[astronews] IAAS Monthly Astronomy Newsletter

  • From: Burness Ansell <ki0ar@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: Astronomy Newsletter <astronews@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Wed, 1 Dec 2010 23:07:13 -0800 (PST)

IAAS Monthly Astronomy Newsletter
December 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 
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

* New Moon occurs on the 5th.
* First Quarter Moon occurs on the 13th.
* Full Moon occurs on the 21st.
* Last Quarter Moon occurs on the 27th.

* The Moon is at Apogee on the 13th, 251,286 miles from Earth.
* The Moon is at Perigee on the 25th, 228,953 miles from Earth.

Moon/Planet Pairs:
* The Moon passes 8° south of Saturn on the 1st.
* The Moon passes 6° south of Venus on the 2nd.
* The Moon passes 1.8° north of Mercury on the 7th.
* The Moon passes 5° north of Neptune on the 11th.
* The Moon passes 7° north of Jupiter on the 13th.
* The Moon passes 7° north of Uranus on the 14th.
* The Moon passes 8° south of Saturn on the 28th.
* The Moon passes 7° south of Venus on the 31st.

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 - Jupiter continues to provide excellent 
views throughout December. Uranus continues to be Jupiter's companion as it has 
for the past several months. Mercury disappears from view for a couple of weeks 
only to return to the morning sky late in the month. Saturn and Venus are 
prominent in the early morning sky before sunrise. The Geminid meteor show 
peaks around mid-month, and a total lunar eclipse occurs on the morning of the 
Winter Solstice for observers in North America and the Pacific.

* Mercury - Is at greatest eastern elongation (21° above the western horizon) 
on the 1st. Mercury is stationary on the 10th. Mercury is in inferior 
conjunction on the 19th. Mercury is stationary again on the 30th. Mercury sets 
at 5:50 p.m. on the 1st. Look for Mercury low in the west soon after sunset 
during the first week of December. Mercury returns to the morning sky during 
the last week of December. Mercury rises about 5:42 am by month's end. Mercury 
moves from the constellation of Sagittarius into Ophiuchus this month shining 
at magnitude 0.2.

* Venus - Is at greatest brilliancy (magnitude -4.9) on the 4th. Venus rises at 
3:47 a.m. on the 1st and about 3:36 a.m. by month's end. Venus shines brightly 
in the morning sky before sunrise. Venus moves from the constellation of Virgo 
into Libra this month dimming slightly averaging about magnitude -4.8.

* Earth - The Winter Solstice occurs at 6:38 p.m. EST on the 21st.

* Mars - Sets at 5:32 p.m. on the 1st and about 5:18 p.m. by month's end. Mars 
is almost impossible to spot this month as it's buried in the evening twilight 
glow. Mars moves from the constellation of Ophiuchus into Sagittarius this 
month shining at magnitude 1.3.

* Jupiter - Still dominates the evening sky setting at 12:49 a.m. on the 1st 
and about 10:58 p.m. by month's end. Look for Jupiter in the south in the 
evening. Jupiter moves from the constellation of Aquarius into Pisces this 
month shining at magnitude -2.5.

* Saturn - Rises at 2:26 a.m. on the 1st and about 12:34 a.m. by month's end. 
Look for Saturn rising just a couple hours after Jupiter sets. Saturn is in the 
constellation of Virgo shining at magnitude 0.8.

* Uranus - Sets at 1:04 a.m. on the 1st and about 11:00 p.m. by month's end. 
Uranus still trails Jupiter by just a few minutes all month. Uranus and Jupiter 
continue to be separated by about 3° all month. Uranus is in the constellation 
of Pisces shining at magnitude 5.8.

* Neptune - Sets at 10:27 p.m. on the 1st and about 8:29 p.m. by month's end. 
Look for Neptune in the southwest as the evening progresses. Neptune is in the 
constellation of Capricornus this month shining at magnitude 7.9.

Dwarf Planets  
* Ceres - Sets at 6:56 p.m. on the 1st and about 5:54 p.m. by month's end. Look 
for Ceres low in the west before sunset. Ceres moves from the constellation of 
Sagittarius into Capricornus this month shining at magnitude 9.2. 

* Pluto - Is in conjunction with the Sun on the 26th and is not visible this 
month. Pluto will return to the morning sky in February.

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/.

* Even though Comet 103P/Hartley reached its peak in November, it is still 
providing a great show in December as well. Shining around 6th magnitude, Comet 
103P/Hartley should be a nice binocular or telescopic object under dark sky 
conditions. Your best bet to see Comet 103P/Hartley is to get away from big 
cities and into the countryside on a nice crisp autumn evening. Look for Comet 
103P/Hartley in the rich star fields of Puppis and Canis Major this month.

