Astronomy News for the Month of August 2014

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Special Notice to Denver, CO 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 The Plains Conservation Center for more information and directions.

S&S Optika hosts Backyard Star Parties in Littleton several times a month, weather permitting. Come down and enjoy the fun and check out their fine selection of optical instruments.

 Excerpts from JPL mission updates are provided as a public service as part
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In this Newsletter...

Background screen credits: NGC5775 - Imaged March 21/22, 2001 using the 16" Kitt Peak Visitors Center telescope as part of the Advanced Observing Program.

The Month At-A-Glance
A calendar displaying the daily astronomical events.


The Moon



Moon/Planet Pairs

For reference: The Full Moon subtends an angle of 0.5°.

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The Planets & Dwarf Planets

Planetary Reports generated by "TheSky" software. These reports provide predicted data for the planets for 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 as well as meteor shower radiants 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 August

This month there are several astronomical events that observers will certainly enjoy. We have a "Super Moon," a planetary conjunction, one of the best meteor showers of the year, though the "Super Moon" will interfere, and a couple possible occultations to look forward to.

"On August 10, 2014, just as the Perseids are set to peak, the Moon will become full. Moreover, it will become full just as it reaches the place in its orbit (perigee) that is closest to Earth. The perigee full Moon of August 10th -also known as a Super Moon- will be as much as 14% closer and 30% brighter than other full Moons of the year." from NASA Science News, July 28, 2014.


Is in superior conjunction with the Sun on the 8th. Mercury is lost in the twilight glow of the morning sky during the first week of August, then disappears, returning to the evening sky during the last week of the month. Unfortunately, this is Mercury's worst appearance of the year for northern hemisphere observers. Mercury moves from the constellation of Cancer into Virgo shining at magnitude -0.3 on the 31st.


Rises at 4:10 a.m. on the 1st and about 5:16 a.m. by month's end. Venus will be in conjunction with Jupiter on the morning of the 18th. Mark your calendars and set your alarm for an early morning wake up call for this one. Venus moves from the constellation Gemini into Leo shining at magnitude -3.8.




Sets at 1:38 p.m. on the 1st and about 10:28 p.m. by month's end. With each passing evening, Mars and Saturn move closer together. On the evening of the 27th, Mars and Saturn pass within 3.6° of each other. Get out and watch these two planets as they meet. Mars moves from the constellation of Virgo into Libra this month shining at magnitude 0.5.


Has returned to the morning sky this month. Jupiter rises at 5:32 a.m. on the 1st and about 4:04 a.m. by month's end. Again, Jupiter is in conjunction with Venus on the morning of the 18th. See the brightest two planets within 0.2° of each other. Jupiter is in the constellation of Cancer shining at magnitude -1.8.


Sets at 12:34 a.m. on the 1st and about 10:31 p.m. by month's end. Look for Saturn in the southwest soon after sunset. Again, look for Saturn approaching Mars throughout the month, culminating in their closest approach on the evening of the 27. Both planets shine at approximately the same magnitude all month. Saturn is in the constellation of Libra shining at magnitude 0.6.


Rises at 10:56 p.m. on the 1st and about 8:53 p.m. by month's end. Look for Uranus in the late evening and early morning skies. Try to spot Uranus with the naked eye under a dark sky, but it's easier to spot with a good pair of binoculars. Uranus is in the constellation of Pisces shining at magnitude 5.8.


Rises at 9:22 p.m. on the 1st and about 7:18 p.m. by month's end. Look for Neptune in the late evening and early morning skies. Neptune is in the constellation of Aquarius shining at magnitude 7.8.

Dwarf Planets


Sets at 12:54 a.m. on the 1st and about 11:11 p.m. by month's end. Ceres can be spotted in the early evening skies after sunset, once the sky darkens. Ceres moves from the constellation of Virgo into Libra shining at magnitude 8.9.


Sets at 4:01 a.m. on the 1st and about 1:56 a.m. by month's end. Pluto is in the constellation of Sagittarius shining at magnitude 14.1.

As always, good luck at spotting Neptune, Ceres and Pluto, a large telescope and dark skies will be needed.

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Astronomical Events

Meteor Showers

  • The Northern Delta Aquarids [meteor shower] extends from July 16 to September 10. Maximum occurs on August 13. The hourly rates reach a high of 10.
  • The Perseids meteor shower is generally visible between July 23 and August 22. Maximum occurs during August 12/13. The hourly rate typically reaches 80, although some years have been as low as 4 and as high as 200. The meteors tend to be very fast, possess an average magnitude of 2.3 and leave persistent trains.

