[astronews] IAAS Monthly Astronomy Newsletter

  • From: Burness Ansell <ki0ar@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: Astronomy Newsletter <astronews@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Fri, 30 Nov 2007 20:10:50 -0800 (PST)

                IAAS Monthly Astronomy Newsletter
                         December 2007


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

* Last Quarter Moon on the 1st.
* New Moon on the 9th.
* 1st Quarter Moon on the 17th.
* Full Moon on the 23rd.
* Last Quarter Moon on the 31st.

* Apogee on the 6th, 252,423 mi. from Earth.
* Perigee on the 23rd, 224,200 mi. from Earth.

Moon/Planet Pairs:
* The Moon passes 2 deg. south of Saturn on the 1st.
* The Moon passes 7 deg. south of Venus on the 5th.
* The Moon passes 0.9 deg. north of Mars on the 23rd.
* The Moon passes 0.6 deg. south of Regulus on the 27th.
* The Moon passes 3 deg. south of Saturn on the 28th.

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 - "It's Mars season again. The Red Planet 
reaches its biennial
peak this month, arriving opposite the Sun in our sky and the closest to Earth. 
This is the best
time to view Mars, whose disk appears larger than it will for the next 9 years. 
Before Mars climbs
high enough for steady views, catch Neptune and Uranus through binoculars 
before they set. Saturn
rises shortly before midnight and is joined by Venus before dawn." Astronomy 
Magazine, December
2007, p. 48.

* Mercury - Is in superior conjunction on the 17th. Mercury spends all month in 
the Sun's glare
and is not visible this month.
* Venus - Rises about 3:19 am on the 1st and about 4:21 am by month's end. 
Venus shines at
magnitude -4.2 and passes from the constellation of Virgo into Libra this month.
* Earth - The Winter solstice occurs at 1:08 am on the 22nd.

* Mars - Is closest to Earth (54.8 million miles away) on the 18th. Mars is at 
opposition on the
24th. Mars rises at 6:27 pm on the 1st and about 3:30 pm by month's end. Mars 
is in the
constellation of Gemini and shines at magnitude -1.5.
* Jupiter - Is in conjunction with the Sun on the 23rd. Jupiter sets at 5:41 pm 
on the 1st and
rapidly disappears into the twilight glow as the month progresses. Jupiter will 
be difficult to
spot during the first week and then Jupiter will disappear behind the Sun. 
Jupiter is very low in
the southwest in the constellation of Sagittarius shining at magnitude -1.8.

* Saturn - Rises around 11:22 pm on the 1st and about 9:21 pm by month's end. 
Saturn shines at
magnitude 0.7 in the constellation of Leo.

* Uranus - Sets about 12:06 am on the 1st and about 10:42 pm by month's end. 
Uranus is in the
constellation of Aquarius and shines at a magnitude of 5.9.

* Neptune - Sets at 9:56 pm on the 1st and about 7:58 pm by month's end. 
Neptune is in the
constellation of Capricornus and shines at magnitude 7.9.

Dwarf Planets

* Ceres - Sets about 4:43 am on the 1st and about 2:34 am by month's end. Ceres 
should be easy to
spot through binoculars this month. Ceres is in the constellation of Cetus this 
month. Ceres
shines at magnitude 8.3.

* Pluto - Is in conjunction with the Sun on the 20th. Pluto is not visible this 


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.

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

* Comet 17P/Holmes has expanded in size to about 1 degree wide (the Moon is 
about 1/2 degree wide)
in the sky. It has also gotten a bit dimmer but it is still visible to the 
naked eye under dark
sky conditions and still easily spotted through binoculars from within a city. 
Look to the
northeast and spot Mirfak in the constellation of Perseus. Comet Holmes is just 
above this bright
star. Visit http://www.spaceweather .com and click on the "sky map" link for a 
better positional

* 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)
* Amphitrite is in the constellation of Aries.
* Flora is in the constellation of Taurus.
* Eunomia is in the constellation of Gemini.

