[astronews] IAAS Monthly Astronomy Newsletter

  • From: Burness Ansell <ki0ar@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: Astronomy Newsletter <astronews@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Tue, 30 Sep 2008 21:08:59 -0700 (PDT)

IAAS Monthly Astronomy Newsletter
October 2008


The International Association for Astronomical Studies provides this newsletter 
as a service for interested persons in the Denver Metro area. The astronomical 
data presented here is not only useful in Colorado but in other parts of the 
world as well.


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


An Open Invitation - For amateur radio and scanner enthusiasts, when in the 
Denver metro area, please join the Colorado Astronomy Net on the Rocky Mountain 
Radio League (http://rmrl.hamradios.com/ ) repeater on a frequency of 146.94 
MHz on Tuesday nights at 7 P.M. local time.


Special Notice to Denver, CO area residents and visitors to the area: The 
Plains Conservation Center in Aurora hosts Full Moon Walks every month weather 
permitting on or near the night of the full Moon. Visit 
http://www.plainsconservationcenter.org for more information and directions.


Excerpts from JPL mission updates are provided as a public service as part of 
the JPL Solar System Ambassador / NASA Outreach program.


In This Newsletter...

* The Moon
* The Planets
* Astronomical Events
* Planetary/Lunar Exploration Missions
* Web Sites of Interest
* Acknowledgments and References
* Subscription Information


The Month At-A-Glance at http://www.ki0ar.com/ataglance.html
A calendar displaying the daily astronomical events.


The Moon

* New Moon on the 28th.
* First Quarter Moon on the 7th.
* Full Moon on the 14th.
* Last Quarter Moon on the 21st.

* Apogee on the 5th, 251,482 mi. from Earth.
* Perigee on the 17th, 226,069 mi. from Earth.

Moon/Planet Pairs:
* The Moon passes 5 deg. south of Venus on the 1st.
* The Moon passes 0.1 deg. south of Antares on the 4th.
* The Moon passes 2 deg. south of Jupiter on the 7th.
* The Moon passes 0.9 deg. north of Neptune on the 10th.
* The Moon passes 4 deg. north of Uranus on the 12th.
* The Moon passes 5 deg. south of Saturn on the 25th.
* Venus passes 3 deg. north of Antares on the 26th.
* The Moon passes 7 deg. south of Mercury on the 27th.
* Mercury passes 4 deg. north of Spica on the 30th.
* The Moon passes 0.06 deg. north of Antares on the 31st.


The Planets & Dwarf Planets
Planetary Reports generated by "TheSky" software. 
(http://www.ki0ar.com/planrpts.html ) These reports provide predicted data for 
the planets for the first of each month for the current year. The rise and set 
times for the Sun and the Moon for each day of the month are also included in 
the reports.
(All times are local unless otherwise noted.)

* Planetary Highlights for October - Planetary treats abound this month. Venus 
and Jupiter are visible in the early evening, Uranus and Neptune follow in 
mid-evening. Saturn and Mercury can be spotted before sunrise. The Orionid 
meteor shower also peaks later in the month.

* Mercury - Is at inferior conjunction with the Sun on the 6th. Mercury is at 
greatest western elongation (18 deg. above the eastern horizon) on the 22nd. 
Mercury is at its best predawn view for this year. Look for Mercury low in the 
east just before sunrise later in the month. Mercury rises about 5:56 a.m. on 
the 15th and about 6:29 a.m. by month's end. Mercury is in the constellation of 
Virgo shining at magnitude 0.9 on the 15th, brightening to magnitude -0.9 on 
the 31st.

* Venus - Can be found low in the West soon after sunset. Venus sets at 7:56 
p.m. on the 1st and about 6:51 p.m. by month's end. Venus moves through the 
constellation of Libra into Scorpio this month. Mercury shines at magnitude 

* Earth - N/A.

* Mars - Is still visible in the evening sky after sunset but just barely. 
About your only chance this month will be on the 1st but you'll need a low, 
clear, flat western horizon. Mars will still be difficult to spot through the 
evening twilight haze. Mars will disappear for the next several months. Mars 
sets at 7:28 p.m. on the 1st. Mars is in the constellation of Virgo shining at 
magnitude 1.6.

* Jupiter - Can be found in the southwestern sky soon after sunset. Jupiter 
sets at 11:53 p.m. on the 1st and about 9:08 p.m. by month's end. Jupiter is in 
the constellation of Sagittarius shining at magnitude -2.2.

* Saturn - Rises at 4:59 a.m. on the 1st and about 2:13 a.m. by month's end. 
Saturn is in the constellation of Leo shining at magnitude 1.0.

