[astronews] IAAS Monthly Astronomy Newsletter

  • From: Burness Ansell <ki0ar@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: Astronomy Newsletter <astronews@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Fri, 30 Apr 2010 13:30:36 -0700 (PDT)

IAAS Monthly Astronomy Newsletter
May 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 
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

* Last Quarter Moon occurs on the 6th.
* New Moon occurs on the 13th.
* First Quarter Moon occurs on the 20th.
* Full Moon occurs on the 27th.

* The Moon is at Apogee on the 6th, 251,180 miles from Earth.
* The Moon is at Perigee on the 20th, 229,742 miles from Earth.

Moon/Planet Pairs:
* Venus passes 6° north of Aldebaran on the 3rd.
* The Moon passes 4° north of Neptune on the 7th.
* The Moon passes 7° north of Jupiter on the 9th.
* The Moon passes 6° north of Uranus on the 9th.
* The Moon passes 8° north of Mercury on the 12th.
* The Moon passes 0.08° north of Venus on the 16th.
* The Moon passes 5° south of Mars on the 20th.
* The Moon passes 8° south of Saturn on the 23rd.
* The Moon passes 0.09° south of Ceres on the 29th.

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 May - This month brings planet watchers a treat. Six 
planets are visible for our viewing pleasure. Venus, Mars and Saturn grace the 
evening skies. Mars and Saturn remain visible until after midnight. Jupiter, 
Uranus and Neptune are visible in the early morning before dawn.

* Mercury - Is stationary on the 10th. Mercury is at greatest western 
elongation (25° above the eastern horizon) on the 25th. Look for Mercury low in 
the morning sky before sunrise. Mercury rises at 5:48 a.m. on the 1st and about 
4:31 a.m. by month's end. Mercury is in the constellation of Aries shining at 
magnitude 0.1.

* Venus - Is the brightest object in the evening sky and is quite prominent 
soon after sunset. Venus sets at 10:10 p.m. on the 1st and about 1:10 a.m. by 
month's end. Venus will continue to appear higher and higher in the southwest 
as the month progresses. Venus moves from the constellation of Taurus into 
Gemini this month shining at magnitude -3.9.

* Earth - N/A.

* Mars - Sets at 2:35 a.m. on the 1st and about 1:10 a.m. by month's end. Mars 
moves from the constellation of Cancer into Leo this month shining at magnitude 

* Jupiter - Rises about 4:10 a.m. on the 1st and about 2:22 a.m. by month's 
end. Look for Jupiter low in the east before sunrise. Jupiter moves from the 
constellation of Aquarius into Pisces this month shining at magnitude -2.2.

* Saturn - Is stationary on the 31st. Saturn rises at 4:07 p.m. on the 1st and 
about 2:01 p.m. by month's end. Look for Saturn in the evening in the 
south-southwest after sunset. Saturn is in the constellation of Virgo shining 
at magnitude 0.9.

* Uranus - Has returned to the morning sky, trailing Jupiter by less than a 15 
minutes. Uranus rises at 4:21 a.m. on the 1st and about 2:21 a.m. by month's 
end. Uranus is in the constellation of Pisces shining at magnitude 5.9.

* Neptune - Neptune is stationary on the 31st. Neptune can also be found in the 
morning sky, preceding Jupiter by a little over an hour or so. Neptune rises at 
3:05 a.m. on the 1st and about 1:04 a.m. by month's end. Neptune is in the 
constellation of Aquarius this month shining at magnitude 7.9.

Dwarf Planets  
* Ceres - Rises at 11:57 p.m. on the 1st and about 10:27 p.m. by month's end. 
Ceres is in the constellation of Sagittarius this month shining at magnitude 

* Pluto - Rises at 11:41 p.m. on the 1st and about 9:37 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 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/2009 K5 (McNaught) shines at 10th magnitude and passes through the 
constellation of Ursa Minor.

* Comet 81P/Wild is in the constellation of Virgo, also shining at 10th 

* Finally, Comet C/2009 R1 (also discovered by Australian astronomer Robert 
McNaught) is expected to glow around 8th magnitude as it passes through the 
constellations of Pegasus, Andromeda and Pisces.

* 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 in the constellation of Leo.
* Herculina is in the constellation of Coma Berenices.
* Pallas is at opposition on the 3rd in the constellation of Coma Berenices.
* Victoria is at opposition on the 11th in the constellation of Libra.
* Eunomia 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.

Observational Opportunities
* On the evening of the 15th, look for the crescent Moon opening up toward 
brilliant Venus. The Moon is in the constellation of Taurus. Look to the 
west-southwest around 9 p.m. local time.


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

* Cassini - April 14, 2010
Flash: NASA's Cassini Sees Lightning on Saturn

"PASADENA, Calif. ñ NASA's Cassini spacecraft has captured images of lightning 
on Saturn. The images have allowed scientists to create the first movie showing 
lightning flashing on another planet. 
After waiting years for Saturn to dim enough for the spacecraft's cameras to 
detect bursts of light, scientists were able to create the movie, complete with 
a soundtrack that features the crackle of radio waves emitted when lightning 
bolts struck.

