[astronews] IAAS Monthly Astronomy Newsletter

  • From: Burness Ansell <ki0ar@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: Astronomy Newsletter <astronews@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Thu, 1 Jan 2009 11:08:33 -0800 (PST)

IAAS Monthly Astronomy Newsletter
January 2009


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 26th.
* First Quarter Moon on the 4th.
* Full Moon on the 10th.
* Last Quarter Moon on the 17th.

* Perigee on the 10th, 222,138 mi. from Earth.
* Apogee on the 22nd, 252,350 mi. from Earth.

Moon/Planet Pairs:
* The Moon passes 5° north of Uranus on the 2nd.
* The Moon passes 6° south of Saturn on the 15th.
* The Moon passes 0.02° north of Antares on the 21st.
* Venus passes 1.4° south of Uranus on the 23rd.
* The Moon passes 1.8° north of Uranus on the 29th.
* The Moon passes 3° north of Venus on the 30th.


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 January - The new year open with Mercury and Jupiter 
low on the western horizon. With the cold, crisp nights of the northern 
hemisphere, Mercury is actually quite easy to spot along with Jupiter. Venus is 
high in the southwest, the brightest planetary object in the evening sky. The 
Moon is at its closest to the Earth this month as well. Saturn's rings have 
turned edge-on to us and are barely visible. Uranus and Neptune are still 
visible, but Mars still remains hidden.

* Mercury - Is at greatest eastern elongation (19° above the western horizon) 
on the 4th. Mercury is easily visible, low in the west soon after sunset. Look 
for Mercury during the first two weeks of January. Mercury is in inferior 
conjunction on the 20th and will not be visible after mid-month. Mercury sets 
at 6:13 p.m. on the 1st. Mercury is in the constellation of Sagittarius shining 
at magnitude -0.7.

* Venus - Is at greatest eastern elongation (47° above the western horizon) on 
the 14th. Venus is in the constellation of Capricornus this month. Venus sets 
at 8:34 p.m. on the 1st and about 9:11 p.m. by month's end. Venus shines at 
magnitude -4.6.

* Earth - Is at perihelion (91.4 million miles from the Sun) on the 4th.

* Mars - Is still lost behind the Sun and in the twilight glow late in the 
month. Mars will be visible in the morning sky sometime in early February.

* Jupiter - Can be found low on the western horizon soon after sunset. Jupiter 
is in conjunction with the Sun on the 24th. Jupiter will disappear in the 
twilight glow soon after the first week of January. Jupiter sets at 6:07 p.m. 
on the 1st. Jupiter is in the constellation of Sagittarius shining at magnitude 

* Saturn - Is stationary on the 1st. Saturn rises at 10:24 p.m. on the 1st and 
about 8:18 p.m. by month's end. Saturn is in the constellation of Virgo shining 
at magnitude 0.9.

* Uranus - Sets at 10:20 p.m. on the 1st and about 8:24 p.m. by month's end. 
Uranus is in the constellation of Aquarius shining at magnitude 5.9.

* Neptune - Sets at 8:06 p.m. on the 1st and about 6:09 p.m. by month's end. 
Neptune is in the constellation of Capricornus shining at magnitude 8.0.

Dwarf Planets
* Ceres - Rises at 9:26 p.m. on the 1st and about 7:12 p.m. by monthʼs end. 
Ceres is in the constellation of Leo shining at magnitude 7.6.

* Pluto - Has returned to the morning sky rising about 6:18 a.m. on the 1st and 
about 4:20 a.m. by month's end. Pluto is in the constellation of Sagittarius 
shining at magnitude 14.1.

Good luck at spotting these two, a large telescope and dark skies will be 


Astronomical Events

Meteor Showers
* The Quadrantids - This meteor shower is generally visible between December 28 
and January 7, with a very sharp maximum of 45 to 200 meteors per hour 
occurring during January 3 and 4. The meteors tend to be bluish and possess an 
average magnitude of about 2.8.