* Uranus - Sets at 5:29 a.m. on the 1st and about 2:22 a.m. by month's end. 
Uranus is in the constellation of Aquarius shining at magnitude 5.8.

* Neptune - Sets at 3:08 a.m. on the 1st and about 12:04 a.m. by month's end. 
Neptune is in the constellation of Capricornus shining at magnitude 7.9.

Dwarf Planets

* Ceres – Rises at 1:29 a.m. on the 1st and about 12:24 a.m. by month’s end. 
Ceres is in the constellation of Leo shining at magnitude 8.6.

* Pluto - Sets at 11:11 p.m. on the 1st and about 8:11 p.m. by month's end. 
Pluto shines at magnitude 14.0 in the constellation of Sagittarius. As always, 
good luck at spotting this one, a large telescope and very dark skies will be 


Astronomical Events

Meteor Showers
* The Orionids - The duration of this meteor shower extends from October 15 to 
29, with maximum occurring on (the morning of) October 21. The maximum hourly 
rate is usually about 20 and the meteors are described as fast.

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

* Comet C/2008 A1 (McNaught) passes from Scorpius through Ophiuchus in the 
latter half of the month. Look for Comet C/2008 A1 (McNaught) in the early 
evening shining around magnitude 8 or 9.

* Lesser comets visible this month (from west to east) are Comet 85P/Boethin in 
the constellation of Sagittarius, Comet 6P/D'Arrest in the constellation of 
Grus and Comet 17P/Holmes in the constellation of Cancer.

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

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

* 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)
* Vesta is at opposition on the 29th in the constellation of Cetus.
* Metis is in the constellation of Cetus.

* 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 - September 30, 2008
Saturn's Active Atmosphere
Full-Res: PIA10480 (http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA10480)

"Saturn's high north is a seething cauldron of activity filled with roiling 
cloud bands and swirling vortices. A corner of the North Polar Hexagon is seen 
at upper left.
This view looks toward a region located about 70 degrees north of the planet's 
equator, in a place that receives continually increasing amounts of sunlight as 
Saturn's seasons change.

The image was taken with the Cassini spacecraft wide-angle camera on Aug. 25, 
2008 using a spectral filter sensitive to wavelengths of infrared light 
centered at 752 nanometers. The view was obtained at a distance of 
approximately 541,000 kilometers (336,000 miles) from Saturn. Image scale is 29 
kilometers (18 miles) per pixel."

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.
(http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/operations/present-position.cfm )

* New Horizons - September 16, 2008
NASA Salutes New Horizons Team

"The New Horizons team – including hundreds of technicians, engineers, 
scientists, managers, educators and communications specialists from more than 
20 institutions across the country – has been given the NASA Group Achievement 
Award for creating and launching the first mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt.

NASA Planetary Science Division Director James Green made the presentation 
Sept. 11 at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, Md., where New 
Horizons was designed and built, and is now operated. APL also manages the 
mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate; John Sommerer, acting head of 
the Lab’s Space Department, accepted the award on behalf of the many APL staff 
members who developed the mission and spacecraft."

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 December 18, 2007
NASA's Dawn Spacecraft Begins Interplanetary Cruise Phase

"NASA's Dawn spacecraft has successfully completed the initial checkout phase 
of the mission and begun its interplanetary cruise phase, which is highlighted 
by nearly continuous thrusting of its ion propulsion system. Dawn is on an 
8-year, 3-billion mile journey to asteroid Vesta and dwarf planet Ceres."

For more information on the Dawn mission, visit the Dawn home page: 
http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/dawn/main/index.html .

* MESSENGER - September 29, 2008
MLA Ready to Range to Mercury’s Surface

"One week from today, the MESSENGER spacecraft will fly by Mercury for the 
second time this year. As part of the final preparations for this encounter, 
the Mercury Laser Altimeter (MLA) has been powered on after having been off 
since shortly after the first flyby at the beginning of the year. The entire 
MESSENGER science payload is now powered and configured to collect data during 
next week’s encounter. 

“Right after the January flyby, the MLA completed passive observations of 
Mercury, without the laser firing, as a calibration,” explained MLA Instrument 
Scientist Olivier Barnouin-Jha of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics 
Laboratory in Laurel, Md. “At that point it was switched off, and it has 
remained off since that time.” 

During MESSENGER’s first Mercury encounter, the MLA provided the first direct 
measurements of the topography of Mercury from spacecraft. The results provide 
evidence for a complex geologic history and indicate that Mercury’s craters are 
shallower than those on the Moon at a given crater diameter, as expected 
because of the higher surface gravity. 

