[astronews] IAAS Monthly Astronomy Newsletter

  • From: Burness Ansell <ki0ar@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: Astronomy Newsletter <astronews@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Sat, 1 Mar 2008 22:32:10 -0800 (PST)

                IAAS Monthly Astronomy Newsletter
                           March 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://bfa3.home.att.net/astro.html - The
Home of KI0AR - and is received nationally and internationally.


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 
repeater on a frequency
of 146.94 MHz on Tuesday nights at 7 PM 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 Moon

* New Moon on the 7th.
* 1st Quarter Moon on the 14th.
* Full Moon on the 21st.
* Last Quarter Moon on the 29th.

* Perigee on the 10th, 227,607 mi. from Earth.
* Apogee on the 26th, 251,713 mi. from Earth.

Moon/Planet Pairs:
* The Moon passes 4 deg. south of Jupiter on the 2nd.
* The Moon passes 0.2 deg. south of Mercury on the 5th.
* The Moon passes 0.2 deg. north of Venus on the 5th.
* Venus passes 0.6 deg. south of Neptune on the 6th.
* The Moon passes 1.7 deg. north of Mars on the 14th.
* The Moon passes 0.8 deg. south of Regulus on the 19th.
* The Moon passes 3 deg. south of Saturn on the 19th.
* Mercury passes 1.0 deg. south of Venus on the 23rd.
* The Moon passes 0.5 deg. south of Antares on the 27th.
* The Moon passes 3 deg. south of Jupiter on the 30th.

The Planets & Dwarf Planets
Planetary Reports generated by "TheSky" software. 
(http://bfa3.home.att.net/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
(All times are local unless otherwise noted.)

* Planetary Highlights for March - For this month, only Mars and Saturn put on 
a nice evening
show. But for early risers, the morning sky provides views of Jupiter, Venus 
and Mercury. Cool
nights in the Northern Hemisphere still provide good seeing conditions for 
observing the heavens
this month.

* Mercury - Is at greatest western elongation (27 deg.) on the 3rd. Mercury 
rises about 5:22 am on
the 1st and about 5:21 am by month's end. Look for Mercury early in the month 
as Mercury rapidly
descends into the early morning twilight glow before sunrise. Mercury moves 
from the constellation
of Capricornus into Aquarius this month. Mercury shines at magnitude 0.1 on the 
1st and brightens
slightly to magnitude -0.1 on the 15th.
* Venus - Rises about 5:30 am on the 1st and about 5:09 am by month's end. Look 
for Venus in the
early morning sky before sunrise. Venus shines at magnitude -3.8 and passes 
from the constellation
of Capricornus into Aquarius this month.
* Earth - (US) Daylight savings time ends on the 9th. The Vernal Equinox occurs 
at 1:48 am EDT on
the 20th.
* Mars - Sets at 2:58 am on the 1st and about 1:43 am by month's end. Mars is 
in the constellation
of Gemini. Look for Mars nearly overhead after sunset. Mars shines at magnitude 

* Jupiter - Rises at 3:46 am on the 1st and about 2:01 am by month's end. 
Jupiter continues to
climb higher in the southeast in the morning sky. Jupiter is in the 
constellation of Sagittarius
shining at magnitude -2.0.

* Saturn - Rises around 5:05 pm on the 1st and about 2:53 pm by month's end. 
Saturn is still
visible for most of the evening this month. Saturn shines at magnitude 0.3 in 
the constellation of

* Uranus - Is in conjunction with the Sun on the 8th and is not visible this 

* Neptune - Has returned to the morning sky this month but remains in the early 
morning twilight
and will be difficult to spot. Neptune rises at 5:46 am on the 1st and about 
3:47 am by month's
end. Neptune is in the constellation of Capricornus shining at magnitude 8.0.

Dwarf Planets

* Ceres - Sets about 11:35 pm on the 1st and about 10:29 pm by month's end. 
Ceres is in the
constellation of Taurus and shines at magnitude 8.9.

* Pluto - Rises about 2:21 am on the 1st and about 12:20 am 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 needed.


Astronomical Events

Meteor Showers
* There are some minor meteor showers this month but none that produce rates 
much higher than 2-5
per hour, except the Gamma Normids that extend over the period of March 11 to 
21, with the maximum
occurring on March 16. The maximum rate reaches about 5-9 meteors per hour.

* For more information about Meteor Showers, visit Gary Kronk's Meteor Showers 
Online web page at

* Comet 46P/Wirtanen passes through the constellation of Auriga shining at 9th 
magnitude. This
comet can be spotted in the evening sky throughout the month.

