[astronews] IAAS Monthly Astronomy Newsletter

  • From: Burness Ansell <ki0ar@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: Astronomy Newsletter <astronews@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Thu, 30 Nov 2006 20:45:27 -0800 (PST)

                IAAS Monthly Astronomy Newsletter
                         December 2006


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 20th.
* 1st Quarter Moon on the 27th.
* Full Moon on the 4th.
* Last Quarter Moon on the 12th.

* Perigee on the 1st, 227,374 mi. from Earth.
* Apogee on the 15th, 251,294 mi. from Earth.
* Perigee on the 27th, 230,108 mi. from Earth.

Moon/Planet Pairs:
* The Moon passes 1.2 deg. north of Saturn on the 10th.
* Mercury passes 0.1 deg. north of Jupiter on the 10th.
* Mars passes 0.8 deg. south of Jupiter on the 11th.
* The Moon passes 0.8 deg. south of Spica on the 15th.
* The Moon passes 6 deg. south of Jupiter on the 18th.
* Mars passes 4 deg. north of Antares on the 18th.
* The Moon passes 5 deg. south of Mars on the 18th.
* The Moon passes 0.08 deg. north of Uranus on the 25th.

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 December - Mercury, Mars and Jupiter meet in the 
early morning sky on
the 10th, coming within 1 degree of each other making this the closest approach 
of these three
planets for the next 47 years. Neptune and Uranus are still visible in the 
southwest after sunset.
Saturn rises in the late evening and Venus returns to the evening sky late in 
the month. For North
American observers, on the evening of December 3rd, the Moon passes through the 
Pleiades star
cluster. Occultations begin soon after dark. For observers in Europe, the same 
event occurs on the
morning of the 4th.

* Mercury - Returns to the morning sky this month. Mercury rises about 5:25 am 
on the 1st and
about 7:12 am by month's end. Mercury shines at magnitude -0.7.

* Venus - Will return to the evening sky this month but will only be about 3 
degrees above the
western horizon about 30 minutes after sunset on the 18th, so the best time to 
see Venus will be
during the last half of December. Venus sets about 5:06 pm on the 1st and about 
5:56 pm by month's
end. Venus shines at magnitude -3.8.
* Earth ? Winter solstice occurs at 7:22 pm EST on the 21st.

* Mars - Also returns to the morning sky in early December. Mars rises at 6:01 
am on the 1st and
about 5:48 am by month's end. Mars shines at magnitude 1.5.
* Jupiter - Graces us with its presence in the morning sky along with Mercury 
and Mars. Jupiter
rises at 6:24 am on the 1st and about 4:58 am by month's end. Look for Jupiter, 
Mercury and Mars
all within a degree of each other on the morning of the 10th. Jupiter shines at 
magnitude -1.7.

* Saturn - Rises around 10:15 am on the 1st and about 8:14 pm by month's end. 
Saturn is in the
constellation of Leo and shines at a magnitude of 0.4.

* Uranus - Is in the southwest just a bit higher and easier to spot than 
Neptune this month.
Uranus sets about 11:42 pm on the 1st and about 9:47 pm by month's end. Uranus 
is in the
constellation of Aquarius and shines at magnitude 5.9.

* Neptune - Is lower, dimmer and a bit more difficult to spot in the southwest. 
Neptune sets about
9:44 pm on the 1st and about 7:50 pm by month's end. Neptune is in the 
constellation of
Capricornus this month. Neptune shines at a magnitude of 7.9.

Dwarf Planets

* Pluto - Is in conjunction with the Sun on the 18th. Pluto is not visible this 

* Ceres - Sets at 9:47 pm on the 1st and about 8:38 pm by month's end. Ceres is 
in the
constellation of Capricornus shining at magnitude 8.9.

Astronomical Events

Meteor Showers
* The Geminids - This meteor shower is active during the period December 6 to 
December 19. Upon
reaching maximum activity during December 13 to 14, hourly rates are typically 
near 80. The
meteors are described as rapid and yellowish, with about 4% displaying 
persistent trains. They
possess an average magnitude of 2.4.

* Comet 4P/Faye is in the constellation of Cetus shining at 9th magnitude will 
be difficult to
spot from within a city. A small telescope should be able to resolve this fuzzy 
ball. 4P/Faye
rises around 3:36 pm on the 1st, so it will be fairly high in the southeast 
when darkness falls.
It rises about an hour and a half earlier by the end of 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 and Meteor Showers, visit Gary Kronk's 
Comets & Meteors
Showers web page at http://comets.amsmeteors.org/.

