[astronews] IAAS Monthly Astronomy Newsletter

  • From: Burness Ansell <ki0ar@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: Astronomy Newsletter <astronews@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Mon, 28 Feb 2011 22:44:23 -0800 (PST)

IAAS Monthly Astronomy Newsletter
March 2011

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 4th.
* First Quarter Moon occurs on the 12th.
* Full Moon occurs on the 19th.
* Last Quarter Moon occurs on the 26th.

* The Moon is at Apogee on the 6th, 252,639 miles from Earth.
* The Moon is at Perigee on the 19th, 221,565 miles from Earth.

Moon/Planet Pairs:
* The Moon passes 7° north of Jupiter on the 6th.
* Mercury passes 2° north of Jupiter on the 16th.
* The Moon passes 8° south of Saturn on the 20th.
* Venus passes 0.2° south of Neptune on the 26th.
* The Moon passes 1.2° north of asteroid Vesta on the 28th.
* The Moon passes 5° north of Neptune on the 30th.
* The Moon passes 6° north 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 March - Mercury returns to the evening sky 
displaying its finest appearance for 2011. Jupiter is descending rapidly 
towards the western horizon so be sure to catch this one early in the month and 
look for Mercury just below Jupiter on the 8th. Saturn rises earlier and 
earlier in the evening supplanting Jupiter as the dominant evening planet. Mars 
and Uranus are hidden from view this month. If you live south of the equator, 
you may be able to see Neptune near Venus during the last week of March. 

* Mercury - Is at greatest eastern elongation (19° above the western horizon) 
and is at its best evening viewing for the year for northern hemisphere 
observers on the 22nd. Mercury is stationary on the 30th. Mercury has returned 
to the evening sky this month. Mercury moves from the constellation of Aquarius 
into Pisces shining at magnitude -1.1.

* Venus - Rises at 4:34 a.m. on the 1st and about 4:26 a.m. by month's end. 
Venus shines brightly in the morning sky before sunrise. Venus moves from the 
constellation of Sagittarius into Aquarius this month shining at magnitude -4.0.

* Earth - The Vernal Equinox occurs at 2:10 p.m. EDT on the 20th.

* Mars - Is at perihelion (128.4 million miles from the Sun) on the 9th. Mars 
remains hidden behind the Sun until April when it will return to the morning 

* Jupiter - Is at perihelion (460.0 million miles from the Sun) on the 17th. 
Jupiter is rapidly disappearing in the evening sky early this month setting at 
8:02 p.m. on the 1st and about 6:37 p.m. by month's end. Look for Jupiter low 
in the west in the evening during the first half of the month. Jupiter moves 
from the constellation of Cetus into Pisces this month shining at magnitude 

* Saturn - Rises at 8:35 p.m. on the 1st and about 6:22 p.m. by month's end. 
Look for Saturn rising soon after Jupiter sets. Saturn is priming itself as the 
dominant evening planet this month. Saturn is in the constellation of Virgo 
shining at magnitude 0.4.

* Uranus - Is in conjunction with the Sun on the 21st and is not visible this 
month. Uranus will return to the morning sky in April.

* Neptune - Rises at 6:07 a.m. on the 1st and about 4:08 a.m. by month's end. 
For observers that live south of the equator, Neptune is visible about 20° 
above the eastern horizon before sunrise. (Image: Position of Venus and Neptune 
on the morning of the 26th.) For observers in the northern hemisphere, Neptune 
remains hidden in the morning twilight glow, not reaching more than 3° above 
the horizon. Neptune is in the constellation of Aquarius shining at magnitude 

Dwarf Planets  
* Ceres - Still remains lost in the twilight glow and is difficult if not 
impossible to spot this month. Ceres rises at 6:21 a.m. on the 1st and about 
5:53 a.m. by month's end. Ceres moves from the constellation of Capricornus 
into Aquarius this month shining at magnitude 9.2.

* Pluto - Rises at 2:56 a.m. on the 1st and about 12:55 a.m. by month's end. 
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
* There are some minor meteor showers this month but none that produce rates 
much higher than 2-5 per hour, except the Gamma Normids that extend over the 
period of March 11 to 21, with the maximum occurring on March 16. The maximum 
rate reaches about 5-9 meteors per hour.

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

* There is no significant comet activity 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/.

* There is no eclipse activity this month.

Observational Opportunities
* On March 1st, look for the thin waning crescent Moon and Venus close together 
about an hour before sunrise.
* For northern hemisphere observers, Mercury is at its best evening viewing for 
this year on the 22nd.