    Perseid Meteors vs the Supermoon
    a href="">Video

    For more information about Meteor Showers, visit Gary Kronk's Meteor Showers Online web page.

  • Comets

  • A treat for our Southern Hemisphere observers, Comet Siding Spring (C/2013 A1) passes close to the Small Megallanic Cloud (SMC) during the last week of August. Shining at 8th magnitude, this is a sight not to be missed for those that live south of the equator.

  • 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 webpage.

  • Eclipses

  • No eclipse activity this month.

  • Observational Opportunities

  • Check out the Super Moon on the evening of the 10th.
  • Look for Mars and Saturn to the southwest.
  • Pluto may be visible with large scopes later at night.
  • Find Neptune and Uranus in the evening and early morning sky.
  • Observe Venus and Jupiter in the early morning sky before sunrise.
  • Try to spot some of the Perseid meteors streaking through the evening and morning skies throughout the month.
  • Asteroids

    (From west to east)
    • Vesta is in the constellation of Virgo.
    • Psyche is at opposition on the 6th in the constellation of Capricornus.
    • Harmonia is in the constellation of Aquarius.
    • Victoria is in the constellation of Pegasus.
    • Hebe is in the constellation of Cetus.
    • Juno is in the constellation of Orion.

    • Information about the Minor Planets can be found at the Minor Planet Observer website.

    • 04 Aug - Occultation of Saturn - 0.5m - Australia, Fiji, Samoa, Tonga
    • 31 Aug - Occultation of Saturn - 0.6m - W Central Africa

    IOTA Logo

  • Information on various occultations can be found by clicking the IOTA logo.
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    Planetary/Lunar Exploration Missions

    (Excerpts from recent JPL mission updates)
    Cassini - July 28, 2014
    Cassini Spacecraft Reveals 101 Geysers and More on Icy Saturn Moon

    "Scientists using mission data from NASA's Cassini spacecraft have identified 101 distinct geysers erupting on Saturn's icy moon Enceladus. Their analysis suggests it is possible for liquid water to reach from the moon's underground sea all the way to its surface.

    These findings, and clues to what powers the geyser eruptions, are presented in two articles published in the current online edition of the Astronomical Journal.

    Over a period of almost seven years, Cassini's cameras surveyed the south polar terrain of the small moon, a unique geological basin renowned for its four prominent "tiger stripe" fractures and the geysers of tiny icy particles and water vapor first sighted there nearly 10 years ago. The result of the survey is a map of 101 geysers, each erupting from one of the tiger stripe fractures, and the discovery that individual geysers are coincident with small hot spots. These relationships pointed the way to the geysers' origin."

    The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. More information about Cassini is available at the following sites: "

    Raw images are available at

    Cassini Imaging Team

    For the latest mission status reports, visit Cassini Mission Status web page. The speed and location of the spacecraft along its flight path can be viewed on the Present Position webpage.

    New Horizons - July 31, 2014

    Science Shorts
    Discoveries and Mysteries

    "It is spine-tingling to be on the threshold of discovery for the most ambitious and farthest-exploring planetary encounter ever flown. A first time happens only once. There was the first time Galileo turned his telescope to the heavens, spotting craters on the moon, the moons of Jupiter, and the amazing rings of Saturn. All of those findings transformed our view of the solar system, and New Horizons could be similarly transformational.

    Pluto is a world that has been only barely glimpsed with the Earth's most capable telescopes. It almost feels like a fuzzy curtain is about to be pulled back next year, allowing Pluto to become a real place, with real features and characteristics that will define an entirely new region of our planetary system."

    What is Pluto?

    On Video: How Do We Get to Pluto? Practice, Practice, Practice

    Part I: The Encounter Begins
        - Small mp4 (38 MB, 640x360)
        - Large mp4 (116 MB, 1280x720)

    Part II: Passing Pluto
        - Small mp4 (34 MB, 640x360)
        - Large mp4 (102 MB, 1280x720)"

    LORRI Looks Back

    New Horizons gallery

    Find New Horizons in the iTunes App Store here.

    For more information on the New Horizons mission - the first mission to the ninth planet - visit the New Horizons home page.

    Dawn - June 5, 2014
    NASA Helps 'Angry Birds Space' Find Asteroids Deeper in Space

    "After a couple of years and hundreds of millions of downloads, the space-based struggle between birds and pigs moves beyond the International Space Station and Mars, and deeper into the final frontier. The latest update from Rovio Entertainment sends Angry Birds Space into NASA's next target for future human exploration - asteroids!

    "Beak Impact" takes flight Thursday. It is a new astronomical struggle that blends the excitement of the world's most popular mobile gaming application with the science, technology, and information surrounding the agency's future missions into deep space.

