[astronews] IAAS Monthly Astronomy Newletter

  • From: Burness Ansell <ki0ar@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: Astronomy Newsletter <astronews@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Mon, 31 Aug 2009 20:13:33 -0700 (PDT)

IAAS Monthly Astronomy Newsletter
September 2009


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. An MS Word formatted downloadable version of 
the newsletter is at http://www.ki0ar.com/current_nl.doc.

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 
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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

* Full Moon on the 4th.
* Last Quarter Moon on the 11th.
* New Moon on the 18th.
* First Quarter Moon on the 26th.

* Perigee on the 16th, 226,212 miles from Earth.
* Apogee on the 27th, 251,302 miles from Earth.

Moon/Planet Pairs:
* The Moon passes 3° north of Jupiter on the 2nd.
* The Moon passes 3° north of Neptune on the 3rd.
* Earth passes through Saturn's ring plane on the 4th.
* The Moon passes 6° north of Uranus on the 5th.
* The Moon passes 1.1° north of Mars on the 13th.
* The Moon passes 3° south of Venus on the 16th.
* Venus passes 0.5° north of Regulus on the 20th.
* The Moon passes 0.8° north of Antares on the 24th.
* The Moon passes 3° north of Jupiter on the 29th.
* The Moon passes 3° north of Neptune on the 30th.

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 September - Jupiter remains bright almost all night 
long. Uranus and Neptune are good binocular targets near Jupiter. Mars and 
Venus continue to provide good views in the early morning before sunrise. 
Mercury makes brief appearances at the beginning and end of the month. Earth 
reaches the Autumnal Equinox.

* Mercury - Sets at 8:13 p.m. on the 1st but will rapidly disappear into the 
twilight glow during the first week of September. Mercury is stationary on the 
6th. Mercury is in inferior conjunction on the 20th. Mercury is again 
stationary on the 28th. Mercury returns to the morning sky during the last week 
of September. Mercury rises about 5:34 a.m. by month's end. Mercury moves from 
the constellation of Virgo into Leo in a retrograde motion this month. Mercury 
shines at magnitude 0.7.

* Venus - Rises at 3:45 a.m. on the 1st and about 4:50 a.m. by month's end. 
Look for Venus in the early morning sky before sunrise. Venus moves from the 
constellation of Cancer into Leo this month shining at magnitude -3.9.

* Earth - The Autumnal equinox occurs at 5:19 p.m. EDT on the 22nd.

* Mars - Rises at 1:07 a.m. on the 1st and about 12:29 a.m. by month's end. 
Look for Mars in the southeast before sunrise. Mars is in the constellation of 
Gemini this month shining at magnitude 0.9.

* Jupiter - Rises at 6:36 p.m. on the 1st and about 4:32 p.m. by month's end.  
On the evening of the 2nd, the Galilean moons will all disappear from view and 
Jupiter will appear to be without moons for nearly 2 hours beginning at 12:43 
a.m. to 2:29 a.m. EDT September 3 (9:43 p.m. to 11:29 p.m. PDT September 2). 
Jupiter is in the constellation of Capricornus shining at magnitude -2.8.

* Saturn - Is in conjunction with the Sun on the 17th. Saturn is not visible 
this month. Saturn will return to the morning sky in October.

* Uranus - Is at opposition on the 17th, rising as the Sun sets. Uranus rises 
at 8:04 p.m. on the 1st and about 6:03 p.m. by month's end. Uranus is easily 
viewed in the evening sky with a good pair of binoculars. Uranus appears at its 
best for the year. Uranus is in the constellation of Pisces shining at 
magnitude 5.7.

* Neptune - Rises at 6:46 p.m. on the 1st and about 4:47 p.m. by month's end. 
Neptune can easily be found just east of Jupiter in the constellation 
Capricornus with a good pair of binoculars. Neptune shines at magnitude 7.8.

Dwarf Planets  
* Ceres - Sets at 9:17 p.m. on the 1st and about 7:47 p.m. by month's end. 
Ceres moves from the constellation of Gemini into Cancer this month shining at 
magnitude 8.8. 

* Pluto - Sets at 1:20 a.m. on the 1st and about 11:18 p.m. by month's end. 
Pluto is in the constellation of Sagittarius shining at magnitude 14.0.

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


Astronomical Events

Meteor Showers
* No significant meteor shower activity this month, but you can expect to see 
from 1 to 4 meteors per hour early in the month.

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

* Comet 22P/Kopff is in the constellation of Aquarius this month. Comet Kopff 
shines at magnitude 10. Look for Comet Kopff after mid-month when the Moon will 
not interfere with observing. Comet Kopff lies east of Jupiter and is best 
viewed from a dark sky site looking south after midnight.

