[astronews] IAAS Monthly Astronomy Newsletter

  • From: Burness Ansell <ki0ar@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: Astronomy Newsletter <astronews@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Wed, 31 Mar 2010 22:46:41 -0700 (PDT)

IAAS Monthly Astronomy Newsletter
April 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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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

* Last Quarter Moon occurs on the 6th.
* New Moon occurs on the 14th.
* First Quarter Moon occurs on the 21st.
* Full Moon occurs on the 28th.

* The Moon is at Apogee on the 8th, 251,657 miles from Earth.
* The Moon is at Perigee on the 24th, 228,131 miles from Earth.

Moon/Planet Pairs:
* The Moon passes 4° north of Neptune on the 9th.
* The Moon passes 6° north of Jupiter on the 11th.
* The Moon passes 6° north of Uranus on the 12th.
* The Moon passes 1.5° north of Mercury on the 15th.
* The Moon passes 4° north of Venus on the 16th.
* The Moon passes 5° south of Mars on the 22nd.
* The Moon passes 8° south of Saturn on the 25th.

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 April - Early this month, look for Mercury and Venus 
together in the evening sky soon after sunset. In the south, look for Mars as 
the brightest object in the constellation of Cancer the Crab. Just before dawn, 
watch Saturn set in the west as Jupiter rises in the east. Near the end of the 
month, look for Neptune rising at the tail end of the constellation of 
Capricornus near the approximate position that it was discovered in 1846.

* Mercury - Is at greatest eastern elongation (19° above the western horizon) 
on the 8th. Mercury is stationary on the 18th. Mercury is in inferior 
conjunction on the 28th. Look for Mercury in the evening sky early in the 
month. Mercury sets about 7:51 p.m. on the 1st and disappears into the twilight 
glow about midmonth. Mercury moves from the constellation of Pisces into Aries 
this month shining at magnitude 1.2.

* Venus - Has returned to the evening sky this month setting soon after sunset. 
Look for Mercury and Venus to be within 3° of each other during the first week 
of April. Venus sets at 7:59 p.m. on the 1st and about 10:10 p.m. by month's 
end. Venus will appear higher and higher in the southwest as the month 
progresses. Venus moves from the constellation of Aries into Taurus shining at 
magnitude -3.9.

* Earth - N/A.

* Mars - Sets at 3:08 a.m. on the 1st and about 2:35 a.m. by month's end. Mars 
is in the constellation of Cancer shining at magnitude 0.4.

* Jupiter - Has returned to the morning sky this month. Jupiter rises about 
4:52 a.m. on the 1st and about 4:10 a.m. by month's end. Look for Jupiter low 
in the east before sunrise. Jupiter is in the constellation of Aquarius shining 
at magnitude -2.1.

* Saturn - Rises at 5:14 p.m. on the 1st and about 4:07 p.m. by month's end. 
Look for Saturn in the evening in the east. Saturn should be high enough above 
the eastern horizon to be visible soon after sunset. Saturn is visible for most 
of the night. Saturn is in the constellation of Virgo shining at magnitude 0.5.

* Uranus - Has returned to the morning sky, trailing Jupiter by less than a 
half hour. Uranus rises at 5:15 a.m. on the 1st and about 4:21 a.m. by month's 
end. Uranus is in the constellation of Pisces shining at magnitude 5.9.

* Neptune - Can also be found in the morning sky, preceding Jupiter by less 
than an hour or so. Neptune rises at 4:01 a.m. on the 1st and about 3:05 a.m. 
by month's end. Neptune is in the constellation of Aquarius this month shining 
at magnitude 7.9.

Dwarf Planets  
* Ceres - Is stationary on the 7th. Ceres rises at 1:45 a.m. on the 1st and 
about 11:57 p.m. by month's end. Ceres is in the constellation of Sagittarius 
this month shining at magnitude 8.4. 

