[astronews] IAAS Monthly Astronomy Newsletter

  • From: Burness Ansell <ki0ar@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: astronews@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Tue, 1 Dec 2009 15:32:06 -0800 (PST)

IAAS Monthly Astronomy Newsletter
December 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. A PDF formatted downloadable version of the 
newsletter is at http://www.ki0ar.com/current_nl.pdf.

This newsletter is now available as an iTunes podcast. Visit 
http://www.apple.com, download and install iTunes (for either Mac or Windows). 
Search for "IAAS" and subscribe to the podcast. You may also go to 
http://www.ki0ar.com/astro.html and click on the Subscribe/RSS link. Update 
your iPod or mp3 player and listen to the newsletter at your leisure. Since 
this is a new feature, comments and constructive criticisms are greatly 


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

* Full Moon occurs on the 2nd and on the 31st.
* Last Quarter Moon occurs on the 8th.
* New Moon occurs on the 16th.
* First Quarter Moon occurs on the 24th.

* The Moon is at Perigee on the 4th, 225,856 miles from Earth.
* The Moon is at Apogee on the 20th, 252,109 miles from Earth.

Moon/Planet Pairs:
* The Moon passes 6° south of Mars on the 6th.
* The Moon passes 8° south of Saturn on the 10th.
* The Moon passes 1.4° north of Mercury on the 18th.
* Jupiter passes 0.6° south of Neptune on the 19th.
* The Moon passes 4° north of Jupiter on the 21st.
* The Moon passes 4° north of Neptune on the 21st.
* The Moon passes 6° north of Uranus on the 23rd.

For reference: The Full Moon subtends an angle of 0.5°.


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 December - December is the month of the "Blue Moon". 
The month of a Blue Moon is a month with two full Moons, occurring on the 2nd 
and 31st. Jupiter and Mars are placed well for evening viewing as Jupiter is 
setting in the west, Mars is rising in the east. Neptune and Uranus trail 
Jupiter and Saturn trails Mars. Mercury makes a brief appearance in the evening 
sky. Venus, however, remains lost in the Sun's glow all month.

* Mercury - Is at greatest eastern elongation (20° above the western horizon) 
on the 18th. Mercury is stationary on the 26th. Mercury sets about 5:21 p.m. on 
the 1st and about 5:22 p.m. by month's end. Look for Mercury during the second 
week of December in the southwest setting about 30 after sunset. Mercury is in 
the constellation of Sagittarius shining at magnitude -0.6.

* Venus - Rises at 6:12 a.m. on the 1st and about 7:14 a.m. by month's end. 
Venus, however, remains buried in the Sun's glare, so is not visible all month. 

* Earth - The Winter Solstice occurs at 12:47 p.m. EST on the 21st.

* Mars - Is stationary on the 21st. Mars rises at 9:33 p.m. on the 1st and 
about 7:34 p.m. by month's end. Look for Mars in the late evening and after 
midnight for the best views when Mars is high overhead. Mars is in the 
constellation of Leo this month shining at magnitude -0.4.

* Jupiter - Sets at 10:00 p.m. on the 1st and about 8:27 p.m. by month's end. 
Jupiter is best viewed in the early evening sky looking south-southwest after 
sundown. Jupiter is in the constellation of Capricornus shining at magnitude 

* Saturn - Rises at 1:27 a.m. on the 1st and about 11:29 p.m. by month's end. 
Saturn is best viewed in the early morning hours to the southeast before 
sunrise. Saturn is in the constellation of Virgo shining at magnitude 1.0.

* Uranus - Is stationary on the 1st. Uranus sets at 12:44 a.m. on the 1st and 
about 10:40 p.m. by month's end. Uranus is easily viewed in the evening sky 
with a good pair of binoculars. Uranus is in the constellation of Aquarius 
shining at magnitude 5.8.

* Neptune - Sets at 10:16 p.m. on the 1st and about 8:18 p.m. by month's end. 
Neptune can easily be found just east of Jupiter until the last week of 
December, when Jupiter and Neptune appear to trade places. After the 20th, 
Neptune will precede Jupiter by a few minutes. Neptune is in the constellation 
Capricornus shining at magnitude 7.9.