"This is the first time we have the visible lightning flash together with the 
radio data," said Georg Fischer, a radio and plasma wave science team associate 
based at the Space Research Institute in Graz, Austria. "Now that the radio and 
visible light data line up, we know for sure we are seeing powerful lightning 

The movie and radio data suggest extremely powerful storms with lightning that 
flashes as brightly as the brightest super-bolts on Earth, according to Andrew 
Ingersoll, a Cassini imaging science subsystem team member at the California 
Institute of Technology in Pasadena. "What's interesting is that the storms are 
as powerful -- or even more powerful -- at Saturn as on Earth," said Ingersoll. 
"But they occur much less frequently, with usually only one happening on the 
planet at any given time, though it can last for months."

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 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 - April 13, 2010
MESSENGER Team Rehearsing for Mercury Orbital Operations

"It's not easy practicing for something no one has done before, but the 
MESSENGER team is giving it a go. Mission and science operators have wrapped up 
the third and fourth in a series of rehearsals for how the spacecraft will be 
operated once it is in orbit about Mercury.

"No spacecraft has orbited Mercury before; although the spacecraft has been 
operating since 2004 and has flown past Mercury three times, team members have 
no direct experience planning and scheduling daily science observations and 
data playback in such an environment," says Alice Berman, MESSENGER's payload 
operations manager at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory 
(APL) in Laurel, Md. "So we're working now, before we go into orbit, on a 
readiness plan to ensure that the mission's full science success criteria will 
be met."

That plan includes Week-in-the-Life tests (or "WITLs"), which simulate one or 
more weeks in orbital operations to test the new procedures and software being 
developed for the Mercury orbital mission."

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 13, 2010
No Peep from Phoenix in Third Odyssey Listening Stint

"PASADENA, Calif. -- NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter heard no signal from the 
Phoenix Mars Lander when it listened from orbit while passing over Phoenix 60 
times last week.

Odyssey had also listened for a signal from Phoenix during periods in January 
and February. During the third campaign, April 5 through April 9, the sun 
stayed above the horizon continuously at the arctic site where Phoenix 
completed its mission in 2008.

The solar-powered lander examined ice, soil and atmosphere at the site for two 
months longer than its planned three-month mission before succumbing to 
seasonal decline in sunlight. It was not designed to withstand winter 
conditions. However, in case it did, NASA has used Odyssey to listen for the 
signals that Phoenix would have transmitted if abundant spring sunshine revived 
the lander."

"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 21, 2010

SPIRIT UPDATE: Winter Solstice Just Three Weeks Away - sols 2233-2239, April 
15-21, 2010:

"Spirit remains silent at her location called "Troy" on the west side of Home 
Plate. No communication has been received from the rover since Sol 2210 (March 
22, 2010). 

It is likely that Spirit has experienced a low-power fault and has powered off 
all sub-systems, except her master clock. The rover will use the available 
solar array energy to recharge her batteries. When the batteries recover to a 
sufficient state of charge, Spirit will wake up and begin to communicate. When 
that does happen, Spirit will also trip an up-loss timer fault. This fault 
response will allow the rover to communicate over Ultra-High Frequency (UHF) as 
well as X-band. 

It is not know when the rover will wake up, so the project has been listening 
for any X-band signal from Spirit through the Deep Space Network every day. The 
relay orbiters are also listening over any scheduled UHF relay passes. The 
winter solstice is just three weeks away (Sol 2261, or May 13, 2010). 

Total odometry is unchanged at 7,730.50 meters (4.80 miles)."

OPPORTUNITY UPDATE: Recharging Batteries in Between - sols 2212-2218, April 
14-20, 2010:

"Opportunity drove three times in the last week, spending time between drives 
to recharge her batteries. Because of the approaching winter solstice, solar 
array energy levels have been dropping. 

Opportunity must pause from driving for a sol or two to recharge her batteries 
sufficiently to drive again. On Sol 2213 (April15, 2010), Opportunity drove 
about 66 meters (217 feet). After recharging on Sol 2214 (April 16, 2010), the 
rover drove on Sol 2215 (April 17, 2010), traveling only about 36 meters (118 
feet). With two sols of recharging, Opportunity drove on Sol 2218 (April 20, 
2010), achieving almost 66 meters (217 feet). 

The plan ahead is more driving as energy allows. As of Sol 2218 (April 20, 
2010), the solar array energy production was 247 watt-hours with an atmospheric 
opacity (tau) of 0.348 and a dust factor of 0.4995. 

Total odometry is 20,553.25 meters (20.55 kilometers, or 12.77 miles)."

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

Visit the Mars Exploration Rover page at

* Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission - No new news since 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 30, 2010


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