    "The collaboration with Rovio and Angry Birds Space is an extraordinary opportunity to reach millions of gamers and use the fictional universe to point players to real information about asteroids, why NASA studies them and how they fit into our exploration path to Mars," said David Weaver, associate administrator for the Office of Communications at Headquarters in Washington. "It is a great opportunity to educate, inform, and even inspire players about space exploration, all while playing one of the most popular interactive games ever created."

    The agency has embarked on an important mission to detect, track, and characterize potentially hazardous asteroids that could threaten our home planet. And a part of NASA's effort to send humans to Mars is to capture and explore an asteroid. Hidden in the various levels of "Beak Impact" are direct links to NASA information about the spacecraft and missions that will tell us more about these celestial bodies."

    Dawn's Virtual Flight over Vesta

    A gallery of images can be found online.

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

    MESSENGER - July 28, 2014
    MESSENGER Gets Closer to Mercury than Ever Before

    "On July 25, MESSENGER moved closer to Mercury than any spacecraft has before, dropping to an altitude at closest approach of only 100 kilometers (62 miles) above the planet's surface.

    The science team is implementing a remarkable campaign that takes full advantage of MESSENGER's orbital geometry, and the spacecraft continues to execute its command sequences flawlessly as the 14th Mercury year of the orbit phase comes to a close," said MESSENGER Mission Operations Manager Andy Calloway, of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL).

    The latest observational campaign includes closer looks at polar ice deposits, unusual geological features, and the planet's gravity and magnetic fields "in ways that have never been possible," said APL's Ralph McNutt, MESSENGER's Project Scientist. "This dip in altitude is allowing us to see Mercury up close and personal for the first time."

    Because of progressive changes to the orbit over time, MESSENGER's minimum altitude will continue to decrease. On August 19, the minimum altitude will be cut in half, to 50 kilometers. Closest approach will be halved again to 25 kilometers on September 12, noted MESSENGER Mission Design Lead Engineer Jim McAdams, also of APL.

    "Soon after reaching 25 kilometers above Mercury, an orbit-correction maneuver (OCM-10) will raise this minimum altitude to about 94 kilometers," he said. "Two more maneuvers, on October 24 and January 21, 2015, will raise the minimum altitude sufficiently to delay the inevitable -- impact onto Mercury's surface -- until March 2015."

    The MESSENGER app is available for download from iTunes.

    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.

    Past, Present, Future and Proposed JPL Missions -

    Visit JPL's mission pages for current status.

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    Mars Missions

    Be A Martian

    Mars website mobile version is here!

    Mars on the Go! NASA Be A Martian Mobile App
    If you want the latest news as it happens, try our Be A Martian app.
    Download on Mobile Devices
    Android | iPhone | Windows Phone

    JMARS is an acronym that stands for Java Mission-planning and Analysis for Remote Sensing. It is a geospatial information system (GIS) developed by ASU's Mars Space Flight Facility to provide mission planning and data-analysis tools to NASA's orbiters, instrument team members, students of all ages, and the general public.

    Mars Science Laboratory - Curiosity - July 25, 2014

    Comet Siding Spring C/2013 A1

    This graphic depicts the orbit of comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring as it swings around the sun in 2014. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    "NASA is taking steps to protect its Mars orbiters, while preserving opportunities to gather valuable scientific data, as Comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring heads toward a close flyby of Mars on Oct. 19. The comet's nucleus will miss Mars by about 82,000 miles (132,000 kilometers), shedding material hurtling at about 35 miles (56 kilometers) per second, relative to Mars and Mars-orbiting spacecraft. At that velocity, even the smallest particle -- estimated to be about one-fiftieth of an inch (half a millimeter) across -- could cause significant damage to a spacecraft.

    NASA currently operates two Mars orbiters, with a third on its way and expected to arrive in Martian orbit just a month before the comet flyby. Teams operating the orbiters plan to have all spacecraft positioned on the opposite side of the Red Planet when the comet is most likely to pass by."

    To follow the Mars Curiosity rover and NASA on Foursquare, visit: and

    For information about NASA's partnership with Foursquare, visit:

      Mars Rover Landing - Free for the Xbox (requires Kinect)

      Visit the Mars Science Laboratory page.

    Mars Exploration Rover Mission (Spirit and Opportunity) - July 22, 2014

    SPIRIT UPDATE: Spirit Remains Silent at Troy - sols 2621-2627, May 18-24, 2011:

    More than 1,300 commands were radiated to Spirit as part of the recovery effort in an attempt to elicit a response from the rover. No communication has been received from Spirit since Sol 2210 (March 22, 2010). The project concluded the Spirit recovery efforts on May 25, 2011. The remaining, pre-sequenced ultra-high frequency (UHF) relay passes scheduled for Spirit on board the Odyssey orbiter will complete on June 8, 2011.