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

* "January lets us do an end run around the Moon's bright glare. When it washes 
out the sky near one interplanetary fuzzball, a second one comes into view on 
the sky's other side. Newcomer C/2007 N3 (Lulin) glides in the Moon-free 
morning skies during January's first 2 weeks, then the returning Comet 
85P/Boethin becomes a prime evening target after midmonth.

Lulin tips the scales of Libra, between ruddy Antares and blue-white Spica. 
Glowing at 8th magnitude, this primordial snowball hails from the distant Oort 
Cloud. The comet makes its closest approach to the Sun January 10, but it will 
continue to brighten as it approaches Earth. It's destined never to return to 
the inner solar system. You'll need an 8-inch telescope to spy this comet from 
the suburbs, but a 4-inch will reveal it under a dark sky.

 The second half of January belongs to 85P/Boethin. After darkness falls these 
cold nights, this 8th-magnitude periodic comet wades halfway up the western sky 
in watery Pisces. It is almost perfectly placed for evening observers.

It passes 0.2 deg. north of the face-on spiral galaxy M74 the night of January 
25/26. Neither object has a high surface brightness, so you'll want a dark sky 
to see this conjunction well. From the suburbs, only the objects' cores will be 
visible. You'll see their diffuse outer glows if you observe away from the 
city." Astronomy Magazine, January 2009, p. 54.

* 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 in the constellation of Pisces.
* Metis is in the constellation of Cetus.
* Harmonia is at opposition on the 11th in the constellation of Gemini.
* Euterpe is in the constellation of Leo.

* 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 - December 21, 2008
Titan Flyby - Dec. 21, 2008
Altimetry Over Ontario Lacus

"Cassini streaked past Titan on Dec. 21 at an altitude of 971 kilometers (603 
miles), obtaining radar images of Titan's south polar region and a topographic 
profile of the dark, possibly liquid-filled area known as Ontario Lacus."

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 - December 19, 2008
New Horizons Earns a Holiday

"After an intense annual checkout - more like a deep-space workout - New 
Horizons is getting some well-deserved rest. 

New Horizons operators at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics 
Laboratory (APL) eased the spacecraft into electronic hibernation on Dec. 16, 
wrapping up nearly four months of tests, data collection and software upgrades. 
The spacecraft's Earth-bound crew has now turned its attention to detailed 
Pluto-encounter sequencing. 

"I'm in awe of all the team accomplished during this checkout - multiple 
software uploads, full spacecraft and payload checkouts, instrument 
calibrations and new capability tests, star-tracker imaging, trajectory 
tracking refinement, science measurements and more, and all of it went well," 
says New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern. "What a great team and 
spacecraft we have!"

New Horizons is spending most of its 9 1/2 -year cruise to Pluto in 
hibernation, with its major systems and most instruments turned off, save for 
an annual period when the team wakes it up for system checks and other 
activities. Mission managers expect each annual checkout to last about 10 
weeks, but they also have to be flexible. The first annual checkout (ACO) in 
2007 took about three months as operators took extra time to update the 
spacecraft's autonomy software and finished commissioning the science 

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 November 20, 2008
Dawn Glides Into New Year

"NASA's Dawn spacecraft shut down its ion propulsion system today as scheduled. 
The spacecraft is now gliding toward a Mars flyby in February of next year. 

"Dawn has completed the thrusting it needs to use Mars for a gravity assist to 
help get us to Vesta," said Marc Rayman, Dawn's chief engineer, of NASA's Jet 
Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "Dawn will now coast in its orbit 
around the sun for the next half a year before we again fire up the ion 
propulsion system to continue our journey to the asteroid belt." 