* 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)
* Iris is in the constellation of Sagittarius.
* Psyche is in the constellation of Capricornus.
* Isis is at opposition on the 8th in the constellation of Aquarius.
* Juno is at opposition on the 21st in the constellation of Pisces.
* Massalia is at opposition on the 24th in the constellation of Pisces.
* Julia is in the constellation of Andromeda.
* Melpomene is in the constellation of Pisces.
* Vesta is in the constellation of Cancer.

* 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 - August 13, 2009
Tropics of Saturn's Moon No Tropical Paradise On Some Days

"Astronomers have identified a storm cell on Titan the size of the country of 
India. The storm system appeared in April 2008 in the moon's tropical region, 
an area not known for its cloudiness. Using the Gemini North Telescope and NASA 
Infrared Telescope Facility on Hawaii's Mauna Kea volcano, a team of 
astronomers from the University of Hawaii, the Lowell Observatory, and the 
California Institute of Technology found a significant mass of methane clouds 
in a cold desert area where no clouds were expected. Large cloud outbursts such 
as these are thought to be associated with significant amounts of precipitation 
and probably play a major part in shaping the geological features on the 
surface of Titan..

The paper, "Storms in the tropics of Titan," appears in the Aug. 13 issue of 

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 - August 28, 2009
New Horizons Checks Out, Enters Hibernation

"The New Horizons mission team has closed out a successful summer workout, 
putting its Pluto-bound spacecraft back into hibernation Aug. 27 after seven 
weeks of functional tests and system checks.

The mission's third annual checkout (ACO-3), which started July 7, "went very 
well," says Mission System Engineer Chris Hersman, of the Johns Hopkins 
University Applied Physics Laboratory. "New Horizons is in good shape."

Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute, says 
ACO-3 was less "cluttered and complex" than previous ACOs, kept simple to let 
mission engineers and scientists focus on Pluto-encounter planning. But it was 
still productive: the team performed functional checkouts of all seven science 
instruments and every spacecraft subsystem, including the primary and backup 
hardware in each system; carefully tracked the spacecraft to refine its 
knowledge of New Horizons trajectory; and uploaded the instructions that will 
guide New Horizons through hibernation."

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 June 08, 2009
Dawn Re-Lights the Ionic Fire

"Mission controllers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., 
have received a transmission from the Dawn spacecraft confirming it has 
re-ignited its ion propulsion system. For those of you scoring at home, 
Thruster # 1 received the honors. Over the course of its eight-year mission, 
first to asteroid Vesta and then off to dwarf planet Ceres, Dawn's three ion 
engines will accumulate 2,000 days of operation."

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

* MESSENGER - August 20, 2009
Upcoming Mercury Encounter Presents New Opportunities for Magnetometer

"On September 29, the MESSENGER spacecraft will pass by Mercury for the third 
time, flying 141.7 miles above the planet's rocky surface for a final gravity 
assist that will enable it to enter orbit about Mercury in 2011. This encounter 
will also provide new observational opportunities for MESSENGER's Magnetometer, 
designed to determine the structure and origin of Mercury's intrinsic magnetic 

The comparison of magnetosphere observations from MESSENGER's first flyby in 
January 2008 with data from the probe's second pass in October 2008 provided 
key new insight into the nature of the planet's internal magnetic field and 
revealed new features of Mercury's magnetosphere, explains Brian Anderson, of 
the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Md. 

"MESSENGER's first flyby of Mercury and Mariner 10's encounters with the planet 
provided data only from Mercury's eastern hemisphere," says Anderson, 
MESSENGER's Deputy Project Scientist. "The October 2008 flyby provided the 
first measurements from Mercury's western hemisphere, and scientists learned 
that the planet's magnetic field is highly symmetric. This finding is 
significant for the planet's internal field because it implies that the dipole 
is even more closely aligned with the planet's rotation axis than we could 
conclude before the second flyby."

The probe's third flyby of Mercury next month will take it again over the 
planet's western hemisphere, and the observations will be used to refine the 
estimate of the planetary magnetic field, Anderson explains."

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 June 22, 2009
NASA'S Mars Odyssey Alters Orbit to Study Warmer Ground

"PASADENA, Calif. - NASA's long-lived Mars Odyssey spacecraft has completed an 
eight-month adjustment of its orbit, positioning itself to look down at the day 
side of the planet in mid-afternoon instead of late afternoon.

This change gains sensitivity for infrared mapping of Martian minerals by the 
orbiter's Thermal Emission Imaging System camera. Orbit design for Odyssey's 
first seven years of observing Mars used a compromise between what worked best 
for the infrared mapping and for another onboard instrument.

