[astronews] IAAS Monthly Astronomy Newsletter

  • From: Burness Ansell <ki0ar@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: astronews@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Fri, 1 Jan 2010 19:02:30 -0800 (PST)

IAAS Monthly Astronomy Newsletter
January 2010


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 
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Search for "IAAS" and subscribe to the podcast. You may also go to 
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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

* Last Quarter Moon occurs on the 7th.
* New Moon occurs on the 15th.
* First Quarter Moon occurs on the 23rd.
* Full Moon occurs on the 30th.

* The Moon is at Perigee on the 1st, 222,875 miles from Earth.
* The Moon is at Apogee on the 16th, 252,547 miles from Earth.
* The Moon is at Perigee on the 30th, 222,875 miles from Earth.

Moon/Planet Pairs:
* The Moon passes 7° south of Mars on the 3rd.
* The Moon passes 8° south of Saturn on the 6th.
* The Moon passes 1.1° north of Antares on the 11th.
* The Moon passes 5° south of Mercury on the 13th.
* Jupiter passes 4° north of Neptune on the 17th.
* The Moon passes 5° north of Jupiter on the 18th.
* The Moon passes 6° north of Uranus on the 20th.
* The Moon passes 7° south of Mars on the 30th.

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 January - Mars is the highlight for this month. Mars 
reaches opposition and greatest visibility in January. Mars is visible almost 
all night long and through a telescope you may be able to see surface marking 
and the north polar cap. Jupiter remains visible in the early evening glowing 
brightly in the southeast. Saturn is visible in the early morning sky. Mercury 
makes a brief appearance in the morning before sunrise.

* Mercury - Is in inferior conjunction on the 4th. Mercury is stationary on the 
15th. Mercury is at greatest western elongation (25° above the eastern horizon) 
on the 26th. Mercury rises about 7:42 a.m. on the 1st and about 5:47 a.m. by 
month's end. Look for Mercury during the last week of January in the east 
rising about 30 minutes before sunrise. Mercury is in the constellation of 
Sagittarius shining at magnitude -0.2.

* Venus - Is in superior conjunction on the 11th. Venus will not be visible 
until the last week of January when it returns to the evening sky. Venus sets 
about 5:40 p.m. by month's end. Venus is in the constellation of Capricornus 
shining at magnitude -3.9.

* Earth - Is at perihelion (91.4 million miles from the Sun) on the 2nd.

* Mars - Comes closest to Earth on the 27th (61.7 million miles away). Mars is 
at opposition on the 29th. Mars shines the brightest at opposition, shining at 
magnitude -1.3. Mars rises at 7:34 p.m. on the 1st and about 4:36 p.m. by 
month's end. Look for Mars in the evening rising around sunset all month. Mars 
moves from the constellation of Leo into Cancer this month.

* Jupiter - Sets at 8:27 p.m. on the 1st and about 6:59 p.m. by month's end. 
Jupiter is best viewed in the early evening sky looking southwest after 
sundown. Jupiter is in the constellation of Capricornus shining at magnitude 

* Saturn - Rises at 11:29 p.m. on the 1st and about 9:25 p.m. by month's end. 
Saturn has returned to the evening skies this month but is still best viewed 
after midnight when Saturn has cleared the eastern horizon. Saturn is in the 
constellation of Virgo shining at magnitude 0.8.

* Uranus - Sets at 10:40 p.m. on the 1st and about 8:44 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 5.9.

* Neptune - Sets at 8:18 p.m. p.m. on the 1st and about 6:21 p.m. by month's 
end. Neptune can easily be found about 2° west of Jupiter. Neptune is in the 
constellation Capricornus shining at magnitude 8.0.

Dwarf Planets  
* Ceres - Rises at 4:27 a.m. on the 1st and about 3:22 a.m. by month's end. 
Ceres is best viewed before sunrise. Ceres moves from the constellation of 
Scorpius into Ophiuchus this month shining at magnitude 9.0. 

* Pluto - Has returned to the morning sky this month rising at 6:29 a.m. on the 
1st and about 4:32 a.m. by month's end. Pluto still remains too low for good 
viewing but should improve in the month's to come. Pluto is in the 
constellation of Sagittarius shining at magnitude 14.1.

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


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/.

* "Before closing an observing session with Saturn, check out the form of Comet 
81P/Wild. This well-behaved periodic comet spends the first week of January 
just 1° south of the magnificent ringed world before heading farther east. 
Glowing at 10th magnitude, Wild is a bit fainter than the Messier galaxies that 
populate its host constellation Virgo, so you'll need to be away from city 
lights to get a decent look." Astronomy Magazine, January 2010, p. 50.

* 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/.

* An annular solar eclipse occurs on the 15th. This eclipse is optimum for 
observers in Africa, Asia, and India. 

* 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.
* Vesta is in the constellation of Leo.
* Herculina is in the constellation of Coma Berenices
* 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 - December 24, 2009
T-64: Cassini to Monitor North Pole on Titan

"Though there are no plans to investigate whether Saturn's moon Titan has a 
Santa Claus, NASA's Cassini will zoom close to Titan's north pole this weekend.
The flyby, which brings Cassini to within about 960 kilometers (600 miles) of 
the Titan surface at 82 degrees north latitude, will take place the evening of 
Dec. 27 Pacific time, or shortly after midnight Universal Time on Dec. 28.

The encounter will enable scientists to gather more detail on how the 
lake-dotted north polar region of Titan changes with the seasons. Scientists 
will be using high-resolution radar to scan the large and numerous lakes in the 
north polar region for shape-shifting in size and depth. The ion and neutral 
mass spectrometer team will take baseline measurements of the atmosphere to 
compare with the moon's south polar region when Cassini flies by that area on 
Jan. 12. Cassini will also be collecting images for a mosaic of a bright region 
called Adiri, where the Huygens probe landed nearly five years ago.

Cassini will have released the Huygens probe exactly five years and three days 
before this latest flyby. Huygens began its journey down to Titan on the 
evening of Dec. 24, 2004 California time, or early Dec. 25 Universal Time, and 
reached the surface Jan. 14, 2005.

Cassini last flew by Titan on Dec. 11, 2009 Pacific time, or Dec. 12 Universal 
Time. Although this latest flyby is dubbed "T64," planning changes early in the 
orbital tour have made this the 65th targeted flyby of Titan."

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 29, 2009
New Horizons Crosses a Threshold: Closer to Pluto than Earth

"The new year approaches with New Horizons zooming past another milestone: the 
NASA spacecraft is now closer to target planet Pluto than its home planet, 

"This is the first of several milestones over the next 10 months that mark the 
halfway points in our  journey to the solar system’s frontier, where Pluto 
lies. We on the mission team know we will have a long way to go, but are proud 
to have brought the spacecraft to this important mile marker in our journey 
across the entirety of our solar system," says New Horizons Principal 
Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute.

Nearly four years after lifting off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, 
Fla., on Jan. 19, 2006, the speedy probe is now approximately 1.527 billion 
miles (2.463 billion kilometers) from Earth – and 1.526 billion miles (nearly 
2.462 billion kilometers) from the Pluto system. The spacecraft is just a 
little past halfway between the orbits of giant planets Saturn and Uranus, 
getting closer to Pluto at the rate of about 750,000 miles (1.2 million 
kilometers) per day. But closest approach to Pluto is still just over 5½ years 
away, on July 14, 2015."

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 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 - December 15, 2009
MESSENGER Team Releases First Global Map of Mercury

"NASA's MESSENGER mission team and cartographic experts from the U. S. 
Geological Survey have created a critical tool for planning the first orbital 
observations of the planet Mercury -- a global mosaic of the planet that will 
help scientists pinpoint craters, faults, and other features for observation. 
The map was created from images taken during the MESSENGER spacecraft's three 
flybys of the planet and those of Mariner 10 in the 1970s. A presentation on 
the new global mosaic is being given today at the Fall Meeting of the American 
Geophysical Union in San Francisco."

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 - Updated: December 10, 2009
Orbiter Puts Itself Into Safe Standby

"NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter put itself into a safe standby mode on Saturday, 
Nov. 28, and the team operating the spacecraft has begun implementing careful 
steps designed to resume Odyssey's science and relay operations within about a 

"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) - December 16, 2009

SPIRIT UPDATE: Surprise from Right-Front Wheel - sols 2111-2117, Dec. 10-16, 

"Spirit remains embedded in the location called "Troy" on the west side of Home 
Plate. Because of continuing problems with the right-rear wheel, a test of the 
right-front wheel was done on Sol 2113 (Dec. 12, 2009) to gain insight into the 
signature for a failed wheel. The right-front wheel had become inoperable back 
on Sol 779 (March 13, 2006). Surprisingly, the right-front wheel indicated 
normal motor continuity.

The project also discovered a change in what is known as the single-point 
ground. A negative voltage is present where no voltage should be. This suggests 
some sort of electrical short to the rover chassis. The behavior of this 
single-point ground correlates with the onset of problems with the right-rear 
wheel and with usage of any of the mobility actuators. This suggests that the 
rover's motor controller board is suspect.

The right wheels were tested again and driven as part of an extrication 
maneuver on Sol 2117 (Dec. 16, 2009). The right-front wheel functioned normally 
for the first three steps of the drive and stopped working during the last 
step, completing about 10 wheel revolutions. The right-rear wheel did not move 
at all. The rover only moved slightly during this drive. The project is 
continuing the investigation of these electric and wheel problems and 
continuing to explore the functionality of the right-front wheel.

As of Sol 2117 (Dec. 16, 2009), Spirit's solar-array energy production is down 
ro 277 watt-hours, with an atmospheric opacity (tau) of 0.503 and a dust factor 
of 0.557. Total odometry is 7,730.01 meters (4.80 miles)."

OPPORTUNITY UPDATE: Preparing to Grind - sols 2091-2096, Dec. 11-16, 2009:

"Opportunity has been investigating the rock known as "Marquette Island," which 
has been of great interest. Assessments of its composition suggest that it 
might be ejecta from deep within Mars.

The plan is to position the rover to be able to perform a rock abrasion tool 
(RAT) grind on an accessible surface target on Marquette. On Sol 2093 (Dec. 13, 
2009), Opportunity drove about 10 meters (33 feet) around the rock to position 
an accessible rock surface within reach of the robotic arm (instrument 
deployment device, or IDD). On Sol 2095 (Dec. 15, 2009), the rover performed a 
5-centimeter (2-inch) bump to set up for RAT grinding.

The elevation mirror shroud of the miniature thermal emission spectrometer 
(Mini-TES) 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 2096 (Dec. 16, 2009), Opportunity's solar-array energy production is 
354 watt-hours, with an atmospheric opacity (tau) of 0.462 and a dust factor of 
0.528. Total odometry is 18,927.56 meters (11.76 miles)."

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

Visit the Mars Exploration Rover page at

* Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission - December 16, 2009
NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Resumes Observations

"PASADENA, Calif. -- Researchers are receiving new science data from NASA's 
Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter after the spacecraft's six science instruments 
resumed observations today.

Observations had been suspended since a computer reset Aug. 26. During the time 
since then, engineers analyzed a series of previous computer resets by the 
spacecraft and completed preventive care to guard against a vulnerability 
identified by that analysis.

In addition to the Aug. 26 event, the orbiter had spontaneously reset its 
computer three times earlier this year: Feb. 23, June 4 and Aug. 6. The mission 
had returned to full science operations within a few days after the first 
three. The decreasing intervals between the resets prompted the team to perform 
a more extensive analysis after the fourth one."


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.)

*** NEW *** Skymaps.com - http://www.skymaps.com/
* "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: January 01, 2010


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