[astronews] IAAS Monthly Astronomy Newsletter

  • From: Burness Ansell <ki0ar@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: Astronomy Newsletter <astronews@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Sat, 1 Oct 2011 12:25:57 -0600

IAAS Monthly Astronomy Newsletter
October 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 appreciated.

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

* First Quarter Moon occurs on the 3rd.
* Full Moon occurs on the 11th.
* Last Quarter Moon occurs on the 19th.
* New Moon occurs on the 26th.

* The Moon is at Apogee on the 12th, 252,546 miles from Earth.
* The Moon is at Perigee on the 26th, 221,862 miles from Earth.

Moon/Planet Pairs:
* Venus passes 3° north of Spica on the 3rd.
* The Moon passes 6° north of Neptune on the 7th.
* The Moon passes 6° north of Uranus on the 10th.
* The Moon passes 5° north of Jupiter on the 13th.
* The Moon passes 6° south of Mars on the 21st.
* The Moon passes 0.2° south of Venus on the 28th.
* Saturn passes 5° north of Spica on the 31st.

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 October - Venus is visible in the early evening. Mercury joins Venus during the last week of the month. Jupiter dominates the evening sky from sunset to sunrise all month. On the evening of the 8th, the waxing Moon lies midway between Neptune and Uranus. Mars is visible in the pre-dawn hours before sunrise. Saturn returns to the morning sky during the last week of the month.

* Mercury - Sets about 5:45 p.m. by month's end. Mercury is lost in the twilight glow until the last week of September. Look for Mercury low on the western horizon about 30 minutes after sunset then. Mercury moves from the constellation of Virgo into Libra this month shining at magnitude -0.3.

* Venus - Sets about 7:15 p.m. on the 1st and about 5:56 p.m. by month's end. Venus should be easy to spot in the early evening sky though it will be fairly low to the western horizon all month. Venus moves from the constellation of Virgo into Libra this month shining at magnitude -3.9.

* Earth - N/A.

* Mars - Rises at 1:49 a.m. on the 1st and about 12:16 a.m. by month's end. Mars moves from the constellation of Cancer into Leo this month shining at magnitude 1.2.

* Jupiter - Is at opposition on the 28th, rising as the Sun sets. Jupiter rises at 7:57 p.m. on the 1st and about 4:34 p.m. by month's end. Jupiter dominates the evening sky as it is the brightest object in the sky during these cool autumn evenings. Jupiter is in the constellation of Aries this month shining at magnitude -2.9.

* Saturn - Is in conjunction with the Sun on the 13th. Saturn sets at 9:05 p.m. on the 1st and rises about 5:03 a.m. by month's end. Saturn will disappear from the evening sky very early in the month only to reappear in the morning sky by the last week of September though it will only be about 10° above the eastern horizon. Saturn is in the constellation of Virgo shining at magnitude 0.7.

* Uranus - Rises at 6:24 p.m. on the 1st and about 3:20 p.m. by month's end. Uranus is also at its best and brightest at this time. Uranus is in the constellation of Pisces shining at magnitude 5.7.

* Neptune - Sets at 3:44 a.m. on the 1st and about 12:41 a.m. by month's end. Neptune is in the constellation of Aquarius shining at magnitude 7.9.

Dwarf Planets
* Ceres - Rises at 7:08 p.m. on the 1st and about 4:48 p.m. by month's end. Ceres is in the constellation of Aquarius this month shining at magnitude 8.0.

* Pluto - Sets at 11:33 p.m. on the 1st and about 8:33 p.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
* The Draconids - This shower is associated with periodic comet Giacobini-Zinner. The duration may extend from October 6 to 10, though the point of maximum is very sharply defined within a 4-hour interval on October 9, but the annual maximum hourly rates are not consistent. The radiant rarely produces any recognizable shower except during years especially close to the parent comet's perihelion passage. The meteors are slow and tend to be relatively faint. They are generally yellow.

* 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/2009 P1 Garradd should provide excellent viewing during the evening. Comet Garradd lies about halfway up from the horizon in the southwest. Comet Garradd glows around 7th magnitude and should be visible through backyard telescopes or binoculars under dark skies. Comet Garradd is passing through the constellation of Hercules this month.

* Comet 45P/Honda-MrKos-Pajdusakova is in the constellation of Leo shining around 8th magnitude during the first 10 days of October.

* Comet C/2010 X1 (Elinin) passes through the constellations of Leo, Cancer and Gemini though its magnitude may vary from 6th or much dimmer during the first 2 weeks of the month.

* 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.

Observational Opportunities
* Look for Mars passing near the Beehive Cluster (M44) during the first couple of days of October.
* International Observe The Moon Night occurs on the evening oth the 8th. For more information, visit http://www.observethemoonnight.org.
* Jupiter is at its best on the 28th.

Asteroids (From west to east)
* Vesta is in the constellation of Capricornus.
* Nausikaa is in the constellation of Aquarius.
* Euterpe is at opposition on the 3rd in the constellation of Pisces.
* Amphitrite is in the constellation of Aries.
* Harmonia is in the constellation of Taurus.
* Eunomia is in the constellation of Perseus.

* 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 - October 01, 2011
Enceladus 'E-14' Flyby Oct. 1: Sensing Change

"This close flyby of the south pole will feature fields and particles instruments learning more about the nature and number of the particles in the plumes. Remote sensing instruments will also be seeking changes in the level of activity on Enceladus."

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 - No new news since August 16, 2011
The PI's Perspective: Visiting Four Moons, in Just Four Years, for All Mankind

"In June and July, members of the New Horizons science team, using the Hubble Space Telescope, discovered and confirmed that Pluto has a fourth moon! The new satellite, provisionally called P4, is fainter and therefore likely much smaller, than either Nix or Hydra or Charon - Pluto's other three known moons. For comparison, while Charon is about as wide as the U.S. state of Colorado, Nix and Hydra are closer to the width of Vermont, and P4 is likely to be no wider across than Boulder County, Colorado.