"The orbiter is now overhead at about 3:45 in the afternoon instead of 5 p.m., 
so the ground is warmer and there is more thermal energy for the camera's 
infrared sensors to detect," said Jeffrey Plaut of NASA's Jet Propulsion 
Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., project scientist for Mars Odyssey."

"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) - August 26, 2009

SPIRIT UPDATE: Regional Dust Storm - sols 2002-2008, August 20-26, 2009:

"Spirit continues to profile the geology at her embedded location, called 
"Troy," on the west side of Home Plate. However, the rover is currently 
affected by a large regional dust storm.

Although orbital observations indicate the storm is abating, the skies over 
Gusev crater are expected to remaining dusty for several sols. As a result, the 
rover team has been conservative with Spirit's planning, keeping energy 
consumption low and maintaining high states of charge in the batteries until 
the skies clear.

Spirit began the week continuing a long Mössbauer (MB) integration of the 
surface target "Polyphemus Eye." On Sol 2006 (Aug. 24, 2009), Sprit initiated a 
set of penetrometer experiments to directly measure physical properties of the 
embedding soil. The rock abrasion tool (RAT) was pressed into the soil at three 
different pre-load levels of force. The resulting indentation (soil 
penetration) after each pre-load was then documented with a set of images. Also 
on the same sol an atmospheric argon measurement was collected with the alpha 
particle X-ray spectrometer (APXS), and the MB was placed for another multi-sol 

On Earth, testing is being done with two different-weight rovers, the 
full-weight surface system testbed (SSTB) rover and the near Mars-weight SSTB 
Lite rover, in two different soil simulants. Testing with both rovers will help 
determine the effects of different gravity on Earth-based test results, all in 
preparation for the first extraction moves on Mars.

Atmospheric conditions have deteriorated owing to the large regional dust 
storm. As of Sol 2007 (Aug. 25, 2009), Spirit's solar-array energy production 
was precipitously down to 322 watt-hours, with a large increase in the 
atmospheric opacity (tau) to 2.61. The dust factor declined to 0.658, meaning 
that about 65.8 percent of the sunlight hitting the solar array penetrates 
through the dust on the array. Spirit's total odometry remains at 7,729.93 
meters (4.80 miles)."

OPPORTUNITY UPDATE: Meteorite Examination Continues - sols 1981-1987, August 
20-26, 2009:

"Opportunity is continuing its contact investigation of the 70-centimeter 
(28-inch) meteorite called "Block Island."

On Sol 1981 (Aug. 20, 2009), the rover performed a very small rotation that 
moved the robotic arm (instrument deployment device, or IDD) in azimuth to 
reach new targets on the meteorite. On the next sol, the IDD collected a stack 
of microscopic imager (MI) images of new targets and then placed the alpha 
particle X-ray spectrometer (APXS) onto a target.

The IDD changed tools the following sol from the APXS to the Mössbauer (MB) 
spectrometer and placed it on the target "Siahs Swamp2" for a multi-sol 
integration. On Sol 1986 (Aug. 25, 2009), the MB was retracted and an ambitious 
MI imaging campaign, including stereo imaging, was performed on the surface of 
the meteorite. At the end of that, the MB was replaced for continued 

The shroud of the miniature thermal emission spectrometer (Mini-TES) continues 
to be left open on scheduled sols to allow the environment to clean putative 
dust contamination from the elevation mirror. No improvement in Mini-TES 
performance has been observed so far, but the rover has seen no wind events.

As of Sol 1986 (Aug. 25, 2009), Opportunity's solar-array energy production was 
453 watt-hours with an atmospheric opacity (tau) of 0.526 and a dust factor of 
0.550. The rover's total odometry was 17,229.16 meters (10.71 miles)."

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

Visit the Mars Exploration Rover page at

* Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission - August 28, 2009
Orbiter in Safe Mode Increases Communication Rate

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission Status Report 

"PASADENA, Calif. -- Engineers for NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter project 
have stepped up the communication rate being received from the orbiter as an 
early step in the process of determining why the spacecraft spontaneously 
rebooted its computer on Aug. 26. 

The latest reboot occurred at 5:42 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time (12:42 Universal 
Time) on Wednesday, Aug. 26. 

Data received from the orbiter indicate that this reboot had a different 
signature from reboots in February and June of this year. 

Three new pieces of information are available to guide the investigation. This 
latest reboot affected some memory locations that had not been affected by the 
earlier ones. Also, unlike those earlier reboots, this event occurred while the 
spacecraft was using its backup, "B Side," main computer. In early August, the 
orbiter unexpectedly switched itself from the "A Side" main computer to the "B 
Side" computer. And finally, the decreasing intervals between the four 
safe-mode events this year are also providing clues to the problem."


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 

* 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: August 29, 2009


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