Dwarf Planets  
* Ceres - Rises at 5:24 a.m. on the 1st and about 4:27 a.m. by month's end. 
Ceres is best viewed before sunrise. Ceres is in the constellation of Libra 
this month shining at magnitude 8.9. 

* Pluto - Is in conjunction with the Sun on the 24th and is not visible this 

As always, good luck at spotting these two, a large telescope and dark skies 
will be needed.


Astronomical Events

Meteor Showers
* The Geminids - This 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.

* The Ursids - Occurring primarily between December 17 and 24, this meteor 
shower reaches maximum on December 22. The maximum hourly rate is usually 
between 10 and 15. Meteors belonging to this stream are typically faint.

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

* Comet C/2007 Q3 (Siding Spring) is in Coma Berenices, shining around 10th 
magnitude this month. Comet Siding Spring rises about 2 a.m. so viewers will 
have to wait until the early morning hours to spot it. The best time to view 
the comet this month will be after mid-month during the New Moon.

* 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/.

* A partial lunar eclipse occurs on the evening of the 31st. This eclipse is 
optimum for observers in Africa, Asia, Europe, Australia and the far northern 
area of North America. However, only 8% of the Moon will be covered at maximum.

* 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)
* Juno is in the constellation of Cetus.
* Melpomene is in the constellation of Cetus.
* Fortuna is at opposition on he 9th in the constellation of Taurus.
* Vesta is in the constellation of Leo.
* Pallas is in the constellation of Virgo.

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


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

* Cassini - November 21, 2009
Enceladus Flyby E-8 (Image 1) 

"This unprocessed image was captured by NASA's Cassini spacecraft during its 
Nov. 21, 2009 flyby of Saturn's moon Enceladus. It shows the moon's south polar 
region, where jets of water vapor and other particles spew from fissures on the 

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European 
Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a 
division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the 
mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. The Cassini 
orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at 
JPL. The imaging operations center is based at the Space Science Institute in 
Boulder, Colo."

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 12, 2009
New Horizons Roused for Long-Distance Checkup

"Call it a burst of activity between naps: the New Horizons team woke its 
Pluto-bound spacecraft from hibernation this week for some onboard housekeeping.

On pre-programmed commands from controllers at the Johns Hopkins University 
Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md. – transmitted to the spacecraft in 
August through NASA’s Deep Space Network of antenna stations – New Horizons 
came out of hibernation on Nov. 9. The spacecraft had been “sleeping” since 
Aug. 27, when it completed its third annual instrument and system checkout."

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 - November 13, 2009
Dawn Enters Asteroid Belt -- For Good

"ASTEROID BELT -- NASA's Dawn spacecraft re-entered our solar system's asteroid 
belt today, Nov. 13, and this time it will stay there.

Dawn first entered the belt (whose lower boundary may be defined as the 
greatest distance Mars gets from the sun (249,230,000 kilometers, or 
154,864,000 miles) in June 2008. It remained within the belt for 40 days before 
its carefully planned orbital path brought it below the asteroid belt's lower 

This time around, Dawn's flight path will remain above this hypothetical lower 
boundary for the rest of the mission and for the foreseeable future - Dawn will 
become the first human-made object to take up permanent residence in the 
asteroid belt."

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

* MESSENGER - November 24, 2009
Deep-Space Maneuver Positions MESSENGER for Mercury Orbit Insertion

"The Mercury-bound MESSENGER spacecraft completed its fifth and final 
deep-space maneuver of the mission today, providing the expected velocity 
change needed to place the spacecraft on course to enter into orbit about 
Mercury in March 2011. A 3.3-minute firing of its bi-propellant engine provided 
nearly all of the probe’s 177 meter per second (396 mile per hour) increase in 
its speed relative to the Sun."

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 June 22, 2009
NASA'S Mars Odyssey Alters Orbit to Study Warmer Ground

"PASADENA, Calif. - NASA's long-lived Mars Odyssey spacecraft has completed an 
eight-month adjustment of its orbit, positioning itself to look down at the day 
side of the planet in mid-afternoon instead of late afternoon.

This change gains sensitivity for infrared mapping of Martian minerals by the 
orbiter's Thermal Emission Imaging System camera. Orbit design for Odyssey's 
first seven years of observing Mars used a compromise between what worked best 
for the infrared mapping and for another onboard instrument.

