[astronews] IAAS Monthly Astronomy Newsletter

  • From: Burness Ansell <ki0ar@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: Astronomy Newsletter <astronews@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Sat, 2 May 2009 09:48:12 -0700 (PDT)

IAAS Monthly Astronomy Newsletter
May 2009


The International Association for Astronomical Studies provides this newsletter 
as a service for interested persons worldwide.


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 operators and scanner enthusiasts, when 
in the Denver metro area, please join the Colorado Astronomy Net on the Rocky 
Mountain Radio League's (http://rmrl.hamradios.com/) 146.94 MHz repeater 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 24th.
* First Quarter Moon on the 1st and on the 30th.
* Full Moon on the 9th.
* Last Quarter Moon on the 17th.

* Apogee on the 13th, 251,603 mi. from Earth.
* Perigee on the 25th, 224,410 mi. from Earth.

Moon/Planet Pairs:
* The Moon passes 6° south of Saturn on the 4th.
* The Moon passes 0.6° north of Antares on the 10th.
* The Moon passes 3° north of Jupiter on the 17th.
* The Moon passes 3° north of Neptune on the 17th.
* The Moon passes 5° north of Uranus on the 19th.
* The Moon passes 7° north of Venus on the 21st.
* The Moon passes 7° north of Mars on the 21st.
* Jupiter passes 0.4° south of Neptune on the 25th.
* The Moon passes 6° south of Saturn on the 31st.


The Planets & Dwarf Planets
Planetary Reports are generated by "TheSky" software. 
(http://www.ki0ar.com/planrpts.html) These reports provide predicted data for 
the planets on 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. These reports have been optimized for the Denver, Colorado 
location, however, the times will be approximate for other locations on Earth.

(All times are local unless otherwise noted.)

* Planetary Highlights for May - This is another great month for early morning 
planet watching. For those of you who get up before sunrise, there are five 
planets to observe (In order of appearance): Jupiter, Neptune, Uranus, Venus 
and Mars. For evening viewers, Saturn and Ceres are high overhead soon after 
the Sun sets and Mercury makes a brief appearance in the west early in the 

* Mercury - Is stationary on the 7th and again on the 30th. Mercury is at 
inferior conjunction on the 18th. The best time to observe Mercury is actually 
on the evening of the 1st when Mercury can be spotted low on the western 
horizon about 30 minutes after sunset. Mercury quickly gets lost in the evening 
twilight glow after the 5th. Mercury will return to the morning sky some time 
in June. Mercury sets at 6:46 p.m. on the 1st. Mercury is in the constellation 
of Taurus this month shining at magnitude 0.9.

* Venus - Shines at its brightest on the morning of the 2nd. Venus rises at 
4:18 a.m. on the 1st and about 3:27 a.m. by month's end. Look for Venus 
climbing steadily in the morning sky as the month progresses. Venus is in the 
constellation of Pisces this month. Venus shines at magnitude -4.7.

* Earth - N/A.

* Mars - Rises at 4:40 a.m. on the 1st and about 3:35 a.m. by month's end. Look 
for Mars in the southeast before sunrise. Mars is in the constellation of 
Pisces this month shining at magnitude 1.2.

* Jupiter - Rises at 2:53 a.m. on the 1st and about 12:55 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 -2.3.

* Saturn - Is stationary on the 17th. Saturn sets at 4:00 a.m. on the 1st and 
about 1:58 a.m. by month's end. Saturn is well positioned for evening viewing 
by the time the Sun sets. Saturn is visible most of the evening this month. 
Saturn is in the constellation of Leo shining at magnitude 0.8.

* Uranus - Rises at 4:11 a.m. on the 1st and about 2:12 a.m. by month's end. 
Look for Uranus in the early morning sky before sunrise. Uranus is in the 
constellation of Pisces shining at magnitude 5.9.

* Neptune - Is stationary on the 29th. Neptune can also be spotted in the 
morning sky before sunrise. Neptune rises at 2:58 a.m. on the 1st and about 
12:53 a.m. by month's end. Neptune is in the constellation of Aquarius shining 
at magnitude 7.9.

Dwarf Planets  
* Ceres - Sets at 3:25 a.m. on the 1st and about 1:25 a.m. by month’s end. 
Ceres and Saturn are relatively close together this month and observers may 
want to try and spot Ceres along with Saturn through a telescope and under dark 
skies. Ceres is in the constellation of Leo shining at magnitude 8.2.

* Pluto - Rises at 11:29 p.m. on the 1st and about 9:25 p.m. by month's end. 
Pluto is in the constellation of Sagittarius shining at magnitude 13.9.

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


Astronomical Events

Meteor Showers
* The Eta Aquarid Meteor Shower - This shower is visible during the period of 
April 21 to May 12. It reaches maximum on May 5. During the period of greatest 
activity hourly rates usually reach 20 for observers in the northern hemisphere 
and 50 for observers in the southern hemisphere.

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

* Comet C/2008 T2 (Cardinal) is in the constellation of Gemini, shining at 
magnitude 9. The Moon interferes with viewing for the first week and a half of 
May but will be easier to spot against the stars of the Milky Way later in the 
month. Look for Comet Cardinal in the west soon after sunset.

* 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 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)
* Irene is in the constellation of Virgo.
* Iris is in the constellation of Sagittarius.