* No eclipse activity this month.

* The Moon occults the Pleiades on the evening of the 3rd. The occultation of 
this beautiful
cluster of stars begins about 7 pm CST (8 pm EST, 6 pm MST). Those in Europe 
will see this
occultation in the early am hours of December 4th. Those observers further west 
of the Rockies may
only see the latter part of this occultation event.

* 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)
* Hebe is in the constellation of Capricornus.
* Iris is in the constellation of Aries.
* Nysa is at opposition on the 29th in the constellation of Gemini.
* Melpomeme is in the constellation of Cancer.
* Massalia is in the constellation of Cancer.
* Vesta is in the constellation of Virgo.

* Information about the Minor Planets can be found at 
http://www.minorplanetobserver.com the Minor
Planet Observer web site.


Planetary/Lunar Exploration Missions
(Excerpts from recent mission updates)

* Cassini - November 30, 2006 - Swirling With Shadows

Full-Res Image: PIA08821 (http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA08821)

"This spectacular image of Saturn's clouds looks obliquely across the high 
northern latitudes. The
Sun is low on the horizon here, making the vertical extent of the clouds easier 
to see. Cloud
bands surrounding the vortex at lower left rise above their surroundings, 
casting shadows toward
the bottom of the image.

Some motion blur is apparent in this view.

The image was taken with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera using a 
spectral filter
sensitive to wavelengths of infrared light centered at 938 nanometers on Oct. 
30, 2006. Cassini
was then at a distance of approximately 1.2 million kilometers (700,000 miles) 
from Saturn and at
a Sun-Saturn-spacecraft, or phase, angle of 142 degrees. Image scale is 7 
kilometers (4 miles) per

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 - November 28, 2006 - New Horizons Makes First Pluto Sighting
"The New Horizons team got a faint glimpse of the mission?s distant, main 
planetary target when
one of the spacecraft?s telescopic cameras spotted Pluto for the first time. 
The Long Range
Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) took the pictures during an optical navigation 
test on Sept. 21-24,
and stored them on the spacecraft?s data recorder until their recent 
transmission back to Earth."

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/ for more information about 
the mission.

* 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 Global Surveyor - November 21, 2006 -
NASA's Mars Global Surveyor May Be at Mission's End

"Update, Nov. 22, 6:15 p.m. PST:
NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity did not detect any signal from the 
Mars Global Surveyor
orbiter on Wednesday during an attempt to get the orbiter to transmit to the 

Mars Global Surveyor has surpassed all expectations," said Michael Meyer, 
NASA's lead scientist
for Mars exploration at NASA Headquarters, Washington. "It has already been the 
most productive
science mission to Mars, and it will yield more discoveries as the treasury of 
observations it has
made continues to be analyzed for years to come." Its camera has returned more 
than 240,000 images
to Earth.

The orbiter has not communicated with Earth since Nov. 2. Preliminary 
indications are that a solar
panel became difficult to pivot, raising the possibility that the spacecraft 
may no longer be able
to generate enough power to communicate. Engineers are also exploring other 
possible explanations
for the radio silence."

Image of the Week
November 27, 2006

The following new image taken by the Mars Orbiter Camera (MOC) on the Mars 
Global Surveyor
spacecraft is now available:

* Dust-Mantled Olympus Mons Flows (Released 27 November 2006)

Image Caption:

Dust-covered lava flows on the lowermost south flank of Olympus Mons are 
captured in this 3
kilometers (1.9 miles) wide Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) Mars Orbiter Camera 
(MOC) view acquired
during northern summer on 12 October 2006. One leveed lava channel just south 
(below) the center
left of the image disappears into a thick, pitted and cratered dust mantle. 
Sunlight illuminates
the scene from the left/upper left. The image is located near 13.8N, 134.1W. 
North is toward the
top/upper right.

All of the Mars Global Surveyor images are archived here:

Every six months, a new suite of MGS MOC data are archived with the NASA 
Planetary Data System
(PDS - http://pds.jpl.nasa.gov/).

Information about how to submit requests is online at the Mars Orbiter Camera 
Target Request Site,
at http://www.msss.com/plan/intro "

The newly released MOC images can be seen in the MOC Gallery 
(http://www.msss.com/moc_gallery/), a
web site maintained by Malin Space Science Systems, the company that built and 
operates MOC for
the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and NASA.