* 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

* 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)
* Eunomia is in the constellation of Gemini.
* Hebe is in the constellation of Cancer.
* Iris, Astraea and Daphne are in the constellation of Virgo.
* Pallas is in conjunction with the Sun on the 29th.

* 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 - February 28, 2008
Stepping Stone to Dione

Full-Res: PIA09847 (http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA09847)

"The Cassini spacecraft captures Janus in the foreground, with Dione in the 
distance beyond.

The image was taken two hours after Hiding Dione, in which Cassini imaged Dione 
beyond the rings.

Janus is 181 kilometers (113 miles) across. Dione is 1,126 kilometers (700 
miles) across. North on
the moons is up.

The image was taken in visible light with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle 
camera on Jan. 17,
2008. The view was obtained at a distance of approximately 1.2 million 
kilometers (766,000 miles)
from Janus and 1.6 million kilometers (970,000 miles) from Dione. Image scale 
is 7 kilometers (4
miles) per pixel on Janus and 9 kilometers (6 miles) per pixel on Dione."

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 - February 28, 2008
Memories of Jupiter 

"A year ago, New Horizons was flying through the heart of the Jupiter system, 
gradually picking up
speed and systematically gathering spectacular data on the solar system?s 
largest planet and its
closest moons. The results of that spectacular flyby have since been featured 
on thousands of
electronic and printed pages, including a special issue of the journal Science 
in October 2007.

New Horizons scientists recently took a new look at one of the more memorable 
images from the
Jupiter collection: that of the erupting volcano Tvashtar on the moon Io. Taken 
through two of the
four filters in the sensitive Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera, the picture 
shows the reddish
colors of the plume deposits surrounding the base of the volcano - a view we 
hadn?t seen in
earlier pictures. Check it out in the 'New Horizons gallery'

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:

* MESSENGER - February 27, 2008
Craters in Caloris

"As MESSENGER sped by Mercury on January 14, 2008, the Narrow Angle Camera 
(NAC) of the Mercury
Dual Imaging System (MDIS) captured 'this image'
includes the edge of the planet against the blackness of space. Much of the 
foreground shows a
portion of Caloris basin, one of the largest impact basins in the solar system. 
The two large
craters near the bottom of this image can be identified on the northwestern 
floor of the basin on
'the mosaicked image of Caloris'
released at MESSENGER?s NASA press conference on January 30, 2008. The large 
crater in the bottom
middle of this image has a diameter of about 70 kilometers (40 miles)."

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 

* 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 January 11, 2008
Astronomers Rule Out Possibility of Asteroid Impact on Mars

"As expected, scientists at JPL's Near-Earth Object Office have further refined 
the trajectory
estimate for asteroid 2007 WD5 and ruled out any possibility of a Mars impact 
on Jan. 30. The
latest trajectory plot of the asteroid was made possible by adding to 
previously obtained data
some new data from a round of observations acquired by three observatories on 
the evenings of Jan.
5 through 8. Based on this latest analysis, the odds for the asteroid impacting 
Mars on Jan. 30
are 0.0 percent. The latest observations come from the German-Spanish 
Astronomical Center, Calar
Alto, Spain; the Multi-Mirror Telescope, Mt. Hopkins, Ariz.; and the University 
of Hawaii
telescope, Mauna Kea, Hawaii."

"A simulated fly-through using the newly assembled imagery is available online 

The fly-through plus tools for wandering across and zooming into the large 
image are at

Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) web site: (http://themis.asu.edu/)

February 18-22, 2008

* Not Round (Released 18 February 2008)

* Padus Vallis (Released 19 February 2008)

* Iberus Vallis (Released 20 February 2008)

* Patapsco Vallis (Released 21 February 2008)

* Windstreaks (Released 22 February 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 

* Mars Exploration Rover Mission (Spirit and Opportunity) - 
February 26, 2008

Spirit Status: Spirit Inches Downward - sol 1457-1463, February 13, 2008

"Spirit is tiptoeing ever so carefully down the north edge of the elevated 
volcanic plateau known
as "Home Plate." Having completed a 4-centimeter (1.6-inch) drive on sol 1463 
(Feb. 13, 2008), the
rover's current northerly tilt is 27.1 degrees. Spirit's handlers plan to have 
the rover drive
another 4 centimeters on sol 1464 (Feb. 14, 2008).

They expect Spirit to be at the rover's final winter perch by the end of next 
week, following a
few more 4-centimeter drives. Given recent progress, Spirit may achieve a 
northerly, Sun-facing
tilt of 30 degrees, higher than originally anticipated. Spirit remains healthy."