* 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 28, 2007 - Cassini Flies by Titan's South Pole

"The Cassini spacecraft will perform a southern hemisphere pass of Titan's 
surface on Dec. 5,
2007. The infrared camera will perform high-resolution imaging of a dark region 
called Ontario
Lacus, which may be a large lake, first spotted by the imaging cameras in 2005. 
The Huygens probe
landing site will also be imaged."

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 20, 2007 - The PI's Perspective
Autumn 2007: Onward to the Kuiper Belt

"New Horizons has now covered 85% of the distance from the Sun to Saturn?s 
orbit, which it will
pass in mid-2008. Of course, Saturn will be nowhere near New Horizons when we 
pass that milestone,
as it is by chance located far around the Sun from the path New Horizons is 
following to Pluto.
But as you can tell, we are really getting to be well into the outer solar 
system now.

Since I last wrote you, in early October, the New Horizons team has been busy 
on two major fronts.
One of these has been planning and executing our 2007 Annual Checkout (ACO) of 
the spacecraft and
its payload. As our first ACO, this three-month operation has been a pathfinder 
for the team,
teaching us how to make improvements for subsequent ACOs in 2008, 2009 and 

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.

* Dawn - No new news since October 9, 2007 - Dawn Mission Status: Spacecraft 
Tests Ion Engine

"NASA's Dawn spacecraft successfully completed the first test of its ion 
propulsion system over
the weekend. The system is vital to the success of Dawn's 8-year, 4.9 
(3-billion-mile) journey to asteroid Vesta and dwarf planet Ceres. 

'Dawn is our baby and over the weekend it took some of its first steps," said 
Dawn project manager
Keyur Patel of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "We have 
two months more
checkout and characterization remaining before Dawn is considered mission 
operational, but this is
a great start.'"

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

* 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 Global Surveyor 

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.

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 September 21, 2007 - 
NASA Orbiter Finds Possible Cave Skylights on Mars

"NASA's Mars Odyssey spacecraft has discovered entrances to seven possible 
caves on the slopes of
a Martian volcano. The find is fueling interest in potential underground 
habitats and sparking
searches for caverns elsewhere on the Red Planet.

Very dark, nearly circular features ranging in diameter from about 100 to 250 
meters (328 to 820
feet) puzzled researchers who found them in images taken by NASA's Mars Odyssey 
and Mars Global
Surveyor orbiters. Using Mars Odyssey's infrared camera to check the daytime 
and nighttime
temperatures of the circles, scientists concluded that they could be windows 
into underground

Evidence that the holes may be openings to cavernous spaces comes from the 
temperature differences
detected from infrared images taken in the afternoon and in the pre-dawn 
morning. From day to
night, temperatures of the holes change only about one-third as much as the 
change in temperature
of surrounding ground surface. 

"They are cooler than the surrounding surface in the day and warmer at night," 
said Glen Cushing
of the U.S. Geological Survey's Astrogeology Team and of Northern Arizona 
University, Flagstaff,
Ariz. "Their thermal behavior is not as steady as large caves on Earth that 
often maintain a
fairly constant temperature, but it is consistent with these being deep holes 
in the ground."

A report of the discovery of the possible cave skylights by Cushing and his 
co-authors was
published online recently by the journal Geophysical Research Letters."

"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 26-30, 2007

* Ophis Chasma (Released 26 November 2007)  

* Medusa Fossae (Released 27 November 2007)  

* Dust Devil Tracks (Released 28 November 2007)  

* Southern Dunes (Released 29 November 2007)  

* Coprates Chasma (Released 30 November 2007)  

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 30, 2007

Spirit Status: Rover Slips in Sandy Terrain - sol 1377-1383, November 26, 2007

"On the way to "Winter Haven 3," the spot on the north face of "Home Plate" 
where NASA's Spirit
rover is headed, the rover has driven into an area below a hummock (elevated 
area). Spirit has
tried unsuccessfully during the past week to climb onto the hummock and make 
progress toward
Winter Haven 3. Because it is critical to reach the north face while enough 
solar energy is
available to get there, Spirit spends every available day driving. In-between 
drives, Spirit
recharges the batteries and conducts very light remote sensing.