* 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 total lunar eclipse occurs during the early morning hours of the 21st 
before sunrise. The Full Moon enters Earth's umbra at 1:33 a.m. EST (10:33 p.m. 
PST December 20th). The eclipse reaches totality at 2:41 a.m. EST and lasts for 
72 minutes.

  December 20/21, 2010         UT     EST    CST    MST    PST
  Penumbral Eclipse Begins:   05:29  00:29  23:29* 22:29* 21:29*
  Partial Eclipse Begins:     06:32  01:33  00:33  23:33* 22:33*
  Total Eclipse Begins:       07:41  02:41  01:41  00:41  23:41*
  Greatest Eclipse:           08:16  03:16  02:16  01:16  00:16
  Total Eclipse Ends:         08:53  03:53  02:53  01:53  00:53
  Partial Eclipse Ends:       10:01  05:01  04:01  03:01  02:01
  Penumbral Eclipse Ends:     11:04  06:04  05:04  04:04  03:04
                                      * Evening of December 20th

Observational Opportunities
* The highlight this month will be the total lunar eclipse on the evening of 
the 20th, morning of the 21st depending on your location. Dress warmly and 
enjoy the naked eye view. No telescope needed.

Asteroids (From west to east)
* Flora is in the constellation of Aquarius.
* Hebe is in the constellation of Cetus.
* Psyche is at opposition on the 8th in the constellation of Taurus.
* Thalia is in the constellation of Cancer.
* Iris is in the constellation of Cancer.
* Nysa is in the constellation of Leo.

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

* Information on various occultations can be found at 
http://lunar-occultations.com/iota/iotandx.htm , the International Occultation 
Timing Association's (IOTA) web site.
Planetary/Lunar Exploration Missions
(Excerpts from recent mission updates)

* Cassini - November 26, 2010
Thin Air: Cassini Finds Ethereal Atmosphere at Rhea

"NASA's Cassini spacecraft has detected a very tenuous atmosphere known as an 
exosphere, infused with oxygen and carbon dioxide around Saturn's icy moon 
Rhea. This is the first time a spacecraft has directly captured molecules of an 
oxygen atmosphere – albeit a very thin one -- at a world other than Earth.

The oxygen appears to arise when Saturn's magnetic field rotates over Rhea. 
Energetic particles trapped in the planet's magnetic field pepper the moon's 
water-ice surface. They cause chemical reactions that decompose the surface and 
release oxygen. The source of the carbon dioxide is less certain.

Oxygen at Rhea's surface is estimated to be about 5 trillion times less dense 
than what we have at Earth. But the new results show that surface decomposition 
could contribute abundant molecules of oxygen, leading to surface densities 
roughly 100 times greater than the exospheres of either Earth's moon or 
Mercury. The formation of oxygen and carbon dioxide could possibly drive 
complex chemistry on the surfaces of many icy bodies in the universe."

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 09, 2010
The PI's Perspective

"A couple of weeks ago, on my way to a suborbital/commercial spaceflight 
conference, I stopped in Mesilla, New Mexico, to see the widow, daughter and 
son-in-law of Clyde Tombaugh – the discoverer of Pluto, dwarf planets and the 
Kuiper Belt. I was still excited about the latest New Horizons accomplishment: 
reaching the halfway point, in days, (link to 
 on our incredible voyage to Pluto.

During the visit, in Mrs. Patsy Tombaugh's home, I presented the family with 
specially made "Halfway to Pluto" coffee mugs.

Even though New Horizons is traveling at fantastic (and mind-boggling) speed, 
the journey to Pluto still takes almost a decade – so the halfway milestones we 
celebrated this year were a real morale builder for our mission team. Being 
able to share this milestone with Clyde's family and to see their smiles really 
capped the first half of the journey for me.

I can't wait to share the Pluto encounter events with Patsy, Annette and 
Wilbur, and Clyde's son, Alden, in 2015!

- Alan Stern"

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 October 08, 2010
NASA Mission to Asteroid Gets Help From Hubble

"PASADENA, Calif. – NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has captured images of the 
large asteroid Vesta that will help refine plans for the Dawn spacecraft's 
rendezvous with Vesta in July 2011.

Scientists have constructed a video from the images that will help improve 
pointing instructions for Dawn as it is placed in a polar orbit around Vesta. 
Analyses of Hubble images revealed a pole orientation, or tilt, of 
approximately four degrees more to the asteroid's east than scientists 
previously thought.

This means the change of seasons between the southern and northern hemispheres 
of Vesta may take place about a month later than previously expected while Dawn 
is orbiting the asteroid. The result is a change in the pattern of sunlight 
expected to illuminate the asteroid. Dawn needs solar illumination for imaging 
and some mapping activities."

