[astronews] IAAS Monthly Astronomy Newsletter

  • From: Burness Ansell <ki0ar@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: Astronomy Newsletter <astronews@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Sun, 1 Mar 2009 15:32:00 -0800 (PST)

IAAS Monthly Astronomy Newsletter
March 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 18th.

* Perigee on the 7th, 228,054 mi. from Earth.
* Apogee on the 19th, 251,220 mi. from Earth.

Moon/Planet Pairs:
* Mercury passes 0.6° south of Mars on the 1st.
* Mars passes 0.8° south of Neptune on the 7th.
* The Moon passes 6° south of Saturn on the 10th.
* The Moon passes 0.2° north of Antares on the 17th.
* The Moon passes 1.5° north of Jupiter on the 22nd.
* The Moon passes 2° north of Neptune on the 23rd.
* The Moon passes 4° north of Mars on the 24th.


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 March - Venus disappears from the evening sky late 
in the month. Mercury also disappears from the morning sky late in the month. 
Saturn reaches opposition and greatest brightness for the year. Neptune joins 
Jupiter, Mercury and Mars in the pre-dawn sky. Dwarf planet Ceres is as close 
as it has been to Earth since 1857 and won't be this close again for more that 
1,000 years. Earth also reaches equinox.

* Mercury - Is in superior conjunction on the 30th. Look for Mercury during the 
first and second weeks of March. Mercury rises at 5:44 a.m. on the 1st and 
about 5:52 a.m. by month's end. Mercury moves from the constellation of 
Capricornus through Aquarius into Pisces this month shining at magnitude -0.1.

* Venus - Is in inferior conjunction on the 27th. Venus appears to descent 
rapidly towards the western horizon in the next couple of weeks. Catch a 
glimpse of Venus during the first two weeks of March. Venus is in the 
constellation of Pisces this month. Venus sets at 8:47 p.m. on the 1st and 
about 5:52 p.m. by month's end. Venus shines at magnitude -4.8.

* Earth - The Vernal equinox occurs at 7:44 a.m. EDT.

* Mars - Rises at 5:42 a.m. on the 1st and about 4:43 a.m. by month's end. Mars 
remains difficult to spot through the morning twilight before sunrise. Mars 
views will improve as the year progresses. Look for Mars very low in the east 
before sunrise. Mars moves from the constellation of Capricornus into Aquarius 
this month shining at magnitude 1.2.

* Jupiter - Rises at 5:21 a.m. on the 1st and about 3:38 a.m. by month's end. 
Jupiter continues to climb higher in the morning sky as the month progresses. 
Jupiter is in the constellation of Capricornus shining at magnitude -2.0.

* Saturn - Is at opposition on the 8th rising as the Sun sets reaching peak 
visibility on this date as well. Rises at 6:18 p.m. on the 1st and about 4:04 
p.m. by month's end. Saturn is visible all evening this month. Saturn is in the 
constellation of Leo shining at magnitude 0.5.

* Uranus - Is in conjunction with the Sun on the 12th. Uranus is not visible 
this month.

* Neptune - Has returned to the morning sky along with Mercury, Mars and 
Jupiter. Neptune rises at 5:53 a.m. on the 1t and about 3:54 a.m. by month's 
end. Neptune is in the constellation of Capricornus shining at magnitude 8.0.

Dwarf Planets  
* Ceres - Rises at 4:46 p.m. on the 1st and about 3:22 p.m. by month’s end. 
Ceres is in the constellation of Leo shining at magnitude 6.9.

* Pluto - Rises at 2:33 a.m. on the 1st and about 12:32 a.m. by month's end. 
Pluto is in the constellation of Sagittarius shining at magnitude 14.0.

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


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 http://meteorshowersonline.com/.

* Say goodbye to Comet Lulin which begins to dim as it moves away from Earth 
this month. Comet Lulin is around 7th magnitude at the beginning of the month 
but dims to 9th magnitude by month's end. Look for Lulin to pass within 2° of 
the Beehive cluster (M44) on the 5th and to pass within 0.25° of the Eskimo 
Nebula on the 14th. This comet should be easily spotted with a good pair of 
binoculars or a small telescope even from urban skies.

* 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 Taurus.
* Pallas is in the constellation of Orion.
* Euterpe is in the constellation of Cancer.
* Amphitrite is at opposition on the 21st in the constellation of Virgo.
* Irene 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 - February 26, 2009
Seasons Changing on Saturn

"Todd J. Barber, Cassini lead propulsion engineer - 
February may be a short month, but it was long on Cassini science observations 
at Saturn, even during the first week! 