The rover's drive on sol 1378 (Nov. 18, 2007) ended early when Spirit's 
unusable, right front
wheel got snagged on a buried rock, causing the rover to turn and drive into a 
"keep-out zone."
Two Martian days later, on sol 1380 (Nov. 20, 2007), the drive faulted out 
again when the rover
experienced more than 90-percent slip after traveling 3.6 meters (11.8 feet). 
The rover's handlers
continue to work on strategies for enabling Spirit to drive away from the 

Spirit's top priority is to reach the north-facing slope of "Home Plate," where 
the rover plans to
hunker down during the coming cold, winter season of waning sunlight. Spirit is 
healthy and all
subsystems are nominal. Energy is currently around 305 watt-hours (100 
watt-hours is the amount of
energy needed to light a 100-watt bulb for one hour)."

Opportunity Status: Multi-Tasking Rover Supports Multiple Missions - sol 
1361-1367, Nov 30, 2007

"Opportunity continues to investigate the rock exposure known as "Smith2" in 
the second of three
bathtub ring-like layers of rock inside "Victoria Crater" as well as test 
communications for
Phoenix, NASA's next mission to Mars. The rover is healthy and all subsystems 
are normal.

On Sol 1361 (Nov. 22, 2007), Opportunity performed diagnostic tests of the 
shoulder joint that
controls side-to-side movement of the robotic arm, known as Joint 1. The joint 
had stalled on Sol
1359 (Nov. 20, 2007) while the rover was taking measurements with the 
microscopic imager. The
tests revealed no anomalous readings. Opportunity acquired the rest of the 
microscopic images of
Smith 2 on Sol 1366 (Nov. 27, 2007).

After the diagnostic tests, Opportunity studied the elemental chemistry of 
Smith2 with the
alpha-particle X-ray spectrometer and the composition and abundance of 
iron-bearing minerals in
the outcrop with the Mössbauer spectrometer.

Working with NASA's Reconnaissance Orbiter, Opportunity successfully tested UHF 
transmissions in support of entry, descent, landing, and surface operations of 
the Phoenix
mission, now en route to the red planet. On Sol 1367 (Nov. 28, 2007), the rover 
and the orbiter
used the international standard known as the Proximity-1 protocol for 
spacecraft data transfers.

Phoenix is expected to arrive at Mars on May 25, 2008. Radio signals from 
Phoenix may also be
receivable directly via the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope in Virginia, 
the world's largest,
fully steerable radio telescope."

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

Visit the Mars Exploration Rover page at  

* Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission - November 27, 2007 - 
New Views of Martian Moons

"The two moons of Mars, Phobos and Deimos have been the focus on recent 
observations by the
Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer of Mars, an instrument on NASA's 
Mars Reconnaissance
Full Image and Caption at 

More information about the mission is available online at 

* Phoenix Mars Lander Mission - No new news since October 30, 2007 - Phoenix 
Mars Lander Status
Report: Tasks En Route to Mars Include Course Tweak, Gear Checks

"NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander, launched on Aug. 4 and headed to Mars, fired its 
four trajectory
correction thrusters Wednesday for only the second time. The 45.9-second burn 
nudged the
spacecraft just the right amount to put it on a course to arrive at the red 
planet seven months
from today. 

At Mars, Phoenix will face a challenging 7-minute descent through the 
atmosphere to land in the
far north on May 25, 2008. After landing, it will use a robotic digging arm and 
other instruments
during a three-month period to investigate whether icy soil of the Martian 
arctic could have ever
been a favorable environment for microbial life. The solar-powered lander will 
also look for clues
about the history of the water in the ice and will monitor weather as northern 
Mars' summer
progresses toward fall."

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.)

* 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 

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

* 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 

* 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: November 30, 2007

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