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

* MESSENGER - October 27, 2010
Smithsonian, SAE International Honor Papers Published by MESSENGER Team Members

"The Smithsonian Institution and SAE International (formerly the Society for 
Automotive Engineers) have honored papers published by scientists on the 

MESSENGER Thermal Engineer Carl J. Ercol was selected to receive the 2008 SAE 
Wright Brothers Medal Award for his paper of that year entitled "Return to 
Mercury: An overview of the MESSENGER spacecraft thermal control system design 
and up-to-date flight performance." 

The medal is awarded to the author of the best paper presented at an SAE 
meeting relating to the invention, development, design, construction, or 
operation of an aircraft and/or spacecraft. The award considers the value of 
the author's contribution to the state-of-the-art in the furtherance of flight 
technology whether it pertains to aircraft or spacecraft systems or their 
parts, components, subsystems, or accessories. Ercol will receive his award at 
the SAE 2011 AeroTech Congress & Exhibition in Toulouse, France, in October 

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 October 15, 2010
Long-Lived Mars Odyssey Gets New Project Manager

"PASADENA, Calif. -- The new project manager for the longest-working spacecraft 
currently active at Mars, NASA's Mars Odyssey, has a long track record himself.
He is Gaylon McSmith, a former pilot of U.S. Air Force fighter jets and 
Continental Airlines airliners. At NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, 
Calif., he has been a leader on the Odyssey team since two months after the 
spacecraft began orbiting Mars in October 2001.

On Dec. 15 of this year, Odyssey will break the record for the longest-working 
spacecraft ever at Mars, surpassing the mark set by NASA's Mars Global 
Surveyor, which operated in orbit from 1997 to 2006. Odyssey completed its 
prime mission in 2004 and has operated on an extended-mission basis since then.

"The spacecraft continues to be a very reliable platform that conducts its own 
science investigations, plus important support for other Mars missions," 
McSmith said. "It's a great honor for me to work with the Odyssey team."

Odyssey's science instruments have discovered vast supplies of frozen water 
just beneath the surface; run a radiation-safety check for future astronauts; 
and mapped surface textures, minerals and elements all over Mars. Its camera 
has provided the highest-resolution map of the entire planet."

Global Martian Map: http://www.mars.asu.edu/maps/?layer=thm_dayir_100m_v11.

"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 17, 2010

SPIRIT UPDATE: Spirit Remains Silent at Troy - sols 2438-2444, November 11-17, 

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

The project continues to listen for Spirit with the Deep Space Network and Mars 
Odyssey orbiter for autonomous recovery communication from the low-power fault 
case. The project is also conducting a paging technique called "Sweep & Beep" 
strategy to stimulate the rover in the case of a mission-clock fault.

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

OPPORTUNITY UPDATE: Opportunity Checks out Intrepid Crater - sols 2418-2423, 
November 12-17, 2010:

"Opportunity has been navigating through a field of small impact craters on her 
way to Endeavour crater.

Opportunity has exceeded 25 kilometers (15 miles) of odometry on the surface of 

The rover spent a few days imaging the interior of Intrepid crater, one of a 
collection of small impact craters in this area. On Sol 2420 (Nov. 14, 2010), 
Opportunity departed Intrepid, driving over 116 meters (381 feet) and crossing 
the 25-kilometer odometry mark. During the drive, the rover collected some 
mid-drive imaging of Intrepid from a different vantage point.

The Stardust safe-mode entry affected Deep Space Network coverage for the 
Odyssey orbiter, which delayed the return of some relay data for Opportunity. 
As of Sol 2422 (Nov. 16, 2010), solar array energy production was 596 
watt-hours with a slightly elevated atmospheric opacity (Tau) of 0.769 and a 
solar array dust factor of 0.670.

Total odometry is 25,063.18 meters (25.06 kilometers, or 15.57 miles)."

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

Visit the Mars Exploration Rover page at

* Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission - October 31, 2010
Silica on a Mars Volcano Tells of Wet and Cozy Past

"PASADENA, Calif. -- Light-colored mounds of a mineral deposited on a volcanic 
cone more than three billion years ago may preserve evidence of one of the most 
recent habitable microenvironments on Mars.

Observations by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter enabled researchers to 
identify the mineral as hydrated silica and to see its volcanic context. The 
mounds' composition and their location on the flanks of a volcanic cone provide 
the best evidence yet found on Mars for an intact deposit from a hydrothermal 
environment -- a steam fumarole, or hot spring. Such environments may have 
provided habitats for some of Earth's earliest life forms."


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.)

* Astronomy A-Go-Go - http://astronomy.libsyn.com/
In the car, at work or under the night time sky astronomy goes where you go!

* "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 ;

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

* 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 ;

* Green Laser - http://www.greenlaser.com
If you're looking for a reasonably priced laser pointer that is great for 
astronomy work, visit this site.

* 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: October 30, 2010


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