For starters, just as Punxsy Phil was emerging from his hollow stump in western 
Pennsylvania on Groundhog Day, Cassini was observing light and shadows as well 
on the intriguing moon Rhea during a non-targeted flyby. I'm sure the entire 
flight team is excited for our close Rhea encounter next year, particularly 
since this icy satellite of Saturn humbled us with the perplexing discovery of 
a potential ring system, the first ever seen around a moon. Until next year, 
though, these more distant encounters will have to suffice, whetting our 
voracious and bottomless scientific appetites. Also, unlike Punxsy Phil's 
checkered history in prognosticating six more weeks of winter, Cassini can 
confidently state that seasons are changing on Saturn. The north polar region 
will soon see the sun for the first time in nearly fifteen years, and another 
harbinger of seasonal change - ring spokes - should start becoming more 
prevalent as well. Spokes in Saturn's rings were
 one of the most captivating discoveries from Voyager, so we are only too happy 
to continue observing these beautiful, transient features with Cassini."

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 January 19, 2009
Launch Plus Three Years: Looking Back, Looking Ahead

On the anniversary of New Horizons’ launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force 
Station, Fla., on January 19, 2006, mission team members reflect on liftoff, a 
busy first three years of flight and the ongoing voyage to Pluto and beyond.

Countdown to Liftoff

"To Ralph McNutt, of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), launch 
wasn’t just a beginning – it was the culmination of a hard-fought, nearly 
two-decade-long battle in the scientific community to secure a mission to the 
ninth planet.

"When the announcer hit 'zero' and the Atlas V rocket began plowing its way 
through the wispy skin of this pale blue dot we call home, it was a special 
moment," says McNutt, principal investigator of the New Horizons Pluto 
Energetic Particle Spectrometer Science Investigation, or PEPSSI. "We really 
were on the way, and no one could stop us from taking that path to new lands."

Science team co-investigator Richard Binzel of the Massachusetts Institute of 
Technology remembers the run-up to launch, a four-year concert of spacecraft 
design, build and testing, and mission planning that had to reach its crescendo 
by January 2006, in time to meet a month-long launch period and take advantage 
of an opportunity to use Jupiter's gravity as a slingshot toward deeper space. 
"The transition from launch to flight is truly phenomenal," Binzel says. 
“Before launch, the clock looms so large.  Everything has to be ready at the 
launch window, or else!  In cruise phase the pace of hard work continues, but 
now the responsibility feels different. We know New Horizons will reach Pluto!"

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 - February 26, 2009
Dawn Finishes Mars Phase

Mission Status Report: NASA's Dawn Mission

"With Mars disappearing in its metaphorical rearview mirror, NASA's Dawn 
spacecraft's next stop is the asteroid belt and the giant asteroid Vesta. Dawn 
got as close as 549 kilometers (341 miles) to the Red Planet during its 
Tuesday, Feb. 17, flyby. 

Dawn's navigators placed the spacecraft on a close approach trajectory with 
Mars so the planet's gravitational influence would provide a kick to the 
spacecraft's velocity. If Dawn had to perform these orbital adjustments on its 
own, with no Mars gravitational deflection, the spacecraft would have had to 
fire up its engines and change velocity by more than 9,330 kilometers per hour 
(5,800 miles per hour). 

The achieved goal of the flyby was to obtain this orbital pick-me-up, making 
possible its voyage to asteroid Vesta and, later, the dwarf planet Ceres. But 
Dawn's science teams used this massive target of opportunity to also perform 
calibrations of some of the scientific instruments. Calibration images were 
taken by Dawn's framing camera, and the Gamma Ray and Neutron Detector also 
observed Mars for calibration. These data will be compared to similar 
observations taken by spacecraft orbiting Mars."

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

* MESSENGER - February 9, 2009
MESSENGER Continues Hunt for Ever-Elusive Vulcanoids

"MESSENGER reaches its orbital perihelion today and passes within 0.31 
astronomical units (AU) of the Sun (one AU is nearly 150 million kilometers or 
93 million miles). The mission’s imaging team is taking advantage of the 
probe’s proximity to the fiery sphere to continue their search for vulcanoids - 
small, rocky asteroids that have been postulated to circle the Sun in stable 
orbits inside the orbit of Mercury. 

Vulcanoids are named after Vulcan, a planet once proposed to explain unusual 
motions in Mercury’s orbit. Scientists have long suspected that these small, 
faint “space rocks” exist. There is a gravitationally stable region between the 
orbit of Mercury and the Sun, which means that any objects that originally 
formed there could have remained for billions of years and might still be there 
today. All other such regions in the solar system are occupied by some type of 
debris (e.g., Trojan asteroids at stable points along the orbits of Jupiter and 
Neptune and Kuiper Belt objects near and beyond the orbit of Pluto).

The so-called vulcanoid region between the orbit of Mercury and the Sun is the 
main gravitationally stable region that is not known to be occupied. The region 
is, however, the most difficult to observe. Any vulcanoids would be difficult 
to detect from Earth because of the strong glare of the Sun. Previous vulcanoid 
searches have revealed no bodies larger than 60 kilometers in diameter. But 
MESSENGER’s travels in near-Mercury space enable a search for vulcanoids from a 
vantage never before attempted, says MESSENGER Science Team Member Clark 
Chapman, who is spearheading the team’s search along with his associate, 
William Merline."