Opportunity Status: Opportunity Proceeds with Caution on Sandy Slopes - sol 
1437-1443, Feb 14,

"After recovering from a stall in Joint 1, which controls the compass 
orientation of the shoulder
on the rover's robotic arm, Opportunity is proceeding carefully to its next 
target, an exposure of
layered rocks known as "Gilbert."

Opportunity ran the usual diagnostic tests for this sort of fault, which 
occurred while the rover
was studying a rock target known as "Buckland," and successfully placed the 
Mössbauer spectrometer
on the target on Sol 1437 (Feb. 8, 2008). On Sol 1438 (Feb. 9, 2008), the 
rover's handlers decided
to relinquish further scientific studies of the target and proceed instead with 
a drive toward
Gilbert. As this meant the rover would wander into new terrain, the team 
created a series of steps
to allow Opportunity to characterize the surroundings along the way.

One of these steps involved placing the front two wheels on an area of soil to 
leave a scuff on
the surface and backing up to take images of the exposed area. On Sol 1438, 
however, prior to
reaching the intended soil area, Opportunity aborted the drive. The rover 
completed the second
planned "scuffing" on Sol 1441 (Feb. 12, 2008). This time the scuff was 
successful, though it
revealed an interesting surprise -- Opportunity's right front wheel dug in much 
more than the
rover's handlers had expected, highlighting the need to proceed cautiously 
toward Gilbert.

Because Opportunity was unable to relay all of the diagnostic data to Earth at 
one time because
the volume of data was more than could be accommodated, the rover's handlers 
decided that the
prudent course of action was to wait one planning cycle before having 
Opportunity proceed with the
drive. On Sol 1443 (Feb. 14, 2008), Opportunity completed a diagnostic 
examination of the grind
bit on the rock abrasion tool and collected a mosaic of microscopic images of a 
rock target dubbed
"Lyell Exeter," commemorating the college attended by geologist Sir Charles 
Lyell in the early
1800s, as well as compositional data using the alpha-particle X-ray 

Opportunity is healthy and all subsystems are performing as expected. The 
latest available
measurements on Sol 1443 showed a power level of 469 watt-hours (100 watt-hours 
is the amount of
energy needed to light a 100-watt bulb for 1 hour). Plans for the coming 
weekend called for the
rover to proceed with the first of a two-step drive toward Gilbert."

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

Visit the Mars Exploration Rover page at  

* Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission - No new news since January 23, 2008
Orbiting Camera Details Dramatic Wind Action on Mars

"Mars' atmosphere is challenging scientists to explain complex, wind-sculpted 
landforms seen with
unprecedented detail in images from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Mars has an ethereal, tenuous atmosphere with less than one-percent the surface 
pressure of Earth,
which challenges scientists to explain complex, wind-sculpted landforms seen 
with unprecedented
detail in images from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

One of the main questions has been if winds on present-day Mars are strong 
enough to form and
change geological features, or if wind-constructed formations were made in the 
past, perhaps when
winds speeds and atmospheric pressures were higher.

The eye-opening new views of wind-driven Mars geology come from the University 
of Arizona's High
Resolution Imaging Science Experiment camera (HiRISE). As the orbiter flies at 
about 3,400 meters
per second (7,500 mph) between 250 and 315 kilometers (155 to 196 miles) above 
the Martian
surface, this camera can see features as small as half a meter (20 inches)."

More information about the mission is available online at 

* Phoenix Mars Lander Mission - February 28, 2008
Spacecraft at Mars Prepare to Welcome New Kid on the Block

"Every landing on Mars is difficult. Having three orbiters track Phoenix as it 
streaks through
Mars' atmosphere will set a new standard for coverage of critical events during 
a robotic landing.
The data stream from Phoenix will be relayed to Earth throughout the 
spacecraft's entry, descent
and landing events. If all goes well, the flow of information will continue for 
one minute after

"We will have diagnostic information from the top of the atmosphere to the 
ground that will give
us insight into the landing sequence," said David Spencer of NASA's Jet 
Propulsion Laboratory,
Pasadena, Calif., deputy project manager for the Phoenix Mars Lander project. 
This information
would be valuable in the event of a problem with the landing and has the 
potential to benefit the
design of future landers."

Visit the Phoenix Mars Lander Mission pages 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.)

* *** NEW *** "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
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.

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

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

* Astrogirl Homepage - 

* Astronomical Lexicon - http://bfa3.home.att.net/astrolex.html
Many of the astronomical terms used in this newsletter are defined here.

* Astronomy Picture of the Day - 

* 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 - 

* 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.)

* 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 

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

* Space.com - Sky Watch Calendar - 

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

* 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

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: March 01, 2008

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