“Unlike the topographic data obtained during the first flyby, which were of 
terrain for which we have no space-based imaging, some of the area to which MLA 
will range during this second encounter was imaged by the Mercury Dual Imaging 
System (MDIS) during the first Mercury flyby,” Barnouin-Jha said. Moreover, 
terrain sampled by MLA during the first flyby will in turn be imaged by MDIS 
during this visit. 

“So this second flyby will allow the first inter-comparison between the 
topographic observations and high-resolution spacecraft images,” he added."

For more information on the MESSENGER mission, visit the MESSENGER home page: 
http://messenger.jhuapl.edu/ .

* 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 - 
http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/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 March 20, 2008
NASA Mission Finds New Clues to Guide Search for Life on Mars

"PASADENA, Calif. - NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter has found evidence of salt 
deposits. These deposits point to places where water once was abundant and 
where evidence might exist of possible Martian life from the Red Planet's past.

A team led by Mikki Osterloo of the University of Hawaii, Honolulu, found 
approximately 200 places on southern Mars that show spectral characteristics 
consistent with chloride minerals. Chloride is part of many types of salt, such 
as sodium chloride or table salt. The sites range from about a square kilometer 
(0.4 square mile) to 25 times that size."

"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: (http://themis.asu.edu/ )

September 22-26, 2008

* Yardangs (Released 22 September 2008)

* Lunae Planum (Released 23 September 2008)

* Bright Dunes (Released 24 September 2008)

* Crater Ejecta (Released 25 September 2008)

* Marte Vallis (Released 26 September 2008)

All of the THEMIS images are archived here:

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 
http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/odyssey/index.html .

* Mars Exploration Rover Mission (Spirit and Opportunity) -
September 20, 2008

Spirit Status: Warming Up on Mars - sol 1669-1677, September 12-20, 2008

"With Martian winter on the wane, Spirit is using significantly less energy to 
stay warm. During the winter solstice, Spirit needed 90 watt-hours to run the 
heater. Now, the rover uses between 30 and 40 watt-hours. The reduced demand 
for power, more than the slow increase in solar-array input, has freed up 
energy for other things. In particular, Spirit has added more images to the 
360-degree view of its winter surroundings, known as the "Bonestell panorama." 
The top tier, one of three tiers needed for the final image mosaic, is almost 

Plans called for Spirit to use the miniature thermal emission spectrometer for 
the first time in several months. The last time the rover used the instrument 
was on Martian day, or sol, 1558 (May 21, 2008). On sol 1675 (Sept. 18, 2008), 
Spirit's schedule of activities included calibrating the spectometer and using 
it to observe the sky and ground. Normally, scientists use the observations to 
measure temperatures at different heights and create a temperature profile of 
the ground and atmosphere. In this case, the purpose of the measurements is to 
verify that the spectrometer is still working after a long, cold period of 
disuse. The measurements will also enable scientists to estimate the amount of 
dust on the optics. They may or may not provide a useful temperature profile.

Spirit is healthy and all subsystems are performing as expected as of the most 
recent report from NASA's Odyssey orbiter on sol 1674 (Sept. 17, 2008). 
Solar-array energy has inched upward to 255 watt-hours (100 watt-hours is the 
amount of energy needed to light a 100-watt bulb for one hour). Skies are 
clearer than last week, with tau, a measure of the amount of sunlight blocked 
by atmospheric dust, dropping to 0.141."

Opportunity Status: Slipping Like a Dune Buggy - sol 1648-1654, September 
12-18, 2008

"During the past week, Opportunity has been trying to reach a patch of dust 
between two crests of the ridge surrounding "Victoria Crater." The rover 
approached the ridge from the west, driving on flat ground, on Martian days, or 
sols, 1648 and 1650 (Sept. 12 and Sept. 14, 2008). Then, after reaching a 
staging position, Opportunity began to climb the ridge. That's when the rover's 
wheels began slipping excessively on the sandy slope.

Rover drivers decided to give Opportunity another chance to make it up the 
slope by loosening the slip constraints. This allowed Opportunity to keep 
trying to climb the slope with a higher rate of wheel slippage. If the attempt 
to do this as planned on sol 1654 (Sept. 18, 2008) is not successful, rover 
drivers may try a different approach or abandon the effort.

After the dust patch campaign, plans call for Opportunity to drive south toward 
a 20-kilometer-wide (12-mile-wide) crater 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) away.

Opportunity is healthy, and all subsystems are performing as expected. Based on 
the latest data from sol 1653 (Sept. 17, 2008), the rover has 582 watt-hours of 
solar power available each day. (One hundred watt-hours is the amount of energy 
needed to light a 100-watt bulb for one hour.)"

