus shines brightly in the morning sky before sunrise. Venus moves from 
the constellation of Libra into Sagittarius this month shining at magnitude 

* Earth - Is at perihelion (91.4 million miles from the Sun) on the 3rd.

* Mars - Sets at 5:18 p.m. on the 1st and about 5:18 p.m. by month's end. Mars 
is impossible to spot this month as it is hiding behind the Sun all month. Mars 
moves from the constellation of Sagittarius into Capricornus this month.

* Jupiter - Dominates the early evening sky setting at 10:58 p.m. on the 1st 
and about 9:22 p.m. by month's end. Look for Jupiter in the southwest in the 
evening. Jupiter is in the constellation of Pisces this month shining at 
magnitude -2.3.

* Saturn - Rises at 12:34 a.m. on the 1st and about 10:30 p.m. by month's end. 
Look for Saturn rising just a couple hours after Jupiter sets. Saturn is in the 
constellation of Virgo shining at magnitude 0.7.

* Uranus - Sets at 11:00 p.m. on the 1st and about 9:03 p.m. by month's end. 
Uranus catches up and precedes Jupiter by just a few minutes most of the month. 
Uranus and Jupiter are separated by less than a degree all month. Uranus is in 
the constellation of Pisces shining at magnitude 5.9.

* Neptune - Sets at 8:29 p.m. on the 1st and about 6:32 p.m. by month's end. 
Look for Neptune low in the southwest as the evening progresses though it will 
be difficult to spot. Neptune moves from the constellation of Capricornus into 
Aquarius this month shining at magnitude 8.0.

Dwarf Planets  
* Ceres - Is in conjunction with the Sun on the 30th. Ceres is not visible this 
month. Ceres returns to the morning sky in February. 

* Pluto - Rises at 6:41 a.m. on the 1st and about 4:43 a.m. by month's end. 
Even though Pluto has returned to the morning sky, it will be very difficult if 
not impossible to spot in the pre-dawn hours since it is so low to the horizon. 
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
* 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 http://meteorshowersonline.com/.

* Comet 103P/Hartley has dimmed considerably as it has moved away from the Sun, 
shining at 8th or 9th magnitude, but should be relatively easy to spot since it 
lies just a few degrees east of Sirius, the brightest star. An 8 inch telescope 
will resolve this fuzzy object from most backyards, but out in the countryside, 
a 4 inch telescope will do the trick.

* 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/.

* A partial solar eclipse occurs on the 4th across parts of Europe, Asia and 
Africa. Maximum occurs over northern Sweden when the Moon will cover 
approximately 86% of the Sun. Link: 

Observational Opportunities
* Solar eclipses are always great observational opportunities but you 
definitely have to be in the right place at the right time and the weather has 
to cooperate. However, Jupiter and Uranus provide a double planetary treat in 
the early evening followed by Saturn a few hours after Jupiter and Uranus set. 
Venus is always a treat shining brightly in the east before sunrise.

Asteroids (From west to east)
* Hebe is in the constellation of Cetus.
* Thalia is at opposition on the 22nd in the constellation of Cancer.
* Iris is at opposition on the 24th in the constellation of Cancer.
* Nysa is in the constellation of Leo.
* Juno is stationary on the 22nd in the constellation of Virgo.
* Massalia 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.

* 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 - 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 - December 17, 2010
The PI's Perspective: Ten Years On

"Billy Joel wrote a song,  "This is the Time," and my favorite verse from that 
old piece goes like this:

"This is the time to remember
'Cause it will not last forever
These are the days to hold on to
'Cause we won't although we'll want to . . ."

Well, 10 years ago, on Dec. 19, 2000, NASA announced that it would conduct a 
competition for a PI-led mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt. At the time, I'd 
been involved in leading NASA's science working group for just such a mission, 
and I had led a successful proposal to build a complete suite of science 
instruments for the mission. So, almost immediately upon NASA's announcement, 
colleagues asked me to lead a Pluto-Kuiper Belt mission proposal.

Within a week of NASA's announcement, my team had joined up with the Johns 
Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory and formed a larger mission team, 
which ultimately became known as New Horizons. The 11 months that our team 
spent together writing and then winning that proposal, and the four subsequent 
whirlwind years we spent building and launching New Horizons, have become days 
to remember.

As we enter the 2010 holiday season, with the spacecraft and instrument payload 
that our team built now approaching the orbit of Uranus, I can't help but 
think: 10 years. Ten. Wow...

- Alan Stern"

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 - 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 - 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) - December 21, 2010

SPIRIT UPDATE: Spirit Remains Silent at Troy - sols 2471-2477, December 15-21, 

"No communication has been received from the rover since Sol 2210 (March 22, 

The project continues to listen for Spirit with the Deep Space Network and Mars 
Odyssey orbiter for autonomous recovery communication from the low-power fault 
case. The project is also conducting a paging technique called "Sweep & Beep" 
to stimulate the rover in the case of a mission-clock fault. The period of peak 
solar insolation (energy production) is not until mid-March 2011.

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

OPPORTUNITY UPDATE: Rover Explores Santa Maria Crater - sols 2451-2456, 
December 16-21, 2010:

"Opportunity has arrived at the 80-meter (262-foot) diameter Santa Maria 
crater, a stop on the way to Endeavour crater. The rover has begun taking 
long-baseline stereo imagery.

This is part of a larger campaign that also includes in-situ (contact) science, 
which is likely to extend through Solar Conjunction (through early February 
2011). In addition to a sophisticated wide-baseline stereo imaging survey from 
several positions halfway around the crater, the rover will explore minerals 
located around the southeast portion of the crater using the instruments on the 
end of the rover's robotic arm.

Opportunity drove several times in the last week with drives on Sols 2451 (Dec. 
16, 2010), 2452 (Dec. 17, 2010), and 2454 (Dec. 19, 2010), to get into position 
for imaging. Another morning Ultra-High Frequency (UHF) relay pass was 
sequenced and executed successfully on Sol 2456 (Dec. 21, 2010), returning 71 
Mbits of data.

As of Sol 2456 (Dec. 21, 2010), solar array energy production was 595 
watt-hours with an atmospheric opacity (Tau) of 0.727 and a solar array dust 
factor of 0.6407.

Total odometry is 26,467.74 meters (26.47 kilometers, 16.45 miles)."

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

Visit the Mars Exploration Rover page at

* Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission - December 01, 2010
Pits, Flows, Other Scenes in New Set of Mars Images

"Newly released images from 340 recent observations of Mars by the High 
Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera aboard NASA's Mars 
Reconnaissance Orbiter show details of a wide assortment of Martian 

Strewn boulders and rippled sand lie on the floors of two shadowy, steep-walled 
pits. Mounds in another region appear to be mud volcanoes, which may have 
brought fine-grained material to the surface from deep underground. In the 
Tharsis volcanic region, the intersection of a lava flow with a trough caused 
by ground collapse allows seeing whether the flow happened before or after the 


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 01, 2011


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