* 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 - April 28, 2009
Titan Encounters Fast and Furious
Todd J. Barber, Cassini lead propulsion engineer

"As April draws to a close, the relatively infrequent Titan flybys we enjoyed 
earlier in 2009 seem a distant memory. Even though we only returned to 
sixteen-day orbits a bit over one month ago, the months start blurring together 
when Titan encounters come fast and furious. We started the month with a 
high-altitude (4150-kilometer, or 2579-mile) Titan-52 flyby. This offered our 
navigation and engineering teams a unique challenge—there were only eight days 
between T51 and T52! As such, we didn't have our usual calendar time to execute 
a series of propulsive maneuvers to target T52—we had to nail it with OTM-186, 
a hybrid between a T51 "clean-up" maneuver and a T52 final targeting maneuver. 
I'm happy to tell you that our targeting for T52 was excellent despite these 
time pressures."

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 - April 14, 2009
NASA Mission Madness: Thanks for Your Support!

"New Horizons' run to the Final Four of NASA's first "Mission Madness" 
tournament was a great experience -- thanks to the thousands of fans who 
supported the first mission to Pluto! New Horizons' bid for the title fell just 
short, with a semifinal loss to eventual champion Super-Pressure Balloon."

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 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 - April 17, 2009
MESSENGER Team to Receive National Space Club Award

"The National Space Club will award the MESSENGER team its Nelson P. Jackson 
Aerospace Award this evening at the 52nd annual Dr. Robert H. Goddard Memorial 
Dinner in Washington, D.C. The award, named in honor of the National Space 
Club's founder and past president, is presented annually to recognize 
exceptional teamwork between government and industry in the missile, aircraft, 
and space fields."

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 - April 15, 2009
Mars Spacecraft Teams on Alert for Dust-Storm Season

"PASADENA, Calif. -- Heading into a period of the Martian year prone to major 
dust storms, the team operating NASA's twin Mars rovers is taking advantage of 
eye-in-the-sky weather reports.

On April 21, Mars will be at the closest point to the sun in the planet's 
23-month, elliptical orbit. One month later, the planet's equinox will mark the 
start of summer in Mars' southern hemisphere. This atmospheric-warming 
combination makes the coming weeks the most likely time of the Martian year for 
dust storms severe enough to minimize activities of the rovers."

"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) - April 23, 2009

SPIRIT UPDATE: Another Reset and a Cleaning Event - sols 1879-1885, April 
16-22, 2009:

"Spirit experienced another reset event over the weekend, but otherwise has 
been well-behaved.

The investigation into Spirit's recent anomalous behavior continues, but there 
is still no explanation. A team of experts involved in the original design and 
construction of the rover has been consulted. Although the anomalous behavior 
is frustrating, the rover continues to be healthy in terms of power, 
temperature and communication.

The plan going forward is to implement some enhanced data-collecting techniques 
in order to gather more information from any future anomalous events, and to 
resume near-normal operations. A short drive for Spirit has been sequenced on 
Sol 1886 (April 23, 2009).

Spirit also had a small dust cleaning event on her solar arrays on Sol 1881 
(April 18, 2009). Solar array energy improved by more than 10 percent.

As of Sol 1885 (April 22, 2009), Spirit's solar array energy production is 306 
watt-hours, about as much as is used in lighting a 100-watt bulb for three 
hours. Atmospheric opacity (tau) is estimated around 0.964. The dust factor has 
improved to about 0.377, meaning that about 37.7 percent of sunlight hitting 
the solar array penetrates the layer of accumulated dust on the array. Spirit's 
total odometry remains at 7,726.78 meters (4.80 miles)."

OPPORTUNITY UPDATE: Five Long Drives - sols 1859-1865, April 16-22, 2009:

"Opportunity has been driving "great guns" southward this week on her way to 
Endeavour crater, driving five out of the last seven sols and covering almost 
half a kilometer.

Sols 1859, 1860, 1863, 1864 and 1865 (April 16, 17, 21, 22 and 23, 2009) had 
drives of 62 meters (203 feet), 88 meters (289 feet), 96 meters (315 feet), 137 
meters (449 feet) and 95 meters (312 feet), respectively. The right-front wheel 
on Opportunity remained well-behaved, with motor currents very near normal 
levels. More driving is planned for the sols ahead.

As of Sol 1865 (April 23, 2009), Opportunity's solar array energy production is 
447 watt-hours. Atmospheric opacity (tau) is around 0.831. The dust factor is 
0.607, meaning that 60.7 percent of sunlight hitting the solar array penetrates 
the layer of accumulated dust on the array. Opportunity is in good health, with 
an odometry total of 15,737.05 meters (9.78 miles)."

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

Visit the Mars Exploration Rover page at

* Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission - April 16, 2009
Weather Movie, Mars South Polar Region, March-April 2009

"This movie shows the southern high-latitudes region of Mars from March 19 
through April 14, 2009, a period when regional dust storms occurred along the 
retreating edge of carbon-dioxide frost in the seasonal south polar cap. 
Compared with a full-hemisphere view, this view shows more details of where the 
dust clouds formed and how they moved around the planet."

Weather Movie, Mars Southern Hemisphere, March-April 2009 
"This movie shows the full southern hemisphere of Mars from March 19 through 
April 14, 2009, a period when regional dust storms occurred along the 
retreating edge of carbon-dioxide frost in the seasonal south polar cap."


All of the HiRISE images are archived here:

More information about the MRO 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 - 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,  "Meteor Showers - A 
Descriptive Catalog" by Gary W. Kronk 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: April 29, 2009

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