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

* Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission - September 25, 2008
NASA Orbiter Reveals Rock Fracture Plumbing on Mars

"PASADENA, Calif. – NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has revealed hundreds of 
small fractures exposed on the Martian surface that billions of years ago 
directed flows of water through underground Martian sandstone. 

Researchers used images from the spacecraft's High Resolution Imaging Science 
Experiment, or HiRISE, camera. Images of layered rock deposits at equatorial 
Martian sites show the clusters of fractures to be a type called deformation 
bands, caused by stresses below the surface in granular or porous bedrock. 

"Groundwater often flows along fractures such as these, and knowing that these 
are deformation bands helps us understand how the underground plumbing may have 
worked within these layered deposits," said Chris Okubo of the U.S. Geological 
Survey in Flagstaff, Ariz."

September 24, 2008

* Clusters of Mounds at Acidalia Planitia

* Outcrops in Aurorae Chaos 

* Tube-Fed Lava Flow Field 

* Dark Spot Near Olmpus Mons Volcano

All of the HiRISE images are archived here:

More information about the MRO mission is available online at 
http://www.nasa.gov/mro .

* Phoenix Mars Lander Mission - September 29, 2008
NASA Mars Lander Sees Falling Snow, Soil Data Suggest Liquid Past

"PASADENA, Calif. -- NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander has detected snow falling from 
Martian clouds. Spacecraft soil experiments also have provided evidence of past 
interaction between minerals and liquid water, processes that occur on Earth. 

A laser instrument designed to gather knowledge of how the atmosphere and 
surface interact on Mars has detected snow from clouds about 4 kilometers (2.5 
miles) above the spacecraft's landing site. Data show the snow vaporizing 
before reaching the ground. 

"Nothing like this view has ever been seen on Mars," said Jim Whiteway, of York 
University, Toronto, lead scientist for the Canadian-supplied Meteorological 
Station on Phoenix. "We'll be looking for signs that the snow may even reach 
the ground.'"

Visit the Phoenix Mars Lander Mission pages at 
http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/phoenix/main/index.html .

* Mars Missions Status - New Mars missions are being planned to include several 
new rover and sample collection missions. Check out the Mars Missions web page: 
http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/missions/ and the Mars Exploration page: 


Links and Other Space News
(If you have a link you would like to recommend to our readers, please feel 
free to submit it.)


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

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

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

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

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

* Celestron Telescopes - http://www.celestron.com/c2/index.php - New beta 

* Cloudbait Observatory, Guffey Colorado - http://www.cloudbait.com - Submit 
your fireball reports here. Interesting, knowledgeable site.

* The Constellations and Their Stars - 
Good site for finding out more about the 88 constellations and their associated 

* Denver Astronomical Society - http://www.denverastrosociety.org 

* Distant Suns - http://www.distantsuns.com/ 
Desktop Astronomy package for PCs.

* Eric's Black Sun Eclipse website -

* Groovy Adventures - http://www.groovyadventures.com 
Unique adventures and vacations including astronomy related vacations.

* JPL Solar System Ambassador Program -

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

* Meade Advanced Products Users Group - http://www.mapug-astronomy.net/ - 
Mapug-Astronomy Topical Archive & information resource, containing a massive 
335 page archive of discussions about Meade equipment, and much more: 
observatories, observing lists, permanent piers, equatorial wedges, remote 
operations, software, eyepieces, etc.

* My Stars Live - http://www.mystarslive.com/ 
Interactive Star Chart

* NASA Science News - http://science.nasa.gov/ 

* Northern Colorado Astronomical Society - http://ncastro.org/ 

* Sangre Stargazers - http://sangrestargazers.skymtn.com/ - New astronomy club 
in the Wet Mountain Valley of Custer County (about 45 miles due west of Pueblo, 

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

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

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

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

* Space.com - Sky Watch Calendar -

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

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

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


Acknowledgments and References

Much of the information in this newsletter is from "Astronomy Magazine" 
(Kalmbach Publishing), JPL mission status reports, the Internet, "Meteor 
Showers - A Descriptive Catalog" by Gary W. Kronk, Sky & Telescope web pages 
(S&T), and other astronomical sources that I have stashed on my book shelves.

The author will accept any suggestions, constructive criticisms, and 
corrections. Please feel free to send me any new links or articles to share as 
well. I will try to accommodate any reasonable requests. Please feel free to 
send questions, comments, criticisms, or donations to the email address listed 
below. Enjoy!


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Keep looking UP!
73 from KI0AR

Created by Burness F. Ansell, III

COO, Director of Aerospace Technologies, IAAS
JPL Solar System Ambassador, Colorado
Last modified: September 30, 2008

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