Dawn's ion engines may get a short workout next January to provide any final 
orbital adjustments prior to its encounter with the Red Planet. Ions are also 
scheduled to fly out of the propulsion system during some systems testing in 
spring. But mostly, Dawn's three ion engines will remain silent until June, 
when they will again speed Dawn toward its first appointment, with asteroid 

For more information on the Dawn mission, visit the Dawn home page: 

* MESSENGER - December 23, 2008
MESSENGER Approaches Three Billion Miles, Enters Fourth Solar Conjunction

"On December 26, the MESSENGER spacecraft will have traveled three billion 
miles since its launch, marking somewhat more than 60 percent of the probe's 
journey toward its destination to be inserted into orbit about Mercury.

"That MESSENGER's odometer reading has reached another major milestone reminds 
us of the long and complex route that our spacecraft must follow," offers 
Principal Investigator Sean Solomon, of the Carnegie Institution of Washington. 
"The year now ending has seen the first two spacecraft flybys of the innermost 
planet in more than three decades, encounters that have yielded a rich lode of 
new observations. The journey is far from over, but MESSENGER has a skilled 
team to guide it the rest of the way."

Mercury orbits deep within the Sun's gravity well. So, even though the planet 
can be as close as 82 million kilometers (51 million miles) from Earth, getting 
the probe into orbit around Mercury depends on an innovative trajectory using 
the gravity of Earth, Venus, and Mercury itself to slow and shape the probe's 
descent into the inner solar system. On its 4.9 billion-mile journey to 
becoming the first spacecraft to orbit the planet Mercury, MESSENGER has flown 
by Earth once, Venus twice, and Mercury twice. Still to come is one more flyby 
of Mercury in late September 2009.

Today the spacecraft entered its fourth superior solar conjunction of the 
mission, placing it on the opposite side of the Sun from Earth. (To see where 
MESSENGER is now, visit http://messenger.jhuapl.edu/whereis/index.php.) The 
Sun-Earth-probe angle will be between 2° and 3° until January 6, 2009, so 
during the next two weeks there will be no communication with the spacecraft."

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 visit.
+ http://virtualfieldtrip.jpl.nasa.gov/ 
* 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 November 17, 2008
Gamma-Ray Evidence Suggests Ancient Mars Had Oceans

"An international team of scientists who analyzed data from the Gamma Ray 
Spectrometer onboard NASA's Mars Odyssey reports new evidence for the 
controversial idea that oceans once covered about a third of ancient Mars.

"We compared Gamma Ray Spectrometer data on potassium, thorium and iron above 
and below a shoreline believed to mark an ancient ocean that covered a third of 
Mars' surface, and an inner shoreline believed to mark a younger, smaller 
ocean," said University of Arizona planetary geologist James M. Dohm, who led 
the international investigation.

"Our investigation posed the question, Might we see a greater concentration of 
these elements within the ancient shorelines because water and rock containing 
the elements moved from the highlands to the lowlands, where they eventually 
ponded as large water bodies?" Dohm said."

"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/ )

December 24-31, 2008

* Dunes (Released 24 December 2008)

* Dark Slope Streak (Released 25 December 2008)

* Ganges Chasma (Released 26 December 2008)

* Channel (Released 29 December 2008)

* Volcanic Vent (Released 30 December 2008)

* Candor Chasma (Released 31 December 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) -
December 29, 2008

Mars Rovers Near Five Years of Science and Discovery

"PASADENA, Calif. -- NASA rovers Spirit and Opportunity may still have big 
achievements ahead as they approach the fifth anniversaries of their memorable 
landings on Mars. 

Of the hundreds of engineers and scientists who cheered at NASA's Jet 
Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., on Jan. 3, 2004, when Spirit landed 
safely, and 21 days later when Opportunity followed suit, none predicted the 
team would still be operating both rovers in 2009. 

"The American taxpayer was told three months for each rover was the prime 
mission plan," said Ed Weiler, associate administrator for NASA's Science 
Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "The twins have worked 
almost 20 times that long. That's an extraordinary return of investment in 
these challenging budgetary times." 