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

    OPPORTUNITY UPDATE: Opportunity Passes 25 Miles of Driving on Mars! - sols 3726-3730, July 18, 2014-July 22, 2014 :

    "Opportunity is exploring south along the west rim of Endeavour Crater heading toward a notch, called 'Marathon Valley' about 1.2 miles (2 kilometers) away.

    This valley has been observed from orbit to have an abundant clay mineral signature. On Sol 3727 (July 19, 2014), the rover began the first sol of a two-sol 'Touch 'n Go' with collecting a Microscopic Imager (MI) mosaic of a surface target of opportunity, called 'Barstow,' then placing the Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS) on the same for a multi-hour integration (the 'Touch'). On the next sol, Opportunity drove over 328 feet (100 meters) (the 'Go') surpassing 25 miles (40 kilometers) in drive distance on Mars. The drive included some mid-drive imaging and post-drive Navigation Camera (Navcam) and Panoramic Camera (Pancam) panoramas. On Sol 3730 (July 22, 2014), the rover moved further with a 325-foot (99-meter) drive, again followed by post-drive Navcam and Pancam panoramas. A Flash memory amnesia event occurred on Sol 3727 (July 19, 2014). However, the science data were recovered with a subsequent second readout of the APXS.

    As of Sol 3730 (July 22, 2014), the solar array energy production was 676 watt-hours with an atmospheric opacity (Tau) of 0.771 and a solar array dust factor of 0.818.

    Total odometry is 24.93 miles (40.13 kilometers)."

    Landing sites

    Visit the Mars Exploration Rover page.

    Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission - July 10, 2014
    NASA Spacecraft Observes Further Evidence of Dry Ice Gullies on Mars

    Full image and caption

    This pair of images covers one of many sites on Mars where researchers use the HiRISE camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to study changes in gullies on slopes. Changes such as the ones visible in deposits near the lower end of this gully occur during winter and early spring on Mars.

    "Repeated high-resolution observations made by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) indicate the gullies on Mars' surface are primarily formed by the seasonal freezing of carbon dioxide, not liquid water.

    The first reports of formative gullies on Mars in 2000 generated excitement and headlines because they suggested the presence of liquid water on the Red Planet, the eroding action of which forms gullies here on Earth. Mars has water vapor and plenty of frozen water, but the presence of liquid water on the neighboring planet, a necessity for all known life, has not been confirmed. This latest report about gullies has been posted online by the journal Icarus."

    All of the HiRISE images are archived here.

    More information about the MRO mission is available online.

    Mars Odyssey Orbiter - July 15, 2014
    ASU, USGS Project Yields Sharpest Map of Mars Surface Properties

    Detailed Geologic Map of Mars

    "The most detailed global map yet made of Martian surface properties is the result of a joint project between ASU and the U.S. Geological Survey.

    A heat-sensing camera designed at Arizona State University has provided data to create the most detailed global map ( yet made of Martian surface properties.

    The map uses data from the Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS []), a nine-band visual and infrared camera on NASA's Mars Odyssey ( orbiter. A version of the map optimized for scientific researchers ( is available at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

    The new Mars map was developed by the Geological Survey's Robin Fergason at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Ariz., in collaboration with researchers at ASU's Mars Space Flight Facility. The work reflects the close ties between space exploration efforts at Arizona universities and the U.S. Geological Survey."

    See the Mars As Art Gallery

    Dulles Airport Full News Release

    Global Martian Map

    "A simulated fly-through using the newly assembled imagery is available online.

    The fly-through plus tools for wandering across and zooming into the large image are at THEMIS."

    Daily Mars Odyssey THEMIS Images
    Can be found at the Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) website.

    The Odyssey data are available through a new online access system established by the Planetary Data System.

    Visit the Mars Odyssey Mission page.

    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 and the Mars Exploration page.

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    Links and Other Space News

    (If you have a link you would like to recommend to our readers, please feel free to submit it.)

    Green Laser

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    Astronomical Lexicon

    Definitions of astronomical terms. Many of the astronomical terms used in this newsletter are defined here.

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    UT Logo

    Read the Universe Today Newsletter by clicking on the logo.

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    Acknowledgments and References

    Much of the information in this newsletter is from Astronomy® Magazine (Kalmbach Publishing), JPL mission status reports, the Internet, "Meteor Showers - A descriptive Catalog" by Gary W. Kronk, Sky & Telescope web pages, and other astronomical sources that I have stashed on my bookshelves.

    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!

    More Acknowledgements and References

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