Asteroids (From west to east)
* Iris is in the constellation of Cancer.
* Thalia is in the constellation of Cancer.
* Nysa is in the constellation of Leo.
* Juno is at opposition on the 12th in the constellation of Virgo.
* Massalia is at opposition on the 14th in the constellation of Virgo.
* Vesta 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.

* 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 - February 17, 2011
Cassini to Sample Magnetic Environment around Titan

"NASA's Cassini spacecraft is set to skim close to Saturn's moon Titan on 
Friday, Feb. 18, to learn about the interaction between Titan and Saturn's 
magnetosphere, the magnetic bubble around the planet.

The closest approach will take place at 8:04 a.m. PST (4:04 p.m. UTC) and bring 
Cassini within about 3,650 kilometers (2,270 miles) of Titan's surface.

As Titan makes a complete 360-degree orbit around Saturn, the relative 
influence of the sun's illumination and the hot ionized gas trapped in the 
magnetic bubble changes. These factors are important for understanding the 
relationship between Titan and Saturn's magnetosphere. It is important to make 
measurements at a variety of locations in the Saturn magnetosphere, so this 
flyby will occur in a part of the magnetosphere that has been poorly sampled so 

Previous flybys have shown the magnetic environment near Titan to be rather 
variable and unpredictable. For 12 hours before and after closest approach, the 
Cassini plasma spectrometer instrument will be pointing in a direction to 
capture ionized gas in the region."

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 January 20, 2011
Launch Plus Five Years: A Ways Traveled, a Ways to Go

"It's been five years since New Horizons roared into the Florida skies – 
speeding from Earth faster than any spacecraft before it – and began its 
journey to the unexplored regions of the planetary frontier. Today, with New 
Horizons more than halfway through its voyage to Pluto, mission team members 
look back on the historic launch and a few of the events since.

"Five years in flight already! It's a credit to our spacecraft and operations 
teams that we've traveled so far without any big problems cropping up," says 
New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research 
Institute. "We still have four years to go until encounter operations begin, 
but we're already excited to see the light at the end of the tunnel that comes 
in 2015. Go New Horizons!""

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 - February 18, 2011
A Solar System Family Portrait, from the Inside Out

"The MESSENGER spacecraft has captured the first portrait 
 of our Solar System from the inside looking out. Comprised of 34 images, the 
mosaic provides a complement to the Solar System portrait - that one from the 
outside looking in - taken by Voyager 1 in 1990.

"Obtaining this portrait was a terrific feat by the MESSENGER team," says 
MESSENGER Principal Investigator Sean Solomon, of the Carnegie Institution of 
Washington. "This snapshot of our neighborhood also reminds us that Earth is a 
member of a planetary family that was formed by common processes four and a 
half billion years ago. Our spacecraft is soon to orbit the innermost member of 
the family, one that holds many new answers to how Earth-like planets are 
assembled and evolve."

MESSENGER's Wide Angle Camera (WAC) captured the images on November 3 and 16, 
2010. In the mosaic, all of the planets are visible except for Uranus and 
Neptune, which - at distances of 3.0 and 4.4 billion kilometers - were too 
faint to detect. Earth's Moon and Jupiter's Galilean satellites (Callisto, 
Ganymede, Europa, and Io) can be seen in the NAC image insets. The Solar 
System's perch on a spiral arm of the Milky Way galaxy also afforded a 
beautiful view of a portion of the galaxy in the bottom center. 

"The curved shape of the mosaic is due to the inclination of MESSENGER's orbit 
from the ecliptic, the plane in which Earth and most planets orbit, which means 
that the cameras must point up to see some planets and down to see others," 
explains MESSENGER imaging team member Brett Denevi of the Johns Hopkins 
University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Md. "The images are 
stretched to make it easier to detect the planets, though this stretch also 
highlights light scattered off of the planet limbs, and in some cases creates 
artifacts such as the non-spherical shape of some planets."

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 December 15, 2010
NASA's Odyssey Spacecraft Sets Exploration Record on Mars

"PASADENA, Calif., -- NASA's Mars Odyssey, which launched in 2001, will break 
the record Wednesday for longest-serving spacecraft at the Red Planet. The 
probe begins its 3,340th day in Martian orbit at 5:55 p.m. PST (8:55 p.m. EST) 
on Wednesday to break the record set by NASA's Mars Global Surveyor, which 
orbited Mars from 1997 to 2006.