The rovers have made important discoveries about wet and violent environments 
on ancient Mars. They also have returned a quarter-million images, driven more 
than 21 kilometers (13 miles), climbed a mountain, descended into craters, 
struggled with sand traps and aging hardware, survived dust storms, and relayed 
more than 36 gigabytes of data via NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter. To date, the 
rovers remain operational for new campaigns the team has planned for them."

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

* Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission - December 18, 2008
Scientists Find 'Missing' Mineral and Clues to Mars Mysteries

"PASADENA, Calif. -- Researchers using a powerful instrument aboard NASA's Mars 
Reconnaissance Orbiter have found a long-sought-after mineral on the Martian 
surface and, with it, unexpected clues to the Red Planet's watery past. 

Surveying intact bedrock layers with the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging 
Spectrometer for Mars, or CRISM, scientists found carbonate minerals, 
indicating that Mars had neutral to alkaline water when the minerals formed at 
these locations more than 3.6 billion years ago. Carbonates, which on Earth 
include limestone and chalk, dissolve quickly in acid. Therefore, their 
survival until today on Mars challenges suggestions that an exclusively acidic 
environment later dominated the planet. Instead, it indicates that different 
types of watery environments existed. The greater the variety of wet 
environments, the greater the chances one or more of them may have supported 

"We're excited to have finally found carbonate minerals because they provide 
more detail about conditions during specific periods of Mars' history," said 
Scott Murchie, principal investigator for the instrument at the Johns Hopkins 
University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md. 

The findings will appear in the Dec. 19 issue of Science magazine and were 
announced Thursday at a briefing at the American Geophysical Union's Fall 
Meeting in San Francisco."

December 17, 2008

* Scoured Crater Rim

* North Polar Layered Deposits

* Complex Crater in Arabia Terra

* Cyane Fossae Pits

* Sedimentary Layers in Columbus Crater

* Terraced Fan in Aeolis Region

* Fretted Terrain Valley Traverse

* Small Crater on Arcuate Ridge West of Olympia Mensae

* Mesa in Acidalia Region

All of the HiRISE images are archived here:

More information about the MRO mission is available online at 

* Phoenix Mars Lander Mission - December 15, 2008
Phoenix Site on Mars May Be in Dry Climate Cycle Phase

"PASADENA, Calif. -- The Martian arctic soil that NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander 
dug into this year is very cold and very dry. However, when long-term climate 
cycles make the site warmer, the soil may get moist enough to modify the 
chemistry, producing effects that persist through the colder times. 

Phoenix found clues increasing scientists' confidence in predictive models 
about water vapor moving through the soil between the atmosphere and subsurface 
water-ice. The models predict the vapor flow can wet the soil when the tilt of 
Mars' axis, the obliquity, is greater than it is now. 

The robot worked on Mars for three months of prime mission, plus two months of 
overtime, after landing on May 25. The Phoenix science team will be analyzing 
data and running comparison experiments for months to come. With some key 
questions still open, team members at a meeting of the American Geophysical 
Union today reported on their progress. 

"We have snowfall from the clouds and frost at the surface, with ice just a few 
inches below, and dry soil in between," said Phoenix Principal Investigator 
Peter Smith of the University of Arizona, Tucson. "During a warmer climate 
several million years ago, the ice would have been deeper, but frost on the 
surface could have melted and wet the soil." 

With no large moon like Earth's to stabilize it, Mars goes through known 
periodic cycles when its tilt becomes much greater than Earth's. During those 
high-tilt periods, the sun rises higher in the sky above the Martian poles than 
it does now, and the arctic plain where Phoenix worked experiences warmer 

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** Stellarium - http://www.stellarium.org
Free, downloadable planetarium/astronomy software.

* **NEW** Wikisky - http://www.wikisky.org
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.

* **NEW** The International Dark-Sky Association - http://www.darksky.org
To preserve and protect the nighttime environment and our heritage of dark 

* "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: January 1, 2009


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