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: 

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) -

SPIRIT UPDATE:  Another Cleaning - sol 1817-1823, February 11-17, 2009:

Spirit has been continuing attempts to reach an on-ramp for ascending onto 
"Home Plate." The terrain continues to be difficult for driving with five 
wheels. Because of limited progress on previous sols, on Sol 1818 (February 12, 
2009), Spirit attempted a series of sharp backward arcs. Spirit executed 
60-centimeter (2-foot) arcs 29 times, but, due to wheel slippage, the rover 
made only 17 centimeters (7 inches) of progress.

On Sol 1820 (February 14, 2009), the plan was to drive forward, away from Home 
Plate, and turn. The rover was successful in turning about 45 degrees, 
sufficient to get the wheels out of the soft terrain where they had been 
digging in. Spirit will next attempt the approach to Home Plate while avoiding 
some of the soft terrain that complicated previous approaches.

The team continues to track the performance of the rover's accelerometers.

Another small dust-cleaning event on Sol 1820 (February 14, 2009) -- the second 
one this month -- improved solar-array performance by an additional 10 percent.

As of Sol 1823 (February 17, 2009) Spirit's solar-array energy production 
improved to 275 watt-hours. Atmospheric opacity (tau) increased slightly to 
0.530. The dust factor is 0.306, meaning that 30.2 percent of the sunlight 
hitting the solar array penetrates the layer of accumulated dust on the array. 
The rover is in good health.

Spirit's total odometry as of Sol 1822 (February 16, 2009) is 7,572.23 meters 
(4.71 miles)

OPPORTUNITY UPDATE:  Checking the Right-Front Wheel - sol 1797-1802, February 
12-17, 2009:

Opportunity is continuing with a series of long drives. The drive on Sol 1797 
(February 12, 2009) achieved 111 meters (364 feet). During the drive the 
right-front wheel exhibited higher-than-usual motor currents. Since April 2005, 
Opportunity's right-front wheel has had a jammed steering actuator, with the 
wheel turned inwards about 7 degrees from straight ahead, so it works harder on 
some drives. On Sol 1800 (February 15, 2009), the rover conducted a series of 
mobility diagnostic drives to study the right-front wheel. The rover turned 
around and drove backward about 10 meters (31 feet), turned around again and 
drove forward about 11 meters (36 feet), and then performed an arc of about 4 
meters (13 feet). The wheel currents were monitored.

The plan for the near term is to drive backward to see if that improves 
performance of the right-front wheel, although backward driving will limit the 
distance traveled each sol.

As of Sol 1802 (February 17, 2009), Opportunity's solar-array energy production 
is 567 watt-hours. Atmospheric opacity (tau) has moderated to 0.540. The dust 
factor on the solar array is 0.589, meaning that 58.9 percent of the sunlight 
hitting the solar array penetrates the layer of accumulated dust on the array. 
The rover is in good health.

Opportunity's total odometry as of Sol 1801 (February 16, 2009) is 14,621.57 
meters (9.09 miles)."

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

* Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission - February 25, 2009
Fractured Lavas Suggest Floods on Mars

"Images from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter show a type of rock fracturing 
that here on Earth is caused by rapid cooling of lava. 

Unique fractures in lavas on ancient Mars suggest water occasionally flooded 
portions of the planet's surface.

The fractures, known as "columnar joints", are the first that have been 
observed on a planet other than Earth. "Columnar joints form as cooling lava 
contracts," explains Moses Milazzo, a geophysicist with the U.S. Geological 
Survey in Flagstaff. The characteristics of the column-like fractures can help 
scientists understand the role of water in geologic processes on Mars. Milazzo, 
working with the NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter HiRISE camera team, recently 
published their discovery in the journal Geology.

The columns, a meter in diameter and about 30 meters high, were identified in 
the tilted inner walls of an impact crater. "The HiRISE instrument just barely 
has the resolution to pick out the columns if they're facing the camera with 
the perfect orientation," said Milazzo. When the impact crater formed, the 
rocks were tilted backward, toward the sky. This tilting of the columns toward 
the sky is what allowed the identification."


All of the HiRISE images are archived here:

More information about the MRO mission is available online at 

* Phoenix Mars Lander Mission - February 19, 2009
Award to Recognize Phoenix Mars Lander Team

"The team that developed and operated NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander mission will 
receive the 2009 John L. "Jack" Swigert Award for Space Exploration from the 
Space Foundation. 

During five months of operations at a Martian arctic site after landing on May 
25, 2008, the Phoenix spacecraft confirmed the presence of frozen water just 
below the surface, identified potential nutrients and other substances in the 
soil, and observed snow in the atmosphere. 

The Space Foundation, based in Colorado Springs, Colo., announced Feb. 19 
[http://www.spacefoundation.org/news/story.php?id=658] that it will present the 
award to the Phoenix team on March 30, during the foundation's 25th National 
Space Symposium, in Colorado Springs."

Full image and caption 

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.)

* "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.

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

* 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.

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

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

* 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.


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: March 01, 2009


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