* Pluto - Is stationary on the 6th. Pluto rises at 12:44 a.m. on the 1st and 
about 11:41 p.m. by month's end. Pluto is in the constellation of Sagittarius 
shining at magnitude 14.0.

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


Astronomical Events

Meteor Showers
* The Lyrid Meteor Shower - The Lyrids are typically visible between April 16 
and 25. Maximum occurs during April 21-22. Although the maximum rate is about 
10, there have been instances during the last 200 years when rates were near or 
over 100 per hour. The average magnitude of the meteors is near 2.4 and the 
speed is described as rapid. About 15% of the meteors leave persistent trains.

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

* Catalina crowns a sparkling star cluster (from Astronomy Magazine, April 
2010, p. 42)
"Spark your love for observing with an evening cruise to Catalina. All you need 
to capture Comet C/2009 O2 (Catalina) is a 4-inch telescope under a rural sky. 
The comet gracefully arcs above the Pleiades and Hyades star clusters on its 
way to Orion. Make sure it's near the top of your observing list because it 
sinks quickly into the western horizon haze after darkness falls.

Astronomers expect this modest comet to glow around 9th ­magnitude. That's 
faint enough that you'll want to schedule your observing around the Moon, which 
means the first half of April will be prime comet-hunting time. If you return 
to Catalina the weekend of April 16, the small fuzzball contrasts nicely with 
the spread-out sparkles of distant star cluster NGC 1647."

* Comet 81P/Wild is in the constellation of Virgo.

* 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)
* Vesta is stationary on the 7th in the constellation of Leo.
* Herculina is in the constellation of Coma Berenices.
* Metis is at opposition on the 11th in the constellation of Virgo.
* Victoria is in the constellation of Libra.

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

Observational Opportunities
* Take a look at Saturn on the evening of the 21st when Saturn is at 
opposition. The rings will be tilted at an angle of 3.2°. much better than last 
years opposition when Saturn's rings were nearly edge on to our view.


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

* Cassini - March 29, 2010
1980s Video Icon Glows on Saturn Moon

"PASADENA, Calif. -- The highest-resolution-yet temperature map and images of 
Saturn's icy moon Mimas obtained by NASA's Cassini spacecraft reveal surprising 
patterns on the surface of the small moon, including unexpected hot regions 
that resemble 'Pac-Man' eating a dot, and striking bands of light and dark in 
crater walls.
"Other moons usually grab the spotlight, but it turns out Mimas is more bizarre 
than we thought it was," said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at 
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "It has certainly given us 
some new puzzles."
Cassini collected the data on Feb. 13, during its closest flyby of the moon, 
which is marked by an enormous scar called Herschel Crater and resembles the 
Death Star from "Star Wars."

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 - March 04, 2010
New Horizons Team Sees 'Opportunity' for Public Engagement

"Unmanned Spaceflight.com gives its first "Opportunity Award" for public 
engagement to  John Spencer and the New Horizons Jupiter Flyby Planning Team,  
for seeking and using public suggestions for Kodak-moment imaging opportunities 
during the New Horizons flyby of Jupiter."

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 - March 18, 2010
One Year until Mercury Orbit Insertion

"One year from today — starting at 12:45 a.m. UTC — MESSENGER will transition 
from orbiting the Sun to being the first spacecraft ever to orbit the planet 

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 - March 01, 2010
Mars Odyssey Still Hears Nothing From Phoenix

"PASADENA, Calif. -- NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander showed no sign during February 
that it has revived itself after the northern Mars winter. NASA's Mars Odyssey 
orbiter will check again in early April.

The solar-powered Phoenix lander operated for two months longer than its 
planned three-month mission in the Martian arctic in 2008. It was not designed 
to withstand winter conditions. However, in case the return of abundant 
springtime sunlight to the site does revive Phoenix, Odyssey is conducting 
three periods of listening for a transmission that Phoenix is programmed to 
send if it is able. The second listening period, with 60 overflights of the 
Phoenix site from Feb. 22 to Feb. 26, produced the same result as the first 
listening period in January: no signal heard."

"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) - March 24, 2010

SPIRIT UPDATE: Solar Energy Levels Dropping - sols 2204-2210, March 16-22, 2010:

"In position for the fourth winter, embedded at "Troy" on the west side of Home 
Plate, Spirit continues to execute a single seven-sol plan each week, as long 
as power permits.

The seven-sol plan contains a single X-band uplink and a single Ultra-High 
Frequency (UHF) downlink. The activity on each sol consists simply of a brief 
wakeup, an atmospheric opacity (tau) measurement, and then a shutdown for the 
rest of the day and night. The last downlink from the rover was on Sol 2210 
(March 22, 2010). From that downlink, Spirit was still under master sequence 
control and all systems were green. Energy production was down to 134 
watt-hours per sol. Solar array energy production levels will continue to drop, 
leading to widening energy deficits and decreases in battery state of charge. 
The solid-state power amplifier (SSPA), as a proxy for the rover electronics 
module (REM), reached a new record low temperature of minus 41.5 degrees 
Celsius (minus 42.7 degrees Fahrenheit). Spirit continues to get colder. A 
change was noticed on Sol 2203 (March 15, 2010), in the behavior of the battery 
survival heaters. The implications are not known,
 but it is being investigated. The plan for this week is to sequence another 
seven-sol plan to be uplinked this Friday with a single UHF downlink by early 
next week.

Spirit could enter low-power fault at anytime and become quiet for an extended 
period of time to charge her batteries. As of Sol 2210 (March 22, 2010), the 
rover solar array energy production was to 134 watt-hours with an atmospheric 
opacity (tau) of 0.353, as measured on Sol 2209 (March 21, 2010). Total 
odometry is unchanged at 7,730.50 meters (4.80 miles)."

OPPORTUNITY UPDATE: 20 Kilometers and Still Rolling on Mars - sols 2186-2191, 
March 18-24, 2010:

"Opportunity has passed 20 kilometers (12.43 miles) in odometry! She has been 
driving, driving, driving and driving on the path to Endeavour crater.

The rover drove four times in the last week totaling over 260 meters (853 feet) 
of progress. On Sol 2186 (March 18, 2010), Opportunity, driving backwards to 
the southwest covered about 64 meters (210 feet) of distance. Next, on Sol 2188 
(March 20, 2010), the rover headed south covering almost 71 meters (233 feet). 
Then, on another drive due south on Sol 2190 (March 22, 2010), the rover 
covered just over 63 meters (207 feet). With the 67-meter (207-foot) drive on 
Sol 2191 (March 24, 2010), Opportunity passed 20 kilometers (12.43 miles) of 
total odometry. Opportunity will rest from driving on Sol 2192 (March 25, 
2010), to recharge her batteries.

As of Sol 2191 (March 24, 2010), the solar array energy production was 257 
watt-hours with an atmospheric opacity (tau) of 0.418. Total odometry is 
20,043.30 meters (over 20 kilometers, or 12.43 miles)."

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

Visit the Mars Exploration Rover page at

* Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission - March 31, 2010
NASA Mars Spacecraft Snaps Photos Chosen by Public

"PASADENA, Calif. -- The most powerful camera aboard a NASA spacecraft orbiting 
Mars has returned the first pictures of locations on the Red Planet suggested 
by the public.

The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment, or HiRISE camera, aboard NASA's 
Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is nicknamed, "the people's camera." Through a 
program called HiWish that began in January, scientists have received 
approximately 1,000 suggestions. The first eight images of areas the public 
selected are available online at: 
http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/MRO/multimedia/images20100331.html ."


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 *** Black Hole Encyclopedia - http://blackholes.stardate.org/ Excellent 
site from StarDate - University of Texas McDonald Observatory 

* "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 

* Skymaps.com - http://www.skymaps.com/

* 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: April 01, 2010


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