"The orbiter is now overhead at about 3:45 in the afternoon instead of 5 p.m., 
so the ground is warmer and there is more thermal energy for the camera's 
infrared sensors to detect," said Jeffrey Plaut of NASA's Jet Propulsion 
Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., project scientist for Mars Odyssey."

"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) - November 24, 2009

SPIRIT UPDATE: Extrication Attempt Continues - sols 2091-2095, Nov. 20-24, 2009:

"The Spirit team is continuing with the process of attempting to extract her 
from her embedded location at Troy on the west side of Home Plate.

On Sol 2092 (Nov. 21, 2009), a two-step 5-meter (16 feet) forward motion was 
commanded. After the rover completed about 4 meters (13 feet) of wheel spin, a 
stall occurred in the right-rear wheel. Telemetry suggested that the wheel was 
bogging down.

On Sol 2095 (Nov. 24, 2009), a series of diagnostic tests on the right-rear 
wheel was commanded. The test results indicated a fully functioning right-rear 
wheel free of obstruction. As part of the diagnostics, a short (1.5 meter) 
forward drive of the rover was commanded. The rover moved forward about 2 
millimeters (0.08 inch). The plan ahead is to continue with extrication. 
Another 5-meter (16 feet) two-step drive is planned for the Thanksgiving 
holiday weekend.

As of Sol 2095 (Nov. 24, 2009), the rover solar array energy production was 325 
watt-hours, with an atmospheric opacity (tau) of 0.590 and a dust factor of 
0.575. Total odometry is 7,730.00 meters (4.80 miles)."

OPPORTUNITY UPDATE: 'Marquette' Study Continues - sols 2069-2075, Nov. 18-24, 

"Opportunity has been investigating the rock known as "Marquette Island" over 
the last couple of weeks. This target is proving to be something unique that 
Opportunity has not encountered in more than 2000 Sols of exploring Mars.

The science team is theorizing this rock could be either be a type of meteorite 
that Opportunity has never seen before or it could be ejecta from deep within 
the Martian crust that might provide clues to Mars' geologic past. The rover 
completed Mössbauer (MB) spectrometer and Alpha-Particle-X-Ray Spectrometer 
(APXS) measurements on a rock target named "Peck Bay" last week. Peck Bay was 
also lightly brushed by the Rock Abrasion Tool (RAT), which removed a layer of 
dust on the rock to expose the material beneath.

To gain additional information on Marquette Island, Opportunity has repeated 
the same set of measurements on an adjacent target called "Islington Bay." The 
miniature thermal emission spectrometer (Mini-TES) elevation mirror shroud is 
being opened when appropriate with the expectation of eventual dust cleaning. 
No dust cleaning of the Mini-TES mirror has been noted yet.

As of Sol 2075 (Nov. 24, 2009), the solar array energy production was 371 
watt-hours, with an atmospheric opacity (tau) of 0.512 and a dust factor of 
0.520. Total odometry was 18,906.82 meters (11.75 miles)."

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

Visit the Mars Exploration Rover page at

* Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission - November 24, 2009
Team Plans Uplink of Protective Files
Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission Status Report

"PASADENA, Calif. -- The team operating NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter 
plans to uplink protective files to the spacecraft next week as one step toward 
resuming the orbiter's research and relay activities. 

Since the orbiter spontaneously rebooted its computer on Aug. 26, flight team 
engineers have been examining possible root causes and repercussions of that 
incident and three similar events this year on Feb. 23, June 3 and Aug. 6. 
Meanwhile, the team has kept the spacecraft in a precautionary, minimally 
active status called "safe mode." 

The four reboots involved a device, called the "computer module interface 
controller," that controls which of two redundant main computers on the 
spacecraft is active. Still undetermined is whether trouble lies with that 
controller itself or with a voltage glitch elsewhere on the spacecraft. The 
Aug. 6 reboot, though not the other three, prompted a switch from one computer 
to its backup twin. More than 100 factors are under consideration as possible 
root causes."


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 - 
http://www.astro.wisc.edu/~dolan/constellations/constellations.html ;
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 -
http://www.ericsblacksuneclipse.com ;

* 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 - 
http://spaceflight.nasa.gov/realdata/sightings/ ;
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 -
http://www.space.com/spacewatch/sky_calendar.html ;

* 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: November 30, 2009


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