New Horizons remains healthy and on course, now approximately 21 times as far from the Sun as the Earth is - well on its way, between the orbits of Uranus and Neptune."

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 - September 16, 2011
NASA's Dawn Collects a Bounty of Beauty From Vesta

(Double click image to play video)

"PASADENA, Calif. – A new video from NASA's Dawn spacecraft takes us on a flyover journey above the surface of the giant asteroid Vesta.

The data obtained by Dawn's framing camera, used to produce the visualizations, will help scientists determine the processes that formed Vesta's striking features. It will also help Dawn mission fans all over the world visualize this mysterious world, which is the second most massive object in the main asteroid belt.

The video, which shows Vesta as seen from Dawn's perspective, can be viewed at: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/video/index.cfm?id=1020.

You'll notice in the video that Vesta is not entirely lit up. There is no light in the high northern latitudes because, like Earth, Vesta has seasons. Currently it is northern winter on Vesta, and the northern polar region is in perpetual darkness. When we view Vesta's rotation from above the south pole, half is in darkness simply because half of Vesta is in daylight and half is in the darkness of night.

Another distinct feature seen in the video is a massive circular structure in the south pole region. Scientists were particularly eager to see this area close-up, since NASA's Hubble Space Telescope first detected it years ago. The circular structure, or depression, is several hundreds of miles, or kilometers, wide, with cliffs that are also several miles high. One impressive mountain in the center of the depression rises approximately 9 miles (15 kilometers) above the base of this depression, making it one of the highest elevations on all known bodies with solid surfaces in the solar system."

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

* MESSENGER - September 23, 2011
A Journey of a Thousand Footprints (out of 1,000,000)

"The Mercury Atmospheric and Surface Composition Spectrometer (MASCS) serves several scientific objectives of the MESSENGER mission. Combining an ultraviolet spectrometer and infrared spectrograph, MASCS measures the abundances of atmospheric gases around Mercury and detects minerals in its surface materials. In its latter role, MASCS will globally map about 80% of the planet Mercury at a resolution of 20 km or better. 

It is the task of the Visible and Infrared Spectrograph (VIRS) component of MASCS to observe reflected sunlight from the surface of the planet over a wavelength range from the near-ultraviolet (320 nm) to the near-infrared (1450 nm). The reflective properties of the surface materials of Mercury at a given wavelength of light vary somewhat with composition. Thus mapping the surface at a wide range of wavelengths helps to constrain the mineralogical composition of the surface. VIRS is measuring the reflected visible and near-infrared light at wavelengths often diagnostic of iron- and titanium-bearing silicate materials on the surfaces of rocky solar system bodies."

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.
* 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 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."

"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.la.asu.edu/latest.html)

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, 2011

SPIRIT UPDATE: Spirit Remains Silent at Troy - sols 2621-2627, May 18-24, 2011:

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

More than 1,300 commands were radiated to Spirit as part of the recovery effort in an attempt to elicit a response from the rover. No communication has been received from Spirit since Sol 2210 (March 22, 2010). The project concluded the Spirit recovery efforts on May 25, 2011. The remaining, pre-sequenced ultra-high frequency (UHF) relay passes scheduled for Spirit on board the Odyssey orbiter will complete on June 8, 2011.

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

OPPORTUNITY UPDATE: Opportunity Continues to Study 'Chester Lake' Rock Outcrop - sols 2717-2722, September 15-20, 2011:

"Opportunity is less than 500 meters (0.31 miles) from "Spirit Point," the first landfall on the rim of Endeavour crater.

The rover drove four times in the last week on Sols 2663, 2664, 2667 and 2668 (July 22, 23, 26 & 27, 2011), totaling over 460 meters (0.29 miles) of drive distance. The right-front wheel currents remain behaved. On Sol 2669 (July 28, 2011), Opportunity paused in her driving to collect a microscopic imager (MI) mosaic of the surface and an overnight alpha particle X-ray spectrometer (APXS) spectrum of exposed outcrop. The rover also performed a diagnostic test of the MI poker. The results of that test will be received later today. The plan ahead is more driving.

As of Sol 2668 (July 27, 2011), solar array energy production was 413 watt-hours with an atmospheric opacity (Tau) of 1.01 and a solar array dust factor of 0.587.

Total odometry is 32,973.44 meters (32.97 kilometers, 20.49 miles)."

Visit the Mars Exploration Rover page at

* Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission - September 08, 2011
Orbiter Resumes Use of Camera

"PASADENA, Calif. -- Operators of NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter are resuming use of the mission's highest resolution camera following a second precautionary shutdown in two weeks.

The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) instrument powered off on Aug. 27 and again on Sept. 6. In each case, commanding for an observation was not properly received by the memory module controlling one of the instrument's 14 electronic detectors (CCDs, or charge-coupled devices).

Between those two incidents, the camera successfully resumed observations for five days using its other 13 detectors. The second entry into the power-off, thermally protected mode occurred during an attempt to add use of the 14th detector. The camera is resuming observations with 13 detectors today while plans are developed for other diagnostic tests."


All of the HiRISE images are archived here:

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

* 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: http://marsprogram.jpl.nasa.gov/.

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 

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

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

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

Good site for finding out more about the 88 constellations and their associated stars.

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

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

* Eric's Black Sun Eclipse website -

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 skies.

* JPL Solar System Ambassador Program -

* 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, CO).

Astronomy from Down Under - The Southern Hemisphere's first astronomy and space magazine.

* 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 location.

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

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.

Free, downloadable planetarium/astronomy software.

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

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: October 01, 2011

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