Mars Global Surveyor was launched in November 1996 and has been in Mars orbit 
since September
1997. It began its primary mapping mission on March 8, 1999. Mars Global 
Surveyor is the first
mission in a long-term program of Mars exploration known as the Mars Surveyor 
Program that is
managed by JPL for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, DC.  Malin Space 
Science Systems
(MSSS) and the California Institute of Technology built the MOC using spare 
hardware from the Mars
Observer mission. MSSS operates the camera from its facilities in San Diego, 
CA. The Jet
Propulsion Laboratory's Mars Surveyor Operations Project operates the Mars 
Global Surveyor
spacecraft with its industrial partner, Lockheed Martin Astronautics, from 
facilities in Pasadena,
CA and Denver, CO. 

Visit the MGS pages at http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/mgs/index.html.  There are over 
200,000 images of
Mars from the MGS, check out the newest images of the surface of Mars at

* Mars Odyssey Orbiter ? No new news since August 16, 2006 - 
NASA Findings Suggest Jets Bursting From Martian Ice Cap

"Every spring brings violent eruptions to the south polar ice cap of Mars, 
according to
researchers interpreting new observations by NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter. 

Jets of carbon dioxide gas erupting from the ice cap as it warms in the spring 
carry dark sand and
dust high aloft. The dark material falls back to the surface, creating dark 
patches on the ice
cap, which have long puzzled scientists. Deducing the eruptions of carbon 
dioxide gas from under
the warming ice cap solves the riddle of the spots. It also reveals that this 
part of Mars is much
more dynamically active than had been expected for any part of the planet."

"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/)

November 20-24, 2006

* Gigas Sulci (Released 20 November 2006)

* Lava Flows (Released 21 November 2006)

* Dunes (Released 22 November 2006)

* Ascraeus Mons (Released 23 November 2006)

* Aeolis Planum (Released 24 November 2006)

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) - 
November 13, 2006

Spirit Status: Spirit's 'Arm' Busy Checking New Targets - sol 1013-1016, 
November 13, 2006

"After Spirit's successful 0.71-meter (28-inch) bump on sol 1010, the team has 
new targets in the
robotic arm's work volume for the first time in 204 sols. There is some 
interesting light and dark
material within arm's reach and this week the team planned a robotic arm 
campaign including a
microscopic imager mosaic, four hours of alpha particle X-ray spectrometer 
integration and 43
hours of Moessbauer spectrometer integration. Spirit is receiving a little over 
320 Watt-hours now
and is able to occasionally use the Moessbauer or alpha particle X-ray 
spectrometer overnight."

Opportunity Status: Opportunity on the Move after Solar Conjunction - sol 
968-995, November 13,

"Opportunity is healthy and has driven away from the "Cape Verde" promontory 
for further
exploration around the rim of "Victoria Crater." Over the course of the next 
week, the rover will
make its way clockwise around Victoria Crater to the next promontory, "Cape St. 
Mary." Opportunity
will then image the northeast-facing cliff of Cape Verde to characterize 
lateral changes in layers
of the crater wall. Along the way, Opportunity will be using the panoramic 
camera to scout a safe
place to drive into the crater.

During the drive on Sol 992, rover planners performed the first step of the 
in-flight checkout of
one of the rover's new technologies: visual target tracking (VTT). This first 
checkout included
picking a target to track, driving, and testing the rover's knowledge of how 
its position changed
relative to the target. The rover performed this activity as planned. The next 
step will be to
execute a drive to a VTT target.

During the solar conjunction period from sol 970 to sol 984 (Oct. 16 to 30), 
Opportunity used its
panoramic camera to image Victoria Crater from the Cape Verde promontory, 
collected 3.5 hours of
Moessbauer spectrometer data each sol on the hole that the rock abrasion tool 
drilled at target
"Cha," and performed its standard sol-to-sol atmospheric and remote sensing 
Opportunity collected more than 50 hours of Moessbauer data on Cha."

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

Visit the Mars Exploration Rover page at  

* Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission - November 29, 2006 - New Images From 
Mars Reconnaissance

"Some new, high-resolution images from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter show 
channels in a
fossil delta, troughs in sand dunes and hardware from the landing of the rover 

More information about the 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 - 

* 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.

* Comet Observation Home Page - http://encke.jpl.nasa.gov/

* 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 Experience - 

* 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/

* Our Solar System - http://pauldunn.dynip.com/solarsystem/
This is an excellent site to learn about our solar system.

* 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 

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

* Space.com - Sky Watch Calendar - 

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

* The Daytona Beach News-Journal - Space News Page - 

* The Solar System in Pictures - http://www.the-solar-system.net and a map of 
the moon -

* 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: November 30, 2006

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