Odyssey's longevity enables continued science, including the monitoring of 
seasonal changes on Mars from year to year and the most detailed maps ever made 
of most of the planet. In 2002, the spacecraft detected hydrogen just below the 
surface throughout Mars' high-latitude regions. The deduction that the hydrogen 
is in frozen water prompted NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander mission, which confirmed 
the theory in 2008. Odyssey also carried the first experiment sent to Mars 
specifically to prepare for human missions, and found radiation levels around 
the planet from solar flares and cosmic rays are two to three times higher than 
around Earth."

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) - February 23, 2011

SPIRIT UPDATE: Spirit Remains Silent at Troy - sols 2533-2539, February 17-23, 

"Deep Space Network X-band listening and "Sweep & Beep" commanding continues. 
The Sweep & Beep command duration has been shortened to 10 minutes, increasing 
the number of command attempts and the possibility of commands being received 
within the 20-minute awake (fault) window for the case of a mission clock fault 
response on Spirit.

Further, the DSN X-band frequency reference offset (FRO) is stepped over a much 
larger range to account for the possibility of a degraded receiver on the 
rover. Scheduled DSN passes now occur over a broader range of local times of 
day on Mars covering the possibility that the rover's clock has drifted 
significantly since March of 2010. The period of maximum solar insolation 
(energy production) for Spirit occurs around mid-March 2011.

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

OPPORTUNITY UPDATE: Opportunity Hits the Road Again - sols 2512-2519, February 
16-23, 2011:

"Opportunity is completing the exploration of Santa Maria crater before 
resuming the trek towards Endeavour crater.

One objective is to position the rover further counter-clockwise around the 
southeast region of Santa Maria to collect more wide-baseline stereo imaging of 
the crater interior.

On Sols 2512 and 2513 (Feb. 16 and Feb. 17, 2011), a rock abrasion tool (RAT) 
grind was performed on the surface target Luis de Torres. The rover collected a 
series of microscopic imager (MI) mosaics of the 3-millimeter (0.12 inch) deep 
grind hole before placing the alpha particle X-ray spectrometer (APXS) on the 
target on Sol 2515 (Feb. 19, 2011). With the in-situ investigation at Luis de 
Torres now complete, Opportunity began driving around the crater, first with a 
7.4 meter (24 foot) move to the northeast on Sol 2518 (Feb. 22, 2011). Then, on 
Sol 2519 (Feb. 23, 2011), the rover approached the new imaging waypoint and 
more surface targets with a 15.3 meter (50 foot) drive.

The plan ahead is to complete the approach to the final targets and imaging 
waypoint. Then, perform the investigations there, and resume the path towards 
Endeavour crater, some 6.5 kilometers (4 miles) away.

As of Sol 2519 (Feb. 23, 2011), solar array energy production was 420 
watt-hours with an elevated atmospheric opacity (Tau) of 1.00 and a solar array 
dust factor of 0.624.

Total odometry is 26,681.38 meters (26.68 kilometers, or 16.58 miles)."

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

Visit the Mars Exploration Rover page at

* Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission - February 14, 2011
Happy Valentine's Day from Mars

"An image (http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA13798) taken by the 
Context Camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows a heart-shaped 
feature that the camera's team at Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego, wants 
to share with other Mars fans on St. Valentine's Day.

The feature is about 1 kilometer (0.6 mile) long, in the Arabia Terra region of 
Mars' northern hemisphere. It appears in an image taken on May 23, 2010. A 
small impact crater near the tip of the heart is responsible for the formation 
of the bright, heart-shaped feature. When the impact occurred, darker material 
on the surface was blown away, and brighter material beneath it was revealed. 
Some of this brighter material appears to have flowed further downslope to form 
the heart shape, as the small impact occurred on the blanket of material 
ejected from a much larger impact crater."


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! 
(This page has not been updated since September 2010)

* "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!
Subscription Information

- Users can subscribe to your list by sending email to 
astronews-request@xxxxxxxxxxxxx with 'subscribe' in the Subject field OR by 
logging into the Web interface.

- Users can unsubscribe from the list by sending email to 
astronews-request@xxxxxxxxxxxxx with 'unsubscribe' in the Subject field OR by 
logging into the Web interface.

- Email Newsletter archives -
 http://www.freelists.org/archives/astronews/ ;

- Full documentation of the online administration system is available at 
http://www.freelists.org/help/. We encourage you to get the most out of the web 
interfaces, and we encourage subscribers to do the same. Please let your list 
members know about the advantages of exploring the FreeLists Web Login.

- The latest version of the newsletter is accessible from 

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: February 28, 2011


Other related posts: